Mobile, Alabama, is a quaint and small southern city with a great mix of modern and historical. It is the oldest city in Alabama, founded in 1702. Also called the Azalea City, the Port City, and the Birthplace of Mardi Gras. You got it! Mardi Gras actually started here. Not only do Mobilians know how to party, but there are a lot of fun things to do in Mobile.
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Mobile Carnival Museum
Did you know Mobile was the birthplace of Mardi Gras? I had no idea, and to think I almost skipped this museum! You can do a self-guided tour in this museum. However, I highly recommend walking through with a docent if you want to learn more about the museum and most importantly, Mardi Gras.
This museum is a flashy and an exhilarating treasure trove of information and beautiful things to look at. Some of the artifacts in the museum include the gowns with ornate trains, the costumes, floats, and decorations. It’s a must-see when you visit Mobile. It will open your eyes to the incredible behind-the-scenes festivities of Mardi Gras in Mobile.
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I knew it was a big party but I had NO IDEA how huge a thing Mardi Gras is. There are events going on throughout the year. In fact, 11% of the local economy is funded by activities associated with Mardi Gras. It’s not just a big party! There are people whose job it is to make the floats, to design the traditional costumes and the dresses worn to society events.
Mardi Gras has continued annually since 1703 with the exception of times of war. It was canceled during the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Even during the Great Depression, Mardi Gras continued, though a bit more modestly. Mardi Gras in Mobile represents art, economy, a good time, and a family affair. It is a huge part of the identity of this city and worth learning more about.
The Mobile Carnival Museum is located at 355 Government St, Mobile, AL 36602. It is open from 9 to 4 Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Admission is $8. You can tour on your own or join a docent at 9:30, 11:00, and 1:30.
Historic Oakleigh House Museum
James Roper purchased the land in what was once far from the city of Mobile in 1833 to build his family home. Now, Oakleigh is located right in the heart of the city. It was designed in the Greek Revival style and construction completed in 1837. Oakleigh means “oak meadow” and was named after the many oak trees on the property. One of the first things you notice about Oakleigh is a large round staircase in the front and it’s an interesting design element.
Roper made bricks for his living and was clearly a man of means when he built the home. You can even see a few in a large tree in front of the building placed in a joint to stabilize it. Most of the current furnishings are all from the period but not original to the house. However, there are some items that are.
Unfortunately, Roper’s time in the home was short-lived as he lost his money in the panic of 1837. He then sold it to his brother-in-law and the Irwin family lived there during the Civil War. The home escaped being destroyed as Margaret Irwin draped the British “Union Jack” flag over the balcony to protect it. Margaret was from England and, of course, didn’t mention that her two sons both supported the Confederate army.
Oakleigh House changed hands a few more times and you can see some personal items from each of the families who once called it home.
Visit Oakleigh House Museum
You can learn all about the families who lived in the home as well as about some of the amazing 1,000 artifacts that interpret life in Mobile from 1830 to 1900. This includes one of the largest china sets from the 1830s, a Haviland Limoge china set featuring a cotton ball on top of the pieces. It also includes a charming dollhouse lovingly hand-made for over a year for a young girl’s Christmas present, and a large antique music box that was original to the house.
Tours at Oakleigh House are provided by the Oakleigh Belles, a group of young women in high school that gain the skills and knowledge needed to serve as docents. They represent the Historic Mobile Preservation Society as ambassadors of hospitality, southern history, and culture. 70 try out every year and only 12 are accepted.
I had the opportunity to talk with the two Belles who provided my tour, Olivia and Sophia, and I was so incredibly impressed by them. Only a junior and senior in high school, and they were friendly and so knowledgeable about the home and the history of the area. It really was such a nice experience going on this tour and I highly recommend it.
Historic Oakleigh House Museum is located at 1906 Springhill Ave, Mobile, AL 36607. It is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 to 4 and on Sunday from 1 to 4. Guided tours are offered every hour on the hour.
Other Antebellum Home Tours
If you love visiting historic homes and one just isn’t enough, check out these other mansions that also offer tours.
