• A Nomad's Guide to the Planet

Gulf Shores: Where to Eat, Stay, and Visit

Location: Alabama

Gulf Shores Beach at sunset
Gulf Shores Beaches

Overview


Gulf Shores is Alabama’s response to the exponential growth of Florida’s beach tourism in the past century. Located on the sliver of Alabama’s Gulf of Mexico coastline, Gulf Shores is one of the most popular destinations in Alabama for its’ beach and coastal tourism facilities. The city is situated to the east side of Mobile Bay adjacent to Alabama’s border with Florida. Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan compose the primary areas of interest in the region and are all located along the coast.


Early History


The city of Gulf Shores has a relatively brief history of inhabitation as it legally just became a town in 1958. Gulf Shores has a history linked closely with the sea. The primary industry center of early Gulf Shores was its location along the Intracoastal waterway. This water route provides sheltered passage for ships along the length of the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the transportation industry, fishing, shrimping, and oystering were staples of the local economy with sizeable operations venturing in the Gulf of Mexico for aquaculture.


Rise of the Tourist


In 1979, Hurricane Fredric led to the transformation of the town of Gulf Shores into a tourist haven. Massive destruction from the hurricane forced nearly the entire town to rebuild. This in turn spurred the rapid development of large condominiums, malls, and restaurants. As tourism began to rise, trends emerged that mirrored those of the Floridian beach towns such as busy summer seasons and a focus on tourist facilities. Snow Birds, generally older northerners who spend three to five months in the south for the winter, are rising in popularity in the area and support the economy during the winter season.


With the rise of tourism, the traditional seafaring life of fishing has dwindled in importance to the local economy. Furthermore, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 produced drastic environmental degradation in the area. The oil spill destroyed ecosystems and made fishing much more difficult. Despite this catastrophe, there is still some aquaculture in the Gulf Shores region. However, these new influences have made the local way of life more diversified than in the mid-1970s.

Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico

The Destination: Gulf Shores


Accessibility


Gulf Shores is accessible via a variety of options for travelers. Jack Edwards Airport is the primary gateway to the city by plane. However, there are not currently any commercial airline services to the airport. Most travelers who wish to fly commercial airlines must land in Mobile at the Mobile Regional Airport. This airport hosts major US airlines with connections to Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Houston.


Being the southernmost settlement in Alabama, the closest Interstate is relatively far from the coastal areas. Interstate 10 connects Pensacola, Florida to Mobile, Alabama north of the Gulf Shores area. From the interstate, it is a 30-mile journey along Alabama State Route 59 to the coastal region.


Transportation via waterways is a significant path to reaching the area with Mobile Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Gulf of Mexico surrounding the Gulf Shores region. The Mobile Bay connects upstream to Mobile and the Alabama River. Alabama’s shores on the Gulf of Mexico provide significant oil reserves with oil shipping being a significant contributor to the local economy.


The Site


The region of Gulf Shores includes all of the coastal regions east of Mobile Bay and west of the Florida border. Daphne, a large inland town north of the area, is the region’s principal hub but is not included in this site. Cities and towns across the roughly 20 miles of the uninterrupted beach include Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, and Gulf Highlands. Each of these towns has a distinct culture and feel with Gulf Shores being the most populous and the center of commerce. Fort Morgan and Gulf Highlands are located on a peninsula between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This secluded portion provides a much quieter experience than the crowded areas to the east. Orange Beach is a growing alternative to Gulf Shores and has a wide range of options to stay and entertainment for visitors.


Travel Recommendations


What’s the Weather in Gulf Shores?


Gulf Shores has beautiful coastal weather typical of the southeastern United States. Long and warm summers turn into short but cool winters. Most of the summer months feature highs in the 80s and 90s while the winter months see temperatures dip into the 40s at night. Most of the year it is pleasant to go to the beach and enjoy outdoor activities. Hurricanes are an important climatic event that you should keep an eye out for if you are traveling to the Gulf of Mexico during the last summer months. These hurricanes can cause immense damage to communities and put people at risk so it is important to remain vigilant and aware of local weather conditions during these times


Restaurants


Tacky Jacks are a chain of three restaurants localized in the Gulf Shores area. The restaurants feature a seafood menu with locally caught marine life. A wide selection of shrimp and fish options are available in a variety of forms. Whether you like a Po’boy sandwich, full dinner platter, or fish tacos, Tacky Jacks has it available. The firecracker shrimp is a delectable appetizer and highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a little spice. Aesthetically, Tacky Jacks lives up to its “tacky” name having the primary colors painted on the walls and floors. Outdoor seating is recommended with beautiful views of the gulf from the deck. Overall, Tacky Jacks is a great spot for lunch or a casual night out on the edge of the water.

