The best vacations aren’t the ones where you stand in line for hours or spend more time in traffic than actually exploring the places you are visiting. The best vacations happen to the smartest of travelers, the ones who understand that the restaurants where the locals eat, the hidden gems that the tourists don’t know about, or the walks off the beaten path will show them a side of the world that enriches, entertains, and educates while also offering an experience that will never be forgotten. This insider’s Gulf Shores vacation guide will bring travelers a deeper understanding of this coastal area, just as a stay in our Poole & Associates escapes will reveal the softer side of travel life.

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Day 1: Choose Your Adventures

This comprehensive Gulf Shores travel guide to your Alabama Insiders getaway is going to be filled with adventures, possibly even more than you will have time for, but there is no need to follow it to the T. Pick and choose the activities that make your heart beat faster, spread them out over seven days or do them all in one fell swoop. (That would be a really long day!) The most important advice we can give every traveler staying with us is to take the time to feel the Gulf Coast difference. Let the salt air kiss your cheeks, take hundreds of pictures of the seabirds taking off into blue skies, and order that second cup of coffee. The beauty of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan is best explored at a slower pace.

The Perfect Beginnings

Today, we would like to take you where the locals eat breakfast. We live here, we work here, and we love weekend mornings spent enjoying breakfasts someone else cooked, but we don’t love spending a lot of money. Oso at Bear Point Harbor, 5749 Bay La Launch Avenue in Orange Beach is one of our favorite local spots, offering good food and smaller lines at breakfast, partly because most tourists don’t know it exists! Oso means bear in Spanish, and this appropriately named restaurant is famed for its hearty portions. Serving breakfast on the weekends, Oso offers an extensive menu of American favorites that may encourage you to return for lunch and dinner. Their weekend breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and their harbor views take the first meal of the day, no matter how humble, to the next level of perfection.

Unleash Your Inner Child

Family vacations can be intimidating adventures as you try to find the perfect blending of kid fun and adult excitement, and sometimes the best way to do things as a family is by unleashing your own inner child. Finding the joy in the little things isn’t that hard to do and playing with childlike wonder can do wonders for your very adult blood pressure issues. On this first day in paradise, we are going to explore the activities that most outsiders ignore but all the children love, and we promise this day will be magical for the entire family.

Foley Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit, 125 E Laurel Avenue in Foley

Located just 11 miles out of the Gulf Shores area, Foley, Alabama has always been a farming community, and the train depot that served this idyllic town is now the site of the Foley Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit. Offering a fascinating history of trains, the depot has sat in this spot since 1909, and the pictures that hang in its gallery tell the story of time passing. Featuring a child-sized train that takes visitors around the park on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the summer and only on Saturdays the rest of the year, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 until 3 and features a couple of original cabooses and engines for your exploration purposes. The model train exhibit, however, is destined to charm everyone in your traveling group, covering 1200 feet of space in a room designed to look like a small town.

Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf, 3201 Gulf Shores Parkway

Although golf has been a game loved by many for a multitude of centuries, miniature golf is a hobby that is relatively new to the sporting arena, with the first miniature course being created in 1916. Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf, although not quite as old as the game itself, has been a fun attraction for kids since they opened their gates in 1978. Fun and fanciful, the pirate’s themed course brings joy to all who venture within its boundaries with the focal point being the treasure ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, that floats in the middle of the lagoon while also serving as one of the holes.

At Day One’s End

Today’s adventures have taken you on a tour of nature, a small road trip, and on a trip back to swashbuckling times, and we can imagine that by day’s end you will be more than ready for a good meal and a relaxing evening at home. Perhaps this will be the perfect evening to order takeout pizza to enjoy at home while exploring the amenities of your Poole & Associates vacation escapes. Going out for dinner is also nice, and these spots promise taste-full adventures, so whatever your choice, pizza is definitely going to be had either way.

Papa Rocco’s, 101 W 6th Avenue in Gulf Shores

Closed on Tuesdays, Papa Rocco’s has been the place for pizza in Gulf Shores since 1985. Pay no mind to the slogan painted on the walls, advertising “the home of warm beer and lousy pizzas” because we can promise that the opposite is true. Cold beer, tasty pizzas, and on occasion, live music, makes the pizzeria one of our favorite local traditions and if you are visiting on a live music night, you just might rethink the whole “eating at home” thing.

Pizza at the Pass, 27267 Perdido Beach Boulevard C2 in Orange Beach

The pizzas at Pizza at the Pass are classically delicious and because they are on Door Dash, you don’t even have to leave your sanctuary, just order them to be delivered. The basic pizzas are always great, but if you want to try something different, we suggest their Greek Pizza, made with gyro meat, feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, and a drizzle of Greek sauce. All ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible, so you can feel good about serving these pies to your kids.

