Mobile, Alabama has turned itself into a great resort town of the South. Just a six-hour drive from Chattanooga, it is a great place to get away for a long weekend with a significant other, family or group of friends. The town offers something for everyone: top rated spas, history-filled museums, excellent restaurants, gorgeous gardens, an amazing interactive exploreum and a host of other attractions that people of all ages will love. On top of that, Mobile has managed to maintain the small city Southern charm that is becoming harder and harder to find.
While there, I stayed at the Battle House Hotel, a four-star hotel that provides comfortable, spacious rooms complete with modern amenities in a beautiful, historic building that was completely renovated in May 2007. Truthfully, I could have spent an entire weekend inside the hotel and felt like the vacation was complete. Between their state-of-the-art gym, the rooftop pool, Joe Cain Coffeehouse, and the Trellis Room Restaurant, the hotel has everything a vacationer could want. After spending an entire afternoon in the spa, I plan on going back with girlfriends to spend at least one full day enjoying all of their services.
Make sure to arrive early and plan on staying late to enjoy their incredible quiet room, hot tub, steam room and other amenities included in the spa experience. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mobbr-the-battle-house-renaissance-mobile-hotel-and-spa/
I did manage to tear myself away from the Battle House and spend some time exploring all that Mobile has to offer. If I spent a long weekend there, I would definitely not run out of things to do. However, even if I just had one full day in Mobile, I know exactly how I would spend it.
A great place to start the day is at Spot of Tea for breakfast, a must-try for all visitors. The restaurant is legendary in Mobile, and for good reason. My friend and I split the eggs cathedral - a delicious grilled English muffin topped with crab cakes, scrambled eggs, and homemade seafood sauce - and the french toast with banana foster sauce. Even though it was way too much food for the two of us, I think the only solution would be to go back and order those same two items for three people next time; neither can be missed. http://www.spotoftea.net/
While enjoying the food coma you're sure to get from Spot of Tea, jump on the free electric trolley that runs on a three-mile loop through downtown (there is a stop right beside Spot of Tea). The trolley comes every 10 minutes, and it's a great way to get a glimpse of the city before heading off to explore on foot. http://www.mobile.org/vis_getaround.php
Once on foot, one of my absolute favorite spots in Mobile was the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center. Kids (and adults) will be entertained for hours as they play and interact with many hands-on exhibits. The Exploreum boasts that its "My BodyWorks" exhibit is the most advanced health exhibit in the nation, and I believe it. Kids get to assess their own health by calculating their blood pressure; testing their flexibility, upper body strength, and jumping ability; and seeing what their body mass index is. They also get to perform virtual surgery on hearts and knees. http://www.exploreum.com/
I recommend making a stop at the Mobile Carnival Museum to learn about the history of Mardi Gras, which started in Mobile, and the 50+ mystic societies that almost all Mobile citizens participate in. The societies, who often hold secret meetings and have exclusive membership criteria, charge as much as $700 per year in dues that help cover the expense of building multiple floats to ride in the Mardi Gras parades. These societies often put on elaborate balls during the Mardi Gras period. While at the museum, visitors can see what participants wear to these balls; dresses with hand-sewn trains, some costing as much as $10,000, are on display in the museum and give the visitor an idea of just how "all out" Mobile citizens go for Mardi Gras, the biggest highlight of the year. http://www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com/
After seeing the sites, finish your afternoon with a massage at the spa at the Grand Hotel. I received the best massage of my life at the spa; my massage therapist, Gabriel, tailored my massage exactly as I asked him to. Their customer service was also fabulous. I had a robe on and a drink in my hands within minutes of arriving, and their staff did everything possible to make me feel at ease.
If you are looking for something small and local for dinner, Callaghans Irish Social Club is the place to be. One of the favorite parts of my trip was spending an evening hanging out with locals in this intimate venue. The local hot spot is famous for their burgers, and for a good reason, but I recommend the reuben. Drink some beers, maybe even do a traditional Irish Carbomb, play some table shuffleboard, and then enjoy the live music. Feel free to get up and dance while there. www.callaghansirishsocialclub.com
To finish your day, make sure to stop at Cream & Sugar for a delicious dessert or nightcap. Their outdoor patio is a great place to relax as you drink a glass of champagne and enjoy one of their delectable pastries or pies for dessert. The staff is friendly and helpful, and it's a great place to get in a last bit of the slow Southern charm before leaving your vacation behind.
