Easy Southern Escapes: Mobile, Alabama

by  Melanie Warner Spencer | Oct 15, 2015
Downtown Mobile
Downtown Mobile / Tad Denson, MyShotz

Mobile, Alabama was established in 1702 as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana. The city, only two hours and 20 minutes east of New Orleans, has much in common with The Big Easy -- but also has a unique heritage of its own.

Along with the French connection and the same explorer-founders, both Mobile and New Orleans are port cities with a similar military and maritime history, late-night drinking establishments, and a long and proud Mardi Gras history. But the delta, the bay, and the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico have as much of an influence on Mobile’s coastal attitude. Whether you're there during Carnival season or not, there’s plenty of revelry and live music. Restaurants and chefs are working to put Mobile on the culinary map, and art and history museums to round out the cultural experience.

Activities:  Whether you want to catch your favorite band, the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, comedy shows, or plays and musicals, you can find it all at the circa-1920s Saenger Theatre . Mobile’s oak tree-covered squares are worth a walking or driving tour, and, during various seasons of the year (currently through November 21), the 18th Century Cathedral Square in downtown is home to the Market on the Square farmer’s market. Boutiques and the charming Bienville Books will make for a lovely afternoon of shopping downtown. From November 14 through January 12, enjoy views of the Port of Mobile, food, drinks, and more in the Riverside Ice ice-skating rink at Cooper Riverside Park.

Eats: Have a burger and a pint at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, oft nodded to in “best of” lists by national publications like USA Today and Esquire Magazine for its aforementioned burger, great atmosphere, and live music. In recent months, downtown has seen an explosion of new eateries featuring elevated Southern fare. For just two examples: The Noble South serves up treats like deviled eggs with roe and arugula, pickled shrimp with saltines, and lamb spare ribs with Asian pear slaw and barbecue sauce; Dumbwaiter Restaurant has a seafood-laden menu offering locally farmed raw and baked oysters, shrimp and grits, and tuna sandwiches; Von’s Bistro opened its doors in September and fuses Vietnamese with Coastal Southern cuisine.

Drinks: For a slightly more upscale vibe, go for cocktails and dinner at The Bull, where the grilled double-cut pork chop with chorizo grits or a seared New York Strip will get the job done. Be sure to catch the champagne brunch at Café 615, and coffee at Serda’s Coffee Company will keep you caffeinated throughout your stay. For more imbibing, head to Alchemy Tavern, which has a solid craft beer menu and extensive spirits selection. Late-night drinkers will want to proceed directly to Haley’s, open until 4 to 6 a.m. depending on the night -- as good a dive bar as any on the Gulf Coast.

Museums & Tours: The Mobile Museum of Art and Alabama Contemporary Art Center have what you need for your art fix ($5). Seeking a salty dive instead? The GulfQuest Museum is the new National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico ($14-$16); Fort Conde is a reconstruction of the original 1720s French fort (free); and the USS Alabama Battleship, ($6 -15), and the History Museum of Mobile ($10) are just a few more places to immerse yourself in the city's military and marine history. For something festive and different, The Mobile Carnival Museum traces Mobile’s history with Carnival season ($2-$5). Finally, we'd also recommend taking a tour through the historic house museums of Mobile, including the Conde-Charlotte Museum House (call for admission prices), once the city jail, and the circa-1833 Oakleigh Historic Mansion ($10).

Stay: The Fort Conde Inn is a circa-1850s landmark house -- offering five suites, four luxury rooms, and four carriage house rooms -- as well as a couple of three-bedroom cottages. Both elegant and contemporary, the accommodations are furnished with original artwork, museum-quality antiques and reproductions, plus modern amenities like l’Occitane bath products. The boutique's complimentary breakfast features biscuits and pastries, as well as bananas Foster French toast, crab and asparagus quiche, and seafood Benedict. Rates range from $99 to $479 per night.

Getting There: Fly into the Mobile Regional Airport or into New Orleans and drive two and a half hours east on Interstate 10.

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