Gulfshores is my new happy place……there, I said it.
I have heard about Gulfshores for years, but we always seem to end up in the Pensicola/Destin area. These beaches are great but they are so crowded, and, unless I’m going to a theme park, I am over crowds. We decided to give Gulfshores a try and we loved it!
So where to stay? I was told the “nicer” area were the Gulfshores beachs going towards Orange beach on E Beach Road. This is the area where they have several nice, new high rise condos. These condos are beautiful and have great amenities. They have a ton of units so there are many people on that part of the beach. If that is what you are looking for in a beach vacation, that is the area. However, I was looking for a quieter place.
If you go down 59 from I-10 and take a right onto W Beach Road, the land becomes more narrow. There are more single family home condos or small units. There are a couple of high rises but not many as the road goes down to just to two lanes instead of 4. This area is pretty quiet. The beach access is locked and requires that you have a key to access for most of it. You get this access when renting the condo, which means fewer people on the beach.
Timing makes a big difference. If you can go when the kids in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi go back to school, the area is quiet and not very crowded. These states usually go back to school around the same time.
We have stayed on a condo on the Little Lagoon side, which was beautiful. It had floor to ceiling windows in all the rooms. We could still see the gulf and felt like we were surrounded by water. We had scattered showers throughout the week, but with a big patio and the large windows, it was still picturesque.
The condo was called Lagoon Tower and it was perfect. It is a very small building with only 2 units per floor. One facing the Gulf and one facing the Lagoon. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows in every room so you always have a great view. The unit we were in had 3 rooms but the upper floors have 5 (I think) bedrooms. The tower has a small pool outside and an indoor one, also. The building is very close to the water so when you sit on the patio, you don’t see other condos. An interesting side note, the homes on HGTV’s Beach Flip are right down the road from here.
These are pictures from our balcony, which was large enough for seating and eating areas. If you want to go to the beach, you cross the street, which has little traffic and walk across a narrow bridge to get to the gulf. For this reason, pulling anything with wheels is out because the bridge has stairs. I would suggest bringing backpack style chairs that have storage so you can pack all you need in them. Also, an umbrella because the sun will beat down on you and it is a nice option to get some shade. A matt is also an option. We did see many people bring a pop up canopy, but we didn’t stay at the beach long enough to warrant that kind of set up time.
I loved this place and would highly recommend staying here but if it is booked, there were two more condos that were very nice looking next to them.
Bel Sole is the unit to the right of Lagoon Tower, with the purple hotel logo in the picture below. We have also stayed here. This unit was different from Lagoon Tower in that it had balconies on both the Lagoon and Gulf side. The gulf side had a small balcony and the Lagoon side had a larger balcony. At Lagoon Tower, you are either on the gulf side or lagoon side. However, the balcony is much larger at Lagoon Tower and you still have views of the gulf from the lagoon side.
Pictures from the balcony at Bel Sole.
Mystique is the third, but has larger condos with 4 bedrooms. However, there are plenty of beach homes on the gulf side (as you can see in the picture above) that are available to rent as well. What I did was went to VRBO and looked on the map of condos for rent and just stuck to that area.
There are plenty of family activities to do in Gulfshores besides just hanging at the beach.
The Track– fast go carts, bumper boats (so helpful when trying to cool off), mini golf, and a very well air-conditioned arcade. They also,have an area with rides for little kids. We had such a blast here. They use tickets (on a card) here, but they have packages and a table showing the rides with the amount of tickets each ride requires on their website. For kids that are not tall enough to drive the go carts, they have double go carts. They go pretty fast and the Wild Woody was worth every ticket. You can find 2 for 1 ticket coupons in the gulf shores coupon book. They have them at most restaurants and at the Rouses supermarket.
Dolphins Down Under Dolphin Cruise – you can’t go wrong with being on the water, but it is so much better when you can be entertained by an awesome crew and see some dolphins. If you book a cruise, make sure it is with Captain Robert. He is a hilarious character from Louisiana. He made us laugh the whole trip in addition to watching the Dolphins. He was also awesome at making recommendations on restaurants and places to go. We really had the best time talking to him! They have coupons in the coupon book I mentioned above.
