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Spring break is coming up soon, and that means many Alabamians are headed to the beach. The Alabama Gulf Coast’s main destinations are the neighboring cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Our coastline might be small but the area’s long stretches of white sand beaches and calm blue-green water make it the perfect place to take a beach vacation. Add to that award-winning restaurants, fun hangout spots, and family-friendly activities, and you have a winning formula. Here’s what to do, where to eat, and where to stay during a week in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

What to Do

(Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism/Contributed)

Go to the beach, of course. The main attraction is the sun, sand, and shore. Find your spot among brightly hued umbrellas, crack open a cold one, and relax. When you’re ready to stretch your legs a bit, head to Gulf State Park, which — in addition to two miles of beaches — has hiking and biking trails, fishing, kayaking/canoeing on Lake Shelby, and a dog pond for your furry friends. Sign up for a guided pier walk (only $3) where an expert naturalist will familiarize you with the 1,540-foot pier, marine wildlife, and the conservation efforts of the park. Take the family to the brand-new, 25-acre location of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, where you can feed giraffes, zipline, and meet lemurs. Learn a new art skill like glass blowing or pottery making at the Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach. Get out on the water with a catamaran cruise from Sail Wild Hearts or party on a floating tiki bar with Cruisin’ Tikis. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Wild Native Tours offers guided kayak tours to spot dolphins and other wildlife.

Where to Eat and Drink

(Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism/Contributed)

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have more than their fill of good restaurants. While it’s hard to narrow them down to just a few, here are some of our favorite options. For breakfast, pick up pastries and coffee from BuzzCatz or hit up the Sunday brunch buffet at Cobalt (they also have great happy hour deals). For your classic, no-frills, seafood joint (where fried shrimp and hushpuppies take center stage), visit King Neptune’s, Mikee’s Seafood, and Sea-n-Suds (the only beachfront restaurant in Gulf Shores). Spend an afternoon chowing down on grouper sandwiches chased with mojitos at The Gulf, a cool shipping container hangout spot on the beach in Orange Beach. A Volcano Roll from Cosmo’s is the move for sushi lovers, and the banana-leaf-wrapped fish has landed on the list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. Find fine dining at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, with a nice dining room upstairs helmed by a James Beard-nominated chef, and a more casual iteration dockside. Cool down with a bushwacker (basically, an alcoholic milkshake) from the Flora-Bama, or enjoy a nightcap and live music at The Hangout. And don’t forget a sweet ending: the peanut butter pie from Original Oyster House is to die for.

Where to Stay

gulf shores

(Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism/Contributed)

Accommodations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach run the gamut from beach cottages and high-rise condos to resorts and camping. One of the most exciting accommodation options to open in recent years is The Lodge at Gulf State Park, which is an environmentally-friendly coastal development where connectivity to the outdoors is a central focus at the beachfront resort. The tall, shiny building known as Turquoise Place in Orange Beach offers large, modern condo rentals with a hot tub on the balcony of each unit. Lucky Bird Vacations rents cute cottages and beach homes. Brett/Robinson has one of the largest condo rental portfolios in the area. If you prefer a more rustic vacation, consider camping at Gulf State Park, which has primitive campsites, RV hookups, and military-style tents at the Outpost Campsites.