This 13,000 square-foot antebellum mansion was built in 1855 in the Greek Revival style by Judge John Bragg. It was the center of the lively social scene in the area and the family lived here from Thanksgiving through Mardi Gras. This home also features a circular staircase, huge double parlors, and large rooms. Four families lived in the mansion following Judge Bragg, and the last private owner lived there until the late 1970s. Then the mansion was donated to the Explore Center to become an interactive science museum.
Instead of potentially destroying the historic integrity of the mansion, the Explore Center began restoration work and built a separate science museum. The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and opened to the public in 1987 after $3 million in renovations.
A number of historic mansions become public use buildings like schools, but the Condé-Charlotte Museum moved in the opposite direction. It began as Mobile’s first courthouse and jail but became home to the Kirkbride family. It’s now a historic house museum filled with antiques that reflect Mobile’s rich and varied history under French, English, Spanish, Confederate, and American rule.
This home is on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the older structures in the area. It was constructed in the 1820s on the site of the old Fort Conde, later called Fort Charlotte. The rooms reflect the different periods of times featuring a British Commandant’s room representing Mobile under British rule (the 1760s to the early 1780s) and two Confederate parlors depicting the antebellum period. There is also an American Federal dining room showcasing the early 1800s and others.
Battleship Memorial Park
This was one of the things I was most excited about seeing in Mobile. My grandfather served on a battleship in the navy during World War II. The opportunity to visit one and to tour it was too much to pass up. It’s hard to imagine my grandfather as a young man, but I closed my eyes and could almost envision him and the other men wandering the decks of his giant battleship all those years ago. He went to reunions for many years and it was such a big part of his life and the lives of his crewmates.
In 1965, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park opened to the public. Though many similar battleships were scrapped in the early 1960s the USS Alabama was destined for greater things. The park, and in particular, this ship, is one of the most recognizable symbols of the state of Alabama. It’s dedicated to citizens of Alabama who have served in all branches of the United States Armed Forces. It is joined by the USS Drum submarine and an airplane museum.
The USS Alabama is a 45,000-ton battleship that hailed from the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia on February 1, 1940. She was in the North Atlantic in 1943 during World War II and later that year went to the South Pacific. The “Mighty A” led the American fleet into Tokyo bay on September 5, 1945, and received nine Battle Stars for meritorious service. She became known as the “Heroine of the Pacific” during the three-year tenure.
There are several self-guided tours you can go on to see the ship that are marked by different-colored arrows. It’s very easy to lose track of the arrows, though, as you walk around! You can see the engine room, the control room, where the sailors slept, where they ate, the sick bay, and many other areas. Some are staged as they may have looked when they were in use. It’s really interesting and hard to imagine living on it for months at a time.
USS Drum Submarine
When you walk through the submarine, the battleship seems positively spacious in comparison! It is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest American submarine on display. A 72 member crew lived and worked on board and there was even a dog who served. Quarters are very tight on the submarine as you may imagine. But I’ll tell you, walking through it is pretty amazing. It’s hard to believe people stayed on it for long periods of time when you realize how cramped it really is.
The USS Drum was donated to the park on April 14, 1969, and was opened to the public for tours on July 4th of the same year.
Medal of Honor Aircraft Pavilion
The pavilion is dedicated to the Alabama Medal of Honor recipients and includes a memorial wall paying tribute. There is an impressive collection of aircraft, historic vehicles, and war artifacts. You need to walk through it to get to the USS Drum, and it is worth looking around.
The collection includes a Red Ball Express display, honoring the men who ran supplies during WWII. Marine One, a helicopter used by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, and George Bush (a VH1-N/Bell 212 helicopter, if you’re interested in the details). There is also a Red-Tail P-51 plane similar to the ones flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Another interesting plane is the A-12 Black Bird used by the CIA in 1965 for spy missions. It can fly 2,300 miles per hour and almost 95,000 feet high.
Battleship Memorial Park is located at 2703 Battleship Pkwy, Mobile, AL 36603. It is open daily from 8 to 6 and tickets cost $15 for the park including the USS Alabama, USS Drum, and the airplane museum.
