Alabama's Seaside Paradise
Why you’ll want to spend more than just one day in the charming town of Fairhope.
Last April, I took off on a road trip with my girlfriend and two other graduate students for a literary conference in Fairhope, Alabama. While cutting north through the Florida pine, one of them asked me to describe Fairhope. Having visited there the previous year, I pondered to describe the Gulf town. Was it just a small town? A vibrant Southern city?
In fact, it’s a combination of the two, which makes Fairhope a place that will not satisfy with a mere description. You have to see it for yourself.
Situated on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Fairhope mingles the coziness and convenience of a community with the attractions and high-class shopping and dining of one much larger. Not to mention its placement right on the water, offering an amazing view of the bay and a pleasant coastal breeze throughout the day.
But Fairhope is more than just a beautiful view. Hidden in this small coastal town is a treasure trove of activity. From art galleries to antiques, restaurants and recreation, Fairhope manages to possess something for anyone’s tastes, while still retaining a quiet, laid back feel.
Only a few hours from New Orleans, if you’re in Fairhope, you don’t need to cross the bay. This small Alabama town offers its very own French Quarter, filled with an array of dining options in an outdoor courtyard. I’d recommend Panini Pete’s Cafe & Bakeshoppe for a delicious and fairly-priced lunch. From the aptly named French Quarter Burger to their seemingly endless variety of paninis (their muffalleta was included in Alabama’s list of “100 Things To Eat Before You Die”), Panini Pete’s is a can’t miss spot for lunch. Or stop by for hot beignets in the morning for breakfast.
Be sure to also check out open-air Windmill Market, packed with fresh produce, local crafts, art and antiques. Add in the three surrounding restaurants, and one could easily spend most of their day browsing and shopping at the market.
Accessibility is the key to Fairhope’s charm. From our cluster of cottages, we could easily walk to campus and downtown. We were also just a short trot from the coast itself and the breathtaking view of Mobile Bay. Near the municipal pier, where local fishermen cast out each morning, is a small beach area to watch the fishing boats out on the water or watch the cast of Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets dance up and down the shoreline.
But we weren’t only visiting Fairhope for its natural beauty and attractions. We had originally made the trip for the annual Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers conference, hosted at the University of South Alabama’s Fairhope campus. This conference features a range of writers and teachers from the Gulf states, speaking on panels and sharing their creative work. The conference also features a book fair with work from local and visiting writers.
Fairhope truly is an ideal destination for writers, not only for its inspirational and diverse scenery, but also its hometown independent bookstore Page & Palette, which features the work of local writers. The coffee shop and deli just next door to the store doesn’t hurt for a working writer either.
Sadly, we had to leave before fully satiating our appetite for this charming Gulf town. On our long trek back down I-10, all I could think about was what we hadn’t done. So my one word of advice for travelers heading to the Gulf shores: think about setting aside more than just a day or two in Fairhope. You’ll be glad you did.
Top two photos by Zachary Lundgren.