One of the most popular beach towns along the Gulf Coast is Gulf Shores, Alabama. A seaside town known for its careful blending of Southern charm and beach community vibe draws thousands of people from all over the country and the world to its sunny beaches this year. But a vacation in Gulf Shores isn’t only about the fun in the sun.
Oh sure, grandparents and their grandkids love spending a day at the beach frolicking in the turquoise surf of the Gulf of Mexico, but the town and surrounding area offer so much more year-round entertainment that the grandkids will never get bored.
Here are eight amazing spots to entertain the grandchildren during your visit to Gulf Shores.
1. The Park At OWA
Nothing screams fun (pun intended) like a day at an amusement park and the premier park on the Gulf Coast is the Park at OWA.
With 24 incredible rides that run the gambit from the classic Tea Time teacups for the young ones to the Rollin’ Thunder with its 114-foot climb and a 55 mile per hour plunge straight down followed by dizzying loops and spirals for the more daring, the park offers nothing but year-round excitement.
There is even a gigantic inflatable water obstacle course the kids can run in the park’s lake, ziplines, and wakeboarding at Gravity Island Watersports. And speaking of water activities, a new 65,000 square foot enclosed glass waterpark will be opening soon.
Take a break from the rides to stroll the streets of Downtown OWA with an eclectic array of snacks, dining, and gift shops as well as a game room.
Pro Tip: The park is open year round, daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day with weekend-only hours in fall and winter. Visit its website for hours of operation and ticket information.
The park also has a full calendar of special events throughout the year, especially during Halloween and Christmas.
2. Waterville USA
Beat the summer heat with the cool water rides at Waterville USA. Grab an inner tube and float the Crystal Waters River. Challenge each other to a race down the 55-foot-tall Dune Racer Water Slide. Or get weightless as you fly over the bumps on the thrilling Triple Dog Dare water slide.
The park has 12 water attractions that you and the grandkids will find yourself riding again and again. There are also a number of special rides and splash areas just for the little ones.
There is also a go-kart track, mini-golf course, and the Gulf Coast’s largest arcade — Starcade. Your oldest will want to try their hand at the Waterville Escape House — an exciting 60 minutes where they have to find the clues and solve puzzles to get out of a locked room.
Pro Tips: The amusement park and waterpark have varying hours and days that it’s open. Visit its online calendar for hours and ticket prices.
3. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
You might remember the television series The Little Zoo That Could on Animal Planet. The series was based on a Gulf Shores zoo that faced an incredible challenge — a devastating Category 3 hurricane was bearing down on the town. And it wasn’t just one. There were three hurricanes in a row. With almost 200 animals in its care, how could it evacuate them all?
The story of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is one of determination and dedication to the animals in its care and today, after locating farther inland from the coast, the zoo attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to see the 199 species of animals.
A highlight of a visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is its Animal Encounters where visitors can learn about the animals at the zoo and meet them face-to-face. It’s a truly interactive experience the grandkids will remember for a lifetime so be sure to bring that camera.
Pro Tips: The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.
4. Dolphin Cruises And Paddles
Watching a dolphin swimming at breakneck speed in the wake of a boat or cresting the gulf waters from a kayak is an incredible sight and another memory maker for your grandkids.
5. The Track
Another day of fun will be found at The Track. The Track is loaded with fun rides and attractions for kids of all ages. Of course, there is the centerpiece of the park — the go-karts that race up three stories and circle back down for exciting competition. There is also a kiddie version for younger children.
Besides the go-karts, the park has an arcade with classic and virtual reality games, the Surfin’ Safari Mini-Golf course, and classic rides like the Boat Blaster with water cannons that you and the grandkids can do battle against each other with, bumper cars, and the Spinning Coaster that’s perfect for first-time roller coaster riders.
6. Mobile Bay Ferry & Dauphin Island Sea Lab
A short 22-mile drive west of Gulf Shores takes you to the tip of the peninsula and the Mobile Bay Ferry. Your grandkids will love the 45-minute excursion across the wide mouth of Mobile Bay viewing the ships, boats, dolphins, and seabirds as you sail to Alabama’s barrier island, Dauphin Island, and a fascinating and fun afternoon at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.
The Sea Lab is a coastal research center focused on studying marine life and climate effects on the Gulf. You and your grandkids will have a blast exploring the Sea Lab’s public aquarium.
The aquarium actually has 31 aquariums in all with more than 100 species of marine life, a 7,000-gallon stingray touch pool, 10,000 square foot exhibit hall with fascinating interactive exhibits, and a boardwalk into a marsh. There are also fun and educational tours with staff members into the salt marsh where visitors get to try their hand at using seine nets to collect crabs, snails, and fish that the guide will tell you about before returning them to the marsh and two-hour educational trips into the gulf aboard the research vessel Alabama Discovery.
Pro Tip: Purchase tickets in advance for the aquarium by visiting its online ticketing site. There is a separate fee for the Discovery boat tour.
The best time to visit the Sea Lab is the first Saturday in April when it holds Discover Day, a full day of education and fun paddling and exploring the gulf and the island’s marshes with guides.
Make sure to arrive early to catch the ferry. It fills up fast. You can either drive on or walk on. There is a fee and the ferry shuts down for the winter and when tropical storms or hurricanes are approaching. Check its website for the latest schedule.
Before or after your adventure to Dauphin Island, take some time to explore historic Fort Morgan, a stone fortress that was completed in 1834, and saw one of the most famous naval battles, the Battle of Mobile Bay. It’s a fun place to explore and learn and is located at the ferry landing.
7. Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Just minutes from the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast beaches and adjacent to the spectacular Gulf State Park, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail and its 15 miles of paved walking, biking, and jogging trails make you feel like you are a world away from the bustling beach scene.
Grab a bike or lace up the walking shoes for a fun adventure the grands will love. You just never know what you might see, and they just might learn something along the way. All of the trails are interconnected, offering a variety of loops with different lengths, all of which are easy walking and biking.
The trails weave their way through lanes of towering pines and alongside the gnarled limbs of scrub oak. Palmetto palms and thick, green deer moss line the path as you pass shimmering freshwater lakes, coastal swamps, and wetlands where cattails sway in the breeze and you may just encounter the trail’s year-round residents — whitetail deer, bobcat, coyote, otters, and yes, even alligators, as well as one of 100 distinct species of birds including osprey, bald eagles, and heron.
The hub of the trail features a beautiful butterfly garden and boulder park where the grandkids can clamber up rock walls.
Pro Tip: Arrive at one of the trailheads early to beat the late risers and if you’re visiting in the summer, to beat the midday heat and humidity.
There is no admission. Bikes can be rented at Gulf State Park
8. Sunliner Diner
After a long day exploring Gulf Shores and the surrounding area, you need a satisfying meal. Both you and your grandkids will love dining at the Sunliner Diner, a quintessential American diner that serves up some of the best burgers and shakes around (as well as other delicious American cuisine) and breakfast all day.
The retro diner is fully decorated to take you back in time, complete with a 1955 Chevy convertible that has been converted into a dining table.