© Photos by Sherri Tilley
Bessie Morse Bellingrath
Bloom where you're planted.
Mobile, Alabama | Azalea City
Bessie Morse Bellingrath was the benevolent wife of a prosperous Coca-Cola bottler for the Southeast region. The couple's grand estate home has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and its extensive 65-acre garden was the inspiration for Mobile's famous Azalea Trail founded in 1929. During the country's economic depression, Bessie found unique ways of helping people in need including intentionally overpaying for simple antique items and a variety of floral blooms. As a modern-day testament to her horticultural efforts, the Bellingrath Gardens and Home features landscaped beauty year round, and this "Charm Spot of the Deep South" is now one of Alabama's most notable tourist attractions.
A westward arrival into Mobile brought us almost directly to USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park where the Hero of the Pacific (BB-60) rests on Mobile Bay. From there on Blakeley Island, motorists can travel beneath the Mobile River via the Bankhead Tunnel or George Wallace Tunnel which run parallel into Mobile, one of the oldest cities on the Gulf Coast. Continue on, and you'll find the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, one of the only interactive maritime museums in the United States.
Once downtown, venture toward the Lower Dauphin Street Historic District, the city's principle business corridor, to see a collection of buildings featuring significant architectural styles like the Abraham Pincus Building at 1 South Royal Street and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where visitors solemnly appreciate the stunning interior. Additional impressive architecture can been seen at the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, Conde-Charlotte Museum House, Richards-DAR House Museum, and The Oakleigh Historic Complex; while other points of interest also include the History Museum of Mobile, Mobile Carnival Museum, Paint Party Studios, Soul Kitchen concert venue, and Alabama's premiere independent movie theater the Crescent.
Do not even think about leaving Mobile, however, without first stopping by the A & M Peanut Shop to pick up a bag of peanuts in the shell, roasted hourly in their 90 year-old roaster, and then settling in on a park bench by the beautiful fountain at Bienville Square. One of the most serendipitous highlights of our trip was feeding the adorably-tame resident squirrels which sat right down beside us and accepted peanuts straight from our hands.
The Spot of Tea, a circa-1836 historical landmark restaurant, serves brunch and afternoon high tea seven days a week in their modern Victorian dining room with grand piano, New-Orleans-style carriageway, and manicured sidewalk cafe overlooking Cathedral Square. The nearby Firehouse Wine Bar and Shop located in the historic Mobile Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 offers a wide variety of wine and beers; but for a casual lunch, enjoy a world-famous hot dog at Mobile's oldest restaurant the Dew Drop Inn.
For quality Gulf Coast seafood, try Kitchen on George which prepares a locally-sourced seasonal menu, the rustic yet sophisticated NoJa that occupies a classic landmark address, or Felix's Fish Camp with its large windows that provide panoramic views of Mobile Bay. The Royal Scam is the casual fine dining option for certified Angus beef, Wintzell's Oyster House is a Gulf Coast tradition, and the one-of-a-kind West Indies Salad originated by the owner of Bayley's Restaurant is also a local favorite.
For a leisurely jaunt, consider an afternoon drive out to Dauphin Island, the Sunset Capital of Alabama, or enjoy a little music at the circular SkyView Lounge perched 17 stories above street level at the Holiday Inn Mobile. Overnight guests will feel comfortably welcome at the convenient Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza featuring scenic views and nautically-inspired decor, while unparalleled regional luxury can be experienced at the beautifully-restored Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, a distinguished member of the Historic Hotels of America.
Although the long-running BayFest Music Festival is one of the most anticipated events of the year, Mobile Mardi Gras is the oldest organized celebration of its type in the United States and fills the streets annually with the sights and sounds of parades, marching bands, and vibrantly-colored floats. Additionally, the National Shrimp Festival takes place on the second full weekend in October and consists of hundreds of exhibitors, shrimp cooked in a wide variety of ways, and live music from major national recording acts and popular local bands.
Once called the Paris of the South, this southern city by the sea has a 300-year storied history which has resulted in a variety of customs and long-standing traditions. Resident Mobilians proudly embrace the quirky vibe and feisty character that make the town decidedly unique.
Our full review of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited, which was driven on this 3,000-mile trip through six southern states, examines ten unique aspects of the practical yet elegant upscale sedan.
The Toyota Avalon delivers up its services in a way that makes utilization as easy as possible. The low-profile Intelligent Touch capacitive controls for the audio systems and climate control put adjustments at our fingertips, and the Smart Key System allowed doors to be opened when we stepped within a few feet of the car even if the key fob was in our pocket or purse. However, another one of the much-appreciated amenities was the Limited's rain-sensing windshield wipers which automatically adjusted to match the amount of rain hitting the windshield and the speed of the car. This feature was put into operation repeatedly as we drove westward along the more humid climates of the southern coastline when afternoon showers were prone to occur.
For more information about Mobile, Alabama, please visit:
Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau