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Spann’s Best Way To The Bama Beaches

| May 23, 2012 @ 6:10 am | 22 Replies

**This was written in May 2010… but still ranks as my favorite route to the Alabama coast. Enjoy**

What a wonderful time of the year. School is out; time to load the kids in the car and head south to the beautiful Gulf Coast. Sure, I know many of you enjoy the Florida panhandle, but this is after all, so we always focus on getting you down to the southern tip of Baldwin County for a little trip to Alabama’s own little slice of paradise. I have been writing these for a number of years, but there is so much to see on the roads less traveled, I always have plenty of new ideas.

Remember, on my journeys, it will take a little longer to get there, but you will enjoy memories of special places that will last a lifetime. This year’s journey is similar to one I described a few years ago with some minor variations. Clearly this is one of my favorites…

HEAD SOUTH: From Birmingham, let’s head south down I-65. No, we won’t stay on the Interstate long, because on the Interstate, “all you see is Interstate” (a line from the cab driver in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles).

We will exit I-65 at the first Clanton exit, at the “Big Peach” water tower. You will turn right onto Alabama Highway 145 at the end of the exit ramp, and follow the signs for Alabama 145 through downtown Clanton. Needless to say, any place selling peaches will require a stop, since you are in the peach capital of the world. In downtown Clanton, you will need to turn right on U.S. 31 (headed north), and then take your next left, which is Alabama Highway 22.

LIKE STRAWBERRIES? Follow Alabama 22 for a few miles, and just past the radio station you will be turning left onto Chilton County Road 37. This winds down through Fairview, and on the right you will see the Sunshine Farms U-Pick-Em strawberry farm. Come to think of it, I believe the planted the strawberries on the right side of the road this year. One way or another, you can’t miss it. Now understand you are at the tail end of the strawberry season; they close up after this weekend. You can pick berries there during the months of April and May. Can’t beat em; get a couple of buckets. One to eat while driving south, and another to enjoy while you are at the beach. Be sure and tell them I sent you (NO, this is not a paid ad!).

TIME TO EAT: After leaving the Sunshine Farms strawberry patch, you will enter into Autauga County, and drive through the small community of Billingsley. Follow the signs for County Road 37… that will lead you to U.S. 82, which is the main drag between Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. You can eat at the Fat Girl’s Cafe, which is that at the intersection of U.S. 82 and County Road 37, or if you are in the mood for BBQ, turn right onto U.S. 82, and after about one mile you will see Jim’s Pit BBQ on the left side of the road. Hands down the best in Alabama. If you go into Jim’s, same thing, be sure and tell them I sent you. Last time I was in there they had a James Spann bobble head doll on display.

HOME OF LADY BIRD JOHNSON: From Jim’s you want to go back south on U.S. 82 toward Montgomery, and turn right onto Autauga County 1. You will be driving through the hamlet of Milton, which was the home of first lady Lady Bird Johnson; she lived in Milton until she was 13, when the family moved to Texas. Soon Autauga County 1 will run into Alabama 14; you will be turning right onto Alabama 14.

Alabama 14 runs parallel to the north bank of the Alabama River, and will take you into Selma, which is a treasure trove of Alabama and American history.

IN SELMA: Pull up Selma with Google Maps and pick a few good places to visit. Sturdivant Hall, the Old Depot Museum, and the National Voting Rights Museum are great ideas. I also suggest the historic Live Oak Cemetery, along Alabama 22, which is full of Spanish Moss and full of rich history. U.S. Vice President William Rufus King is buried there; he was nominated for the vice presidency on the ticket with Franklin Pierce in 1852 and was elected to this office by a large majority. While serving in the Senate he contracted tuberculosis and in 1853 was forced to spend the winter in Cuba. By a privilege extended by special act of congress, he took the oath of office, in Havana, Cuba on March 4, 1853. As there was no improvement in his health he returned to Alabama, arriving in Cahaba the day before his death in 1853.

OLD STATE CAPITAL: From Selma, let’s head south and west down Alabama 22. One option is to check out Old Cahawba; “Alabama’s most famous Ghost Town”. Cahawba was once Alabama’s state capital (1820-1826) and a thriving antebellum river town. It became a ghost town shortly after the Civil War. Today it is an important archaeological site and a place of picturesque ruins. Turn left onto Dallas County road 9 to get there from Alabama 22 if you want to visit.

