Desperate to hit the beach this summer but trying to stick to a budget? Gulf Shores is located in the Gulf Coast part of Alabama. This means you get to enjoy the same gorgeous coastline normally associated with Florida, at much more budget-friendly prices! It’s also a little bit calmer, making it a fantastic option for traveling with kids.

While Gulf Coast is increasing in popularity, it doesn’t have the same coverage as the bigger Florida resorts. This can make figuring out the best place to stay tricky. It’s important to gain an overview of the different neighborhoods before you arrive to make sure you have the best family vacation possible.

That’s where we come in! We’re budget travel experts and have spent a lot of time sussing out the best places to stay in Gulf Shores. Consulting locals, bloggers, and of course, our own experience in the city, we’ve come up with the three best neighborhoods in this coastal dream.

So, let’s dive right in to Gulf Shores!

Where to Stay in Gulf Shores

Backpacking the USA is an amazing experience. There is so much to see and explore, you won’t fit everything in on only one trip. If you want to enjoy a couple of chill and relaxed days, you should head to Gulf Shores!

With so many amazing places to explore in the USA, you want to have a nice place to rest your head. Need to book somewhere quick? These are our three favorite accommodation options across the city.

Unique Airbnb in Gulf Shores – Blue House

This gorgeous villa is the perfect getaway right on the Gulf Coast! The pastel blue exterior gives it a stylish feel, and there’s a small balcony area with a table and chairs so you can enjoy breakfast in the sun. Sleeping up to eight guests, it has two carports – perfect for larger families heading to Gulf Shores.

Perfect Condo in Gulf Shores – Beach Condos

This gorgeous condo is housed inside a larger complex, giving you a sense of community and convenient access to essential services. There’s a large balcony where you can enjoy views of the ocean – which is only a two-minute stroll away from your front door! They include lots of little extras to enhance your stay, such as beach chairs and a cooler.

Budget Friendly Hotel in Gulf Shores – Courtyard Gulf Shores

Sometimes you just want to stay in a hotel – and we reckon the Courtyard is the best option for budget travelers in Gulf Shores. It’s a little further out from the beach, but if you’re bringing a car, this shouldn’t be a problem. Craft Farms Golf Course is just across the road. There’s also a small business center for those that just can’t avoid doing a bit of work during their getaway.

Gulf Shores Neighborhood Guide

Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Gulf Shores

OVERALL BEST PLACE TO STAY IN GULF SHORES
west beach Gulf Shores
OVERALL BEST PLACE TO STAY IN GULF SHORES

West Beach

West Beach is the main tourist area in the city. Whether you stay here or not, you’ll definitely come here at some point during your trip. The public beach area is home to some of the best watersports in Alabama, and plenty of white-sand sunbathing spots.

FOR FAMILIES
shelby lake gulf shores
FOR FAMILIES

Shelby Lakes

Shelby Lakes is only a stone’s throw from the main beach area – but has a much calmer atmosphere. Gulf Shores as a whole is great for families, but Shelby Lakes is especially ideal for those visiting with young children.

ON A BUDGET
Jack Edward National Airport Gulf Shores
ON A BUDGET

Jack Edwards National Airport

You might be surprised to hear that the area surrounding the airport is the most budget-friendly. It is a little bit further inland from the beach (hence the lower prices), but still has plenty of great attractions nearby.

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Gulf Shores 3 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in

You’ll probably come across the Gulf Shores on an epic USA road trip, which means you might not have everything planned in detail. Need some more info about the best neighborhoods before settling on accommodation? Read on for an intro to each area, plus some of our favorite activities.

#1 West Beach – Overall Best Place to Stay in Gulf Shores

  • COOLEST thing to do in West Beach: take the family seashell hunting with a local marine life expert.
  • BEST place to visit in West Beach: Gulf Shores Public Beach is a must-visit during your time in the area

West Beach is the main tourist area in the city. Whether you stay here or not, you’ll definitely come here at some point during your trip. The public beach area is home to some of the best watersports in Alabama, and plenty of white-sand sunbathing spots. If you’re only in town for a few days, West Beach is your best bet!

west beach Gulf Shores
source: HildeAnna (Shutterstock)

Looking for somewhere a bit quieter? No worries; head further west to the Little Lagoon area where you can enjoy access to some of the quietest beaches in Gulf Shores! This neighborhood is only a short walk from the main tourist strip, though there are also good public transport options taking you elsewhere.

