This Southern State is the Most Underrated Beach Destination in the U.S.

No, it’s not on the East or West Coast.

Sunset in Gulf Shores Alabama

Gulf Shores is just one scenic stretch on Alabama’s 50 miles of Gulf Beach.

Photo by Michael Hare/Shutterstock

The vision of untouched, white-sand beaches in the United States may conjure up associations with Florida’s more than 1,300 miles of coastline or Hawai‘i’s islands. It’s rare the state of Alabama comes to mind, despite having one of the most untapped, unspoiled coastlines along the Gulf of Mexico.

Located between Pensacola, Florida, and New Orleans, Alabama’s Gulf Coast has roughly 50 miles of Gulf Beach and 65 to 70 miles of bay beaches to enjoy. It’s a place where beach lovers can laze the day away with favorable weather year round, where accessibility is not merely a buzzword but an investment, and where travelers—adults and kids alike—can unwind away from crowds, hawkers peddling souvenirs, and busy boardwalks.

Here are four of the top beaches in Alabama that offer the best of the Gulf Coast.

1. Gulf Shores

Vacasa, a vacation rental platform, ranks Gulf Shores as one of the top travel vacation destinations for spring break (primarily seen as the period between March 4 and April 22), based on search data from its platform—and with good reason.

Blindly white, soft sand and clear waters greet residents and tourists alike at Gulf Shores, a seaside town of about 16,000 residents.

Its beach has several different entry points, with the most popular being Gulf Shores Public Beach on Gulf Place; it is perfect for travelers looking for more action, as there’s a beachfront bar called the Pink Pony Pub and volleyball nets set up. Travelers looking for a more off-the-grid beach experience may want to consider the Branyon Beach Access, with its tall sand dunes on either side of a small boardwalk.

The city of Gulf Shores says it has a goal to reach “complete accessibility” at the beach, but in the meantime, guests have access to four mats to reach the shore. Beach safety officers, as well as lifeguards, are on hand for visitors who may need assistance getting to the beachfront.

Where to stay in Gulf Shores

The Beach Club Resort & Spa is a private-vacay kind of stay that’s ideal for travelers seeking seclusion in its beachfront condos and lakeside cottage rentals. There are more than 650 units in the resort’s four towers, which range from one to five bedrooms. The resort also offers restaurants, a spa and salon, and indoor and outdoor pools across its 86 acres.

Sunrise from Dauphin Island East End

Complete serenity is only a 40-minute drive from Mobile, Alabama.

Photo by Rob Rudeski/Shutterstock

2. Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island is Gulf Shores’ opposite: While the latter is beginning to see signs of development along its coastline, the former is largely still untouched.

Travelers looking to unplug will enjoy a visit to Dauphin Island. Located on a barrier island and part of the Mobile metropolitan area, Dauphin feels far removed from the bustle (the city is a 40-minute drive away.) Travelers will appreciate a quieter vibe, with the beach—with its “sugar white” sand—nearly two miles long.

Where to stay in Dauphin Island

The 10-bedroom Dauphin Island Harbor House, located on the south side of Dauphin Island Bay, has been a mainstay for families over the past 40 years. Slowing down at this bed-and-breakfast property is easier thanks to amenities that include a waterside dock and a sundeck.

Sunset on Orange Beach Alabama with people in hazy fog

Orange Beach has both waterside and inland activities for families to enjoy.

Photo by Edgar Lee Espe/Shutterstock

3. Orange Beach

Orange Beach has a little beach life for everyone, depending on what you’re looking for. Travelers wanting a traditional beach getaway will appreciate the big-name hotel chains, such as Hilton, which has planted a Garden Inn resort along the coast, and Wyndham, which boasts a vacation rental on the beach. But there’s also a fair share of inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and eateries and shops frequented by locals.

Where to stay in Orange Beach

Both the 137-room Hilton and 97-room Wyndham properties offer beachfront access to the Gulf’s waters, so choosing between the two may boil down to the stretch of sand you’d like to experience.

Sand dunes in Gulf State Park, Alabama, USA.

Enjoy—and learn about—nature along the Gulf Coast at Gulf State Park.

Photo by Roberto Michel/Shutterstock

4. Gulf State Park

Not to be confused with Gulf Shores, Gulf State Park, a more than 6,000-acre area, is a haven for adventure-seeking travelers. Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches (plus a beachside restaurant), but here, you’ll find plenty beyond sand and surf.

Gulf State Park has several things that families looking to entertain children will appreciate: a learning center to immerse in nearby wildlife, furnished cabins and cottages with woods or lake views, and a fishing pier.

If you don’t want to dip in the Gulf, you can paddleboard, swim, or kayak at Lake Shelby instead, a 900-acre freshwater lake that is the park’s main focus. After getting your fill of water activities, relax in the shade at the lake’s picnic area, a pet-friendly place where you can fire up the grill or drop the kids off at the playground. A pedestrian bridge connects Lake Shelby to the nearby beach if you want to split your time evenly.

Where to stay in Gulf State Park

The Gulf State Park Campground offers an outdoor camping experience complete with 11 bathhouses, volleyball courts, and access to 28 miles of trails. It even has a store stocked with food, firewood, and other camping supplies in case you forget something.

Victoria M. Walker is a travel reporter and the founder of the travel lifestyle site and newsletter Travel With Vikkie. She is a special correspondent for AFAR.
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