Including the Gateway to Mobile’s History
By Nina Zapala, Naples Daily News Contributor
Do thoughts of romance conjure up a romantic dining experience atop an iconic building with panoramic city views? Do hand-holding walks through one of the last remaining long leaf pine forests, stealing quiet moments with one another, sound like the perfect day?
How does a visit to a quaint beachside town, where 32 miles of snow-white beaches give way to Caribbean blue, turquoise waters? A beachside town where traffic lights don’t exist! Can you believe all of these romantic escapes are waiting to be discovered in and around Mobile, Alabama?
Mobile is a refreshing change from traditional small-town America. The city is steeped in history, rich in French, Spanish and American traditions. This port city is proud to honor its past, with Fort Condè being a city centerpiece. The fort guarded Mobile and its citizens for almost 100 years, from 1723 to 1820. Its strategic location on the easternmost part of the French Louisiana colony allowed its’ French builders to defend against British and Spanish attacks and to protect the port which leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fort Conde gives way to Mobile’s modern skyline with the RSA Bank Trust Building, the tallest building on the Gulf Coast outside of Houston, and one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the city. Located on the top floor is Bar 424, one of the best spots in the city to enjoy Alabama-sourced spirits, and craft or classic cocktails infused with local ingredients; honey, mint or whatever bar chef Rachel Ferrand decides to source from the rooftop greenhouse.
A follow-up to cocktails and appetizers will take couples to Dauphin’s, a sophisticated, hot spot where locals go to enjoy a menu of local coastal cuisine with hints of Caribbean and Creole. While guests feast on locally sourced seafood and other fare, they will marvel at the panoramic views of Mobile Bay, admiring the sweeping canopy of live oak trees that create an enchanting backdrop for the variety of signature, historical homes. Additionally, guests to Dauphin’s will delight in the works of local artists, and an impressive baby grand piano adds another element of fun and entertainment to the experience.
Downtown Mobile is undergoing a revival and one of the newest eateries, at 650 St. Louis St., is The Cottage Cheese bistro, a cheese and charcuterie board eatery. The owners, Kristi and Charles Barber, are very hands-on and oversee all items as they leave the kitchen. The herbe chèvre with roasted red peppers sandwich was delicious, with just the right amount of spice to make it interesting.
Another landmark to hang with the locals is Bob’s Downtown Diner, a ’50s throwback, and one of the area’s top-rated spots in the city for brunch. TripAdvisor gives it 4.5 stars.
Spot of Tea, too, is a popular eatery, located in a circa-1836 building, the Meaher–Zoghby House, a historic townhouse. This gorgeous building retains its original cast iron details and front-yard fence and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The restaurant offers five themes including American cafe fare to British high tea. The restaurant recently started to provide Segway tours.
Honestly, there are so many things to see in do in downtown Mobile, I could go on forever, but I want to introduce you to the culture of the area, especially if lingering moments in museums provide intimate and quiet moments to cherish.
One of the best ways to get to know the area’s history is to visit the Condé-Charlotte Museum house, one of the oldest homes in Alabama. The 1850 Federal-style home was renovated from the city’s first official jail and now houses authentic antiques which tell the story of the port city’s history under five flags: French, English, Spanish, Confederate and American. Stroll through the charming courtyard from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.
When in Mobile, don’t miss Carnival Museum, which speaks to the history of Mardi Gras. Did you know that Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras? Yep, I didn’t either. The Carnival Museum reveals this secret and also showcases royal robes and costumes, crowns and scepters, float replicas, and historical photographs. Tip: If you do happen to visit during February, know that it’s one of Mobile’s biggest festival times with Mardi Gras in full swing. Enjoy parades, live music, roving funnel cake stands and parade goodie carts, dinner specials on every corner, and a city that is alive with festival fun! You won’t want to miss it and know the party ends on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 13 this year.
There are many more museums to see in the area including art museums, from the traditional Mobile Museum of Art with 10,000 artworks in a variety of disciplines to the Alabama Contemporary Art Center, located in Cathedral Square, featuring rotating exhibits from contemporary artists as well as permanent collections.
