A bygone charm cloaks the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, Alabama, and the areas around Mobile Bay like the Spanish moss covering the trees. Walk the historic streets, tour Civil-War-era forts and antebellum homes, and you’ll sense the shadows of the old South hanging heavy in the air. But modern Mobile is more than its rich past; its harmonious mix of yesterday and today creates the perfect weekend escape.
- Explore DowntownDowntown Mobile, old and new (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Take a stroll down Dauphin Street, the principal thoroughfare for the original French settlers who established the city in 1702. A walking tour of the district of which Dauphin Street is the center highlights the city’s original commercial corridor, harkening back to the days when cotton was king and Mobile was the third busiest port in the nation.
For glimpse of nineteenth century Gulf Coast living in style, visit the Oakleigh House Museum. The main draw here is the Oakleigh house itself, the “official period house of the city of Mobile.” The Greek Revival mansion has distinct features including a cantilevered front staircase and double parlors.
The History Museum of Mobile is also worth a visit. Housed in the Italianate style Old City Hall, it offers an engaging way to explore the city’s 300-year history with permanent and rotating exhibits, including the Community Gallery that highlights local artists. The Fort Conde Site sits just down the street. Built by the French in 1723, the fort was demolished in the early 1800’s to make way for the city’s growth. In 1976 the city recreated part of the fort on the original site, and it now contains exhibits and artifacts depicting life in Colonial times.
- GulfQuestThe GulfQuest museum honors Mobile’s maritime heritage with interactive, state-of-the-art exhibits that celebrate the sea (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)The Gulf of Mexico is a natural treasure, a liquid resource of immeasurable breadth and depth that has positive effects on our economy, provides a wealth of recreational opportunities, and factors into the unique culture and heritage of our coastal communities.
The GulfQuest National Maritime Museum highlights what makes the Gulf so special. Its exhibits offer the chance to really dive into a bevy of topics, including early settlements and trade routes, marine archeology and shipwrecks, Gulf marine life, weather and hurricanes, marine and coastal environments, maritime commerce and shipbuilding, ship navigation and communication, offshore oil/gas platforms, and they provide adventure for all ages. Interactive maps like the centerpiece of the America’s Sea exhibit in the grand lobby, as well as the Take the Helm navigation simulator, invite visitors into the action, while collections like Tools of the Trade showcase artifacts from the maritime trade of yesteryear. Kids will love the Junior Mariners play area where they dress up and become pirates, fishermen, or seafaring explorers for the day.
- USS Alabama Step back in time with a tour aboard the mighty USS Alabama battleship in Mobile Bay (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)At the USS Alabama Battleship Park, you can tour the mighty battleship that bears the state’s name as well as the USS Drum submarine. Walking along the massive vessel’s decks and squeezing into the submarine’s tiny spaces gives a sense of what our veterans felt and faced as they served our country in World War II. Additional park attractions include other military boats and aircraft, including one of the planes flown by the famous Tuskegee Airmen.
- Fort GainesHistoric Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island once defended Mobile Bay, the Confederacy’s largest port after New Orleans (photo by edibobb)“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” How many times have you heard this phrase? But do you know who said it first? After moving between French, British, and Spanish control for over one hundred years, the territory around Mobile Bay was seized by the United States in 1813. To protect the state’s long coastline, the construction of Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island in Mobile Bay began in 1819. For thirty years the work started and stopped as multiple problems were encountered along the way.
Finally, by 1861 the fort was almost completed, but as the Civil War broke out, it was the Confederacy that added the finishing touches. The fort played a vital role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, one of the war’s most notable naval conflicts. During this battle, Union Admiral David Farragut attempted to capture Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. Amid intense fire and while watching one boat sink after hitting a torpedo, Farragut shouted in an effort to rally his troops, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” For three days afterwards, the battle to take Fort Gaines raged on until finally the Confederates surrendered the fort to Farragut. Tour the fort and see for yourself where this bold and bloody battle played out.
- Bellingrath Gardens The acres of green dotted with a rainbow of blooms at Bellingrath Gardens are relaxing and invigorating all at once (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)There’s always something spectacular to see at Bellingrath Gardens and Home; in spring summer and fall, Mother Nature puts on some vibrant shows. Stroll through the gardens’ sixty-five acres of floral fantasyland to gaze at blankets of color-drenched blooms. Seasonal favorites include roses—there are more than 2,000 bushes and seventy-five different varieties—camellias, chrysanthemums, azaleas, and more. Check out the annual Festival of Flowers held each March.
- Lap’s Grocery & Grill and the OK Bicycle ShopThere are plenty of good eats in Mobile, but you can’t go wrong with a big bowl of red beans and rice topped with spiced-just-right Conecuh sausage and crawfish tails at Lap’s (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Situated on the causeway running beside the Mobile Bay, Lap’s Grocery & Grill excels at seafood, making delicious use of area’s access to fresh, local shrimp, fish, oysters, and crabs. If you’re not in the mood for that, you can’t go wrong with a big bowl of this eatery’s comforting red beans and rice topped with spiced-just-right Conecuh sausage and crawfish tails.
You also want to stop in at the OK Bicycle Shop, a bar/restaurant that’s suffering from an identity crisis in the best way possible. Serving dishes with south-of-the-border flavors as well as sushi, it’s the perfect place to fuel up for or wind down from your exploration of Mobile. If you remembered to pack a second stomach, go for the duck nachos, a mountain of tender smoked duck, fresh pico de gallo, cheese, and crispy tortilla chips that’s more than enough for two. Wash it all down with a pineapple-jalapeno margarita.
- Three GeorgesSatisfy your sweet tooth at Three Georges in downtown Mobile (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to this cute candy shop downtown that’s been serving up sugary delights for ninety-five years. Homemade fudge and chocolate indulgences like ripe apples smothered in chocolate are just the beginning. It also offers baked goods, nuts, and other candy. Try it all, but don’t miss the Heavenly Hash.
- Fort Conde Inn This historic property, Fort Conde Inn, combines modern conveniences with period character and charm (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)Tucked away in Fort Conde Village on the edge of downtown, the Fort Conde Inn provides comfy, elegant accommodations in the serene atmosphere that permeates the gas-lantern-lined brick streets of this quiet and quaint area. The AAA 4-diamond boutique bed and breakfast is within walking distance of downtown’s multiple attractions, but feels a world, and centuries, removed. The Inn is housed in one of the city’s oldest historic residences, an 1836 home that’s been restored to its nineteenth-century glory, with great attention paid to its architectural heritage. The original heart pine floors, custom-milled stairways and thick trim, and crystal chandeliers are all preserved and lend yesterday’s charm to modern conveniences like in-room coffee makers and flat-screen TVs in each room of the Inn’s eight rooms, five suites, and two cottages. A night spent blanketed with luxury linens in a cozy, four-poster bed gives way to a scrumptious morning meal in the dining room. Find hot coffee and chilled fruit juices along with fat, warm biscuits ready and waiting along with a selection of homemade jellies and jams. (The Monkey Butter, a mish-mash of tropical tastes, is a must-try). The Inn’s chef prepares your gourmet breakfast to order after you choose from tempting options including omelettes (often including fresh Gulf shrimp and crab), fancy French toast, fluffy pancakes, and more.
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