20 Best Things to Do on Dauphin Island – The Happiness Function

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“20 Best Things to Do on Dauphin Island – The Happiness Function”

If you’re looking for the best things to do on Dauphin Island, you’re in the right place!

Dauphin Island is an incredible gem of Alabama. The island boasts 7-miles of sugar-white sand public beaches, clear water, beautiful weather, and fewer crowds. Guess what else? The beaches are dog-friendly! Dauphin Island is the perfect Gulf Coast retreat to relax, recharge, and explore. We share all the best things to do to help you have a great trip.

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Top Things to Do on Dauphin Island

The island itself has so much to offer, especially if you’re into the outdoors. Trails to walk or bike are located all over. There are lots of opportunities for bird watching and trying to spot an alligator (that’s right, an alligator!). There are also a few green space parks, nature reserves, plus an estuarium and sea lab with public aquariums.

Hiking trails

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Where is Dauphin Island?

Dauphin Island is one of the Mississippi-Alabama barrier islands located off the coast of Alabama, south of Mobile and the Mobile Bay, in the Gulf of Mexico.

The island is accessible via the Dauphin Island bridge, officially named the Gordon Persons Bridge. Gordon Persons Bridge is an enormous concrete bridge spanning 3-miles of 2-lane traffic from Alabama State Route 193. The bridge takes drivers over the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway connecting the island and mainland.

The island can also be accessed via the Mobile Bay Ferry from Fort Morgan (west of Gulf Shores). More on the Dauphin Island ferry below!

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Dauphin Island Map of Public Beaches & Destinations

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Dauphin Island Beaches

First things first, you’re probably wondering about the most essential part of any island holiday, so we’ll get right to it!

The beaches on Dauphin Island are stunning. The bright white sand on a sunny day will take your breath away. If you’ve never been to Alabama, you’re in for a treat!

Plan to hit all the beautiful public beaches!

There are 7-miles of public beaches along with a few different access points and areas to park.

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Dog friendly beaches

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20 Best Things to Do on Dauphin Island Alabama

We stayed at Dauphin Island for a little under a week, and we are sharing all the best things to do with you to help you have the best trip!

Below are 20 things you don’t want to miss!

  1. Dauphin Island Beach
  2. Dauphin Island East End Beach
  3. Dauphin Island West End Beach
  4. Browse Historic Fort Gains
  5. Discover the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab
  6. Visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Aquarium
  7. Visit the Goat Tree Reserve
  8. Explore Indian Shell Mound Park
  9. Hike and Bird Watch along the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary
  10. Walk to Pelican Peninsula
  11. Discover the Dauphin Island Marina
  12. Go Fishing
  13. Ride the Mobile Bay Ferry
  14. Take a Tour to Sand Island Lighthouse
  15. Golf at Isle Dauphine Golf Club
  16. Stay at Dauphin Island Campground
  17. Watch a Sunset
  18. Catch a Sunrise
  19. Eat Where the Local’s Eat
  20. Picnic at Cadillac Square

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1. Dauphin Island Beach

Great Blue Heron fishing along Dauphin Beach sandbar

The best beach (in our opinion) is Dauphin Beach. Visitors pay to park and walk along the pier out towards miles of beautiful sugar sand beach. The water is clear! And the beach is pet-friendly.

There is so much space to spread out while spending the day here. This beach area is a must for your Dauphin Island bucket list!

There is a sand barrier off the coast, and the beach is tucked into a cove, so the water is more protected, and calmer making for an excellent place to swim and soak up some sun.

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2. Dauphin Island East End Beach

Dauphin Island East End Beach

The East End Beach is located precisely where it is named – on the east end!

There is less parking for this beach, and the water is not as clear on this side of the island. However, this east side of the island is home to protected sand dunes for nesting sea turtles, shore and sea birds. May and November are excellent times of the year to see nesting sea turtles on Dauphin Island. The spring is also a great time for bird-watching.

Visitors can even access the east-end beach from the Dauphin Island Campground and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary Trails.

The East End Beach is dog-friendly so that visitors can enjoy a day at the beach with their furry family members.

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3. Dauphin Island West End Beach

Dauphin Island West End Beach from parking lot

The West End Beach is located near a popular residential and vacation home area of the island.

Drive towards the west until there is a parking lot. Visitors must pay to park here.

Stretch out for miles along white-sand beaches and the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This pristine beach is quite long and there is no development after the parking area.

Dogs are not allowed at the West End Beach.

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4. Browse Historic Fort Gains

Entrance of Fort Gains

Iconic for its importance in the American Civil War, Fort Gains guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay for over 150 years. It was constructed between 1819 and 1853 to protect the island.

Visitors can walk around the outside of the fort free of charge.

Admission to enter is $5 (ages 5-12) and $9 for adults.

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5. Discover the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Entrance to Estuarium and Sea Lab

Directly across from Fort Gains, on the east side of the Island, is the Estuarium and Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Marine scientists and researchers have ongoing research occurring here. You might even be able to see them in action! We did!

Outside of the building, there are boardwalks along the shoreline to read about the science being conducted to monitor the environment. The living marsh boardwalk meanders through the estuarium detailing ecological explanations for visitors to learn more about the importance of the different coastal habitats.

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Visitors can walk around the outside of the Sea Lab free of charge.

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6. Visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Aquarium

Inside the Sea Lab, there is a public aquarium. Inside the aquarium is an exhibit hall, sting-ray touch pool, along with 31 aquariums with over 100 species of wildlife that visitors can learn about and admire.

