Gulf Shores, Alabama is a destination that is loved by generations of families. After you experience the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters along the Emerald Coast, you’ll understand why.
During your vacation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach you’ll want to add these hidden gems and unique things to do that are fun for the whole family.
Thanks again to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism for hosting my visit. All opinions are my own.
Thanks again to Visit Las Vegas for hosting our visit. This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you click a link and purchase something we have recommended.
View Gulf Shores From a Gyroplane with BeachFlight Aviation
Gulf Air Center 3190 Airport Drive., Gulf Shores, AL
This is truly a unique bucket list adventure in Gulf Shores! You can experience a bird’s eye view of the beauty of the Emerald Coast from the inside of a gyroplane.
A gyroplane is an aircraft that uses unpowered rotating airfoils to generate lift.
What makes a gyroplane unique is that they aren’t affected by wind and turbulence, which provides a more stable flight experience.
Two Types of Gyroplane Options at BeachFlight Aviation
Flight passengers have the option of an open tandem gyroplane or a side-by-side gyroplane.
How Long is the Flight Experience in a Gyroplane?
Passengers have the choice of a 20-minute, 40-minute, or 60-minute flight in the gyroplane.
The Gyroplane Flight Experience
Typically, the gyroplane flies along Gulf Shores beaches where you can observe birds, dolphins, and sting rays from above.
During your flight, you are in constant contact with your pilot through the headset, which will help you feel at ease if you have any reservations about flying inside a small aircraft.
Your pilot is also in constant contact with the control tower and other aircraft nearby on their two-way aviation radio.
If you are riding in the tandem gyroplane you’ll have a protective helmet and windscreen too.
The takeoff and landing from the airport runway are so gradual and gentle that you don’t notice until you are already in the sky. It was a WAY smoother transition than my best landing in a commercial plane.
As you approach the coastline, you’ll be allowed to fly the aircraft under the supervision of your FAA-Certified flight instructor where you can experience flying straight and gentle turns.
Safety is your FAA-certified flight instructor’s highest priority. They won’t fly if the conditions are unsafe.
They also operate in the latest state-of-the-art aircraft and always fly at an altitude that could safely glide to make an emergency landing at all times.
My Flight Experience in Two Different Gyroplanes
I was fortunate enough to have two different gyroplane flight experiences in the tandem gyroplane and side-by-side. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they were both so different.
For my first flight, I rode in the back of an open tandem gyroplane. For my picture, I didn’t have my helmet on but I did have to wear one during my flight.
The tandem flight experience was similar to the feeling of riding a motorcycle behind a small windshield.
It was such an incredible experience! I never felt scared or unsafe and was more in awe of what I was experiencing. I couldn’t help smiling the whole time!
Typically the gyroplane route is along the beach but due to the thick fog along the shore, we flew more inland.
I was so grateful that we were able to fly at all because it was our only day available to fly. If we had more time in the area we would have come back another day to fly over the beach.
My pilot was in constant communication with me during our flight, checking my comfort level. He also pointed out points of interest along the way.
For my second flight, I rode in a side-by-side gyroplane. Passengers have the option of flying with or without the door on. Of course, I opted for the door to be off to feel a little more extreme. (You are secured in your seat with a harness.)
A side-by-side gyroplane is a great option if you don’t want to feel the wind and you like the idea of sitting right next to the pilot.
Gyroplane Flight Requirements, Restrictions, and Reservations
To ride in a gyroplane there is a weight limitation of 250 lbs. per person max for a flight. Kids who are at least 4’6″ and 9 years old can fly. There isn’t a limit to your max height or age.
This could be a wonderful experience gift for a grandparent too. My dad LOVED it!
What Should You Wear for your Gyroplane Flight?
What you wear depends on the weather. If it’s over 80 degrees, shorts and a t-shirt are fine.
If it’s below 80 degrees you’ll want to wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt WITHOUT a hood, or bring a jacket. The air temperature is much cooler once you are in the sky.
Close-toed shoes are also recommended so that your feet don’t get cold.
Relive Your Gyroplane Flight With a Photo Add On
You can purchase a photo/video card with high-resolution photos and video on an SD memory card so that you can share your flight experience with family and friends.
I HIGHLY recommend purchasing this option. Trust me, you’ll want the footage.
Can The Intro Lesson Count Toward Flight Training Time in Your Log Book?
After your introductory flight, you’ll receive a signed Flight Certificate to credit toward your total flight time if you decide that you want to continue flight training.
