In between I-10 and the pearly white sands of paradise lies a quiet, vast expanse of pastoral Baldwin County terrain, with gems sprinkled between quaint communities and farmland. While en route to our beautiful Gulf this summer, detour away from the tourist traffic to enjoy the bounties off the beaten path. Meander through rural Daphne, Fairhope, Magnolia Springs and Bon Secour on this scenic drive. If you’re coming from Mobile County, take exit 35-A off of I-10 and let the adventure begin! Click here to download an illustrated map of our road trip.
STOP 1 – Brantley Farms Petting Zoo
As you begin your journey, take a left just off 98 in Daphne onto County Road 64. Make a quick detour left onto Pollard Road and find this quaint little family establishment. Visitors get to experience farm life firsthand, petting and feeding baby chicks, goats, peacocks and more. The Brantleys also offer miniature pony and train rides, as well as a seed planting station where you can get your hands dirty and grow hopeful of a squash sprout. “It’s really a place where animals and kids go together, ” says Donna Brantley, who owns and operates the petting zoo with her husband, Karl. “Farms like this are disappearing. Here, children get a chance to be hands on with the animals, ” she adds.
> 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Th – Sa. 26214 Pollard Road. 626-5416. Admission: $5.50 per person.
Add a pony or train ride for $3.25.
STOP 2 – Allegri Farm Market
Head east on County Road 64, and just a hop, skip and a jump on down, you’ll find Allegri Farm Market, where the produce you see in the wooden bins is picked right off the land that morning. “You can’t get much fresher than that, ” owner Vince Allegri says. Vince has been farming his entire life; he and his crew stay busy year-round growing produce for the market. Stop in, load up and bring crisp sweet corn, snap beans, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, canta-loupes and watermelons ripe from the farm to your beach side table.
> 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. M – Sa. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Su. 9948 County Road 64, Daphne. 621-1955.
OTHER AGRICULTURAL PICKS
Find greenhouses galore, filled with perennials and annuals, plus large seasonal offerings of L.A. favorites: camellias and azaleas. 13477 County Road 27, Fairhope. 928-8780.
Weeks Bay Plantation
From April through July, this organic berry farm offers 15 varieties for visitors to pick themselves. 12562 Mary Ann Beach Road, Fairhope. 279-8745.
STOP 3 – FOOD BREAK OPTION 1: Old 27 Grill
By now, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. From Allegri, continue on east, and turn right onto State Highway 181. Head south for six miles, and you’ll find Old 27 Grill. Here, the classic American burgers and hot dogs are elevated to new heights, with 27 different topping options. And that number isn’t arbitrary. State Highway 181 used to be dubbed County Road 27; this roadside dive is its namesake. The joint’s witty slogan reads: “For folks who just can’t call it Highway 181.” Owner William Stitt recommends a Comeback sandwich filled with chicken or shrimp and laced with a decadent sauce that’s sure to keep you, well, “coming back.” In the mood for something fancy? Order a hand-cut 16-ounce ribeye. “It’s self- or full-service, laid-back or nice, ” Stitt says. Dine indoors, or get some fresh air at picnic tables under the trees. For the of-age, non-designated drivers, they serve more than 27 cocktails for $5, bushwackers made with homemade ice cream and 20 draft beer choices. Grab wine or beer to go from the little country store. Every third Saturday is all-you-can-eat crawfish, and stay for live music Thursday through Sunday. Keep traveling south down 181 for your next stop.
> 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. M – F. 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sa. 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Su. 19992 state Highway 181, Fairhope. 281-2663.
FOOD BREAK OPTION 2: Biscuit King
On the other hand, if it’s closer to breakfast time, pass right on by Old 27 Grill, take a quick detour west onto County Road 24. Dirt and gravel will lead you to a fire-engine-red tin building: the almost famous Biscuit King. At the down-home establishment, the hot and hearty breakfast is just like Mama (or maybe her sister) used to make it. “I was trying to make a biscuit like my Aunt Mamie’s, ” says the king himself, Willie Foster. “I didn’t succeed, but I did come up with the Ugly Biscuit.”
Order up the bacon, egg and cheese or Berry Berry Ugly Biscuit, but don’t look for anything between bread. Everything is cooked inside the biscuit. Breakfast is served all day, or opt for a hot plate lunch special (a meat, two veggies and dessert), barbecue or pizza. Wash it down with a creamy milkshake. Bonus: if any passengers need to burn off some energy, there’s a play yard, basketball court, miniature golf course and driving range. Foster adds, “People like to stop by to hear my singing, too.” Once you clean your plate, back track northbound on 181 for your next break.
> 5 a.m – 2 p.m. M – W. 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. Th – Su. 9555 County Road 24, Fairhope. 928-2424.
