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History and More in Mobile

Mobile has a history of fun.

French settlers founded this Alabama city in 1702 and brought their traditions (including Mardi Gras) to the new colony, and the celebrations in this port city continue to this day. What originally began as an opportunity to indulge in meats and sweets before Lent’s 40 days of fasting became a full-fledged carnival of feasts and fancy costumes, parades and parties. Today, the fun flows throughout the year in this coastal charmer, making Mobile an ideal destination in any season.

Located at the confluence of its namesake river and bay on the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile passed through British and Spanish hands before becoming part of the United States in 1813. With an economy primarily based on cotton and the slave trade, its prosperity evaporated after the Civil War, before shipbuilding and steel production boomed during and after the first World War. After a period of recession, Mobile is now a hub for the shipping and aerospace industries while retaining much of the architectural charm of its colonial past.

“For me, growing up in Mobile, leaving Mobile and choosing to come back to Mobile, what I love about my home is everything — from the funky vibe of our downtown entertainment district to our very cultured and sophisticated art scene,” said Rhonda Davis, director of marketing and communications for Visit Mobile. “You can be as casual or formal as you want — and we have everything in between. It’s nice to step back into our Southern heritage and to celebrate our history, but it’s equally as exciting to celebrate our future. And there’s nothing like Mardi Gras!”

A Heritage of Celebration

Mobile has 26 parades during carnival season, and groups can stay at one of the six hotels on the parade route for a great experience. But groups that visit at different times of year can still learn about the city’s Mardi Gras heritage at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Groups can explore at their leisure or opt for a guided tour while admiring elaborate costumes, memorabilia, and “throws” like doubloons, beads and other trinkets that are tossed to revelers following the floats.

Beautiful architecture abounds in Mobile. The city has seven nationally recognized historic districts, with gracious, magnolia-shaded homes. In the De Tonti Square District, the Italianate Richards-DAR House Museum boasts an ornate cast-iron facade and contains artifacts from the Revolutionary era. The Historic Oakleigh Complex is Mobile’s oldest house museum and contains a beautifully restored 1833 Greek Revival mansion along with Union Army barracks that date to 1866.

For flowers and finery, make a trip to the Bellingrath Home. Built in 1935 by one of the first bottlers of Coca-Cola, the sprawling estate has 65 acres of gorgeous gardens and a lovely view of the Fowl River.

Honoring Black History

Mobile is also acknowledging its more difficult history. The ship Clotilda arrived in Mobile in 1860 carrying 110 men, women and children who had been torn from their homes in West Africa. The ship was then burned and sunk to conceal the crime. After emancipation, the former captives established Africatown, where they kept their languages and traditions alive and established schools, churches and businesses.

Archaeologists identified the remains of the Clotilda in 2019, and in July the History Museum of Mobile unveiled “Clotilda: The Exhibition” at the Africatown Heritage House. The ehibition shares the story of the enslaved and their descendants, many of whom still live in the city. Walking and bus tours are a great way to explore the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail tour, which shines a light on the contributions and culture of Mobile’s previously unheralded residents.

“The heartbeat of Mobile is our people,” said Davis. “Because we’re a port city, we have always had a diverse population. And you see that in our architecture, in our food, and in our very active and lively music scene. Mobile feels like a very large small town, but we are as rich as our gumbo.”

Food Tours and More

It’s easy for groups to sample that rich cultural and culinary diversity with one of Mobile’s many tours. Gulf Coast Tours has comfortable, climate-controlled trolleys that give visitors an overview of local attractions on a 90-minute narrated cruise around the city. For groups that want to do their cruising on the water, options abound. They can take a paddle-wheel steamboat with Perdido Queen Cruises, which offers dinner, brunch, music and themed excursions. And the Airboat Express offers a thrilling exploration of the Delta’s flora, fauna and wildlife.

All that activity works up an appetite, and Mobile’s food scene always satisfies. Davis especially recommends the Bienville Bites, with guided walking tours that take groups to some of the city’s most iconic locally owned restaurants. Havana is a sister city to Mobile, so stop in to enjoy an authentic daiquiri, picadillo and fried plantains at Las Floriditas, a Cuban-style speakeasy and restaurant. For a taste of fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood, head to Felix’s Fish Camp, which also has a great view of Mobile Bay. And locals love the offerings at Wintzell’s Oyster House, including the authentic Low Country Boil, with shrimp, potatoes, sausage and corn.

There’s plenty of nightlife in Mobile as well, from catching a symphony performance, opera, ballet or Broadway show at the historic Saenger Theatre to live music and comedy at one of downtown’s many clubs, pubs and bars.

If your group doesn’t stay out until dawn, early risers can kayak, cycle or stroll in the pleasant morning air, while golfers will head straight to the holes at Magnolia Grove, part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Art enthusiasts won’t want to miss the exhibits at the Mobile Museum of Art, followed by a visit to one of the city’s many galleries.

No matter your pleasure, Mobile is sure to please.