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Our best tips to enjoy Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores, Alabama

Orange Beach Alabama

With an 11 hour drive (or 656 miles from Plano, TX) you can load up the station wagon or minivan and drive south towards the Gulf Coast.

It’s a little closer than Destin and Pensacola, which are also great spots for Texan travellers to head to for white sandy beaches and clear water. 

Girls at Orange Beach Alabama

Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores is a little closer, and of the two, Orange Beach is the most family friendly. 

Gulf Shores is the older, more established beach area and sits at the intersection of State Highway 182 and 59.

Orange Beach extends from Gulf Coast State Park to Perdido Key, Florida. Orange Beach is newer and slower paced but becoming busier every year. They say it’s also a little slower paced too.

(Plano Moms uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. Full disclosure)

Orange Beach Alabama Girl

When to Visit

During the School vacation periods and especially at weekends, traffic can be very congested. Many travellers who are staying for a week, arrive and leave at weekends, so try to time your trip around that.

Allow a little extra time to get somewhere, even if it’s less than 2 miles away.

Also check College Spring Break schedules! 

Load up your Roadtrippers App, to plot some good stopping points and places to eat for the drive.

Halfway down the I-20, many families like to stop in Jackson, Mississippi.

We stayed at the Hilton Embassy Suites, Jackson North Ridgeland which was a great area with lots of restaurants in walking distance.

Once in Orange Beach, there are lots of places to shop for souvenirs and there is a Ron Jon surf shop.

Ron Jon Surf Shop

When most people refer to Alabama’s beaches, they are mostly referring to two cities in Baldwin County: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

There are a few other beaches in the area (particularly the beaches along Dauphin Island in Mobile County) but they don’t have a lot of lodging or dining options.

An Orange Beach vacation doesn’t require a ton of planning.

Orange Beach Alabama

It’s entirely possible to just spend a full week enjoying the sand, sun, and water.

But family fun is abundant – particularly for the adults eating great seafood or embarking in a few adventurous activities.

You can also Fly and Rent a Car

Pensacola airport is very close by and both American and Southwest fly directly in less than 2 hours.

It’s about an hour to drive to Orange Beach and the Car rental pick-up can get very busy, so try and book a skip-the-counter option or rush there once you deplane.

When flying home, allow extra time due to the airport size being smaller if it’s crowded during the Summer and if flying Southwest, they may not have the self-check in machines available to tag your own bags and take them to the bag drop. You may have to line up to check-in with an agent. 

Where to Stay

Things to Consider

* Proximity to the beach by foot or by car
Water amenities at the resort if you’re renting a condo
* Does the hotel have a heated pool, especially before late March or April when the temperatures can still be a little cooler
* The area sustained a lot of damage from Hurricane Sally in Sept 2020 and there is still a lot of repair and construction limiting the amount of condos and houses available.
* Look for something beach side to stay as the roads are busy
* Wherever you stay, be sure to check if beach towels are provided or pack your own

Pool at Orange Beach

Orange Beach lodging is predominantly Condo-based lodging in resorts, rather than a large range of luxury hotels with amenities. 

If you look on Vrbo you can find nice condos at many of the complexes there. Vrbo is our booking site of choice and we start with filtering by those with Premier Hosts.

Look at maps carefully to see if the property is beach side or bay side.

Our Top 5 Picks for Vrbo properties in Orange Beach

NamePremium HostGulf or Beach sidePrice per nightBook
2 Bedroom Townhome at Orange BeachYes2 min drive to the beach$185Check availability
Harbour PlaceNoOn the beach$212Check availability
*Escape to the Beach*YesOn the beach$241Check availability
***The Beach is within Reach!Yes2 min drive to the beach$166Check availability
Phoenix West II, Beach front with Lazy River/Water SlideYesBeach front$400Check availability

Orange Beach

The biggest Complexes to look for Places to stay in Orange Beach, Alabama

The Phoenix buildings are all very popular, including Phoenix X and Phoenix West II (it has a lazy river and splash pad). There is a new building that recently opened – Phoenix Orange Beach – that looks really nice. Check availability and pricing

