With all of its historic locales, Southern hospitality, and coastal charm, Mobile, Alabama is a hidden gem along the serene Gulf Coast. Mobile—known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and plentiful azalea blooms—is a melting pot of tradition, made evident by the Mardi Gras beads that hang from the downtown oaks year-round.
There are many exciting things to do in this lively city, from the LODA Art Walk to museum-hopping. Here are a few of the most highly recommended activities and attractions in Mobile as suggested by locals.
Battleship Memorial Park and the USS Alabama
Driving through the famous Wallace Tunnel in Downtown Mobile will bring you to the historic Battleship Memorial Park. It is here that the USS Alabama has been open for visitors since 1965. Stepping aboard the battleship could be easily confused with traveling back in time; visitors become so immersed in the experience of what it was like to have lived aboard this grand ship, that one can almost feel the original crew going about their regular routines around them as they tour the ever-twisting corridors.
Before moving on to the next destination, be sure to take a quick tour of the USS Drum, a WWII era submarine. As one walks through this incredible piece of history, it is hard to ignore how tight the quarters surrounding them truly are. Imagining (and feeling) what life must have been like for the crews of these two historic watercraft is what sets Battleship Memorial Park apart. There really is no question as to why this destination is among the most popular tourist attractions in the entire state of Alabama.
For many people, the first place that comes to mind upon hearing the words “Mardi Gras” is undoubtedly New Orleans. For the locals of Mobile, this is not the case.
Welcome to the true birthplace of Mardi Gras––Mobile, Alabama. The first Mardi Gras celebration can be traced back to this city in 1703, just one year after the initial founding of Mobile…though New Orleans would not be founded until the year 1718. This is the piece of history that Mobilians wear like a badge of honor.
In this city, Mardi Gras means more than merrymaking. For many, it also means business. From the influx of tourists during the Mardi Gras season, to the sudden spike in downtown hotel bookings for those attending the balls, it is no doubt that the tourism-based economy of this city thrives during this season of celebration.
The lifeblood of the Mardi Gras season? Weeks’ worth of over-the-top parades. Countless Mardi Gras parading societies prepare for months in advance to design the colorful and sometimes wild floats that will eventually roll through the parade route. Thousands of beaded necklaces (more simply referred to as “beads”), sweets, stuffed animals, and other treasures are loaded onto each float in anticipation of the parades to come. During this season of good times, the entirety of downtown Mobile is filled daily with Mobilians and tourists alike, all clamoring to get their hands on the best surprises thrown from the floats. A celebration like this is definitely not something to miss!
And as everyone in this city can agree, Mobile is certainly no stranger to “letting the good times roll.”
Museums of Mobile
With a history dating back to before Alabama was founded as a state, it comes as no surprise that Mobile would have several museums and historic sites around the city. With so many different museum experiences to choose from, how does one know where to start? It all comes down to what kind of history strikes your fancy, whether that be house museums for a glimpse into life in Victorian Mobile, forts for those intrigued by historic wars, or the more classic take on museums.
Exceedingly popular amongst tourists is the Mobile Carnival Museum, or more commonly referred to as the “Mardi Gras Museum.” This spectacular showcase of Mardi Gras relics features items such as the crowns and gowns of past Mardi Gras Queens, parade floats, historic memorabilia, and so much more. This museum makes every day feel like Mardi Gras, no matter the season.
Next is the Colonial Fort of Mobile, recently referred to as Fort Conde. This incredible site is a replica of the original fort built by the French settlers of Mobile in 1723. Over time, this fort would come to be overthrown by both the Spanish and the British in the early formative years of America. Today, this fort serves as a reminder of the diverse culture of Mobile. Aspects of French, British, and Spanish cultures can all be seen throughout Mobile, from the architecture to the street names.
Located adjacent to the Colonial Fort of Mobile is the History Museum of Mobile. Everything about this museum is historic, including the building itself. This building serves as one of the oldest continuously used City Council meeting places in the country, having begun its service in 1858. Since then, it has grown to house some of the most sacred, beautiful, unique, and just downright strange pieces of Mobile history that remain to this day. This museum does more than house artifacts, but rather tells an entire story. The good, the bad, and everything in between is included in this masterful, walk-through retelling of the formation of modern-day Mobile. This museum is an absolute must-see for visitors.
Lastly for Mobilian museums are two of the most famous historic homes: The Richards DAR House and the Oakleigh House Museum. These two exquisite homes have perfectly preserved the lavish tastes and styles of Mobile’s Victorian era, and act as a portal to another time for everyone who walks through their (rather ornate) doors. However, crystal chandeliers and Mother of Pearl pianos are not what add such character to these homes, but rather, the stories of the families who once occupied them. Abolitionists, wars, forbidden romances, and tragedies are just a few of the qualities of these stories that make one feel as though they are living right along with them, waiting anxiously to enter the next room to hear how it ends. And with rumors of ghost sightings and strange activity, these homes might just be the perfect choice for those enthralled by history, drama, and the paranormal.
All in all, a trip to Alabama’s Azalea City might just be the next hot vacation spot when COVID-19 is no longer an issue for eager travelers. With so much to offer for people of all ages, Mobile is certainly the hidden gem that many tourists have been searching for.
About the Author: Trinity Walker is a student at the University of South Alabama majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management. Walker has lived in Mobile for seven years, and served as an official ambassador to the city during her senior year of high school. In addition, Walker is working on her first novel, and aims to be published prior to graduation.