Most people visit Alabama’s Gulf Coast to get their toes in the sand, and while the sparkling white beaches and emerald blue waters are the crown jewel in the local treasure chest, there’s ample other attractions to explore while you’re here. One destination that should be on your Orange Beach/Gulf Shores vacation bucket list is The Wharf. This large complex with restaurants, shopping, entertainment and a marina is located on Alabama’s Intracoastal Waterway and is the perfect place to wrap up a day at the beach.
Get there a bit early so you have time to cruise dozens of boutique shops selling everything from bathing suits to yachts. This is a great place to go if you’re looking for trendy beachwear, sunglasses, outdoor wear or the perfect pair of shoes to wear with a bikini or an evening gown.
If you want to make a whole day of it, there’s a full service marina offering slip rentals, excursions and onshore amenities. Or you can check out Fusion Spa Salon Aveda which is a great place for a full service girls getaway or quick hair cut. Appointments begin and end with a free stress-relieving ritual.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite the dining choices are great. One popular place is the Compleat Angler Seafood Grille and Bar. The name is a tribute to a classic book published in 1653. In it, author Izaak Walton describes how fly fishing, like life, is about hope. Every time you cast out a line, you hope you’ll reel in something memorable. Reel in a nice memory at Compleat Angler by choosing an outdoor table overlooking the marina and Intracoastal Waterway, and admiring the extraordinary yachts and spectacular sunset.
The Compleat Angler is known for gumbo, recently gaining entry into the Guinness Book of World Records for cooking up the largest pot of gumbo ever. The conch fritters are highly recommended, as are the Bloody Marys and Pina Coladas. In fact, some reviewers say they have the best Pina Colada on the Coast.
If you want to take in the non stop action on the main square then we recommend the Villaggio Grille. Their patio is the perfect place to watch fish being weighed during a bill fishing tournament. It also has a great view of The Wharf’s nightly light show. This intimate restaurant serves great salads, seafood, steaks and flat breads. Don’t miss the garlic and butter oysters.
Check the Wharf website for special events such as book signings by famous authors, classic car shows, Top of the Hops Beer Festival, fishing tournaments and Build a Bear workshops. There’s also free live music every Thursday night.
Speaking of nightlife, make sure to check out the 15 screen Rave Movie Theater and the Amphitheater at the Wharf, the largest entertainment venue on Gulf Coast. If you’re lucky you can catch a big name act in this spectacular 9,500 person outdoor theater. Past entertainers include Hank Williams Jr., Taylor Swift, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney, Widespread Panic, Jason Aldean, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews and Def Leppard. Check the amphitheater schedule for shows happening during your vacation.
Families will enjoy the a game of laser tag at The Arena the Next Level. For kids, a trip to the Wharf isn’t complete without a ride on the huge ferris wheel. It’s a 112 feet tall and holds 140 people in 24 gondolas which makes it the largest ferris wheel in the southeast. The wheel’s design, which was inspired by The Wharf’s boating hub location, mimics a wood-grained ship’s wheel bordered by thousands of clear lights.
Speaking of lights, starting Memorial Day weekend, the Wharf kicks off its 100 Days of Summer campaign by unveiling Spectra, a high-powered sound and light extravaganza that happens twice a day all summer.