Old Fashioned Southern Charm with a Modern Upgrade
When you think of vacation spots in the Southeast your thoughts go to Florida or perhaps the Georgia Sea Islands. As one’s mind drifts across a mental map of the United States you would not likely consider Mobile Bay, Alabama as a vacation destination. Mobile Bay, Alabama, with all of it’s historic Southern charm and blended modern artistic energy makes for a surprising year round retreat. If you are the type to go off the beaten path for good ole Southern hospitality and peaceful rejuvenation, Mobile Bay, Alabama is the destination for you. Their slogan is appropriately “secretly awesome,” and Mobile Bay’s quiet awesomeness is what wraps around you like a warm gulf breeze.
Mobile Bay, Alabama is forty-five minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, two hours from New Orleans and fifty minutes from Pensacola, Florida. It’s central location makes it a stop on a tour of the Southeast and well worth the effort. Mobile Bay, Alabama has a warm humid temperate climate with hot summers and moderate temperatures in the winter which makes it a year round travel option. Mobile Bay’s French and Spanish inspired architecture reminds you of parts of Savannah, GA and New Orleans, LA. It echoes with ghosts of the South’s well documented history. There is pride and resolution in the air and in the hearts of its people. It is quiet and beautiful in a peaceful small town way. This is Mobile Bay, Alabama.
Mobile Carnival Museum
Mobile Bay and it’s surrounding areas, have cultural influences from the English, Creek Indian, Yoruba tribe in West Africa, French and Spanish. It is seen and felt all over the city in its architecture, traditions, food and even the faces of its people. There are traditions that are as old as the established American South. They will never die. There is also room for new ways as seen in the art world of Mobile Bay and its surrounding areas.
Imagine hundreds of thousands of moon pies and doubloons descending from every high place in the city by maskers. That would be one of your experiences during the three week celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile Bay when the entire city parties. When thinking of Mardi Gras in the United States, many think first of New Orleans. A little known fact is that Mardi Gras’ birthplace in the U.S. is in Mobile, Alabama and they take it very seriously. There are coronations of kings and queens with courts and grand balls costing individual families up to $100,000 or more. In order to become king and queen you must have a bloodline connection to previous kings and queens; bloodlines dating back 200 years. Organizations and secret societies like the Maids of Mirth and Mistresses of Joe Cain are plotted all over the city making you wonder what secrets they hold. Mardi Gras in Mobile with its parades, masquerade balls and king cake parties is a more” family friendly” celebration than New Orleans’, according to Craig Roberts, resident expert on Mardi Gras and volunteer at the Mobile Carnival Museum. In 2014 Mardi Gras in Mobile Bay will begin celebrating February 1st.
There are several outlets for those seeking creative and cultural stimulation in Mobile Bay. Exploring every artistic venue in this city, I was delighted to note the quantity and variety in Mobile Bay and surrounding areas. A balanced mix of tradition like the History Museum of Mobile (www.museumofmobile.com) and the Mobile Carnival Museum (www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com) and the modern like the Center for the Living Arts/Space 301 and Robertson Gallery (www.robertsongallerymobile.com) in downtown Mobile make for a faceted experience. Center for the Living Arts/Space 301 (www.space301.com)
When you first walk into this modern setting inside the Center for the Living Arts/Space 301 you feel like you have stepped out of one time period and into the future. This downtown gallery is all about the study, exhibition and enjoyment of contemporary fine art. The Center for the Living Arts features works by local, regional and national artists. Exhibitions like the Cosmic Cavern by artist Kenny Scharf of New York City, take you out of this world into a neon, 3D room filled with recycled once desired items of our lives. Or experience the Futures Project, exhibiting from May 2013 to January 2014, that take a hopeful look into the future of the Gulf Coast. The Center for the Living Arts is a sampling of the consciousness and creativity in this small southern city.
