Myrtle Beach vs Gulf Shores: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on February 23, 2023 by Wandering our World

Sometimes all you want to do is get away from the hustle and bustle of life, relax at the beach, and know that good food and fun is just a few steps away. For times like that, it’s hard to beat Myrtle Beach and Gulf Shores.

However these fun beach cities are quite different, and not just because they’re in different states…

For example, South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach is lively and has more going on. The beaches are diverse, there’s more nightlife options and the many activities for kids there make it a family vacation favorite.

In contrast, Alabama’s Gulf Shores feels a little more laid-back. It’s got some great activities, beaches and dining too, but may suit outdoorsy people more thanks to its many hiking trails alongside exciting adventure opportunities like the chance to zipline.

Of course it’s impossible to compare all the differences and similarities between these two destinations in just a couple of sentences.

That’s why below, we look at which has the better beaches, activities, what each offers during the day and night, alongside much more!

By the end, we’re sure you’ll know which destination suits you best.

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Has The Better Beaches?
  2. Which Has The Better Activities?
  3. Which Has The Better Nightlife?
  4. Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
  5. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  6. What About Their History & Background?
  7. The Best Time Of Year To Visit
  8. Which Is The Better Choice?
An infographic pitting Myrtle Beach vs Gulf Shores and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

Which Has The Better Beaches?

You can’t visit coastal towns and not enjoy the beach! And in cities like Myrtle Beach and Gulf Shores, their beaches are the bread-and-butter of their tourist industry. So which town has the better beaches?

Obviously, you’ll make your own conclusion, but based on what we’ve found, Myrtle Beach seems like the better choice simply due to its versatility!

Myrtle Beach has a coastline that’s perfect for families or solo travelers because you control the atmosphere you want. And if you can think of it, the beaches of Myrtle Beach probably have it!

To help you make up your own mind, here’s a run down of what to expect in both destinations when it comes to that all-important coastline.

Sunset on the Beach in Gulf Shores
iStock.com/GJGK Photography

Myrtle Beach: The Beaches

Myrtle Beach has always been known for its gorgeous beaches that stretch across 60 miles! With golden sands, blue, refreshing waters, and plenty of beachside activities, we can certainly see why people would choose to vacay here.

There’s a beach hidden along the golden shores for just about any occasion too. Depending on the type of holiday you’re looking for, Myrtle Beach’s diversity can be a great advantage!

For example, a visit to Myrtle Beach State Park or Garden City Beach will see you mingling with the tourist crowds and taking full advantage of the well-developed and lively beachfront.

These beaches come equipped with piers packed with plenty of fun activities for adults and kids. They’re also well kept and a bustle of activity from watersports to fishing – making them a great all-rounder if you don’t mind the crowds.

But you won’t have to search long if you prefer something quieter.

Myrtle Beach is also home to plenty of smaller beaches, with the North Myrtle stretch being well-known for its picturesque scenery and calmer atmospheres.

These beaches are less likely to draw too much attention, so if you want an escape where you can tan unbothered by busy beach bums, this would be ideal!

We love Myrtle Beach’s diversity, and its seemingly neverending labyrinth of options that’ll keep you exploring until you find the perfect stretch of sandy shore to suit your needs.

Myrtle Beach South Carolina SC Skyline Aerial View.
iStock.com/Kruck20

Gulf Shores: The Beaches

Gulf Shores’ beaches are the pinnacle of relaxation. The soft white sands, crystal clear waters, moderate temperatures, and long, winding coastlines are the perfect way to isolate yourself from all the stressors of the modern world.

If you weren’t clued up, you could easily mistake the beaches of Gulf Shores for a tropical island escape. But luckily for us, you don’t need the stress of passports and visas to soak up the sunlight here.

There’s plenty to see and do around the beaches in Gulf Shores too, so you’ll quickly find a spot you enjoy.

If you’re looking for a lovely beach to spend some quality family time, look no further than Gulf State Park.

Easily accessible, with nature trails leading to and from the beach (if you’re up for the adventure), this beach is a superb all-rounder. Spacious and busy, it’s a great place to kick back and enjoy building a sandcastle, playing with a ball, or simply wading in the shallow waters.

Similarly, for the sportier families who want to get their adrenaline pumping, you won’t go wrong visiting nearby Orange Beach.

