Alabama's coastline is not as prominent as its eastern neighbor (Florida), but it is every bit as worthy of attention. While destinations such as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach dominate the Alabama beach scene, the state has many more to offer. Picture-perfect white sand beaches star in its vibrant coastal communities, which also showcase wildlife and historical landmarks, making them perfect vacation destinations. Whichever beach captures your attention, we're sure these favorites will keep you returning to "The Cotton State" for more in 2017.
1. West Beach - Gulf Shores
Arguably Alabama's best beach, this white sandy haven can be found by driving west down highway 182 from the main Gulf Shores area. Te West Beach area is a bit quieter and more residential than Gulf Shores and stretches six solid miles, getting less and less populated the further west you go. While the road is lined with vacation rentals, condos, and restaurants, the entire 6-mile beach is open to the public. With clean, beautiful white sands and warm water perfect for swimming, what's not to love!?
2. Fort Morgan Beach - Gulf Shores
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Fort Morgan Beach is the place to go if you'd like a little education with your recreation. Fort Morgan is a historic 19th century military base that played key roles in several conflicts, most notably the Civil War where the popular phrase “full steam ahead!” was first bellowed. Fort Morgan is surrounded on three sides by white sand beaches, so for those less interested in the historical monument, the beach is just a short jaunt away. The crowds will be thinner at this end of the peninsula, but so will the amenities. Be sure to bring everything you'll need for the day and $5 per adult for entry into the fort.
3. Gulf Shores Main Public Beach (Gulf Place) - Gulf Shores
Gulf Shores is the quintessential Alabama beach town. With gorgeous white sands and plenty of restaurants, shopping and nightlife nearby, this beach town is likely to have anything you'd want or need on your beach vacation. Expect beach volleyball, pavilion picnics, busy showers, beach-side bars, summer lifeguards, and lots of happy beach-goers. Arrive early to claim a decent stretch of sand and expect to pay $5 for all-day parking.
4. West End Public Beach - Dauphin Island
Wow, what a beach. With the same relaxed, casual atmosphere as the rest of Dauphin Island, this clean beach also has chair rentals, shower facilities, a picnic area, lifeguards, snack and beverage vendors, and even a water-slide for kids 12 and under! Unfortunately you have to leave the pets at home for this one, but otherwise you will be thrilled with your day at this beach. Be sure to stay the whole day because you won't want to miss the spectacular summer sunsets.
5. Dauphin Island Public Beach - Dauphin Island
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Dauphin Island is a 14 mile island with incredible stretches of undeveloped white sand beaches sitting just off the coastline of Alabama. You can access the island by bridge driving South from Mobile, or by ferry from the Gulf Shores area near Fort Morgan. Not to be outdone by its eastern neighbor, Dauphin Island boasts a 19th century military fort of its own, Fort Gaines. A slow slope makes the beach safe for kids, there are fishing piers for anglers, and pet-friendly beaches are a huge perk. Visit this island if you're looking for a safe, relaxed, casual, and restorative beach atmosphere. Note: there are public access fees of $5 per car, $2 per adult, and $20 for RVs, busses, and trailers.
6. Cotton Bayou Beach
Picture pretty white sands, rolling waves, high-rises, multi-colored umbrellas, and lots of pale but sunburned tourists: that's the image of Cotton Bayou Beach. Found at the intersection of Hwys 161 and 182 in well-developed Orange Beach (east of Gulf Shores), this is one of three public beach destinations with plenty of restaurants, shops, and amenities available to meet your needs. Since this easy-access beach comes with lifeguards, showers, restrooms, and free parking, it's no wonder it's particularly popular amongst tourists.
7. Gulf State Park - Gulf Shores
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Another jewel in the Alabama coastal crown is Gulf State Park. This 6000+ acre state park has so many awesome activities that you'll want to visit over and over again. Covering most of the area between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, the park encompasses three freshwater lakes, 3.5 miles of open beach, tent and RV campgrounds, 15 miles of hiking and biking trails, a nature center, a golf club, zip-lines, fishing, and more. With such a massive variety of attractions, there's something for everyone at this great park.
8. Florida Point Beach - Alabama
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Another Orange Beach option, this one is located just east of Perdido Pass and stretches just over a mile long. With the amenities of Orange Beach, this spot of sand is a bit more out of the way than Cotton Bayou and therefore a bit less trafficked. The dunes are complimented by picnic areas, restroom facilities, and a boardwalk. Head south under the highway and turn east along the Gulf Coast for the best stretches of sand and the most privacy. A plus: parking at this beach is free.
9. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge - Gulf Shores
Keep driving west down Hwy 180 from Gulf Shores and you end up on the Fort Morgan Peninsula, home to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Sure, there's public beach access for those who want to take a dip, but this beach is all about the wildlife. With a total area of over 7,000 acres and home to more than 350 migratory birds, this refuge is definitely a sight worth seeing if you're on the Alabama coastline. Be sure to plan ahead though, no facilities are available and pets are not allowed.
10. Fairhope Municipal Pier, North Beach, and Magnolia Beach Park - Fairhope
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Not everyone wants their beach vacation to be over-the-top. Some desire a quieter, humble, more conservative beach experience. That type of beach can be found in the small town of Fairhope, located north of the Gulf Coast, on the East side of Mobile Bay. This town of 13,000 is a haven for artists and writers and a warm host to visitors with lots of arts and crafts to share. Beautiful tree-lined streets and three distinct sandy beaches provide all of the scenery necessary to complete the picture of this charming small town.
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This article was written by Maxx Kaplan and edited by Tripping.com Content Specialist Lexi Perman.