The South’s Best-Kept Beach Secret

Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have everything you want for a perfect coastal getaway

A boat on the water with surrounding coastline
On the water in Perdido Key.

To those who live far from the Gulf of Mexico, the first sight of the Alabama coast may come as a surprise. Not just a few sandy beaches but a stunning white-sand shoreline with crystal blue waters—the kind of postcard-worthy setting more often associated with Florida. Like the recipe for a proper sweet tea, Alabama’s beaches are something of an open Southern secret. But whether the area is new to you or well loved, it should be on your 2024 travel list—starting with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

photo: Chris Granger
The Lazy River at Phoenix West.

Together, the sister towns constitute thirty-two miles of Gulf-front playground. You could spend an entire trip there on the water, kayaking in the morning, paddleboarding in the afternoon, and renting a Jet Ski for an evening ride. There’s pier fishing, charter fishing, and plenty of outfitters to help you seize the spoils of the Gulf’s bountiful fisheries. And while winter brings cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, inshore waters teem with sheepshead, black drum, and speckled trout.

An afternoon of paddleboarding.

Back on land, birding and biking are popular outdoor pursuits. You can do both at Gulf State Park and its twenty-eight miles of paved trails; bring your binoculars to spy gulls and terns. Or visit Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, home to some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal habitats along with bufflehead ducks, horned grebes, and common loons.

Around the table at Lulu’s.

If you prefer birdies to birding, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are home to fifteen area golf courses, including Kiva Dunes, one of the top public courses in Alabama, and the Arnold Palmer–designed Craft Farms Golf Resort. Of course, you might want to bring your binoculars to the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club just in case, as the esteemed course borders the Bon Secour refuge, an important fall and spring stopover for neotropical songbirds.

Shrimp skewers at OSO at Bear Point Harbor.

After a day in the sun, you’ll no doubt want to relax with a plate of fresh coastal cuisine and a waterfront view. Among the two hundred or so restaurants in the area, here’s one winning combination: Enjoy from-scratch dishes like Lower Alabama Caviar (black-eyed peas in balsamic vinaigrette) or an open-faced crab melt at LuLu’s in Gulf Shores, then listen to live music with a craft cocktail in hand at OSO at Bear Point Harbor in Orange Beach. And when it’s finally quitting time, rest up at any number of waterfront accommodations—condos, beach houses, hotels, or campgrounds—for another day of fun surprises in Alabama’s hidden coastal gem. 

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