Growing up, I spent many family vacations visiting relatives just outside of Mobile, Ala. However, we didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Mobile; in fact, I never ventured into the downtown area until I was a teenager, first visiting the historic USS Alabama Battleship in Mobile Bay and then taking part in my first (and so far only) Mardi Gras in downtown Mobile. As it turns out, though, there’s much more to this Southern city than I originally thought.
Although not large, Mobile’s downtown district offers plenty to keep visitors entertained. For instance, along Conti Street, you’ll find Cathedral Square, home to Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the first Catholic parish on the Gulf Coast. To the cathedral’s right, you’ll find the Portier House, which served as home to the first bishop of Mobile.
There are many more historic churches and homes in the area that help tell the city’s history.
As you travel from Cathedral Square east toward the Tensaw River, you’ll come to A&M Peanut Shop on Dauphin Street. Do not pass this store without stopping in. Trust me when I say you will regret it (unless, of course, you have nut allergies!). A Mobile mainstay since 1947, A&M Peanut Shop features a wide array of fresh roasted peanuts in the shell, salted nuts, boiled peanuts and candies. There was so much to choose from I had a difficult time deciding what to sample. In the end, I went with the homemade peanut butter cups. Yum!
To walk off those calories, I continued down Dauphin Street to Bienville Square, a lovely city park shaded by the branches of several historic live oak trees. In the center is a beautiful fountain; there are benches nearby where you can sit and soak in the peace and quiet of the area. It’s not a bad way to pass the time.
Mobile Carnival Museum
While New Orleans receives all the notoriety of Mardi Gras, the carnival celebration was actually first observed in 1703 at Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff, the first settlement of Mobile. As you make your way through the museum, you’ll hear and learn the history of Mardi Gras and its evolution, both in growth and in reach. My favorite aspect of the museum is the many displays of costumes that have been worn during Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile. They are so elaborate and magnificent that it’s hard to believe they are simply for a Mardi Gras celebration and not an actual royal family on the throne.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
To the south of Mobile, Bellingrath Gardens and Home invites guests to wander the grounds and explore the many nooks and crannies of the gardens, which have been open to the public since 1932. There is a self-guided walking tour for those wanting more information as they peruse the area. You also can take a guided tour of the 10,500-square-foot home, which was constructed in 1935. I highly recommend touring both the home and the gardens. Both are equally breathtaking, and I enjoyed my time there. And speaking of time, you will want to allow plenty of time for this visit; I would say at least three hours.
Mobile pleasantly surprised me with all there is to do and see, and I look forward to returning again soon to further explore the city. If you plan to visit, I do recommend the Holiday Inn Mobile Downtown Historic District, which allows you to walk to many of the sites
and attractions in the downtown area. I always love being able to park my car and explore a city by foot whenever possible, and this hotel allows you to do just that. Plus, the rooms are comfortable, and there is an onsite restaurant, something I also love.
Disclosure: Karon visited Mobile at the invitation of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Corporation.