Alabama Gulf Coast Drive
Beaches, history, and Southern hospitality
|Mileage||125 miles (202 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||3 hours, 37 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Alabama Highway 180, Interstate 10, US Highways 90 and 98, Alabama’s Costal Connection, Bryant Ave, Cadillac Ave, East Beach Blvd, Eastern Short Trail, Foley Beach Express, Fort Morgan Road, Gulf Shores Pkwy, Lemoyne Drive, Little River Road, Magnolia Ave, Mary Ann Beach Road, Patrician Drive E, Potter Tract Road, Santa Rose Ave, Scenic Highway 98, Seager Road, Spanish Fort Blvd, and Water Street|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Daphne, AL▼, Mobile, AL▼, Spanish Fort, AL▼, Magnolia Springs, AL▼, Gulf Shores, AL▼, Dauphin Island, AL▼, and Irvington, AL▼|
4.6 average from 17 votes
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Travel along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay and discover glorious white-sand beaches, natural areas brimming with wildlife, a bird-watcher’s paradise, historic Civil War sites, and abundant ways to get you recreation on. Then indulge your taste-buds with Southern specialties such as crab, oysters, wild-caught Gulf shrimp, and slow-cooked BBQ. Whether you’re looking for some laid back relaxation, or to kick it up a notch, you’ll find it along the Alabama Coast.
This scenic drive begins in Grand Bay on AL-188. If you have time before heading out, consider a stop at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge (H9) which spans both Alabama and Mississippi. The refuge protects 18,000 acres of diverse habitat, including wet pine savanna, maritime forest, tidal and non-tidal wetlands, salt marshes, salt pans, bays and bayous. The soil conditions here are perfect for a fascinating array of carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts, each uniquely designed to attract and digest insects. Hike the short Escatawpa Nature Trail near the Visitor Center, or the Oak Grove Birding Trail, which offers ample opportunities to observe both resident birds, and the many species that stop here on their annual spring and fall migration.
The drive begins on AL-188 heading to Bayou La Batre, the Seafood Capital of Alabama. Home to commercial fishing and shipbuilding industries, Bayou La Batre is not fully developed for tourism, but you will find few restaurants featuring fresh seafood, and great boat watching.
There is always something in bloom at the 65-acre Bellingrath Gardens and Home (A8). Traverse lavish gardens of camellias, azaleas and chrysanthemums along the Great Lawn, the rose garden boasting 75 varieties, an Asian-American Garden, and Conservatory with tropical plants. Watch for eagles and cranes along the Bayou Boardwalk. Throughout, discover historic cast ironwork, sculptures, fountains, and quiet spots to relax and contemplate. The property was the estate of Walter Bellingrath and his wife Bessie Mae. Visit their beautifully-designed 10,500 square-foot home, adorned with remarkable original furnishings and art. Don’t miss the Delchamps Gallery, which houses a large collection of stunning Boehm Porcelain. There is a café, gift shop, and option to take a river cruise. There is a fee to enter.
A visit to Dauphin Island, the “Sunset Capital of Alabama” is a must! Simply cross the 3-mile bridge, take in the marvelous views, and instantly feel like you’re out of town. Lounge on pristine beaches, swim, surf, take a boat cruise, fishing charter, and hike or bike. The island features charming shops, restaurants, and wide range of accommodations, making this a perfect day trip or overnight getaway. Acclimate yourself at the Dauphin Island Welcome Center. The entire island is a bird sanctuary and at the Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary (A6) are walking trails, some handicap accessible, where you can observe herons, egrets, and neotropical migrants that use this barrier island as a stopover. At the eastern tip of the island is Fort Gaines (A5). Established in 1821, view original cannons, an operational blacksmith shop and kitchens. Learn about the Battle of Mobile Bay from costumed-interpreters and living history events throughout the year. There is a fee to enter. The nearby Dauphin Island Sea Lab (A4) is a estuarium/aquarium featuring educational exhibits on Alabama’s coastal habitats, activities, and touch tanks.
The drive continues to Fort Morgan, via a 40-minute ride aboard the Mobile Bay Ferry (A7). Pelicans and working commercial fishing and shrimping boats can be seen along the way. Be sure to check the schedule before heading out. In summer, the ferry runs every 45 minutes, in fall and winter, every 1.5 hours. Motorhomes, campers, boats, trailers should be aware of local tide charts, as they can only board the ferry at high tide.
