When you think of Mardi Gras, New Orleans immediately comes to mind. But did you know that the first Carnival season festivities in the United States actually began in Mobile? The annual event carries over today, albeit a more family-friendly version, as locals don royal attire on floats and at community balls. In addition to beads, revelers throw Moon Pies. It’s definitely among our list of surprising things to do in Mobile, Al!
Even if you don’t visit during the spring, you can still enjoy a cold beverage on Dauphin Street, Mobile’s main nightlife thoroughfare. This street also boasts the city’s best restaurants and art galleries. The town’s architecture is reminiscent of its rival cities New Orleans and Savannah, complete with French, Spanish, and English influences. Trees with colorful flowers line the streets and the occasional square breaks up the grid for a shaded space for community events. Set along the Gulf of Mexico, the area is important for shipping and commerce, but also has wildlife rich areas like Dauphin Island, Fairhope and Gulf Shores.
Things to Do in Mobile, Al
Quack on the water with Gulf Coast Ducks
New to Mobile is the Gulf Coast Ducks, which winds through downtown before hopping in the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, you’ll learn about the city and waterway’s history. The special vehicle is reminiscent of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, just without the flying. Purchase a Quacker, a noisemaker in the shape of a duck bill, for the full effect, and be prepared for the splash into the water! Tours last a little over an hour and leave from the USS Alabama.
GulfQuest teaches visitors about the important body of water.
Reopened in February after a brief closure, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico now has new exhibits and lower ticket prices. It’s the only museum in the world devoted to the maritime history of the gulf. Interactive exhibits focus on the port, complete with life sized shipping containers, the hurricanes and oil spills that have affected the area, and wildlife found nearby. It’s easy to spend a few hours here, so give yourself plenty of time, and when you get hungry, the museum has its own seafood restaurant overlooking the water.
Get your science on at the Exploreum
Younger visitors will enjoy this science museum and IMAX theater, which has hands on experiences. Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center was opened in 1998 and has over 150 exhibits including one on the inner workings of the human body, the environment of the coast, and simple machines. Past traveling exhibits include Our Bodies and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Programming includes summer camps and field trips.
Life’s a party at the Mobile Carnival Museum
Experience the city’s biggest party even if your visit doesn’t coincide with the festivities. It’s the only museum in the country devoted to the history of Carnival, the official name of the festival season that includes Fat Tuesday. This museum has rooms of the lavish attire donned by the courts of krewes. You can also see everything that goes into planning a parade float. Stop by the gift shop for masks of your own.
History up close at Fort Conde
While it’s not the original fort that defended the city of Mobile, as it was demolished in the 1800s, this replica of Fort Conde shows visitors what it was like, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s designed in a seven-point star design so that cannons and other weapons could be used against invaders. Exhibits showcase the artifacts from the time period found by archaeologists. Costumed interpreters will tell you about the fort, which is free to visit.
See where a baseball great grew up
Who knew that one of the greatest baseball players in the world hailed from Mobile, Alabama? The Hank Aaron Home is a modest three-room home where the legend lived out his childhood. Tours are available Monday to Friday and during home games. Mobile Bay Bears, the area’s minor league baseball team, operates the museum, so it’s a perfect spot for a pre-game visit.
Where to Eat in Mobile
The bay’s best oysters at Wintzell’s
You can’t come to the Alabama Gulf Coast without getting your seafood fix and Wintzell’s Oyster House LoDa location is a local favorite. The 75-year old restaurant is still family owned. The walls of the eatery are covered in different sayings and words of wisdom created by founder J. Oliver Wintzell. Oysters are the main draw, which you can get, as written on the sign, “fried, stewed, or nude.” In addition, you can get them chargrilled, Rockefeller, and much more. Gumbo and fried whole fish are good alternatives if you aren’t into bivalves as is the West Indies Salad.
