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Experience the stunning beauty of sugar-sand beaches, turquoise waters, sea breezes and warm Southern hospitality in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Bordered by four bodies of water, Gulf Shores is the perfect destination for exploring six distinct ecosystems by bike, air or on foot. Trails through freshwater marshes and swamps invite explorers to meet wildlife up-close and personal, like “Lefty” the sunbathing alligator. He loves attention, so be sure to say hi. Whether your idea of a perfect vacation is playing golf, boating, snorkeling, sipping margaritas on a deck at sunset or exploring historic sites, Gulf Shores has it all and more.

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Things to Know Before You Go

Visit the Gulf Shores early in June, before or after the Fourth of July weekend and anytime in August. These times are also the most economical. Gulf Shores has a laid-back and casual character, even in restaurants and bars. Activewear such as shorts, jeans, casual tops, and comfortable shoes are acceptable, but bring shoes appropriate for hiking or running. An umbrella is helpful in the occasional downpour. When things cool down, layered clothing or a zip-up jacket keep you cozy. Equipment like kayaks, boats, and bikes are easy to rent. “Leave Only Footprints” is more than a motto: it’s your responsibility to help maintain the area’s beauty.

Best time to visit welcome-to-carol-world / Getty Images
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Gulf State Park

Make this park your one-stop spot for entertainment, especially if you’re short on time. This gorgeous park offers a variety of activities for a modest entrance fee. The white, sandy beach is roomy, and there’s a convenient outside shower for cleaning up. Keep an eye peeled for the sea turtles that frequent the area. If you see nests, look but don’t touch. A dolphin cruise circles the waters several times a day. There are no bad seats on the boat, so you always have a great view of the animals. The Wharf is a great place to take in the nightly light show from the huge Ferris wheel. RV parking is abundant, there’s a pool, and bike trails abound.

dolphin cruise wildlife wharf nick1803 / Getty Images
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Fort Morgan Historic Site

This stately fort is a great example of the adaptation and fortification measures taken by the U.S. Army to defend the country. The fort has served sporadically through several wars, from the Spanish American War through World War II. The small entrance fee gives you access to fishing, tours and nature areas. There’s a beach, boat launch, and picnic area. Dogs are welcome if leashed and cleaned up after.

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Alligator Alley

What would a trip to Gulf Shores be without an alligator exposure — Lefty the sunbathing alligator’s acquaintance notwithstanding. Separated by age in secure enclosures, the Gators love to crowd and crawl all over each other. An elevated boardwalk keeps you safe while observing the alligators. Feeding time is often frantic and very noisy. However, as you move more deeply into the fluorescent green, lighted swamp, the ambiance becomes peaceful, quiet and beautiful. You can hold a young alligator and feel how soft and smooth the skin is. Be sure to bring quarters to buy food to feed them.

alligator Gulf Shores Cheri Alguire / Getty Images

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

An exciting, fun and educational time awaits, and the entry fee is very reasonable. A leisurely stroll along wide paths provides close views of more than 500 exotic animals. Favorites include leopards, wolves, primates and more. There’s also a large aviary, reptile house, and a petting zoo. As the season permits, there are animal shows and informative talks by zookeepers. Pick up souvenirs at the gift shop, buy food at the concessions and sit in a shaded picnic area for lunch.

zoo animals education exotic EMPPhotography / Getty Images

Orange Beach Marina

Ride the wild waves along the Alabama coastal waterways on a jet-ski. Dolphins are often spotted on this two-hour adventure, and the scenery is breathtaking at 40 miles per hour. Get harnessed up for an amazing parasail escapade, then journey back to shore on a stimulating speed boat ride. Be sure to pack your things in dry bags, or they’ll get soaked. Bring a few ginger candies along to ease seasickness if it’s an issue.

Orange Beach Alabama BlazenImages / Getty Images

Bon Secour National Wildlife

This sanctuary is one of the area's last coastal barrier habitats that's undisturbed. Bring along your camera for some spectacular photo opportunities. There are over 370 species of birds, including seven hummingbird species, as well as alligators, armadillos, red fox, and bobcats. For elevated views of Little Lagoon and Gator Lake, take a hike on the Jeff Friend trail or climb the observation tower on Pine Beach, which is also open to surf fishing.

wildlife sanctuary dehooks / Getty Images

Go Fish

Fishing is permitted in several Gulf Shores locations: along the shore, from piers, and beside burbling streams. However, if you’d love a deep sea or even a shark fishing trip, consider booking a chartered excursion from a local company. If you catch a fish but have nowhere to prepare it for eating, several area restaurants are happy to cook it for you. Just bring in your cleaned fish and turn it over to the chef.

fishing deep sea shore river Diana Meister / Getty Images

Oak Hollow Farm

Abandon the jet skis, swimsuits and flip-flops and opt for a stimulating horseback ride on this family-owned farm. Guides escort you to the stables via a hayride. There are over 50 gentle and well-trained horses, so people of all ages and riding skill levels have a great time. Upon your return, you can pet the horses and thank them with carrots provided by your guide.

horses farm hayride acceptfoto / Getty Images

Last but Not Least: Where to Eat

Finding a delicious meal in Gulf Shores is not a problem, but there are a few highly recommended ones. The Hangout is a huge restaurant with beach and ocean views on one side. The other side has a play area for kids. The inside walls are lined with toys and foam parties happen on the hour. For a relaxing, romantic dinner, go to Villaggio Grille or Sunset Cork Room.

food kids romantic margouillatphotos / Getty Images

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