If you’re visiting without a car, we suggest West Beach. Getting into the area from the inland part of town can be a bit trickier without your own vehicle. The condos here are still very much affordable, and usually only a short walk away from the main beach area.

Luxurious Apartment in West Beach: Crystal Towers

Airbnb Plus apartments have been hand-selected for their stylish interiors and excellent attention to detail. This high rise apartment has staggering views of the coastline and is only a short walk from the main resort area. It’s a little pricier than other suggestions in this guide, but totally worth it if you have some cash to splash.

Stylish Ocean Condo in West Beach: Beach Condos

We love this stylish condo that will have you enjoying luxury living at a reduced cost! The beach is only a stone’s throw away, and many other great attractions are within walking distance. There’s a small seating area on the balcony where you can enjoy breakfast with a view. This house can sleep up to six guests across two bedrooms, with a private bathroom for the adults.

Rustic Villa in West Beach: Affordable Home

This villa is well within the budget range, but it certainly doesn’t lack in charm! The décor is a little rustic, but in keeping with the beachy atmosphere of Gulf Shores. It does only have one bedroom, but this can sleep up to six people. Guests also have access to a shared pool and hot tub area within the complex.

Things to See and Do in West Beach:

  • Try your hand at windsurfing, kayaking, and other great watersports down at the beach; there are plenty of budget-friendly equipment hire places.
  • Wade Ward Nature Park is a small green space just north of the beach with its own little boardwalk areas providing the perfect setting for a morning stroll.
  • The north side of Little Lagoon is home to some excellent hiking trails; Jeff Friend Trail is a particularly great option for beginners and casual hikers.
  • Speaking of Little Lagoon – those who are new to fishing should try some of the inland fishing options available in the area.
  • Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Café is a local favorite, serving up typical Southern cuisine with an excellent view.
  • Need something quick and cheap? Shrimp Basket Gulf Shores has some of the best-priced seafood in town!

#2 Shelby Lakes – Best Place to Stay in Gulf Shores For Families

  • COOLEST thing to do in Shelby Lakes: rent a bike and take an easy, breezy cycle ride around the main lake 
  • BEST place to visit in Shelby Lakes: head out to Gulf State Park Pier for awesome views of the coastline – it’s also great for fishing!

Shelby Lakes is only a stone’s throw from the main beach area – but has a much calmer atmosphere. Gulf Shores as a whole is great for families, but Shelby Lakes is especially ideal for those visiting with young children. There are plenty of fantastic nature activities in the area, letting you truly unwind and escape city life.

shelby lake gulf shores
source: Malachi Jacobs (Shutterstock)

Shelby Lakes is a little pricier than the other neighborhoods in this guide, but for the average family, the budget is more than doable. It’s also an excellent spot for those interested in visiting Orange Beach during their stay, with some quick public transport options departing from the area.

Beachy Cottage in Shelby Lakes: Blue House

This stunning blue cottage is our favorite Airbnb in the city – and with good reason! While it sleeps up to eight people, it is still more than affordable for smaller families looking to stay in the area. Part of a larger complex, guests have access to a shared pool and barbecue area. The interiors are stylish and modern.

Idyllic Home with Ocean Views in Shelby Lakes: Gulf Condo

This bright condo is a soothing space to unwind after a long day of exploring Gulf Shores. It can sleep up to ten people across three bedrooms, making it the perfect choice for larger groups and families. There are also three bathrooms, so adults get to enjoy their own facilities separate from the kids. Gulf State Park is only a two-minute walk away.