You’ll find something to get your blood pumping there, from surfing to jet skiing and everything in between. And when you’ve finally tuckered yourself and the little ones out, you can tuck into a well-earned meal at the local bars and restaurants surrounding this beach.

But, if you’re interested in something quiet, you might find solace on West Beach. It’s less crowded and offers the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a peaceful sunset.

Gulf Shores, Alabama beach on a sunny day in June
iStock.com/Wirestock

Which Has The Better Activities?

There’s nothing better than spending a day exploring a new town and finding all the fun activities tucked throughout its streets.

Luckily Myrtle Beach and Gulf Shores are packed with activities!

With that being the case, the best way to see which one may suit you and your holiday plans is to look at some of the best activities in each. We do that next:

Myrtle Beach: The Activities

Myrtle Beach became an entertainment hub in the early 20th century and has only improved since then.

As the town has grown, so has the opportunity for fun. When the beach becomes tedious (or the rainy weather threatens to wash it away), you can always take comfort in knowing that Myrtle Beach has plenty of other activities for you to partake in.

That includes several amusement parks and arcades! Fun for all ages, we can’t deny the thrill involved with amusement parks. Whether it’s the rush of a rollercoaster or the joy of winning a plush toy at one of the stalls, it doesn’t matter how old you are; you’ll love the fun to be had.

However for those who enjoy quiet and contemplative thought, the beautiful museums of Myrtle Beach will tickle your fancy. They also have museums that suit children with tons of sights, sounds, and textures to amuse the little ones for hours, like WonderWorks.

Myrtle Beach’s most famous evening entertainment is probably its theatre shows! Enjoy the songs of the Carolina Opry, or embrace days gone with the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament.

Or why not shop ’til you drop? Vacations are about some much-needed R & R, and that often includes a healthy amount of retail therapy.

Myrtle Beach has plenty of boutiques, shopping malls, and quirky shops for you to buy until your card maxes out (though we don’t recommend it)

And if you prefer hitting the green to spending it, then Myrtle Beach has a reputation as being the Golf Capital of the World. Need we say more?

The list could go on. But, with so many different and unique entertainment options that’ll keep you busy, its easy to understand why tourists flock to Myrtle Beach. The only downside is you don’t get enough time off to explore them all!

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA city skyline.
iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Gulf Shores: The Activities

We’ve mentioned some of the beach activities in Gulf Shores, but we’ve kept tight-lipped on the other tricks up their sleeve, and honestly, what a wonderland of adventures and entertainment for all ages you’ll get here.

Many of the activities are similar to what’s going on in Myrtle Beach, although in Gulf Shores things tend to be more nature orientated with many hiking trails and even chances to zipline, do parkour courses or high ropes at the adventure parks around town.

Golfing is also possible, and you don’t need to be a pro to enjoy the stress-free environment of a green golf course at Gulf Shores. This town is famous for its courses and there’s plenty of opportunities to either try your hand at 18 holes or simply take a swing at the driving range.

The Gulf State Park isn’t just great for its beaches, it’s also a great spot for hiking and in many ways a shift back in time to when the area was untouched and wild. The nature trails, hikes, and various hidden activities there are a treasure trove, especially for people with an adventurous spirit.

And of course no vacation is complete without breaking your diet at least once, and Gulf Shores is packed full of incredible local restaurants serving a host of cuisines to sate any cravings.

Plus, if you like a view, you can find one along the beachfront and watch as the sun dips below the horizon to add some romance to your evening and end an activity-filled day on a high note.

hiking along coast, feet on ground
iStock.com/Izf

Which Has The Better Nightlife?

If you like some evening fun then you’re in luck. Both Myrtle Beach and Gulf Shores are well-equipped to deal with night owls.

Although in general, Myrtle Beach is the livelier evening destination of the two as it has more options:

Myrtle Beach: The Nightlife

Once again, we applaud the diversity of this town and its ability to adapt to just about anything you could think of.

Their nightlife is no different, and while most places have the standard bars (and you’ll still be able to find them here, trust us.) Myrtle Beach has taken it a few steps further and has everything from theatres and beachfront bars to nightclubs and casino cuises!

You can start your evening out nice and slow, a dinner at one of the many restaurants perhaps? Or a sundowner at a beachfront bar.

