How to plan a family trip to Gulf Shores

Family of 7 people wearing white shirts and jeans and standing in front of the ocean.

The beach is my happy place… no, really, like, I wanna move there… NOW! I was discussing this with my dad on the drive down to Gulf Shores and expressed just how much I loved the beach. I then posed a question, “Do you think that if you live by the beach, it loses some of its magic because you have access to it all the time?” He shook his head yes as if to confirm what I had already thought out loud. So, I guess that I will stay land-locked for now and escape to the beach when I want the majestic to grace my life for a few days. We have gone to Gulf Shores numerous times, and I thought that I would share some tips for how to plan a family trip to Gulf Shores along with recommendations for food and entertainment. Hope you enjoy!



The beach is a place that requires a little bit more equipment in the way of packing. This can pose a challenge for space in the car but without some of these items your beach trip can be downright miserable! I didn’t include the obvious things in this list like clothing and toiletries. This list is specific to the beach.

  • Canopy (for shade)
  • Boogie Boards (for the kids)
  • Sunscreen
  • Ice Chest (with wheels)
  • Beach Wagon (to carry all your supplies)
  • Goggles (saltwater doesn’t feel nice in the eyes for the kids)
  • Frisbee
  • Sand Bucket and Sandcastle toys (the bucket holds the crabs that you hunt at night)


Arial view of a condo at Gulf Shores, Alabama


There are a ton of places to stay at Gulf Shores, but I have a personal favorite. We have been coming to this condo for 6 years now. I have stayed on multiple floors, and ALL have a great view! Let me tell you about all its perks!

  • Family Friendly
  • Affordable
  • Not Crowded (it’s a little bit further down on the beach and that means fewer people!)
  • Huge pool and Hot tub
  • Tennis Courts
  • Grills and picnic tables
  • Private Beach access
  • Lagoon side for fishing
  • Spacious and clean rooms

WHAT TO DO: (Besides the beach)

Just like places to stay, there is no shortage of things to do in Gulf Shores! I will list many things, but I will put stars beside the ones that we did on this trip.

  • Dolphin Cruise *
    • What better way to spend 2 hours of your afternoon or morning than viewing dolphins?? Plus, the crew on board take a moment to teach the kiddos about other important sea life and give them a chance to hold fish, crabs, snails, and more! At the end, there is a GIANT water fight on board! Every person that wants to participate is given a gun, a countdown, and then… WATER WAR! You won’t be disappointed with this activity.
Two guys holding a crab.
  • Pirate’s Island Putt Putt Golf *
    • There are several places to play putt putt golf in Gulf Shores, but I have my favorite place in that category too! Pirates Cove is GREAT! It’s super clean, friendly staff, challenging courses, and the pirate theme is EVERYWHERE! This makes my youngest son really happy because he LOVES pirates! From hidden skeletons in the deep water below to shipwrecks and more… the courses are as entertaining to look at as they are to play!
A woman and a girl in the stocks at Pirate's Island Adventure Golf.
  • The Track *
    • The Track is the place to go for thrill seekers and go-carts! We went to the Track on our trip, but we were 20 minutes late… and they were closed. So, we walked around and watched a couple of people do the SkyCoaster. There are also bumper cars, blaster boats, an arcade, and a section of kiddie rides! They stay open until 10:00 p.m., so you should be able to make it… as long as your kids don’t stay in the condo pool too long! (HA)
  • Hunt Crabs at night on the Beach! *
    • After you’ve spent all day swimming in the ocean and building sandcastles, the nighttime brings a more up close and personal encounter with nature, hunting crabs! Now, don’t panic. You aren’t going to hurt these crabs, keep the crabs, or eat the crabs. (LOL) This is more of a scavenger hunt for the kids and the crabs are SUPER FAST and pose an incredible challenge! It’s not just fun to participate, it’s hilarious to watch!
  • USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park *
    • We have driven by this battleship every time we’ve went to Gulf Shores and have wanted to check it out forever. Well, we made that happen on this trip and it didn’t disappoint! We were able to tour all levels of the battleship and submarine. Plus, there were airplanes to view, a flight simulator ride, and a gift shop. My youngest walked away with personalized dog tags and we all left with a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices of the United States Navy men.
Family of 5 people standing on the battleship USS Alabama.
  • Waterville USA
    • Personally, I have never been to this waterpark. It’s not because we don’t enjoy water parks, it’s just that we love the ocean more and specifically drive to Gulf Shores to enjoy it! This waterpark is located right on the main strip and so we drive by it every time we go get something to eat. It looks like a ton of fun it you want to get out of the salt water for a while!
  • Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
  • Helicopter Tours


Food is one of my most motivating factors for traveling. I practically plan my trips around local favorites and restaurants! Gulf Shores doesn’t disappoint in this area. I do have to warn you that there are some tourist traps culinarily speaking. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m all about good food and good prices. If something is going to be expensive, it better knock my socks off! And I splurge on good eats. But I’m not interested in eating somewhere that is super touristy, because it’s usually a rip off. Having said that, I’m going to list the places that we ate at on this trip ONLY. I know that I can give you the best recommendations for pizza, rolls, oysters, and fried pickles!