Admission to enter the aquarium is $6 (ages 5-18) and $12 for adults.

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7. Visit the Goat Tree Reserve

Goat Tree Reserve

Visit the Goat Tree Reserve to see beautiful giant oak trees. Supposedly, the wild goats would climb up the trees back in the day to avoid being eaten by alligators!

The reserve is also home to migratory birds. Keep your eyes open for little green lizards too!

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8. Explore Indian Shell Mound Park

Shell Mound Park sign

In 1973, Indian Shell Mound Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the 90s, archeologists found shell mounds containing layers of oyster shells, fish bones, charcoal, and potsherds from as far back as the Mississippian Period (AD 1100 to 1550).

The park is not only of historical significance but is home to many birds and island wildlife. Don’t miss walking the trails through the beautiful coastal forest.

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9. Hike & Bird Watch – Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary

Boardwalks through Audubon Bird Sanctuary

The island is known for being a birding hot-spit in the Southeast. Over 350 species of resident and migratory birds have been identified on the island.

On the eastern end of the island, visitors can walk the beautiful trails and boardwalks through the coastal forest, marshland, and along the beach to watch for birds. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary is roughly 164 acres.

Keep your eyes open for a potential alligator spotting as well!

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10. Walk to Pelican Peninsula

South of Dauphin Beach, there is a peninsula that jets out into Pelican Passage. The sandy island is a great place to walk towards to enjoy bird watching and epic views along the Gulf of Mexico.

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11. Discover the Dauphin Island Marina

Dauphin Island Marina is the main marina on the island. There are, however, multiple places to launch watercraft along the island.

The marina is home to fishing charters and a few restaurants if you’re looking to go on a chartered fishing adventure.

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12. Go Fishing

While you’re visiting, go fishing with a local fishing charter or bring your own gear.

Lots of people were fishing right off the coast on the east end!

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13. Ride the Mobile Bay Ferry

Riding the Mobile Bay Ferry from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan

Take the Mobile Bay Ferry to Fort Morgan! The ferry can accommodate multiple sizes of vehicles and trailers. They even just take passengers if you want to do a day trip to check out Historic Fort Morgan.

We took the ferry with our truck and small camper to Fort Morgan on our way to Gulf Shores, Alabama!

The trip takes about 40 minutes and is a beautiful way to see sea life, including dolphins and birds.

Check out the Dauphin Island Ferry schedule to plan this fun adventure!

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14. Take a Tour to Sand Island Lighthouse

To date, the Sand Island Lighthouse is

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the only lighthouse in Alabama and has been around for over 150 years.

To visit the lighthouse, a boat is required. It is free to visit the lighthouse; however, costs are required to rent a boat or take a boat tour (unless you use your own boat).

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15. Golf at Isle Dauphine Golf Club

If you’re into golfing, check out Isle Dauphine Golf Club.

We aren’t golfers, but we drove there to see the area.

There is a restaurant, pool, and parking area, which allows visitors not playing golf to access the beach. Visitors do need to pay for a wristband to use the pool and access the beach.

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16. Stay at Dauphin Island Campground

Dauphin Island Campground

Island camping is such a fun adventure if you have an RV or small camper. Dauphin Island Campground is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking to camp on the island.

From the campground, visitors can walk to the East End Beach, Fort Gains, the Estuarium at the Sea Lab, along with the many trails and boardwalks through the Audubon Bird Sanctuary.

The campground is steps from the Gulf and beaches!

Think our little Aliner camper is neat? Read more about it here!

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17. Watch a Sunset

Did you know Dauphin Island is known as the sunset capital of Alabama? Rightfully so, with clear views on the west end of the island.

If you’re staying at a vacation home on the west end of the island, you’ll have clear views of incredible Gulf Coast sunsets.

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18. Catch a Sunrise

Sunrise from the East End Beach

Along with epic sunsets, you don’t want to miss sunrise if you’re an early riser.

If camping, it takes less than five minutes to walk to the east end to catch a beautiful Gulf Coast sunrise.

Be sure to rise and shine – the stillness of the morning is incredible.

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19. Eat Where the Local’s Eat

We talked to a few locals on our trip, and they all said not to miss Skinner’s Seafood and the Lighthouse Bakery during a visit!

Check out these restaurants during your stay mentioned for being local favorites.

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20. Picnic at Cadillac Square

Cadillac Square sign

Cadillac Square was originally where Governor Cadillac’s home was located in 1715. It was also the capital of the Louisiana Territory! Now, visitors can enjoy the wooded area for a picnic. There are places to park and tables to sit at.

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Where to Stay

There are many places to rent beach houses and condos along the island with waterfront views. Check out booking.com to book a fabulous beach rental for your next trip!

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Shop Beach Gear

Shop our favorite beach and road trip gear!

Yeti Hopper 30

Easy to haul to the beach, around the condo, and along road trip.

Nomadix Beach Towel

This beach towel is quick drying and you can use it on road trips or while camping!

Teva Sandal

Dress up or dress down and wear to the beach. Perfect for a beach trip!

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Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do on Dauphin Island

East End Beach Dauphin Beach

We hope you have a great trip full of fun in the sun, beautiful walks, and peaceful sunrises and sunsets.

Dauphin Island is definitely an Alabama treasure you don’t want to miss! We simply cannot wait to go back for another epic Alabama Gulf Coast road trip!

Thanks for reading.

Ashlee & Pablo


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Where are you headed next?

You might also enjoy our other articles about Alabama, Dauphin Island, and the Gulf Coast.

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Dauphin Island, Alabama

Alabama Gulf Coast

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Central Alabama

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