Looking for the best things to do in Orange Beach? This fun, informative travel guide is full of relaxing, budget friendly vacation ideas that are perfect for families, couples, and even solo travelers!
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I have to admit that Alabama has not exactly been on my travel radar.
Most of my time spent in this state has been on the highway. It was flat and boring and didn't exactly pique my interest in returning. I had the chance to join my husband on a recent work trip there though, and it totally changed my mind about vacationing in Alabama!
If you're not familiar with this relaxing Gulf Coast beach destination, let me fill you in! Orange Beach is a charming, small town located on the Gulf of Mexico, right by the border of Alabama and Florida. The area is often referred to as the Emerald Coast or the Redneck Riviera ... ha!
The beautiful white sand beach might be what draws you in, but there are so many other fun attractions, restaurants, and sights to keep you around. There's so much to do at this family-friendly beach destination, and my two day trip was way too short ... I guess that means I need to return soon.
Things to Do in Orange Beach
If you're wondering what to do in this beautiful coastal town, this travel guide is for you! I've rounded the best attractions, restaurants, and places to stay.
Ready to start exploring? Then keep reading to get ideas for planning your trip and for lots of beautiful photos to inspire you!
Hit the Beach
Okay, obviously you're going to Orange Beach for the beach ... so let's start there!
The beaches along the Gulf Coast are soft and sandy. It's the perfect place to spend a lazy day.
Although the beaches are open to everyone, you'll need to access them via a public beach access point, unless you're staying in a hotel, condo, or home located directly on the beach.
I spent most of my time at the Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion, which was near my hotel.
This beach is located right off the highway. You'll see the Gulf State Park on one side of the road and the beach on the other.
If you're walking, there's a pedestrian bridge leading to the pavilion on the opposite side of the road. Unfortunately the bridge was closed when I was there. Thankfully, I visited during the off season and traffic wasn't too bad ... I was able to dash across the highway with no problems.
The large, modern pavilion has everything you'll need for a day at the beach. There's a concession stand that's open seasonally, as well as vending machines and plenty of shaded picnic tables where you can enjoy your lunch.
You'll also find air-conditioned bathrooms and showers for washing off the sand.
Is there any better feeling than walking down a boardwalk to the beach?
Just look at that white sand and deep blue water!
It was hot and humid during my visit, so I couldn't wait to dip my toes in that water.
The beach was a little crowded near the pavilion, but nothing too crazy. I'm sure it's much busier during summer.
If you want a little peace and quiet, just head west.
I had the beach almost to myself (I think I passed three people) ... it was amazing!
If you look closely, you can see the Gulf State Park Pier in the distance below.
It's hard to tell it's size from the photo, but the pier is 1540 feet long and 20 feet wide. It's the second longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama's only public pier on the Gulf.
I saw a TON of jellyfish on the beach. Be careful where you step!
I'm squeamish when it comes to this kind of thing, so I have to admit that the jellyfish kind of scared me away from the water. There were plenty of people in Gulf though, so it couldn't have been that badly infested.
Did you know that you can buy a jellyfish sting protective lotion? It may be worth stocking up before your trip and packing water shoes, too ... ha ha.
If you head east on the beach, you'll start to see the many hotels and condos lining the shores.
I'd imagine this stretch of beach gets very busy during the hot summer when temps hit the 90s!
I spotted a few homes along the beach. If I won the lottery, I could definitely see myself retiring in one of those cute, colorful houses!
Sounds like a slice of heaven, right?
Collect Sea Shells
Looking for shells? You'll find plenty on the beaches here!
There were little shells everywhere I looked, and it was fun searching for interesting ones.
If you're really serious about shell collecting in Orange Beach, the best time to find shells is at low tide and after a storm.
Catch a Beautiful Sunset + Walk the Orange Beach Boardwalk
No trip to the beach is complete without enjoying a gorgeous sunset ... or two!
And Florida Point is the ideal place to watch the sun set here.
Florida Point beach is located on the east side of town. Keep an eye out for the exit just after you cross the Perdido Pass Bridge (heading toward the Florida border).
Perdido Pass connects Cotton Bayou, Terry’s Cove, and Bayou Saint John to the Gulf of Mexico. The park here is the perfect place to watch the sun setting over the water, and there's a long boardwalk which makes getting out to the beach easy.
You'll also find picnic tables, bathrooms, and showers ... basically, everything you could need.
The sunset was stunning! We ended up staying much longer than originally planned, because it was just so beautiful!
I think I took approximately one million pictures.
The light kept changing, and the colors grew more intense as the sky darkened.
The sea oats along the boardwalk caught the light just right.
This beach wasn't too crowded, but we definitely weren't the only people there for the sunset.
There were quite a few families getting their photos taken. Wouldn't that be the perfect vacation souvenir?
I'm so glad we dragged our feet leaving, because the sunset got even more beautiful as the sun dipped lower in the sky.
This was definitely one of my top 10 sunsets of all time, and it's at the top of my list of best things to do in Orange Beach, AL.
It doesn't get much better ... just look at those colors!
Go Wildlife Spotting
While you're enjoying that sunset at Florida Point, you're likely to spot some wildlife, too.
