Alabama is known for many things – like football and the rich history in Civil Rights – but not many realize it is also a fantastic family beach destination. Who knew there would be so many things to do on Dauphin Island, Alabama’s sunset capital?
Dauphin Island Alabama is where you can spend lazy days with family, watching the waves and little sea creatures while playing in the clear, blue waters. The island is filled with outdoor activities, and it’s the best place to feast on the freshest shrimp, crab, and oysters you can find.
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We can’t help but return to the small, family-friendly town year after year. No over-crowded beaches or heavy traffic, and every minute here feels like island time. There is so much to do, as relaxed as it is, and adventure is never far away. Here are all of our tried-and-true, favorite things to do in Dauphin Island, Alabama.
About Dauphin Island, Alabama
Often mistaken for “Dolphin” Island, the wide but short barrier island has beautiful beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. While dolphins are plentiful in the gulf waters, the name is rooted in French royalty. Read more about the island’s history here, including why it was initially called Massacre Island.
The island sits at the bottom of Mobile Bay, with the Gulf of Mexico to the southern border. Bienville Boulevard runs along most of the 7-mile span of the island, where the bay to the north is a favorite fishing spot, and the gulf to the south is lined with beaches and rental houses.
If you enjoy learning about the history of your travel destinations, this first issue of the Dauphin Island News is an interesting read!
How to Get to Dauphin Island
Can you drive to Dauphin Island? Absolutely. In fact, one of our favorite moments each year is crossing the 3-mile-long Dauphin Island Bridge that connects visitors from the mainland. You can reach the island from Mobile by car in about 45 minutes.
Traveling from the east? Take the Mobile Bay Ferry from Gulf Shores over to the island.
17 Fun Things to Do on Dauphin Island
1. Swim in the Gulf
Spend the day swimming in the Gulf of Mexico tops our list of things to do on Dauphin Island. The gulf waters are much calmer than ocean waves but still have plenty of waves to jump. The gentle waves make it the perfect place for little ones to get used to waves without it being too overwhelming for the kids and parents.
We pack up snacks for the day (we take a few ideas from our favorite road trip meal and snack ideas that pack well), so we’re not running back and forth to the house all day. And don’t forget to bring a big beach tote to carry all your favorite gear for the water. We anchor a giant float to lounge in the water (though we have our eye on these floating water mats for next year), catch the waves with a boogie board, or glide along the water’s edge on a skimboard.
The beach is a public beach that allows access even if you don’t have one of the rentals by the water. You can also visit the Dauphin Island Public Beach on the west or east end of the island.
Both of the island’s public beaches are on Bienville Blvd
2. Kayak or SUP in the Gulf or Bay
We pack up our inflatable kayaks to paddle around the island (we use these Intex Kayaks that travel well). You can also get out onto the water on jet skis, pontoons, or SUPs – all are available for rent nearby.
3. Go Fishing
Dauphin Island is one of the most epic fishing destinations. Anyone interested in fishing should have this on their itinerary of things to do in Dauphin Island, AL. Whether you bring your own fishing equipment or are looking for a guided fishing expedition, it’s one of the best spots for fishing. The bayside has rental homes with quick boat access out into the waters for a day of fishing. People line the beach on the gulf side in the mornings with their fishing poles propped up for a big catch.
Want to fish with the pros? Find a fishing charter that brings guests out to deeper waters at outfits like SickleFin Charters, Get Tight Charter Fishing, or others found at Dauphin Island Marina on Lemoyne Dr.
4. Stroll the Beaches to Find Wildlife
Walk anywhere along the 4-mile stretch of beach on the gulf side, and you’ll most certainly come across all sorts of beach critters and wildlife. Watch tiny little clams dig their way back under the white sand after waves of water recede into the gulf. Or sand crabs scurry away and back into their holes in the sand. Pelicans and seagulls dive-bombing the water, catching their lunch. And out on the water, you’ll often catch the dolphins playing in the water (tip: when you see the shrimp boats out, there are almost always dolphins following along).
Keep in Mind: Summer is turtle hatching season. Baby turtles will make their way into the water, guided by the moon’s light. It’s tempting to check out the beach critters after dark, but rays from flashlights confuse the baby turtles. Any turtle nests on the beach will be well marked.
5. Check Out the Local Events
There is often something going on around town. From the free family movie nights at West End Beach. Epic fireworks on the 4th of July. And most notably, the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo is recognized as the world’s biggest fishing tournament. You can find the calendar of events and other things to do on Dauphin Island on the town’s website.
6. Historic Fort Gaines
You know the phrase, “Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!“? That came from Admiral Farragut, right here at historic Fort Gaines. Located on the easternmost point of the island, the fort is most well-known for the Battle of Mobile Bay. Stroll the fort’s grounds and explore the original cannons, tunnels, and living quarters of the soldiers from 150 years ago.
51 Bienville Blvd
7. Indian Shell Mound Park
Visit Indian Shell Mound Park to see the remnants of oyster shells and fish remains that are estimated to date all the way back to as early as 900 BC. This is one of our favorite activities for taking a break from the sun with plenty of shade to escape the summer’s heat.
