Every once in a while, you’ll find a gem of a city unlike any other part of the state it belongs to—a true cultural standout. Mobile, Alabama is one such place—the coastal city considers itself a big sister of sorts to New Orleans, with similar history, culture, and founders. In fact, long before New Orleans popularized Mardi Gras, Mobile was actually the first to hold Carnival celebrations, beginning in 1703—a good 15 years before the Big Easy was even founded. That culture of celebration still exists in modern-day Mobile—you can almost envision partygoers tossing beads from the wrought-iron balconies downtown—along with a variety of ways to savor the coastal landscape, from kayaking to hikes to sunset cruises.
Here, a two-day itinerary that showcases some of the best that the Azalea City has to offer, including its unique history and culture, antebellum architecture showcasing French and Spanish heritage, and subtropical landscape.
Regardless of where you wake up—ideally, in one of Mobile’s many unique historic buildings, like the Grand Hotel Marriott built in a Civil War hospital, or the boutique Malaga Inn with secret Civil War–era tunnels—the first order of the day is breakfast. Spot of Tea is a perfect place to kick off a day of exploring, with hearty dishes like eggs cathedral or bananas foster French toast.
Just across Mobile Bay, the region known as 5 Rivers—named for the five rivers that flow into Mobile Bay: the Mobile, Spanish, Tenshaw, Appalachee, and Blakely—is an outdoor playground where you can spend the entire day exploring wetlands, strolling along the nature trails, fishing for local seafood, or kayaking scenic waterways like the recently expanded 200 miles of the Bartram Canoe Trail.
If you’d prefer to let an outfitter handle the logistics, consider a Delta Safari with WildNative. Catch a late afternoon or early evening tour (the Secretly Awesome Harbor Tour is a recommended one) for highlights of the region, which is the second-largest river delta in the nation. Keep an eye out for wildlife like alligators and dolphins, while historical landmarks and naval vessels, like the USS Alabama, a beautifully preserved WWII battleship, add a sense of history. Time it right, and you may be able to soak up a breathtaking sunset over Mobile Bay.
For dinner, indulge in the abundance of seafood options and Southern eats that will have you feeling fat as a tick. One locals’ favorite is Kitchen on George, whose generous portions and seafood-and-Southern leaning menu are sure to please. Small plates and mains feature gussied-up Southern and Gulf Coast classics, like blackened crab ravioli and shrimp bruschetta, with a surprisingly diverse wine and cocktail list, plus several Alabama-brewed beers.
Sleep in just enough to spoil yourself a little, and wake up for breakfast at the quaint cottage-turned-eatery Cream and Sugar Café to start your day. Sure, you could go with some of their healthier choices to make up for yesterday, but you’re in the South now; go big with the gumbo served over cheesy grits or the made-from-scratch cinnamon roll.
From there, head about half a mile to the hauntingly beautiful Magnolia Cemetery, located beneath a canopy of mature oaks in historic Mobile. The cemetery serves as the final resting place of notable figures such as Confederate General Braxton Bragg, Civil War author Augusta Evans Wilson, and Apache Indian Chappo Geronimo. The serene spot is a must-do for history buffs and shutterbugs (and a perfect way to stroll off some of the effects of breakfast).
Mobile is full of historic neighborhoods full of architectural treasures, and you can walk, bike, or drive 2.5 miles through a few of them to the Mobile Carnival Museum. After learning about Carnival, walk a few blocks to the iconic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, whose cornerstone was laid in 1835 and whose architectural beauty includes vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, gold-leafed columns, and Carrara marble floor.
Continue your urban exploration four blocks away at Bienville Square, a lovely historic park with a fountain centerpiece among mature tree canopies, established in 1824 and named for the city’s founder. Half a block away, book lovers should stop by Bienville Books, an independent shop that features a wide selection of local and regional authors, plus plenty of titles on Mardi Gras.
For a midday pick-me-up, Serda’s Coffee Company is right around the corner, with smoothies, juices, ultra-creamy gelato, and coffees (plus coffee ice cubes for iced versions). A few blocks away is the Condé-Charlotte Museum, a prison-turned-landmark home that offers a fascinating look into Mobile’s history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home still encompasses the original cell doors and prison floors amid Spanish, French, Indian, English, and American antiques that reflect Mobile’s ruling history under five different flags.
End your trip at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a 75-year-old culinary landmark, for fresh Gulf seafood and oysters "fried, stewed, or nude," as you reflect on your time in Mobile—and perhaps plan your next visit to this unique Alabama town where it’s easy to laissez les bon temps rouller.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.