I saw lots of little birds skittering along the beach, as well as a few larger ones.
I'm not sure if the bird below was a heron or egret, but it was beautiful. There were a few of these large birds on the beach, and it was fun to watch them move around the water and take flight.
Tip: if you're a more serious birder, check out the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail for more information.
Keep an eye out as you walk along the shore, and you may find some sand crabs, too.
Can you spot the one buried in the sand below?
Trying to catch sand crabs is a popular Orange Beach activity, especially with kids.
Get a Drink at Flora-Bama
You can't head to this corner of Alabama without a stop at Flora-Bama!
Flora-Bama is a Gulf Coast landmark that's been voted the #1 beach bar in the US and #14 in the world. It's kind of a cross between a dive bar and a beach shack.
This funky bar was built on the Florida / Alabama state line in 1964, two years after the beach front highway was constructed. At the time, the small bar and package store was pretty much the only thing in the area, but it's grown over time as the area has, too.
Head to Flora-Bama for food, drinks, live music, and even Sunday church!
This place is so popular that you might even spot a celeb.
Flora-Bama is know for their Bushwacker cocktail, so of course, we had to get a couple!
It was delicious and refreshing (dang it's hot in Alabama!), but I'm not sure what was in it. Ha ha.
My husband also had oysters from the Oyster Bar, and you can head across the street to Flora-Bama's Ole' River Grill or Yacht Club for more food options, too.
It was a really unique place, and I'm sure it's even more fun on crowded summer evenings!
Bike the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
My second day in this wonderful beach destination was spent biking the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
This is definitely one of best things to do in Orange Beach. It was relaxing, fun, and I even got a little exercise in!
Not bad for a lazy vacation, right?
The first thing you'll need is a bike. I highly recommend Beach Bike Rentals, which is located right by to the Rosemary Dunes trail head (and the Hotel Indigo, if you're staying there) ... super convenient!
I loved this place. First, the bikes are cute. You can pick a bike color and choose your basket color, too ... have to have a good looking bike, right? Ha ha!
But seriously, the staff couldn't be more friendly or helpful. The woman I worked with went out of her way to explain how the bike worked, and she went over the trail map with me, showing me a recommended trip based on my time frame.
She also did a mini photo session with me and my bike (at her insistence) that had some pretty hilarious results. I will be keeping most of those pictures to myself, thank you very much!
Once you have your bike, you can hop on the trail right next door.
The trail is mostly flat and not too taxing. It would be the perfect bike ride for a family, and I did see a few on my trip.
You'll find seven interconnected trails to choose from on Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
All told, there's more than 15 miles and six distinct ecosystems in this trail system which meanders through Orange Beach, nearby Gulf Shores, and the Gulf State Park.
If the word backcountry has you thinking this trail might not be for you, don't worry.
All of the trails I rode were either paved or were boardwalk-style, like above. You'll be surrounded by nature, but there's no roughing it involved.
I rode the trail during the week in the off season and had it mostly to myself. Which was really nice and peaceful.
I stopped to take a ton of pictures along the way ... it was so beautiful!
You'll find a number of places to stop and take a break during your ride, which is key because it can get hot on this trail. It is Alabama after all!
Make sure to wear a hat (the sun will be shining directly on you) and to pack some drinks to keep you hydrated.
There is a Nature Center where you can take a break and buy a snack or drink. You may find some vending machines if you take the trail near the campground, and there are a few bathrooms located along the trail, too.
One of the cool things about the trail is all the different areas and ecosystems you can explore.
Along the way you'll find a butterfly garden, freshwater marshes, and coastal hardwood swamps. You might even catch a glimpse of a bobcat on the Twin Bridges or a white tailed deer on Gulf Oak Ridge.
Keep an eye out for alligators basking in the sun, too!
I can read a regular map, but for some reason I always get lost when trying to figure out where I am on a trail map. Please tell me I'm not the only one!
The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is pretty well marked though, so keep an out for signs if you get lost easily like me.
Most of my two hour trip was spent riding the trails around Middle Lake and Little Lake.
There was so much gorgeous scenery along the way. Make sure to plan a few stops on your bike ride to pause and take it all in!
Visit the Wharf
After that awesome bike ride, my mini vacation was almost complete. Didn't I tell you this trip was too short?
My husband picked me up, and we headed off to The Wharf on our way out of town.
The Wharf is an entertainment complex with little of everything: shopping, dining, events and live music, a ferris wheel, and even a hotel and marina. Stop by when you need a break from the beach or a little retail therapy.
It was really cute and reminded me a lot of Navy Pier in Chicago. And although it was quiet while we were there, I imagine it's busy during tourist / high season!
We didn't stay too long, but I'd like to return on a future trip to do a little shopping and eating.
And that about wraps up my vacation ... I hope I've inspired you to start planning your own trip though! There are so many fun attractions here, and two short days isn't enough time to see everything (a long weekend or full week would be perfect).
Regardless of the length of your stay though, you'll find many more things to do in Orange Beach:
- Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo: Follow the pathways through this park to see over 500 exotic animals, including lions, tigers, bears, primates, leopards, wolves, and more! You'll find a reptile house, petting zoo, and aviary, too, as well as seasonal animal encounters, animal shows and keeper talks.