The Palms is another great option. It’s also highly recommended by local Moms – Check availability and pricing

The Caribe is also nice but is not right on the beach. We walked to the beach which is not far but you can catch a shuttle too. Both are beautiful white sand beaches & both are fun with lots of activities (parasailing, jet ski, paddle boarding nearby). The condo we stayed in had a lazy river & slide the kids loved & it was right on the beach! – Check availability and pricing

Lastly, we suggest you look at the Turquoise Place condos. It has an indoor pool, lazy river, bar, live music, fitness center, snow cones shop for kids and on beach. Each unit has a hot tub on the balcony – Check availability and pricing

The Lodge at Gulf State Park
The Lodge at Gulf State Park, Orange Beach-Gulf Shores, Alabama

Our Hotel Pick in Orange Beach, Alabama

If you prefer a hotel, the Lodge at Gulf State park, is a Hilton property and a number of rooms have bunk beds, catering to families – Check availability and pricing

Our Top Tips

By planning before your arrival and for Day 1, you’ll have a really smooth transition to enjoy your Vacation and remove the stress.

  • As you arrive, take note of the nearest grocery stores. Our favorite is Publix, but it gets very busy on Saturday afternoons as new guests arrive.
  • Be sure to check what condiments and food items are available in your condo so you don’t overbuy. You may want to bring some items with you from home, like foil, cooking oil etc.
  • We love using our Yeti to bring some refrigerated items with us. 
  • We also recommend Instacart for shopping at Publix or curbside pick up at Walmart are also good options if you have a grocery list ready and pre-order.

Places to Eat

Florabama Orange Beach

We recommend going out to eat our early, especially during peak travel seasons. 

Florabama – on the Alabama/Florida border at Perdido Key, made famous in lots of country music songs, oyster bar, water front bar & grill, live music. You can go to Church here on Sunday mornings.

Doc’s – for great seafood

Cobalt – restaurant in the hotel complex in the Caribe Resort, great cocktails, offers indoor and outdoor dining (order a frozen pina colada)

The Gulf – fun place for the kids to play on the sand, outdoor dining on the water, casual environment, order at the window and bar. It’s absolutely delicious!

Tacky Jack’s – fun family friendly casual environment, live music, indoor and outdoor dining

Fresh off the boat – fresh seafood and a waterfront view 

Voyagers – Go there for fine dining. It’s located at the Perdido Beach Resort, amazing, get a sitter for the kids

Grab an ice cream at Sweet Cone Alabama

Sweet Cone Alabama

Make sure you go to the “Hang Out” especially if you have kids. So much fun, food and music.

Things to do

Orange Beach Sailing

Booking ahead and also finding old-fashioned paper coupons for discounts is a good move. Some of the excursions and things to do can get a bit pricy otherwise.

We love Tripshock because you can book online and they usually discount ahead of time. 

Take a Boat Cruise.

There are a few options but we took one, prebooked with Tripshock with Dolphin & Sailing Tours by Cetacean Cruises. We did the sunset cruise and saw lots of dolphins. They serve drinks on board which was nice.

Cetacean Cruises Alabama

We also found a lot of options for Fishing Charters, Parasailing, Boat Rental and Jetski’s. – Check pricing and availability

In Orange Beach you will likely spend a lot of time beach-side as the beaches are pretty with beautiful white sand.

Tripadvisor Suggestions

Other Things to Do in the area

Just a short 30 minute drive away to Pensacola NAS. You can watch the Blue Angels practice for free and they fly up the beach a lot.

Also at the NAS be sure to visit the lighthouse (tallest on the gulf), Ft Barrancas (first shots of the civil war) and the Naval Air Museum.

Drive even further and head over to Pensacola, Panama City Beach, Destin and 30a beaches! They’re featured in 45 Lakes and Beaches you can drive to from DFW