Once across, step back in time at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site (A3). Walk through the archways and explore the fort which was built between 1819-1833 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers using African-American slaves. Learn about the Civil War, the battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. In June and July, costumed-interpreters act as guides and there is an annual battle re-enactment early August. Large grassy expanses are perfect to let kids run free, then walk the nature trails to (hopefully) catch a glimpse of fox or coyote, while keeping an eye out for eastern diamond back rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Enjoy beautiful beaches, or do some fishing. Fort Morgan was designated one of “One Hundred Globally Important Bird Areas” by the American Bird Conservancy for its location as a stop on the spring and fall migration. In spring, observe bird-banding at the Fort Morgan Bird Banding Station. The park has an admission fee.
The 7,000 acre Bon Secour National Refuge (A2) is Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. Visit the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center for information on the flora and fauna, as well as ranger-led programs. Hiking trails examine different habitats; beaches and sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, scrub forests, fresh water swamps and uplands, or get a different perspective on a canoe or kayak. Wildlife lovers can observe alligators, a nesting area for Loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and the endangered Alabama beach mouse, that can only be found in Alabama. Bring your binoculars to observe over 370-species of birds that reside or stop here during migration, or the Alabama state insect, the native Monarch butterfly. Entrance to the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge is free.
The Gulf Islands National Seashore is comprised of 12 units, that span from Cat Island, Mississippi to the Okaloosa Area east of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. In Alabama, sites are included within the state park system.
The Wade Ward Nature Park (H8) is actually an elevated boardwalk that circumnavigates a 12-acre of salt marsh, and wetlands. This gem is right in the heart of the city. Shaded pavilions and seating make it easy to stay and observe alligators, otters, and pelicans.
In Orange Beach, Gulf State Park (H7) is one the most popular beach destinations for good reason. Amenities include over 2-miles of glistening white quartz sandy beach, a 1540-foot pier for saltwater fishing and sightseeing, freshwater fishing on Lake Shelby, kayaking, paddle-boarding, a zip-line, tennis courts, swimming pool, and championship golf course. Relax at the shaded picnic pavilion and stop in the nature center for exhibits and programs such as guided hikes. Make it an overnight with cabin and cottage rentals, or camping. Running through the park, is the the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail which travels through six ecosystems: wet pine flatwoods, live oak maritime forest, coastal dune and swales, longleaf sand ridges, freshwater marshes and coastal hardwood swamp. Hike or bike over 14-miles of paved multi-use trail (bike rentals nearby), enjoy geocaching, and wildlife watching — observe gophers, tortoises, armadillos, American alligators, and 4 sites listed on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.
Head west on AL-182 to Gulf Shores Public Beach (W1). Bring the sunscreen, beach umbrellas, and a picnic for a day of fun on sun-kissed beaches. There are 13 lifeguard stations, and all along the stretch, you’ll find shops and restaurants. There are multiple entrance points and parking areas, some of which some charge a fee, some do not.
The drive continues east on AL-182. Along the way is everything you need for any adventure. Boat rentals, dolphin cruises, fishing charters, parasailing, snorkeling, and rentals of all types from beach chairs, fat sand bikes, kayaks and more.
Located in a one-room schoolhouse, visit the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum (M3). Examine early Native American Indian artifacts and Orange Beach fishing and farming memorabilia. Admission is free, hours limited.
Have a canoe or kayak? The Orange Beach Canoe Trail meanders through 10 sites along Wolf Bay, Bay La Launch, Arnica Bay, Bayou St. John and Cotton Bayou.
And if you do have your own boat, canoe or kayak, consider a detour to Robinson Island (A9) along the Intracoastal Waterway. Relax on beautiful sandy expanses and swim in crystal clear turquoise water. The island is home to nesting shorebirds and migrating sea birds.
Continue across the Perdido Pass Bridge to Alabama Point East, another Gulf State Park Beach Area. Enjoy boardwalks, sand dunes and free parking.
At this point, you are very close to the Florida border, and only 30 minutes from the Florida National Naval Aviation Museum (M4) which features aircraft and exhibits depicting the achievements and sacrifices made in more than a century of Naval Aviation. On display, is an incredible collection of over 150 aircraft, including the NC-4, the first plane to fly across the Atlantic, two Vietnam MiG-Killers, an A-7 Corsair. Climb inside the cockpit of historic aircraft, learn more about naval aviation in WWI, the Cold War, the Blue Angels, and much more. Other displays include uniforms, flight gear weaponry, medals and photographs. A valid ID is required to enter. The museum and parking are free.
