Although the hot spots for travel are most likely the beginning and end of this trip, you may find that the best places in a Florida to New Orleans road trip are the ones in the middle.
If you are following this blog, you know that I have spent the last ten years attempting to see all 50 states before my 50th birthday (50 before 50), which is later this year. The only two states I had left were Alabama and New Mexico.
My parents were taking a gulf coast road trip, and I decided to join them for the area around Alabama. We visited New Orleans, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi; Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach; and Pensacola, Florida. You can make this road trip in either direction. We took our visit in March, which made the crowds and weather perfect for touring but not for getting into the surf.
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Things to Do in New Orleans, Louisiana
I flew into New Orleans late on a Thursday night. Because I have spent a lot of time in NOLA, we didn’t spend any time here, but it is one of my favorite US cities. You can read all about what to do in Essential Things to Do in New Orleans and Day Trips from New Orleans.
Plan to spend three days here to get a decent idea of New Orleans. Alternatively, you can spend a week here and take day trips to the Mississippi Coast.
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
You must hit up the superlatives when you are on a road trip! This bridge is only slightly out of your way. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this 24-mile-long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain is the longest in the world!
A Quick Stop in Gulfport, Mississippi
We stopped at Gulfport Beach to look for shells and birds. If you have more time, there is also The Ocean Adventures Water Park and The Institute for Marine Animal Studies.
Brother Paul Cemetery
One of the most interesting places to explore in New Orleans is the gorgeous cemeteries, so we had to stop at Brother Paul in Gulfport. Although it doesn’t have the above-ground graves of New Orleans, it is quite unique with repeating white headstones, reminiscent of Arlington, marking the graves of Catholic brothers, surrounded by weeping trees and vibrant flowers.
Things to do in Biloxi, Mississippi
Our first stop was the town of Biloxi along the Gulf Coast. Read about our time in Biloxi.
Then we headed off to Alabama!
Mobile Bay Ferry
If you have time, you can either take the Mobile Bay Ferry across the bay from Dauphin Island and enjoy the view from the water. The ferry takes 40 minutes and leaves frequently. I didn’t find this out until we had already driven up Fort Morgan Peninsula, but I would definitely add Dauphin Island to any future travel through this area.
On this island, you can visit Fort Gaines, white sand beaches, an Audobhan property, and an aquarium.
Fort Morgan Peninsula, Alabama
The Peninsula you drive on to get to Fort Morgan has many hiking opportunities and, of course, a fort.
Fort Morgan has guarded Mobile Bay, where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, since 1834. It had a major part in the Battle of Mobile Bay and has all the features that one expects to see in a fort built around that time, including sweeping views of the gulf, cannons, tunnels, and brick walls. I especially enjoyed the tracks used to transport goods around the fort. The stairs to the top of the wall are particularly steep, so they may be hard for some people to access.
You can buy entrance tickets at the guard gate to the fort, or you can buy them on the fort’s website ahead of time.
On the grounds is a museum with many Civil War artifacts and a few gorgeous Fresnel lenses, which were quite a treat for me.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Off of Fort Morgan Road are the hiking trails of Bon Secour. There is a pull-off on the left with bathrooms and a small museum where you pay a fee to use the trails. A parking lot is at the trailhead on the other side of the street.
We hiked the Pine Beach Trail until we reached the lookout hut over Little Lagoon since we only had a free hour to hike. If we had more time, we would have continued along the trail to the beach. Decide what trail is best for you on the Bon Secour website.
The trails are dirt and mainly flat, so it wasn’t a hard hike, even for my parents. There are placards along the path explaining the flora and fauna around. We saw blue crabs and owlets who had taken over an osprey nest on our walk through forest and swamps.
The patio views from Tacky Jack’s are unbeatable, and we were entertained by a pod of jumping dolphins while we ate our fried crawfish and alligator bites.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
We then headed to explore Gulf Shores, Alabama’s long white sand beaches. Many estuaries and sand dunes lie along the coast, allowing for great hiking, birding, and photography.
Search for a hotel in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Gulf State Park
This park contains two miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of accessible, wide paved trails that view the beach and walk through the swamps around Lake Shelby. You can even use bikes at the bike share station near the Gulf State Pier. There is a bridge that goes over the street from the beach and parking to the trails. You can borrow a bike for up to three hours for free, which is such a wonderful concept I haven’t heard of before. You can read more about that program here.
After you work up a sweat by exploring all 28 miles of those trails, head to Foley for the unique dining experience of Lamberts, “the home of the throwed roll.” It is hard to explain what happens in this family-style southern restaurant, so you will just have to visit… and try the apple butter.
Pete’s Ice Cream and Donuts
They were sold out of homemade donuts the day we visited, but the ice cream made from fresh local cream and natural ingredients was notably good. Pete was also very nice.
This beachside honkeytonk bar has been open since 1964 and straddles Perdido Key, Florida, and Orange Shores, Alabama.
Pensacola Beach, Florida
We ended our trip in Pensacola, where we just hung out on the beach and relaxed.
We were very happy with our moderately priced hotel, Surf and Sand Hotel, on the cove side of the peninsula. From here, we could walk to many restaurants and shops. Included in our stay were daily breakfast and the use of bikes, kayaks, and paddle boards.
The only thing we didn’t get to do in this area due to lack of planning was being able to visit the Pensacola Lighthouse. Due to a terrorist attack on the Coast Guard base that you must travel through to access it, one can only visit the lighthouse as part of a guided bus tour. If you want to visit the lighthouse, plan by booking a tour at this website.
As usual, this trip brought many unexpected delights exploring a new part of the US, notably the kind people, copious amount of birds and gorgeous beaches. Have you visited the Gulf Shore? What was your favorite part?