Although the French built Mobile in 1702, the flags of Britain and Spain also flew over the city before the U.S. acquired it in 1810. Mobile, Alabama, retains its rich mix of culture and tradition even as it has grown into an important center of commerce.
Visitors driving down Government Boulevard west of downtown quickly discover the charm of this old and graceful city. A perfect place for Mobile sightseeing, the street is lined antebellum homes defying the march of time; stately live oaks adorned with Spanish moss form a green netting over the street.
Pecan orchards just outside the city exert their own influence on Mobile’s cuisine—especially its desserts. Pecan pie is an after-dinner staple on the menus around town, but no use of the pecan is more sumptuous than the praline (pronounced praw-leen along the Gulf Coast). No wonder so many people snatch up these sweet indulgences at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats or Tanner’s Pecans & Candies.
At the mention of Mardi Gras, many people immediately think of New Orleans, 150 miles to the west of Mobile. What most people do not know, though, is that Mobile’s Mardi Gras tradition dates back to 1703, which the city claims was the first such celebration in the U.S. More than 800,000 revelers attend two weeks of Mardi Gras celebrations at winter’s end each year, making this Mobile festival a top attraction in the state.
Another explosion of color each year occurs right on the heels of Mardi Gras—the newly blossomed buds of the legendary Azalea Trail. Beginning in the 1920s, Mobile residents imported azaleas to beautify the city. During the heyday of the Azalea Trail, from the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists poured into Mobile on sightseeing tours. Each year 50 Azalea Trail Maids, selected from among the city’s high school seniors, don antebellum hoop skirts to represent the city as its ambassadors of Southern hospitality. Today’s Azalea Trail Run, one of the top 10K road races in the U.S., has eclipsed the floral trail itself.
One of the premier botanical gardens in the world and a perennial top attraction in Mobile lies 20 miles to the southwest. Bellingrath Gardens is the 65-acre estate that once belonged to Walter Bellingrath, a millionaire who made his fortune with the Coca-Cola franchise for Mobile in the early years of the soft drink. The gardens change with the seasons, featuring camellias in the winter and azaleas in the spring, making it one of the top attractions for Mobile. Designed to exhibit a continual litany of floral splendor, the gardens once prompted Walter Bellingrath to remark that they “are like a beautiful woman with a different gown for each week of the year.”
Mobile is far more than flowers, live oaks and sightseeing. Its port facility, straddling the point where the Mobile River enters Mobile Bay, is one of the top 10 in the United States, accounting for more than 60 million tons of shipping each year.