The drive heads north to Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (A1). Nature trails and wheelchair accessible boardwalks lead to a spectacular pitcher-plant bog and more bird-watching opportunities. Look for the Alabama state bird, the yellowhammer woodpecker, behold hummingbird and butterfly gardens, do some fishing, or launch a canoe or kayak. Visit the interpretive center to learn about the unique flora and fauna that make up the estuary where fresh and salt water meet. The Reserve is closed Sunday. Popular with runners, cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers and wheelchairs, here you’ll find the Eastern Shore Trail, a 32-mile paved recreation trail which travels from Weeks Bay to Spanish Fort.
From here take AL-1, which skirts along the coast to Fairhope. Exuding Southern charm and boasting stunning views of Mobile Bay, Fairhope makes a wonderful day stop or vacation destination. Stroll down the tree-lined commercial avenue with antique shops, art galleries, farmers market, and restaurants. The 1448-foot Fairhope Municipal Pier was rebuilt in 2006 after being destroyed by hurricane Katrina and is the perfect place to drop a line and settle in for glorious multi-hued sunsets. Take the Beach Park Tree Trail in North Beach Park (H6) to discover almost 500 species of trees. The Fairhope Museum of History (M2) preserves local history of the early Native American Indians, Fairhope’s founders, the Single Taxers, and the Jubilee phenomenon — a unique summer occurrence when temperature, wind, and the rising tide conjoin to create an abundant blossom of microorganisms. This in turn, creates low oxygen in the water and forces shrimp and crab to the surface, making them extremely easy to catch. The museum is free.
Daphne is known as Jubilee City, one of the best places to observe and participate in the Jubilee phenomenon. At Village Point Park Preserve (H5), marvel at the champion trees, the largest trees of their species in Alabama, like the 101-foot tall Bluff Oak with a circumference of 102 inches, and the 95-foot live oak named Jackson Oak. Trails and boardwalks traverse the wetlands and woodlands, heading to the beach on Mobile Bay, an alligator habitat, and historic D’Olive Cemetery. Adjacent is Daphne Bayfront Park (H1), a wonderful place to relax, do some fishing from the pier, or gaze upon views of Mobile and an evening sunset.
In Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is an excellent family destination with a swimming beach, fishing pier, playground, RV and tent camping, and two lakeside cabins for rent. Stroll the boardwalks that stretch along the Mobile Delta looking for alligators.
The Five Rivers Alabama Delta Resource Center (H3) stands where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers flow into Mobile Bay. Visit the Apalachee Exhibit Hall and Little Bateau Learning Center for fascinating educational exhibits, then have a picnic lunch and walk the trails to explore the woods. Take a guided boat tour, or rent a canoe or kayak. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is the largest river delta and wetland in Alabama, and one of the most bio-diverse locations in North America. Paddle the Bartram Canoe Trail to see wildlife and a champion bald cypress over 300 years old. Stay overnight on a floating campsite.
Overlooking the Tensaw River, Historic Blakeley State Park (H2) preserves a blend of history and nature. A stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail, learn about the Siege of Fort Blakeley, the last major battle of the Civil War. In April, don’t miss the historically accurate Blakeley re-enactment with costumed-interpreters and musket firings on the actual battlefield. Explore over 10 miles of trails for hiking and biking. Board the Delta Explorer for a 2-hour eco-tour that delves into the plants and animals of the Tensaw-Mobile River Delta. There is a separate fee for tour and small entrance fee to the state park. Apalachee and Harper Campground offer sites for tent and RV camping.
The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park (H4) features a vast collection of military equipment including an M26 Pershing Tank, a Vietnam PBR gun boat and the park’s namesake — the USS-Alabama BB-60 first launched in 1942. Located here are 25 military aircraft including the A-12 Blackbird and the only place you will find the complete F Series of Fighter Jets. Download the free mobile app for detailed information on your self-guided adventure. While here, enjoy the picnic area, fishing pier (license required), and Site 29 on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Keep an eye out for laughing gulls, long-billed curlews, black-billed plovers, osprey, and herons.
Did you know that Mobile was host to the first ever Mardi Gras celebration in 1703? That’s fifteen years before the founding of New Orleans. Though lesser known, Mardi Gras in Alabama is wildly popular and exciting. Festivities begin mid-January and culminate with Fat Tuesday parades, replete with floats, live music, extravagant costumes, and beads. Visit the Mobile Carnival Museum (M1) to learn more about the history of Mardi Gras and see sparkling crowns, robes, and scepters, memorabilia and more. There is an entrance fee.
Mobile is bursting with flavor, in its food, culture, and heritage. Stay a while and explore, Mobile makes a great hub from which to enjoy the Gulf region. Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett grew up here, and it’s clear that the beauty of the Gulf Coast resonates in his music.