Fairhope, Alabama: They don’t call it 'Fairtopia' for nothing
Much has been said about Fairhope, Alabama, and for good reason.
A frequent getaway destination for folks in Louisiana, the city's magnetic draw continues to grow. The summer refuge for Mobile residents began as an artist colony and morphed into a cultural, arts and epicurean hub for the Lower South.
Lucky for me, my oldest friend Jill has called this place home for many years, and her fondness for the quaint village is contagious. On a recent weekend, I got the chef's tour of the area, exploring beyond the well-appointed suites of the Grand Hotel and the posh shops downtown.
We took a deep dive into what makes this gem on the Eastern Shore so irresistible.
Fairhope’s funkiness goes way back. In the late 1800s, Quakers formed the town as a Single Tax Colony, seeking a more equitable social environment. Artists and writers eventually discovered the fledgling community. Today, the town prides itself on the ample public parks, theaters, entertainment venues, sporting facilities and playgrounds built by the local government for its citizens to enjoy — a holdover from the original Utopian principles.
We ventured into the heart of Fairhope and visited some of my favorite places. A must on every trip is a visit to our friends at Dr. Music, a music shop that specializes in creating custom speakers from old luggage, called Sonic Suitcases, and a killer collection of rare albums.
Dr. Music in Fairhope, Alabama, specializes in creating custom speakers from old luggage, called Sonic Suitcases.
The designer in me loves wandering through the Lyons Share art gallery for works in sculpture, collage and abstract paintings. I’m naturally drawn to the many home décor boutiques and few are more bougie than Crown and Colony and Aubergine, which offers French country antiques, lighting, rugs and Gallic-sourced accessories.
Page and Palette features all things books and coffee. After 5 p.m., the Book Cellar around the back of the store offers wine and small plates for patrons to enjoy. A Fairhope landmark for over 50 years, Page and Palette has become a cultural center, hosting weekly book signings and literary events.
For festive evening entertainment, Tongue and Groove Drinkery, a cozy bar off the main drag, features hand-crafted elixirs and libations and excellent music.
The conservatory café at Panini Pete’s serves beignets with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The green iron and glass conservatory building was carefully relocated from Boston to this Fairhope alleyway, piece by piece.
We sauntered through the French Quarter alley — a picturesque slice of New Orleans plopped in downtown Fairhope, complete with resident alley cats. By this time, famished from our tour, we feasted on hot beignets at Panini Pete’s, served with a squeeze of fresh lemon to complement the sweet powdered sugar. We were seated in the green iron and glass conservatory building, which was carefully relocated from Boston to this Fairhope alleyway, piece by piece.
A stop at La-La Land, a shop owned by Jeff Butler — purveyor of vintage furniture, clothing and memorabilia — was the highlight for me and my chair obsession. The shop is Butler's well-curated collection of midcentury modern treasures that he snaps up at estate sales around the country. He has a fondness for '70s and '80s Brutalism pieces, but I couldn’t resist a vintage Knoll Bertoia chair that was calling my name.
Butler's eye for design is impeccable, and for added resonance, he hand-finishes most of the pieces he acquires. He has lived all over and knows a slew of people from his travels, including Lenny Kravitz's stylist — and it shows.
Jeff Butler holding court at his funky vintage shop, La-La Land, in Fairhope, Alabama.
One of my favorite things to do in Fairhope is to visit the Storybook Castles, created by the Sheldon and Mosher families over the past 80 years. It began simply enough as a whimsical garage addition by the current owner’s father in the early 1940s. With limited resources and boundless creativity, Craig Sheldon clad his round tower structure with bric-a-brac salvaged from the nearby bay and his day job at area construction sites.
Embedded in the concrete walls are old tools, glass bottles, machine parts and beautiful stones. Now a giant copper dragon named Hendrix sits at the top of the castle roof and beckons visitors, especially enchanting for the little ones. The guest house, a part of the original dwellings and a sweet abode for a romantic retreat, is available for tours and accommodations.
Embedded in the concrete walls at Storybook Castles are old tools, glass bottles, machine parts and beautiful stones. A giant copper dragon named Hendrix sits at the top of the castle roof and beckons visitors.
We wrapped up the weekend visit with a walk along the bay in Point Clear to view the stunning 19th-century mansions facing the water. Walking along the winding path, we felt like we were in a New England shore town with the prevalent shingle-style architecture and abundant flowers everywhere.
After our walk, we stopped at Punta Clara Kitchen to taste the various treats the owners have been making for over 70 years, such as jams and pickles, custom cakes and their world-famous fruitcake. You can order items online, but a trip to the Victorian house to meet the owners and hear their story is worth it.
A walk along the bay at Point Clear reveals stately homes and abundant flowers.
It is often a tendency of outsiders to soil the nest once we become besotted with a place, putting at risk its once authentic appeal, but Fairhope has preserved the small-town aesthetic — despite the urge to overdevelop. The seductive landscape and charm are hard to resist. Live oak trees abound, hugging the architecture and enveloping the landscape in dappled shade and languorous Spanish moss.
Every local I met during my trip professed their love for their Bayou State neighbors, football rivalries aside. Some things matter more, and the shared love of this coastal village perched on the bay bluff is all the reason to visit as often as possible.