This White-Sand Southern Beach Town Is a Seafood Lover’s Dream

Spend a laid-back weekend peeling spice-coated shrimp, tipping back local oysters, and sipping frozen cocktails in Gulf Shores, Alabama.


Alabama Tourism Department

It’s just past five o’clock, probably, and I’m drinking rum out of a pineapple while my children rollick with strangers’ kids on a pirate ship. We’re waiting for a table at a waterfront restaurant after spending the day on a nearby beach with sugar-white sand and clear turquoise water. It felt a little like a vacation in the Caribbean.

We’re overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, though, on the coast of Alabama. Gulf Shores, along with its neighbor Orange Beach, are resort towns just about an hour’s drive from Florida’s Pensacola airport. There, we spent a laid-back long weekend peeling spice-coated shrimp, tipping back local oysters, and sipping tropical cocktails, all with a backdrop of a white-sand coastline. 

It’s not hard to find a room in this seaside community, but only one hotel is situated inside Gulf State Park, a 6,500-acre recreation area on the Gulf of Mexico. Opened in late 2018, The Lodge, a sustainability-focused Hilton property, makes a convenient diving off point for immersing into the area’s beaches, outdoor activities, and restaurants. Onsite, find Woodside restaurant, an all-day venue for indoor and outdoor dining amid live oak trees, with cornhole games and music in the evenings. 

The Gulf

Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism

For more live music, there’s Lulu’s, situated on a quiet little stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway. Run by Lucy Buffett, the sprawling seafood mecca channels the fun, easygoing vibe her brother Jimmy Buffett is also known for. The allergy-friendly menu includes crab-smothered nachos, fresh snapper, and cheeseburgers. (This is paradise, after all.) Don’t skip a slice of the stand-out Key lime pie for dessert. Diners with kids will especially appreciate on-site activities like an arcade, caricature artist, and a full-fledged ropes course, making the often-long wait for a table feel like part of the fun. 

Another stellar spot for families is GT’s on the Bay, where a table on the terrace overlooking Wolf Bay also overlooks a massive wooden play structure shaped like a pirate ship. Kids can burn off energy in the sand, while parents get a few brief minutes of respite to feast on fried Gulf shrimp paired with the aforementioned boozy pineapple cocktail. 

Restaurant at The Lodge at Gulf State Park

Courtesy of The Lodge at Gulf State Park

For a quintessential coastal lunch, stop by The Gulf and don’t be surprised when you accidentally stay all day. Repurposed shipping containers are home to a bar and restaurant, which spills out onto the palm tree-shaded sand. After ordering from the menu of salads, shrimp tacos and fish sandwiches, take a seat at a picnic table and watch the boats float by.   

Another stay-all-day spot, CoastAL opened in late 2022 from the same team behind boisterous waterfront venue Flora-bama Yacht Club. At the new beachfront locale, pull up one of the 400 bar seats to sample some of the region’s best bar snacks, including tuna poke nachos, marinated crab claws and a housemade pimento cheese platter. (The 600-plus seat restaurant is slated to open this spring, and will be breaking down whole fresh fish on site.) 

While nothing feels especially extravagant in these breezy beach towns, there are a few restaurants to seek out for a special meal. Located on the Orange Beach marina, Fisher's Upstairs is helmed by five-time James Beard Award semi-finalist chef Bill Briand, whose menu includes elevated classics like Gulf shrimp and grits and sweet corn fritters with house-smoked fish.

High Tide's Daiquiri Flight

Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism

Downstairs, Fisher’s Dockside features a slightly more casual menu of Southern coastal cuisine, with fried fish baskets, crawfish and artichoke dip, and icy platters of local Murder Point oysters. The recently-opened restaurant at Zeke’s Landing and Marina serves steaks and seasonal fish, plus a stand-out seafood tower with local oysters, crab legs, and ceviche — inside a stylish dining room or on the outdoor patio. 

For a frozen daiquiri or mimosa in flavors you didn’t know you needed, head to High Tide Daiquiris and Mimosas, where Key lime, Red Bull, and the Mardi Gras special king cake are offered alongside all the classic flavors. The shop also sells elaborate charcuterie boards and, for those on the run, offers 16-ounce bags filled with daiquiris to go, perfect for bringing to the beach. 

For our last meal in town, we sought out what we heard was some of the Gulf Shores’ best seafood at longstanding family-run shop Lartigue’s. The specialty market is packed to the gills with rows of shrimp and crab boil seasonings and trays filled with mountains of fresh shellfish, crab, and shrimp. They’ll steam your order on the spot, and add sides like red potatoes and corn on the cob. We took the haul, including a few mini Key lime pies, to the picnic tables in the back of the shop. There’s no views of the water, but in the midst of feasting on sizzling shrimp, no one noticed.

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