Your flight time can be entered into your pilot’s log book if you are already a licensed pilot.
Watersports in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
If you enjoy water sports, Gulf Shores, AL has plenty of options to choose from including boat rentals, charter deep-sea fishing trips, snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, jet skis, pontoon boats, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayak rentals.
For those on the quest for a truly unique adventure, check out Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours where guests ride on small craft powerboats resembling two surfboards put together, or try flyboarding where you can feel like a superhero hovering up to 30 feet above the water.
4159 County Road 6, Gulf Shores, AL (Oyster Bay Marina)
*Advanced reservations required
Learn about the local ecology during a guided kayak tour with WildNative Tours. Your guide provides a kayak, paddle and PFD, gear transport, a dry box for valuables, and water.
Guests are asked to arrive 20 minutes before the tour starts to have plenty of time to check in and use the restroom before the tour start time.
There is a safety orientation before you go on the water. The guide makes sure that everyone in the group feels comfortable and confident before officially starting for tour.
You’ll be asked to perform a few basic skills on the water near the launching area.
If you plan on bringing your cell phone I would recommend bringing a lanyard waterproof phone pouch that floats just in case.
Be prepared to get wet due to water splashing. I would recommend a swimsuit or dry fit style athletic clothing and sunscreen.
There is a bathroom at the restaurant onsite if you want to bring towels and change afterward.
We saw wildlife during our tour including bald eagles and dolphins. The dolphin sightings are unpredictable because they are wild animals. So if you see something say something!
Your guide will make sure that the group is at a safe observing distance if you do see them.
We actually saw a dolphin jump out of the water but unfortunately, I didn’t capture it on video or get any pictures of it. That memory will just have to be for us.
It might help to have one person in your kayak as the dedicated videographer if that’s important to you.
During our tour, we also had a chance to get out of our kayaks for a break to admire the views at a local wildlife refuge.
We learned more from our guide Chris about the unique ecosystems in the Gulf Shores area.
Make sure that you ask about the natural bug repellant.
Our kayak trip was the perfect amount of time on and off the water. The Dolphins and Wildlife Kayak Tour lasts around 3 hours.
A Unique Ride With Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours
28101 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach, Alabama (Caribe Marina)
If the need for speed is more your pace, I highly recommend a tour from Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours. You can rent a cat boat by the hour or opt for a 1.5-hour guided tour. Rental ccatboat by the cat boat vs. the person.
What is a cat boat?
A cat boat is a compact powerboat that holds 2 people. The high-density foam pontoons on the cat boat make it virtually unsinkable and it turns in such a way as to never flip over.
The cat boats are very stable and reminded me of a more comfortable version of a wave runner. They have a dry storage box for items you want to keep more secure.
There was also a cooler supplied with water on the catboat when we arrived. You can also bring snacks and drinks.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive a Cat Boat?
You must be 21 to operate the cat boat and you don’t need previous boating experience to drive. You’ll be shown how to properly operate the cat boat before you leave the marina.
The cat boat is for ages 5 and up and the max weight per person is 275 pounds. Life jackets are provided but they’re only required for kids ages 5- 15.
I put my lifejacket on mid-tour because it made me feel more comfortable when the water was getting really choppy and we were going really FAST. The top speed can reach up to around 30 mph for a cat boat.
We opted for the guided tour where we followed our guide Kent on his cat boat as he took us through the Intracoastal waterway and waters around the Orange Beach, Alabama area.
It’s a no-wake zone for quite a while after you leave Caribe Marina which gives you an opportunity to get more comfortable with the steering if you’re the driver.
He communicated with us via walkie-talkie and told us about points of interest in the area and pointed out wildlife including dolphins!
We also passed by “The Lady in the Bay” sculpture which was definitely an unforgettable sight!
You can get wet while riding the cat boat especially if you hit some larger waves. It can also get a little chilly if the weather changes which is why they recommend a light jacket if it’s below 75 degrees. You may even want to pack a beach towel with you.
Our weather went from partly sunny to really cloudy during our tour but my son and I both agreed that this was our favorite adventure of our trip because it was so unique.
Go Bike Riding on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails
You can choose your own biking adventure on more than 28 miles of paved trails on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails.
The best part about this bike trail is how diverse it is.
There are nine different ecosystems that you can travel through while riding on more than 28 miles of boardwalks and paved trails.
Points of Interest Along the Trail
Be on the lookout for an assortment of wildlife during your bike ride.
One of the highlights was stopping to view this large eagle’s nest in the trees.
