Located in the southernmost area of Alabama, Orange Beach is the ultimate gulf coast family destination (imagine Myrtle Beach, but with more down home charm). The Orange Beach region offers top beach destinations, including Gulf State Park Beach, Romar Beach and Gulf Shores Public Beach. Beyond the beaches that give this area its name, there many land and sea activities for all types of traveling groups.
Charters and cruises wow visitors daily. Distraction Charters offers family friendly deep sea fishing cruises. Orange Beach Sailing Charters/Sunset Cruises takes small groups on gorgeous boat rides, Captain Ryan even provides snacks! Both services have rave reviews. Many other companies in Orange Beach provide fun dolphin cruises or parasailing, so your open ocean activity options are vast.
Fun family activities start at the Back Country Trail that has ample space for bikers, joggers, and walkers. There’s plenty of shade to go around, and maps for those who are easily lost, but bring your own refreshments. The Wharf is an outdoor mall slash restaurant row slash amusement park complete with a ferris wheel in the middle. Don’t miss the nightly light show if you’re visiting too. For non-stop action that only a sugar rush can aid, check out Sharky’s Family Adventure Park, Fat Daddy’s Arcade (awesome name) and Arena: The Next Level. Each of these venues could provide a fantastic way to spend a non-beach day.
Sarasota County’s Siesta Key is the highest-rated gulf coast beach on our list from many offline and online publications. When you visit and see the 35 miles of beaches with white quartz sand and over 100 pristine golf courses, it is hard to argue otherwise. Grab your towel and sunscreen and visit Siesta Key Beach, Turtle Beach and/or Crescent Beach. Point of Rocks is a rare geologic feature is a great place to view birds and marine wildlife.On Sunday evenings on the public beach you can even enjoy the Siesta Key Drum Circle, which has naturally evolved over the years.
You’ll find ample opportunity for water sports like paddle boards, kayaks, and surfing. On land, both biking and mopeds are popular. Siesta Paddle Sports, Adventure Kayak Outfitters, and Siesta Key Watersports all come with strong recommendations.
For food, Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar provides a family-friendly atmosphere and award-winning crab legs. The Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar has over 25 flavors of daiquiris for the late night crowd. Siesta Key Village has the coldest beer, best pizza, and the nicest local souvenirs.
Of the gulf coast beaches on our list, Perdido Key may be the most secluded and unheralded. Much of the beach and the areas inland and offshore are part of the state park system of protected wetland and estuary, and these protected areas provide a home to many species of wildlife and fragile native plants.
Lost Bay Guide Service provides private fishing charters for groups and Captain Bill refuses to let his fares leave empty-handed and hungry. The quirky Flora-Bama beach restaurant has incredible nightlife and delicious dishes. Big Lagoon State Park features ample hiking, boating, and a chance to encounter some of Florida’s native species. Perdido Bay Golf Club and Lost Key Golf Club are both flawless 18-hole courses.
Come to Perdido Key hungry, because The Rib Shak and the Sunset Grille are the two places you’ll want to grub. For sushi lovers, try The Jellyfish which has a delectable set of rolls. As with many of the locations on this list, water sports and recreational parks abound in the area for those who want to play in the sun or on the sea.
After a day on the beach, visit Portofino Boardwalk for shopping and restaurants. Nearby Casino Beach is popular with tourists and locals alike. For history and military buffs, do not miss the National Museum of of Naval Aviation showcasing over 150 restored aircrafts. The Pensacola Beach Air Show takes place in July and is a jaw-dropping event. There are also art, food and music festivals throughout the year.
Water Warrior is the top rated paddle boarding company in the area. At Fort Pickens visitors can take a self-guided tour of this authentic fort active during the Civil War, and later used as a jail to hold the infamous American Indian chief Geronimo. Via de Luna Drive and Fort Pickens Road are the two main streets in the area and have plenty of great seafood restaurants and boutique shopping to explore.
