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Beach Vacation at Dauphin Island Alabama: A Brief History, Things to do, and Places to See

Updated on September 27, 2015
Dauphin Island Beach
Dauphin Island Beach

Discovery and Naming of Dauphin Island

Even though Dauphin Island is small, it has a rich history. Dauphin Island may have been discovered as early as 1170 by Prince Madoc of Wales. In 1519, Spanish explorer Alonzo Pineda mapped the island, and in 1699, a French explorer named Pierre Le Moyne de'Iberville named the island "Massacre" after finding human skeletons there. In the 1700's Dauphin Island was the capital of the French Louisiana Territory. In 1707, the island was renamed Dauphin (or Dauphine) to honor the heir of the French throne. When translated, the French word "Dauphin" means "dolphin" in English. Interesting history, considering that dolphins inhabit the waters around Dauphin Island.


Dauphin Island is approximately 14 miles long, mostly undeveloped, and serves as a bird sanctuary. The island is located in the Gulf of Mexico, about three miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay and about 30 miles south of the city of Mobile, Alabama. A three mile long bridge provides access to the island. The ferry, which has a route from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan provides another access point. Fort Morgan is located to the east of Dauphin Island and just west of Gulf Shores.

Dauphin Island on a cloudy day
Dauphin Island on a cloudy day

Things to do on Dauphin Island


Kayak rentals are located at the Dauphin Island Marina. There are many smaller islands around Dauphin Island to explore. On the east side of the island lies Cedar Island, Little Dauphin Island, and Pelican Island. For more adventurous kayakers, Petit Bois Island and Horn Island lie to the west of Dauphin Island. For those who would rather stay closer to shore, kayak in the gulf or bay and enjoy the many sandbars along the way.

Bird Watching, Camping

Dauphin Island is one of the top four locations in North America for viewing spring bird migrations. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary and Dauphin Island Campground are located at 109 Bienville Blvd. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary has been recognized as "Globally Important" for bird migrations and contains 137 acres of dunes, maritime forest, and marshes, and includes a lake, a beach, and a swamp. The 3 mile trail system within the Sanctuary is a National Recreational Trail.

Pelican Nest RV Resort and Campground is another campground on the island and is located at 1510 Bienville Blvd.


There are many fishing locations around the island. There is a parking area near Fort Gaines that offers gulf and bay fishing along the barrier rocks. Several boat launches are on the island, deep sea and bay fishing charters are available at the Dauphin Island Marina, or you can just fish from the beach. Fishing piers provide access to the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Sound for shallow water fishing. Dolphin and leisure excursions are also available at the Marina for those that just want to enjoy the ride.

Beach Combing

Shells, sand dollars, and ghost crabs can be found along the island's beautiful white sand shores.

Shells found on Dauphin Island
Shells found on Dauphin Island

Fort Gaines

Located on the far east end of the island, Fort Gaines is one of America's 11 most endangered historic places.

Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island
Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island


The Estuarium is centered around the many species native to the Dauphin Island area. Some of its exhibits include sharksuckers, drum, redfish, snakes, turtles, starfish, and seahorses, as well as a touch tank for curious fingers. A boardwalk overlooks the barrier rocks near the entrance to the Estuarium.


Cadillac Square Park serves as a good central location for an island long bike path.

Quarles Skate Park

Small park for skateboarders.


A public golf course is located on Dauphin Island.

Parks & Other Recreation

Salt Creek Park, Cadillac Square Park, Goat Trees, and The Dauphin Island Shell Mounds are other island attractions. The Dauphin Island Shell Mounds date from AD 1100 to 1550. It was a site used by Indians who fished and roasted oysters in Little Dauphin Island Bay. The Goat Trees are ancient old live oak trees which are thought to have been a refuge for goats trying to escape being eaten by alligators.

Things to do Near Dauphin Island

• Fort Morgan: The ferry from Dauphin Island will take you almost directly to star shaped Fort Morgan. Near the Fort is a fishing pier and the Stable Area hiking trail, which is about 3/4 mile long and provides views of the water.

• Gulf Shores: If you take the ferry over to Fort Morgan, a 20-30 mile car ride will get you to Gulf Shores where there are restaurants, golfing, and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo off of Gulf Shores Parkway.

• Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center: Permanent exhibits include My Body Works, Hands On, Bio Lab, Explore Tec, Wharf of Wonders (ages 0-5), and IMAX. Some of the features of the Exploreum include the heath gallery which contains a 12 foot tall heart, a chance to be a "surgeon", hands on experiments, demonstrations, and over 50 interactive exhibits. Additionally, there are a variety of special events and programs, including science camps and classes. The Exploreum is located at 65 Government St., Mobile, AL 36604.

• Bellingrath Gardens & Home: Enjoy year round blooms and tours of this 65 acre garden estate. The home still has its original furnishings and Mrs. Bellingrath’s collection of decorative arts. The 10,500 square foot English Renaissance style home was built in 1935. Bayou Boardwalk, Mirror Lake, the Asian-American Garden, and the Butterfly Garden are a few of the other features of Bellingrath Gardens. The garden estate is located at 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore, AL 36582.

• Mobile Carnival Museum: The history and beauty of carnival are on display, including crowns, scepters, robes, costumes, floats, and a pictorial gallery dating back to 1886. The museum also offers a theater, social gathering area, 14 gallery rooms, a pictorial hallway, and gift shop. The Mobile Carnival Museum is located at 355 Government Street in Mobile, Alabama.

Dauphin Island, Alabama:
Dauphin Island, AL, USA

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