Fannie Flagg’s Fairhope

Why the author loves Alabama’s utopia by the bay—and thinks you should too

Photo: View of Mobile Bay from The Grand Hotel. Courtesy of the Marriott Grand Hotel

My dear fellow Southerners, you must visit Fairhope, Alabama. I was only ten years old the first time I saw Fairhope, and for me, it was love at first sight. I even wrote about it in one of my books, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion:

They had arrived on a warm, balmy evening, and the soft night air had been filled with the scent of honeysuckle and wisteria. She could still remember coming down the hill and seeing the lights of Mobile, sparkling and twinkling across the water, just like a jeweled necklace. It was as if they had just entered into a fairyland. The Spanish moss hanging from the trees had looked bright silver in the moonlight and made dancing shadows all along the road. And the shrimp boats out in the bay, with their little blinking green lights, had looked just like Christmas.

There has always been something so magical about Fairhope, and now, so many years later, there still is. Fairhope sits on a bluff overlooking the beautiful Mobile Bay and is unlike any other small Southern town. It was founded in the year 1894 by a group of people from Iowa calling themselves “the Utopians,” who had been searching for a place to settle where they felt they would have a “fair hope” of success.

Photo: Andrea Wright / Flickr

The view from the Fairhope Pier.

From its unique beginning, Fairhope’s laidback atmosphere and mild climate has lured intellectuals, free thinkers, artists, and writers from all over the country, including Sherwood Anderson, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow, and best-selling authors of today such as Winston Groom, of Forrest Gump fame, Rick Bragg, Jimmy Buffett, and W.E.B Griffin, among others. (I have written three books and a screenplay there.)

Noting the overabundance of scribes living in and around Fairhope, one writer was heard to remark, “This is the only town in America where there are more writers than readers.” It’s not surprising, then, that Fairhope is home to the Page and Palette, one of the country’s most successful independent bookstores. In fact, the new mayor, Karin Wilson, owns the shop, and her twin sister, Kelley Lyons, has the large art gallery next door, the Lyons Share. The town’s longtime love and support of the arts continues to this day. Is it any wonder that Fairhope’s Annual Arts & Crafts Festival, which celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary last month, is one of the largest of its kind in the country?

Photo: Courtesy of Page and Palette

Inside the Page and Palette.

Year round, Fairhope has a lovely and walkable downtown area, with plenty of shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums, antique stores, and more. Or, you can go sailing in the bay, or deep-sea fishing in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. There are some charming small bed-and-breakfasts and small hotels, or, if you want something more luxurious, try the historic Grand Hotel in nearby Point Clear.

But visitors beware—once you discover Fairhope, if you are like me, you will want to return over and over again.

Photo: Andrew Southam

Fannie Flagg.

Fannie Flagg is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and the best-selling author of such novels as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, The Whole Town’s Talking, and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.