Last chance summer getaways By Angie Long

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2004

The fabulous Fourth has passed us by; summer shorts, swimsuits and sandals are being marked down. The pencils, pocket folders and other student paraphernalia are fast appearing on local shelves. Yep, summer is winding down, folks.

Most area schools will be back in session in just a few short weeks, so let’s look at some places right here in L.A. (Lower Alabama) area citizens can visit for a quick, enjoyable getaway.

Some will be familiar, while others may be brand new to you. One thing’s for sure: the Gulf Coast region of our state offers something for everyone (not to mention those sugar-white beaches are never too far away…).

Elberta: more than beer

and sausages

Many people are familiar with Elberta’s annual sausage festivals, but did you know the little Baldwin County town also offers great golfing, delicious homegrown dairy products and a real opportunity to get back to nature? It’s true.

Elberta is the home of Soldiers Creek Golf Course, a non-residential, player-friendly course billed as the only Tif-Eagle greens in Baldwin County. Call 251-986-T-OFF for more information.

Pay a visit to the Biophilia Nature Center, Native Nursery and Bookstore. The center offers educational, biologist-guided tours and features a wildlife prairie, natural butterfly nursery, wild turtle pool, ancient forest, wetlands and many opportunities for bird watching.

Visitors can also check out carnivorous plants (watch those fingers!) and magnified butterfly wings at Biophilia. Visit www.biophilia.net or call (251) 987-1200.

Lovers of Alabama history can visit Baldwin County Heritage Museum in Elberta. The museum offers 9,000 square feet of display space in its main building, a 1908 church, over 50 species of trees and several unique farm equipment items. The property is accessible to the mobility impaired.

Admission is free when you go home – to the Sweet Home Cheese Farm, that is. Open since 1987, the family-owned and operated Elberta farm and Grade A dairy produces 15-plus varieties of naturally aged cheese with no preservatives, colorings or growth hormones. Call (251) 986-8375 for more information.

Delightful in Daphne

The City of Daphne, in Baldwin County, offers beautiful churches, charming cafes and fascinating Civil War connections.

Any admirer of Byzantine architecture would enjoy a visit to the city’s Molbis Memorial Church. The structure features carved marble and exquisite stained glass, combining to create a striking example of religious art. The church is open to visitors from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; call (251) 626-9917 for more information and weekend schedules.

Civil War history buffs will want to see the Old Methodist Church/Daphne Historic Museum where Union soldiers once slept en route to the Battle of the Spanish Fort in 1865.

Open on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the site features local artifacts, original slave lofts and graves dating back to 1847.

Got a hankering for a hamburger and some history? Check out Marci’s Antique Club and Caf\u00E9 on Scenic Highway 98. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, the circa-1900 caf\u00E9 offers the second largest collection of Jim Beam decanters, plus a variety of old farm tools and antiques. The property is accessible to the mobility impaired; call (251)-626-9917.

Dauphin Island:

(not just) for the birds

One of the top birding locations in the nation is right here in south Alabama.

The Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary is a 160-acre sanctuary with a trail system to a freshwater lake, dune system, gulf beaches, a swamp and hardwood forest. The sanctuary also offers extensive facilities for the mobility impaired, including ramps, automatic doors and wheelchair availability.

View the sights of the island from the clear blue Gulf waters when you come aboard for a Dauphin Island Cruise (www.gulfinfo.com/cruises). Cruising excursions journey around parts of the island, allowing cruisers to see Indian Shell Mounds, Fort Gaines, shrimp boats of Mobile Bay, the Sand Island Lighthouse, even dolphins at play.

If fishing’s your game, visit the Dauphin Island Fishing Pier, open 24 hours a day. The 800-foot pier is one of only two deep-water gulf piers in the state. Cast your rod and catch anything from shark, king mackerel, flounder, redfish, or try your hand at crabbing. Rental rods and tackle bait are available. No alcohol permitted, folks; wheelchairs are welcome, though. Call (251) 861-6972.

Visit the pre-Civil War fort, historic Fort Gaines, to touch cannons used in long-ago battles. Journey through tunnels, visit the blacksmith shop and kitchens and hear the echo of Admiral Farragut: &uot;Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!&uot; To learn more about these and other Dauphin Island attractions, visit www.dauphinisland.com.

Fairhope offers art, antiques

While it may not always be fair weather in Fairhope, the little city located on Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore offers plenty to see and do even when the clouds prevail.

A historical museum on School Street has Civil War and Indian artifacts, World War II memorabilia, photos, pottery and other antiques.

Fairhope’s more than 80 colorful and unique boutiques, cafes, art galleries and antique shops draw shoppers and art lovers from near and far. Visit www.fairhopemerchants.com to learn more.

The James P. Nix Center on Bayou Drive, open Monday though Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is filled with exquisite furniture and artwork throughout. Accessible to the mobility impaired, the center offers numerous senior adult activities.

Fairhope also offers its own charming French Quarter with a cobblestone courtyard and the south’s largest crepe myrtle tree; a municipal pier offering swimming, fishing and picnic areas and top-flight golfing at Quail Creek and Rock Creek.

Daytrippers can enjoy a guided tour in and around Fairhope, Point Clear, Gulf Shores and Mobile, courtesy of Landmark Tours (www.landmarktours.com). See antebellum mansions, explore Civil War trails, take in trunk shows and do a bit of birdwatching.

Much more to explore

Visit Foley to find great factory outlet shopping, plenty of antiques and collectibles, a delightful old-time drug store soda fountain, even a medical museum.

Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach offer miles and miles of sugary white-sand beaches, acres of gorgeous green golf courses, dozens of wonderful restaurants, and plenty of amusement parks to delight children of all ages. So, swim, shop, sail, fish and explore to your heart’s content – before you say a final goodbye to summer 2004.