At the 11-acre park, you can explore the shell ridge and the shell ring. These two features are thought to be seasonal gathering sites for the indigenous people that lived in the area.
Each year, the Native American Festival is held here in late March, a Saturday celebration of the island’s Native American heritage.
830 Desoto Dr
8. the Little Red School House
The island’s Welcome Center has a museum where you can learn all about the island, its history, and the points of interest around the area. There is also an art display, a library with books and games, and a gift shop to pick up some unique local souvenirs.
1016 Bienville Blvd
9. Sea Lab and Estuarium
On the way into Fort Gains, you’ll pass the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. This state-run research facility focuses on oceanic and coastal research and offers educational programs. Mobile Bay, the body of water to the northeast, is the fourth largest estuary in the US. The Estuarium at the Sea Lab lets visitors learn all about it.
Even when you can’t visit in person, you can still participate in the Dauphin Island Sea Lab virtual programs.
101 Bienville Blvd
10. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary
Who knew there were so many nature-based Dauphin Island activities? We stumbled across this one year and loved the little escape from the sun and sand. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary covers 164 wooded acres and is home to hundreds of migratory bird species – it’s a bird watcher’s paradise! The 1/2 mile nature interpretive trail and educational signage around the park teach visitors about the area’s ecosystem.
211 Bienville Blvd
11. Dolphin Watching Tour
Book a dolphin-watching tour on The Duke with Action Outdoors if watching dolphins from afar isn’t enough. The tour includes an up-close view of the Sand Island Lighthouse and an opportunity to touch shrimp and other critters you may catch in the shrimp net.
12. Take a Bike Ride
Nearly everywhere on the island is bike-friendly. Bienville Boulevard has a designated bike path that runs across the island, with a lane designated for bikes to safely travel from many beach houses into the center of town. You don’t even need to bring your own bikes – there are plenty of rentals available locally to enjoy the bike path.
One to try: Island Fun Rentals, 916 Bienville Blvd
13. Play a Round of Golf
Have golfers in your group? Check out the 18-hole Isle Dauphine Golf Club that sits right by the water. It’s part of the Isle Dauphine Complex, where the non-golfers can relax at the pool and cabana while the golfers play a round.
100 Orleans Dr
14. Shop for Souvenirs
Shop at one of the several boutiques and souvenir shops. Our favorite is The Happy Octopus (1000 Bienville Blvd) for cute clothes and jewelry. You’ll find shops along Lemoyne Dr. and Bienville Blvd.
15. Pelican Peninsula
Take a beach stroll from the Dauphin Island Pier to the beautiful, sandy beaches at Pelican Peninsula. Wildlife is abundant, and seashells are plentiful in this area of the island. It’s also a great place to spot stingrays, crabs, dolphins, and pelicans, of course.
16. Eat Local Seafood
Whenever we ask the locals what to do on Dauphin Island, seafood is usually at the top of the list.
Buy seafood from one of the local fishermen. After watching the shrimp boats trolling the waters all day long, hit the local seafood shops to buy the day’s catch. We stop at Skinner’s Seafood (1012 Bienville Blvd) for a few pounds of fresh shrimp for our annual shrimp boil. It’s an effortless meal to make and easily feeds a crowd.
While Skinner’s isn’t technically one of the restaurants on Dauphin Island, the team will cook the seafood for you if you don’t want to or can’t cook it at home. They also carry some groceries for simple seafood dishes.
With all the fantastic fishing spots on the island, this is an excellent chance to catch your own seafood to cook at home. This is one unique experience you won’t want to miss on the list of what to do in Dauphin Island, Alabama.
We picked up a crab trap a few years ago and set that out one or two days to catch some fresh crab during our visit. Pick one up at Ship & Shore (401 Lemoyne Dr). The peak season for crabs is March through November, so you’re sure to find a least a few in your trap.
17. Watch the Sunset
It’s what the island is all about, after all.
Day Trips From Dauphin Island
Over the years, we’ve made many day trips from Dauphin Island to experience areas beyond the island. While there are plenty of things to do in Dauphin Island, Alabama, to keep us busy, there is a lot to do nearby. These are a few of our favorite adventures over the years.
New Orleans is just 2.5 hours from the island, making it a great day trip to the Big Easy. Walk along the streets of the French Quarter and through Jackson Square. If you want to venture over to iconic Bourbon Street with the kids, we recommend going during the daytime when it’s a little more kid-friendly. Make sure to stop for beignets (Cafe Du Monde is THE place to go) and at any one of the many restaurants serving up a bowl of gumbo.
Visit the Gator Farm in Mississippi
Up for some real adventure? Head over the Mississippi border to visit The Gator Ranch for an airboat tour and see the alligators. The tour guides take visitors on a ride through the swamp while pointing out gators lurking in the water. When you spot one, there will be plenty of marshmallows on board to toss the gators a snack.