Explore old homes in the area at Historic Pensacola Village and check out a replica of the DC Vietnam Memorial at Veteran’s Memorial Park. The 1,500 foot long Pensacola Pier takes you far out in the gulf coast for amazing views.
The Florida panhandle beach destinations has something to enjoy for all ages. If you’re looking for sand, Okaloosa Island (which also features a shopping boardwalk) and Grayton Beach are consistently named the best in the area. Sing the night away at Howl at the Moon or just get a little loose at Fokkers Sports Pub. Snorkel with Cattywampus Eco Adventures and watch the amazing dolphin show at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
As with Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach’s top attraction is military related. The Air Force Armament Museum features historical military pieces like a B-17 Bomber from World War II and fighter jets like the F-4 Phantom. For the kids and the kids-at-heart you can test your putt-putt skill at Goofy Golf, but try to avoid those darn hazards. The Indian Temple Mound and Museum, built on a ceremonial mound, documents the history of four southeastern Native America tribes all the way back to the 1300s. The mound itself is a national historic landmark built in 800 AD. At the Emerald Coast Science Center, kids can play with many hands-on exhibits including the Hall of Life.
The downtown area is compact and walkable, with some of the best seafood on the “Emerald Coast” of Florida. A unique activity not mentioned elsewhere is horseback riding. There are a few top stables in the area for beach riding, like Two-Bit Stable and The Rockin M Ranch. Forgotten Coast Adventures is your go-to company for fishing, and Just Sayin’ Charters are a relaxing choice for a trip around Cape San Blas.
Rent a kayak on Cape San Blas or see the dunes of St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park: The preserved dune ecosystems and tide pools of this coastal state park are home to native sea grass and a wide variety of marine life like crabs and tide-pool dwelling sea stars. Visit the Port St. Joe Marina to launch sailing adventures or just to stroll, shop, cast a line from the docks, or watch the waves roll in.
Joe Mama’s Wood Fire Pizza has a clever name and a delicious array of menu items. Indian Pass Raw Bar and the Sunset Coastal Grill are tops for seafood.
Of all the gulf coast beaches on our list, Panama City may be the most breath taking. It won a prestigious Travelers Choice Award from TripAdvisor in 2014, which puts it a step above all the rest. Go there for sun and surf. There are dozens of pristine golf courses in the area (Hombre Golf Club for the adults, Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf for the kids), and ample opportunities for water sports and fishing, but that is status quo for all these destinations. With over one million visitors per year, Pier Park is a massive outdoor shopping mall with entertainment galore.
Those visiting Panama City Beach in the autumn can enjoy the Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine and Music Festival, a celebration of local seafood and chefs. Don’t miss the “Stomping of the Grapes” performed each day as an opening to the day’s events. The Gulf World Marine Park has it all – including Noah Wells’ show MAXIMUM MAGIC! Pay one price and see all the animal shows the entire day.
For an unconventional eating experience, visit Wicked Wheel Bar & Grill where you can sit on an actual (non-running) motor cycle while you try some of their amazing catfish. For upscale, traditional dining Firefly should be your spot, if you want to dress down, check out Finn’s Island Style Grub, which features, well, delicious island style grub. Shell Island is a nice ferry getaway if you’re looking to explore a bit further out.
The word that springs to mind when thinking of Marco Island is luxury. This area is known for its world-class spas and does not disappoint. Join Manatee Sightseeing Adventures, a private sightseeing expedition tour that delves into the only manatee sanctuary in Southwest Florida. For dinner, eat at the highly rated Fin Bistro or Lee Be Fish.
As with most gulf coast beaches, Marco Island features many options for amateur and experienced fisherman including deep sea cruises and equipment rentals. Kayaks, jet skis, and more are all available for rent. Visit the popular Tigertail Beach for your daily dose of sun. For those with a need for speed and thrills Dreamlander Tours and Captain Ron’s Awesome Everglade Adventures will fill that void, seek them out if you can.
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