Are you looking for the best beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach? We have created the perfect guide for you along with interactive maps, pictures, and descriptions of every public access point along the 32-miles of pristine coastline.
Alabama has some of the best beaches, not just on the Gulf Coast but for all of the United States! Coastal Living magazine voted Gulf Shores as one of their 21 best beaches, and USA Today ranked Gulf Shores as #5 in their ‘Top 10 in Best Coastal Small Towns’.
When you come to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores beaches, you’ll discover more than snow-white sugar sand and warm gulf water. You’ll find plenty of room to spread out and stay healthy. A visit to Gulf Shores uncovers the simple things that will make your vacation extraordinary, like stunning sunset vistas, delicious local food, and exciting outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and some of the best biking in Alabama.
Overview of Gulf Shores Alabama Beaches
The four primary beaches along the Alabama Gulf Coast are Gulf Shores, Gulf State Park, Orange Beach, and the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Perdido Key State Park in Florida is also close by, but this article focuses on the other side of the Flora-Bama line.
Right away, you might be asking – what’s the difference between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach? They are both Alabama coastal cities that, more or less, are separated by Gulf State Park. Gulf Shores is to the west, where Highway 59 reaches the coast, and Orange Beach is to the east by Perdido Pass and Wolf Bay. Fort Morgan Peninsula is west of Gulf Shores and runs to the mouth of Mobile Bay.
Each area offers something different and unique, so we’ll take the time to introduce 13 distinctly different beaches and let you decide which one is best for you.
Join us as we explore:
- Gulf Shores Beaches (Gulf Shores Public Beach, Little Lagoon Pass, Gulf Shores Public Access Points)
- Gulf State Park (Gulf State Park Pier, Branyon Beach, Gulf Shores Pavillion)
- Orange Beach (Romar Beach, Cotton Bayou, Alabama Point)
- Fort Morgan Peninsula Beaches (Pine Beach, Bon Secour / Mobile Street Beach, Pizarro Ave Beach, Fort Morgan Beaches)
Of course, we promised you a map of Gulf Shores beaches, so you’ll find that below. It’s color-coded and interactive, so feel free to take a little time clicking around and exploring. If it doesn’t come up right away, feel free to hit the refresh button. We promise you it’s worth it 😉
Gulf Place (Gulf Shores Main Public Beach)
Gulf Place (Gulf Shores Main Public Beach) is the first beach you’ll reach coming in from Highway 59 and has everything you’d expect from a top-notch beach. The first thing you’ll notice are large public lots with paid parking and the best-groomed sand on the Alabama coast. However, soon you’ll appreciate all the other amenities that the Gulf Place Main Public Beach offers.
The beach itself is well-appointed, with restrooms and showers on site, beach attendants, open-air pavilions, and available picnic areas. More than that, you’re in the heart of downtown Gulf Shores where you’ll find ample places to eat and drink without reparking, such as the famous Hangout Gulf Shores, beachfront Pink Pony Pub, delicious Picnic Beach, and Sunliner Diner, a cool diner with a 1950’s vibe and décor. If you’re looking for a ‘Full Service’ beach experience, Gulf Place Beach is for you. It’s even near one of Gulf Shores’ most famous shore dives, the Whiskey Wreck, a 200-foot rum runner boat in less than 20 feet of water.
Little Lagoon Pass
At 10 miles long and about a 1/2 mile wide, Little Lagoon isn’t all that little. Little Lagoon Pass is where the lagoon empties into the Gulf, about 3-miles west of Gulf Place. Little Lagoon Park provides parking and restrooms, as well as beach and lagoon access, making this beach a one-stop outdoor destination.
The combination of the beach and lagoon is what makes Little Lagoon Pass so special. It’s like two beaches in one with the beautiful white Gulf-side beach and the uber mellow lagoon-side beach perfect for the kiddos. Which isn’t to say adults can’t enjoy the lagoon too. There’s a kayak launch on the lagoon that also provides access for snorkeling and shore diving on the nearby sea walls if you time the tides right (best during a high slack tide). Another simple pleasure of Lagoon Pass is watching the sunset from the lagoon side fishing pier.
Gulf Shores Public Access Points
There are seven public beach access points between Gulf Place and Little Lagoon Pass (2nd St, 4th St, 5th St, 6th St, 10th St, 12th St, and 13th St). They all have at least one restroom, and the bolded points have public parking available.
You will not find the amenities of the main public beach or the diversity of Little Lagoon Pass, but these access points are perfect for escaping the crowds. They also are critical if you’re renting a Gulf Shores beach condo that doesn’t have beach access so you can walk to your beach instead of making a short drive and having to park your car. There’s a special level of relaxation that comes from parking once at the beginning of your vacation, and not driving again until it’s time to go home.
