Family-friendly restaurants, no-frills seafood shacks on Alabama's Gulf Coast

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen
Crab claws at GTs on the Bay, where the outdoor area includes a sprawling playground.

Alabama's Gulf Coast is a treasure trove of seafood. It's in the fish markets, the well-worn pubs and the more buttoned-up spots. There's a time and a place for a fancy meal, but the casual conviviality of a beach shack seems best after spending a day in the sand and the hot Alabama sunshine.  

In that spirit, we've focused this roundup on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach-area restaurants with a relaxed, family-friendly vibe. Bonus points if they have playgrounds so the kids can stay occupied while the adults drink in a moment of relative calm.

GTs On The Bay

This casual spot on Wolf Bay gets crowded fast, but there's plenty of room inside and out on an expansive patio. As a bonus for kids, there's a giant fish tank and a very nice playground with lots of room to roam.

On the menu, you'll find plenty of Gulf standards including fresh grouper, steamer baskets, fried crab claws and more fried fare. There's also a menu of very beachy adult beverages. 26189 Canal Road, Orange Beach. More here.

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Outdoor tables at The Gulf, an open-air restaurant on the shores of Orange Beach

The Gulf, Orange Beach

The Gulf-side setting and sandy seating areas with picnic tables and outdoor lounges make this a good choice for a waterside meal. Order ceviche, fish tacos, lobster and Gulf shrimp rolls, and more from any of the shipping containers. A server will bring your food while you stare at the waves. Go early for the most laid-back atmosphere, which you can supplement with a menu of mojitos, margaritas, rum cocktails and plenty of beer and wine. 27500 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach. More here.

Alabama: Doc's Seafood     • Location:  Orange Beach Nestled on the sound side of Orange Beach on Alabama's Gulf Coast, this friendly, no-frills seafood shack and oyster bar serves up heaping platters of fish, shrimp, and crabs (fried, grilled, or baked) along with Southern-style sides including hush puppies and green beans. Customers rave about the fried shrimp, the fried crab claws - a Gulf Coast tradition - and the seafood gumbo.

Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar

Expect no frills, waterfront views or places for kids to play. This Orange Beach institution, open since 1984, relies on the quality of its seafood alone. Stand by the parking lot under the cooling misters while you wait to be seated — and you'll wait, but not for long. To eat: Locals will steer you to the grilled Gulf shrimp, lightly brushed with honey to bring out their natural sweetness. Listen to them. Gulf oysters come fresh and fried. You'll be happy either way. 26029 Canal Road, Orange Beach. More here.

Tacky Jack's Seafood Restaurant and Tavern

Outdoor tables at Tacky Jack's, which has a waterfront view.

Tacky Jack's has locations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and there are benefits to both. The Orange Beach location overlooks calm, blue Cotton Bayou, where you'll sometimes spy dolphins splashing about. The Gulf Shores location sits on the Intracoastal Waterway and has a children's play area.

At both, you'll find casual bar fare, fresh Gulf oysters, po'boys and grouper sandwiches. The fish and shrimp platters are hard to beat, especially the sweet, deep-water Royal Red shrimp. Visit www.tackyjacks.com for more.

Sister of musician Jimmy Buffett, Lucy “LuLu” is known for her Southern cooking, particularly at LuLu’s Gulf Shores on Alabama’s Gulf coast.

Lulu's Gulf Shores

This restaurant has a kids' rope course (it costs extra) and plenty of sandy areas for creative play. Get the crab dip, the fried fresh-caught local fish sandwich and any of the colorful salads to help balance out all the fried seafood you've been eating.

You'll also find plenty of tropical blended cocktails, margaritas and rum drinks like the Bama Breeze, named after a song by owner Lucy Buffett's famous brother. 200 East 25th Ave., Gulf Shores. More here.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com