We noticed people stopping before we noticed the bald eagle nesting sign along the path. You will definitely want to be on the lookout for bald eagles in their natural habitat during your ride.
There is also a chance that you may see “Lefty the Alligator” (who is missing her
right paw) in the marshy area.
One of the newer areas that we didn’t make it to is Hammock Park located at Hidden Lakes Trail. You can relax in one of the seven hammock spaces available if you bring a hammock with you on your ride.
Use the Gulf State Park Bike Share Program OR Beach Bike Rentals
If you don’t have a bike with you during your visit it’s not a problem!
There is a free bike share program or you can rent bikes with Beach Bike Rentals. Beach Bike Rentals is the best option for younger families with kids under age 16. They offer an assortment of bike rental options in addition to kids’ trailers and kids’ pull-behind bikes.
Free Bike Rentals With the Gulf State Park Bike Share Program
My dad and I opted to use the Gulf State Park Bike Share Program.
Rideshare bikes are available to use at the Woodside Restaurant (20249 State Park Rd, Gulf Shores, AL ) and Gulf State Park Pavilion. (22250 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL)
How to use the Gulf State Park Bike Share Program
First, you need to download the Bloom Bike Share App, which is available for both iPhone and Android users.
Park guests ages 16 and up who use the bike-share program can borrow one of 50 complimentary bikes for up to 3 hours for FREE.
Pick-ups and returns for the ride-share bikes are at one of the many bike stations located throughout the park. If you go beyond 3 hours you can continue to use the bike for a small fee.
The bikes have bungee straps that can help you secure a purse or backpack to the front of the bike. I’d recommend packing plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks for your ride.
The trails are relatively flat but you can still work up a sweat on a warm day.
Sunset Sail with Cetacean Cruises
4673 Wharf Pkwy. W., Orange Beach, AL
(Boat is docked near Springhill Suites at The Wharf)
Enjoy a relaxing time on the water on a 52-foot Hawaiian catamaran. Cetacean Cruises offers a variety of dolphin cruises and sunset cruises.
The two-hour sail travels along the waters of Wolf Bay in Orange Beach, Alabama, and Perdido Key, Florida.
During the sunset cruise, your captain will point out area wildlife and marine life.
The highlight for us was seeing some of the dolphins who reside in the area pod. Have your camera ready because they come out of the water quickly, or just enjoy being in the moment.
Cetacean Cruises is mindful of respecting the local ecosystem and practices Dolphin SMART boating which respects and values the safety of the dolphins first.
There is a full-service cocktail bar onboard if you want to purchase drinks during your cruise.
We purchased the frozen pina colada and mango colada. Both were delicious. There are also snacks and non-alcoholic drinks available for purchase.
The laid-back attitude and music, ocean breeze, and beautiful scenery during your sail will definitely help you get into vacation mode quickly.
Ride the Ferris Wheel at The Wharf
23101 Canal Rd., Orange Beach, AL
The Wharf is a short drive from the parking lot for Cetacean Cruises (if you want to check it out before or after your cruise).
You’ll find plenty of things to do within this dining and entertainment district.
The Ferris wheel at The Wharf has bragging rights as the tallest one in the southeast. You can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Orange Beach during your ride.
If you visit The Wharf at night make sure you check out the SPECTRA Sound and Light Show.
On Main Street, guests will experience a show with fun music for the entire family and special lighting that brings the palm trees to life in a new way.
Kangaroo Encounter at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
20499 Oak Rd E, Gulf Shores, AL
Animal lovers will definitely want to experience a Kangaroo Encounter at Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. During the Kangaroo Encounter guests will learn about red kangaroos during a hands-on experience.
Some of the kangaroos may even be gently held or touched during your encounter in their open-air play enclosure under the supervision of the zoo keeper.
The Kangaroo Encounter is an additional fee to the regular paid zoo admission for ages 10 and up.
Grab a Beer at Big Beach Brewing Company, the First and Only Brewery in Gulf Shores
300 E 24th Ave, 36542 Gulf Shores, AL
After a long day of adventures, kick back and enjoy a beer at Big Beach Brewing Company.
Big Beach Brewing is the southernmost brewery in Alabama and the first, and only brewery in Gulf Shores.
This brewery has an interesting beginning; it traces back to a brewing history that started in the garage of a local dentist.
Their 10-barrel brewing system serves up all kinds of ales ranging from IPAs and Stouts to Cream Ales and Belgian-style beers with 12 beers on tap at all times.
My dad and I typically prefer lighter/sour beers and were both able to find flavors that we really enjoyed.
