The Alabama Gulf Coast, encompassing Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, has been described as “the perfect balance of non-stop activity and lay-around-doing-nothing time.” And although the area offers a little bit of everything—from parks to golf, fishing charters and cruises, shopping, dining and nightlife—it’s without the crowds and high price tags.
Two of my favorite attractions here are the Fort Morgan State Historic Site and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Fort Morgan State Historic Site
Located at the end of the Fort Morgan Peninsula where the bay meets the Gulf of México, the Fort Morgan State Historic Site is a must visit.
Originally constructed in 1813 by the U.S. Army and originally called Fort Bowyer after Colonel John Bowyer, it was later renamed Fort Morgan after Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan. All told, it took over 15 years for construction to be completed.
The history here spans from the War of 1812 through World War II, encompassing some of the most momentous military conflicts and advances in seacoast strongholds in the country, if not the world. As a matter of fact, it is recognized as the third most expensive fort in the Third System Fortification at a price of $1,026,777, a hefty sum in the early 1800s.
African American slaves are noted to have played an integral role in construction of the fort, and U.S. Colored Troops served here following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Today visitors from all over the country—as evidenced by looking at the license plates in the parking lot from Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee. Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states—will find an expansive property where the self-guided tour starts at the Welcome Center and Museum. Here you will find a wealth of exhibits and artifacts detailing the progression of the fort and people who lived, served and worked here over the years.
The grounds are peppered with a wide variety of structures, all weathered by the elements yet still standing as a testament to the strength and resilience demonstrated here. These include the Federal Mortar Battery, Peace Magazine, Naval Minefield, Lighthouse Battery, Casemates, Cisterns and others. Detailed signage at each provides the historic backdrop for a greater understanding of the role that each element played here.
Because the property rests where the bay meets the Gulf, there is also a boat launch, winding stretch of beach where visitors can swim, take long walks, sunbathe and fish, and a picnic area. The Alabama Coast Birding Trail also runs here, and a great many visitors come to follow the bird life.
New Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
From a small, community zoo founded on a family-owned parcel of land, to a 25-acre animal community, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has a long and storied history.
For the past 20 years it has been run under its current name, its nickname becoming “The Little Zoo that Could” starting in 2004 when Category 3Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast area. In what can’t be called anything but a herculean effort, zoo staff were able to relocate, within only 36 hours, every single one of the over 265 animals. That action stands today as the first time that a U.S. zoo has ever been completely evacuated for a natural disaster.
In March of 2020, this non-profit zoo celebrated a grand opening for its new location only four miles from the old, as well as a new nickname – “The Little Zoo that GREW.”
The zoo now sits on elevated hurricane-safe terrain featuring climate-control technology and hurricane-proof designs that together, as the organization says, “create a tourist destination unlike any other in the Gulf Coast.”
Visitors today will find a family of approximately 500 animals representing 118 different species—22 of which are categorized as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened species.
From all different kinds of birds, wild cats, reptiles, goats, monkeys, camels, and more, visitors of all ages can explore, enjoy and learn so much about the creatures that co-habit our world.
The zoo also offers, for an additional fee, up-close and personal Animal Encounters in safe, supervised environments with zoo staff in an effort to provide truly unique and educational opportunities for the entire family.
Keeper talks and animal stage shows, animal feedings and other elements will be added during the warm-weather months. There are also several picnic areas, playgrounds, a merry-go-round, tram rides, and a gift shop.
Folks also come to the zoo to patronize the restaurant—The Safari Club—Alabama’s first certified “Green Restaurant.” Here you will find an internationally inspired menu featuring small plates, tapas, bowls, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, steaks, seafood, and more accompanied by fine wines and craft beers for lunch and dinner sure to satisfy carnivores, herbivores and omnivores alike. They also offer brunch on Saturday and Sunday with a wide array of fresh fruits and smoothies, egg benedicts and omelets, pancakes, waffles and blintzes.
A visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is much more than meets the eye!
Hungry for more? All of this exploration may have enticed your appetite for some good eats, so check out these amazing gastronomic adventures!