Day 2: Raring to Go

The second day of vacation always reminds us that time is going by so quickly, so today, you may just want to grab a box of donuts from Lickin’ Good Donuts, 229 E 20th Avenue #14 in Gulf Shores, and hit the road. Their donuts are created fresh every morning and their special donuts are always a big hit in our families; their mermaid donuts were cute AND delicious. Today’s adventures are an eclectic group, offering a world of wow in each place you explore.

Alligator Alley, 19950 County Road 71 in Summerdale

Summerdale, located about 17 miles outside of Gulf Shores, is home to one of our favorite swamp sanctuaries, Alligator Alley. Dedicated to preserving the cold-blooded creatures we can’t help but be fascinated by, the largest alligator in the swamp, Captain Crunch, is over 13 feet long, weighs over 800 pounds, and because he is kind of cranky, does not play well with others. In the spring and summer months, Alligator Alley offers the opportunity to feed these scaly creatures, but even if you are visiting in the winter, it is still a worthy place to visit.

Fort Morgan Trail Road, Starting at Lagoon Park on Highway 180 (AKA Fort Morgan Road)

The beauty of the great outdoors is best enjoyed on foot, and the Fort Morgan Trail Road is a paved 11+ mile long route that takes hikers (and bikers) through some of our most beautiful landscape. Easy to traverse, the trail is leashed dog friendly, so if you are staying in one of our pet friendly rentals, this is another adventure you can enjoy with your pooch. Parts of the trail will follow along its namesake road, and while that is enjoyable, it is the parts that take you into the natural landscape, shaded by mature trees and following along marshes and over dunes, that will bring the greatest pleasure to your soul. This is a long hike that does offer a turning around spot about halfway through, but if it takes you most of the day to complete, we promise it will be worth it. Just finish up the remaining hours of sunshine at the beach, perhaps sticking around to watch the sun set over the Gulf.

Day 3: How Could There Be More?

This three-day adventure, as we said earlier, can be divided into a week’s worth of fun, and yes, as we make it to day three, there is still much more to enjoy. Today, we are going to try another favorite breakfast spot, this one in Orange Beach: Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill, located at 5160 AL-180 in Gulf Shores. Open seven days a week from 8 AM until 10 PM, we can promise that we have never had a bad meal here and that their breakfasts are impeccable! Try the Big Cowboy Breakfast and you may feel the need for a nap after, but you won’t be disappointed.

Butterfly Garden, 244 W 19th Avenue in Gulf Shores

A visit to the Butterfly Garden in Gulf Shores appeals to all ages, offering tranquility, peace, and a touch of fragile magic to all who roam its paths and it is absolutely free to do. Offering a small garden filled with flowers that attract butterflies and moths, there are benches for sitting and watching the beauty of this natural wonder. As the delicate flying creatures flit from bloom to bloom, the caterpillars crawl up the green stems and maybe if the season is right, the sight of cocoons hanging from the plants, your children will also be learning something without realizing they are being educated.

Hangout Music Festival, Gulf Shores Public Beach, Mid-May

Ok, this last activity may not be a locals-only activity, but we think it deserves a mention, as the Hangout Music Festival offers a party that every beachgoer should experience at least once in their lives. Featuring three days of music, food, and drinks, as well as sun, sand, and sea, the list of musicians is seemingly endless. Soak in the sunshine, savor all the sips you take, and discover how music and beaches should always go hand in hand. Offering a variety of passes that range n price from $339 for a four-pack of General Admission tickets good for all three days to $2400 for Super VIP tickets that include up front viewing at all stages, access to the pools at the side of the Hangout Main Stage, complimentary cocktails, and so much more!

When the Dinner Bell Rings

Whether you have spent all three days at the Hangout Fest or have explored all the adventures we have listed here, when the dinner bell rings on the third (and possibly last day) you will be ready for some seafood specialties found at the Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar, located at 6232 Bon Secour Highway in nearby Bon Secour. Voted the best seafood on the coast by hungry locals who certainly know the difference between good and bad seafood, we recommend trying their lobster bisque and fried green tomatoes as starters and any of their seafood dishes for the main attraction.

Come Home to Poole & Associates

There are no long lines or crowded kitchens in our Poole & Associates seaside sanctuaries and although they are known to attract the tourists, you will feel at home and welcome as you explore all the amenities offered within. Relax, rest, and recharge your batteries in tranquil bedrooms each night, waking up each morning feeling ready to face even more off the beaten path adventures in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan. Reserve your favorite today and enjoy this Gulf Shores vacation guide!

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