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 boast ample wildlife and historical landmarks, making them the perfect vacation destinations. Whichever beach captures your attention, we’re sure these favorites will keep you returning to “The Cotton State” for more in the coming years.

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. The 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 six-mile beach is open to the public. With clean, beautiful white sands, and warm water perfect for swimming, what’s not to love!?

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2. Fort Morgan Beach – Gulf Shores

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 as well as $5 per adult for entry into the fort.

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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 beachgoers. Arrive early to claim a decent stretch of sand and expect to pay $5 for all-day parking.

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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’ll definitely 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.

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5. Dauphin Island Public Beach – Dauphin Island

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, buses, and trailers.

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6. Cotton Bayou Beach

Picture pretty white sands, rolling waves, high-rises, multi-colored umbrellas, and lots of sun-kissed tourists: that’s the image of Cotton Bayou Beach. Found at the intersection of Highways 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.

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7. Gulf State Park – Gulf Shores

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.

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8. Florida Point Beach – Alabama

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 has a bit less traffic. The dunes are complemented 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.

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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.

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10. Fairhope Municipal Pier, North Beach, and Magnolia Beach Park – Fairhope

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 small town of 13,000 people 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 quaint, charming small town.

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11. Sandy Beach – The Shoals

The area known as The Shoals consists of a handful of cities in the counties of Colbert and Lauderdale, including Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Florence, and Muscle Shoals. During the summer, join in on the local festivities by attending the Handy Music Festival or Helen Keller Festival.

Sandy Beach is the ideal destination for families and groups looking to escape the bustling shores of the Gulf Coast and Dauphin Island. Muscle Shoals is where the charming Sandy Beach resides. This delightful beach sees plenty of visitors during the warm months, where people can partake in water sports and go swimming, boating, and jet skiing. When you’re feeling hungry after an action-packed day, head on over to Rick’s Barbecue for delicious smoked meats, or the vegetarian-friendly Garden Gate Café for Southern comfort food favorites, such as country fried steak, buttery mashed potatoes, cornbread, and mac and cheese.

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12. Lake Martin Beach – Dadeville

Spanning around 44,000 acres and expanding across three counties — Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Elmore — Lake Martin is as a gorgeous reservoir offering more than 700 miles of shoreline. The lake is home to natural landmarks, sandy beaches, and a string of quaint islands.

The most popular beaches at Lake Martin include Wind Creek State Park Beach and D.A.R.E. Park Beach. Wind Creek State Park Beach is a beloved spot among anglers since the waters are brimming with bluegill, crappie, and striped bass. There are also boat rentals available. The 30-acre D.A.R.E. Park Beach — also referred to as D.A.R.E. Power Park — was developed in the late 1990s, and named by local youth members of the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. It is situated on the eastern portion of Lake Martin and open from spring to autumn. This park beach features two fishing piers, a white-sand beach, over a dozen picnicking areas, and an amphitheater.

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13. Beach at Lake Guntersville State Park

Nestled in the city of Guntersville, this breathtaking, approximately 6000-acre state park boasts a beach complex, over 30 miles of hiking trails, natural woodlands, horseback riding, fishing center, and a sweeping 18-hole golf course. Family-friendly and clean from daily maintenance, the day-use beach complex welcomes visitors from sunrise until sunset. Please be mindful that the beach does not permit grills, animals, or glassware. The area is a well-known conservation location and nesting ground for the state’s bald eagles, so you may spot one or two of these majestic birds during your beach getaway.

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14. Lake Lurleen State Park – Coker

Tucked away roughly 10 miles northwest of the Northport and Tuscaloosa regions is the picturesque Lake Lurleen State Park. In addition to a beach, this state park features rejuvenating bathhouses, playgrounds, fishing piers, and boat rentals and launch areas. If you’re planning for a fishing trip, you should know the lake abounds with catfish, crappie, bream, and largemouth bass.

On the beach, visitors can spend the day swimming and paddleboating. When you’re ready to move beyond the sand and surf, check out one of plentiful multi-use trails that span over 20 miles and hugs the lake’s coastline. Mountain bikers and hikers are welcome to also use the trails. Advantageously situated in proximity to prominent cities like Tuscaloosa and Northport, visitors of Lake Lurleen State Park can experience the best of both worlds: the beach and nature areas, as well as nearby big-city attractions like the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the campus of the University of Alabama. During October, Northport hosts its annual Kentuck Art Festival where local craftsmen and artists alike display their creative work.

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15. Lake Tholocco Beaches – Fort Rucker

Encompassing over 600 acres, the Lake Tholocco area is where you can look forward to recreational activities, including water sports — such as swimming and boating — as well as hiking, basketball, and volleyball. Enjoy a picnic at one of the many pavilions.

While Fort Rucker’s West Beach (not to be confused with the renowned coastline at Gulf Shores) is the most popular shore at Lake Tholocco, there is also Engineer Beach, which is great for camping, but reserved for active and retired members of the military and their family and guests. In addition, fishing is allowed at the beach areas as long as visitors have a state fishing license and a permit from the city, both of which can be purchased at the Outdoor Recreation, situated on West Beach at Lake Tholocco. The beaches and lake area are closed off during major holidays like Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and Christmas. Otherwise, this easygoing recreational space is open year-round.

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This article was written by Maxx Kaplan and edited by Content Specialist Lexi Perman.