Summer is here, and with many COVID restrictions lifted, many American families, including mine, are hitting the road for a little bit of R&R.
Instead of our usual beach destination, we visited somewhere with natural beauty, history, and fun for all ages – Alabama’s Mobile Bay area.
Seascapes and seafood
The state’s oldest city, Mobile sits at the head of Mobile Bay, a shallow Gulf of Mexico inlet. The bay separates Mobile from smaller, eastern shore towns of Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, and Point Clear.
Accordingly, we began our Alabama escape in Spanish Fort.
The drive from Mobile to Spanish Fort (via tunnel and bridge) was absolutely beautiful. Multiple rivers spill into the bay, so we witnessed an abundance of birds fishing in the shallows alongside local fishermen and shrimpers.
Eager for fresh Gulf seafood, we headed first thing to Fairhope’s Fish River Grill for fried oysters and their uniquely delicious “swamp soup.” At other local eateries, we gorged on everything from crab omelets to blackened shrimp, stuffed flounder, fried whitefish, and the ubiquitous Southern hushpuppy.
Past and present
Spanish Fort is home to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, so we explored the park’s museum which houses significant aircraft from American history. We also toured the USS Alabama battleship and USS Drum, a WWII submarine.
Families could spend an entire day investigating multiple levels of the battleship and submarine. And though the park is handicap accessible, both vessels present opportunities for strenuous climbing and walking.
In contrast, browsing the shops, art galleries, confectionaries, and municipal pier of nearby Fairhope was a leisurely stroll. Of course, no visit to Fairhope is complete without shopping at Page and Palette bookstore, a literary landmark for over 50 years.
In its third generation of ownership, Page and Palette offers books for all readers as well as a continual flow of authors signing their latest books. With a cup of coconut mocha from their Latte Da coffee shop, I could have browsed for hours, but my husband was anxious to travel to nearby Dauphin Island.
Habitats and heroes
There, we toured the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. With more than 100 species, each aquarium display educates visitors about one of the four key habitats of Mobile Bay, the fourth largest estuary in the U.S.
After touching live stingrays in an outdoor pool, we walked along the venue’s living marsh boardwalk. For families interested in the beaches near Gulf Shores, a nearby ferry runs several times daily between Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan.
Foregoing the beach, we headed into the city.
It would take days to fully tour all Mobile offers, such as the History Museum of Mobile, Fort Conde, Bellingrath Gardens, and the hands-on, child-centered wonders of Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center.
As avid baseball fans, we visited the childhood home of Mobile’s own Hank Aaron. On the grounds of Hank Aaron Stadium, the humble home was built by Aaron’s father. It features family heirlooms and priceless memorabilia, and it traces the story of Hammerin’ Hank’s career from 1954 to 1976.
Like many American boys, our sons took pride in wearing Aaron’s legendary #44 on their baseball jerseys from Little League onward. So we enjoyed learning more about Aaron’s contributions to our nation both on and off the field.
Since Aaron died earlier this year, his homeplace seemed a fitting and sober last stop for our time in town. The whole experience left us wanting more. It’s a first-class family destination.
Planning a trip
For more information on these attractions and others in and around Mobile, go to:
(Editor's Note: This article will appear in the July issue of the AFAJournal)