Word of warning: when the tour guide tells you to secure all small items (like wallets and phones), take them seriously. One of our riders ended up with credit cards and driver’s license shredded up in the fan of the boat!
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Near Fort Gaines, you can hop on the Mobile Bay Ferry (112 Bienville Blvd) to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. The kids have always loved this one because this ferry carries cars too. The line for the ferry can get long in the peak season, so plan this for a day when you have nothing else scheduled. The 45-minute ride across Mobile Bay drops riders off at Fort Morgan, another historic site that is fun to explore.
The ferry departs about every 90 minutes from both ports and costs around $50 for a family of four (round trip). Check their website for current ticket prices and schedules.
Make it a day with the ferry ride to the other side of the bay. Gulf Shores is the more traditional beach town, with lots of shops, restaurants, and activities to pack in a full day. Our favorite spot to visit is Lulu’s, a restaurant owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister. This restaurant is growing into a small chain, but the food is delicious, and the restaurant has a fun, beachy vibe.
The Best Restaurants on Dauphin Island
One of the best things to do in Dauphin Island, Alabama, is to eat! We’re always visiting for the entire week, so we like to mix things up while we’re there. We always stop at our favorite restaurants, pick up local seafood to cook at home, or catch some of our own.
There are 3 things you must order when dining at one of the many restaurants on Dauphin Island: fresh-caught fried oysters, fried crab claws, and steamed royal red shrimp. Our favorite spot is Dockside Seafood Restaurant (1102 De Soto Ave). Place your order, then head upstairs to the Pelican Pub for a beer with your fresh seafood while you wait for your food to be delivered. Kids aren’t allowed in the pub, though, so when dining with little ones, you’ll have to enjoy your seafood at Dockside, sans beer.
More fantastic restaurants on Dauphin Island:
- Pirate’s Bar & Grill for the best seafood on the island (100 Orleans Dr)
- The best breakfast in town is at the Lighthouse Bakery, their cinnamon rolls are incredible (919 Chaumont Ave)
- Pick up delicious homemade meals from Dinner’s Ready where the continually-changing menu means there’s always something new to try (918 Bienville Blvd)
- The island’s best pizza is at Island Rainbow, where the kids will also want snow-cones afterward (1614 Bienville Blvd)
- No beach trip is complete without tacos, and you’ll find the best tacos and other Mexican fare at Miguel’s Beach’n Baja (202 Lemoyne Dr)
- Feed your sweet tooth at Foxy’s Waffle Bar and Sugar Den (202 Lemoyne Dr, same location at Miguel’s)
- Find nightlife and entertainment at Dority’s Bar & Grill, where you can pick up dinner from the food truck while listening to live bands (1010 Bienville Blvd)
Many are closed Sundays, Mondays, or Tuesdays, so make sure to check hours ahead.
Where to Stay on Dauphin Island
The best way to experience all the things to do in Dauphin Island, Alabama, is to stay at least a few days here. There are a few options for accommodations that fit almost every need.
Beach House Rentals
The most common Dauphin Island lodging is at one of the many beach house rentals. Because of the island’s shape, there are a lot of rentals that sit right on the water’s edge and are large enough to hold the entire family. Choose either the bayside (north) or gulf side (south).
Many properties are also listed on Airbnb.
With many of the rental houses being right on the water, you’ll get easy access to the beach. And this means you’ll get to leave a lot of your beach gear there throughout the day, or even overnight – no need to pack up and haul everything back and forth. This was a lifesaver when the kids were too little to haul all their sand toys in each night.
Hotels on Dauphin Island
Hotels are minimal, but we think this is how the island keeps its low-key charm. For something smaller than renting a whole house, the Inn At Dauphin Island has privately owned units, but many units are available for vacation rentals.
The other option is the cutest little motel: the Gulf Breeze Motel. Guests at this family-run motel have access to a boat launch and slip. Some units also have kitchens, so you can still enjoy some of that fresh-caught seafood. The Dauphin Island Harbor House is a highly-reviewed historic spot that serves a full southern breakfast each morning.
Camping on Dauphin Island
Turn your annual camping trip into a beach trip too! There are not one but two campgrounds on Dauphin Island.
The Dauphin Island Campground has 150 campsites to accommodate tents and RVs (with full hookups). There is private beach access, a full-service camp store, and easy access to sights like the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and Fort Gaines.
The Pelican Nest RV Resort & Campground is a small campground that caters to RV camping. It is conveniently located close to restaurants, shops, and the beach, and there is also a pool onsite.
Plan Your Visit to Dauphin Island
The map below has all of our recommendations for the best things to do on Dauphin Island. Click on any of the highlighted spots to get more information about each place, or to view it on Google Maps for directions and reviews.
Look no further than Alabama’s hidden gem when you’re looking for a beach getaway that offers something for everyone. With its sugar-white sand beaches and calm gulf waters, the island is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. And with so much to do on the island itself and in the surrounding area, this barrier island is perfect for families, friends, and couples alike. Keep this list of all the best things to do on Dauphin Island, Alabama, for your next beach getaway!
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