On the Alabama Gulf Coast, along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, there is a town that drips with Southern hospitality. A town that is both quaint and contemporary at the same time but has never lost its charm. I’m speaking of the town of Fairhope.
What attracts people to Fairhope are its simple pleasures -- arts, recreation, entertainment, dining -- and the people who live here, never being pretentious, always warm and inviting, welcoming visitors to town as if they were family. After spending a weekend in Fairhope, you will find yourself coming back time and time again.
Things To Do In Fairhope
Fairhope Is A Walking Town
Fairhope residents love to walk, and for good reason -- some amazing walking paths and scenery can be found here. Start downtown on the campus of Coastal Community College on Fairhope Avenue and stroll along the tree-lined path of the Marietta Johnson Botanical Garden and Tree Trail. The path meanders through rows of fiery red and brilliant white azaleas, flowering camellia and hydrangea, and a variety of tree species including the rare dawn redwood.
The most popular path in town is found at Fairhope’s Town Square, the Fairhope Municipal Pier and Park on North Beach Road. Here, you can stroll down the beaches of Mobile Bay’s eastern shore along shady lanes to visit the duck pond, tree trail, the park’s centerpiece -- the gorgeous rose garden and fountain -- and a walk far out into the bay on the fishing pier to catch a spectacular sunset.
Fairhope is dotted with art galleries that feature the works of incredible local artists and national artists.
Begin with a visit to the Eastern Shore Arts Center (ESAC) on Oak Avenue. The center features rotating exhibits of inspired works by renowned painters and sculptors and offers workshops for aspiring artists. A highlight each year is ESAC’s Art Walk that is held the first weekend of March to the last weekend in April with their big outdoor art show.
On the musical side, the renowned Baldwin Pops hosts events throughout the year where they play an eclectic array of music from big band to jazz to the classics. Their most popular performances are their annual Christmas show and their show on the bluff overlooking Mobile Bay prior to the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display.
There is never an admission fee to attend a Baldwin Pops concert, but seating is first-come, first-served so get there early.
Festivals, Celebrations, And Holidays
Another thing Fairhope is known for is its annual celebrations and festivals. Things kick off every spring with Mardi Gras. That makes sense since the celebration was born right across the bay from the city in Mobile. The exact date of Mardi Gras is variable since it begins two weeks before Lent. Fairhope has its own incredible parades put on by mystic societies like the Knights of Ecor Rouge, the Maids of Jubilee, and the Mystic Mutts of Revelry, which is a special parade just for pets that helps raise money for Fairhope’s no-kill animal shelter, the Haven.
No matter what parade you come to see, find the parade schedule and route online, arrive really early -- at least two hours to get a good spot -- then let the good times roll, catching Moon Pies and colorful beads from the amazing ornate floats.
Spring really kicks into gear with the annual Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival. Held the last weekend of April, the fest brings in hundreds of artisans from around the country who line the downtown streets.
The Fourth of July is spectacular as the Baldwin Pops plays selections of movie scores and John Phillips Sousa marches from high atop the bluff that overlooks Mobile Bay. Spectators spread out their picnic blankets and deck them out with everything from simple picnic dinners with lemonade and ice pops to elaborate displays with candelabras and buckets of chilled wine. Admission is free.
And then there is Christmas. Just like all cities, Fairhope has an annual tree lighting, but not just one -- all the trees that line main street and the side streets of town are adorned with over one million lights. It’s a magical event with snow pumped in, hot chocolate and candy canes, choirs and bands, and a parade.
When walking the streets of Fairhope, you will quickly discover that the city has an eclectic array of shops and something for every taste.
One of the most popular shops is Page and Palette on South Section Street, a good old cozy book store with plenty of amenities for everyone, even if you’re not shopping for a good read to cozy up with. Inside you’ll find the Latte Da Coffee Shop where you can sip on a double shot, extra foam latte while thumbing through a magazine. There are regular appearances and presentations by authors and local bands as well.
