One of the most popular areas for a road trip and longer vacation would be a drive from North Texas to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.
We’ve done all the research for you and wanted to share our own travel experiences, including places to stop, and places to stay as well as places for Orange Beach things to do.
This is the ultimate guide for everything you need to help you plan your vacation.
What is the Distance to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores?
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, so both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama are great spots for Texan travelers to head to for white sandy beaches and clear water.
There are so many Orange Beach things to do and of the two, Orange Beach is the most family-friendly.
Gulf Shores is the older, more established beach area and is a little closer. It sits at the intersection of State Highway 182 and Highway 59.
Orange Beach extends from Gulf Coast State Park to Perdido Key, Florida. Orange Beach is newer and slower-paced but becomes busier every year. They say it’s also a little slower-paced too.
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When to Visit
During the School vacation periods and especially at weekends, traffic can be very congested. Many travelers 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 to avoid crowds and have easier access for Gulf Shore and Orange Beach things to do!
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.
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 things to do vacation doesn’t require a ton of planning.
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 in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
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
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
|Name||Premium Host||Gulf or Beach side||Price per night||Book|
|2 Bedroom Townhome at Orange Beach||Yes||2 min drive to the beach||$185||Check availability|
|Harbour Place||No||On the beach||$212||Check availability|
|*Escape to the Beach*||Yes||On the beach||$241||Check availability|
|***The Beach is within Reach!||Yes||2 min drive to the beach||$166||Check availability|
|Phoenix West II, Beach front with Lazy River/Water Slide||Yes||Beach front||$400||Check availability|
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 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
Our Hotel Pick in Orange Beach, Alabama
Where are the Best Places to Eat in Gulf Shores and 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 on a public beach, 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. If you want to visit the Orange Beach Waterfront Park or Adventure Island, this resort is only 1.5 miles away.
Grab an ice cream at Sweet Cone Alabama
Make sure you go to the “Hang Out” especially if you have kids. So much fun, food and music.
Our Picks for the Best Gulf Shore and Orange Beach Things to do
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.
Book one of these Bestselling Tours and Activities
We love Tripshock because you can book online and they usually discount ahead of time. Having tickets before you go means avoiding disappointment when you get there if it’s sold out!
Take a Boat Cruise
There are a few options but we took one, which we prebooked with Tripshock with Dolphin & Sailing Tours by Cetacean Cruises.
We did the sunset cruise and saw lots of dolphins in the water. They served drinks on board which was nice.
We also found a lot of options for Fishing Charters, Parasailing, Boat Rental and Jetski’s. – Check pricing and availability
Enjoy the Beaches
The pristine white sand beaches are the main draw of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Spend your time sunbathing, swimming, building sandcastles, or simply strolling along the shore.
In Orange Beach things to do, you will likely spend a lot of time beachside as the beaches are pretty with beautiful white sand.
Gulf State Park
Explore the Gulf State Park, which offers over 6,000 acres of natural beauty. Enjoy hiking and biking trails, spot wildlife, go fishing, or take a scenic walk along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
Visit Waterville USA
This water and amusement park is perfect for families. Enjoy thrilling water slides, a lazy river, wave pool, go-karts, mini-golf, and more.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
This protected area is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Explore the trails and observe a variety of bird species, turtles, alligators, and other wildlife.
Explore Historic Fort Morgan
Visit Fort Morgan, a historic military fort dating back to the 19th century. Take a guided tour and learn about its role in various conflicts, including the Civil War.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are renowned for their excellent fishing opportunities and easy access fishing piers. Charter a boat and head out into the Gulf of Mexico for a chance to catch red snapper, grouper, amberjack, and more.
Visit The Wharf, a waterfront entertainment district offering shopping, dining, live music, and family-friendly activities. Enjoy a ride on the Ferris wheel, catch a concert, or browse the shops.
This family-friendly amusement park features go-karts, bumper boats, mini-golf, laser tag, and an arcade. It’s a great place for some fun and friendly competition.
Explore Nature Preserves
Discover the natural beauty of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach by visiting the nearby nature preserves like the Gulf State Park Pier, Backcountry Trail, and the Little Lagoon Pass Boardwalk.
Visit the Arcade
No beachfront destination is complete without its own Video Arcades. The Track in Gulf Shores and Fat Daddy’s Arcade is the perfect Orange Beach thing to do.
Tripadvisor Suggestions for Orange Beach Things to do
Outside of Orange Beach Things to Do
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
These are just a few of the many activities and attractions available in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach things to do. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, family-friendly entertainment, or simply relaxing on the beach, you’re sure to find something enjoyable in this coastal area.