A Weekend Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast: Mobile, Fairhope, and Orange Beach

Back in September, we braved Southern Alabama’s worst heatwave of the summer to spend a weekend along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, hopping from Mobile to Orange Beach to Fairhope and back to Mobile.

You may be wondering, how’d we end up visiting the Gulf Coast of Alabama? Well, I have a good friend, Monica, who I met during her time in DC. A few years back, she met her now-husband at a wedding and, you guessed it, he lived in Alabama. Now, they live in Mobile where they’ve settled into a historic 1890s home and are expecting their first baby this winter. We’d been saying we needed to get down there for the longest time (I first went for Mardi Gras back in 2016!) and, finally, we made it happen.

SPENDING A WEEKEND ALONG ALABAMA’S GULF COAST

While we could have easily spent a weekend just hanging out and exploring Mobile, we wanted to make the most of our time in Alabama by doing a mini road trip—and Monica’s husband, Preston, pulled together the best itinerary (and gave us more facts on the area than I’ll ever be able to recount here!).

In the span of a long weekend, we visited three cities with three completely different personalities—but all within a stone’s throw of each other. There’s history and tradition in Mobile, a laid-back elegance and artsy flair to Fairhope, and casual, beachy vibes in Orange Beach.

 

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VISITING THE GULF COAST OF ALABAMA

Funny story, last time I went down to Mobile, my friend, Monica, and I drove. 14 hours. Then, I flew back out of Pensacola on Southwest. This time, it was a little more straightforward. We had flight credits to use, so we flew Delta in and out of Mobile with a stop in Atlanta both ways (don’t get Adam started on the 45-minute flight from ATL to MOB…without AC…and with hot water bottles). Super easy, but Pensacola is definitely an option if you prefer to rack up those Southwest points (hello, Companion Pass).  Also, flying into Mobile gives you an amazing view of all the inlets and bayous that flow into Mobile Bay.

Since we were visiting friends, there was no need to get a car, but, if you’re not so lucky, you’ll want to rent one.

As a warning, if you’re visiting anytime between spring and fall, it’s going to be hot. The temperature hovered around 100 for most of our trip, with evening bringing little to no relief. But, we did come during the hottest days of the summer—summer’s last stand is no joke.

DAY ONE: ARRIVE IN MOBILE

We arrived in Mobile on Friday evening, just in time for an early happy hour. Downtown Mobile is full of restaurants and bars—it’s seen the same renaissance that has benefited so many Southern cities. We started with a flight of craft beers from Serda Brewing and, not surprisingly, I was tempted by the El Milagro Taqueria Y Pupuseria food truck parked outside (snacks, y’all…). My first meal in Alabama was Mexican and I’m 100% okay with it.

With a little bit of food and drink under our belt, we headed over to Post where specialty cocktails and gourmet toasts are the name of the game. Plus, the Live Nudes mural in the bathroom got a little more than a giggle from me (maturity level here: high).

For dinner, we went to Chuck’s Fish, a seafood house with 4 locations across Alabama and Georgia. Surprisingly, their thing is sushi…and Adam and I ordered a role that was so deliciously overloaded with crab, tempura, and a spicy sauce on top that we almost didn’t make it all the way through.

No surprise, after all this food, it was early to bed so that we could get up and at ’em in the morning. But, before we left town to hit the road, we did make two stops: the Cheese Cottage, an adorable cheese and wine shop downtown, and Olde Mobile Antiques Gallery and Estate Sales, because you know I never pass up the chance to see what kind of treasures I can find in a new city.

 

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DAY TWO: MOSEY DOWN TO ORANGE BEACH

From Mobile to Orange Beach, we took our time moseying down south, stopping to savor waterfront views—and my first trip into the suburban playground (or sensory overload experience) that is Buc-cee’s—along the way.

First up was Bluegill Restaurant, a waterfront dive that’s been operating on the Causeway across Mobile Bay since 1958. You can’t stop here without ordering a plate (or two) of the Flaming Oysters—the most mouth-watering, sizzling concoction of oysters, garlic, butter, and parmesan. Served with grilled, buttered bread because you won’t want to let a crumb of those droppings go to waste.

