Living near the Gulf of Mexico means being surrounded by rivers made for tubing, marshes and seas for fishing, and pristine beaches. All of those await you in Gulf Shores, Alabama, a resort town with plenty of natural beauty and man-made fun. From wildlife and concerts to drinking in a bar/church combo, here's everything to do in the city and its surrounding areas.
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Soft, white sand is everywhere in the Gulf Shores area, spilling out a full 32 miles in Alabama alone. That includes Gulf State Park, where camping is encouraged and there's even a pool for you and your dog. The park includes a golf course if you feel like hitting the links -- just watch out for alligators. Otherwise, opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and even surfing abound. The waves here are fairly small so it's a great place for beginners (unless there's a storm coming, in which case there will definitely be some big swells).
See the baby turtles migrate
You can view the more tender moments of nature at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge as thousands of sea turtles hatch and make their way into the water. Then you can try to square the miracle of life with that turtle soup you'll slurp down at Shipp's Harbour.
Tour Civil War forts
Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines were Confederate battlegrounds taken during the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Now open for tours, you can see tons of artifacts from the battles, as well as a live cannon firing.
It doesn't really matter if you've shacked up in fancy hotel, a crappy Airbnb, or an RV park -- hotels like the Marriott and Beach Club will still take your money for their spa services. Splurge on a deep tissue massage, get a facial, and sip cocktails in a cabana by a pool.
Parasailing is extremely popular on the waterfront, though those going the extreme route may want to head to Skydive Alabama a bit more inland. There's an impressive number of drop zones and, depending on your experience and the facility, you can jump from up to 10,000ft.
If you've ever sailed around the barrier islands, you'd think the Gulf was more like a glorified swimming pool and not a giant body of water with its own reverse Grand Canyon. The Sigsbee Deep is a ways away but it’s the deepest part of the Gulf of Mexico at 12,000ft below. Local shops like Down Under can set you up to get certified and explore some of its beauty, plus get a glimpse of the stunning shipwrecks surrounding Gulf Shores.
Meet some animals
Gulf Coast Zoo boasts one-on-one encounters with exotic animals like kangaroos and lemurs and features some charming locals, like pelicans and possums. The "Little Zoo That Could," so named for surviving a few hurricanes, also does tons of community outreach, so don't be surprised to see some tortoises and a friendly zookeeper out and about on the town.
Catch the big one
There's plenty of fish in the sea here (sorry). Whether you want to rent a pole and cast from the beach or charter a boat to head onto the Gulf, there are plenty of great options that'll let you haul in grouper, snapper, mackerel, and even sharks.
Skip the one in Orange Beach and instead make the 80-mile trek to Destin's Fat Daddy's. Unlike its Alabama location, the Florida arcade is next to Fudpucker's, where you can feed alligators. What's not to love?
Grab some local beers
Big Beach Brewing Company boasts that it's Alabama’s southernmost beer-maker, but what should really impress you are its killer red and cream ales. Don't sleep on the Hundred Daze IPA, either. At 6.8% ABV, the brew packs quite the punch for such a citrusy, hoppy delight.
Take the Ferris wheel for a spin
The Wharf at Orange Beach has a charming mix of cool shops and old-school boardwalk kitsch, complete with a light show and, of course, a massive Ferris wheel both kids and adults adore. Sneak an Island Time daiquiri or a flask on your trip for some added fun.
Get a touristy T-shirt
Enter through the shark's mouth and get yourself a stupid T-shirt from Souvenir City. Because that Federal Boob Inspector tank top's never really going out of style, right?
Have a beachside cocktail
Of the many beachfront bars dotting the Gulf Shores area, Pink Pony stands out. It's the type of bar with so much action it has a live webcam broadcasting 24/7, but the real enjoyment comes from the extensive tropical cocktail list.
Get religious while you drink
Flora-Bama bar sits on, you guessed it, the Florida-Alabama state line. It's been commemorated in song by Jimmy Buffett and played host to many a blurry evening. But once it hits Sunday, it's also a place of worship, merging bar culture with honky-tonk music and hymnals. Amen to that.
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April Siese has tried every fried food the Orange Beach pier has to offer. Tell her what to eat next and give her a follow on Twitter @ayetalian.