The Kate Shepard House B&B
The Kate Shepard House B&B is nestled in a quiet, family friendly neighborhood in Mobile. You immediately feel the comfort of home as you hear the melody of an ice cream truck pass by and you are served lemonade and chocolate cookies in the historic parlor. Run by Wendy and Bill James, they make certain you feel that comfort. Very little of the interior or exterior architecture has changed from when it was built from a catalogue in 1897 by the Shepard Family of Mobile. You are given a history lesson by Wendy James with the display of papers and other artifacts found in the attic, left by the Shepard Family dating back to 1837. No phones, no televisions in the room, just fresh flowers and a filled to the brim candy jar. Pecan praline french toast for breakfast, individual cheese and egg soufflés, waffles and fresh fruit each morning; something different everyday.
“It was like becoming part of a new family for a short time. I felt very much at home and loved my room, with its antique furniture. I couldn’t wait to get in that bed at the end of each day. It was so soft and comfortable and piled with pillows. Up a couple stairs to a landing was the bathroom with a water closet and giant soaking tub.” Shannon Leonard Clinton, a guest at the Kate Shepard House B&B.
Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf & Spa
Originally the Point Clear Hotel built in 1847, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf & Spa in the Point Clear Peninsula is breathtaking, serene and restorative. Combining traditional Southern hospitality, modern amenities, and its own beach, the Grand Hotel is a secret paradise locked away in the Mobile Bay area. The Grand underwent a $50 million renovation after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. The hotel has a AAA Four Diamond rating with 550 acres of waterfront and 405 luxury guest rooms. Tennis courts, European spa and two challenging golf courses looking out on the Bay. The European spa offers the traditional to more exotic treatments including their “Body Experiences” Exotic Island Ritual. This is a combination of massage experiences with sugar exfoliation, pure coconut skin refresher, warm stones then Fijian body butter. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trails are two eighteen-hole championship layouts that span eight miles.
Because it is so close to the Gulf, Mobile Bay’s cuisine combines traditional southern dishes with the area seafood. The Mobile Bay area is close to fresh as well as salt water and there is a variety of seafood from which to choose. Most common on local menus are oysters, shrimp and crab dishes with a Southern twist. You will often see grits accompanying shrimp and fried green tomatoes as an appetizer before luxuriating your palette with a variety of oysters right from the Bay like you would at Wintzell’s Oyster House (www.wintzellsoysterhouse.com). Macaroni and cheese, potato salad or collard greens serve as a side dish on most menus. Of course, there will be spicy seafood gumbo and the sweetest sweet tea to quench your thirst. You cannot leave the table of a Southern meal without tasting two of the desserts most desired, sweet and tart key lime pie or delightful bread pudding. Hot beignets are on the menu at Panini Pete’s (www.paninipetes.com). This French inspired pastry is sprinkled with powdered sugar and accented with lemon that is squeezed over the pastry. In one word, heaven. You cannot leave the South without experiencing a beignet. Mobile is big on Barbecue too. You will find as many barbecue joints such as Dreamland BBQ (www.dreamlandbbq.com) as you will seafood restaurants. Serving Barbecue ribs, chicken and more, cooked in an open barbecue pit right before your eyes. It is authentic Southern cooking at its best.
Bob Baumhower’s Complete Angler
Seafood Grille & Bar
Sitting over Mobile Bay at sunset on a Summer evening is a perfect moment to experience the fresh local fare at Bob Baumhower’s Complete Angler Seafood Grille & Bar. The seafood, fresh caught, straight from the Bay, along with other freshly prepared dishes, are delightful and exotic, in a local way. Dishes like Gator Tail and Barbacoa, Cuban barbecue, offer variety in the menu. All of this stimulation and amazingness can be frustrating to a traveling reporter who has limited physical space and time to enjoy every dish!
Mobile Bay, Alabama is the secret place to get away from what you do everyday. It is a place to slow down, forget your diet, be pampered and reconnect with self. A history lesson and a look into the future. You truly feel like you are on vacation because the rest of the world is out there and you have found a little peace in Mobile Bay.
– Alexsandra Bowie