Regardless, head to Broadway at the Beach – the many restaurants and late-night bars there are known for their live entertainment! You can easily find a happening spot where live music is being blasted across an open deck or somewhere where laughter draws you in, and a comedian cracks the crowd up from the center stage.

But if you’re looking for something entirely unique, why not jump on board a Casino Cruise and try your luck at the Black Jack tables?

For families with children, don’t worry. You can still enjoy a taste of the nightlife and still have the little ones back in time for bed. Dinner theatres often have early shows, and some of the town’s wonderful museums and aquariums stay open late too!

Multiracial friends having fun dancing together outdoor at beach party - Soft focus on left girl face
iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Gulf Shores: The Nightlife

Gulf Shores offers everything from a sophisticated evening out, dining on some of the finest cuisines and sipping local wines with picturesque views, to rip-roaring wild evenings at local bars, where your terrible attempt at dancing will get lost in the crowd (hopefully…).

Pay a visit to the many bars and restaurants in the area, some of which are famed for their nightly live music events.

One of their most popular spots is known as the Flora-Bama Grill, which hosts live music nightly in a pristine beachfront setting.

The nightclubs are equally as popular and draw the attention of anyone in the mood to dance! Names like the Pink Pony Pub and Live Bait have become synonymous with a good time in Gulf Shores and are definitely worth a visit!

But for quieter, more laidback evenings, you can’t go wrong with a simple dinner at one of the many restaurants in town, most of which are family-friendly!

Unfortunately, unlike Myrtle Beach, the pickings are a bit slimmer in terms of night activities, especially kid-friendly ones, but that doesn’t mean Gulf Shores don’t know how to party!

selection of colorful cocktails
iStock.com/ViewApart

Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?

A constant stress for parents is finding a vacation destination that’s going to keep the kids entertained and happy the entire trip.

Myrtle Beach and Gulf Shores are both stellar choices, but the winner in our eyes for a family vacation will always be Myrtle Beach.

Simply put, Myrtle Beach just has far more to offer to keep your little ones preoccupied while you sit back and relax – as we’ll show you next…

Myrtle Beach: Family Vacation

Myrtle Beach will always have a place in our hearts simply because the town doesn’t adhere to a single set of rules and instead has such a vibrant community and rich and diverse set of activities – especially for kids.

On top of that, the people are friendly and welcoming, and the area is incredibly safe for families with small kids.

Obviously, looking back at what we’ve previously mentioned, everything from the beaches to the nightlife is well-equipped to handle you and your brood of kids!

The range of activities and entertainment options, not to mention the abundance of kid-friendly resorts (far more than Gulf Shores), make it an easy choice for parents who just want to make sure their little angels have the best time possible.

Girls waking on the beach. Footpath on sand dunes and ocean in the background. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA
iStock.com/MargaretW

Gulf Shores: Family Vacation

Gulf Shores, while being an incredible town to visit, doesn’t quite have the versatility of Myrtle Beach, but that certainly doesn’t put them out of the running for a family-friendly vacation.

Their tourism era there is constantly developing, but as it stands the activities and entertainment options in Gulf Shores tends to be better suited to adults or families with older children. In particular it’s a place that will suit outdoorsy and adventurous people.

The town does have some child-friendly activities, but for the most part, you won’t find the abundance that Myrtle Beach has.

Beach bag, beach toys and a little girl on the beach.
iStock.com/teiladay

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Myrtle Beach

Budget: Check out Sheraton Broadway Resort Villas (see photos and rates) for an exceptional value for money option. This affordable resort is surrounded by trees and flowers and includes an outdoor pool with lazy river, an indoor pool, a fitness centre, games room, tennis courts, as well as a seating area with a fireplace to relax in the evening!

Luxury: For a more high-end choice with private beach access, take a look at Marriott Myrtle Beach Resort & Spa (see photos and rates) at Grande Dunes. This resort offers unbeatable facilities like a beachfront outdoor pool, sauna, spa, golf course, tennis court, and even a fitness centre.

Gulf Shores

Budget: Looking for a budget place but still within a couple minutes walking distance of the beach? If so then Comfort Inn & Suites near Gulf State Park will be perfect. It even has a swimming pool! See photos and rates here.