  • Lambert’s Cafe
    • If you are a fan of FANTASTIC home-style food, rolls that are the size of your head, and food fights… then Lambert’s Cafe is the place for you! This is another restaurant that me and my dad had always wanted to try because we had heard that they throw their rolls to you from across the room! The only deterrent was the wait time. We had to wait 1.5 hours just to get seated… but it was worth it. Rolls aren’t the only things that are offered in the dining room constantly… fried okra, cabbage, apple butter, and more are brought to your table as a “free” part of your meal. You certainly won’t leave this place hungry… you gotta give it a try!
  • Papa Rocco’s
    • It may sound like a weird combo but just trust me on this: They have the BEST PIZZA and OYSTERS that you will EVER eat! I am obsessed with oysters. I like them any way that you cook them, but I do have my favorite “style”… RAW! Being that close to the Gulf, it would be a mistake to not indulge in fresh seafood, especially raw oysters! Their garlic parmesan oysters are also what dreams are made of! And let’s not forget about the pizza. Personally, I want EVERYTHING on my pizza! The more veggies I can get, along with delicious meats of course, the fresher my pizza feels! Papa Rocco’s doesn’t let you down! They are a MUST TRY!
Garlic paremesan oysters on the half shell.
  • The Shrimp Basket
    • Now, the Shrimp Basket is like local FAST seafood. That doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious, I’m just letting you know that it’s a chain. The food here is fried, grilled, or blackened. Get the onion rings and fried pickles for starters because they are seasoned perfectly and super crispy! I’m a fan of their fried oysters, hushpuppies, and cheese grits. In addition to that, my dad likes the stuffed crab shells and coleslaw.
  • Matt’s Homemade Ice Cream
    • I’m all about supporting local businesses whenever possible. And no vacation is complete for our family without ice cream. Personally, I’m not a fan of ice cream but the rest of my crew practically has ice cream running through their veins! We had stayed at the beach a little longer than previously anticipated and went driving for go-karts and ice cream. We were out of luck for the go-karts because they were already closed, but we were able to snag some great ice cream at a really late hour! We all decided to try something different, and I must say that my ice cream flavor and Luke’s ice cream flavor… were the best! (LOL) I ended the night with blueberry cheesecake ice cream in a cup and Luke ordered the blue cookie monster ice cream on a cone. His ice cream was so BLUE that it turned his tongue and lips the color of the cookie monster! It didn’t look super appetizing, but I was so curious about the flavor because of the crazy color… so I took a bite. I was met with surprise! His ice cream may be the BEST kept secret there… as far as adults go! I’m pretty sure that every little kid that comes in gravitates towards that flavor because of its name and color, but when we go back, it will probably be my ice cream flavor of choice!
A woman holding a cup of blueberry cheesecake ice cream.
  • Five Guys
    • This was our lunch stop on the way home. Yes, it’s a chain but there wasn’t a huge line waiting and they have great burgers and fries. So, it was a no brainer for us!
A woman biting into a cheeseburger.
  • Cracker Barrel
    • It is tradition for us to eat breakfast at a Cracker Barrel whenever we are traveling home from vacation. It started a long time ago without us realizing it and now it’s just a given. Well, when we arrived at Cracker Barrel in Gulf Shores on the drive home, the wait for a table was 2 hours. Needless to say, my husband was NOT ON BOARD with another crazy wait after we did it for Lambert’s Cafe on day one. So, we went to Five Guys instead and hit up Cracker Barrel when we got closer to home. Even though it was dinner time by that point, I still ordered breakfast. It’s just hard to break tradition especially when it’s a good one!
Stack of two pancakes with butter and syrup.


The day before leaving:

  • Finish Packing
  • Do a checklist
  • Make snacks or pack snacks for the drive. (We always make MONSTER BITES because they are great for easy snacking in the car and on the beach!)
  • Talk about trip expectations with the kids. This builds excitement and anticipation. Plus, parents, it lets you know exactly what each person is looking forward to most… in case you have to choose to cut something because of time. Or if you allow them to have one souvenir per trip, they may want it to remind them of their favorite activity! And you can make sure to snap a photo of your kiddo doing THEIR favorite thing on the trip. It’s great information to have.
  • Make sure all chores are done and the house is in good shape for when you return. This is a big pet peeve of mine, so it may not matter much to you, but I don’t like coming home to a messy house. I’m already going to be faced with washing all the vacation laundry and packing equipment back into the attic. So, we make sure that we leave the house in order and clean.

day 1 – travel day

On our video I showed you what the plan was and then you saw if it worked out according to plan. On here, I’m going to list what ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

  • Leave house at 9:00 a.m.
  • Pick up Brady’s BFF
  • Get Breakfast at McDonalds
  • Stop at a Farmer’s Market for fresh peaches and tomatoes
  • Skip lunch in leu of a big dinner at Lambert’s Cafe.
  • Eat Dinner at Lambert’s Cafe
  • Check into Condo and unload/unpack car
  • Head to the Beach for an evening swim and late-night crab hunting
  • Go to bed… exhausted but exhilirated!

day 2 – beach day

  • Sleep in (due to rain)
  • Eat lunch at Papa Rocco’s
  • Finally, head to the beach
  • Go back to condo for pool, tennis, and hot tub
  • Eat late night picnic of tuna sandwiches and chips with fresh fruit
  • Sleep soundly after a day in the sea

day 3 – dolphin cruise

  • Sleep in (due to rain)
  • Eat lunch at the Shrimp Basket
  • Putt Putt golf at Pirate’s Island
  • Ice cream sandwiches
  • Drive to Dolphin Cruise
  • Head to beach for family pics
  • Change for more ocean fun
  • Return to condo for pool, tennis, and hot tub
  • Shower and dress for go-karts and ice cream
  • Crash in the bed from a day loaded with fun

day 4 – return home

  • Sleep in (it’s a long drive)
  • Eat lunch at Five Guys
  • Tour the USS ALABAMA
  • Eat dinner at Cracker Barrel
  • Arrive home thankful, relieved, tired, and happily fall into OUR OWN BEDS!

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