Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Gulf Shores region in Alabama is a popular destination thanks to its beaches, green spaces, affordable restaurants, and museums.

If you're headed to Gulf Shores for your next holiday, take note of the following things you and your family can do—for less than $25 per person.

1. Cuddle with a kangaroo

Animal lovers are smart to visit the  Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Opened in 1989, the 17-acre zoo has more than 500 exotic animals including leopards, wolves, and a variety of reptiles. Even better, the zoo offers hands-on encounters with kangaroos, lemurs, snakes, and more. Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and $8 for kids ages 3 to 12 years old.

2. Take a step back in history

fort-morgan

Did you know there's a place in Gulf Shores that served as a strategic military post during the Civil War?  Fort Morgan  was constructed in 1819 and completed in 1834, and was once used by the Confederate Army. In 1864, Union forces defeated a Confederate navy squad. Tourists can walk the fort for free. A museum is also available, and it's $7 for adults and $4 for kids 6 to 12 years old.

3. Ride a rollercoaster

Waterville USA, a water and amusement park in Gulf Shores, is the perfect place for your family to blow off some steam while on vacation. The park is open March through September with rides like the Cannonball Run rollercoaster, go-karts, a bounce house, and more. Park passes run $24.95 for adults and children, and $15.95 for senior citizens and those 42 inches and shorter.

4. Walk through a pre-WWII home

The Gulf Shores Museum  is housed in a small home built prior to WWII and it's a fun place for historians to spend an afternoon. There are a variety of exhibits and videos demonstrating the history of the area. The best part? Admission is free.

5. Golf among pirates

Get ready for some themed mini golf! There are few places in Gulf Shores more exciting than  Pirate's Island Adventure Golf. Lead your kids through rounds of golf on a ship, in caves, and past waterfalls. Admission is $10.25 for adults and $8.25 for kids 4 to 12 years old.

6. Get a pizza from Papa's

Hungry? Head over to  Papa Rocco's. This Gulf Shores favorite has been serving award-winning pizza since the mid-80s, and the oysters are also excellent. Not only does this place have a fun atmosphere (and a funny tagline: "the home of warm beer and lousy pizza"), the food is also cheap. A pizza will cost you between $6.95 and $19.95, so you may as well order more than one.

7. Photograph beautiful birds

Grab your camera and head to the  Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. The website offers several options for trail start locations—all free. Check out the  Orange Beach Loop  for a ten-stop walk. This will take you a few hours, so be sure to bring a picnic. In addition to seeing gorgeous birds, you're sure to meet nice people with the same objective.

8. Grab a paddle

Enjoy a day on the Gulf of Mexico by booking a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental with  Paddled By You, a local, family-owned business. Remember to bring a hat and some sunscreen, and then hit the water. Rates for kayaks and paddleboards are $10 per hour for a single, with a two-hour minimum required.

9. Visit the pier

As the longest pier in the Gulf, and Alabama's only public pier, the Gulf State Park Pier  is a must-see. Head over with your fishing pole and see if the fish are biting. You and your family can sightsee for just $4 per person, or fish for $9 per person. It's $5 for kids 11 and under.

10. Enjoy lunch with a view

After visiting Gulf Shores for more than 30 years, Bill and Susan Henry decided to move there permanently and open an affordable restaurant with a view. Today,  Bill's By the Beach  is a fun Gulf Shores spot with an inviting patio with outdoor seating. The best part is the lunch specials that run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A half sandwich and soup or side salad will only cost you $9.50 per person.

11. View wildlife

Bon-Secour-National-Wildlife-Refuge

Another great excuse to break out your camera: a visit to  Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Free to the public, it was established by Congress in 1980 to protect threatened and endangered species. Follow the John Friend Trail for a mile to see animals around Little Lagoon, go fishing, and even take part in some environmental education programs.

12. Get up close with local marine creatures

Hop on the ferry at Fort Morgan and take it to The Estuarium, a public aquarium. This place offers interactive, hands-on exhibits for kids on the four habitats of coastal Alabama. More than 100 species are on display. Tickets are $10 or adults, $8 for senior citizens, and $6 for students with an ID and kids 5-18 years old.

