ABOVE PHOTO: Alabama Delta
By Renée S. Gordon
Mobilians are not inclined to confine their good times to the Mobile city limits or to Mardi Gras season. Their “joie de vive” extends to dining, entertainment and activities and encompasses cities and towns throughout the state and from the Mobile River to the Gulf Coast.
The five Rivers Delta Resource Center, situated where the Apalachee, Blakeley, Mobile, Spanish and Tensaw rivers enter Mobile Bay, provides a comprehensive overview and orientation to the 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. The center consists of six designated educational areas plus Delta Safaris, walking trails, picnic areas and guided tours. Inside the Apalachee Exhibit Hall visitors can examine living specimens, dioramas and exhibits. It is worth the time to explore the area because of its raw beauty and the fact that it is home to numerous species that exist nowhere else on the planet. Admission is free. Canoe and kayak rentals require a nominal fee. www.alabama5rivers.com
Magnolia Springs is a tiny gem tucked away in southwestern Alabama accessed via a canopy of oak trees. Originally a portion of an early Spanish land grant, largely unsettled until after the Civil War, called Magnolia Plantation. Eventually it came to be known as Magnolia Springs in deference to its numerous natural springs and magnolia trees. The town post office opened in 1885 and 121-years later it was incorporated. The 2.75-mile Magnolia River meanders through the town and it is the last community in the country with year round mail service by boat. www.townofmagnoliasprings.org
Magnolia Springs Bed & Breakfast, once the Sunnyside Hotel, is a designated site on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. The earliest documentation lists the property in 1897 with the house being constructed in 1898. The raised Gulf Coast Cottage functioned as both a hotel and site for community events. The building has been featured in Southern Living and on “Bob Vila’s Restore America.” Of particular architectural note are the beaded pine ceilings, floors of heart pine, original newel posts and balusters and rare curly pine woodwork.
Magnolia Springs Bed & Breakfast offers guests a remarkable experience featuring southern hospitality at its best. Each room is individually decorated with antiques and private bath. A three course gourmet breakfast is prepared each morning and appetizing items are available throughout the day. It is ideally situated to serve as a hub for visits to Mobile and the Gulf. www.magnoliasprings.com
Fairhope, a truly unique city, was established as a single-tax colony in 1894. The early settlers founded the city based on the theories political economist Henry George proposed in his 1879 work, Progress and Poverty, in which he advocated a single tax. He promoted one tax, on land only, to the exclusion of other taxes. After searching for the perfect location they decided their community had a fair hope of success in an area 17 miles from Mobile. The site was formerly Alabama City, a vacation area for city dwellers from the surrounding region. Initially, 28 adherents of George’s philosophy incorporated as the Fairhope Industrial Association to establish the utopian colony on the coast. www.cofairhope.com
Fairhope quickly became an ideal location for creative individuals and Sherwood Anderson, Wharton Esherick, and Upton Sinclair are known to have visited. Modern Fairhope continues the tradition with a charming main street filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques and artists’ studios. The Fairhope Museum of History and the Welcome Center are located at the heart of the downtown area and walking tours are offered seasonally at the Welcome Center. A complete list of Fairhope’s events and activities is available online.
Windmill Market is a great place to get a quick taste of the best arts, crafts, entertainment and food the Gulf Coast has to offer beneath one roof. It began operation as a three-day a week farmer’s market and has grown from there. Visitors can tour the premises and learn about the extensive green efforts, solar panels, waterless urinals, rainwater cisterns, etc., that are taking place. www.windmmillmarket.org
Sweet Olive Bakery and Juice Bar features European-style baked goods, deli foods and locally roasted coffee. Everything is made on-site daily, from scratch, with the exception of the mayonnaise. www.sweetolive.com
Mr. John’s BBQ is nestled in the corner and the heart of Windmill Market. Mr. John learned how to butcher and smoke meat from his father as a child. He and his dad butchered and sold meat to local residents of Magnolia Springs until Mr. John went on to become a butcher in his own right. After retiring as a master butcher he was enticed to open a restaurant in Fairhope to share both his philosophy and his food with a larger audience. He is always busy but always makes time to personally extend his hospitality.
Fairhope’s Market by the Bay is a casual dining spot that offers mouthwatering seafood options. They are most famous for their Shrimp PoBoy, listed on the “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die.” Market by the Bay opened as a seafood market in 2004, began serving take-out in 2006 and the family owned restaurant opened a year later. www.marketbythebay.com
Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope is notable for both its cuisine and for its breathtaking sunset views. All the ingredients used in the restaurant are locally grown and the tables are repurposed from a 100-year old barn. The focus here is on fresh seafood and every item on the menu is a winner from shrimp to snapper but my personal nod goes to the crab-meat-balls. This is a very affordable gourmet experience and one of the most compelling reasons to dine there is the chef, Nick Dimario, who hails from Philadelphia.