Gulf State Park Pier
Immediately to the east of Gulf Shores is Gulf State Park, and the first beach you’ll reach at the Gulf State Park Pier. It’s the second-largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico before Hurricane Sally collapsed a 200′ section near the end of the structure. It’s been reopened and is still Alabama’s only public fishing pier on the Gulf. However, you don’t need to be an angler to enjoy the Gulf State Park Pier.
There’s ample parking at the pier and beautiful beaches on either side. You’ll also find the best beach amenities in Gulf State Park at the pier with the Bywater Beachside Restaurant right there and only a short walk to reach the Lodge at Gulf State Park. Bywater Beachside has all your pub favorites, including adult drinks and grab-and-go beach food. It’s also a great place for local live music and stunning sunsets.
Next door, The Lodge features two upscale restaurants – Foodcraft and Perch, both with Gulf-front dining. Both restaurants validate parking, so if you’re not too sandy or do a good job with your beach shower, you can just drive over for fine dining and live music while watching the sun go down, sipping cocktails by the patio firepit. A perfect cap on an extraordinary Gulf Shores beach day– so simple yet soooo good! It makes a good beach date too😉
Branyon Beach is in Gulf State Park in between the pier and pavilion. It has extremely limited parking and no amenities. If you manage to get in, the sand is lovely, and you don’t have to worry about crowds. The question is, how do you get to Branyon Beach?
One way is to make a detour when biking Gulf State Park. The beach is at the end of Gopher Tortoise Trail. If you’re in the fat tire crowd, you might want to use the signal to cross the road and take a short ride on the boardwalk to see the surf. Branyon Beach is also about a mile walk from Gulf State Park Campground, so depending on your site you can walk in from camping as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll get one of the coveted parking spaces and only need to walk across the road to get to Branyon Beach.
Gulf Shores Pavilion
The Gulf State Park Pavilion is a 100,000 square foot open-air beach pavilion perfect for beach weddings. However, the typical users are families looking to enjoy the simple pleasures of an uncrowded, natural beach with plenty of room to spread out. It’s a stress-free way to beach with ample parking and modern restrooms and showers.
There’s even an interpretive center that doubles as a reception space to raise awareness of the Gulf Coast’s environmental challenges and some of the ways Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have risen to the occasion. You can explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails with Gulf State Park’s Bike Share program if you get tired of the sand. All you need is a smartphone to pick up a bike at the Gulf State Park Pavilion, and you’ll be ready to ride across the pedestrian bridge and onto the trails.
Orange Beach is just to the east of Gulf State Park, and the first beach you reach is Romar Beach. I’ll be honest, with so many beach access points, Romar Beach is not my favorite. The beach itself is very nice and an exquisite destination for beach condo rentals. I stayed up the road at Turquoise Palace, and it was fabulous. Between the condo’s amenities and being able to return to my room whenever I wanted, it was a spectacular beach vacation.
However, the public access point at Romar Beach was a bit lacking. Come prepared as there are only pay stations and port-o-potties rather than permanent restrooms. Also, there were still plenty of people on the beach with all the nearby condos. If you rent a condo in Orange Beach or are lucky enough to own one, you’ll love Romar Beach! If you’re a diver or snorkeler, you might enjoy checking out Romar Reef, an artificial reef a couple hundred feet offshore (look for the poles with mounted red lights that sit near the shore to find the spot). Otherwise, there are better ways to access the public beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Cotton Bayou Beach
Cotton Bayou is a much better alternative than Romar Beach for public access in Orange Beach. It has about three times as many parking spaces, flush toilets, and showers, for starters. You can also grab a snow cone at Paradise Snow in season. There are still plenty of beach condos, but they aren’t immediately adjacent.
Once you reach the beach, you’ll find the white sand and warm water that brought you to the Gulf in the first place. Also, like Romar Beach, if you get a condo around here, you’re in for a treat! There’s nothing quite like owning a piece of paradise or, at least, renting it for the weekend😉.
Alabama Point / Shell Beach
There was a time when I thought that Perdido Pass separated Alabama Point on the west side and Florida Point on the east, but that would be too easy. So I searched Alabama Point on Google Maps, and it appeared on the west side of the pass, just north of the bridge, which matches the geography well enough, but not any of the beach descriptions. Instead, I’ll defer to the park sign located on the eastern side of the bridge/pass that clearly says – ‘Alabama Point.’
This ‘Alabama Point’ matches the popular descriptions of a 6000-foot wide white sandy beach with boardwalks that leads through the dunes to the ocean. I read many reports of free parking, but the pay stations in the lot say otherwise. I even read one article saying they “loved the surfing,” but I’m taking that with a grain of salt. My go-to source, Magicseaweed, says, “Alabama beach breaks are abominably fickle” but adds that it’s “one of the best options on the Alabama mainland” – even though Orange Beach is technically on an island. They also place Alabama Point on the west side of the pass, so there’s that.