Next up, we made our way into Orange Beach, where we feasted on marinated crab claws at Fisher’s Dockside at Orange Beach Marina and took in the slight breeze coming off the water. And, speaking of breezes, we found some more promising oceanfront breezes at our next location—the loungey Gulf Bar with its seaside sofa and refreshing cocktails.

Okay, now you’re probably wondering, did we go to Florabama? Of course, we did. And, of course, I ordered a Bushwacker. And, guess what made it even better: there was a sold-out rodeo going on in their parking lot. The home of the mullet toss is apparently also the home of beachfront bull riding. But, hey, it’s not a bad place to watch football and the bar food is exactly what you expect. Plus, it’s an institution and Adam had never been.

 

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DAY THREE: DRIVE TO FAIRHOPE AND STAY AT THE GRAND HOTEL

Eager for a day by the pool, we got an early start Sunday to make the drive from Orange Beach to Fairhope. We fueled up with coffee and breakfast sandwiches at Buzz Catz Coffee and Sweets. Yes, it’s cat-themed, and, yes, I was in heaven. I also got a breakfast sandwich on a waffle, so, I’m telling you, this was me in restaurant form.

As we drove towards Fairhope, the skies were looking a little gray, so we killed some time by strolling around the shops at The Wharf in Orange Beach, where I picked up a new bathing suit for the day and a pair of sunglasses (I’m telling you, being out of town is the only time I’m actually convinced to shop in person!).

Thankfully the sun came out (or not thankfully given the heat?) as we made our way into Fairhope, but, unfortuantely, this leads me to a pro tip: almost everything in downtown Fairhope is closed on Sundays. I’ve been told it’s an artsy, funky small town with amazing shops and restaurants, but, unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy it. A reason to plan a trip back, right?!

Deciding that this was a blessing in disguise, we hopped over to the Grand Hotel*, where we were staying that evening. The Grand Hotel, built in 1847, is known as the Queen of Southern Resorts and it’s no surprise why. The stately old resort, now renovated into the 21st century, evokes the old-school Southern sophistication of wood paneling, leather sofas, and lounges where you can just imagine the cigar smoke hanging in the air (back in the days when people did that!), while also staying true to the romantic charms of Spanish moss and palm trees dotting the grounds.

We were greeted with Southern hospitality and, once we checked in, we immediately slipped on our swimsuits, and hit the pool. There’s no better way to forget about the scorching high temperatures than to sit with your toes in the water and a pina colada in hand—we even went down the water slide at the pool…multiple times. I mean, why should the kids have all the fun? And, if you want a bit of history, there is a traditional canon firing each day at 3:45 (you know we just had to be there for it).

True to the classic resorts of the South, you don’t ever have to leave the property of the Grand Hotel. While we didn’t dine during our stay, we did find opportunities to try out two of the hotel bars. Before dinner, we enjoyed a cocktail in Bucky’s Bar, while after dinner we visited 1847 for a nightcap.

We ventured over to the Wash House for dinner in Fairhope—continuing with the old-school theme. This is the type of restaurant where you may be the youngest person in there, but you know it’s because everyone else is a decades-long regular—and they wouldn’t keep coming back if the food wasn’t good. It’s elegant, but understated in both decor and flavor. And, if there’s one thing you can’t miss, it’s the chocolate pecan pie. I’m wishing I could find a slice in DC as I write this…

*PS The Grand Hotel is now a Marriott Hotel, which is perfect for you Bonvoy members. If you’re considering planning a weekend along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, definitely check it out.

 

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DAY FOUR: BACK TO MOBILE and BACK HOME

We headed back to Mobile early Monday morning for a day of working remotely before our evening flight. While most of the day was spent on my computer sitting at my friend’s kitchen island, I did work for a few hours from an adorable coffee shop called Carpe Diem and gave the chicken sandwich from FooSackley’s a try—you know I’m always up for taste testing fast-food chicken.

Then, with my stomach way too full of four days of Southern food and lots of memories of four days spent with good friends, it was time to head to the airport and head home.

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS ON A WEEKEND ALONG ALABAMA’S GULF COAST

This post was a bit more of a travel diary than a travel guide (shout out to Annaliese of Southern Belle in Training for coining that distinction in her posts!), but I hope you’ll find it helpful should you plan a weekend along Alabama’s Gulf Coast! I’ll definitely be back, I need to see more of Fairhope, after all, but, I’m telling you, this next trip, it’ll be between December and February.

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