MOBILE, Ala. -- Mobile is that “other” city on the northern Gulf Coast, the one that sometimes gets lost between the beaches of the Florida Panhandle and the nonstop party of New Orleans. Local promoters call it “secretly awesome.”
No, Mobile doesn’t draw millions of tourists annually. But the bayside town drips with Old South charm and has plenty of things to do, some of the best of which don’t cost a dime.
With a quaint downtown that’s situated on Mobile Bay and framed by huge oak trees with gnarly braches, Mobile and the surrounding area offer visitors a variety of free activities.
Fort Conde: The city’s welcome center, Fort Conde is a red-brick recreation of the French fort that protected Mobile for a century until 1820, when the original was demolished to clear land. Exhibits explore life in colonial Mobile and include artifacts from Indians and early European settlers who shaped the area.
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception: Consecrated in 1850, the basilica is the home of the oldest Roman Catholic parish on the Gulf Coast. With twin bell towers, stained-glass windows, a vaulted ceiling and columns adorned with gold leaf, the church fronts Cathedral Plaza, a shady spot for an afternoon rest along Dauphin Street, Mobile’s low-key answer to Bourbon Street.
Mobile Bay: Fish for flounder. Cast a net for mullet. Kayak in the marshes. Watch pelicans fly over the water. Sit on a park bench while a freighter glides past. Stroll past waterfront mansions in nearby Fairhope. Gawk at the USS Alabama. Mobile Bay is 32 miles long and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Oakleigh Garden District: One of seven nationally recognized historic areas in Mobile, the Oakleigh district is within walking distance of downtown hotels and features scores of homes dating back to the 1800s and early 1900s. Neighbors mingle on shady front porches and stroll along sidewalks cracked by the roots of huge trees live oaks magnolia trees.
Bayou La Batre: Less than 30 miles from downtown Mobile, Bayou La Batre is mentioned in the movie “Forrest Gump” as the hometown of character “Bubba” Blue. In real-life, the town of 2,600 is a major seafood processing center. It’s also a photographer’s dream.