The name game doesn’t get any better for the jetties, which are prime fishing spots. The jetties leading into Perdido Pass are prime fishing spots. While some do snorkel here, we don’t recommend it due to the tides and anglers. Alabama Point is on the west side of the pass and Florida point is on the east.
So let’s just say Alabama Point, aka Florida Point, aka Point East, is on the east side of the pass with the corresponding park sign. This beach has a reasonably sized paid parking lot and the aforementioned 6000′ white sandy beach. It also has restrooms, showers, and regular food trucks, including the super cute Frost Bites that operates out of an Airstream. You’ll also be close to fine dining at Cobalt, which has a kicking happy hour from 3-5, which you can catch if you time your beach visit right.
Oh, what about Shell Beach? It’s a small, paid lot, 900′ past the entrance to Alabama Point, with no amenities. It is close enough to be overflow parking for Alabama Point if you need it. It’s where you’ll find Alabama Point Reef, one of Gulf Shores’ artificial snorkeling and diving reefs. It’s located a couple hundred feet offshore and marked on the beach by two poles with red lights.
The following four entries in our Gulf Shores Beach Guide are located on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. There are about 13-miles of beaches on the peninsula with limited access, no lifeguards, and no beach flag warning system at these beaches. However, visitors can text ALBEACHES to 888777 to receive daily beach conditions and warning flag status.
The first beach you’ll reach is a natural gem called Pine Beach. It is located within the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and accessed by the aptly named 1.5-mile-long Pine Beach Trail. The beach itself is beautiful and remote, but the approach makes it unique.
You park in a mature hammock of live oaks and hike under pines, over salt marshes, between lagoons, and finally through sand dunes to reach the ocean. It’s perhaps the most biodiverse 1.5 miles around. There are well-placed interpretive signs highlighting the unique flora and fauna and an observation tower at the edge of Little Lagoon for bird watching. There’s no beach quite like Pine Beach in all of Gulf Shores / Orange Beach.
Fort Morgan Beaches / Mobile Street Beach
Even though Pine Beach is technically in Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, most people think of Mobile Street Beach when they think of the beaches in the Fort Morgan area because of the easy access. It has a small lot with minimal parking that’s right next to the beach, giving you a rare combination of access and isolation.
There’s absolutely no street parking, so many people use the Pine Beach Trail parking lot as a de facto overflow parking. Even though the driver has to walk a mile back to the beach, they can drop their friends and beach toys off before trekking back. The beach itself is no-frills. You come here to get away from everything and everybody.
Pizarro Ave Beach Access
Alabama common law states that all beaches below the mean high tide line are public property. They also allow public access points along the coast, but that doesn’t always translate to public parking. Many of the side roads off the main Fort Morgan Road have access, but few have parking. That’s great if you happen to own or rent on the peninsula, but we don’t recommend it for day-trippers.
The Pizarro Ave lot is the exception to the rule. It’s a small, public lot with about 16 spaces, but it gets you into a remote shoreline that few people visit. If you’re lucky and ambitious, you might try walking down the beach and trying to find the remains of the Rachel Wreck, rumored to be the one true rum runner wreck.
Historic Fort Morgan Beaches
Historic Fort Morgan sits at the tip of the Fort Morgan Peninsula at the mouth of the 413 sq-mile Mobile Bay. The water flow in and out of the massive bay creates dangerous currents that swimmers need to be aware of. The closer you get to the mouth of the bay, the higher the dangers. That being said, there are some beautiful sandy beaches at Historic Fort Morgan.
The first one you’ll reach, Fort Morgan Fishing Beach, is just outside the park boundary. Within the park, there’s a path that leads down to a narrow, gritty beach facing Mobile Bay. It’s possible to walk around the corner to a larger patch of sand, but that’s a lot of work. My advice would be to save the fishing beach for fishing, the fort for historical visits, and the beaches farther up the coast for swimming.
Final Thoughts on the Beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
It’s hard to beat the simple pleasures of sitting under an umbrella at the beach. It’s the perfect combination of surf and sand, sun and shade. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach take that enjoyment to a new level with sugar-whiter sand, warm Gulf of Mexico water, and two delightful beach towns wrapped in southern charm.
Everybody has their own idea of what makes ‘the best beach,’ but there’s a good chance that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have one waiting for you! You just need to know where to look😉.
Disclosure: A big thank you to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism for hosting us and setting up a fantastic itinerary! For more Gulf Shores and Orange Beach travel inspiration, check out their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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