When the dogged humidity of Atlanta crashes upon us, Gulf Shore’s 32-miles of white sand and sparkling water offers a refreshing reward for hauling your brood to the beach. A little over a five hour drive from Atlanta, the community famous for their fishing rodeos and National Shrimp Festival offers a boatload of family-friendly fun.

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Where To Stay

Gulf State Park 
Sleep in the same place you play at Gulf State Park. Two miles of beaches and 6,150 acres houses plenty of room to play tennis, explore the interactive Nature Center, hit some balls at the 18-hole golf course and fish on Lake Shelby. When the kids are officially worn-out, turn-in for the night at the modern campground, cabins or cottages.

20115 State Highway 135, Gulf Shores, AL, 800-252-7275 (cabins and cottages), 800-252-7275 (campground) 

The Lighthouse Resort Condos
Send the kids out on the balcony while you’re making dinner at the Lighthouse Resort Condos for some dolphin watching. When they’re bored watching nature’s journey unfold before their eyes, send them down to the swimming pools and hot tubs before walking over to shops and restaurants. Call dibs on condos with a King-sized bed and balcony while the kids bunk up in a second bedroom.

455 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, AL, 800-890-1265 

Martinique on the Gulf
Head to the Fort Morgan peninsula and sleep next to a wildlife preserve without actually having to camp out or give up precious amenities like hot showers and 2-bedroom lodging. If you’re a super light sleeper (like any parent with mischievous kids are) you might want to bring ear plugs when the frogs and crickets start calling. The spacious accommodations and beachfront views you can walk to in less than five minutes make up for it.

987 Boulevard Martinique, Gulf Shores, AL, 251-540-2641 

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What To Do

Adventure Island
Across from the Gulf, Adventure Island offers thrills on go-karts, bumper boats and laser tag. There’s also an arcade for the kids who can’t go without their electronics a minute longer. Stay for the eruption of a 5-story volcano complete with cool sound effects and fire. Check their website for printable coupons before you go.

24559 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach, AL, 251-974-1500 

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Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Dubbed the “Little Zoo That Could,” Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is home to over 500 animals including lions, monkeys and bears among others. Families staying in the area for a week or more and can’t take another 10 hour sun-fest at the beach should check out their Zoo Camp for a 9am to 3pm for ages 5 to 11 conducted by licensed teachers. Kids get to meet the zoo keepers and hang-out with the animals just blocks from the beach.

1204 Gulf Shores Pkwy., Gulf Shores, AL, 251-968-5732 

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Dolphin Cruises
Book a spot on Dolphin Cruises, or hire a boat for the day for larger groups and family reunions. The crew knows where to go to catch that quintessential dolphin and baby shot cruising through the water. They’re so confident, the crew “guarantees” seeing dolphins jumping and surfing on their 90-minute ride on a 50-foot Cold Mil boat.

5749 Bay La Launch Ave., Orange Beach, AL, 877-659-9011 

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Orange Beach Pirate Ship
Call ahead and make a reservation to hop on board the Pirate Ship Adventures. Unlike many attractions, you need a ticket for everyone, including the baby hanging out in the Bjorn. Crews dressed like pirates, secret treasure maps and a cannon that fires are all on the agenda. And if the kids want you to renew your wedding vows, you can get married right on the boat with a pirate-themed wedding.

4575 S Wilson Blvd., Orange Beach, AL, 251-981-4127 

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Where To Eat

Home Away Groceries
Not everyone can hang in for a day at the beach, zoo, pirate ships and Gulf Shore fun and still sit quietly at dinner (even if kid contraband like iPads are present). Ideal for families staying in area cabins or condos, Home Away Groceries offers online shopping and delivery right to your door. Seafood, pizza, pasta, breakfast and milk are all on the menu along with pre-made meals and even baby food.

524 W 23rd Ave., Gulf Shores, AL, 251-213-4562 

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S & S Seafood Market
Locals and in the know tourists all rave about S & S Seafood Market, despite it being more to-go deli than sit-down restaurant. Choose from fresh shrimp, crawfish and oysters right off local boats. Take it to a picnic table, the beach or back to your accommodations. But buy extra Gumbo, you’ll want to go back for seconds.

1154D W Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, AL, 251-948-3945 

Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill
Get sassy and order up shrimp n’ Gouda cheese grits, biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Head back for lunch and ask for the Crab Bisque, quesadillas and fried fish fingers. You might as well make it a perfect day and just go back for dinner too for Chilean Sea Bass and a loaded kids menu with burgers and fried shrimp.

5160 Alabama 180, Gulf Shores, AL, 251-975-1010 

Kitty’s Kafe
Come hungry for a family-friendly brunch option of grits, biscuits, pancakes and even mimosas for Mom and Dad. Tucked into a strip mall, Kitty’s isn’t the place to come for a dignified brunch with your Sunday best on. Expect home-cooked diner food and be surprised by how it tastes just like yours—only better.

3800 Gulf Shores Pkwy., Gulf Shores, AL 

Island Ice Cream
On your way out of town, stop in for a special treat at Island Ice Cream. Hershey’s, yogurts, Italian ices and 40 flavor options are all on the menu to please even the pickiest of taste testers. It’ll keep them busy until you roll out of town and leave the ocean behind you. Until next year.

1154 W Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL, 251-540-2423

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Do you like to take your tots to Gulf Shores? Share your favorite spots with us in the comments section below!

Susan Finch

Photos courtesy of John W. Tuggle and blgrssby on Creative Commons via Flickr, Dolphin Cruises, Orange Beach Pirate Ship, Alabama Gulf Coast ZooLighthouse Condo, Adventure Island, and Home Away Groceries via Facebook