Gulf Shores-Orange Beach, AL Visitor's Guide

Gulf Shores and Orange beach are border towns with Gulf Shores to the West, and Orange Beach to the East. Orange Beach is Alabama's eastern most settlement and directly borders Perdido Key, Florida. Both towns are heavily influenced by Gulf of Mexico beach culture and provide similar vacation experiences. The two cities are known for exciting festivals, sport fishing, live entertainment and much more.

Weather
Enjoy a vacation filled with sunshine during your stay in the city of Gulf Shores and nearby Orange Beach, AL! Southeast Alabama and Northwest Florida receive an average of 320 days of sunshine a year. Mid-Western and New England residents, as well as many foreign visitors, find themselves unprepared for the warm, humid climate producing hot, hot, summers, and no dry season. The "warm season", lasting May 24th to September 30th, produces an average temperature of 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the "cold season", lasting November 30th to March 5th, cools even the bravest beach goers with an average daily temperature of 56 degrees (and a low of only 46 degrees)! Be prepared to dress in layers in the late fall, winter, and early spring, and to peel those layers down to a bathing suit when May comes around.



Landmarks
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama offer plenty of historical modern landmarks for travelers to visit. The Bon Secour National Wildlife refuge in Gulf Shores features views of serene beauty and guided nature and tours among many other things. Also make sure to check out one of the many military milestones like the USS Alabama Battleship, National Museum of Aviation, or Fort Gaines.

The two cities also are home to several marinas that make up a majority of the fishing fleet in the area. Make your way to the Wharf in Orange Beach for upscale shopping and dining. The Wharf also features a 112 foot ferris wheel, which is the only one of its kind in the region. Another popular marina is Zekes, which is located shortly after arriving in into Orange Beach on the North side of highway 98. Zekes is one of the top recreational fishing marinas in the area so stop by to book a charter during your stay in Orange Beach.

Things To Do
Family-friendly beach activities, museums, tours and excursions are at the top of the list for any Gulf Coast visitors. Try an Orange Beach dolphin & sunset cruise, parasail trip, deep sea fishing excursion, or guided helicopter ride-along. If history is more your thing, then take one of the many military or city tours. One of the more unique activities in Orange Beach is hot air balloon rides. No other Gulf Coast destination offers hot air balloon rides due to the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, but experienced captains are available for trips. If in the mood for a road trip, head east to Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, or Sandestin, Florida for even more family-friendly things to do.

Dining & Nightlife
Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, AL give travelers a large selection of cuisines, but the most popular cuisine is seafood provided by the local fish and shellfish industry. Choose from hundreds of local or chain restaurants fitted with menu's to fit any appetite or pocket book. Afterwards, hit one of the many bars, taverns and nightclubs off Canal rd for live entertainment and sea-side views. Some of our top choices for dining include Cosmos, Cobalt and The Southern Grind.

Although Gulf Shores and Orange Beach do not have a bustling nightlife like their neighbors to the West (Biloxi), they do offer the best in beach-side bars and entertainment. Lucy Buffet, the sister of Jimmy Buffet, has her own restaurant and bar called LuLu's. LuLu's offers tasty dishes and local entertainment almost nightly. Other popular bars include Tacky Jacks, The Hangout, and Florabama.

Lodging
Beachside Condos and Hotels are popular with visitors to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL. The first thing to consider when looking for a rental in the Gulf Coast is: Hotel or Condo?

Hotels typically offer limited amenities, more traditional rental rooms, and less proximity to the beach. But the average Hotel makes up for what it lacks by offering lower and negotiable rates, and 24 hour service. Many renters consider Condos for their stay because of the large room size (to more easily accommodate larger families and longer stays), and proximity to the beach (many condos are Oceanside and feature gulf views and instant beach access). Also, condo management typically will include family-fun activities and events like movie nights, beach luaus, and pool parties to give guests more bang for their buck. Remember that rates for Rental Homes, Condos, and Hotels fluctuate seasonally. Typically rental rates will increase in the spring and summer, and drop during fall and winter. If interested in booking a rental, always attempt to book in advance for the best prices and availability.

Shopping
Shops along the Alabama Gulf Coast vary from beach souvenirs to premium clothing. The Wharf in Orange Beach located off the popular Canal Rd provides world-class retail stores, entertainment, dining, and special events. Not too far away, the popular Tanger Outlets in Foley, AL has over 100 stores to choose from with popular name brands. From Gulf Shores, AL to Perdido Key, FL find hundreds of stores to give any shopper a run for their money! If looking for a change of scenery, take a drive to Destin, Florida for premium shopping at the Destin Commons Shopping Center, or to Miramar Beach to shop at Silver Sands Outlet Mall.

Annual Events
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama are neighboring communities that share many of the same qualities when vacations are concerned. Popular Annual Events include the Hangout Music Fest May 17-18, National Shrimp Festival Oct 9-12, and holiday celebrations for Mardi Gras, 4th of July, and more! If visiting in July or October, head east down the coast to catch Fishing Rodeos hosted by both Pensacola and Destin, FL.

Top 10 Travel Tips
1) Never underestimate the sun, use sunblock at all times. The white sand may be cool to the touch, but it's also reflecting the sunlight upwards and accelerating the rate at which your skin will tan (or burn).
2) Winter and Fall lodging rates are typically 30-50% less than what are quoted in Spring and Summer. This is great for most visiting on a budget, however most leisure travelers will notice a lot of tour operations shut down, restaurants are short-staffed, and there are very few events offered.
3) Most families will find it less expensive to split a 2 or 3 bedroom condo rather than doing separate condos. The savings could be anywhere from 20-30% for each family.
4) Tour companies are typically slower on Saturdays and Sundays during the peak tourist season (June-August). Look for special deals and offers on these days to save on tickets.
5) Visit the Destin Harbor in the early afternoon during the season to see the daily catch from the various fishing charter boats. You never know what you'll see!
6) The first 2 weeks of June and the last 2 weeks of August are the slower weeks during peak tourist season. The rates are slightly lower and the beach are slightly less crowded.
7) Hurricane season starts through June and run through November. Make sure to check the policy on hurricanes before booking lodging or activities. Some rental agencies are more restrictive than others.
8) If visiting Destin, parking at public beach accesses can be hectic during Spring Break and Summer. Get an early start to avoid the rush or go later in the date (after 3pm). Henderson State Park costs $6 to enter, but they have plenty of parking and updated restroom facilities.
9) For those travelers who plan on going charter fishing, but don't know what to do with the meat, take it to a local seafood restaurant. Most seafood restaurants will prepare your fish into a meal for around $10.
10) Pontoon boats rentals can be a relaxing way to explore the coast. Go snorkeling, fishing, cruising and more without needing professional boating experience.

References
1. "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Orange Beach city, Alabama". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder
2. www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
3. www.weatherspark.com
4. www.fws.gov/bonsecour/


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