Last week I wrote about the Best Beach Destination for Active Families, the week, I’m reviewing our most budget friendly beach destination, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama.
Gulf Shores, Alabama – Most Budget Friendly Beach Destination
Why It’s a Great Place for Families: Beach vacations are great especially for families with younger kids as the sand and water can keep them occupied with free fun for hours! Our favorite thing about Gulf Shores is just that, the beach. The beaches are soft sugar white sand and the water is crystal clear blue, the perfect place to waste a few hours. Gulf Shores is especially nice for families as it can be a very affordable vacation. The majority of the beach front resorts are condos and many cost the same or less as what you would expect to pay for a resort hotel and many complexes offer kid friendly amenities like water slides and lazy rivers. From our Indiana location, Gulf Shores is also a great alternative to Florida as it’s a shorter drive. There are also lots of touristy amenities like beach souvenir shops, mini golf, arcades, and go-karts.
Where To Stay: During our last stay, we rented a condo in the Phoenix West II resort which is an absolutely beautiful complex. Our condo was very spacious with three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, full kitchen, separate dining room, large living room, large balcony for lounging or outdoor dining, and in-condo laundry. There’s nothing I dislike more than coming home from a great vacation and having piles of laundry waiting for me, so I love having the option to wash our laundry as I’m packing up our suitcases. Click on the picture to view a great example of what condos in this resort look like. While the link isn’t the exact condo we stayed, it is at the same resort and is nearly identical.
We went in late October during fall break so with it being off season we got an even better deal on the beautiful condo. October is a bit late to visit this beach but most days it was sunny and warm enough to play on the beach. It was high 70’s, low 80’s while during our visit but as luck would have it the week after our stay was mid-80’s. So, while we still enjoyed our beach time, and it was warm enough to get our toes wet in the surf, it was a little cool for swimming in the ocean but the heated pools were a welcome alternative. For a summer vacation however, it would be a great destination, just watch out for peak week’s as it can get a bit crowded. Phoenix West II was a beautiful resort with a fun lazy river and slide that the kids loved and great indoor and outdoor pools as well.
Phoenix West II is located a little farther from the main strip of Gulf Shores but not quite to Orange Beach, it’s still close enough to all the action but the beaches are a lot less crowded. It’s also pretty close to a discount grocery store which is convenient for eating meals in the condo.
My sister-in-law and her family have stayed multiple time at the Beach Club Resort which has pretty reasonably priced condo’s as well and with included amenities like bike rentals, game room, live entertainment and kids crafts, I can see why her family returns to this resort year after year. Each day there are plenty of scheduled activities including hula-hoop contests, poolside crafts, photo scavenger hunts etc. Be sure to check out the activity calendar before you go too!
Must Do: One place you must visit if you head to Gulf Shores is a restaurant called The Gulf. This ocean front restaurant is built out of shipping containers and has a very casual cool vibe.
The majority of the seating is outdoors and there are lots of seating vignettes that beckon you to grab a drink and hang for a bit. The food is pretty casual fare, sandwiches, tacos and fries and a while it’s a little on the pricier side for sandwiches, I promise you won’t be disappointed as the flavors are excellent.
The Track is another must do spot for families there’s lots to do from arcade games, mini-golf, bumper boats and go-karts. What’s nice about the Track is that there were rides for all ages, there was “Kids Country” section with rides specifically geared so younger kids could get in on the action.
While our kids loved riding the faster side-by-side go karts with mom and dad the best, they also enjoyed being able to drive themselves in the kiddie carts and rookie carts as well. The track also has a small train, airplanes, and ferris wheel for kids 8 and under. While not the cheapest activity, it was in line with what you’d expect to pay. Plus if you complete the form below I’ll send you an email with printable coupons for the Track as well as some of the other attractions mentioned in this post
Another great evening activity is a visit to The Wharf which is neat outdoor shopping and entertainment complex. There are lots of great shops and restaurants and there’s even a giant Ferris wheel. Each night there’s a free sound and light show at 8:30, 9:00 and 9:30. Main Street at the Wharf is blocked off and you can wander out into the street to get a good view. The palm trees lining the street are all lit up to the beat of music.
Our kids loved watching the all the colors and enjoyed the upbeat, festive music! In the summer there are a variety of fun events beyond shopping and dinning. Wednesday nights at The Wharf are Kids’ Nights which includes fun activities like bouncy houses and face painting, admission to the event is free but some activities do have a small fee. Additionally, on Kids’ Night many restaurants offer discounts like 50% off of kids meals or free kids meals with adult entrée purchase. On Thursday nights, there are free fireworks shows at dark or around 8:45. There’s also a large amphitheater if you’d like to catch a concert. Check out their events calendar to get the details and deals for all the events at the Wharf and pick up concert tickets.
In nearby Orange Beach, you can visit the USS Alabama Memorial Park. There you’ll be able to tour the USS Alabama Battleship, the USS Drum submarine and all sorts of military aircraft, tanks and artillery vehicles. There’s a small admission fee of $15 per adults (12yrs +), children 6-11 are just $6 and kids 5 and under are free. You’ll also have to pay $2 to park. With so many different things to see you’ll be able to spend several hours here. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes!
Just 8 miles north of Gulf Shores is the quaint town of Foley, Alabama and for a very unique dining experience I recommend taking a very hungry brood to Lambert’s Café. Emphasis on the hungry part because the portions are extremely large and everything is delicious! Lambert’s is known as “The Home of the Throwed Rolls” because, well they throw the rolls at you. Ok, well not AT you more like to you. Plan to arrive early as there is often quite a wait, and tour buses are frequent visitors so there’s always a bit of a crowd. On the menu you’ll find lots of reasonably price comfort food like chicken pot pie, fried chicken (soooo good) and pork chops. The dinner entrees come with two sides but Lambert’s also has “pass around” sides where wait staff is walking throughout the dining room asking if you’d like to try a little bit of fried okra, black eyed peas, fried potatoes, or macaroni and tomatoes. The pass around sides are free and you can have as much as you like. Then there’s the rolls, just get the bread boy’s attention with a wave of the hand and get ready to catch a roll from across the room! The dining room is a constant bustle of activity and the wait staff are all friendly and having a good time. Our kids loved it! Of course what kid isn’t going to like a place where they throw rolls! Oh and they bring around sorghum and apple butter to spread on those delicious rolls. Spread some on and it’s like eating dessert. If you’ve never had sorghum it has unique taste that’s a bit like honey and maple syrup mixed together. Some sorghum molasses might have made it home in my suitcase! 🙂 One quirky thing about this restaurant (as if throwed rolls wasn’t enough) is that they don’t take credit cards. You can pay with cash or a check or there’s an ATM in lobby.
We really enjoyed our visits to Gulf Shores and with lots of free and low-cost entertainment and dining options, Gulf Shores is a great place to vacation when you want a beach vacation on a budget. Don’t forget to complete the form below and I’ll email you some printable discount coupons for some of the attractions I mentioned in this post!