Right a colorful collection of house signs at the corner of Brigadoon Trail and Fort Morgan Road. Photos by Summer Ennis Ansley
When temps hit their peak, so do vacation visions. We all dream of traveling to somewhere full of coastal beauty, with flavorful food, a little dose of history and enough activities to occupy (not overwhelm) the day. It turns out, you don’t have to go very far to find this vacation gem. Welcome to Fort Morgan, the peninsula that has it all, and then some.
To its residents, the unincorporated Baldwin County peninsula on the western tip of Mobile Point is known for its enduring charm, overarching history and close-knit community. “The Fort Morgan community is one of the oldest along the Gulf Coast,” says Joe Emerson, president of the Fort Morgan Civic Association. “We’ve worked hard to maintain a small-town feel. A lot of us feel like we’re the last stretch of old beach town left.” Emerson himself has been a permanent resident of Fort Morgan for almost 30 years, moving to the area with his family when he was a teenager. His parents built their house 1994 on the same property where his great-grandmother lived in the 1880s; at the start of that decade, there were only an estimated 38 permanent residents living on Fort Morgan.
Fast forward to today. Although the population of permanent residents is still small, it has expanded to well over 38. The peninsula has undergone some development while remaining natural and pristine in most areas. “We want smart development out here to work with the community that is already established,” Emerson explains. “We’re hoping that the peninsula can be preserved throughout the years so others can enjoy growing up here.”
When visiting, there’s a everyone-knows-everyone feeling and a community-first mentality. The residents are not only friendly, but also resilient. After Hurricane Sally inflicted major damage on the peninsula, the community came together to clean up and rebuild. “We may not hang out with each other every day, but when this community comes together, it’s strong,” says Emerson. “And there’s nothing like a hurricane to show you how strong you really are.”
Now largely restored to its pre-hurricane state, Fort Morgan is abundant with natural beauty. While it is common for neon signs and high rises to commercialize many coastal towns, a drive down the peninsula’s sole road leading in and out (aptly named Fort Morgan Road) shows land saturated with shorelines and local treasures quietly tucked away from view but easy enough to find if you’re looking.
Clockwise from top Chairs on the Emersons’ dock overlook the water. The Jeff Friend Trail. Beach Bums Coffee and Deli serves coffee with a smile. Shrimp from Fresh Market Seafood.
Let the Adventure Begin
One of the first examples of community you’ll see on the peninsula is the trio of small businesses on the north side of Fort Morgan Road. All three are owned and operated by the same local family. Beach Bums Coffee and Deli is the perfect place to grab some vacation fuel. A neon sign on the wall sports their motto “Addicted to the Pot,” with T-shirts and hats available for those who relate. With a variety of coffee, breakfasts and grab-and-go options, customers can either sit back and relax or hit the road with breakfast in tow. Right next door, Fresh Market Seafood carries just about everything under the sun, er, sea. One wall boasts a variety of bait to tempt even the most experienced fishing enthusiast. If you’ve forgotten your fishing rod (it happens to the best of us), grab one from the stand. And you’d better hope you brought a cooler. A variety of fresh shrimp and fish sits on ice. The refrigerator on the right offers sides and sauces you can’t pass up, including tartar sauce, tuna dip, crawfish queso, gumbo and dippin’ butter. The wall of hot sauces, seasonings and saltines completes the feast. Rounding out the trio of family-owned businesses is the Boozey Butcher Shop, which may very well be heaven for meat lovers. Named for their selection of fresh cuts and wine, the shop also carries vegetables and breads — in short, all you could need for the perfect vacation meal. Pick up a few cuts for the ice chest so you can enjoy a taste of Fort Morgan when you return home.