Docks at Tacky Jacks
Docks at Tacky Jacks

The Sunset Cork Room is an upscale favorite for dining in Gulf Shores. The menu has excellent seafood choices including a fantastic grouper and shrimp. The blackened grouper was delicious and seasoned well. I got the meal to-go because of COVID-19 restrictions; however, the inside looked beautiful as well. It seems that in usual conditions, the restaurant has live music playing on weekend nights


Things to Do


Gulf Shores contains many of the traditional beach activities you can find in most coastal tourist destinations. Parasailing is a common daytime activity near the public beach access. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard for however long you would like and the company will deliver it to your doorstep. In addition to beach and water activities, there are a host of mini golf locations scattered around the area as well as some 18-hole golf courses.


The Fort Morgan Historic Site is located at the western tip of the peninsula on the edge of Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Morgan is a historic fort that played a role in the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. It replaced Fort Bowyer used in the War of 1812. You can walk among the ruins of the fort and enter the museum covering its history and the evolution of sea fortifications along the Gulf of Mexico. This is a unique site for history buffs or those just looking for a fun but educational experience.


Gulf State Park is a large geographic area encompassing the space between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. In the northern sector of Gulf State Park, there is an assortment of trails for hikers and campgrounds with cabin rentals. The scenic Backcountry Trail takes hikers through dunes, marshes, beaches, and a butterfly garden. Although most of the parkland is inland or surrounding a few lakes, there is about a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of coast located inside the park. The coastal region features a beach pavilion station for visitor’s essential needs. Gulf State Park is a fantastic destination for anyone in the Gulf Shores area who wants to see the diversity of the natural beauty in south Alabama.


Another popular activity in Gulf Shores is the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo which was the location of Animal Planet’s show The Little Zoo that Could. Animal Planet’s show depicts the struggle of the small zoo to reopen after being heavily damaged by three major hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. The Zoo is located in the inland portion of Gulf Shores and hosts over 600 animals within its’ facilities. Animals of note include varieties of lions, leopards, macaws, tigers, and bears.


A few miles to the east in Orange Beach, the Wharf is a popular location for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The primary feature of the Wharf is a large Ferris Wheel in the center. With over 60 stores and a wide variety of restaurant selections, The Wharf at Orange Beach is the locus of commerce and entertainment in the area. Along the coast is a marina with event space and available boat rentals and tours around the area by boat. Another highlight of the Wharf is the 10,000 seat amphitheater which hosts a plethora of events throughout the year. At the end of the night, a light show illuminates the plaza in a brilliant spectacle.

Gulf Shores Beach
Gulf Shores Beach

Events


The Hangout Music Festival is an annual three-day event filled with musicians and billboard named artists. Held on the third weekend of May, this music festival is one of the largest in the southeast United States. The festival is located near its namesake, the Hangout Gulf Shores, a restaurant with a beach party atmosphere near the center of Gulf Shores. Artists can be seen at the festival across nearly every genre of music and include icons such as Kendrick Lamar, Lana del Ray, Khalid, and Outkast. The stages are located on the beach and make for a unique music festival experience on the sand and near the ocean. The music festival also has other activities to keep festivalgoers busy with a full-sized skating rink, beach volleyball, and an in-ground pool near the main stage.


The National Shrimp Festival is held annually in Gulf Shores and draws in crowds approaching 300,000 people. Over 50 food vendors line the Gulf Shores boardwalk in celebration of the event and showcase the many unique ways shrimp can be prepared. Altogether, the vendors go through 10,000 pounds of shrimp per day of the festival. The National Shrimp Festival is held each October and includes many non-shrimp related activities such as

a 5K run and an art show for visitors to buy local artworks.


Where is a good restaurant in the Gulf Shores area you have visited?


409 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, Alabama 36542