Gulf Shores, Alabama has one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the USA. Seriously. It’s a perfect destination for any beach-loving traveler, but an especially fun spot for families! Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Gulf Shores with kids.
But before I get into the full details, let’s talk about why you’ll love the Gulf Shores area!
Crisp, white sand meets the deep blues of the Gulf Coast. It’s a gorgeous landscape and friendly vacation destination. Maybe one of the best parts of Gulf Shores is that every bit of the town’s motto is true: “small town, big beach.”
Gulf Shores (and it’s neighboring Orange Beach) hold a tiny sliver of the Gulf Coast, in comparison to how big the Gulf of Mexico is. But honestly…it just might be the best part of the coast.
Here’s why you’ll love Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
- The area is small enough to know your way around in a day or two.
- Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are charming beach towns that are not overloaded with tourists, unlike some other areas of the coast.
- The locals are actually really nice and helpful! (I’ve been to many beachy locations where that’s not the case at all!)
- Tons to do for kids and adults!
So, ready for a Gulf Shores / Orange Beach family vacation? Thought so!
Just a quick note about my trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama: I visited during the Coronavirus pandemic, so my family chose outdoor activities and outdoor dining options. Depending on when you go and your comfort level, you may find more or less of these items suitable for your personal preferences.
Okay, let’s get to the guide!
Top Things to do in Gulf Shores with kids
1. Beach day
Okay when you first arrive in a gorgeous beachy spot like this, you’ll want to hit the beach right away. Check into your hotel or vacation rental (or don’t!) and hit the beach.
Get this: the Alabama Gulf Coast has 32 miles of gorgeous, white sand beaches! So pack your swim gear and enjoy these beautiful beaches!
Location: 101 Gulf Shores Pkwy, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(There are several public beach access points, however this one has parking nearby.)
2. Pink Pony Pub
If you hang out on the beach right off the main strip in Gulf Shores, you’ll likely be near the world-famous Pink Pony Pub. It has kid-friendly food and an incredible view of the beach from the deck.
After some beach time, you’ll likely be hungry and thirsty so this is a perfect stop to add to your beach day. My family really enjoyed the easy access to the beach, and the fresh seafood at Pink Pony Pub.
Location: 137 E Gulf Pl, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
3. The Hangout Gulf Shores
If you’re looking for a bit more entertainment, then head straight down the beach to The Hangout. From good food to live music, a courtyard with free games and plenty of photo-ops, The Hangout is a fun stop in Gulf Shores!
Just a bit of important info for you as a parent: it can be known as a bit of a party spot, but it’s actually family-friendly too. I’d recommend this stop in the middle of the day if you’re traveling with younger kids.
Location: 101 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
4. Make a quick stop by the welcome center
I know what you’re thinking: what in the world is so great about the welcome center that you’d spend precious vacation time there?
Well, there’s a ton of reasons but I’ll give you 2 big ones: coupons and filters! Let me explain.
I’m going to guess you like to save money, right? Well hit up the welcome center real quick as you stroll into town to pick up some coupons and ask literally anything about your trip. They’re a wealth of knowledge over there!
Secondly, you’ll want this for later on in the list, but you need to get filters for your phone and flashlights at night for evening beach activities. The welcome center has them for free. More about sea turtles later. 😉
Location: 3459 Gulf Shores Pkwy, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Active things to do in Gulf Shores with Kids
For these next few activities, we’re going to get really active! So whether you’ve just spent a long time in the car on a road trip with kids, or your kids are just high energy, let’s have some fun!
5. The Track Gulf Shores
This is the most fun I’ve had at a go-kart place since I was probably 14. And yes, I’ve been to others since then!
The Track Gulf Shores is a fun spot for all ages. There are a lot of driving and riding options with multiple tracks. From youth tracks to boats and of course, the giant 3-level elevated track.
My favorite was the 3-story go kart track. Racing others around the course, was fun, and speeding down the track at full speed was a rush. There were shrills of excitement the whole time. And then there were the kids’ giggles, too! 😉
The only downfall is The Track Gulf Shores is a bit pricey. So I’d recommend to set a budget and stick to it!
Location: 3200 Gulf Shores Pkwy, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
You may also like: How to Save Money for Travel: Your Vacation Savings Plan
6. Bike the Backcountry Trails
Running through Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are 28 miles of trails just begging to be explored. The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails begin and end all over the area, and also run through the Gulf State Park.
So while you can definitely walk these trails, a better way to see them is by biking! In Orange Beach, there’s a family-friendly bike shop, Beach Bike Rentals, to rent bikes to explore the trails.
With options like tandem bikes for older kids, individual cruisers with kid pull-behind bikes to attach, and smaller bikes with training wheels, there’s plenty of options to choose from.
Location: 22989 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL 36561
(Address is for Beach Bike Rentals, located right at a trailhead for the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails.)
7. Miniature Golf
This is a perfect family bonding experience at Gulf Shores! While there are a few miniature golf courses to choose from, my kids really loved the theme at Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf.
