Fairhope, Alabama (population 17,000), may not be very big, but it boasts a long list of ways to unwind. Enjoy a leisurely weekend of shopping and gallery hopping, exploring its natural beauty, and eating your fill of coastal cuisine, all with a soft bay breeze ruffling your hair a bit.
SO MUCH TO SEE AND DO
The city’s founders settled in Fairhope in 1908. They felt it was a place that held a “fair hope of success” for their progressive idea of a single-tax colony. Learn more about the city’s multi-faceted past at the Museum of History, housed in the city’s first municipal building. Exhibits and photos show its original residents’ utopian dreams based on the philosophy of “collective individualism.”
At the Eastern Shore Art Center, find classes, workshops, and a gallery that shows off the talents of the many artists who call the area home. Browse the rotating exhibits to find watercolors, funky pottery, brilliantly bright folk art, and graceful sculptures.
Strolling downtown Fairhope takes you through one of Alabama’s prettiest small-town city centers where you’ll find myriad shopping options. The Cat’s Meow has the latest styles for ladies. Aubergine is packed with cool vintage cooking implements and antique china, tables, and chairs, while Page & Palette, an independent book store/art supply shop frequently hosts readings and book signings with both bay area and other Alabama authors.
On the edge of downtown, Pier Park is a lovely spot to sit for a spell. Find a perch on the grassy bluff overlooking the bay or make your way onto the pier stretching over the water.
Away from downtown, Weeks Bay Plantation is an “entertainment farm” featuring an amphitheater with frequent concerts and an organic “U-pick” blueberry patch. Nearby, The Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 6,525 acres of land and water representing a unique ecosystem. Follow shaded boardwalks through forest and marshland to arrive at a picture-perfect view of Weeks Bay, part of the Mobile-Tenasaw Delta, the second largest river basin in the country.
If you want a more up-close-and-personal view of the waterways in the Delta – and the wildlife that they hold – hitch a ride on one of Delta Airboat Express’s fast-flying crafts for an eco-tour.
GOTTA EAT TOO
Sitting unassumingly down the street from the public library downtown, Julwin’s, opened in 1945, is Baldwin County’s oldest restaurant, and is, by itself, reason enough to travel to this tiny town, especially if you agree with the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After a plate of bigger-than-your-face pancakes or an omelet large enough to feed a small army, you may not even need another meal.
But if you do, stop in at Panini Pete’s for lunch. Tucked in downtown’s tiny French Quarter area, it’s a local favorite that’s garnered national attention with its selection of pressed sandwiches featuring the finest veggies, meats, and cheeses melted together. Take your food outside to the courtyard and snag a seat by the bubbling fountain.
The Gumbo Shack isn’t much to look at, outside or in. But folks don’t flock here for the decor. They come for the rich, slightly spicy gumbo: Creole-style broth, thickened with a tomato-based roux and packed with chicken and Andouille sausage that you can embellish with your choice of shrimp, crab, crawfish, or oysters (or all four).
Dragonfly Foodbar offers a diverse selection of dishes including gourmet tacos and noodle bowls as well as craft cocktails like the Damsel Fly, a refreshing blend of watermelon-lime purée and rum.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to Punta Clara Candy Kitchen (in Point Clear, just a few miles from Fairhope) to take a taste of the heavenly homemade divinity that more than lives up to the confection’s name.
HAVE A GREAT STAY
The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort Golf Club & Spa, also in Point Clear, is a historic waterfront property with all the modern amenities. It’s already garnered plenty of praise and repeat visitors, but it’s also currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation, so it will soon be even better.
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