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When you’re planning a relaxing family vacation to the Gulf Coast, the one thing you don’t want to have to think about is food. But finding kid-friendly dining options with great food that the whole family can enjoy does take time and effort. Luckily, our beach experts have done all the work for you. Whether you’re looking for live music, ocean views, or places for kids to play, you’ll find just the right spot with our list of family-friendly restaurants on the Gulf Coast.
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Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach, Alabama
When I first laid eyes on Tacky Jack’s, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Is it a giant tree fort? A playground for grown-ups? The restaurant has a family-friendly, casual atmosphere with live music and jolly tables full of tourists. There’s an outdoor sandpit with a play area for kids, plus outside seating so you don’t have to worry about taking sand indoors. In addition to seafood and southern specialties like Fried Green Tomato Fries and Po’ Boys, the restaurant also offers a full breakfast menu.
Orange Beach, Alabama and Fort Walton Beach, Florida
The Gulf is one of my top picks as a perfect place for the entire family. Sheer cool factor combines with a kid-friendly atmosphere to make for a fun, delicious meal. The waterfront restaurant is built from salvaged shipping containers, and its outdoor seating features string lights, fire pits, and comfy couches. While adults may enjoy delicious food like poké bowls or short rib ragu, kids will appreciate the chicken tenders and grilled cheese.
Original Oyster House
Gulf Shores and Spanish Fort, Alabama
Original Oyster House is one of the most well-known Gulf Shores restaurants and one of the best places to get traditional fried seafood in the area. Our family appreciates the kid’s menu, which offers small portions of popcorn shrimp and fried fish (as well as pizza and corn dogs, in case your kids refuse to eat anything else). Each kid’s meal is served with a tiny, plastic alligator, which my kids treasure as a souvenir of the trip. The Spanish Fort location includes a covered playground.
Destin and Panama City Beach, Florida
Nothing says vacation like a ridiculous breakfast, and The Pancakery is one of the best breakfast spots I’ve found in the area. Your kids will love all the options available for breakfast fun, like smiley face pancakes, M&M pancakes, and blueberry-filled pancakes. You’ll love that you can get avocado toast or a veggie omelet instead. (Who am I kidding? I’m totally going for the Nutella crepe.)
Lambert’s Cafe provides Southern cooking and good food just a few miles from the beach in Foley, Alabama. (Those of you who are bargain shoppers will want to know that it’s right by an outlet mall.) There’s a wooden train structure out front that will be a hit with little kids, while older kids will crack up every time a server throws a roll at them. That’s right, they throw rolls. It’s sure to be a memorable meal.
Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Destin, Florida
I love the casual, breezy feel of a meal at Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s. There’s often live music, but it’s not so loud that you can’t have a conversation. One of the best parts about Lulu’s is their special menus for allergy needs, which helps families eat safely whether they need meals that are gluten-free, shellfish-free, or vegan (they even offer a gluten-free Bloody Mary!). Lulu’s is known for its family-friendly events, such as visits from the Easter Bunny or “Billy” Claus as well as a holiday-lighted boat parade. This will be a popular stop for teens – the Gulf Shores location has an all-ages ropes courses available for an extra fee, and both locations have arcades.
The Back Porch
Destin and Panama City Beach, Florida
The Back Porch offers seafood specialties like Gulf shrimp and oysters. The Destin location is right on the ocean, just a short walk down the beach from condos, beach houses, and vacation rentals. There’s a sandy beach area right by the restaurant where kids can play while you wait to be seated. The Panama City Beach location is in Pier Park, a shopping district located by the water. Both restaurants offer kid’s meals (like pizza, popcorn shrimp, and grilled cheese) that come with a souvenir frisbee so you can head out to the sand after lunch for family fun.
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Boshamps is one of the best restaurants in the Destin area and offers a fantastic combination of gourmet cuisine and family-friendly dining. Located on Destin Harbor, the restaurant has a sandy play area out by the water to keep little ones busy before and after the meal. Adults will love the savory dishes made with local ingredients, including smoked farm chicken, duck confit cassoulet, and house-made tomato jam. (But don’t worry, the kids’ menu has simpler fare, like chicken fingers and corn dogs.)
George’s at Alys Beach
Alys Beach, Florida
An upscale restaurant with major date-night vibes, George’s is also a great place for a special family night out thanks to their Tadpole menu featuring fried shrimp and chicken tenders. Adults can choose between light, grilled fare, and hearty burgers and tacos. The porches and patios provide plenty of outdoor seating.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
The Hangout is famous for its annual music festival, so I figured it was a party spot that wouldn’t be good for family dining. And while they do have quite the selection of frozen drinks and cocktails, the Hangout also caters to younger folk with their kid’s menu that offers options like hot dog sliders and mac & cheese. We enjoyed a New Year’s Eve buffet in the dining room there a few years ago and discovered that the restaurant is definitely kid-friendly. Plus it’s the location of a polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day each year. Free chili for anyone who participates!
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
With a back porch that faces the Gulf of Mexico and fantastic, Mexican-inspired food (yum, street corn), Rockin Tacos is perfect for when you’re ready for something other than seafood. You can still order fish tacos if you want fresh fish, and you can even get tacos made with alligator meat. If your family isn’t feeling adventurous, you can order standard burgers off the regular menu as well as the kid’s menu.
I’m cheating on this one, because HarborWalk Village isn’t a restaurant. It’s a whole entertainment district! With plenty of casual dining, food trucks, and dessert spots, HarborWalk Village is a great place to go when you aren’t quite sure what to do next. Find a snack or a meal, then stay for mini-golf, the zipline, or an escape game. There are options for all ages!
The Crab Trap
Destin, Pensacola, and Fort Walton Beach, Florida
The Crab Trap is a great place to go when the kids need to play and you need to rest. All three locations have lovely views of the water, and they also each have playgrounds surrounded by picnic tables to give weary parents a chance to sit down. You can order just about any type of seafood you want, including fresh-caught Gulf seafood, Maine lobster, or Alaskan crab. The kids’ meals each come with a beach pail perfect for playing in the sand.
Visiting the Gulf Coast? Whether you’re looking for live music, ocean views, or places for kids to play, you’ll find just the right spot with our list of family-friendly restaurants.
Five Sisters Blues Cafe
If you’re serious about trying classic southern food, look no further than Five Sisters Blues Cafe. The restaurant offers traditional menu items like fried green tomatoes, collard greens, cheese grits, and pulled pork. A kids’ menu is available for the 10 and under set. Consider making plans to go during Sunday brunch, when Five Sisters hosts live jazz music.
Tropical Trader Shrimp Co.
A friend alerted me to Tropical Trader Shrimp Co., which is tucked away on a quieter part of the Gulf Coast. They are known for their family-style fish cooking service, where they allow you to bring your own freshly caught fish. They’ll prepare the fish to your liking, whether baked, broiled, or fried, and add some extra hush puppies to complete the meal. (But don’t worry, you can always order from the menu if you didn’t bring your own fresh seafood.)
There’s a little something for everyone on the Gulf Coast. Head to these beach spots for fun, sun, and fresh food, and the whole family will have a blast.
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