Where to eat in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama

A decade ago, families visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama could expect baskets of shrimp and fries on the beach, bushwhackers in the bars, and not much else. Today, the culinary scene on the Gulf Coast of Alabama has changed significantly, with elevated dining in multiple venues. Here’s where to eat in Gulf Shores during your next beach vacation:

gulf shores

Awesome with kids:

The Hangout:

Right on the beach, The Hangout feels like a place you might have bumped into the Beach Boys in the 1960s. Famous for its three-day music festival held in May, the Hangout has a permanent stage outside in its large outdoor place, which also has a huge sand pile for kids to play on, plus oversized Connect Four and checkers, outdoors swings, and other entertainment for all. Even if you sit outside, be sure to peek inside to check out all the cool memorabilia on the walls, including a vintage lunchbox collection and toy collection.

GT’s:

Short for Good Times, GT’s in Orange Beach has a similar vibe to The Hangout, with a large outdoor space in addition to its indoor space. GT’s sits on the bay side, not the ocean side, and is a great place to come for lunch then paddle board with Gulf Coast Paddle Company (GT’s built a dock out back just for this service).

Note: While I didn’t experience it personally, I’m told Lulu’s is an other excellent option for families, with a large outdoor space to play in, and careful attention given to diners with any sort of dietary allergies. They take orders for patrons with allergies on a separate, red note pad, and orders go through a separate line in the kitchen.

The Yard Milkshake Bar:

My oh my. If you want to make your kids’ eyes pop out of their heads in delight, head to The Yard. The brainchild of a young local entrepreneur, this ice cream shop specializes in custom-made milkshakes. When you arrive, you can expect a line (even in the off-season), but that’s alright, because it will take you awhile to decide on your order anyway. Use the order forms available on clipboards to select your ice cream flavors, add-ins, and toppings. To give you an idea, you could top your milkshake with the likes of cupcakes, donuts, bananas, cotton candy, and cookie dough. These milkshakes are artistic masterpieces, and yes, you should definitely skip lunch to have room to eat these! Milkshakes start around $6, and go up from there depending on what you top it with, but each comes with a souvenir mason jar that you keep. The reason: this establishment is so popular and busy, the staff doesn’t have time to wash them!

Soul Bowlz:

Locally owned (like many Gulf Shores establishments) Soul Bowlz operated out of a surf shop until just recently, and now is expanding to several locations. You’ll find it tucked into a strip mall, but don’t let its lackluster location deter you…I’ve never had such a good Acai bowl! They also make smoothies kids will love, that are very healthy (no added sugar).

soul bowlz

Beach-casual yet upscale:

Big Wave Dave’s:

Located near the ocean, Big Wave Dave’s has taken beach fare such as fried shrimp and poboys with fries to a new level, with lobster rolls inspired by their Fire Island, New York location (which is owned by the same family). Their catch of the day plate is to die for, and the portions are huge here.

Cosmo’s:

It won’t take you long at Cosmo’s to realize this restaurant is owned by a dog lover…and cat lover. Cosmo’s is named after the owner’s labrador retriever, and yes, dogs are welcome here for patio seating (the server will bring Fido a dish of water, too). Definitely peek into the adjacent gift shop, Maggie’s (named after another family dog), grab a pint at Luna’s (yes, named after another dog) and to BuzzCatz, the cat-themed coffee shop and bakery. We had the best lunch of our stay here (the ahi tuna Asian salad is fabulous). Cosmo’s speciality is their banana leaf-wrapped fish, which has won awards, but won its way into my heart when our server told us that after tasting it while dining here, he marched directly into the kitchen to ask for an application…he wanted to work for the chef that made that dish.

Big Beach Brewing Company:

Kid friendly and dog friendly, the indoor-outdoor Big Beach Brewing Company is new to the Gulf Coast scene. Started as a hobby, Big Beach quickly outgrew its small basement operation, and now has 12 taps featuring craft brews. When I visited, they had a honey ale on tap that was delicious. Get comfortable in the tree swings, hammocks and outdoor tables and listen to the live music on the weekends.

Bill’s by the Beach:

If you want to eat somewhere you can walk to from the beach, head either to The Hangout or Bill’s. There’s outdoor seating, and older kids can play ping-pong in the lower elevated space below the first floor. (Young kids welcome, but a busy street is located adjacent and they will need parental supervision.) Bill’s has great salads and appetizers, and a wide selection of cocktails, with mimosas and Bloody Marys available most of the day.

Coast at the Beach Club:

Located in The Beach Club out by Fort Morgan, Coast has a beautiful atmosphere, with soft pastel colors and coastal decor. There’s a large outdoor patio with ocean views, and a very ‘elegant Southern beach house’ feel indoors. The daily catch is always a sure bet, and there’s full sushi bar in the evenings by the bar (they can coordinate with the dining staff and kitchen to have sushi orders come out with the rest of the meal or separately). I recommend the Caesar salad, sushi, and scallops. If you want a more casual meal outdoors, the Beach Club features a food truck pod made of Airstreams out front…ideal for dining with kids.

Just for grown-ups:

Flora-Bama:

Flora-Bama

You have to see Flora-Bama to believe it. This bar on the Florida-Alabama state line is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The closest I can come to describing it: Disney’s Frontierland meets Wild West meets Vegas meets Hooters. While kids are welcome during the day, I’d reserve Flora-Bama for adults only: it’s raucous, crowded, and loud. During peak season, this huge complex of multiple rooms and stages boasts 21 different bars; during my visit, there were ‘only’ about ten. Legend has it Flora-Bama used to be a more understated affair, until Hurricane Ivan damaged it; when it was rebuilt, rooms were added wily-nilly. What stands today is a hodgepodge of hallways, rooms, and bars, with outdoor areas covered in tents with wood and sand floors (yes, it’s right on the beach). Live music plays, there’s a mechanical bull (and a full rodeo outside once a year), and apparently, women take their tops off a lot. Have a bushwhacker (Alabama’s favorite drink, as far as I can tell), and people watch!

Have you been to Alabama’s Gulf Coast? Where do you recommend eating?

 

 

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About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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