Mobile Alabama: Small town charm
Downtown MobileA great way to enjoy a new destination is to become familiar with its history, whether you seek out a group tour or opt for a brochure (Mobile offers these brochures for free) leading you on a self-guided walking tour. Mobile is best seen by the latter and is easily traversable by foot, with most sites located within a 17-block area. Begin your exploration on Dauphin Street, where mixed architectural styles of Victorian to classical revival and art deco combine seamlessly in a splendid visual palette of rich brick and cast iron. This scenic avenue is an excellent representation of Mobile's fascinating heritage and a view into the city's past origins that began in 1702. Along with the beautiful historic buildings on Dauphin Street, visitors will find dozens of quaint shops, the Bienville Square City Park, the scrumptious Three Georges chocolate shop founded in 1917 and the wonderful Mobile Arts Council.
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Mobile's grand, historic homes and famous neighborhoods reside within roughly eight historic districts. The Oakleigh District is especially interesting with gorgeous homes and neighborhood parks interspersed with Cajun shotgun homes (steep roofs) and Creole cottages (larger and with gabled roofs). This area is lovely with multitudes of live oaks and mansions featuring sprawling lawns in an unmistakably southern graciousness. And, the beautiful Oakleigh Period House Museum is open daily for tours. Moreover, Government Street is lined with spectacular, historical palatial homes and is perfect for a photographic spree. While this area is traversable by foot, it is a rather large district and a car tour might be a better option.
For a more scientific bent to your travels and one especially geared toward kids, visit Mobile's Exploreum Museum, located on Government Street. The museum features amazing hands-on interactive educational exhibits, such as a harp with lazar beam strings and an IMAX theater. The BioLab is one of the best exhibits in the museum with a health and biology lab where visitors can perform various experiments and even knee and heart surgeries via virtual real-time simulation.
One of the most magnificent gardens in the U.S. is the exquisite Bellingrath Gardens, located about 20 minutes from Mobile in Theodore. Walter and Bessie Bellingrath created the stunning 65-acre gardens 75 years ago out of a meek little fish camp. Today, the gardens feature a conservatory with dinner-plate sized tropical Hibiscus and over two-and-half miles of cultivated walking paths that meander through themed landscape designs that incorporate Mirror Lake and Fowl River.
Bellingrath Gardens encompass a wide variety of flora and fauna in sculpted landscaped surroundings that bespeak the allure only a southern environment could create. If you yearn for beauty and nature, visit the gardens anytime of year and you will find blooms and serenity equal to a dream. In addition, the gardens are open at Christmastime with a dazzling display of over three million lights that create an enchanted fantasyland that is unparalleled.
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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Visit her website Travel-Excursion for more information.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author