Words by Angela Caraway-Carlton
Photos by Denise Curtis, Charles Davis, Lynn Jordan, Talia Pumpkin, Ovie Moore, Laura Rowe, Stephen Savage
Perched on a wooden bench overlooking the bay, I’m watching the waves languidly lap the shoreline as gaggles of families and couples stroll hand in hand along picturesque Fairhope Pier. We’re all there to catch the main attraction: the sun that’s dissolving into the horizon in a burst of fiery hues that become more intense as the day transitions to night. It’s a regular ritual for locals, who also wander the hovering bluffs canopied in moss-draped oak trees.
Natural beauty and charm abound in the quaint town of Fairhope, Alabama, located on the eastern shores of Mobile Bay. At Fairhope’s heart is the walkable, perfectly manicured downtown that’s void of chain stores and dotted with resident-owned boutiques, galleries, and restaurants that flaunt big-city sophistication. The downtown truly shines during the holidays when its tree-lined streets are aglow in white lights and the Annual Lighting of the Trees Celebration resembles a scene ripped from a Christmas movie.
Fairhope attracts high-profile chefs and hospitality rockstars eager to showcase their culinary talents. Locals flock to Provision, a trendy market, café, and wine bar created by a couple who trained at luxe Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. It’s the perfect stop for coffee, and bites—such as their popular West Indies salad avocado toast—or for cozying up on plush seating to sip the crowd-favorite Provision Mule cocktail. Fresh Gulf seafood is the star at newcomer Pearl, where you’ll devour crab claws marinated in fish sauce, and loads of oysters. At The Hope Farm, a sprawling indoor-outdoor restaurant with elegant farmhouse vibes, much of the brasserie-style menu comes from their on-property gardens and shipping containers that house an array of mushrooms and produce. Join a stylish crowd to imbibe on garden-to-glass cocktails and nosh on shareable menu darlings, such as pillowy ricotta gnocchi, rosemary-Dijon glazed roasted chicken, and any dish featuring mushrooms. Their barn was recently transformed into a gorgeous space where they serve Nova Espresso in the mornings, as well as daily lunch, special wine tastings, and ticketed dinners.
Spend a few hours popping in and out of downtown’s upscale boutiques and galleries bursting with art fashioned by local creatives. Make a stop at Wildflowers Floral Design and at newly minted Five Gold Monkeys—which has a fun new attached bar called Monkey Bar—for unique gifts, and at on-trend clothing boutiques such as 7 South and CK Collection. In a town that jokes that it has “more writers than readers,” peruse family-owned bookstore Page & Palette, where readings and book signings with lauded authors are regularly hosted.
Dive into downtown’s burgeoning food scene with a Taste of Fairhope food tour. During the three-hour walking tour, knowledgeable guides sprinkle in facts about the area’s history while making six delicious stops. It’s the chance to sample mainstay restaurants such as Panini Pete’s to savor
handmade beignets that rival any you’ll find in New Orleans, as well as Bay Breeze Café, Bar and Grill’s coveted roasted corn-tomato bisque paired with its grown-up grilled cheese.
For more small-town charm, make the 15-minute drive to Silverhill, a tiny community set amid farmlands that’s organically evolved into a hub for artisans. On Fridays and Saturdays, photographer Lynn Jordan opens the Farmhouse Gallery to display her work that portrays the shrimping industry, as well as creations from area artists. Check for monthly open studio days at NO Soap Co. to scoop up Talia Lumpkin’s all-natural soaps and beauty products; she also sells her fragrant products at the Mobile Bay Maker’s Market that happens twice a month at the Fairhope Pier. At the Humming Star Alpacas farm, mingle with adorable alpacas—or even take a yoga class with them.