OTHER GOOD EATS
Jesse’s Restaurant & The Cold Hole
On the banks of the Magnolia River, enjoy fine dining at Jesse’s or a casual meal at The Cold Hole. Same menu, different ambience. 14770 Oak St., Magnolia Springs. 965-3827.
The Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Top-notch seafood dishes and steaks are cooked up in this restaurant in the fishing village of Bon Secour. Dine indoors or out on the patio. 6232 County Road 10, Bon Secour. 949-5086.
STOP 4 – The 181 Market
Time to let your food settle as you pause for a bit of bargain hunting. “There’s no flea in our market, ” manager Melissa Smith laughs. “We are upscale.” This outdoor bazaar is chock-full of repurposed pieces, antiques, vintage items and hand-crafted goods. “We have a real creative group of people and pickers, ” she adds. “They find unique items.” And they find them big and small – it’s a one-stop spot for everything from vintage earrings to farm equipment. The History Channel even visited to film their antique-themed reality competition “Picked Off.” During regular “Caravan” events (the first full weekend of each month), anyone can set up shop ($30 for three days). “It’s a big, weekend-long yard sale, ” Smith says. Plus, treasure hunters get to shop to the sound of live music and enticing smells of food truck vendors.
> 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. F, Sa and the first Sunday of the month. 16925 state Highway 181, Fairhope.
STOP 5 – Weeks Bay Reserve
Keep heading south on 181, hang a right onto County Road 27 and then a left to get back on eastbound 98. You’ll happen upon the Weeks Bay Reserve, a perfect educational stop. “Here, we teach about estuaries, those highly productive areas where the rivers meet the sea, ” reserve manager L.G. Adams says. Live animals, such as alligators, fish, crabs and snakes, await in displays at the visitor’s center. You’ll also find hummingbird and butterfly gardens, as well as an extensive collection of preserved flora and fauna species native to coastal Alabama. A stroll along the boardwalk leads you to their natural habitat – forested wetlands with a panoramic view of the open marsh and Weeks Bay. “My favorite feature is the native pitcher plant bog, ” Adams adds. The striking natural phenomenon is just five minutes down the road.
> 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – Sa. 11401 U.S. Highway 98, Fairhope. 990-5004.
STOP 6 – Inspiration Oak Park
At the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and Fish River Road, stretch your legs at this park. Even though the towering tree that once called it home is gone, the 7-foot-wide stump of Inspiration Oak remains a historic beacon and picturesque photo op. The sprawling granddaddy oak drew visitors from as far away as Tibet and New Zealand. During a 1990 land dispute, it was notoriously girdled with a chainsaw. Despite efforts to save it, the tree and its 200-foot expanse of branches were chopped down in 2003. The park has since reopened, so take the opportunity to explore and snap a family photo.
MORE SCENIC VIEWS AND PHOTO OPS
Bridge over Magnolia River
As you pass through Magnolia Springs and cross over the bridge, admire the waters below. You’ll probably spot boaters and possibly swimmers taking a dip in the Cold Hole’s surprisingly chilly water.
Our Lady of Bon Secour
This pristine, white chapel is more than 100 years old. It has survived many a storm and was once relocated piece by piece from the other side of the river. 17263 County Road 49, Bon Secour.
Swift School and School House Creek
As you cross over School House Creek, you’ll spot the charming white buildings of the Swift School. Local elementary students have been educated here since 1920. 6330 Bon Secour Highway, Bon Secour.
STOP 7 – Swift-Coles Home
Continue on Highway 98, and turn right onto Magnolia Springs Highway, which becomes County Road 49 South. At the end of the pavement, turn left onto Swift-Coles Lane to take a trip back in time. A guided tour of the Swift-Coles property, complete with lively anecdotes, offers a brief glimpse into what life was like there 100 years ago. The 6, 000-square-foot home boasts 3, 500 square feet of porches. “Nearly all of the rooms open to porches, ” says Harriet Outlaw, who is a member of the Baldwin County Historical Development Commission and a volunteer docent. “It was built to let the outside in as much as possible.” Inside, find antiques bequeathed by Nik Coles, donations from the Swift family, clothing worn by the Swift family and the family tea service. Master gardeners are now planning a major restoration project for the grounds to be installed this summer.
> 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tu – F. 17424 Swift-Coles Lane, Bon Secour. 949-5550.
Finally, find your way up to County Road 10 and head east until the four lanes and traffic lights of U.S. Highway 59 greet you and lead you to the water. Oaks will fade to palms, and farmhouses will be replaced with high-rise condos. Then, after soaking in some good old beach time, you may decide to travel the back roads home again. The trip is never the same twice, and you’ll likely find your own new favorite gems along the way. Tag us in your pics along your own journey #MBroadtrip
text by Christy Dobson Reid • photos by Jeff and Meggan Haller