Planning a girlfriend getaway can be a challenge. First you need to find a time when everyone is free (not easy!) Then you need to figure out a destination that ticks your boxes, which means you need to get agreement on what everyone wants — relaxation, exploration, spa, wine, beach, food, clubs?
Next you need to narrow down your list of possible options to account for flight/travel times, accommodation availability, and pricing. This spring I set out to plan a girlfriend getaway to celebrate my friend Cheryl’s birthday. Since she lives in New Jersey and I’m in Rhode Island, we both really wanted to get away from the Northeast and relax somewhere warm.
We had a few options in mind: Nashville, Savannah, and Sante Fe to name a few, but Cheryl remembered all my posts from my visit to Gulf Shores Orange Beach, Alabama last year and was intrigued — so we started planning our girlfriend getaway to Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Planning a Girlfriend Getaway to Gulf Shores — Getting There
The only tricky part about planning a long weekend in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama is that it is a little tough to get to by plane. If you are driving, it is only about three hours from New Orleans, five hours from Atlanta, and three hours from Panama City Beach, FL.
The closest airports are Pensacola, Florida, which is about one hour away, and Mobile, Alabama, which is about one and one-half hours away. These airports are small, which makes it convenient for getting in and out of them, but it also means there aren’t many direct flights.
However, unlike some of the other destinations that we researched, we didn’t have to spend the whole day traveling and sitting around airports just to get there. We both took early morning flights out of Newark and Boston, met up in Charlotte and arrived in Mobile by 11 am.
Where to Stay in Gulf Shores Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are two contiguous towns along the Alabama Gulf Coast. You can easily drive from one to another and it is only 30 minutes from end to end. You will likely still want to rent a car, just because of the distance to the airport and because some of the best restaurants are off of the main beach strip.
Unlike some resort areas that attract big hotels, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is largely a vacation rental community. There are a few nice looking mid-range hotels, like the Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, but for the most part there are high-rise condominium complexes, most of which offer beach access as well as pools and other amenities.
You are best off working with a vacation rental agency like Young’s Suncoast Rentals or Laura’s Vacation Rentals. During my last visit I stayed at the family-friendly Caribe in Orange Beach, a multi-tower condo resort with indoor and outdoor pools, water slides and a lazy river on the bay.
For our girlfriend getaway to Gulf Shores Orange Beach, we were hosted by Young’s Suncoast Rentals at the Crystal Tower in Gulf Shores. What I really liked about this property was the easy beach access via an air-conditioned walkway. They also had two pools, a hot tub and a teeny lazy river, but we found that white sand beach irresistible. Our condo also offered plenty of space and privacy, with each of us getting our own bedroom and ensuite bathroom.
Either Orange Beach or Gulf Shores would make a good girlfriend getaway destination. Orange Beach offers cool restaurants like The Gulf, Cobalt and Fishers at Orange Beach Marina, as well as quick access to activities like catamaran sails, dolphin cruises, kayaking and more. Gulf Shores is closer to some family-friendly attractions like mini golf, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, ziplining at Gulf State Park and fun beach bars like The Hangout.
What to do in Gulf Shores Orange Beach, Alabama
Our girlfriend getaway wishlist was short enough — beach, sun, relaxation, good food and fun drinks. We found all that and more in Gulf Shores. Our weekend started off a little bumpy — literally. Also see my favorite things to do in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.
Cheeseburger in Paradise
We flew through some bad turbulence and drove through what felt like a monsoon to arrive at our first stop — Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s (yes, Buffet as in Jimmy Buffett’s sister.) Luckily, at LuLu’s it is always a party. This beach bar/restaurant offers protection from the rain but when the sun does shine, they also feature outdoor bars, live music, and an arcade, gift shop and ropes course to keep the whole family happy.
There’s nothing like some cocktails and a cheeseburger in paradise to turn the day around. Cheryl had a chance to sample her first Alabama Bushwhacker (rum, coffee liqueur, and ice cream) and the best cheeseburger ever — the LuLu’s pa-menna burger with bacon, pimento cheese and a fried green tomato on top. Meanwhile I loaded up on fried crab claws, fried green tomatoes, a shrimp poboy and found my favorite key lime pie in Alabama — oh my!
Relax at the Spa
It was a thrill to wake up the next morning to sunny skies and calm seas. It was hard to believe that even though it was only in the low 70s, the sun still was hot enough to burn, making for perfect beach weather.
To get into that total relaxation mode, we scheduled massages at the Spa at The Beach Club in Gulf Shores. A bit removed from the main beach strip, The Beach Club is a gorgeous resort community out near historic Fort Morgan. A mimosa, hot stone massage and a soak in their hot tub was just what we were looking for!