The course was super interactive and we especially loved all the water features and the story of Blackbeard the pirate. Each hole was different and exciting, and my kids didn’t want the course to end!
Watching my son get not 1 but 2 hole-in-one’s was one of the highlights of our family trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.
Pro tip: check Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf website for coupons
Location: 3201 Gulf Shores Pkwy, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
8. Jump for joy at a trampoline park
This is a perfect rainy day activity! It’s an great way to stay active during your vacation, and way more fun than watching a screen or playing video games. Take an hour or 2 to jump around at the trampoline park.
Jumping at a trampoline park is perfect for all ages and the giggles that come out of everyone will make you glad you went!
Location: The Factory Gulf Shores, 18948 Oak Road West, Gulf Shores AL, 36542
More Gulf Shores family vacation ideas
Okay, for this next section we’re actually heading to Orange Beach. It’s just a few minutes away and there’s so much to do!
9. The Wharf at Orange Beach
Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are so close together so if you’re staying in Gulf Shores, it’s easy just to pop on over to Orange Beach to check out the Wharf. I’d say the Wharf at Orange Beach is a top 5 must-do in the area.
The Wharf offers lots of shopping, dining and activities. It’s basically the place to go for entertainment in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area.
From arcades to movie theaters, tons of restaurants, live music and views of the bay. I love that it all has free parking, too!
Location: 23101 Canal Rd, Orange Beach, AL 36561
10. SPECTRA light show
Okay, so if you’re at the Wharf at Orange Beach at night, you have to check out the SPECTRA laser light show on the main street at the Wharf. It’s kid-friendly and entertaining for adults, too.
The lights on the palm trees and buildings dance to the music. Fog machines enhance the light effects and the surround-sound music captivates everyone in the area to watch. It’s a fun, free activity on this list of things to do in Gulf Shores with kids.
My kids loved this experience and would go back in a heartbeat! The show starts every 30 minutes in the evening at dark. Check the SPECTRA light show times here.
Location: 23101 Canal Rd, Orange Beach, AL 36561
11. Ride the Ferris wheel
If you’re looking for entertainment for kids and adults, then the Wharf’s Ferris wheel has got to be on your list of things to do in Gulf Shores with kids. This Ferris wheel is one of the largest in the Southeastern USA!
Check the hours before you go as the summer hours are extended into the evening. But you’ll get the best views if you go in the daylight, as you can see a ton from the top of the wheel.
If you do go at night, watch the Ferris wheel light up, and even become part of the SPECTRA light show!
Location: 23101 Canal Rd, Orange Beach, AL 36561
12. Go ziplining
Alright, before you leave the Wharf at Orange Beach, you’ve got to go ziplining! This high-adventure activity isn’t for the faint of heart, though. It’s 8 ziplines and covers 6,000+ feet of flying through the air!
Just a public service announcement if you’ve never been ziplining: it really just feels like sliding down a huge slide. But faster and with better views!
Pro tip: this activity is for families with kids ages 10+ and each person must weigh 70-250 pounds.
Location: Hummingbird Zipline Course, 4830 Main St Suite G-114 Orange Beach, AL 36561, USA
Family activities in Gulf Shores AL on the water
I mean, you’re going to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for the beautiful beaches and turquoise water. Here’s a few of my favorite activities with water.
13. Dolphin cruising
If you have animal-lovers or adventure-seekers in your family, a must-do is a dolphin cruise! Going out into the bright teal waters of the Gulf Coast is a magnificent experience, only to be topped by seeing a pod of dolphins!
This might just be the most fun you’ll have in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, so be sure to put it on your vacation budget! It’s a memory your family will not forget!
Pro tip: book your dolphin cruise in advance as they tend to sell out early!
You might also like:
Exactly What to Pack for a Beach Vacation (Free Beach Packing List)
14. Duck boat tour
See the area and soak in some history with a duck boat tour. This unique land-and-sea vehicle is a restored WWII vessel. The amphibious touring vehicles were first used in Normandy, France on D-Day.
Now it’s used as an open-air touring vehicle, alternating from land and water to see the beautiful coastline of Orange Beach. What a fun and unique experience!
Just a quick note: these tours run only from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you want in, book your duck tour early as they tend to sell out.
Location: 28101 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL 36561
15. Take a sand castle building class
Wanna know how to build an amazing sand castle? Well there’s a class for that! Your family can work together to build a sand castle, complete with the best tips and know-how so you can always build amazing creations.
Building a sandcastle is a unique bonding experience and can be done right on the public beach at Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. The class is for all ages and skill levels, and they bring all the tools!
My experience with the pros at Sand Castle University was top notch – I’d highly recommend them!
