Southern Alabama trip report

Old Mar 25th, 2015, 06:26 AM
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Southern Alabama trip report

We rented a house in the Bear Point section of Orange Beach, Alabama, for a week earlier this month. The surrounding neighborhood was a mix of modest houses (all built on stilts) that had a definite Key West or bayou feel to them and some trailers with attached screen porches, etc. There was definitely a “blue collar” feel to the neighborhood and we loved that it was not filled with McMansions. It was so quiet all we could hear were the birds from early in the morning til late at night. There were definitely people around, and cars at the residences, but no one was playing loud music, running landscaping equipment, or gunning the engine of a racecar. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing. The major roads all had wide sidewalks where you can walk, ride a bike, push a baby carriage, free from traffic, and the side streets of the neighborhood were so untrafficked that we took walks every day right down the middle of each street, only having to move to the side occasionally for a passing vehicle.
It was rainy one of the first days we were there, so we decided to drive up to Fairhope which is supposed to be artsy and filled with interesting shops and galleries. On the way there, we noticed many billboards advertising Lambert’s Café and finally a building beside the road with a huge sign for Lambert's Cafe, Home of Throwed Rolls, with an extended painted mural covering the side of the building. We pulled off the road and parked, and walked over to the crowd of people milling around the front of what turned out to be a restaurant. I questioned one of the waiting patrons and she told me it’s a very well known and popular place to eat. They're apparently famous for having an employee actually throw dinner rolls to the diners. (I googled this later and, between the aerial bombardment of fist-size rolls and a menu that looked like a heart attack waiting to happen, I can't imagine why people were waiting in line to get in there. I guess this falls under “Different Strokes...”).
Continuing on toward Fairhope, we drove through Foley and our interest was piqued by the concentration of antiques consignment shops and the funky look of the town, so we pulled over and parked and spent a couple of hours walking around through the antique shops. Hungry, we walked a few blocks in the other direction and found the Foley Coffee Shop, also known as Sandra's coffee shop, with a painted mural of the town on the side wall. We enjoyed our light lunch of sandwiches amidst what appeared to be all local folk, taking a lunch break from work. Good service, good food, not expensive, and lots of “local color.” Very enjoyable.

We decided to save the trip to Fairhope for another day when we had more time. The drive to Fairhope was through some of the flattest and greenest landscape we'd ever seen, beautiful countryside. We also drove by pecan orchards which hadn't leafed out yet but were nevertheless quite striking. Point Clear is on the way into Fairhope and we stopped for directions on how to access the Point Clear Promenade which is an old paved “sidewalk” that runs right in front a meandering row of 28 historic homes, between Mobile Bay and sand dunes and the homes. It was a delightful walk, very picturesque homes, fronted by Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss, some small wooden patios under trees in front of some of the homes, porch swings, most of the houses had a pier in varying degrees of decrepitude, and very evocative Southern atmosphere. We loved the architecture and, again, no McMansions. In order to get onto the promenade, we were told by the person who kindly gave us directions, to go to the Marriott resort and tell them you're just going in for a drink or lunch. We didn't realize this is a very exclusive, gated resort but the gentleman who let us in just smiled and gave us a pass to put in the windshield so we could park. We had to zigzag through the resort to get onto the promenade. I think there's a more public starting point shortly before we entered but this worked fine for us. There were benches and swings along the way where you can sit and look at the view. When we left, we drove into Fairhope which was rather disappointing. The “French Quarter” was just a short, albeit picturesque, alley behind a couple of shops and an Italian restaurant. We walked a few blocks in all directions but it just seemed to us like a typical tourist town and not of much interest so we headed home for the day.

We went to the Coastal Arts Center Festival of Art on Saturday. It's apparently very well known and they are very organized; visitors are told to park at the Wharf and grab a shuttle to the Art Center grounds. We knew it would be very crowded so we left for the festival an hour before it was to start. We had scoped out parking possibilities the night before, and were approaching from our rental in the opposite direction from the shuttle, so we stopped at the Presbyterian Church and asked if we could park in their lot. Two ladies in the office said “sure” despite the sign in their driveway that said “local parking only”. The crafts at the festival were very high quality, and very reasonably priced. The craftspeople are all juried and there was a lot of variety. We found some handblown glass tumblers that were beautiful and priced about a fourth of what we would have to pay here in New England at a craft show. I mentioned that to the woman wrapping our glasses and she told us the glassblower (along with a potter and the woman herself) are employees of the City of Orange Beach and have full benefits, including excellent health insurance. Quite a change from New Hampshire. There was a very interesting ceramic sculptor and we bought a piece of his work, also. Many of the different craftspeople were selling beach/ocean/fish themed work. The grounds of the Coastal Art Center are lovely, and extend right to the edge of the water (bay?), had a porch swing where you could sit and admire the view, and lots of flowers just starting to bloom.

Another day, we rented bikes at Infinity Bikes in Orange Beach and rode a few hundred yards to reach the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. That was a 10! A lovely paved trail that meanders through scrub and trees, has a pavilion that is screened and contains picnic tables part way down the trail, with two porch swings out front and restrooms across the path. We followed that path to the far end in Gulf Shores about a 14 mile round trip, and made a loop back along another trail (past a “Do Not Aggravate the Alligators” sign which we just had to snap a photo of).
On our last day, we drove up and around Mobile Bay to Theodore Alabama to Bellingrath Gardens. We were hoping to catch the fabulous azalea display but the cold weather had delayed most of the blooms. It was still a very beautiful walk around the grounds. We toured the oriental garden, walked the boardwalk through the bayou; the different terraces, numerous fountains, and waterside pavilion with views of the river were lovely. We ate lunch in the Magnolia Cafe there; it was excellent, and we were each given a slice of banana bread made that morning from bananas which grew in their conservatory. A great treat.

We’re not foodies but enjoy fresh fish and seafood. We stopped at Cosmo’s our first day and had lunch on our way to the rental and were impressed by the food, service, and atmosphere. The grilled grouper and grilled mahi were excellent. We returned the next day for dinner, so on the third day, we thought we’d try someplace different and maybe a little more upscale. We went to the Cayman Grill and were definitely underwhelmed. Vast open dining area; extremely uncomfortable seating; overpriced and too salty shrimp app, and very overpriced mains; live music that was so loud we had to yell into each other’s ear to be heard. We found a very nice café in a property management office called Liquid Life with excellent coffee and fresh baked pastries, the owner and her husband very friendly and conversational. We went there numerous times. Bought groceries at the Publix supermarket in the same plaza so we could eat a healthy breakfast daily, have fruit, yogurt, and basic sandwich supplies in the house, and saved a lot of money doing that.

When we were planning this trip and told friends and acquaintances we were going to Alabama, the response was uniformly “Alabama”?????!!!!! We'd never been before but are quite impressed with what we saw, the people we met, and the experiences we had. We loved being greeted with “how y'all doon?” instead of hi. It was a great trip.
Nepheline is offline  
Old Apr 26th, 2015, 08:49 AM
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As someone who grew up in Alabama and still visits, it was lovely to read your trip report. Thank you.
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Old Apr 26th, 2015, 09:57 AM
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We loved Fairhope and will not forget the drive down the historic houses.

Thanks for the report.
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Old May 14th, 2016, 12:07 AM
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Alabama has lot of attractions
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