The building for the brewery is very open with large garage doors that allow guests to enjoy listening to live music while relaxing inside or out in their large outdoor space.
Check Out the Roadside Attractions Near Gulf Shores
26986 Fish Trap Road, Elberta, AL
If you like quirky, there are a few roadside attractions that you’ll want to check out during your visit to Gulf Shores, including Barber Marina.
During the scenic drive to Barber Marina, you’ll see dinosaurs, “Bamahenge” and the “Lady in the Lake.”
While you are driving along Fish Trap Road you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for the dinosaurs in the woods.
Before you reach Barber Marina you can see a brontosaurus, T-rex, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops.
You’ll want to travel slowly to make sure you don’t miss any dinosaurs, or you can try looking again on your way back from the marina.
See “Bamahenge,” a full-size replica of Stonehenge
We actually missed this one on the way to the marina but caught in on the way back.
There is a little parking area and you walk a short path to see the structure. It’s not viewable from the road which is why missed it.
These fun roadside attractions were funded by Billionaire George Barber (of Barber Milk) and commissioned by artist Mark Cline.
See the “Lady in the Lake” at Barber Marina
Unfortunately, the original “Lady in the Lake,” which is a 50-foot sculpture of a woman floating in Wolf Bay, was severely destroyed by Hurricane Sally in 2020. When we went to see her a few years ago she was gone!
The good news is that she has since been repaired and was returned to Wolf Bay in late 2021.
If the “Lady in the Lake” stood up, she would be 108 feet tall! I’m still not sure what I think of her after seeing her in person from a cat boat in the marina.
Stand Inside the Mouth of a Shark at Souvenir City
217 Gulf Shores Pkwy, Gulf Shores, AL
Looking for a fun photo op?
The giant 70-foot-long shark at the entrance of Souvenir City is a perfect photo stop for a solo or group shot.
Dine on the Border at Flora-Bama Yacht Club
17350 Perdido Key Dr., Perdido Key, FL 32507
Experience two states at once when you dine at Flora-Bama Yacht Club. You can even stand in front of the sign to prove it.
Flora-Bama Yacht Club is one of the many great restaurants in Gulf Shores to try during your visit.
There is nothing better than enjoying amazing food with scenic views of the water and sand between your toes!
While there, be sure to try their signature drink, the “Bushwacker,” which is basically an adult version of a Wendy’s frosty.
Flora-Bama Yacht Club is the perfect place to unwind and have a great time.
Enjoy Beach Days on the Emerald Coast
Of course, no visit to Gulf Shores would be complete without spending time at one of the public beaches, enjoying the white sand and turquoise water.
It’s definitely worth getting up early to capture a beautiful sunrise because no sunrise, or sunset, is ever the same.
If you prefer to spend more time on the beach you might want to take a sandcastle-building class with Sandcastle University.
Visit Historic Fort Morgan
110 Hwy. 180 W., Gulf Shores, AL 36542
History buffs will enjoy a visit to Historic Fort Morgan, a Third System masonry fort built between 1819 and 1833.
The fort is located at the end of Scenic Fort Morgan Peninsula on Mobile Point. This is also the historic site where Fort Bowyer operated during the war of 1812.
In August of 1864, the fort also played an important role in the Battle of Mobile Bay and was used throughout the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II.
Explore the Butterfly Garden at Gulf Shores Museum
244 W 19th Ave, Gulf Shores, AL
Admission to the Gulf Shores Museum and Butterfly Garden is free.
Play a Round of Golf
If mini golf is more your speed, there are 7 miniature golf places in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area where you can play.
There is even an indoor mini-golf course at Jurassic Golf that’s perfect for a rainy day.
Swim and Slide at Tropic Falls Indoor Waterpark at OWA
1501 S OWA Blvd, Foley, AL
The weather is always perfect year-round at Tropic Falls Indoor Waterpark no matter what the weather is outside.
An admission ticket to Tropic Falls gives you access to BOTH Tropic Falls Amusement Park and Tropic Falls Indoor Waterpark.
There are 22 rides and attractions for guests to enjoy during their visit ranging from mild to thrilling.
I’m also a BIG fan of their Castaway Creek lazy river because it DOESN’T have random water features spraying you with the intention of getting you wet.
The 100,000 sq. ft facility is the first indoor waterpark in the United States to have a retractable wall and roof with nearly 2,000 glass panels.
Looking for great places to eat while you’re in the area?
Check out my article on The Best Places to Eat in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
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