There are many ways to explore Orange Beach during a beach vacation without shelling out lots of cash. Here are a few places the locals said you should try:
Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum
Operated by the City of Orange Beach Parks and Recreation Department, the Indian and Sea Museum was originally built in 1910 as a schoolhouse. It has served as a museum since 1995 and was moved to its present location across from City Hall in 1999.
Open Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Wednesday during the winter months from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the museum houses local artifacts and memorabilia relating to the area’s Native American and fishing heritage. Families of early fishermen have donated supplies and collectibles that remind of the challenges and achievements of the earliest days of the local fishing industry.
Gulf State Park Beaches
There are two public beach accesses in Orange Beach, both falling within the operation of Gulf State Park.
Romar Beach, with a limited amount of free parking, is perfect for a quick beach stroll or last-minute lunchtime break. The access is located 6.8 miles east of Ala. Hwy. 59. Future plans call for construction of restrooms and rinsing showers.
Cotton Bayou is located at the intersection of Ala. Hwy. 182 and Hwy. 161. Nestled between condominium buildings, this access is a busy spot that offers restrooms and outdoor showers on site as well as ample free parking.
Alabama Coastal Birding Trail
The Alabama Coastal Birding Trail takes visitors throughout the region, including Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, which begins at the Perdido Pass bridge on Ala. Hwy. 182 and east of Ala. Hwy. 59.
Beginning at Perdido Pass – Alabama Point East, enthusiasts might see a Snowy Plover, a species of conservation concern, which nests in the area. Alabama Point also provides critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse, and a wide variety of shorebirds are commonly seen in summer. In winter, common loons feed in the pass during changing tides.
Other spots to visit on this loop include Boggy Point, which offers an excellent view of Robinson Island, a roosting site for herons and egrets, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails, where there are 11 miles of paved trails providing access from six entry points to habitats such as sandy oak hammocks, pine flatwoods, relict dune swales, seepage swamps and a pitcher plant bog. Interpretative signs placed along each trail identify many of the natural features of the maritime forest.
The loop also takes visitors to the Gulf State Park Pavilion, the Gulf State Park Nature Center/Education Center, Marsh Bridge, Shelby Lake Picnic Grounds, Gulf State Park Fishing Pier, Little Lagoon Pass and Wade Ward Nature Park.
From the loop sites in Gulf Shores, you would continue north on Ala. Hwy. 59 to the intersection of Ala. Hwy. 180/Fort Morgan Road to continue onto the Fort Morgan Loop.
SPECTRA Light Show at The Wharf
Take the kids to The Wharf for the SPECTRA Sound & Light Spectacular at 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. SPECTRA incorporates sophisticated choreographed lighting effects with popular music to deliver an enlightening entertainment experience. Palm trees light up to the sound of the music.
Before, during and after the show, browse shops, stop in for a gelato or a cup of coffee from Southern Grind or enjoy dinner at one of many restaurants.
National Naval Aviation Museum
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the National Naval Aviation Museum is the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most-visited museums in the state of Florida.
At just over 20 miles from Orange Beach, the museum is located on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola and contains more than 150 restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Aviation displayed in 35,000 square feet of exhibit space and outside on the 37-acre grounds.
On-site attractions include the Naval Aviation Memorial Giant Screen Theater, flight simulators, Flight Deck Operations exhibit, cockpit trainers, Kiddie Hawk play area, Flight Deck store and Blue Angels 4D Theater.
Watch The Blue Angels Practice
The world-famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels are based at NAS Pensacola and can be seen practicing over the museum at NAS Pensacola most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November. Practices typically begin at 11:30 a.m., and last about 55 minutes. Admission to practice is free and open to the public.
The outside viewing area for the Blue Angels practice is located on the museum flight line north of the museum. Signs are posted to direct visitors to viewing and parking locations, including limited parking for handicapped visitors. Open bleacher seating is available for 1,000 people.
Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, Clay Studio & Hot Shop
The Coastal Arts Center, located just east of the intersection of Canal Road and Hwy. 161, is home to a temporary gallery and gift shop in the construction trailer located at the front of the cultural campus. Once construction is complete on the center’s brand new building on Wolf Bay later this year, the gallery will become part of the permanent structure. Local and regional artists featured include watercolorists, potters, painters, photographers, sculptors and textile artists.
