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Dream Drive: Hwy 180, Fort Morgan, AL

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Years ago, I remember reading one of the major travel magazines that did a piece every month called “Dream Drives.” It featured a beautiful place to take a road trip, and what to do, see, and eat along the way. Hwy 180 is a dream drive that can be done in a day and is hidden from the hustle and bustle of Gulf Shores.

Hwy 180, or Fort Morgan Peninsula, is a 22 mile stretch of land with Mobile Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other side. I can’t tell you the countless people I run into who have visited Gulf Shores, some several times, and have never driven down this road to see what Fort Morgan has to offer.

Fort Morgan map view

Map view of the Fort Morgan Peninsula

Why should you go? Fort Morgan’s remote location makes it seem worlds away from the busy condo buildings, souvenir stores, and restaurants. It is natural, beautiful, and since building has been restricted to a minimum, it is sparsely populated and untouched in many areas. There are also some very special spots along the way you must see.

Cycling and Biking: If you are an avid cyclist, you need to bring your bike. There’s a bike lane that stretches from one end to the other, and with the small amount of traffic driving this road, you can feel totally safe. Not to mention, down and back is a flat 44 miles, so getting several miles in is easy. For those who like to bike, but aren’t as comfortable riding on the road with cars, or prefer the more relaxed beach cruiser way of getting around, there is a winding bike path adjacent to the road on the right side of the highway that extends part of the way down the peninsula, about five miles. Riding along the golf course, under the Spanish moss, is a great way to stay active while enjoying a leisurely ride. If you have a large group going and can’t fit all your bikes on your rack, you can rent from a local company that will deliver them to you. To pick up the path, park your car at the grocery store at the corner of Hwy 180 and 59.

Fort Morgan bike trail

A view from the bike trail on the Fort Morgan peninsula

Bird Watching:If you are into bird watching, the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail Fort Morgan Loop, offers several opportunities, since much of the Fort Morgan Peninsula is in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The birding trail and sites are well marked with signs along Hwy 180, and here is a site that lists the locations and species most often in occurrence at that location.

Little Lagoon: Little Lagoon is situated between the land that is West Beach and a 10 mile portion of Fort Morgan. It is about ½ mile wide and consists of brackish water from Lake Shelby and the water that comes in at the pass from the Gulf of Mexico. There are three opportunities to see the lagoon up close on Fort Morgan: Lagoon Park (pictured below), Pine Beach Trail or Jeff Friend Trail, with the last two also being on the birding trail. The day I took this photo, it was overcast and the lagoon was perfectly still, like glass, mirroring every object.

Lagoon Park

Lagoon Park is beautiful no matter the weather.

Shipwreck: Continuing down Fort Morgan, turn left at mile marker 6, make a right at the end of the road, and you’ll find the Rachel, aka The Mystery Ship. The Rachel is a 155’ Schooner believed to have been built around 1923. As you can imagine with any old relic, there are so many stories surrounding it. Many say the ship was a Civil War era ship called the Monticello that left Mobile Bay in the 1860s. Other legends say it was a rum runner and call it the “Whiskey Wreck” trying to smuggle liquor during Prohibition. Depending on shifting sand and weather conditions, the ship may or may not be exposed, but it is definitely a sight to see. It’s lying flat on the beach in someone’s backyard. Literally, it’s almost right under their deck. There isn’t any parking, and it’s located in a residential area, so remember to be respectful when walking through the area. You can park a few lots away, and you’ll see signs posted in the areas where you cannot park. Currently, there is a vacant lot of open sand you can walk in without walking under a private house. Again, just be respectful, and remember, this isn’t a tourist destination, it’s a residential neighborhood.

mystery shipwreck

They call this mystery shipwreck the Rachel. Find it on the beaches of Fort Morgan, Alabama.

Eat: You must try Tacky Jacks 2 at the Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina at Fort Morgan. This two story structure, which looks like it was once a house, sits right on Mobile Bay. In the summer months, the sun sets in Mobile Bay. In the winter it sets in the Gulf of Mexico, and both are equally beautiful. Tacky Jacks is a chain around Gulf Shores, but we love this off-the-beaten path location. Upstairs is the restaurant, downstairs is the bar, and from either level you can see the water. They have some of the best bushwhackers on the Gulf Coast, and if you’re brave (and you must be) order one with a floater. If you go in the summer, as I mentioned above, you will be treated with this breathtaking view from the deck.

Tacky Jack's sunset

Tacky Jack’s can always be accessed by land or by sea.

