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Get Out of Town—All in a Day’s Drive

By Sarah McCartan

Sure, summer is a prime time to get a bit more creative than usual on your familiar home front, and maybe even discover a favorite new hot spot or two, but it is also an equally great time to get out of town. Luckily for us, Pensacola is situated smack in the middle of eclectic hideaways, beachside boroughs, thriving capitals and music meccas, so you don’t have to go far for an adventure. In fact, adventure awaits you in all directions—all in a day’s drive.

The South is home to so many wonderful places the destination list is somewhat endless. That said, here are a few select locales to get you started, including some off the beaten path detours along the way. Now, on your mark, get set, get out of town!

ECLECTIC HIDEAWAY—Fairhope, Ala.

Driving Distance:
It is a 55-minute car ride to the heart of downtown via I-I0; slightly longer if you opt for the scenic route along Hwy. 98.
Situated along the East side of Mobile Bay, Fairhope’s quaint appeal, serene backdrop and small town charm make it an ideal hideaway. While its natural beauty is enough to warrant the drive over, its eclectic ambiance makes it worth sitting down and staying awhile. Here are a few stops to enrich your day in Fairhope.

A Taste of (Chai) Heaven: Located just outside of downtown, there’s no better place to start a relaxing day in Fairhope than The Coffee Loft, whose chai will surely make your taste buds shout and sing. If there is one thing that is as consistent as The Coffee Loft’s beverage quality, it’s the parking lot that is always full. The Coffee Loft, 503 N. Section St., (251) 929-2299.

Bookworm Haven: In the heart of downtown Fairhope, nestled amidst boutiques, sits Page & Palette. While this independent bookstore is adjoined to a coffee shop, its overwhelming appeal is its expansive selection of books, gift items, and if you just so happen to fancy writing on pretty paper—journals. The bookstore regularly plays host to author signings and meet and greets. Mark Your Calendar: Stop by the “In the Pacific” book signing and discussion with author Sally Caldwell, 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 9. Page & Palette, 32 S. Section St., pageandpalette.com

Run Wild: The subtle rolling hills of Fairhope make it most conducive to all things active. For a taste of home, be sure to visit Running Wild’s Fairhope location. Mark Your Calendar: If you are up for an especially early start, join in a group walk or run, departing at 6 a.m. Thursdays through July 25. Running Wild, 214 Fairhope Ave., werunwild.com

Southern Sophistication: More than 100 years old, the Fairhope Inn is among several Fairhope dining establishments that topped Mobile Bay Magazine’s summer list of “15 Top Local Eats.” World-class Chef Alan Blair was previously a tour chef for Michael and Janet Jackson—can’t get much more legit than that. Enjoy a dazzling lunch or dinner presentation of flavors at the Inn. The Fairhope Inn, 63 S. Church St., thefairhopeinn.com

Offbeat Detour: Should you choose the Hwy. 98 route to or from Fairhope, nothing deserves a stop like a quick dinosaur photo opportunity. I mean, come on! Directions: From Hwy. 98 in Elberta, turn onto Country Road 95 until you see a sign for Barber Marina. Turn right onto Fish Trap Road and follow until you see another road for the marina. At this sign, make a left. Look closely—dinosaurs are spaced out along both sides of Letterman Road. roadsideamerica.com

BEACHSIDE BOROUGH—Seaside, Fla.

Driving Distance: Just shy of a two-hour drive down Hwy. 98 and Florida’s Scenic Hwy. 30A.
Hwy. 30A is home to a line of tucked away beachside boroughs that have managed to remain largely preserved, rather than built up, including the village of Seaside. Despite the amount of attention it has garnered from serving as the site of “The Truman Show,” Seaside has managed to hold on tightly to its signature charm. Tourist appeals aside, here are suggested ways to take in this particular borough.

Winning Combo: Welcome to Central Square Records, I mean, Sundog Books. That’s right, downstairs it’s a bookstore, upstairs it’s a record store, meaning it’s virtually impossible to walk away empty handed. Mark Your Calendar: Upstairs in the record store there is a designated nook for in-store performances. Catch Pine Hill Haints at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 27. Central Square Records/Sundog Books, 89 Central Square, sundogbooks.com

Square Center: The Square is literally the center of Seaside, lined by specialty shops galore, and is home to many events. Mark Your Calendar: It doesn’t get fresher than the Seaside Farmer’s Market. In addition to getting a true taste for the location in the form of baked goods, produce, plants and more, the event offers cooking demos and activities. 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., Tuesdays and Saturdays. seasidefarmersmarket.wordpress.com; seasidefl.com

Explore By Bike: 30A offers nearly 20 miles of a paved path perfect for walking, running and especially exploring by bike. If you don’t feel like carting your own bike over, rentals are available at several of the beach stops, including Big Fish Bike Rentals. bigfishbikerentals.com

Sand Sculpting: If you are looking to get your hands and feet in the actual sand, since you are at the beach after all, consider Sand Sculptures—fun for the whole family. A sculpting team will meet you at your beach of choice along 30A, with all the tools necessary to provide you lessons in the art of sand castling, and maybe even turn you into a master sculptor. beachsandsculptures.com

Offbeat Detour: Just a few miles back down 30A in neighboring Grayton Beach is The Red Bar. From crab cakes to seafood stuffed eggplant, the food is as fresh as the atmosphere, which is typically filled with live music. The Red Bar, 70 Hotz Ave., Santa Rosa Beach, theredbar.com

THRIVING CAPITAL—Atlanta

Driving Distance: About five hours, depending on the number of pit stops.
Atlanta (the ATL)—although some days you seem so far away, you really aren’t. This capital city is home to baseball, universities, art, culture, food and a lot of people. While it is oftentimes overlooked as a day trip destination, it can make for a packed day if you get an early enough start, and if not, it’s certainly a worthwhile overnight stay. While a Braves game and a hotdog from the Varsity should already be on your list, here are a few of the less publicized things to check out while you are in the ATL.