Once you’re fueled up, it’s time to get active. You won’t have to drive far to find an opportunity. For an easy 1-mile stroll in the woods, the Jeff Friend Trail is a scenic way to stretch your legs and see some wildlife. This Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge trail loops around the side of Little Lagoon, a 10-mile long, half-mile wide lagoon optimal for swimming, fishing and kayaking. A favorite of bird watchers, the trail is known for its wildlife, and covers both woods and beach. For those who’d rather be in the water than looking at it, a kayak launch is located just a 2-minute walk from the trail. By the time you work up a sweat, you’ll be right by the water. Win-win.
After your exploration of the great outdoors, head back to the car and drive down the gentle curvature of the open road ahead — that is, until you get to Crosswinds Court. Make a right and head down the gravel path to the hidden part of Fort Morgan, where the water is gentle, the fishing is easy and everything is hidden away out of sight. There, you’ll find Jesse’s on the Bay. The second location for the Magnolia Springs staple, Jesse’s on the Bay strikes the perfect balance between fine dining and coastal casualness. Teals, grays and natural wood abound in the indoor dining space upstairs. Pine floors and a vaulted ceiling complete with a light-filled copula give the restaurant the feeling of a lighthouse or sea captain’s quarters enlarged for waterside dining. With a menu that offers one-of-a-kind dishes like tuna tiradito topped with blackberry sauce and bonito flakes, the offerings are as delicious as they are impressive, and the menu is in a league of its own. Outside, water-level seating underneath the indoor space was made for the bathing-suit-and-flip-flops state of mind. A grassy field by the water beckons kids to run free.
A cold, sweet treat is a matter of survival in Fort Morgan’s mid-summer heat, and Jesse’s isn’t the only establishment that can oblige. Shaved ice is a summertime staple, and on Fort Morgan you can get it from a too-cute airstream trailer— the stuff of summertime dreams. Located on Beach Club Trail, Frost Bites has a menu of seemingly never-ending flavors, from tropical and fruity to sweet and creamy. Up the ante and get your shaved ice stuffed (add a scoop of ice cream to the bottom) or make it a Piggly Wiggly (ice cream on the bottom and cream on top). With listings of ice cream cones and floats alongside their shaved ice, Frost Bites complements the small-town vibe of Fort Morgan and helps you keep your cool.
With lunch and dessert under your belt, a bit more movement is a must. A quick 3-minute drive and a turn down Plantation Road will find you at Kiva Dunes Resort and Golf, a prime location for a little tee time and a dip in the pool. Designed by developer Jim Edgemon and his friend (and former U.S. Open Champion) Jerry Pate, the links-style golf course sets players up for a round with picturesque views. Kiva Dunes also has four unique swimming pools, making it the ideal place to unwind poolside.
You can’t get too far into Fort Morgan before the sandy shores call your name. Close to mile marker 6 lies Morgantown, a Gulf-front community of colorful houses with public beach access via several boardwalks. Slightly off the beaten path, the beach close to Morgantown Boulevard has a “leave only footprints” policy and remains relatively uncrowded throughout the day. A highlight and unique sight you won’t find on other area beaches is The Rachel, the remains of a 20th-century, shipwrecked-then-burned vessel lying on the shore. She is well worth a visit as her visibility varies with the shifting sands and she won’t be with us forever.
Clockwise from above Joe Emerson at his family’s property on Fort Morgan. Historic Fort Morgan is at the very tip of the peninsula. Red snapper charter fishing is a popular activity based at the marina.
Another unique piece of history is just a little farther down Fort Morgan Road. Just inside the mouth of Mobile Bay lies Navy Cove. Home to Native American villages thousands of years ago, its name came after the British Navy camped in the area when Fort Bowyer (the current site of Fort Morgan) fell in 1815. It was also the site of industry before and after the Civil War. This now-quiet stretch is an ideal place to park just off the road, cast a rod and wait it out amongst palmettos and rippling water.
Craving another Fort Morgan experience? Navy Cove Oysters, an oyster farm that produces for the high-end half-shell market, offers walking tours by appointment. Take a couple of hours to wade through waters and across beaches on the tour, learning about area aquaculture and the farming techniques that best produce the tastiest bivalves. Don’t forget your water shoes and sense of adventure!
