That old saw “Geography is destiny” cuts straight to the heart of Mobile, Alabama, surely one of America’s most charming yet egregiously overlooked Southern charmers.
If the frenzied, elsewhere-headed travelers along Interstate 10 know Mobile at all, it’s for the brief sunless respite of descending into the downtown George C. Wallace Tunnel beneath the Mobile River in a land where bridges prevail. Similarly, southbound beachgoers barely brake on their way to the Pensacola, Destin, and Panama City beach scenes.
While Mobile may not be New Orleans (although it beat the Big Easy to the punch by throwing the first Mardi Gras celebration) or the “bro-country: beach destination of your dreams (although prime parrothead Jimmy Buffett did grow up here), this understated belle bears her heart on her sleeve and a 12-pack in her Yeti.
Next time through the MOB, make it a point to slow down long enough to savor these 10 Mobile moments. You’ll be glad you did.
De Tonti Square: You’ll fall in love with Dixie all over again in this historic downtown neighborhood, which features brick and clay homes and townhouses from the mid-1800s and brick sidewalks still lit by the original gas streetlamps.
USS Alabama: The sixth US Navy vessel to bear the state’s name, this 680-foot South Dakota class battleship served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War Two. More than 14 million visitors have toured the Alabama since 1965.
The Richards DAR House Museum: Step back in time and experience antebellum life in the 1860 Italianate townhome built by steamboat captain Charles G. Richards and his wife Caroline. And yes, tea and cookies will be served.
Mama’s on Dauphin: With so much to do and see, trust me; you’re going to need a “meat-and-three” (or four, or five) at Mama’s. Make mine a gulf shrimp po-boy, fried okra, butter beans and my favorite Southern vegetable, mac’n cheese!
Page & Pallet Bookstore: After lunch at Mama’s, mosey across the bridge to Fairhope on Mobile Bay’s eastern shore and check out this colorful local literary hang, a favorite spot to book-noodle since 1968. As P&P likes to say, it’s not hoarding if it’s books.
Dauphin Island/Fort Gaines: Just 45 minutes south of Mobile, this quaint Gulf Coast park and beach attracts families with its gentler, non-spring-break classic beach town vibe. The island’s eastern tip features the ramparts of historic Fort Gaines, best known for its role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. It was here that Admiral Farragut issued his now-famous order to his troops: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
LoDa ArtWalk: Every second Friday, local and regional artists, musicians and food vendors turn lower Dauphin Street, or LoDa, into an open-air celebration of artistic expression. Events in the LoDa entertainment district also benefit from its open-carry policy (of alcoholic beverages, that is!).
Bellingrath Gardens and Home: Mobile’s nom de bloom, “the Azalea City,” largely took seed in this 65-acre public garden 45 minutes west of downtown, which dazzles year-round with azaleas in springtime, tropicals in summer, chrysanthemums in fall and camellias in winter.
GulfQuest National Maritime Museum: You’ll have to drag the young ones away from this brand-new, 90,000-square-foot riverside attraction, modeled after a seagoing container ship and overlooking the busy Port of Mobile. The 90 interactive exhibits, theaters and displays, which celebrate the Gulf Coast maritime industry from 1500 to present, include how to use a sextant at sea, harness wind for sailing and operate a paddle-wheel steamboat.
Mardi Gras! In 1703, America’s first Mardi Gras took place in Mobile, then little more than an outpost of French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. But the modern celebration owes a debt of thanks to a local gent named Joe Cain, who led an impromptu Carnival parade to help lift spirits following the Civil War. In Mobile, the family-friendly parades, balls and parties commence 2 ½ weeks before Fat Tuesday, while Joe Cain Day is celebrated the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Rest assured, moon pies will fly!