13. Hit the greens

The Gulf Coast is known for its golf courses, so why not join in on the fun?  The Orange Beach Golf Center  offers nine holes at $15 (walking) or $20 (with a cart). Remember your sunscreen, hat, and clubs, and enjoy a day in the sun among the palm trees, bridges, and creeks.

14. Enjoy local art

Vacation is a great time to get inspired.  The Gulf Coast Arts Alliance  gallery—free to visit—is the perfect place to ignite inspiration. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, more than 30 local artists have their works on display. The gallery regularly offers classes and public events—check online for times and dates.

15. Practice your laser-shooting skills

Tired of sunning yourself on the beach? If so, head over to  Adventure Island, a playland for kids and adults with go-karts, laser tag, mini golf, paddleboats, and more. Each attraction is priced differently: golf will run you $7.50 per person, laser tag costs $7 per person, and bumper boats are $6.50 for the driver and $2 for the passenger. No matter what you do, visiting this place isn't likely to break the bank.

16. Learn how to make jewelry

Store-bought vacation souvenirs can be fun, but making your own token to take home can be even more memorable.  Blue Girl Beading Co.  offers jewelry-making classes where you can learn how to construct gorgeous bracelets and necklaces. Class prices vary, but are around $25 per person, so  check online for an updated calendar of events. If you're not interested in taking a class, just walk in and ask for advice on making your own beaded treasure.

17. Hit the beach

gulf-shores-beach

Gulf Shores is known for its white beaches and crystal blue waters. Grab some food for a picnic (don't forget your sunscreen) and head down to one of the public beaches. Designated parking spaces will cost you $5 per day.  Click here for more information about choosing the perfect public beach for your family.

18. Visit a library

Rain dampening your vacation? Instead of sitting in front of the television in your hotel, why not go to the library? There are two outposts in the area:  The Thomas B. Norton Public Library  in Gulf Shores and the  Orange Beach Public Library. It's free to go in, take out a book, and spend the day reading. If you go to the Orange Beach location,  check online  beforehand to see if any events are scheduled.

19. Create art

The Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach  is the perfect place for art lovers to spend a day. It's free to visit the gallery (open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., from Monday through Friday) and pottery classes are regularly offered to the public. Check out the website for the latest schedule.

20. Save the turtles

Interested in giving back while on vacation? If so, contact  Share The Beach, an organization that leads volunteers in saving Alabama's sea turtles. There are volunteer opportunities during the turtle-nesting season, which is May through October. You can  call or email  for more information.

21. Get a bird's eye view of the Wharf

The Wharf, a large shopping, dining, and entertainment area on Orange Beach, is an action-packed place to hang out. Those looking see things from an aerial perspective can jump on the  Ferris Wheel  for $5 per person, and free for kids 3 and under.

22. Learn about Native American history

The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach region has a rich Native American and fishing history, and the perfect place to learn more about that past is at the  Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, visitors can see exhibits with fishing and boating items, farming tools from more than a hundred years ago, and other local artifacts. Admission is free.

23. Nosh on BBQ

As long as you're in the South, you may as well check out the local BBQ scene. Hog Wild Beach & BBQ  call themselves a "southern BBQ with a beachy twist," and it describes them well. The menu is kid-friendly and cheap—in addition to being generous and delicious. Try the pulled pork sandwich for $6, or the smoked Conecuh sausage for $11.

24. Dance!

Sometimes you just have to let loose and there's no better place than the  Beachside Ballroom & Swing Club. For the adults in your group (as well as your adult children), head over to the Orange Beach Recreation Center on Wednesday nights for a group dance class and party. This guaranteed fun is only $10 per person.

25. Indulge in a doughnut

Arguably the best place to get a doughnut in the Gulf Shores area,  City Donut  is on Perdido Beach Blvd. in Orange Beach. This place opens at 7 a.m., but they run out of the more popular varieties quickly, so be sure to get there early for the tastiest selection.

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