The Alabama beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are some of my favorite beach destinations in the entire world. They offer plenty of wheelchair-friendly things to do for an action-packed itinerary, but if you want an accessible place to just relax and unwind, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach could be ideal as well.
Personally, I feel like I’ve lived five years in the past 12 months since the pandemic started. Now, as we all finally re-enter the world and get back into traveling, it’s more important than ever to make sure that we’re fully experiencing any destination that we visit. When I travel now, I want to use all of my senses to get the full picture of a destination and there’s no better place to do that than the Alabama Gulf Coast!
Whether seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, or even smelling, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama are places where you can really come to your senses in both the literal and figurative sense. To give you an idea of how to enjoy the Alabama Gulf Coast, here’s how to do it with all five of your senses –
See sweeping views of the ocean from accessible accommodations
When you first arrive in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, you’ll need to check-in to your accommodations. And wow, there are so many accessible and unique accommodation options in the area! Whether you want to stay in a hotel or a full beachfront house, the options are limitless, but here are a few possibilities:
If you are looking for a wheelchair accessible beach house rental, Harris Properties has an 8-bedroom (!!!) beach house on Fort Morgan called “Barefoot”. It has an elevator, a bathroom on the main floor with a roll-in shower, and an open floor plan that allows for easy maneuvering around the kitchen, dining and living room. Gulf Shores Vacation Rentals also has multiple beach houses with elevators, ranging from 7 bedrooms to 12 bedrooms for larger groups.
If you don’t need a beachfront vacation rental and would rather stay in a hotel or condo, I’d highly recommend Hilton Garden Inn Orange Beach or The Beach Club Resort & Spa by Spectrum Resorts. Hilton Garden Inn Orange Beach is a fantastically accessible beachfront hotel and The Beach Club Resort & Spa is a beautiful resort and even has amphibious beach wheelchairs available for guests of the resort. You can’t go wrong no matter where you stay! Since most accommodations are beachfront, you can enjoy looking out the window or sitting on your balcony and seeing the calming water of the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Feel the sand under your wheels
Seeing the beach from the previously mentioned accommodations is great, but there is truly nothing better than rolling on the beach and feeling the sand under your wheels. While many beaches can be very hit-or-miss in regards to accessibility, it’s completely possible to enjoy the beaches on the Alabama Gulf Coast, no matter what your abilities are.
Two AccessMats are available at Gulf Shores Public Beach, so even without a special beach wheelchair, anyone can roll over the sand. The mats make rolling over the sand smooth and they extend approximately 350 feet out on the beach. From the end of the AccessMats, you’ll have a perfect view of the ocean and you’ll be able to feel the ocean breeze.
If you would like to venture further out on the beach, beach wheelchairs are available from several companies in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Beach Power Rentals and Beach’N Buggys offer motorized beach wheelchairs for a daily rental fee. The motorized beach wheelchairs can be driven with a joystick, so you can roll independently on the sand. Ike’s Beach Service rents non-motorized beach wheelchairs as well. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s sure to be a beach wheelchair for your needs.
Hear the sounds of nature while exploring the outdoors
While it’s always extremely tempting to spend my entire trip on the beaches, there are plenty of other attractions in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Some of my favorite attractions are actually in the great outdoors, where I can relax, have fun, and hear the sounds of nature.
One of the places that I am sure to visit on every trip is the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. The backcountry trail is only about a five-minute drive from the beaches, but it feels like you’re in a whole different destination. There are more than 28-miles of trails (completely wheelchair accessible!) and while rolling on the trails, you will see an unbelievable amount of flora and fauna, hear birds chirping, and see a variety of animals. From pitcher plants to cattails and even animals like alligators, white tail deer, and the occasional bobcat, you never know what you’ll stumble upon on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
Another attraction that is mostly outdoors, and wheelchair-friendly, is Fort Morgan. It’s located 23 miles west of Gulf Shores, but it is an easy drive and definitely worth visiting. Fort Morgan was built in the 1800s as a masonry fort and it served an important role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. It was also used during the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. In addition to learning about the fort’s history during a visit, there are also picnic areas, beaches, and nature areas around Fort Morgan.
Taste delicious food in the area’s best restaurants
If you ask anyone about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, I would bet that one of the first things they’ll mention is the delicious food in the area. As a coastal destination, there are a ton of great seafood restaurants, but there is honestly something delicious for any palate. Here are my three favorite restaurants on the Alabama Gulf Coast:
Playa is a waterfront restaurant in Orange Beach and it’s probably my favorite. It’s difficult for me to say definitively because there are many great restaurants in the area, but Playa is definitely extremely high on my list of places to eat. The menu is undoubtedly seafood-heavy, but plenty of other options are available as well. The fried mahi mahi tacos are to-die-for!
The Hangout is probably the most popular restaurant in the area, but for good reason. It has a fun environment and is located on the beach with live music, but the food is delicious as well. I’m usually not a big fan of shrimp, but the shrimp and grits at The Hangout is one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Seriously. You have to try it.
Picnic Beach is a casual restaurant in Gulf Shores and as soon as you walk/roll inside, you’ll notice how unique it is. There is bright green turf on the floor, white picnic tables to sit at, and whether you’re dining outside or inside, it’s a fun environment. You can even hear live music on certain days. Aside from the cool scenery, the menu is expansive as well. You can enjoy tasty burgers, barbecue, juices, and more. Vegan options are available.
Smell animal poo at the Gulf Coast Zoo (hey, that rhymes!)
I really wanted to include the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in this article because it’s an AMAZING place and I didn’t know how else to relate the sense of “smell” to it, so that’s why I chose the above headline. Sorry to the zoo staff! Haha! But it truly is a remarkable zoo that everyone needs to visit while in Gulf Shores.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo recently underwent a renovation and it is now spread out over 25 acres and home to over 199 species, 31 sub-species, and eight endangered species. You can see everything from lions to toucans and much more. If you’d like to get up-close and personal with some of the animals, animal encounters are possible. During my visit, I played with kangaroos, had lemurs crawl all over me, and I got within inches of a sloth. The encounters were the best and part of the reason why this is one of my favorite zoos on the planet.
Accessibility at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is perfect. There are wide, paved pathways throughout the zoo and staff made each animal encounter totally accessible for me. You should have no problems while visiting this special place!
As you can see, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are magnificent destinations that engage all five of your senses. They are also phenomenally wheelchair accessible, which is why I keep returning to the area time and time again. If you’re looking for the perfect post-pandemic escape to come to your senses, look no further than the Alabama Gulf Coast!
*This post is in partnership with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own.