In the early 19th-century wealthy southerners summered in Point Clear to escape noxious diseases and stifling heat. They may also have been drawn by the lure of a possible “Jubilee.” Point Clear is the “Jubilee Center of the World” under such special conditions that it is impossible to predict when it will occur other than the fact that they take place between midnight and dawn. During the phenomenon crabs, fish and shrimp jump out of the water and onto the shore. Cries of “Jubilee” ring out and people come and scoop them up. There are theories as to why this occurs but nothing definitive and the first photographs only appeared in 1952.
The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort & Spa at Point Clear is located on Mobile Bay on 550-acres and features world-class amenities and services. The hotel is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and boasts a 20,000-sq. ft. European spa with a complete menu of services. Dining at The Grand is an extraordinary experience, not only because of the outstanding cuisine, but also because of the stunning views. A schedule of activities is available to guests daily.
The Grand is a Historic Hotel of America and was originally constructed in 1847 with 40 rooms. Currently there are 405 guestrooms all with a view of either lush gardens or the bay. The hotel has received numerous awards and accolades including one of the “Top 500 Hotels in the World” by Travel & Leisure. www.marriott.com/Point-Clear
Alabama’s coastal communities began largely as small fishing villages and places for vacation. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are two of the most popular travel destinations because of their ideal surf conditions and the sheer beauty of the white sand beaches. Alabama’s Gulf sand was swept out of the Appalachians thousands of years ago and are almost 100 percent quartz. The nearly, perfectly, circular grains have been shaped by the grinding of the waves creating the fine sand we see today. www.gulfshores.com
Orange Beach was settled at the end of the Civil War with turpentine as its major industry. By the turn of the 20th-century the land was deforested and in 1901 orange groves were planted. Twenty years later the tourist industry was born with its mainstay being one-day fishing boat rentals.
Gulf Shores was not easily accessible until the early 20th-century and in the 1940s the first beach hotel was constructed. In 1939 Gulf State Park, Alabama’s southernmost park, was dedicated. It preserves 6,150-acres including two-miles of beach and a 20-ft. wide fishing pier that extends 1,512-ft. into the Gulf of Mexico. The park attracts nature lovers from May to October when the endangered loggerhead sea turtles leave the water to nest on the shore. The park is on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail and birdwatchers gather in October for the John L. Borom Alabama Coastal BirdFest. www.alapark.com/gulf-state-park
For a good time go to Lulu’s located under the bridge in Gulf Shores. The restaurant offers absolutely everything possible to turn a meal into an experience. The regular menu is extensive as is the special allergy menu with foods on the allergy menu prepared in a separate area. The complex includes waterfront dining, live entertainment, boat dockage, shopping arcade, play area and a ropes course. Is it any wonder the restaurant serves up to 4,000 people daily and a two-hour wait is normal. You have not been to the Gulf if you have not been to Lulu’s! www.lulubuffett.com
Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar, the last American roadhouse, is a Gulf institution with international fame. It opened in 1964 as a package store on the Florida/Alabama state line to take advantage of the fact that Florida was “wet” and Alabama was “dry.” You could purchase liquor in Florida and drink it in Alabama without leaving the roadhouse. In 1968, the first regular act opened and the rest is history.
There are three bars in the winter, each with entertainment, and 12-15 in the summer. On Sundays “Worship on the Water” is held in the Flora-Bama Tent, followed by brunch, with an average attendance of 700 and baptisms in the Gulf. In August, Kenny Chesney filmed his latest video at the Flora-Bama and performed a concert. Forty thousand people showed up. www.florabama.com
Make plans to visit Alabama. I promise it will exceed your expectations. www.alabama.travel
I wish you smooth travels!
Egyptomania!, a one-day celebration of all things Egyptian will take place at the Penn Museum on March 21, 11:00 am to 4 pm. Activities will include Mummy Makers workshops, hieroglyphic classes, gallery tours and performances. This is as close to Egypt as you can get without being there. The full schedule and fees can be found online. www.pennmuseum
The new ultra-thin RazorMax is one of the latest must-have devices designed to use technology to make your life easier. The RazorMax is capable of charging your smartphone and tablet simultaneously and providing an additional 27-hours of talk time. This battery bank is crafted of anondized aluminum and has four lights that indicate battery level. Never be caught powerless again. www.shop.mycharge.com/products/razormax
EyePockit is an amazing new product created to allow a woman to carry and keep all those small items she deems important close at hand. This compact clutch includes a hard case for eyeglasses, and places for your keys and coins. What makes the EyePockit exceptional is that it contains identity guard with protection against RFID (Radio-frequency identification) readers. You need never fear the wireless transfer of your information while your cards are inside the case. www.justsolutionsproducts.com/product/eyepockit
Now is the time to begin planning your spring and summer activities in earnest and one of your most important travel tools, if you are going to any of the country’s 12 most visited cities, is CityPASS. Passes not only offer great value, up to 50 percent off admission to the most visited sites, but also provides Express Service, allowing holders to skip most lines. CityPASS may be purchased online or at participating venues. Prices vary depending upon the destination and included attractions. This is an easy way to make your vacation more affordable and hassle-free. www.CityPASS.com
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