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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

alabama gulf shores

Hook & Barrel’s Cant-Miss Alabama Beach Vacations

For years, Alabama’s beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have relished their role as laid-back beach towns. Places to kick back in a pair of flip-flops and ripped shorts and unleash your inner Jimmy Buffet. A relaxing, unpretentious good time, sure. But nobody was confusing it with anything “upscale.”  

But the area has grown up a lot over the past decade or so, adding high-end amenities and experiences that stretch far beyond beers on the beach. Whether you’re into golfing, creative restaurants, secret speakeasies or glamping in waterfront nature, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach will surprise you with their new crop of options for those who enjoy the finer things. Here’s a look at all the elegant ways you can enjoy a vacation on the Gulf of Mexico along Alabama’s white sand beaches. 

Luxury Condos & an Upscale Wilderness Lodge Highlight the Best Places to Stay in Gulf Shores & Orange Beach 

Turquoise Place

Vacation rentals abound in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but if you’re looking for something more luxe check on availability at Turquoise Place. The towers feel more like a Vegas hotel than a beach condo, and the complex even has its own lazy river and waterslides. Units in the building all boast large, gourmet kitchens with luxury appliances, and sprawling balconies overlooking the water. 

Lodge at Gulf State Park

For those who prefer hotels, the Lodge at Gulf State Park is one of the most unique properties in the south. The sustainable wilderness lodge sits right on the beach inside the state park, with rooms inspired by nature with light woods and big, bright windows. It’s also home to Perch, a clever double-entendre of a restaurant serving fresh seafood with an elevated view of the Gulf. The Best Western Premier Tides Hotel is another upscale option with an elevated pool over the beach and floor-to-ceiling windows facing the water. 

gulf state park pier

Golf, Bike Rides, Fishing Charters & All the Best Things To Do in Gulf Shores & Orange Beach 

The Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club

There is a certain idyllic charm to spending entire days basking in the sun on a beach vacation. But if your attention span isn’t built for spending that long in one place, consider a round or two of golf. The Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club is open to the public, set between two nature preserves along Mobile Bay. The club affords you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the woods while playing one of its three, nine-hole courses, where fairways line up against the bay. The course is rarely too crowded, and the clubhouse feels like an exclusive country club. Ask your caddie nicely, and they may even show you the secret nature trail that leads to a secluded dock jutting out into the water. 

Gulf State Park

Visit Gulf State Park and you’ll find another serene escape from the madness of the shore, where a number of bike rental stations allow you to explore the park’s 28 miles of trails. The roads are flat and easy to navigate, as the terrain varies from lakeside paths to pine forests and lowland marshes. It’s also an invigorating place to stay active while in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, where fresh air and towering trees let you reconnect with nature. 

gulf state park

Whistlin’ Waters

Fishing is obviously a big draw along the gulf, and you can find any number of charters leaving from the beaches’ marinas. If you want something a little more customized check out Whistlin’ Waters. They’ll take you out in suped-up kayaks that get into coves and tributaries larger boats can’t. 

Reel Kill

If you’d prefer to try and catch mahi, sailfish, and marlin, book a charter with Reel Kill. Their plush catamaran comes equipped with bean bag chairs, if standing while you deep sea fish is just a little too taxing.  Then come back and present your catch to any number of local restaurants who’ll cook it up for you. 

Gourmet Restaurants, Secret Speakeasy & More 

Of course, no lavish beach vacation is complete without some fantastic food, and if you’re not up for the cook-and-catch experience you’ll find plenty of other good places to dine. Perhaps the most refined is venerable Jesse’s on the Bay, a high-ceiling seafood spot set above the shores of Mobile Bay. The menu is long on fresh fish and prime steaks, and servers know the wine list better than they know their families. For a bit more variety, head to The Wharf where you can opt for more seaside seafood at Mile Marker 158 Dockside, or leisurely Italian meals at Villagio. 

bars and restaurants in orange beach and gulf shores alabama

The area’s marinas also boast some fantastic restaurants, chief among them Zeke’s in Orange Beach which gives you a front-row seat to boats sailing in and out. For the ultimate in waterfront dining, head to CoastAL (get it?) where craft cocktails, good wines, and grilled meats pair perfectly with the Gulf of Mexico sunset. If you seek something more laid back, post up at the picnic tables at The Gulf, where fried shrimp and salads are served up in a breezy, backyard setting. 

Early risers should make a point to hit Brick and Spoon, where elaborate omelets and over-indulgent pancakes give you enough fuel for an entire day. Or hit the omelet station at breakfast stalwart Hazel’s Nook for a true locals’ experience. 

Cruise For Booze 

For cocktails, venture to the back of the Wharf and look for an unremarkable jewelry store near YoHo Rum and Tacos. Step to the right and give the password and you’ll be led to the store’s “safe.” There, you’ll enter a code (as told on the bar’s social media) and find yourself in the area’s signature speakeasy 8 Reale. The drinks are on par with any craft cocktail lounge in a big city, both in flavor and price, and relaxing with a few drinks here feels a world away from the kid-packed beaches. You may also want to pop into Big Beach Brewing in Gulf Shores, where they specialize in light, easy-to-drink ales and wheat beers best enjoyed on its shady front patio. 

bars in gulf shores alabama

Alabama Awaits! 

This is, of course, but a small sampling of all the offerings in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and if you still want things like bar burgers, fried fish sandwiches, and street tacos, you’ll find plenty of that too. And there’s always the Flora-Bama. But if you’re seeking something a little higher-end on your trip to the beach, Alabama doesn’t make it hard to find. 

Experience Chef Brody Olive’s Impressive Seafood Menu at Perdido Beach Resort
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