What I found fascinating when speaking to locals is many call themselves artists. This made sense as further exploration revealed flourishing local artist co-ops. Art(ology) is a unique all-female co-op. It’s colorful, inspiring and fun, featuring a variety of artistic expressions: printmaking, jewelry and fine art. Another community art space is Gallery 450, which encourages artists to display their wares affordably while offering support and encouragement. The area’s largest co-op is Cathedral Square Gallery in downtown Mobile. The gallery is home to 40 local and regional artists presenting visitors one of the most extensive collections of eclectic art within the region.
If you are a conscious consumer who loves art and locally made products, The Urban Emporium offers aspiring entrepreneurs a program called the Springboard to Success. the Emporium is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to nurture startup and early stage, independent retailers. One of the tenants, Zoe Jean Designs, offers digitally printed, soy-based inks on 100 percent organic fabrics. The cool thing about this retailer is you can choose one print or 100. Of course, my traveling companion and I had to get kitchen towels with our own kooky little phrases printed. We walked in one morning to place our order and the next day we picked up seven original designs made just for us. We were enamored!
Finding a place to stay overnight in the downtown area is easy and a variety of choices are available. Of course, traditional chains exist: Holiday Inn Downtown Historic District, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites, offering an attractive round building, to name a few. If you prefer boutique properties, then opt to stay at the historic Fort Condè Inn, a grand dame with roots dating back from 1723, located in luxurious Fort Conde Village. The inn is just steps away from Fort Condè and the Gulf Coast Exploreum/IMAX dome, which are part of the village. Mobile’s waterfront, museums, art, dining and the entertainment district are just a few scenic steps away.
Another charming place to rest your weary head is Malaga Inn, located in the historic downtown area and the only one of its kind in Alabama. It’s an elegant boutique property with a gorgeous courtyard, the perfect spot to enjoy breakfast. The doors to enter the inn are exquisite, while the wrought iron fences that surround quaint porch balconies beg to be used as a place to rest and people-watch. The owner, a Mobile native, is dedicated to bringing Southern hospitality at every touchpoint, and it seems to be working as I noted a line of happy travelers checking in.
If a city scene isn’t your idea of a romantic getaway, not to worry as the area boasts over 250,000 acres of raw, natural beauty. Scenic waterways, woods, wetlands and parks are an excellent way for couples to experience nature. In fact, this delta region is known as the “American Amazon.”
It’s the meeting place of five rivers; Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakely. Kayaking, nature walks and paddle boarding are perfect ways for couples to enjoy the serenity of nature and one another. Find hidden inlets along the way; they make a wonderful place to enjoy a brown-bag lunch.
Looking for a romantic rendezvous to pop the question or say “I do”? Why not enjoy the sugar-white sandy beaches of Dauphin Island, where traffic lights don’t exist! Far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the bride and groom and bridal party can enjoy low-key island vibes, centered around natural beauty.
History, like many places in the region, can also be found on Dauphin Island. The island is home to Dauphin Island’s Historic Fort Gaines, which was active in the Civil War. Today, the fort acts as a sentinel overlooking Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Got the courage up to pop the question? Here are several places that provide the perfect setting: Cadillac Square is surrounded by a canopy of live oak trees, the pier is a gorgeous backdrop for selfies, and the white beaches and turquoise waters create a textbook frame for an unforgettable photo. Another engagement tip: The island is known as the sunset capital of Alabama; why not pack a picnic and enjoy a magical sunset on the Gulf Shores? It’s the perfect time to pop the question.
If you are thinking of overnighting on the island, Dauphin Island Vacation Rentals is a great place to start. If a condo or Airbnb is not what you had in mind, opt for Willow Tree Cottage, a charming seaside cottage. The newly remodeled 10-room Dauphin Island Harbor House also offers a homespun atmosphere, featuring a living-room-style lobby plus each guestroom has its own unique décor. If you’re arriving by boat, Harbor House has boat slips, and the upgraded waterside dock is lit for night fishing or leisurely strolls.
If you go
For travel information, check out Visit Mobile, Dauphin Island, Mobile Historic Districts.