Discover the best things to do in Gulf Shores with kids!
If your family is the kind that’s always up for a beach vacation, I’ve got the perfect place for your next trip. I’m talking powdery soft sand, affordable beachfront accommodations and no crowds.
This laidback beach town with great food and a come-as-you-are attitude has the same amazing beaches as Destin and Panama City, Florida, but has somehow remained under the radar. Where is this paradise I speak of? Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Whether you visit this coastal town for a long weekend or stretch it into a whole lazy week, your family is going to have a blast. And your wallet will be happy too: It’s far cheaper than other beach-town destinations but just as fun.
Obviously, the pristine beaches are the major draw, but there are lots of other fun things to do in Gulf Shores. Just one-hour and one highway away from the airport in Pensacola, Florida, you can have a trip that packs in as much beach, nature, art, seafood and off-the-wall sweets as you can handle.
10 Awesome Things to Do in Gulf Shores
These are my favorite family-friendly activities to do in Gulf Shores:
#1: Play at the beach
Gulf Shores boasts a big, beautiful stretch of white sand, lapped by blue-green water and backed by gently rolling dunes. And because this region is still a hidden gem, you won’t have to stress about getting up early to lay claim to your spot on the beach. There’s plenty of space, and then some, for everyone. You can splash around in the warm water or just sit and watch for dolphins swimming off in the distance.
#2: Bike through marshes and swamps
Gulf State Park has 28 miles of paved trails through different ecosystems including freshwater marshes and coastal swamps. Rent bikes and go exploring, keeping your eye out for wildlife. You just might spot an alligator, eagle, deer or bobcat!
#3: Visit a wildlife refuge
If you’d rather explore on foot, head to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, where sea turtles nest during the summer and alligators can be found year-round at Gator Lake. You might also glimpse an armadillo scurrying by as you hike one of four trails.
#4: Attend a bubble party
Kids go crazy for the foam parties held every hour on the hour during the summer at The Hangout, an oceanside restaurant with loads of beach-party atmosphere. Bubbles spew while kids dance and jump around with foam sometimes up to their necks!
The place also has a unique playground – sand tunnels, a “shipwrecked” bus to run through and giant lawn chairs to climb – as well as foosball and ping pong. Seriously, there’s so much fun stuff here to keep every age entertained.
The party keeps going inside too. Pez candy holders and rubber duckies cover walls and ceilings and grownups can order outrageous cocktails, like the Shark Attack – it has a cherry-chomping shark swimming in it. Do it for Instagram! Of course, they have a great menu of beachy eats like wraps, salads and sandwiches and live music in the evenings too.
#5: Go on a super-fun boat ride
Your chance of spotting dolphins from shore is pretty good, but it gets so much better once you’re on the water. A boat tour is the best way to see the area’s numerous dolphins – the Gulf of Mexico has the largest concentration of bottlenose dolphins in the U.S.!
During the ride, you can snap pictures of dolphin pods that swim alongside the boat. You’ll also learn about blue crabs – a Gulf Coast delicacy and most plentiful in the summer – when a deckhand pulls up a trap and releases live crabs into kids’ waiting hands.
Before the ride is over, the whole deck breaks out into a friendly water fight with Super Soaker water guns, making this the most memorable boat ride ever.
#6: Fish off the pier
Try your luck fishing off the second-longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico. You can rent rods and reels and purchase bait from the pier’s tackle shop. New to saltwater fishing? The state park runs a 2-hour hands-on program that teaches newbies what to do and supplies all the equipment for an incredibly reasonable rate. Or, just pay a few bucks to walk the pier and watch master fishermen reel in big catches like mackerel, trout and flounder.
#7: Drink a unicorn milkshake
You can’t leave Gulf Shores without hitting up the most amazing milkshake shop. Kids and adults alike go bonkers for the almost-too-pretty-to-eat frozen treats. The milkshakes are served in a mason jar filled to overflowing with an artful array of toppings – these drinks are the stuff of Instagram legends!
I ordered the unicorn milkshake made with cotton candy ice cream, sprinkles and marshmallow cream and topped with cotton candy and a cone horn. My blood sugar spiked about 1,000 points, but it was worth it!
#8: Zipline over the water
For the biggest thrill of all, strap in and hold for a zipline ride that reaches speeds up to 30 mph. Two guides lead groups of up to 10 people through a series of 8 ziplines that take you over marshland, dunes and the aquamarine water of the Gulf Coast. And don’t worry: they’ll take loads of pictures and email them to you later (for a small fee).
#9: Have some old-fashioned fun
Head to neighboring Orange Beach to visit The Wharf, an outdoor shopping and entertainment complex. There you’ll find the tallest Ferris wheel in the southeast!
You can take a whirl on it or go sip a fancy coffee and browse the shops while the rest of your gang hits up the arcade, plays mini-golf or laser tag, or watches a movie in the complex’s theater. (This is an especially good option to keep in mind in case it rains.)
#10: Drink a cocktail at church
Yep, you read that right. Crazy, huh? That’s exactly why I’m telling you about it. Sure, other churches may offer coffee and donuts at their Sunday services. But at this Gulf Shores’ honky-tonk, you can order a bloody Mary at the bar and chow down on made-to-order omelets.
Everyone from families to older folks to people who haven’t yet recovered from last night’s party come to sing hymns and get their fill of The Word. And if nothing else, you have to love the church’s slogan: It’s okay to not be okay.
Take a Gulf Shores Trip
Want someone to do all the work of planning this trip to Gulf Shores for you? I created a 3-day itinerary fully loaded with everything you need to book ahead of time and what to do and see each day. Check out my Gulf Shores Family Vacation Itinerary Guide.
Because, why make things harder on yourself? The guide has all the details you need to quickly book your trip. Day-by-day itineraries make what to do and where to go a no-brainer.
You’re going to see and do all of the best things!
P.S. Looking for more great family destinations? Key West with kids is an easy tropical getaway because it’s in the states. For a different type of scenery, consider a family vacation to New York’s Finger Lakes region. It has incredible gorges, waterfalls, natural swimming holes and fantastic hiking.