The Clay Studio showcases the work of in-house ceramics artist Maya Blame-Cantrell. The public is invited to make their own clay pieces. Call (251) 981-ARTS for reservations.
Enjoy a visit to the Hot Shop by appointment only. You can make your own glass creation during sessions at 9 a.m., Monday through Friday. The session includes a 30-minute live glass-blowing demonstration of an ornament, flower and paperweight. Then, choose which one you would like to create for yourself.
Kayak Or Canoe In Wolf Bay
There are 10 designated canoe trail sites posted along the shores of Wolf Bay, Bay La Launch, Arnica Bay, Bayou St. John and Cotton Bayou.
Load up your canoe or kayak and dock from one of the sites on Gulf Bay Road, Cypress Avenue, Waterfront Park, Palmetto Extension, Harrison Park, Mississippi Avenue, Look Rook Road, Wilson Boulevard, Boggy Point or Cotton Bayou.
Keep your eyes peeled to see dolphins or a variety of birds, like the brown pelican, egrets or herons.
Curl Up With A Good Book
If you came to the beach and forgot a book, stop by the Orange Beach Public Library to pick up a library card; residency is not required.
There are cozy spots indoors and outdoors at the library to read your selections. Check out the calendar for story time, book club meetings, and other gathering times and special events.
Perdido Key State Park
Perdido Key is a 247-acre barrier island near Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico. White sand beaches and rolling dunes covered with sea oats make Perdido Key State Park a favorite destination for swimmers and sunbathers. Surf fishing is another popular activity. Boardwalks from the parking lot allow visitors to access the beach without causing damage to the fragile dunes and beach vegetation. Covered picnic tables overlooking the beach provide a place for family outings.
The park is open for daily use from 8 a.m. to sunset and features tow parking areas and eight covered pavilions. Big Lagoon State Park, just across the bridge on the mainland, is open for camping and hiking.
Walk, Jog or Bike Backcountry Trails
Orange Beach is a great place to explore the 16 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails.
A collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach, Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment, the trails were historically used by the area’s indigenous people as well as explorers and settlers.
With maps available at all trailheads, it’s easy to pick out a few trails to explore.
Along the (all paved) trails you will find restrooms and water fountain, bridges, interpretive signage, bike stands, places to stop and relax and a picnic pavilion.
You might even see a “Lefty” the alligator mom and her three babies along Rosemary Dunes Trail.
And, at the intersection of Cadman Road and Rosemary Dunes Trail is the new Boulder Park, which invites kids to climb on large boulders to enhance coordination, strength and flexibility. Located next to the Pavilion and Butterfly Garden about 1½ miles from the Catman Road Trail, Boulder Park is a favorite of local children.
Play At Waterfront Park
Located a quarter of a mile east of County Road 161 on Canal Road, Waterfront Park is a family park on scenic Wolf Bay.
Amenities include a 400-foot fishing pier with covered pavilions and seating, a bayfront beach, picnic shelters with grills, restrooms, a paved walking path and parking.
Enjoy A Round Of Disc Golf
On Canal Road adjacent to the dog-friendly “Unleashed” Dog Park, play a round of disc golf at the City of Orange Beach disc golf course.
The trees, shrubs and terrain changes located in and around the fairways provide challenging obstacles for players. There is no greens fee, and you won’t need a golf cart to enjoy this course. Bring your own discs, though.
The City of Orange Beach purchased Robinson Island and Bird Island in 2003 to preserve them from development. Today, the islands are a sanctuary for birds and wildlife and is used by residents and visitors as a gathering spot.
There are two public boat launches in the city, both of which offer paved parking and are operated by Gulf State Park: Boggy Point Launch at the end of Marina Road off Hwy. 61 and Cotton Bayou Launch on Hwy. 182 just east of the Hwy. 161 intersection.
The Boggy Point launch is the nearest to the Perdido Pass Bridge and is directly adjacent to the main channel with lots of marine traffic.
When visiting Orange Beach, bring the entire family and book a beach house. Or, if it’s a smaller crew, a condo could fill the bill.