Luxury: For direct beach access, unobstructed sea views, and celebrity treatment, then it’s hard to beat The Lodge at Gulf State Park. This Hilton Hotel is gorgeously done up, has a wonderful pool, and is all-round one of the best places to stay in the region. See photos and rates!

Image of couple drinking cocktails when relaxing on chaise-lounges by swimming pool
iStock.com/DragonImages

What About Their History & Background?

Myrtle Beach: History

The area has a long history of human habitation, with evidence of Native American settlements dating back over 10,000 years before European settlement!

The first European settlement in the area was established by John Withers in the late 17th century. He built a house near the present-day Myrtle Beach State Park and started a farm.

In the following years, other people began to settle here, too. However, the initial settlement population consisted mainly of farmers or fishermen making use of the area’s rich natural resources.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Myrtle Beach became a popular attraction for early tourism. People were attracted to the gorgeous beaches and temperate climate. And obviously, with the arrival of the railroads in the 1900s, people found it a lot easier to get around!

So Myrtle Beach slowly started growing as a town, with hotels and tourist traps springing up, seemingly overnight, to accommodate the rising number of visitors.

The resident population blossomed after World War II thanks to the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, with many stationed soldiers returning to the area to settle down and build their homes.

Today, the town continues to thrive and is a glowing example of progress; from a small settlement to a metropolis booming with hotels, amusement parks, golf courses, and more, we can easily see the appeal!

Myrtle Beach South Carolina SC at Sunrise. Boardwalk in foreground and buildings in background
iStock.com/Kruck20

Gulf Shores: History

Gulf Shores is a coastal town in Alabama with a rich history. While the land remained vastly untouched by humans until the 16th century, it has seen a number of different inhabitants, ranging from Spanish explorers, Native American tribes, and American frontiersman.

The arrival of the first automobile bridge across Mobile Bay in 1927 made it easier for people to travel to the area.

Thus its tourist era began, with plenty of opportunistic settlers taking advantage of the pristine beachfront and surrounding areas to build hotels, shopping malls, and other entertainment venues that made Gulf Shores blossom into a flourishing economy.

Much like Myrtle Bay, Gulf Shores also had a hand to play in World War II, with various training camps established in the areas. Many soldiers there fell in love with the area, returning from their service in the wall to start anew in the picturesque surroundings.

The 60s and 70s only fueled further growth with the development of Highway 59 and the introduction of high-rise condominiums to the area. So not only was Gulf Shores the destination of choice for a beach getaway, but it also offered people the opportunity to live in the lap of luxury. Beachfront real estate? Yes, please!

Today, Gulf Shores is a host of entertainment and resorts for visitors and locals alike. The town is prospering and places heavy importance on keeping its natural environment clean and healthy, so it remains an appealing tourist destination for decades to come.

Gulf Shores, Alabama beaches at Spring Break
iStock.com/George Dodd

The Best Time Of Year To Visit

Myrtle Beach

For those looking for warm weather and a bustling atmosphere, the summer months of June through August are the peak tourist season.

During this time, temperatures average in the high 80s Fahrenheit, and the beaches and attractions are lively with visitors.

The fall months of September through November offer lower rates and fewer crowds. However, the weather remains pleasant, with temperatures so you can still enjoy the beach as well as some of the other outdoor activities on offer!

Gulf Shores

Summer is the peak season in Gulf Shores from June through August. The highest influx of tourists appear over these times, flocking to the coast for the incredible weather.

Unfortunately, this also means the rates of hotels and activities go up!

From September through November, you can still enjoy the temperate climate without the peak-season pricing, which also means there are still quite a few visitors around at the time too.

Aerial view of Gulf Shores and Little Lagoon on the Alabama Gulf Coast
iStock.com/George Dodd

Gulf Shores vs Myrtle Beach: Which Is The Better Choice?

It’s always hard to make these decisions, but if we narrow it down to straight facts, there’s a clear indication as to who the winner in our mind, and that’s Myrtle Beach.

We know we’ve rattled on about just how diverse Myrtle Beach is, but that’s the beauty of it that ultimately made it the winner in our eyes! The town really has it all, from serene and peaceful to bustling beaches, adventure tourism to informative museums, and so much more. The list is never-ending.

It doesn’t matter what your preference is, Myrtle Beach is bound to have an abundance of things to fill your holiday itinerary with!

Author

  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.