Southerners are notorious for hitting the road once the weather warms and swarming otherwise sleepy beach towns up and down the Gulf coast. While the beaches are lovely and the water breathtaking, you might be surprised to hear the real treasure lies in the budding art scenes across these small cities. From Mobile’s Dauphin Street art galleries to Alys Beach’s Digital Graffiti festival, these coastal communities are competing culturally with their big city counterparts. An art enthusiast could easily take a road trip from Mobile to 30A’s scenic highway and make countless cultural stops along the way. We’re mapping out the stops for any roadtripper looking to add the arts to their traditional beach vacation this summer and beyond.
Stop #1: Mobile, Alabama
Begin your trip in Mobile, Alabama. The birthplace of Mardi Gras (it actually beat New Orleans by a few years), Mobile has always been a town that knows the balance of letting loose and buttoning up. The city’s LODA Artwalk is a prime example of letting loose just a little. Taking place the second Friday of every month in the Lower Dauphin Arts District, the many galleries, studios and boutiques open their doors to art aficionados for an evening of art, food and music. The evenings often coincide with other larger events like concerts, which means it’s always a bustling scene. If you miss a LODA Artwalk night, simply plan to visit one of Mobile’s many other galleries instead. Our favorites include Cathedral Square Gallery, Alabama Contemporary Art Center and Gallery 450. For an outdoor option, check-out Mobile’s ArtGo!, a self-guided outdoor art walk throughout the city that touches on famous street art, murals, statues and more.
Drink This: French 75 at The Noble South
Situated on Dauphin Street just down from the art galleries above, The Noble South dishes unique Southern fare with a coastal twist. Order a classic French 75 and pickled shrimp to start.
Sleep Here: Fort Conde Inn
Fort Conde Inn is a historic 1850s home-turned-boutique hotel. It’s nestled on St. Emanuel Street in Fort Conde Village and is surrounded by restored historic cottages and homes.
Stop #2: Fairhope, Alabama
Head east and make your way just across Mobile Bay to the quaint city of Fairhope. There is so much more to this tiny town than meets the eye. Over the years, Fairhope has developed its own artwalk, hosted novelists and created artists. Dip in and out of galleries, and be sure to wander through Page and Palette, Fairhope’s famed bookstore. During your stay in Fairhope, catch a show at Theatre 98, the town’s community theater that has been producing shows since 1960. This summer, attendees can enjoy performances of The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder and later this fall Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon.
Eat This: Panini at Panini Pete’s
You’ll find Panini Pete’s in The French Quarter, a shopping area that is home to several boutiques and restaurants within Fairhope. Elect to grab lunch here and sit in the sunlit atrium.
Sleep Here: Grand Hotel
Opt for a bayside room and enjoy striking views of Mobile Bay. If you can stay a while, enjoy all the amenities this hotel has to offer, including a Robert Trent Jones golf course and luxurious spa.
Stop #3: Pensacola, Florida
Continue a short drive west and land in Pensacola, the “Festival City of the South.” If you grew up in the Southeast, chances are you’ve made a trip to Pensacola beaches or, at the very least, have seen an airshow by their famed Blue Angels. However, a new initiative, Vacation Artfully, sponsored by nonprofit organization ACE, is helping tourism expand beyond the bountiful beaches and into Pensacola’s thriving downtown art scene. “We’re known for our beautiful beaches,” says David Bear, ACE trustee emeritus. “But this community has a really rich heritage, history and level of culture that’s hands down the best in the region.”
Pensacola has the Pensacola Opera, Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, live theater and the Pensacola Museum of Art, all within walking distance of its historic town center. Visitors who love this area will have access to it all: arts, culture, entertainment, a budding food scene and of course, the beach. Vacation Artfully curator Jane Birdwell assures vacationers, “The coolest programming so far? We hope that is to come.”
SB TIP: If you can hold your excitement to visit Pensacola until the fall, book your trip during Foo Foo Festival, a 12-day celebration of the arts scheduled for November 1-12, 2018.
Eat This: Sushi at Dharma Blue
This cute blue house in the Historic District is just a short walk from the Lee House and offers an expansive menu for both lunch and dinner. Swing by for a sushi dinner that’s sure to please the palate.
Sleep Here: Lee House
Located in the heart of Pensacola’s Historic District, the Lee House features wrap-around porches, well-appointed rooms (we’re partial to the Bonifay Suite), complimentary continental breakfast and walking access everywhere. Take time to meander through the neighborhood peeking at stately historic homes during your stay.
Stop #4: 30A
Leave Pensacola and continue westward to the small beach towns of 30A. Summer regulars of 30A will be intrigued by the arts and culture scene that thrives year-round. The 30A area offers ballet performances, many art galleries and several festivals. January brings 30A Songwriters Festival, February ushers in 30A Wine Festival, and May hosts the Seaside Dance Festival. The list goes on from there. Notably, Digital Graffiti draws crowds to a stunning spectacle of projection art on the pristine walls of Alys Beach. Used as blank canvases, Alys Beach’s walls light up with the latest in colorful projection technology. Here, attendees find art from all over the world brought to life on Florida’s panhandle. If you miss Digital Graffiti or any of the area’s other festivals, don’t fret. You can still experience a booming art scene throughout 30A.
Eat This: Fried Shrimp Po-Boy at Seagrove Village MarketCafé
No trip to 30A is complete without a stop at the famous Seagrove Village MarketCafé for a po-boy. Once just a small convenience store with the bare beach necessities, Seagrove Village MarketCafé now has new digs complete with an expansive dining area.
Sleep Here: The Pearl
While you can find loads of Airbnbs and VRBO rentals throughout 30A, a smaller group might enjoy the comforts of The Pearl in Rosemary Beach. You’ll recognize it from its frequently instagrammed black and white awnings. The hotel offers gorgeous views of the Gulf along with access to Rosemary Beach’s city center.