Mobile, Alabama, has been likened to a spicy pot of Creole gumbo, full of richness and flavor. With a colorful history, the city has adopted an ever so fitting slogan, “Born to Celebrate.” After all, the first known Mardi Gras celebration in the New World was in Mobile in 1703, when it was the capital of French Louisiana. Over 300+ years, six national flags have flown above Mobile, leaving a fusion of cultures readily apparent in its traditions, architecture and cuisine.
Mardi Gras remains deeply rooted in the Mobilian culture, yet carnival season is only one way the city keeps its vibrant spirit alive. In the midst of an urban renaissance, Mobile is placing new emphasis on celebrating the area’s history, culture and ecology. Novel
￼￼attractions and a lively arts and culinary scene have reenergized the port city for enthusiastic locals and visitors, alike.
First stop for many visitors is the new GulfQuest, a national maritime museum that spotlights the heritage and economic importance of the Gulf of Mexico—from fishing, shipping and commerce to leisure activities. Designed to resemble a vessel, the museum has an educational focus with hands-on exhibits, theaters and simulators. About 90 interactive exhibits engage visitors in all kinds of seafaring ventures—from charting a course and navigating ships to experiencing the feel of hurricane winds and learning about maritime traditions. One of the most thought-provoking exhibits is Great Gulf Challenge—in which visitors simulate making environmental and economic choices to restore balance while facing realistic disasters.
The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is another major draw with interactive science adventures and an Imax Dome Theater. Its new permanent exhibit, My BodyWorks, is considered the most advanced of its kind nationwide.
A short drive south of the city, Bellingrath Gardens and Home is a historic, 65-acre estate built by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath, owners of the first Coca-Cola Bottling franchise in Mobile. Originally a fishing camp and riverside retreat of Mr. Bellingrath, the gardens opened to the public in 1932. Garden enthusiasts will enjoy the variety of features including the formal Rose Garden, Camellia Parterre, Live Oak Plaza, Bayou Boardwalk and seasonal holiday lights. The uniquely styled home, featuring local brick, cast iron galleries and English flagstone, is filled with period antiques and Coca-Cola memorabilia, revealing the fascinating story of the Bellingraths and their legacy estate. Walter Bellingrath had purchased the new Coca-Cola Bottling franchise in 1903, reportedly selling his first bottled coke out of a cart, and he later won awards as one of the most successful Coca-Cola Bottlers in the United States.
The River Delta and Bay Area History
The bay area is rich in flora and fauna resulting from the biologically diverse habitat of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee and Blakely Rivers flow into Mobile Bay, which opens to the Gulf of Mexico. The Five Rivers Delta Center is an area for boating, camping and exploring foot trails, and a launching point for outfitter Wild Native, which offers guided kayak tours and a fun safari cruise by pontoon boat.
History buffs will delight in the many sites to explore—from the History Museum of Mobile to Dauphin Island’s Fort Gaines, the site of the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay where Admiral Farragut infamously said, “Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead.”
One of the nation’s finest military parks, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial, harbors the 35,000-ton “lucky A”, so named because she didn’t lose a single American life to enemy fire in WWII. Her multiple decks and nooks can be explored by self-guided tour, as can the park’s other exhibits of artillery, aircraft and the USS Drum submarine.
“Fried, Stewed or Nude”
Crawfish are legendary to Gulf Coast cuisine, but the oyster is king in Mobile. A staple on menus, the historic Wintzell’s Oyster House boasts the best variety- fried, stewed or nude. There is even an Oyster Trail, including an arts and education project that helps support sustainability programs in Mobile Bay.
Seafood, in general, is de rigueur in Mobile, and another local specialty is the West Indies Salad made with fresh lump crabmeat and vinaigrette. For downhome taste, Felix’s Fish Camp offers a wide selection of regional favorites and bayside dining, where patrons often catch sight of an alligator nestled in the dunes.
Downtown Mobile offers a choice of hotels within easy walking distance to restaurants and cultural attractions. Among the four-star retreats, the landmark Battle House Renaissance Hotel dates from 1852. A member of Historic Hotels of America, it has been restored to its original grandeur, with added amenities including a full-service, European-style spa and rooftop pool.
The city arts scene is thriving with weekly art walks, galleries, and the impressive Mobile Museum of Art with its sizeable permanent collections of American, European, African and Asian art. The newly named Alabama Contemporary Art Center offers a different focus, exposing modern day art that often reflects social issues and themes of relevance to the Gulf Coast.
Mobile’s historic districts are dotted with cafes and neighborhood pubs as well as upscale restaurants. Foodies head for Kitchen on George, a chic restaurant in the Oakleigh Garden district serving locally sourced, seasonal cuisine and creative small plates. The newly opened Dauphin’s Restaurant on the 34th floor of Trustmark Bank building is a standout for skyline views, and its Gumbo Z’herb is possibly the best in town.
Mobile loves MoonPies
From long- standing Mardi Gras revelry to more recently adopted traditions, the legends of Mobile are revealed in its eclectic cuisine, including a variety of quirky desserts such as MoonPie Banana Pudding and MoonPie Cake Balls. Why the fascination with the chocolate-covered marshmallow treat made by Chattanooga Bakery? For decades, the MoonPie has been the favored throw at Mardi Gras parades, giving rise to a famed New Year’s Eve event called MoonPie Over Mobile. As such, a replica of a giant MoonPie suspends from an urban high-rise building—both a curiosity and an emblem of the city’s fun-loving spirit. So, Mobile loves MoonPies, and there’s a lot to love about Mobile.
Article by Ann N. Yungmeyer. For more information visit Mobile.org.