GEE’S BEND AND A FERRY RIDE: Keep on Alabama 22 through Orrville… it then becomes Alabama 5 in Safford… soon after that you will cross into Wilcox County, and you will be turning left onto Wilcox County Road 29, which leads to an amazing place called Gee’s Bend. It is named after Joseph Gee, a planter, and the first white man to settle in the area. Gee’s plantation was sold to a relative called Mark Pettway in 1845 to settle a $29,000 debt. The folks that live in Gee’s Bend today are mostly descendants of the slaves that worked at the plantation, and most folks to this day have the last name “Pettway”.

You have to check out the Gee’s Bend quilters…. you might get to meet Mary Lee Bendolph, who was featured in this remarkable Pulitzer Prize winning article in the Los Angeles Times written ten years ago.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Now, the fun part. We will take the Gee’s Bend Ferry across the Alabama River to Camden. The ferry departs Gee’s Bend at 7:00 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:00 noon, 2:45 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. See the entire schedule here. Be sure and watch for alligators in the river as you cross; no telling what critters you will find in that water. This part of the Alabama is very wide; basically a lake created by the Miller’s Ferry Dam, just downstream. Quite frankly, this is one of my favorite parts of the trip.

CAMDEN: Once on the other side of the river, turn left onto Alabama Highway 28, which takes you into downtown Camden. You will then take a right onto Alabama Highway 41. Still hungry? Check out Uncle Redd’s Soul Food and BBQ restaurant, which will be on the left just a few block south of the Wilcox County Courthouse. You won’t go wrong there.

From Camden, stay on Alabama 41 all the way down to Monroeville. The drive from Camden to Monroeville is amazing for South Alabama; sometimes it feels like you are in the Great Smoky Mountains due to the terrain and the curves. Check out the old church buildings in the community of Franklin. I love this drive.

MONROEVILLE: If you have time, check out the Monroe County Heritage Museum, which sits on the historic downtown
square. The best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with its memorable characters – Atticus Finch, Scout, Jem, Dill and Boo Radley – are familiar to many in Monroe County. The book’s author, Harper Lee, is a native of this lovely Old South community. Unfortunately, the annual “To Kill a Mockingbird” production just ended, but you can still see the courtroom scene where it all happened.

From Monroeville, you will need to get on Alabama 21 south, which runs down through places like Frisco City and Megargel. When you get to Uriah, you will take Alabama 59 south, which is better known as Gulf Shores Parkway. Few people drive Alabama 59 north of I-65, but I love it. Alabama 59 winds down into North Baldwin County, and parallel to the Mobile Delta, which is just to the right.

FORT MIMS: If you have time, check out Fort Mims… you will need to turn right onto Baldwin County road 80. This site is famous for the Fort Mims massacre, which occurred on 30 August 1813, when a force of Creek people, belonging to the “Red Sticks” faction under the command of Peter McQueen and William Weatherford “Red Eagle”, his cousin by marriage, killed hundreds of settlers, mixed-blood Creeks, and militia. This spot on the Tensaw River is crawling with history… truly an amazing place to think about what happened there so long ago.

Get back onto Alabama 59 South, and soon you will drive through Stockton, and then go under I-65. Follow the signs for Alabama 59, which just north of Bay Minette becomes Gulf Shores Parkway, and you will find yourself back in the traffic with all of the people who didn’t know about the roads less traveled.

HIT THE BEACH: Just follow Alabama 59 and you will be in Gulf Shores in about 45 minutes. I always love to stop at Lambert’s in Foley (on the left side of the highway, just past the Tanger Outlet Mall) for “throwed rolls”, but watch out for long wait times during the main lunch and dinner hours. Enjoy the Alabama Coast and spend some money down there… these folks are really hurting this year due to oil scare; they depend on tourism, needless to say.

Everybody has their favorite places to eat on the Alabama Gulf Coast… but you might consider…

*Lulu’s (this is the place on the intracoastal waterway owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy)
*The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar (this is a little out of the way, on County Road 10 in Bon Secour, but well worth the drive)
*The Original Oyster House (right on Alabama 59… been there a long, long time)
*The Hangout… right at the public beach. The food is actually pretty good, and needless to say, it is very easy to find!

So, there you go… for me, one of the best things about a beach trip is the journey. Guess that can be said about life as well. Enjoy and BE SAFE!

Category: Pre-November 2010 Posts

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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