You don’t have to look far to find stores selling t-shirts, swimsuits, towels, and other cheap beach souvenirs, and there’s a great deal of repetition amongst these stores. With that said, I never miss a chance to stop a Souvenir City and The Purple Octopus when I’m in town.
Conveniently located next door to each other, their entrances are guarded by oversized sea monsters beckoning for a mandatory photo op in the mouth of a shark or in the tentacles of an octopus. Both stores have maintained that old beach town feel, far different from the big, neon Surf Styles on every corner and stretching down to the Florida state line.
Souvenir City and The Purple Octopus feel different from the others. Souvenir City has been family owned and operated since 1956. When you go inside, (after you pass through the shark’s mouth and look inside the shark’s stomach), look immediately to the right on the wall behind the cash register. The store owners have left the line on the wall where the high water mark was when the place was flooded by Category 5 Hurricane Ivan in 2006. That year, Gulf Shores took a direct hit, and the water line inside the store is about 4’ high, which is somewhat surprising since the store is not on the beach. It shows just how high and far the water came in during the storm.
Both stores have all the typical beach souvenirs one would expect, but they also have the best shell selections anywhere. RoadsideAmerica.com names The Purple Octopus as the World’s Largest Purple Octopus and mentions Souvenir City as another offbeat place located nearby. Did I mention the full-size pirate ship in the back of Souvenir City? I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it’s all a bit kitchy but totally necessary, even adults can’t resist. The Purple Octopus has the largest and most varied assortment of beach Christmas ornaments and both are iconic features in Gulf Shores not to be missed.
Heading over to The Wharf are my three favorite stores: Melanie’s, MII and Lucca.
Melanie’s and MII
What’s not to love in these stores? Both stores are owned by local interior designer, Melanie Martin. MII serves more as a design studio, while Melanie’s serves more as a retail environment. Although they both sell merchandise, the studio also has samples of various products used for her interiors clients, and they’re conveniently located just a couple doors down from each other. Melanie‘s shops are full of meaningful and unique pieces, and while so many stores are crammed with junk from The Merchandise Mart, her shops are different. They are thoughtfully curated and offer handmade items and art that support local artists and empower women in other countries.
Melanie brings her overall design aesthetic, which is calm, cool, crisp, and rich in texture and material presence to both of her stores. Her stores are full of glass, shell, stone, alabaster, fur and so many other yummy materials.
One of the most unique finds specific to the area has to be the Indian pottery shard and oyster shell necklaces by Oysterdrift. The Indian pottery and oyster shells are collected from all along Gulf Coast beaches and waterways. The father (an archeologist) and daughter team of Oysterdrift collect pieces and make one-of-kind necklaces out of these artifacts, said to be hundreds to thousands of years old. They also make a similar line of Christmas ornaments.
Melanie’s sells Raven+Lily, a socially conscious brand empowering women all over the world. With an exotic look and made with materials such as horn, wood, leather, jute, recycled silver, copper and brass beads (melted down from bullet casings) and many other recycled and organic materials, this brand gives women, including those HIV+, training to use their local resources to design eco-friendly pieces.
The long, recycled copper and brass bead necklace above (pic via Raven+Lily site) is on my must-have list and would look great with a plunging v-neck dress.
Melanie’s also sells GAIA, another socially conscious brand employing and training refugee women in Dallas, TX. Just like Raven+Lily, GAIA is also ethically made by hand from repurposed textiles. GAIA offers bright, bold, patterned fabric and geometrics with fringe, tassels, and fabric wrapped beads.
I couldn’t resist buying one of these white marble vessels with the gold agate on top, along with a couple other things. I’m saving these colorful GAIA pouches and clutches for my next visit, when spring and summer happily return.
I also bought two of these brown paper, metal cuff note holder. While at the store the girls said they weren’t sure what they were for, but I decided to write quotes and positive affirmations on mine and keep on my nightstand. The friend I’m giving the other one to has several parties throughout the year, and I thought what a great idea to leave out at a party and have friends write notes on them for her to read later, almost like a guest book but something a bit more personal. These would be great for bridal and baby showers, too!
Melanie’s also carries Bella Dahl, a clothing line out of Los Angeles. This effortless line makes it easy to look coastal chic. Bella Dahl has created their own specific wash, so it looks perfectly worn in and soft, and the fabric hangs like a linen which gives it a luxurious, flowy look without trying too hard. I could see being comfy on the weekends with one of these on and some stretch pants, or dressing it up with white skinny jeans, a sparkly necklace, and of course I’d pair it with one of those GAIA clutches.
Just a few shops down from Melanie’s is Lucca.
Lucca carries many different lines: White+Warren, Vince, Rag and Bone, Chan Luu, Theory, DVF and much more. I instantly fell in love with the Rag and Bone hat on the top and had to purchase it. It’s a perfectly muted mauve color and looks fabulous with grey, beige, creamy white, and even camp/army green.
For the most part, everything is arranged by color or coordinating colors, which I love, and they offer a lot in neutral tones.
Right now, they have some beautiful cashmere capes (pictured above), and below was the most adorable shirt with champagne glasses on it that I’m regretting not buying…because seriously, do champagne glasses ever go out of style? Besides, isn’t this the perfect shirt for a classy girl who’s ready to party? I did however buy this amazonite necklace with the camel colored leather tassel. I love how this stone ranges from very blue to very brown with all the combinations of those two colors in between.
Lucca also carries a great selection of jewelry and J Brand jeans, and I almost left with this black bracelet, too.
So hopefully amidst all the bright neon, low quality beach stores which cater to a certain crowd and fulfill the quick necessaties, you can head over to The Wharf for a bit more upscale shopping. Enjoy!
All information and photographs were provided by our guest blogger, Cassandra Buckalew. Recently, Cassandra took us on a dream drive down Fort Morgan Road. Follow her adventures and take some on for your own.
Entrepreneur and designer, Cassandra Buckalew, is an Atlanta native. She and her husband own a home on Fort Morgan and fell in love with the area after their first visit in 2006. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta and owns a trolley company, a pedicab company and a ghost tour in the metro Atlanta area. She has traveled all over the world but spends her down town rejuvenating on Alabama’s beautiful coast. She enjoys the Gulf Coast lifestyle and friendly laid-back attitude. A lover of photography, travel, design, food and fashion, you can follow her images and adventures on her Instagram account at: cassbuckalew or her Facebook design page: Cassandra Buckalew Interiors. She can be reached at: email@example.com.