The Fort of Colonial Mobile
Fort Louis was founded in Mobile in 1711 when the original Fort (also called Fort Louis) at 27-Mile Bluff was relocated due to flood damage from the Mobile River. The Fort started as a wooden stockade but was updated to be a brick fort with a stone foundation. It was later named Fort Condé in honor of Louis Henri de Bourbon, Duc de Bourbon, and prince de Condé. It was later called Fort Carlota by the Spanish and later, when Mobile was under British rule, it was called Fort Charlotte after King George III’s wife.
The Fort was responsible for guarding the people of Mobile from 1723 to 1820. It was on a strategic location on the eastern tip of the French Louisiana colony protecting access between the Mississippi River and the colonies along the Tombigbee River and the Alabama River. You can tour the Fort today and consider over 300 years of history.
In 1820, Congress authorized the sale and removal of the fort as it was no longer being used for defense. It was demolished, sadly, and reconstructed to open on July 4, 1976, during Mobile’s United States bicentennial celebration. The fort that stands today is around a third the size of the original. If you want to see a piece of Mobile history, albeit a recreation, this is a good place to do it.
The Fort of Colonial Mobile is located at 150 S Royal St, Mobile, AL 36602. It is open from Wednesday through Friday from 10 to 4 and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5. The entrance costs $8.
History Museum of Mobile
This is a great museum and if you are a history nerd like me, you will love it! There is a really in-depth exhibit on the history of the Mobile area that I found really interesting. Another exhibit shares the impacts of the “great wars” of World War I and II and the depression on the Mobile economy.
The History Museum has a number of other interesting exhibits including a small Mardi Gras exhibit and an exhibit of a number of incredible intricate dollhouses that were donated to the museum by a local family.
Brief History of Mobile
Mobile was originally founded in 1702 as the capital of the French colony La Louisiane. In 1711, the city location was moved to its current location due to the unpredictable Mobile River flooding. Mobile later came under British rule after the Treaty of Paris gave Britain all of the French territories east of the Mississippi. It later fell under Spanish rule when it was seized in 1780 during the Revolutionary War. In 1813, Mobile became part of the United States.
In 1721, the first slave ships arrived and there is an exhibit that talks about slavery and the cotton trade. It also helps you to better understand what it might have been like to be a slave in those times.
Mobile wasn’t heavily damaged during the Civil War as the city was blockaded but not attacked, however, the city went through tough times, and in 1879 it went bankrupt and the state took over. It was interesting to read through the exhibit to get a better understanding of the larger events of the times and the impact they had on the city.
The Lower Dauphin Street Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. It runs from Water Street to Jefferson Street, consisting of 551 acres of land and 736 buildings. Many of the buildings on this street are from the 1820s and include many architectural styles including Queen Anne, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian.
It’s a quaint area with many great shops and restaurants and it’s fun to walk around when the weather is good. Some of the best restaurants on this street include
GulfQuest/National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico is dedicated to the maritime heritage and culture of the Gulf of Mexico. This massive 120,000 square-foot museum is designed to look like a ship heading into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I sadly didn’t have time to see this museum and it’s what is top on my list for the next time I visit.
The museum has 90 interactive exhibits, theaters, simulators, and artifact displays in a full-sized replica of a container ship. It’s the only fully interactive maritime museum in the world. It shares the history, culture, marine science, and maritime traditions of the Gulf of Mexico region and is designed for visitors of all ages. It’s a popular place and one of the top attractions in Mobile.
Where to Eat in Mobile
Mobile, Alabama is a treasure trove of great restaurants. Seafood is a huge here and of course, southern cooking, but there are lots of food options. If you’re looking for something fun to do, check out this downtown Mobile food tour of the LoDa area.
Wintzell’s Oyster House
Wintzell’s is a Mobile institution, founded in 1938 by J. Oliver Wintzell. It began as a six-stool oyster bar in Mobile on Dauphin Street and now has 7 locations throughout Alabama. The walls are covered in hundreds of Oliver’s witty sayings and they are fun to read. And the food is fresh and really, really good. They are known for fresh Gulf seafood and dishes like crawfish etouffee, gumbo, crab, cakes, and others. If seafood isn’t your jam, he offers lots of other options.