Another four minutes down the road, the excitement at Fort Morgan Marina never gets old. Sportfishermen and large center-consoles are tied up in their slips, being unloaded by deckhands with wheelbarrows full of fish from excursions into the Gulf of Mexico nearby. Visitors to the area can book a trip on one of the many fishing charters docked at the marina. And it may be good to know that the marina also plays host to Tacky Jack’s 2. No one would blame you if you stopped in for a quick bushwacker.
Nearing the end of the peninsula almost at the tip lies the Fort Morgan Landing of the Mobile Bay Ferry. Drive your car onto the ferry or just walk straight on board for a 40-minute ride across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island (two vacations in one!). The ride there and back is punctuated by views of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines on opposite sides of the shore, adding a dose of military history to your excursion. Ferries depart both Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island in 45-minute intervals.
If seeing Historic Fort Morgan from afar wasn’t enough, it lies in all its glory and “damn the torpedoes!” fame at the very end of the peninsula. A stop at the fort is a must for its historic significance and stunning brick architecture. Each visit reveals something new about the 1834 structure that was active through four wars. Maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission, its history has been uniquely preserved and education about the site is comes alive with guided tours.
From one end to the other, Fort Morgan is a peninsula worth exploring. It may take more than a day to experience everything Fort Morgan has to offer, and that’s not a bad thing. The more time spent on this slice of paradise, the better.
Clockwise from top left A whole fish with spring onions, baby lettuce, peppers and pickled onions from Jesse’s on the Bay. Bottles of top-notch wine line the walls at Jesse’s on the Bay. The boardwalk at Kiva Dunes looks out on Fort Morgan’s sandy shores (Photo courtesy Kiva Dunes).
UNPACKING FORT MORGAN
LENGTH OF PENINSULA
The Fort Morgan peninsula is 21 miles long just west of Gulf Shores to Historic Fort Morgan.
LATITUDE AND LONGITUDE
30.2355° N, 87.9153° W
TRAVEL TIME DOWN THE PENINSULA
It will take you approximately 30 minutes to drive the length of the Fort Morgan peninsula.
AVERAGE JULY WEATHER
The average temperature on Fort Morgan in July ranges from a low of 81° F to a high of 87° F.
Hiking, kayaking and swimming are only the beginning.
Fort Morgan Marina is home to a multitude of fishing charters, ranging from half-day trips to all-day excursions.
DISCOVER THE PAST
The fort and grounds at Historic Fort Morgan are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
PLAY A ROUND OF GOLF
Golf courses at Kiva Dunes are open to the public. Golfers can book tee times online and play 9, 18 or 36 holes.
Can’t get enough adventure in the great outdoors? Fort Morgan has much more to offer.
If you’re craving more trail time, extend your hike by taking the Pine Beach Trail. This trail is connected to the Jeff Friend Trail by way of the two-mile Centennial Trail, making it the ideal hike extender at two miles each way.
The Fort Morgan Road Trail runs perpendicular to Fort Morgan Road. This flat, 11-mile trail is perfect for biking.
Beach Bums Coffee and Deli, 15849 AL-180, 224-4066
The Boozey Butcher Shop, 15849 AL-180, 224-1074
Fort Morgan Marina, 1577 AL-180 West, 540-2628
Fresh Market Seafood, 15849 AL-180, 967-1732
Frost Bites, 925 Beach Club Trail, 578-2014
Historic Fort Morgan, 110 AL-180, 540-7127
Jeff Friend Trail, 13900 AL-180, 540-7720
Jesse’s on the Bay, 1631 Crosswinds Court, 965-3827
Kiva Dunes Resort and Golf, 815 Plantation Road, 540-7000
Mobile Bay Ferry – Fort Morgan Landing, 110 AL-180, 861-3000
Navy Cove Oysters, 2375 Choctaw Road, 933-1005
Tacky Jack’s 2, 1577 AL-180, 968-8341