I originally hail from Los Angeles, but when we visited my in-laws in Alabama I learned that “L.A.” really means Lower Alabama. I also learned the folks in L.A., specifically Mobile, really know how to have a good time. Sure, you know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but Mobile hosts the nation's oldest Mardi Gras (aka Carnival) celebration, dating back to 1703. From the French, Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday) has come to mean the whole period of activity related to those events, beyond just the single day. In Mobile, Mardi Gras events begin in November with private mystic society balls, more balls on New Year's Eve and Epiphany, followed by parades and balls in January and February, celebrating up to midnight before Ash Wednesday. That’s a lot of partying. So, as they say in Mobile, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”—Let the good times roll!
Fat Tuesday can be as early as Feb. 3 or as late as March 9 (in 2018, it’s Feb. 13). It all depends on the date of Ash Wednesday, which depends on the date of Easter. Parade season (a series of large street parties) begins three weekends prior to that date. Masked Mobilians, often clad in purple, gold, and green, ride elaborate floats and toss beads, doubloons, and Moon Pies into the crowd. Parades have a variety of themes and sponsors, as well as routes, so check the schedule. If you missed the parades, visit the Mobile Carnival Museum, where you can watch parade videos, learn about float construction, and view the collection of lavish robes, jeweled crowns, and scepters. More scheduled events can be found here.
Not far from downtown, you can tour the Oakleigh Historical Complex of homes built from 1833 to 1850 and surrounded by ancient oaks. The Oakleigh Belles, high-school-age young ladies in period dress, serve as docents. They’re chosen for their good communication skills, academic achievements, and passion for history. Stop by the Church Street Graveyard, final resting place of Joe Cain, the Confederate veteran who is credited with reviving Mardi Gras in Mobile after the Civil War. Other attractions for history buffs include the History Museum of Mobile and adjacent Fort Conde.
The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta supports 126 species of fish, 300 kinds of birds, and more than 500 types of plants. Canoe or kayak through sleepy bayous of Tupelo gum, bald cypress, and willow trees, overhung with moss and epiphytes. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center has rentals, an exhibit hall, gift shop, and hiking trails. Fishermen will want to ply the upper delta for freshwater bass, catfish, and crappie, or the lower delta for redfish, speckled trout, and flounder.
Accommodations in Mobile are historic, too. The Battle House Renaissance Hotel was first opened in 1852, although it’s now connected to the 41-story RSA Battle House tower, built in 2007. When reserving, let them know which building you'd like to stay in. The tower provides elegant suites with aerial views. At the Battle House, vibrant burgundy, gold, and cobalt hues are found throughout the guest rooms and common areas. Don’t miss the Whispering Arch on the second floor: You can stand at one end, whisper, and your companion will hear you from the other end, 35 feet away. The Trellis Room offers breakfast (love those grits!) and evening fine dining under Tiffany stained glass, while the Joe Cain Café is more casual. Hear live jazz, folk, and blues on weekends. A full salon spa is also onsite. Meanwhile, the Kate Shepard House Bed & Breakfast offers Southern hospitality in a Queen Anne home built in 1897. You’ll find original fireplaces, hardwood floors, light fixtures, and Confederate Civil War relics inside, and century-old magnolias outside.
Live music? The best is at BLUEGILL, every night except Monday. But get your seafood at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Dauphin Street landmark since 1938. Oysters, seafood gumbo, and fried green tomatoes—now you’re really in L.A.! Enjoy!
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