Waterfront Inn in Shelby Lakes: Hilton Garden Inn Orange Beach

If you are staying in Orange Beach then check out the Hilton. The Hilton is a household name thanks to their comfortable accommodations including this Orange Beach Inn is an excellent budget option! It is located right on the waterfront, giving you immediate access to the beach. Rooms are somewhat basic, but well-equipped for a short trip. Breakfast is included in the rate. The swimming pool is spacious, and we love the Tiki Bar’s drinks menu.

Things to See and Do in Shelby Lakes:

  • Gulf State Park Nature Centre is a small museum where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • There are some great hiking trails throughout the park; we particularly like the Rosemary Dunes Trailhead.
  • Waterville USA is the main theme park in Gulf Shores. It has a large waterpark area, as well as some regular carnival and arcade attractions.
  • Head to Roasted Oak Coffee in the morning to try out the best (in our opinion) brew money can buy in Gulf Shores.
  • Foodcraft Restaurant is an excellent eatery for a family meal day and night, with stunning views of the beach and the park.
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#3 Jack Edwards National Airport  – Where to Stay in Gulf Shores on a Budget

  • COOLEST thing to do near the Airport: tee off at Craft Farms Golf Club – the most popular course in Gulf Shores.
  • BEST place to visit near the Airport: Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is a great activity for a rainy day in the city.

You might be surprised to hear that the area surrounding the airport is the most budget-friendly. It is a little bit further inland from the beach (hence the lower prices), but still has plenty of great attractions nearby. The area surrounding the highway is packed with entertainment venues, laid-back restaurants, and huge malls.

Jack Edward National Airport Gulf Shores
source: Yukolthorn Nasongkhla (Shutterstock)

If you’re visiting with a car, the beach is only a five-minute drive away. Most hotels and condos in this neighborhood come with ample parking, meaning there are plenty of savings to be had. The attractions here are more geared towards families with older kids. It’s also a great neighborhood for rainy day activities.

Authentic Cottage near the Airport: Yellow House

This cute little cottage has somewhat rustic interiors – though we believe these just add to the authentic charm. It is away from the main road, making it one of the best options available if you value peace and quiet. The Pinnacle, a large shopping center in the area, is only a short walk away – and the beach is about five minutes by car.

Quaint Condo near the Airport: Cypress Point

This condo is a true home away from home, with all the comforts you’d expect from a luxury villa. Despite this, the rate is more than reasonable – especially since it can sleep up to six people! The wider complex has a shared pool and outdoor grill area, where you can socialize with other guests and enjoy the Gulf Coast sunshine.

Laid-back Budget Hotel near the Airport: Courtyard Gulf Shores

This cheap and cheerful hotel comes with some of the best reviews in the city, giving you peace of mind ahead of your stay. The pool area is small, but there is a great sunbathing area surrounding it. Rooms come with modern equipment, and a complimentary American-style breakfast is included – saving you even more money!

Things to See and Do near the Airport:

  • Head to the Track – a large amusement park ride that will have you speeding around a guided track in small go-karts.
  • Colonial Promenade is an outdoor shopping center where you can grab bargains in clothing, furnishings, and food.
  • Cactus Cantina might look cheap from the outside, but it is home to some truly delectable Mexican cuisine.
  • Wash it all down with a trip to the Yard Milkshake Bar!
  • Take a walk down to Portage Creek – a small river dividing the city center from the suburbs that is great for a lazy stroll.

Final Thoughts on Where To Stay in Gulf Shores?

Gulf Shores is a gorgeous destination with plenty to offer budget travelers. The white sand beaches are a beautiful setting to enjoy the Gulf Coast sunshine. With plenty of watersports, entertainment venues, and restaurants, there’s a little something for everyone to make this the perfect family vacation.

We love all the neighborhoods in this guide, but if you’re only visiting for a few days, we definitely recommend West Beach. This central neighborhood is home to most of the tourist attractions and gives you a great overview of the city.

That being said, whichever neighborhood is best for you depends on what you want to get out of your stay. Shelby Lakes is a peaceful area for those that want a more secluded feel, while heading inland to the area surrounding the airport is perfect if you’re on a budget. Either way, we hope we’ve helped you figure out your itinerary for your upcoming trip.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

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