Paninis and beignets at Panini Pete’s
You can’t do better for lunch than Panini Pete’s, a local sandwich chain that was founded in nearby Fairhope. The paninis use house made ingredients like the muffaletta and tomato and mozzarella. Pair your meal with their shoestring fries and an order of beignets, little balls of fluffy fried dough topped in powdered sugar and lemon juice. Other options include burgers and salads.
Hot dogs with a twist at Dew Drop Inn
The hot dogs at Dew Drop Inn are not your average sausage in a bun. The restaurant, named the oldest in Mobile, serves their dogs all the way with homemade chili, sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, and a pickle slice. Po boys and sandwiches are also on offer and local Jimmy Buffett is a fan of their burgers.
Cake balls for them, coffee for you
Cream & Sugar is a favorite neighborhood cafe and coffee shop in a former house. They make everything in-house and from scratch, including cake balls, sandwiches, quiches, soups, coffee and espresso drinks. The outdoor garden is the perfect place to sit on a sunny day and they also have bike racks if you’re riding over from downtown.
Live music and Alabama barbecue
Moe’s Original BBQ is another chain, but was started by Alabama natives. Pulled pork, sausages, and other meat-centric dishes are the main draw to the LoDa location, but stick around for live music and the Bushwhacker, an adult beverage that resembles an alcoholic milkshake. Find more BBQ thrills here.
Mobile’s best restaurant for the whole family
Whether you’re looking for a nice dinner out with the entire family or a date night, The Noble South specializes in farm to table Southern fare using seasonal, local ingredients. Start with pepper jelly and deviled eggs before sharing catfish etouffee or shrimp and grits. They also have an extensive cocktail menu.
Where To Stay in Mobile, Al
Downtown Mobile Hotels
Rebuilt in 1908 after two fires, the Battle House reopened in 2007 after a 30-year closure. It’s been restored to its former glory and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It has over 200 rooms and a stunning atrium with a stained glass roof. Their restaurant, The Trellis Room, has a Tiffany glass skylight and is the only four diamond rated eatery in Mobile. The Battle House’s ballrooms host Mardi Gras balls every spring.
As Mobile’s only boutique hotel, The Admiral Hotel is a part of Hilton’s Curio network. Decor is chic and inspired by the 1940s, when the hotel’s first incarnation opened. In addition to the rooms, the hotel has its own restaurant, communal spaces, outdoor patio, a swimming pool, and a fitness center. It’s also a short walk from Fort Conde and other Mobile attractions.
For a budget-friendly stay downtown, the Hampton Inn is your best bet. Not only is it well located in town near Dauphin Street, but it also has parking, free breakfast, and free WiFi.
Downtown Mobile Inns and Bed and Breakfasts
This 1836 bed and breakfast is all about the Southern charm with two floors of porches, comfy furnishings, and daily breakfast. They also have microwave, refrigerator, and kitchenettes if you prefer to make your own meals.
While there are rumors that it is haunted, one thing is for sure: the Malaga Inn is one of the historic district’s most stunning. The French-inspired architecture holds unique rooms and suites with complimentary WiFi, cable televisions, free parking, the all-important coffee makers, and a swimming pool.
Greater Mobile Bay Accommodations
Gulf Breeze Motel, Dauphin Island
Options on Dauphin Island are few, but this basic motel has amenities like television, Internet, and access to the beach. Children under 5 stay for free and you can get a free night with a week’s stay.
If you want to be as close to the beach and nature as possible, you can also camp on the island. The 155-acre beach park has sites for RVs and tents as well as a bird sanctuary, public boat launches, a dog park, and WiFi.
Grand Hotel Marriott, Point Clear
Just across Mobile Bay is the area’s finest resort. In addition to the rooms and access to white sand beaches, the resort boasts a pool complex, two golf courses, a 20,000 square foot spa, 10 tennis courts, marina access, and a number of dining options.
For more space and a local experience, try a rental property in Mobile or its surrounding communities. VRBO and Airbnb are both great places to find the right home for your visit.
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Disclosure: Thanks to Visit Mobile and Geiger Public Relations for coordinating my trip.