Flights From Home Customer Experience Director Maddie’s Favorite U.S. Destination
By Maddie Porter | August 10, 2021 | Flights From Home
I spent some time living in Alabama before moving to Utah for my college years, and during the short time I spent there I discovered my favorite U.S. vacation spot to date — Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL.
Before exploring Alabama, I had no idea that the beaches were actually really popular for their white sand and clear blue-green water. If I pictured a map of the United States in my head, of course, I could assume there were beaches, but I never imagined they could be this beautiful.
Though they’re separated by city lines, the two towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are made up of fresh seafood restaurants, cheesy souvenir shops, and rainbow-colored beach houses that run seamlessly together along the coastline of Alabama.
My little family and I make a trip down south at least once a year because even though we live 2000 miles away and my husband and daughter have never lived there, something about it feels like home to us. We usually fly into Birmingham, AL to visit my parents, and then make a 3-hour drive down to the beach. The drive is beautiful with the freeways lined with forest green trees as far as the eye can see, but if you want to skip the drive, I recommend flying into Mobile, AL and renting a car to make the 45 minute drive to Gulf Shores.
Our favorite family activity is the Cold Mil Fleet Dolphin Cruise in Orange Beach. They take two boats full of about 25 people each and create a wake between the two boats where dolphins love to jump and play. We’ve been on their cruises over a dozen times and there’s never been a time we haven’t seen at least 2 groups of dolphins. They make the boat atmosphere so much fun by playing Zac Brown Band music and letting you wander the boat to get the best view of the show.
If you are looking for a more active experience, I also highly recommend checking out this wave runner dolphin tour with Extreme Sports Alabama. My husband and I left our daughter with my parents last year to try this out, and we’re doing it again when we head down there at the end of this month.
If you’re not afraid of heights, or if you’re in the mood to conquer your fears, I also really love parasailing along the coast with Chute Em Up Parasail. They have great safety knowledge and also give you the option to be dipped in the water on your way down, which was really fun!
Outside of all the more touristy activities, we love to spend time on the beach. One of the first things we do after getting settled is head to the nearest Surf n Style for some blow up tubes to float on in the waves — I could do this for hours. The waves aren’t overly surf-worthy, but they are great for bouncing or floating in the water. We’ve also rented paddle boards before, and we decided we loved it so much that we are taking our paddle boards down with us this month. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure to grab a bucket of sand toys, too!
It isn’t uncommon for AirBnBs to already have things like beach toys, floats, towels, and shades available, so definitely check before you go!
Something to keep in mind is that while the beach is beautiful and I recommend staying from sunrise to sunset, you will want lots of shade, sunscreen, and water. The sun reflects off the white sand and you will burn a lot more easily than you do almost anywhere else.
Speaking of sunrise, I am not a morning person, but I get up early enough to catch the sunrise on the beach at least twice every time we go. It’s such a grounding experience for me and I wish I could bottle up the feeling and share it with everyone I know.
Now for the part we’ve all been waiting for — FOOD. I have to laugh as I write this because I actually don’t like seafood. Luckily I travel with the two biggest foodies I know though — my husband and my dad — so I can still share all the hidden gems.
Our go-to is Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar. Make sure you head to the original one on Canal Street rather than the new one on Perdido Beach Boulevard. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t go wrong with either, but we’ve been going to Doc’s since long before the new location opened, and you just can’t beat the old shack atmosphere.
Though Doc’s is a family favorite, there are some other great restaurants to hit while you’re there. The Hangout atmosphere is so family friendly and you could spend an entire night there. They have games like foosball and ring tosses, there’s usually a foam pit going, and to top it off — there is always live music! You can hang out and enjoy it all while you wait for your table, or eat first and play after!
Another must is The Original Oyster House for their peanut butter pie! I’m not a super fan of peanut butter, but their whipped peanut butter pie is what dreams are made of. They also have great fried pickles and lots of good seafood entrees.
If you’re looking for a good breakfast spot, you can’t go wrong with the small southern breakfast chain called Another Broken Egg Cafe.
If you want a higher end experience, Cobalt, the Restaurant has phenomenal food and an outdoor dining experience on the water. The firecracker shrimp is a fan favorite, and for my not-so-into-seafood people, the burgers and salads are great too! I have a sweet tooth, so I really go for the fried apple pie and the creole cheesecake!
Now that you know all the tips from a frequent Gulf Shores traveler, you can make the best out of a trip to this domestic hidden gem. Let us know if you take a trip using any of these tips, or if you have Gulf Shores tips of your own!