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Off-the-Beach Family Fun

A must-visit is the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo (1204 Gulf Shores Pkwy., Gulf Shores; 251-968-

5732; map). It became known as “The Little Zoo That Could” on the Animal Planet channel. See more than 300 animals at the zoo, including red kangaroos, camels, monkeys, wolves, tigers and lions. It’s a day of fun for the entire family. The zoo is building a new home on AL Hwy. 59 in 2012, so check their website before visiting. Visit the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (12295 AL Hwy. 180, Gulf Shores; 251-540-7720; map), a short drive from the beaches down Fort Morgan Road. The refuge consists of nearly 7,000 acres of coastal lands with plants, flowers and animals native to the area. It’s open during the day for hiking, fishing, bird watching and enjoying nature. You can walk along a variety of trails such as Gator Lake Trail, Centennial Trail, Jeff Friend and Pine Beach. The trails range from one to four miles.For a little speed, fun and adventure head to the Waterville USA Park (906 Gulf Shores Pkwy./AL 59, Gulf Shores; 251-948-2106; map). Experience daring water slides, enjoy mini golf and race around a small track in go-carts. All ages are welcome at this 20-acre water park.Take a ride or walk along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail (4009 Orange Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores; 251-981-1063; map) in Orange Beach. Tour guides will take you along the paved trail that winds through moss-lined trees, flora and fauna native to Alabama’s Gulf Coast. You might even run into the Cat-Man, a legendary wild man that is purportedly half cat and half man.Visit the Orange Beach Arts Center Hot Shop (26389 Canal Rd., Orange Beach; 251-981-2787; map) to take home a great souvenir from the beach. You’ll find jewelry, paintings or a variety of other crafts in the shop. You can even make your own piece of glass art in the shop by signing up for an art class or purchase a piece of glass art in the gallery. The Hot Shop is the only public access glass studio in the state of Alabama.Drive a short distance inland to hop on the Southeast’s tallest Ferris Wheel at The Wharf (4985 Wharf Pkwy., Orange Beach; 251-224-1000; map) for a ride with a view. You’ll be 120 feet high above the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores with views of scenic wetlands and a marina. The Wharf is an entertainment area with a 9,500-capacity amphitheater, boutique shops, restaurants and accommodations.
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