“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
That’s usually what I’m thinking by the time I get everything packed and point the car south to one of my favorited destinations on the Alabama coast — Fort Morgan.
A beach community just west of Gulf Shores on Mobile Point, Fort Morgan is a little slower paced, more leisurely, quiet. You won’t find an endless string of t-shirt shops, putt-putt, or stop-and-go traffic. What you will find is a place to relax, a place to breathe, a place where vacation memories just happen.
If you are in Gulf Shores and headed south on Hwy. 59, just hang a right on Hwy. 180 (or Fort Morgan Road), which runs all the way from Gulf Shores until it ends at the masonry star fort for which the area is named. Guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay, Fort Morgan was established in 1813 and was an important point of defense during the Civil War. Visitors can tour this piece of history daily and also take a ferry to Fort Gaines, which is directly across the bay on Dauphin Island and where Civil War Admiral David Farragut gave the famous order quoted above.
While there are a few resorts like The Beach Club, Kiva Dunes, and Gulf Shores Plantation, Fort Morgan residents and visitors mostly vacation in colorful houses scattered all along both sides of the road. Whether facing the Gulf of Mexico or Mobile Bay, every sunset is a beautiful memory, every view breathtaking. And down there, away from the sea of party tents and tourists in Gulf Shores proper, you can always find plenty of room on the sugar sands to put down your towel and soak up the sun.
Peaceful is a way of life along Hwy. 180, which winds through nearly 7,000 acres of undisturbed ecosystem known as The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. This sanctuary provides Fort Morgan’s critters a protected habitat while allowing visitors to experience the wildlife, wetlands, and maritime forests from its trails. Bon Secour, French for “safe harbor,” is home to all sorts of creatures including sea turtles, armadillos, foxes, and the endangered Alabama beach mouse as well as over 400 species of birds which all share the point with visitors, as do dolphin, sting rays, and the occasional hammerhead shark.
There will come a time during your stay when you find you have to drag yourself off the beach and seek nourishment. While the choices at Fort Morgan are few, they are good every one. Start out at Behind the Pines, a dive in the absolute best, deep-fried sense of the word located, guess where, behind Pines Grocery & Hardware. Seafood, steaks, burgers, and more – there is something for even the finickiest eater in your group. Get the fried pickles. You won’t be sorry.
Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. From biscuits and gravy to shrimp n’ grits to filet mignon, they have it all in a fun, funky space where you can hear live music most every night. And here’s a tip: If they ask you if you want creamy crab sauce on anything, just say yes.
If you feel like staying in, stop by Fresh Market Seafood run by the Wallace’s, a family of fishermen and shrimpers serving the area since the mid 1800s. Purchase fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood and all the fixins to prepare dinner just the way you like it. Don’t miss out on their frozen, homemade hush puppies and seafood gumbo to-go. If you want to get some to bring home with you, they will pack to travel.
Now I can’t say I haven’t walked through the shark’s mouth into Souvenir City a time or two. I can’t say I haven’t waited more than an hour to eat at LuLu’s and that it wasn’t good. I’ve downed Bushwackers at FloraBama, gotten a hole-in-one at Pirate’s Island, and stepped on a pop top and had to cruise on back home. This Alabama girl has spent her entire life enjoying all that the coast has to offer.
But when it comes time for some true R&R, when there is an no denying the urge to retreat from the world into the warm arms of the Gulf of Mexico, Fort Morgan is it for me. The end of the line.
Damn the torpedoes. Good times ahead.