Destination: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Our family’s love language is adventuring and exploring new places. We travel as often as we can and have gotten quite good at navigating travel as a family of five with three kids.
Our favorite spring break destination is Gulf Shores, a beach community along the Alabama Gulf Coast. We have visited Gulf Shores for spring break at least a half dozen times, beginning when our kids were very little! It is our favorite, and I would recommend it. Let me break it down.
WHERE TO STAY: At the Gulf Shores Plantation Resort. The Plantation is a gated condominium resort-style community. The feel is more retirement/family vacation community than spring break party destination. (This is something that is very important to me when spring breaking with my family!) The beach is fabulous, and the amenities are SO worthwhile, especially on a cold or rainy day. Amenities include several indoor and outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs, outdoor grills, an exercise room, tennis courts, a basketball court, two restaurants and Starbucks Coffee.
Why The Plantation is the BEST place to book a vacation rental for Spring Break: First, it’s affordable. Second, the beach (and private beach access) is absolutely fabulous. Third, there are OTHER things to do besides the beach if the weather doesn’t work out.
The beach is one of my favorite things at The Plantation; it has that notorious white sugary sand that Gulf Coast beaches are known for, and best of all, it is private-use (for guests only) so it is NOT crowded. (Have you been to the crowded beaches of Destin/Miramar Beach? It has the prettiest water ever, but MAN, is it crowded and over-developed.) The Plantation’s beaches are 1000x less crowded and there are more natural dunes and open space.
The average high/low temperatures of Gulf Shores in March is 71°/48° and the ocean water is still pretty chilly. For us landlocked Midwesterners, we typically DON’T CARE if the ocean water is cold. We just want to be by the ocean! No matter the temperature, we can still collect seashells, play catch, lay in the sun, build sandcastles etc. But on colder days when the beach is actually too cold and damp, the other amenities (INDOOR POOLS, tennis courts, basketball courts) are fantastic; there is always something to do onsite. (Did I say indoor pools loud enough?) When it’s too cold to swim outdoors, the many indoor pools and hot tubs at The Plantation are warm and wonderful.
Finally, the location of The Plantation is 10/10. Located 15-20 minutes outside of Gulf Shores, it’s close enough to partake in the touristy fun that the town promotes (arcades, theme-parks, restaurants, etc.) but allows you an exit from the crazy touristy stuff. Being at The Plantation gives you a feeling of “being away from it all.” It’s a place for a relaxing vacation. Even with kids.
Why Gulf Shores: Once you book at The Plantation, you honestly could stay there all week with nothing else on the agenda and have a really slow and fabulous week. You could read books on the beach and build sand castles with your kids and sit in the sunshine, happy as clams. However, there are so many area attractions if adventuring is what you prefer.
MY FAVORITE FAMILY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO IN GULF SHORES:
**written from the perspective of I like to do as many free or cheap things as possible. We like to explore nature and public lands. We don’t spend a lot of time or money at local amusement parks or arcades. (Though there are PLENTY of these types of things in the area!)
- Go to Alligator Alley in Foley, AL where you can buy Alligator Chow and feed the gators. Hold a baby alligator. Witness a live alligator feeding. Tour the alligator sanctuary and learn more about alligators! Admission and pricing info can be found here. On the way back, stop at Lambert’s Café and experience Southern Dining at its FUNNEST. (Our kids literally beg to go here and talk about it all year round. The menu is interesting (my mom had frog legs when she dined there with us!) but they also include pass-around food: fried okra, black-eyed peas, boiled cabbage. And the main reason we dine here: the throwed rolls. Hard to explain, better just go see for yourself.
- Buy remote control boats and let the kids have boat races in the outdoor swimming pools at the Plantation Resort. There are literally no swimmers in the outdoor pools during spring break because the water temp is too cold. The best use of the outdoor swimming pools is to have remote control boat races.
- Go ghost-crabbing with your family! We had so much fun doing this. It’s kind of exhilarating to be out on the beach in the pitch black darkness in search of crabs! Learn more about ghost crabbing and blue-crabbing here.
- Play tennis at the Plantation’s tennis courts. (Bring your own rackets and balls.)
- Tour Fort Morgan.
- Take a dolphin cruise or other boat tour.
- Shop at Alvin’s Island, Souvenir City or Gulf Shores Souviners and Gifts. Buy sand shovels and buckets to use during your week at the shore! Worst thing: packing sand-covered beach stuff in the car for the drive home. Best thing: you have sand shovels and toys for use for the rest of the summer. (And if you get the good metal shovels, they usually last for the whole summer!)
- See the Blue Angels Fly in Pensacola. There are many places to view the Blue Angels, but my recommendation is to see the Blue Angels fly from from beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore. We had a great day touring a fort and exploring the National Seashore.
- Take the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island and spend the day exploring. We rode the ferry as pedestrians and decided to explore the island on foot once we arrived. (However, there is the option to take your car over! Find ticket info here!) The Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab was the main reason for our visit to Dauphin Island. (Ticket info and more on their offerings here.) The Aquarium was within walking distance of the ferry drop-off. It was very interactive and even had a sting-ray touch pool. After, we walked across the road to a cafeteria-style restaurant called May’s Cafe. Our experience is that Dauphin Island via the Mobile Bay Ferry was very walkable, even with kids. However, I would encourage you to do further research if you decide to ferry over to Dauphin Island. With the changing times, I’m not sure what kind of restaurants or eateries are currently available.
There are so many things to do in Gulf Shores. I haven’t even touched on half of the things, but these are the things I would definitely recommend. In our future, I would like to see and tour the USS Alabama, visit the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, and if we ever visit during the May-October sea turtle nesting seasons, I would love to watch them migrate at the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge!
If you decide to plan your trip to Gulf Shores, and you use any of my recommendations, please let me know how it goes! I would love to hear if you loved it as much as we did! And one more thing. If you’ve found another family friendly spring break location, I would love to know about it!