Hit the Beach (bar)
The switch to vacation mode complete, we headed out to The Gulf in Orange Beach for lunch by the water. This fresh concept beach restaurant operates out of a series of converted shipping containers, with multiple bars and food options like tacos, oysters, crab claws, burgers and sandwiches.
While the food is stellar, it is the atmosphere that makes The Gulf a 10. Out back you will find picnic tables and clusters of chairs and couches grouped around outdoor rugs to create an outdoor lounge environment overlooking the water.
The perfect way to close out the day was a sunset catamaran cruise with Sail Wild Hearts. This 53-foot catamaran welcomes up to 49 passengers for an evening sunset catamaran cruise that departs at 5pm from the dock in Orange Beach. During our two-hour sail we were treated to water, soft drinks, snacks and music but it was far from a party cruise.
Some of our fellow passengers brought along some adult beverages but the mood was decidedly family-friendly. We were treated to multiple dolphin sightings before the main event, a gorgeous sunset.
Live Music at the Flora-bama
It is worth a trip out to the Flora-bama, famous even before being mentioned in a Kenny Chesney song. This roadhouse on the Alabama-Florida line has five bars, featuring live music and attracting people from all walks of life (and lots of bachelorette parties.)
Make sure you check out the “bra room” (you’ll know it when you see it) and maybe you’ll get to hear the Foxy Iguanas…a great cover band that also performs on Sundays at The Hangout.
Relax at the Beach
You can’t come to Gulf Shores Orange Beach without taking the time to dig your toes into the white sand beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast. All the beaches are free and there is either metered parking or your can find free parking at some of the state park lots.
Luckily all we had to do was walk across the street through a covered walkway! Some rentals might come with beach chairs but if not, you can rent comfy lounges and an umbrella for $15/day from Ike’s Beach Services.
A girlfriend trip to Gulf Shores shouldn’t be complete without a visit to “The Hangout.” I was a little worried that this mega beach bar/restaurant would be a “scene” but it was not, it was very chill and actually family-friendly.
Wooden couches offer plenty of seating to enjoy the live music at the outdoor stage and multiple small bars scattered throughout ensure no lines and easy service with fun drinks like the “Shark Attack.” For families, there is a sand area, fire pit, trampoline bungies, and even foam parties!
Where to Eat in Gulf Shores Orange Beach, Alabama
One of the best parts of a girlfriend getaway to Gulf Shores Orange Beach is all the amazing food! A mix of southern, seafood and creole, the food on the Alabama Gulf Coast is outstanding. While I’ve written about the must try foods in Alabama before, here are some not-to-be skipped Gulf Shores restaurants:
- Brick & Spoon — the perfect capstone to a girlfriend getaway to Gulf Shores is brunch at Brick & Spoon. Named one of the top 10 breakfasts in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, their mimosa flights and build-your-own bloody marys make breakfast a celebration. Not to be missed are their biscuits and fiesta omelettes.
- LuLu’s — the cheeseburger and key lime pie at LuLu’s are worth mentioning (again and again and again!) Sometimes you find foods worth traveling for, and these are two of them.
- The Gulf — the food at the Gulf is as good as the atmosphere. The build-your-own taco bar is fresh and tasty, perfectly complemented by the homemade guacamole and fresh oysters.
- Cobalt — if you go at dinner, be prepared for a two-hour wait but try the Cobalt for lunch when you can enjoy the spectacular views. Be sure to try the fresh fish but don’t forget to leave room for the fried apple pie dessert — it is heavenly!
- Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina — this is a two-for-one as Fisher’s Dockside is a stylish yet casual restaurant featuring fried crab claws, oysters, and yummy boudin balls. Upstairs you’ll have a fine dining experience in a sophisticated environment featuring fresh seafood and other specialties like fantastic shrimp and grits.
Our girlfriend getaway to Gulf Shores Alabama was just what the doctor ordered! A chance to relax, reconnect, have fun and indulge in some of the best food on the gulf coast! Since, I returned with my friend Brianna for an Orange Beach girls’ trip.
What is your favorite spot for a girlfriend getaway?
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Note: Our accommodations were hosted by Young’s Suncoast Rentals. We received complimentary massages at the Spa at the Beach Club and were hosted by Sail Wild Hearts for our sunset catamaran cruise. I also received a complimentary meal at Cobalt. I thank them and Gulf Shores Orange Beach Alabama Tourism for their hospitality, but assure you that all opinions are my own.