Mobile has many more great places to stay, sights to see and restaurants to enjoy. For some other options, definitely check out any of the following places:
WHERE TO STAY:
The Grand Hotel Point Clear Resort and Spa is consistently one of Marriott's top ranked hotels for customer satisfaction. The resort offers seven restaurants and lounges, eight tennis courts, two 18-hole golf courses, 37,000 square feet of meeting space, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool with a waterfall and slide, a marina and an award-winning spa. The resort is all inclusive, and, if I had children, I would take my family there, spend an entire week on the property, and still feel like I hadn’t done all there is to do. www.marriotgrand.com
The Renaissance Riverview Plaza is great for business travelers. It has recently been renovated and decorated with a cruise ship theme that is fun and modern looking. The hotel is right in the heart of downtown and easily accessible. The hotel has the perfect setup for meetings and events, with 46,000 square feet of meeting room space. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mobrv-renaissance-mobile-riverview-plaza-hotel/
WHAT TO DO:
For history buffs and those looking to get a "feel" for Mobile, start at the Museum of Mobile and learn a bit about Mobile's past as well as its future. http://www.museumofmobile.com/
Bellingrath Gardens is a must see. Take a stroll through the well-groomed and constantly-changing gardens or take a tour through the Bellingrath home and get a glimpse of what life was like for the well-to-do in the early 1900s. Make sure you budget enough time to really get a feel for the 65-acre estate. Take a break from walking and enjoy a refreshing salad at the cafe or bring in a picnic and enjoy the peaceful gardens. http://www.bellingrath.org/
Stop at Toomeys Mardi Gras store and explore their vast selection of everything Mardi Gras. The party supply store has a gigantic selection of all sorts of party-related items, but the best part of this store is perusing the hundreds of different types and sizes of Mardi Gras beads that they keep in stock. http://www.toomeys-mardigras.com/
For those who like to get out and experience the great outdoors, stop by the 5 Rivers Delta Center. 5 Rivers provides boat and kayak rentals for those who want to paddle through the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. You can even rent a camping platform out on the Delta and experience a night in the wild. Those who like to stay on land will be happy to walk down the nature trails, check out the exhibits at the Apalachee Exhibit Hall or bird watch from the 5 Rivers grounds. www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/5rivers/
Another great way to see the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is to take an airboat tour with Captain Geoff and Airboat Express. Participants can look for wildlife on either the day or night tours and will trek 8-10 miles out into the Delta. http://www.airboatexpress.com/
WHERE TO EAT:
Enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Harbor Room the Renaissance Riverview Plaza. They have so many options that, even if you just take a small taste of everything, you probably will be too full to eat lunch. Make sure to design your own omelette with fresh ingredients from the omelette bar; I couldn’t stop eating the one they made for me. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/hotel-information/restaurant/mobrv-renaissance-mobile-riverview-plaza-hotel/
If you get the chance, stop by Island Thyme on the one Sunday per month that it's open for brunch (normally they serve lunch and dinner). The restaurant offers a laid-back environment, good music, and good food; try the pork and the couscous salad for lunch. The monthly brunch is always to raise money for local charities in need.
Drive over to the Windmill Market in Fairhope any Thursday-Sunday if you enjoy organic, locally-grown and prepared foods. The eco-friendly market has over 25 vendors. You can explore what local vendors have to offer, such as handmade crafts and pottery, while eating from the cafe or grabbing already-prepared food to eat later. Check out the windmill turning above the market and marvel at the two cisterns that collect rain water to water the "edible landscape." www.windmillmarket.org/
If you are looking for live music, big portions, a large beer selection, and good 'ole Southern barbeque, spend an evening at the Shed BBQ and Blues Joint. The eclectic decorations, mostly donations from local folks looking to throw stuff out, the option to eat your meal while sitting inside the remnants of a hot tub, and the waitresses walking around the restaurant yelling out orders all make this a memorable spot that is obviously very popular with the locals. I tried a little bit of everything and loved the pulled pork as well as the creamy mac salad. http://www.theshedbbq.com
A visitor can't stay in Mobile without getting some good seafood. I recommend Wintzell's Oyster House to get delicious seafood that will keep you full for days. Wintzell's is a Mobile tradition. Go in and enjoy reading the hundreds of sayings, all attributed to founder J. Oliver Wintzell, that decorate the walls. Wintzell's isn't called an oyster house for nothing; if you like oysters, get raw oysters for an appetizer and then the oyster sampler for your main dish. If you don't love oysters, try the bacon-wrapped shrimp. http://www.wintzellsoysterhouse.com/
I also recommend Felix's Fish Camp Grill; do your best to get there right as the sun is going down over the bay. It's beautiful. Start with the crab soup and make sure to get the corn and jalapeno fritters. The ahi tuna was wonderful, but the highlight of the meal was the fried strawberry cheesecake. http://www.felixsfishcamp.com/
Eggs Cathedral at Spot Of Tea