And while this isn’t a tourist destination, one of the most recognizable houses on Fort Morgan is the very last house on the left as you head down where the fort property begins. In different light and weather conditions, it reminds me of the perfect setting for a romantic movie or a scary, psychological thriller. The location, the isolation, and the size all come together to make a perfect setting. As you drive towards the fort, the house is concealed until you are past it, so once you make it to the clearing as you enter the fort property, look back over your left shoulder and out towards the water. And by the way, that really was the sky that night. This was taken with my iPhone and no special editing or filter.

Fort Morgan sunsets

This house has a great view, and you can too on your dream drive down the Fort Morgan peninsula.

Fort Morgan: This is the main reason you drove down this road and will be the highlight of the drive. Fort Morgan State Historic Site is a Civil War fort. It is not to be missed and neither are the views. The fort is located at the very end of Fort Morgan Peninsula, and don’t be fooled when you drive up to the parking lot. You can’t see a bit of it from the outside. It’s protected by a sloping grass wall, a common engineering feature of many forts. After walking through the arched tunnel, you’ll see the entrance. At the top of Fort Morgan, you have the best view of the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island and the Gulf of Mexico. You can do a self-guided tour and spend as much, or as little time as you like, but exploring the rooms and grounds is fascinating for all ages. The entrance and grounds are all protected areas, and from the parking lot, you can walk out onto the beach where the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay meet. The museum is free and houses many relics and past lenses from the lighthouses around the area.

Fort Morgan entryway

The historic Fort Morgan is located at the very tip of the Fort Morgan peninsula.


Now you’ve come this far and you have an option to extend your day by chartering a small boat for a couple of hours to explore Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

If you decide to charter a boat at Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina at Fort Morgan (back at Tacky Jacks), be sure you plan in advance by calling the marina, as boats aren’t always available on a walk up basis. It is a small marina with only a few boats there at certain times. I recommend allowing yourself the morning to drive and get out and explore all the locations and schedule a boat ride in the afternoon. You could even do the fort before heading to Tacky Jacks for lunch, and then catch a boat after lunch. The picture taken below is the marina in off-season. You can see now why you need to plan ahead. As you can see below, even if you are there in off-season when the sun sets on the gulf side, the sky on Mobile Bay is still stunning at sunset.

sunset at Gulf Shores Yacht Club and Marina

Get ready to charter your boat! We’re going for an adventure through Mobile Bay.

Sand Island Light House: On a clear day you can see Sand Island Light, and it’s so hard to believe by looking at how far away it is, at one time, it was connected to land. You must see this lighthouse while you can. It is currently on Lighthouse Digest Magazine’s Doomsday List, a list naming the most endangered lighthouses in the country. You can’t go inside of it, but it is regarded as one of the last great masonry lighthouses on the Gulf Coast. Massive granite rocks have been placed at the base to prevent further erosion. When it was originally constructed in 1838, it was the tallest lighthouse ever built. The lighthouse also has so many stories to tell. It has been hit by several hurricanes and was even blown up when Confederate soldiers found Union soldiers in the lighthouse spying on Fort Morgan. The structure you see today was built in 1873 and is 125 feet tall. If you don’t make this portion of the trip, when you are standing on top of Fort Morgan, imagine if you can, walking from Dauphin Island to Sand Island Light. Dauphin Island residents currently own Sand Island Light and that was the lighthouse’s connection point.

Sand Island Light House near Dauphin Island

The Sand Island Light House is currently listed as endangered through Lighthouse Digest Magazine. See it while you can!

Dolphin Watching: Well, if you haven’t seen a dolphin at some point on your trip while sitting on the beach, I’m very surprised. They are all over this part of the Gulf of Mexico and in Mobile Bay, so you are just about guaranteed to see at least one during your trip. If not, there’s an even better chance you’ll see them on a boat. They are everywhere. The lighthouse is about 3 miles off shore, so keep your eyes open for dolphin when heading out there.

Many of us go on vacation to park our butts in the sand and do nothing. We rush around at home, why would we want to do anything on vacation, right? I hear you. I promise you, even if none of the other stops along the way interest you, at least drive down to the end and see the fort. It is a remarkable place, and you don’t need to be into history to enjoy it. I guarantee it will be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. Relax and enjoy the drive!

All information and photographs were provided by our guest blogger Cassandra Buckalew.

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: cassbuckalew@gmail.com.

Cassandra Buckalew

2013 Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-off

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

IMG_7027_bBring your appetite to The Hangout’s 6th annual Oyster Cook-off, an all-day event, November 9th. Innovative chefs from around the region will showcase their favorite Cajun, Rockefeller and raw oyster dishes. A panel of celebrities will judge the submissions based on flavor, creativity and presentation. The winning teams will take home cash prizes and tickets to the 2014 Hangout Music Festival. Tasting tickets are only $2, and admission to the festival is free. You can also get a book of 20 tasting tickets for $30. Cast your votes for the People’s Choice award, and enjoy the raw talent at the shucking competition.

