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Yes, Alabama has beaches — great ones, with turquoise waters and sand as white and fine as powdered sugar. Together with nearby Orange Beach, Gulf Shores Beach is one of the top beach vacation destinations on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Situated on a skinny peninsula between Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile Bay, this Gulf-front getaway attracts spring breakers, families, and couples looking to splash in the bathtub-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With a skyline defined by high-rise hotels and resorts, the area has plenty of historical and natural attractions, too, including bird sanctuaries, bike trails, and Fort Morgan, a military fortification that dates back to the War of 1812. When sightseeing is done, indulge in fresh Gulf seafood from a beachfront bar and grill, or book a fishing charter to catch your own.
Gulf Shores is served by two airports, the Mobile Regional Airport (MOB), a 90-minute drive northwest, and the larger Pensacola International (PNS), an hour’s drive east. Most major airlines serve both airports, but you’re likely to find better deals from a greater variety of destinations when flying into Pensacola. When you land, you’ll want to rent a car; the region is a bit too spread out to traverse on foot. But if you can get your hands on a bike, you’ll have plenty of trails to explore during your stay.
Gulf Shores is a year-round vacation destination, with mild temperatures in every season. The big exception is, of course, hurricane season, which affects the Alabama coastline periodically from June through November. Between storms, summer afternoons can reach the upper 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but the constant coastal breeze means it never feels scorching. The warm, shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico are swimmable most of the year, except for the winter months, when temperatures dip below 60 degrees — not exactly Arctic, but enough to keep some folks out of their swimsuits. From November to March, evenings can get chilly, so pack a sweater and jeans.
Birders, pack your binoculars: You can track more than 370 species of migratory songbirds — as well as alligators, armadillos, foxes, and endangered sea turtles — at one of Alabama’s last untouched coastal habitats, whose name is French for “safe harbor.”
Located a mile east of the public beach, the state park features 6,500 acres of protected lands where you can stroll three miles of sandy coastline and waterski, kayak, or fish for bass on Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake that comes complete with its own pet-friendly Dog Pond. You could spend all day getting lost on the park’s paved bike and walk trails, including the wild Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. With more than 15 miles of pine-shaded pathways winding through coastal wetlands and even a butterfly garden, it’s a great way to escape the beach crowds.
To get your shopping and entertainment fix, hit the Wharf; you’ll find restaurants, a marina, and one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the southeast, at 112 feet high.