Get High (on Art): High Museum of Art is located in Midtown, the arts and business district of Atlanta, and just so happens to be coined as the leading art museum in the Southeast. The museum boasts more than 13,000 pieces of contemporary art in its permanent selection. Mark Your Calendar: High has several recurring events including Thirsty Thursdays with half price admission after 4 p.m. (until 8 p.m.), drinks for purchase and tours of the permanent collection at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available online or at the museum. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., high.org.

A Walk in the Park: The 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park located in downtown is home to a variety of events and daily activities this summer. While you’re there, if you think—hey that looks a lot like the 360 observation wheel, it’s because it is. Yes, the Pensacola Beach observation wheel has been rebranded as the SkyView and moved to this Atlanta park. So if you missed it at the beach, you can escape the heat and take a ride while you are in the ATL. Mark Your Calendar: Park Market with local farmers, bakers and artisans from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., every second and fourth Saturday. Centennial Olympic Park, 265 Park Ave W. N.W., centennialpark.com; skyviewatlanta.com

Eat Street: For a different flavor, check out Underground Atlanta’s Food Trucks. The current lineup includes hot dogs, sliders, tex-mex, and fresh, all-natural frozen popsicles. Mark Your Calendar: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Wednesdays on Upper Alabama St., underground-atlanta.com

Up River: If you’ve had enough of the fast-paced city, step away to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Although much of the river flows at a “lazy” speed making it prime for canoes, kayaks or swimming, this 48-mile span of river also contains up to Class 2 rapids. The Recreation Area is a token spot for hiking, biking, or picnicking. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, 1978 Island Ford Pkwy., chattahoocheeriver.areaparks.com

Offbeat Detour: Atlanta is a bit of a drive to factor in a proper detour (unless we are talking about a peach stand); however, it’s a crime to leave the ATL without swinging by IKEA. Just make sure you have cleaned out the trunk of your car first. There may be a million and one places to shop in Atlanta, but IKEA is a theme park in and of itself. And as an added bonus, it sits in a heavily populated shopping area. IKEA, 441 16th St., N.W., Atlantic Station.

MUSIC MECCA—New Orleans

Driving Distance: Three hours to the heart of NOLA.
You don’t really need a reason to visit New Orleans. You surely have plenty of your own. Here are a few things you most likely have had the pleasure of experiencing to some degree, along with others you may not have. Either way, any time of the year is the perfect time of year to be in New Orleans. Period.

Signature Stroll (Part 1)—The Quarter: From Beignets, street acrobatics and fortune telling by day, to Bourbon Street by night, anything is a go in the French Quarter of New Orleans. If you are looking to be touristy, grab a hand grenade (the drink) or a to-go daiquiri for your walk. Be sure to stop through Peaches Records, walk along the waterfront, catch a ride on a streetcar, and watch the sunset over Jackson Square.

Signature Stroll (Part 2)—Magazine Street: From the Uptown end and Whole Foods, to the nearby Quarter corridors with winning restaurants such as Juan’s Flying Burrito, Magazine Street is your grand central station for every ethnicity of food you could fathom, upscale and second hand shopping, manageable parking, lovely houses, and all in all, less tourist-flooded fun. magazinestreet.com

Running Red: New Orleans is home to numerous race events—including the Red Dress Run. This two-mile run through the French Quarter offers a show for spectators, with runners decked out in flamboyant red dresses. The race is followed by a party at the park with live music, beer and barbecue. This charity fundraiser is sponsored by the New Orleans Hash House Harriers. Mark Your Calendar: 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, starting and ending in Armstrong Park. nolareddress.com

Dirty Linens: Don’t let the name fool you, a French Quarter takeoff on the Warehouse District’s White Linen Night, this artsy party up and down Royal Street features live music, local art, special sales at retail shops and food and drink vendors. Mark Your Calendar: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, 500 to 1000 blocks of Royal Street.

Bywater Jazz: More than just about anything else, music runs rampant throughout the city of New Orleans both on the streets and inside the venues that abound—from Tipitina’s Uptown to the House of Blues and One Eyed Jacks in the Quarter, to the lounges, bars and clubs that are found on and around every corner. Mark Your Calendar: This summer, Thursday nights at Vaughan’s in the Bywater is the place to be for jazz with Kermit Ruffins kicking off at 8:30 p.m. Vaughan’s Lounge, 4229 Dauphine St., (504) 947-5562.

Ice Cold Sno: It’s no secret it’s hot in New Orleans in the summer. Let’s face it—it’s hot everywhere in the South. If you are looking to cool down with some “Sno,” consider the historic Hansen’s Sno-bliz, a trusted favorite for flavorful, shaved ice. Hansen’s Slo-bliz, 4801 Tchoupitoulas St., snobliz.com

Street Art Sightings: Did you know legendary street artist Banksy visited New Orleans a while back to commemorate the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina? Most of the pieces are now painted over or the buildings have been demolished, but a couple are protected under plexiglass. You can see “Umbrella Girl” on the corner of Kerlerec and N. Rampart St. and “Grey Ghost” Uptown on Carondelet and Clio St.

Offbeat Detour: A trip to the remote Abita Brewery offers not only a quick tour, but more importantly, all the Abita you can drink up in an hour—yes, the secret’s out. The brewery is located in Covington/Abita Springs, just a 30-minute drive North of New Orleans over the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge. Abita Brewery, 21084 Hwy. 36, Covington, abita.com