Fairhope, Alabama Offers Relaxation and Fun
Deep in the heart of Lower Alabama, among the cypress and palm trees smothered in Spanish moss, sits the slow and sleepy Southern town of Fairhope, Alabama.
Overlooking Mobile Bay, it is accessed through the bay-way bridge adjacent to the causeway, peppered with fishermen and pelicans and protected from the rest of the world by the retired U.S.S. Alabama Battleship.
It has every quality needed in the quest for relaxation – a quaint downtown sector that features family-owned businesses, cute shops, and restaurants to satisfy a Southern gentleman’s appetite.
Though it doesn’t have a beach, the boardwalks adjacent to the bay provide blood-pressure-lowering views and world-class fishing and water sports. Here are some highlights.
The Grand Hotel: Located in Point Clear, Alabama, the Marriott-affiliated hotel/spa/resort has a long-standing reputation of service to guests looking for a luxury stay and as a service to the U.S. military.
During the Civil War, the hotel was converted to a Confederate stronghold and it became a famous hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers after the Union won the famous Battle of Mobile Bay in 1865.
Thereafter, The Grand was converted back to a hotel until 1944 when it was reverted back to military usage. From there on, it was used by the U.S. Navy to train over 5,000 sailors for combat in World War II.
After the war ended in 1945, hotel status was resumed and has not changed since. Aside from its historical significance, nine restaurants, world-class spas and pools, a scenic golf club, and breathtaking gardens populate one of the most popular hotels in the South.
Fairhope’s French Quarter: Centered in the quaint downtown sector of Fairhope is an institution honoring the Gulf Coast’s French heritage – cobble-stone walk ways, elaborate fence designs, and mansard roofs make up the infrastructure of the Fairhope French Quarter.
Panini Pete’s, a local favorite, serves their famous Muffalata Panini and House-Roasted Turkey Panini, a sandwich that Guy Fieri claimed as “the official bird of Flavortown” on his show “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
The Coffee Loft: Another local favorite offers the most laid-back indoor spot in town. Located on historic Section Street, the couches lining the inside and outside seating areas are seasoned by laughs, Jefferson Airplane, typing from busy student laptops, and marinated by the occasional spilled coffee beverage. Their most popular drink, Wet Sand, is a banana coffee drink that is ideal for waking up in sleepy Fairhope.
Restaurants on the causeway: These spots hold a special place in the Gulf Coast dining tradition. Battle-tested through countless hurricanes and tropical storms, the old, creaky wooden structures hold flavors that stand high above the flooded plains of the Mobile causeway.
Felix’s, R&R Seafood, and Bluegill all offer dishes featuring the best seafood in America. Oysters, snapper, crawfish, shrimp, and much more are caught daily and served fried, blackened, sautéed, broiled, and on the half-shell. Above all, this unique type Southern hospitality found only near saltwater makes these dining experiences worthwhile.
Mardi Gras in Fairhope: People from Louisiana will quickly tell you that Mardi Gras was founded in nearby Mobile, and not New Orleans like many assume. While it may not be as world-renown or epic as NOLA, the 251 does Mardi Gras very well.
The Order of the Mystic Magnolias is a famous Krewe founded in Fairhope in the early 1800s. It remains the most popular parade float to this day.
Parades and festivities set the annual lineup for Mardi Gras week, and the local school district is even given time off for celebrations. Just be sure to keep your head on a swivel because the beads will be flying in every direction.
The Lighting of the Trees: Possibly the most celebrated evening in Fairhope on an annual basis, the first Sunday after Thanksgiving marks the lighting of the trees, a town-sanctioned celebration that has elaborate designs lining downtown Fairhope’s trees. They stay lit every night until March of the following year when spring begins to warm up the coast once again.
Anytime you visit Fairhope, locals will tell you the best time to come is during fall and winter when the trees are lit and the cool coastal breeze is combined with feelings of excitement to give you chills every time you see the lights.
Aside from all of these highlights of Fairhope, what makes a place aren’t the landmarks, but the people. Upon moving to Fairhope when I was 16, our family was welcomed with open arms after a difficult move from Memphis, where our family spent the majority of our time living.
From restaurant recommendations, to home visits, to neighbors dropping off delicious Alabama gulf shrimp at our doorstep, Fairhope is a true synonym for Southern hospitality.