From coastal calm to mountain charm to The Shoals, discover (or rediscover) these three small towns in Alabama we love.
Fairhope, AL: Quaint coastal charm on Mobile Bay
Fairhope is a secluded, enchanting coastal village where hanging baskets of flowers line the five blocks of downtown year-round. Founded in 1894 after idealist reformers created their own utopian society, Fairhope officially became a city in 1908 when its beloved gifts — the beachfront park, the parklands on the bluff above the beach, Henry George Park, Knoll Park, and the quarter-mile-long pier — were gifted back to the city by the Single Tax Colony.
The pleasant climate and serene natural landscape attracted early visitors from Mobile. Artists, writers, and artisans deemed Fairhope an inspiring haven for their crafts and helped give the community the eccentric and laid-back reputation it carries today. Despite the influx of flashy homes and luxury shops, Fairhope has held onto its quirks and charm.
Your Alabama respite is best spent at one of the town’s many historic inns and bed and breakfasts. Bay Breeze Guest House has breathtaking views of Mobile Bay, a private pier, beach, and docks. The charming Emma’s Bay House is perfectly situated downtown and will charter you a deep-sea fishing trip, snag you a tee time, or organize the perfect day trip.
Shoppers delight in Fairhope’s robust collection of boutiques, galleries, and fabulous consignment stores. Pop into SWAY and Private Gallery for trendy clothes and accessories; Ole Bay Mercantile and Willow + Gray Home for gifty trinkets and home decor, and Hello Gallery for art. And, speaking of art — there is so much art to be enjoyed in Fairhope. On the first Friday of each month, the Eastern Shore Art Center and Fairhope Visitors Center host an art walk where you can dance to live music, drink and eat local delicacies, and meet the artists.
The waterfront North Beach Park has lots of trails and wildlife. Knoll Park is home to one of the last protected stands of longleaf pine trees on the Gulf Coast. And the picturesque, rose-laden Bayfront Park is another can’t-miss nature destination to hit by bike or foot in Fairhope.
When you’re ready to eat, there is no shortage of incredible food in town. Share some creative small plates and a bottle of wine at Camellia Café. Order your favorite Mexican dish and a house-made margarita at Agave Cocina. Try Master Joe’s scrumptious sushi, Panini Pete’s world-famous muffuletta sandwich, and Gambino’s beloved Italian classics and surf and turf. If you’re looking for fine dining, The Wash House Restaurant offers fine coastal cuisine in a relaxed yet refined atmosphere. Watch the sunset (often as colorful as the changing fall leaves) with your toes in the sugary sand or from the famous pier.
Mentone, AL: Arts and nature atop Lookout Mountain Parkway
Nestled amid a mountaintop enclave of farms, cabins, and shops in Southern Appalachia, Mentone, AL, has become a popular spot for vacationers along the Lookout Mountain Parkway. A weekend in this magical mountain town is a chance to unplug in nature, try some tasty food, and soak in the local arts scene. Mentone grew as a community in the 1880s due to Ed Mason’s promotion of the local mineral spring as a place to relieve ailments. When the 57-room Mentone Springs Hotel was built in 1884, it became a beacon of wellness and revelry and was the heart of Mentone until it was sadly consumed by a horrible fire in 2014.
The rich natural beauty of the area still sustains an expanse of wilderness and so much plant and animal life. DeSoto Falls (inside DeSoto State Park) and Little River Canyon (inside Little River Canyon National Preserve) are popular places to hike and bike, and there are many excursion companies that will outfit you for kayaking, canoeing, and horseback riding.
Book one of the 12 rooms at the Mentone Inn on the square in the heart of town. They serve up a cozy atmosphere and home-cooked breakfast, served fresh from the kitchen. They also host a slew of pop-up events at their aptly named Linger Longer Pavillion in the backyard. Larger groups can book a cabin from Mentone Mountain Getaways‘ 18 rental cabins, most of which have hot tubs and porches with sweeping mountain views.
Even the shop names in Mentone depict the spunk of the town: Moon Lake Trading Company, Miracle Pottery, The Groovy Goat, and The Gourdie Shop (to name just a few) are filled with colorful wares from the past and pieces from current artists.
When the shopping bags are plentiful, take a load off at Wildflower Cafe, a Mentone establishment known the state over. Brunch and lunch offerings include Southern classics like tomato pie and shrimp and grits. The dinner has everything from filet mignon and prime rib to wild-caught salmon and fettuccine alfredo. Newer to Mentone’s food scene is Elevation Bistro, an intimate and rustic restaurant with a farm-to-table menu that changes daily.
Whether you visit for the famous Rhododendron Festival in May, The Fall Colorfest in October, or any ol’ day in between, Mentone’s tight-knit, vibrant community will welcome you with open arms and lend a fabulous story or two.
Tuscumbia, AL: Music, history, and Helen Keller’s birthplace
During the mid-1800s, Tuscumbia became a thriving hub for railroad traffic and a center for commerce, agriculture, and industry that included the first railroad west of the Allegheny Mountains. Today, it’s an important part of “The Shoals” — an area made up of Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Florence — and people near and far flock to the town’s star-studded recording studios and important historical sites.
Coldwater Inn is one of the only boutique hotels in The Shoals and has a homemade hot breakfast, well-appointed rooms, and an outdoor pool. For more rustic lodging, rent a cabin or silo at Seven Springs Lodge and enjoy 20,000 acres of pastoral woodland, horseback riding, and hiking. It’s also home to the one-of-kind Rattlesnake Saloon: a lively bar, eatery, and music venue nestled under a massive rock face.
In Tuscumbia, Spring Park is known for its towering waterfalls, evening fountain light show, and its seasonal festivals and amusement park rides. Perched on the edge of the park is another Tuscumbia dining institution, Claunch Cafe. It serves a smattering of true homestyle Southern dishes like its crowd-favorite pecan chicken salad. For an afternoon pick-me-up, take a nostalgic hop back in time at the Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop for the perfect handspun milkshake and a side of fries.
Many don’t know that Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia. When you visit her birthplace, Ivy Green, you can see the famous water well where Helen and her teacher Anne Sullivan learned to communicate.
Of course, there is no shortage of music history in The Shoals. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame showcases the musical feats of Alabama natives who blazed the trail for rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country and western music. Architecture lovers shouldn’t miss Rosenbaum House — one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most impressive Usonian houses from the 1930s, located across the river from Tuscumbia in Florence. Between this small town’s music, parks, and shops, you’ll have plenty to fill a few days of exploring!
From mountains to beaches to The Shoals, there are so many pockets of small-town Alabama to uncover. Do you have a favorite AL town? Let us know on Instagram.
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