Speaking of eclectic, a visit to Fairhope would not be complete without a visit to the Ole Bay Mercantile on Fairhope Avenue where you can find an amazing mix of home decor, gifts, and jewelry. 4 Bags Boutique on South Section Street features one-of-a-kind handbags, jewelry, and clothing. Shop for your favorite cigar at Baldwin County’s largest walk-in humidor at Bouch’s Premium Cigars on South Section Street. And that’s only the beginning.
Besides walking, you can swim on the beaches of Mobile Bay at the Fairhope Municipal Park or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard from Eastern Shore Watersports and take to the waves of the bay. Take to the links for a round of golf at the city’s 18-hole championship golf course, Quail Creek, or maybe a round of disc golf at the Fairways of Fairhope.
Best Restaurants In Fairhope
From quirky sidewalk cafes to cozy little bistros, dining in Fairhope is as much fun as visiting the sights and shops.
For lunch, you should try Sandra’s Place. There’s nothing fancy about it -- just order from their menu that features an arm’s length of sandwiches including the local favorite chicken salad sandwich, the messy and tangy Reuben, and a true Southern comfort food: pimento cheese, plus a variety of salads and the “Not-Quite-Lunch” menu with several different breakfast sandwiches. And you can’t leave without trying Sandra’s Coconut Cake, which Southern Living magazine raved about. But remember, they are only open for lunch, so jump in line, grab your meal, and take a seat in the outdoor dining area.
It doesn’t have to be St. Patrick’s Day to experience a wee bit of Ireland in Fairhope. Just visit McSharry’s Irish Pub on North Bancroft. Traditional Irish beer-battered Fish and Chips, hearty Shepherd’s Pie, and Celtic Fried Chicken Wraps tossed in their own spicy sauce top the list of local favorites, but that’s only a small sampling of the menu. Top it off with a pint of Guinness Draught or Fairhope’s own Fairhope Amber, add in a good dose of traditional Irish music every Sunday evening, and you’ll be whisked away to the Emerald Isle. There is indoor dining and seats outside on their “Paddy-O.”
For something completely different, take your tastebuds to R Bistro and Pantry on Fairhope Avenue. The bistro takes Southern comfort food to a new level with delectable Crawfish Beignets served with roasted corn tartar sauce, warming Crawfish Mac and Cheese, or mouthwatering Soft-Shell Crabs served up with a nutty hazelnut brown butter. And that’s only starters.
For casual fine dining, I would recommend Tamara’s Downtown. The menu runs the gambit from incredible succulent Rack of Lamb to mouthwatering, juicy, cooked-to-perfection steaks and seared sea scallops. Better yet, since we are on the Gulf Coast -- one of the few places on Earth where Jubilees occur -- try the Jubilee Pasta. Made with either penne or linguini, the dish is loaded with the freshest Gulf shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, and crawfish served with the sauce of your choice. Enjoy your meal in either the grand dining room or New Orleans-style courtyard.
Best Hotels In Fairhope
After a busy day exploring Fairhope, it’s time to call it a day. You have plenty of options for where to lay your weary head.
Described as “not just another B and B,” Emma’s by the Bay on South Mobile Street is an upscale bed and breakfast with single and double queen suites as well as deluxe suites with spectacular views of Mobile Bay, spa treatments, and in-room massages. Emma’s is centrally located and only a short walk from shopping, the pier, and parks.
Point Clear Cottages offers two options -- the Bayshore Cottage and Pelican’s Rest Apartment. Both have gorgeous views of the bay with private bayside piers and hot tubs.
If you are planning an extended stay in Fairhope, then Jubilee Suites might be for you. Jubilee offers seven luxurious suites each with kitchen, dining, and living room and bay view porches or balconies.
As you see, there isn’t any one best time to visit Fairhope. The city has so much to do and see any time of year that you would be hard-pressed to find a bad time to visit. Having said that, the city gets very crowded during its many festivals and celebrations. If you are visiting downtown, it’s best to park on one of the side streets off the main road, Fairhope Avenue. That way, it will be easier for when it’s time to leave.
The beach at the pier is open year-round and is free most of the time, but from Memorial Day to Labor Day, there is an entrance fee per car.