Try the cooked Oyster sampler for a little twist with chargrilled, Monterey with jalapenos, smoked bacon and cheddar, Rockefeller with Spinach and one with cream and shrimp. Their raw oysters are to die for if you like oysters and their gumbo is award-winning and worth at least a cup. I was also told their West Indies salad is great as well which is a Mobile original including crab, chopped onion, spices blended and marinated in oil and vinegar for 24 hours.
If you’re looking for the best brunch in town, look no further than Dauphin’s. This place is really wonderful and features live jazz on Sundays. Amazing views, great food, and the drinks—try the poinsettia or the bloody mary for a treat. It’s located at the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city.
The menu is a “celebration of French creole … historic flavors including Spanish, Native American, African, Islander and more. Brunch includes some traditional brunch classics with a twist. I got what was similar to eggs Benedict with a definite Creole flare, with eggs over easy over fried green tomatoes and a creole hollandaise sauce. Yum. When I went, they had a former Christmas tree repurposed in its Mardi Gras finest.
Dauphin’s is located on the top floor of the RSA Trustmark Bank Building, 107 St Francis St #3400, Mobile, AL 36602. It is open from 10 to 4 from Wednesday to Friday and 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday.
This is a very casual joint with a sign up that makes the point, “Ain’t nothin’ like ’em nowhere.” Dreamland BBQ is a popular and famous restaurant in these parts and it has been around since the 1950s, so you know it has to be good!
We decided to go check out this place that John “Big Daddy” Bishop founded so long ago. I’ll admit that I was a bit wide-eyed and wasn’t expecting much after they served us a few pieces of sliced white bread with a cup of barbeque sauce to dip it in while we waited for our meal. Apparently that’s a “thing” in this area, but it sure was new to me!
I’m pleased to say it got much better from there and their barbeque is quite good! I got a brisket sandwich drenched in barbeque sauce and it was tangy and good. Everyone enjoyed their dishes and we even enjoyed the pecan pie a ‘la mode as a side.
Dreamland Bar-be-que is located at 3314 Old Shell Rd, Mobile, AL 36607. It’s open from 10 to 9 Monday through Wednesday, 10 to 10 from Thursday to Saturday and 11 to 9 on Sunday. There are also several locations in Alabama and Georgia.
Where to Stay in Mobile
Here are some hotel options in Mobile ranging from chain hotels to inns/B&Bs in historic homes to boutique hotels:
- The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa: for a bit of a splurge, check this place out. It’s right in the downtown area just off of Dauphin Street and within walking distance of many of the tourist sites.
- Drury Inn Mobile: A more affordable option and a 15-minute drive from the downtown area. There are a number of other hotel options in the area.
- The Petrinovich House, also known as The Mardi Gras House, is another downtown option in a restored Victorian painted-lady house. This B&B is steps from downtown Mobile’s art and entertainment district.
- Fort Conde Inn is an affordable boutique hotel and B&B right in the heart of town. It has the feel of 19th-century Mobile.
- Hampton Inn and Suites is another downtown option within walking distance of many of the city’s attractions and restaurants.
How to Get to Mobile
The Mobile Regional Airport (MOB) is 13 miles west of the city. There is a great bus system called the Wave. Many of the sites are walkable in the downtown area but you will likely need a car or Uber if you don’t want to take the bus.
It is only a two-hour drive from New Orleans, Louisiana, a four-hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia, a little over three hours from Jackson, MS, and three-and-a-half hours from Birmingham, Alabama. There are a lot of great areas to navigate to or from Mobile.
The best months of the year to travel to Mobile based on the weather are April through June and late September through November. Mobile summers are long, hot, humid and winters are short and cold. Temperatures overall range from 42°F to 90°F (around 5.5°C to 32°C). In the summer, average highs range from 84°F to 90°F (around 28.8 to 32°C) and lows from 67°F to 74°F (around 19°C to 23°C). In the winter, average highs range from 60°F to 66°F (around 15.5°C to 19°C) and lows from 42°F to 48°F (around 5.5°C to 9°C).
Museums, historic homes and forts, and battleship. Mobile is a delightful mix of old and new, which pays homage to its roots while being a modern city. The birthplace of Mardi Gras sure knows how to party, making Mobile a great city to visit any time of the year.
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