When you think about where to go for a beach vacation, southern California and Florida seem to be the iconic destinations in America. Unbeknownst to many, there are 30 miles of sugar-white sand beaches that hug the Gulf of Mexico. This pristine beachfront is the setting for a perfect Alabama beach vacation and encompasses the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Plan a Perfect Alabama Beach Vacation: Where to Stay in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

Getting to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach involves a flight to either Pensacola, Florida or Mobile, Alabama.

Approaching the coastline from highway 59, the waterfront property is a familiar scene of high-rises. In Alabama, however, 85% of these properties are individually owned condos and vacation rentals, not hotels.

A majority of the properties are managed by Brett/Robinson. Founded in 1982 by the Brett and Robinson families, there are currently 19 high rises managed by Brett/Robinson in the Orange Beach and Gulf Shores area. Two more buildings are expected to be completed by 2018. For those who don’t enjoy the hustle and bustle of high rises, Brett/Robinson also manages over 50 condominiums and beach houses in Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores.

Phoenix West II Rental Condominiums at Gulf Shores, Alabama

Phoenix West II Rental Condominiums at Gulf Shores, Alabama

When I visited, I stayed at Phoenix West II. Built in 2012, it is currently the newest multi-unit property in the Brett/Robinson catalog. With three and four bedroom options available during peak season, rentals are completely furnished and perfect for multi-day and longer stays.  For the waterbugs, it  includes a lazy river, water slide, indoor and outdoor pools. Other recreational activities include tennis courts and communal grills.

 

A full size kitchen as well as a wet bar is included in your stay at Phoenix West II in Gulf Shores, Alabama

A full size kitchen as well as a wet bar is included in your stay at Phoenix West II in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

 

Gorgeous views down the beach from the 28th floor of Phoenix West II.

Gorgeous views down the beach from the 28th floor of Phoenix West II.

 

A lovely sitting area with cable, wifi, and board games comes in handy in inclement weather.

A lovely sitting area with cable, wifi, and board games comes in handy in inclement weather in the Phoenix West II rooms.

What to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Some people are perfectly content sunning by the beach reading a book or floating on a lazy river. Those are two great options in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. FYI: the purple flag on the beach means there are jellyfish in the area so you’d do yourself a favor to stay out of the water when that is flying.    For those looking for more activities, there is plenty to do.  For the nature lover, consider taking a bike tour or segway tour of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry trail.  With over 25 miles of trails and six different ecosystems along the way, it is a great spot to experience the diversity of the area.  You can look up and spot eagles’ nests and look down to see alligators and loggerhead turtles.  In particular, there is a resident gator named “Lefty”, named as such because she lost her left front foot.

Lefty, the resident gator along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry trail in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Lefty, the resident gator along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry trail in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Activities by Land and by Sea

For those looking for a more competitive form of fun, the Alabama coast offers plentiful options for competitive and recreational golf.  In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there are seven golf courses, three of which are championship length.  No matter what your skill level is, there is a golf course that will suit you.

After a packed day, there is nothing like a quick nap and shower before a night out.  In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there are plentiful options for an evening activity.  A sunset cruise with Sail Wild Hearts is a lovely way to wrap up a day on the water.  There is something so special about sailing on the calm gulf water that really ties a bow on a day of fun. The beautiful sunset on the water and against the backdrop of homes along the gulf is truly a treat.

Wild Hearts Sunset Cruise.

Sunset from the Sail Wild Hearts Sunset Cruise in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Where to Eat in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

If you have ever been on a bad vacation, I’d take a guess and suggest that among other things, the food options weren’t great.  You will not have that trouble when heading to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.  No matter what your food allergy or restriction, many of the restaurants in the area are able to accommodate.  As a seaside town, of course the seafood is outstanding.  Oysters, shrimp, crab, and/or catch of the day fish proliferated most every menu.  Some of the more popular styles of serving this locally sourced seafood were fish tacos, blackened shrimp, and crab quiche.

Crab Cheesecake at Bill's By the Beach.

Crab Cheesecake at Bill’s By the Beach.

Deconstructed fish tacos from Anchor Bar and Grill.

Deconstructed fish tacos from Anchor Bar and Grill.

 

Grouper Ponchatrain from Shipp’s Harbour Grill.

One of the more famous restaurants from the area is LuLu’s.  Owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister Lucille, it has 8 different allergy menus available as well as a database of customers who visit with allergies.  Talk about going the extra mile!

Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Sugar White Sand Beaches

With so many activities and restaurants to try, it is surprisingly easy to forget to take some time to sit at the beach. The beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama are not quite like the beaches I frequent. In Chicago, the sand of lake Michigan is coarse and gets incredibly hot under the sun. In Alabama, however, the sand is fine and soft, and resembles powdered sugar.  This sand is the quartz runoff from the Appalachian mountain range from the last ice age.  It stays cool under the hot sun, and even squeaks when you walk in it. For those without beach chairs, the sand perfectly conforms to your body for an ideal napping spot.

We had a great time at the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We had a great time at the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

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Many thanks to the tourism board of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach along with multiple partners for hosting my stay.  While the details were theirs, all fun and opinions are my own.