There are plenty of other things to do at the cook-off beyond eating oysters. Dance to live music, watch the annual Alabama-LSU rivalry game on the big screen or just enjoy the variety of craft-brewed beers. And remember, the beach is only a few steps away.

IMG_8348_bNeed a place to stay for the festival? Meyer Vacation Rentals, a preferred lodging partner for the 2013 Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-off, is giving away a free night’s stay. There are also limited number of free tickets to the exclusive preview party, November 8th, available to Meyer guests. The Oyster Cook-off is located on the grounds of The Hangout Restaurant, at the end of Hwy. 59, at the public beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Did You Know?

IMG_8142_bThe history of Oysters Rockefeller is quite interesting. It all began in New Orleans, circa 1899, at Antoine’s Restaurant. Founder Antoine Alciatore had developed a recipe for snails Bourgigno. After a shortage of French snails, Antoine’s son, Jules Alciator, adopted the dish into what we now know as Oysters Rockefeller. Oysters were rarely cooked prior to this, and Jules is known as a culinary pioneer. Antoine’s is the oldest running family business, and the original Oysters Rockefeller recipe is a closely-guarded secret. It was said that on his death bed, Jules vowed that it would stay that way forever.

Oysters R (always) In Season

IMG_7009_bHave you ever been told not to eat oysters in the months without an R in the spelling? It doesn’t really apply anymore. Refrigeration and our advanced shipping industry ensure that oysters are safe to eat year-round. The warm waters consistent with the R-less months of May, June, July and August do not make oysters any less safe to eat. They do reproduce during these months, and that can have an effect on their flavor, but interestingly, oysters can reproduce at any time during the year in our warm Gulf waters.

Kids and Oysters

All oyster lovers have to develop a taste for them at some point. If your kid wants to try oysters, start them off easy. Even picky eaters and compromised immune systems can handle oysters baked, broiled and chargrilled. Eating raw oysters can be a fun adventure for the little ones. You might want to dress it for them the first time with their favorite spices. I prefer my raw oysters served on a Saltine cracker and topped with cocktail sauce, horseradish, lemon and a dash of hot sauce! How do you like your oysters?

Hungry for more? Take a look our highlight’s from 2012’s Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-off.

Three Foods You Have to Try While in Gulf Shores

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Most people look forward to their Gulf Shores vacations because of the region’s white-sand beaches and stunning turquoise and blue waters, but the traditional cuisine of the area is also a draw for many vacationers.

The city’s location on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico means the opportunities to try the freshest seafood are plentiful. The chefs in the area mix the best local ingredients into traditional Southern cooking, treating visitors to some of the most unforgettable flavors during their South Alabama vacation.

3 Gulf Shores Foods

Try a po-boy made with blackened crawfish, soft-shell crab or a catfish filet for an extra-authentic Gulf Coast experience!

With so many delicious options at all of the Gulf Shores restaurants, your choices are numerous. But let us suggest three regional specialties to try during your stay.

Gumbo

No trip to the South is complete without gumbo. Depending on where you go, this Southern stew consists of some combination of sausage, chicken and shrimp, but in the Gulf Shores area, most establishments add regional catches like crawfish, oysters, crab meat and other fish to the traditional base. No matter which version you order at which restaurant, this dish is sure to please.

Oysters

Sure, you can get oysters at many coastal vacation destinations, but the Gulf Coast is famous for this delicacy. Try them cold on the half shell at any number of Gulf Shores area restaurants, or sample them steamed, fried or baked. Not sure which to order? Many eateries offer a platter with a variety of deliciously prepared oysters.

Po-boys

Po-boys may be ubiquitous in the southern U.S., but the freshness of the shrimp, oysters, fish and crab used in these hearty sandwiches is unparalleled. Try one made with blackened crawfish, soft-shell crab or a catfish filet for an extra-authentic Gulf Coast experience! Mikee’s Seafood in Gulf Shores serves up these varieties along with several others.

Originally posted at MeyerRe.com

Oktoberfest in Perdido Key

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

October is just around the corner. That means it’s time for Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest, Perdido Key, FL, German, accordion, music, folk, tradition

Dress in German folk attire (you could win a prize!) or come as you are. Perdido Key Oktoberfest is filled with music, games, brats and beer. Join the festivities October 5 & 6, 2012!

The 3rd Annual Oktoberfest in Perdido Key, Florida, is proof of the success of their first two events. It has already outgrown the one-day schedule, so this year you have two days—October 5 and 6, 2012—to raise a toast to the folk traditions of Germany.

You’ll be treated to a musical performance schedule that features Buttons and Bows (accordionist Julie Council with her 9-year-old grandson Christopher Conger), Josef Mit Dehr OomPa, and the German band Bayrisch Blau that plays everything from polkas to American contemporary pop/rock.

Of course, the food is a huge favorite at the festival. Brats, schnitzel, pretzels and more will be savored by all ages. Children will enjoy the setting of the root beer garden that includes a bounce house. And the adults have the opportunity to sample a number of German beers by purchasing a $20 set of 10 tickets; single tickets can be traded for sample sizes of ale, or two tickets will return a full-size serving of your favorite variety.

Start warming up now to win one or more of the festival games described below. One game will be played every 15 minutes between 2:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, and between each music set the remainder of the event.
›  Hammerschlagen—Be the first to pound the nail into the wood.
›  Stein Race—Run the course the fastest without spilling the beer.
›  Masskrugstemmen—Hold a beer-filled, liter-size stein at a 90-degree angle as long as you can. (This is harder than it sounds!)
›  Keg Roll—Push the keg through an obstacle course.
›  Brat Toss—Toss brats with a partner, using buckets.

Don’t forget to wear your traditional German clothing—at 5:45 each day, prizes will be awarded for the best-dressed male and female!

This free family-friendly event begins Friday, October 5 at 2 p.m. and Saturday, October 6 at noon; closing time is 8:00 both evenings.

You’ll find the fun at 13200 Gulf Beach Highway, on the former Sacred Heart Soccer Fields next to the Winn-Dixie Shopping Center.

Come for the weekend—or better yet, stay a few extra days! Make it a cozy getaway in one of Perdido Key’s 1-bedroom condos or bring the family and stay in a 3-bedroom Perdido Key condo. No matter how many in your party, you’ll have a wonderful time at Perdido Key Oktoberfest and the beach!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Vacation Rentals on TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

Pirates and Princesses Breakfast

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Shiver me timbers! It’s a FREE breakfast for the little pirates and princesses, all summer long at The Hangout!

free, breakfast, kids, children, The Hangout, Gulf Shores, Alabama, pirate, princess

Free Pirates and Princesses breakfast for the kids all summer at The Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama!

Your Southern breakfast is served family-style: beignets, scrambled eggs, grits, breakfast potatoes, bacon, smoked sausage, and fresh hot biscuits. Children aged 10 or under get a free breakfast with each paid adult breakfast. You’ll find these tasty vittles served between 8 and 10:30 a.m.

Be prepared to cheer on your favorite characters during sword fights and skits. Search for pirate booty during the guided buried treasure tour. And talk with the characters who come alive each morning throughout the summer.

You can be thankful that you don’t have to walk the plank for your food or for a place for your family to stay. Take a look at the many properties available in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan (Alabama) and Perdido Key (Florida). There’s something for families of all sizes and budgets!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Vacation Rentals on Twitter and Facebook.

Bald Eagle Bash 2012

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Have you purchased your tickets yet for the Bald Eagle Bash? It will be held this Saturday, June 2, and there is still time to plan to attend. You can even get your tickets at the gate, so last-minute guests are definitely welcome.

Bald Eagle Bash, fundraiser, Weeks Bay Foundation, National Estuarine Research Reserve

Great benefit for a small price! Delight your taste buds and your dancing feet while sharing financial assistance with the non-profit Weeks Bay Foundation.

What makes this so special? Let’s start with what you get from being there. Your taste buds will be tickled by delectable goodies from a dozen area restaurants, with fresh gulf shrimp as the theme. Your ears and your dancing genes will be delighted with the music of Locust Fork Band, who will infuse the evening with energy via their originals and covers of your favorite rock and country songs. And appearances by two area celebrities—Shelby Mitchell of 95KSJ and Darwin Singleton of NBC15—will keep the enthusiasm and laughter going strong.

Even more special is how you will be helping raise funds for the non-profit Weeks Bay Foundation. Their mission is to protect the natural resources of coastal Alabama while supporting the goals and programs of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. By attending, you’ll have a great time and feel great about playing a role in the conservation efforts of our coastal wetlands.

Tickets are $30 in advance (online or any BBVA Compass location in Baldwin or Mobile county) or $35 at the gate. You’ll find all the fun from 4 until 7 p.m. at the Tonsmeire Weeks Bay Resource Center, waterfront at the Fish River Bridge on U.S. Highway 98 west of Magnolia Springs.

If you love our coastal areas, you may also love a house or condo along our backwaters for your next getaway. With properties available from one bedroom to seven, you can come alone or as part of a large group. Either way, relax with us and explore the coastal area from a different perspective!

Stay informed of local activities, vacation rental specials and more by subscribing to this Discover Alabama Beaches blog and Meyer Muse, and by following Meyer Vacation Rentals on TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

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