Gulf Shores vs Pensacola: Are you looking for a Caribbean-like holiday without leaving the USA? You’re in luck because these two beautiful destinations tick all the boxes! Gulf Shores is off the coast of Alabama with dreamy white-sand beaches and bright blue water you’d hardly expect to find in Alabama! Pensacola on the other hand is part of the Florida Panhandle on Florida’s Emerald Coast, also boasting white sandy beaches flanked by an emerald-hued ocean. When deciding to visit Gulf Shores vs Pensacola, it can be hard to make a decision.
They are very different locations and miles apart in almost every way except for what they share in terms of exquisite beaches. Let’s dive in to what sets them apart from each other.
Gulf Shores vs Pensacola: Beaches
Gulf Shores has everything you could hope for in terms of its beaches. They are wide and extend for miles, with 8 easily-accessible public access locations across town. Between March and October, beaches are manned by lifeguards for added peace of mind and safety while enjoying the water.
The surf here does tend to be a lot gentler than you’ll find in the Atlantic, so it’s a safer area for kids to swim and play in the ocean. Picture days on the beach building sandcastles and playing beach volleyball or frisbee. There is a huge drive to preserve the Gulf Shores beaches with their Leave Footprints Only campaign to encourage beachgoers to throw away any trash to keep the beaches clean.
Perhaps you’ve always thought the beaches in Florida are nice, but nothing to write home about. Well you’re mistaken, because Pensacola will change your opinion on Florida beaches forever! Sink your toes into the powdery white sand and allow the glimmering emerald surf to lap at your feet as you stroll along the shoreline. The reason the sand in Pensacola is so white and soft as sugar is because of quartz traveling from the Appalachian Mountains into the Gulf and settling into the fine particles we see on the beaches today. In fact the sand is so smooth it squeaks when you walk on it!
Gulf Shores vs Pensacola: Accommodation
The accommodation options in Gulf Shores offer something for all budgets and preferences. There are upscale hotels, luxury condos and beach house rentals or for those who prefer roughing it, plenty of campsites too.
Best hotel: If you’re looking for a resort right on the beach AND on a golf course, Kiva Dunes is the best of both worlds with its magnificent beachfront property and sprawling golf course.
Best beach rental: Beach house rentals provide a private and authentic experience of life in Gulf Shores. Brett Robinson Rentals has some stunning beach houses and condos for rent, some like they’ve been plucked right out of a movie!
Best campsite: Camping is an affordable way to enjoy a vacation in Gulf Shores and one many families with kids opt for. Sugar Sands RV Resort is one of the best campgrounds in the area with an upmarket recreation room, laundry facilities, ablutions, swimming pool, splash pad and much more.
Pensacola also offers a variety of accommodation options to suit your lifestyle and budget. Ranging from hotels to vacation rentals and condos, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to stay during your vacation.
Best hotel: If you’re forking out for a hotel it’s worthwhile staying right on Pensacola Beach to get your money’s worth. Surf and Sand Hotel is right on the beach and is the only pet-friendly hotel on the beach for those traveling with their furkids.
Best beach rental: Paradise Beach Homes have gorgeous condos and beach house rentals with direct beach access and great amenities to suit a range of budgets.
Best campsite: Pensacola Beach RV Resort enjoys a prime location right on the beach with great amenities which include a pool, WiFi and laundry facilities.
Gulf Shores vs Pensacola: Attractions and Activities
Beyond the beach and its usual activities, Gulf Shores has a lot of other unique and fun activities to keep all age groups entertained.
- Kids will love visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo for a range of exciting animal encounters.
- Park at OWA amusement park is also popular amongst kids with plenty of rides, shops and restaurants for a full day of fun.
- For shopaholics, The Wharf is a great place to shop and hunt for bargains
- The Track offers teen-approved activities including go-karting. Hit The Yard MilkShake Bar when you’re done for one of their famously indulgent shakes.
- For active visitors, set off on one of the trails in the Gulf State Park or speed up your adventure by renting a bike
Pensacola has that laidback beach vibe most travelers don’t think is possible to find in Florida. Most of the shops are owned by locals and there are enough restaurants and bars to keep you well fed and entertained every night of the week. Pensacola strikes the perfect balance between amenities and never feeling suffocated by hordes of people. Some popular activities include:
- Sam’s Fun City & Surf City waterpark
- Tee off at Goofy Golf Pensacola
- If heights don’t freak you out, visit Sky Zone Pensacola for a thrill
- For shopping, you’ll find all the best shops in Downtown Pensacola
- Visit some of the historic sites in Pensacola including the lighthouse, historic forts and Naval Live Oaks.
- If you enjoy staying active, take the Footprints in the Sand Eco Trail near Pensacola Beach or for a laidback forest walk, head to Bay Bluffs Park
Besides both having beautiful beaches, when comparing Gulf Shores vs Pensacola, they’re both much quieter and less crowded than many of their popular counterparts like Destin and Panama City Beach. With small-town vibes, friendly locals and plenty to do in both, the decision very much lies in your personal preferences.