Day Tripping - June/July 2018
-story by Lisa Monti, photos courtesy Denise Curtis, Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce unless otherwise attributed
Fairhope, Ala., is as charming and attractive as a small town can be, especially for a place that started out as an economic experiment.
It was established in 1894 by reformers who wanted to test the single-tax principle whereby residents paid tax on land value and nothing else. The colony’s name came from a founder who thought the tax plan had a “fair hope” of succeeding.
The colony idea eventually fizzled and in 1908 the town of Fairhope was officially formed. With its prized location on the sweeping eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Fairhope is now a magnet for visitors, retirees and others who come for the coastal scenery among other natural assets and civic amenities.
Bragging rights include local connections to Jimmy Buffett, Fannie Flagg and Forrest Gump writer Winston Groom. And there’s plenty to connect with. Parks are spread around the city and colorful flowers are bursting out everywhere in large plantings along streets and hanging from light posts. Museums, shops, art celebrations, restaurants and assorted landmarks make for thick guide books and dot filled maps.
The roses were in bloom when we arrived at the Fairhope Pier on the west end of Fairhope Avenue. The first pier was built in 1895 and served as the commercial dock for boats in Mobile Bay. The current pier, wide and concrete sturdy, was reinforced in 2006 after being badly damaged by back to back hurricanes Ivan and then Katrina in 2004 and 2005.
With a steady flow of car and foot traffic, it’s easy to see why the pier is considered the town square. You can fish, cast a net or walk along the long pier, eat at the restaurant, enjoy the rose garden and fountain, stroll along the walking paths while taking in the breezes from the bay.
After enjoying the pier and before shopping downtown, we had lunch at another waterside spot, Sunset Pointe at the Fly Creek Marina. There are loads restaurants in and around Fairhope, so many that there’s a separate walking guide just for the ones downtown.
The chef/owner Pete Blohme, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, also owns the popular Panini Pete’s in town and has appeared in several Food Channel shows.
Besides sunsets, the place is known for seafood.
The menu has an assortment of small plates, or bights, a reference to a curve in the coastline or a shallow bay. The South “Mediterranean” bight was a delicious combination of tuna, cukes, radishes and red onions with fried capers and feta, dressed with lime juice and zest, olive oil and feta. The Grouper Bights, fried chunks of fresh Gulf Grouper with tangy Gulf Coast Remoulade, was a treat.
Staying with the Gulf seafood theme, we also tried the grilled Gulf Snapper Throats in garlic butter, a seasonal specialty that I had to Google before ordering. Different, but very tasty. The Eastern Shore Bouillabaisse with fresh local shellfish and fish, Gulf shrimp, leeks, fennel, red and green tomatoes, fresh herbs with a white wine seafood broth was as delicious as it looked, served with crusty bread topped with pimento cheese.
Downtown is pleasantly walkable and easy to navigate with a concentration of amazing shops, assorted great restaurants, galleries and museums. About a dozen stores specialize in antiques and specialty shops stock merchandise from handbags and children’s items to cigars, chocolate and olive oils.
The Eastern Shore Art Center, which has a gallery with rotating exhibits, offers classes and presents the monthly First Friday Art Walk.The center is just completing a major renovation.
Book lovers can’t miss the well known Page & Palette, a 50-year-old family-owned landmark that’s a combination book store/Latte Da Coffee Shop/Book Cellar bar. The book store has a wonderful assortment of new and old books, including many relating to the Gulf region, interesting gifts and a wall of greeting cards. Book signings and other events are frequent so check the website before you go. There was a signing the day we visited.
As you walk around downtown, you may notice the sign on a wall that says, “Life is good in Fairhope.” That’s more than a fair assessment.
Fairhope Municipal Pier & Parks
1 Beach Dr.
Fairhope Welcome Center
20 North Section St.
Eastern Shore Art Center
401 Oak St.
831 N. Section St.
Page & Palette
32 South Section St.