The Hangout– This place falls under restaurant and entertainment, especially if you go on a Friday or Saturday night. They have live bands and will have the kids move the plates on the table, and dance on top of them. We went on a Friday afternoon and the Gulfshores zoo brought animals for the kids to touch. Sofia held a very big snake. We are all still a little traumatized, but she loved it. The kids played in bubbles from this huge bubble machine. And if this isn’t enough, it is actually a good restaurant right on the beach. I say a good restaurant because we were not expecting much. I have found that sometimes restaurants with lots of activities tend to focus more on activities, rather than food. This was not the case at the Hangout. This place is very busy during the summer time since it is a great family environment.
Other activities that we didn’t get a chance to try include the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, a Zipline, Bon Secour Natural wildlife refuge, and Waterville USA. I also saw that there is the Gulf Coast Tennis Club. It is indoor, temperature controlled, Italian red clay courts! This sounds like a blast to try the next Gulfshores trip.
Gulfshores had some really good places to eat. Our favorite, though, was a small place called The Flying Harpoon.
The Flying Harpoon – We found this place on Yelp. It had great reviews and the pictured looked great. When we got there, though, I thought I had the wrong place. We walked upstairs and basically saw a bar with a few tables. We were there early for the dinner hour. There were just a couple of people sitting at the bar. I looked at my husband, thinking “oops, I may have picked the wrong place”. However, we grabbed a table and this soon became our favorite place to eat. The staff was super friendly and the food was fantastic! Also, if you are into trying the local drink, the bushwhacker, this place had the strongest with the best flavor. They make them individually instead of in the margarita machine.
There were plenty of families here once it reached dinner time. There are 2 Flying Harpoons, one in town and one on the way to Orange beach. The one closer to Orange beach is much larger and the food quality was the same. We went mostly to the one in Gulf Shores mainly because it was closer.
Tacky Jacks at Orange Beach– we went here before our Dophin Cruise. Great atmosphere, right on the water. The food was pretty good. Hard to beat Flying Harpoon, but not bad as an option.
Cafe Beignets of Alabama – don’t go. As a self proclaimed beignet expert this place was pretty bad. I have been to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans so many times, I can’t even guess the number. Coffee Call in Baton Rouge is also fantastic. I didn’t think you could mess up beignets but the interior of mine seemed raw still. They offer vanilla cream filled, because beignets are apparently not sweet enough. It wasn’t good either.
Oyster House – awful, just awful. They seem to have a lot of people every time we drove by, but the food was too greasy. They have daily specials like all you can eat fried catfish, but the flavor is bad and they are so slow to bring you the next round. You get 3 pieces with your first order, then they bring you two more as you order your next round. You could stay there for hours trying to get full.
Picture of fried pickles.
Original Oyster House Seafood – tourist trap. The food was not impressive at all. My husband got a soft shell crab po-boy. It was very sad looking. Even more troubling was the fact that they had horrible bushwhackers!
Bill’s By the Beach – Good food and very popular, even in the slow season. If you don’t get there early (think 4 pm dinner), you will have a long wait. It also has a tough parking lot to get into, mainly because there are so many people trying to find a spot in such a small parking lot.
Sarah’s Homemade – so it’s not a restaurant per se, but they have freshly made bake and eat options that would be very budget friendly if staying in a condo. Their chicken salad is amazing. I don’t usually like restaurant chicken salad but this is worth getting. Also, their key lime pie is fantastic. It is located in the same shopping center as Rouses, so you could get some drinks and pick up a couple of meals here for a some easy dinners.
As I mentioned, there is a Rouses close to all the condos, but also a Wal-mart.
Lastly, if someone really has had enough of the beach or gotten burnt, there is an outlet mall in Foley (on the way to Gulf shores).