Location: any of Alabama’s gorgeous white sand beaches
More things to do in Gulf Shores with kids
Side note: the more I keep adding to this list, the more I want to go back! Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was such a great time!! Okay, back to it. 🙂
16. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Also known as ‘the little zoo that could,’ the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is a fun family spot in Gulf shores. If you’re looking for a break from the beach and water activities, or even on a slightly rainy day, it’s time to hit the zoo!
I loved that the zoo was tucked away from the traffic and community noise, right next to a nature preserve. It’s almost like it’s own little oasis – even though it’s just a few miles from the Gulf!
The zoo does a great job with interactive exhibits, including giraffe feedings, encounters with lemurs, kangaroos and more. Be sure to check the zoo’s website for hours, animal feedings and encounters before you go to maximize your experience!
Location: 20499 Oak Road East, Gulf Shores AL 36542
17. Lulu’s Gulf Shores
Going to Lulu’s is an adventure! You could just go for the restaurant, but with tons of entertainment you’ll get so much more. And bonus – it’s a family place so you won’t have to worry about what your kids will eat, see or hear at Lulu’s.
A rope course, outdoor bar, beach arcade, live music… the list goes on! Lulu’s is owned by Lucy Buffett, Jimmy Buffett’s sister, so you know it’s good!
Pro tip: put this one in your vacation budget as it’s a splurge. It’s seriously one of my favorite things to do in Gulf Shores with kids, so totally worth it!
Location: 200 East 25th Ave, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
18. Hunt for sand crabs and baby sea turtles
I asked my kids what their favorite part of our trip to Gulf Shores was, and my daughter said hunting sand crabs. I wasn’t surprised by this as it was such a fun activity!
The most important thing about this activity is to get red filter stickers for your cell phone or flashlights! Grab some for free at the Gulf Shores Welcome Center.
When baby sea turtles hatch, they look for the moonlight to lead them to the ocean. Unfortunately, if people are using regular flashlights they follow artificial light instead.
Sand crabs on the other hand are tan, almost translucent crabs that come out at night. They’re about the size of a quarter or half dollar, and scurry fast along the sand.
Pack a net with you on your trip to catch and release them! They are easy to find on the beach (away from the water).
Pro tip: wear water shoes for this activity. Jellyfish wash up on shore at night and it’s easy to get stung considering the only light you’ll have to see are flashlights.
These are my favorite water shoes from Amazon – mine have literally traveled the world with me and have lasted many years!
Location: just choose one of Alabama’s gorgeous white sand beaches and enjoy!
More Gulf Shores family vacation ideas
There’s no shortage of family activities in Gulf Shores, AL! While I don’t want this list to end, this post is getting long so here’s just 3 more things to do in Gulf Shores with kids.
19. The Yard
The Yard is one of those Instagram-worthy spots and a unique (and delicious) experience for everyone in your family.
It’s fun to pick out the unique flavors of ice cream with oversized toppings. With creations like The Mermaid, Peanut Butter Brownie Bliss and The Cereal Killer, you really can’t go wrong!
Be warned though – it’s sweetness overload, so sharing is encouraged!
Location: 3800 Gulf Shores Parkway #218 Gulf Shores, AL, 36542
20. Gulf State Park
If you love to be outdoors, you probably already know that state parks are awesome. But honestly, Gulf State Park is one of the best I’ve ever been to!
If you like any of the below, you’ll love Gulf State Park:
- Biking trails
- Hiking trails
- Forest areas to explore
- Beach views
- Interactive, natural parks
- Good restaurants
- Fishing, birding and more
The Backcountry Trails listed above weave throughout the Gulf State Park, so biking through the park should be on your list of things to do in Gulf Shores with kids!
Location: 20115 State Park Rd, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
21. State Park Pier
Walking to the end of a pier along a beautiful beach can provide breathtaking views. It’s a unique way to see the beach and coastline from a different perspective.
Well the Gulf Coast State Park Pier is no exception! It’s an impressive pier that offers stunning views of the white sand beaches of Alabama’s coastline.
The pier is also the perfect spot for fishing. Your family can rent all the supplies needed for a few hours (or more) of fishing through the pier.
Recently renovated, there is a small charge to visit the pier, but for just a few bucks it’s worth the visit. For pier hours and costs, visit the website here.
Location: 20800 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Best things to do in Gulf Shores
Okay so what did you think? I know, there’s a lot! To recap, here’s the mega list of family activities in Gulf Shores AL:
- Beach day
- Pink Pony Pub
- The Hangout
- Welcome Center
- The Track Gulf Shores
- Biking backcountry trails
- Mini golf
- Trampoline park
- The Wharf at Orange Beach
- SPECTRA Light Show
- Ride the Ferris wheel
- Dolphin cruising
- Duck boat tour
- Sand castle building class
- Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
- Lulu’s Gulf Shores
- Hunt for sand crabs and baby sea turtles
- The Yard
- Gulf State Park
- State Park Pier
On my next visit to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there are so many things on this list I’d do again!
Your turn! What would you do first? Leave a comment below.
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Thank you to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism for hosting me! As always, all opinions are my own.