- The Coastal Arts Center: This 10,000-square-foot art center features art galleries displaying local and regional artwork, and you can take a class in glass blowing, pottery, painting, and more to learn how to create your own masterpiece, too!
- Fort Morgan Historic Site: Fort Morgan, which is located west of town, was built between 1819 and 1833. It stands guard where the Bon-Secour Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. The fort played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 and was used intermittently through the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. Stop by to enjoy the history, then relax on the beach or break out your fishing pole.
- Gulf State Park Pier: The pier is 1540 feet long and 20 feet wide. It's the second longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama's only public pier on the Gulf. You'll find 2448 feet of fishing space along it's rails, and there's an indoor shop where you can buy tackle and souvenirs.
- Indian and Sea Museum: This unique museum is housed in a 1910 schoolhouse, and it features local artifacts and memorabilia relating to Native American and fishing heritage. Families of early fisherman donated the supplies and collectibles that show the challenges and achievements in the early days of the local fishing industry.
- Shopping: You'll find everything from cheesy tourist shops to boutiques and gift shops to peruse, so bring your wallet! Here's a list of shopping centers to get you started.
- Sporting and Outdoors: Enjoying the great outdoors is one of the best activities you'll find here. During your visit, you can do everything from deep sea fishing to golfing to stand up paddle boarding, parasailing, birding, sea conservation programs, and more. You'll find many rental opportunities. Get started here.
- Waterville USA: Need to entertain the kids? Take them to Waterville USA, a 20 acre water park located ¼ miles from the beach in nearby Gulf Shores. Your family will spend the day enjoying everything from water slides to a wooden roller coaster!
Where to Eat
Are you looking for the best restaurants to enjoy on your vacation? I didn't have a chance to try too many places, but here are a few you're sure to enjoy:
(Temporarily closed until March 2020.)
You'll find lots of seafood here, as well as other options like fried chicken, tacos, salads, and more. There is something for everyone, and they have a big selection of beer and cocktails, too. Orange Beach is not the easiest place for a vegetarian, so I was pleased to find a few tasty looking options here. I enjoyed a flatbread pizza with an ice tea that my sweet waitress kept replenishing once I told her how thirsty I was ... she even filled up a to go cup for me when I left!
This unique dive bar / beach shack is a huge, rambling place that's a must see. Make sure to try a Bushwacker and grab a bite to eat in one of their three restaurants!
A super popular place housed in a rehabbed shipping container. The menu is not especially vegetarian friendly, but my husband ate here and really enjoyed it.
Luna's is a really popular place. We got there pretty late and still had to wait, but it was worth it!
If you can only eat one place in town, make it Luna's. Everything we had was amazing, and the Southern influenced menu had plenty of choices for vegetarians like me and meat eaters like my husband. My favorite thing though was the tomato pie (though the hush puppies and deviled eggs were delish, too). Our server said it was the best thing on the menu, and she was right! Joel loved his grillades and grits, too.
They pretty much had to roll us out of there, and I can't wait to head back one day (I hear they have a great happy hour). So delish and the perfect end to the first day of my trip!
You'll find locations of this charming coffee house at The Wharf and in the Hotel Indigo. I visited the one in our hotel a couple times, and it was so cute and beachy!
The Southern Grind is part coffee shop/restaurant and part gift shop. You'll have tons of fun browsing around while waiting for your food ... especially if you have a beach house to decorate!
I had the spinach and mushroom scramble and an iced coffee. Both were delicious, and it was the perfect way to start my day! And I actually returned the next day for a salad, which was super tasty, too.
Where to Stay
After a long late afternoon drive from New Orleans, we arrived in town pretty late. It was dark, and the only thing I wanted to was check into our hotel, order room service, and put my feet up!
We stayed at the Hotel Indigo (one of my fave hotel chains), and I absolutely loved our suite. I'd describe the decor as fun and beachy, yet totally modern. And with its separate living room and bedroom, it was super spacious, too.
The best part of this room though was the balcony with it's gorgeous view of Gulf State Park and the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail! On the other side of this hotel you'll get beach views, so it's hard to go wrong.
The Hotel Indigo is located on the far west side of the city, and there's a free beach shuttle. It's a little quieter on this end of town, which I liked. But it was still very convenient to everything I wanted to do.
Of course, the Hotel Indigo isn't the only place to stay. This touristy beach town has lots of options!
- Best Western Premier / The Tides - This hotel gets great reviews and sits right on the beach.
- Doubletree / Island House - Relax under a beach umbrella or in your room overlooking the ocean at this beautiful hotel.
- Holiday Inn Express - Another great option that's right on the beach. Includes free breakfast.
- Find lots more options here, including resorts, condos, and more!
Are you searching for a more homey place to hang your hat for a few days? Then, I'd recommend checking out an Airbnb instead ... there are tons of great condos and homes for rent in Orange Beach.
Is it your first time using Airbnb? Sign up and save $40 off your home booking, plus get $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more!
Have you ever visited this beautiful beach town? What were your favorite things to do there?