Alabama’s beautiful “city on the bay,” Mobile, is only a 50-mile drive from the Gulf Shores beaches. Travelers looking for a respite from sand and surf can spend the day strolling along Mobile’s charming southern streets, exploring the city’s museums or tasting the local cuisine.
With its rich maritime, military and southern heritage, the city of Mobile keeps museum-going and history-loving tourists on their toes. Visitors can climb on deck of the mighty battleship USS Alabama at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. Located at 2703 Battleship Parkway on the bay, the park is also home to the USS Drum World War II submarine, as well as 20 historic aircraft, tanks, a Vietnam river patrol boat and other military memorabilia. Admission prices range from $6-$12, with children 6 years and younger admitted free. The park is open every day except Christmas Day (251.433.2703 or www.ussalabama.com).
Tour one of the city’s stately antebellum homes for a glimpse into the region’s past. The white-columned Oakleigh Mansion offers tours, where guides in period dress explain how different segments of society lived and worked in the years before the Civil War (300 Oakleigh Place, Mobile, Ala.; www.historicmobile.org or 251.432.6161).
Bellingrath Gardens (12401 Bellingrath Gardens Rd., Theodore, Ala. 36582) is a 65-acre horticultural jewel near Mobile. Visitors can tour the famous rose garden and rockery, or stroll along the ecological bayou boardwalk year-round. Or head inside for a look of the estate’s 10,500-square-foot “English Renaissance” home. (www.bellingrath.org or 251.973.2217 or 800.247.8420)
Mobile also has several museums in which tourists can while away the day. The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center (65 Government St.) is a hands-on science and family fun center (877.625.4FUN or www.exploreum.com). It includes an IMAX Theatre, a fully functioning science lab, interactive virtual reality exhibits, as well as traveling exhibits.
The Mobile Museum of Art is located at 4850 Museum Dr. and features the largest collection of art on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Tampa (251.208.5200 or www.MobileMuseumofArt.com). The Mobile Carnival Museum celebrates the city’s Mardi Gras heritage, and gives visitors an up-close look at all of the floats, baubles and characters that make the festival so exciting. (355 Government St.; www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com or 251.432.3324).
Even though more people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, Mobile was actually where American Mardi Gras celebratin’ all got started. Mobile has been hosting the pre-Lenten party since 1703. For nearly three weeks each winter, the streets downtown are filled with family-friendly Mardi Gras parades. Revelers enjoy the music, colorful floats, costumes and interesting “throws” — which include traditional beads as well as the more unique (and edible) Moon Pies (www.mobile.org/vis_mardigras.php).