Mobile, one of the oldest cities in the Gulf Coast region, has a colorful, international flair, with many historic districts, architecturally significant homes and buildings, beautiful outdoor spaces, fresh seafood, numerous waterways and an ever-emerging, vibrant arts community.
“Until a planner visits the area, it’ll be hard for them to understand just how much of a variety of truly genuine experiences Mobile offers,” says Tara Henley, marketing and communications manager for the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebrations are the oldest in the United States, held annually since 1703. There are nightly parades starting two weeks before Fat Tuesday, with elaborate, themed floats that take all year to construct. Costumes, masks and traditional foods make it an unforgettable experience.
As a thriving city of 195,000, the third-largest in Alabama, Mobile has plenty of attractions for every crowd. History buffs can visit several historic sites, ranging from the Civil War to present day. A walking or driving tour of the historic districts, churches and homes in Mobile is a must-do for anyone interested in architecture, and foodies can eat their way along the bay. The dozens of galleries and museums range from folk to fine art, and kayaks, airboats and chartered fishing boats are available for scenic tours of Mobile Bay. Live music can be found throughout Mobile’s downtown, which sees weeks of energetic Mardi Gras celebrations every February.
Celebrating the spirit of Mardi Gras year-round is Mobile Carnival Museum, which was opened in 2005 by the Mobile Carnival Association, one of the many organizers of the annual festival and parades. Memorabilia and props from years past—including emblem costumes, favors, doubloons, and crowns, scepters and robes from Mobile Mardi Gras monarchs—are displayed in 14 galleries. Event space, complete with a decorative chandelier, is available for groups of up to 200, and private after-hours tours can be arranged for small groups.
Once you’ve had your fill of partying (this might take a long time!), check out a mellower, but no less interesting side of the city’s culture at the Mobile Museum of Art in scenic Langan Park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It’s home to art pieces as varied as African masks, Chinese ceramics and ancient Roman glasswork, with event space available for up to 400.
One of many antebellum estates dotting Mobile, Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a 13,000-square-foot Greek Revival built in 1855 by Judge John Bragg. The first floor, patio and grounds are available for groups of up to 250.
Located on the water in the heart of downtown, Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center (named for a former mayor of Mobile) has won several architectural awards for its striking façade: 45,000 sq. ft. of exterior glass that provides magnificent views of the Mobile River. The convention center features 317,000 sq. ft. of event space, including two 100,000-square-foot exhibit halls, 16 meetings rooms, two ballrooms with a combined total of 15,500 sq. ft., and 45,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space. The convention center is making headway on several green initiatives: It recycles more than 43 percent of its trash and uses environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, among other things. Connected via skywalk to the convention center is the AAA Four Diamond Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, with 373 guest rooms and 44,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The historic AAA Four Diamond Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel has had more than its share of famous guests since it first opened in 1852: President Millard Fillmore, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who was staying at the Battle House the night he lost the 1860 presidential election to Abraham Lincoln. It’s actually the second building of its name to inhabit the site: The first Battle House burned to the ground in 1908 and was replaced with the current building, which is one of the earliest steel-frame structures in Alabama. It’s located a block from Mobile Convention Center, and features 269 guest rooms and 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Amenities include a 10,000-square-foot spa, fitness center and Mobile’s only Four Diamond restaurant, The Trellis Room.
Located at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Fort Morgan defended the city during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The fort is available for group tours, as well as the home for an annual reenactment of the Civil War’s Battle of Mobile Bay.
Admiral Semmes Hotel, named after Capt. Raphael Semmes of the Confederate blockade runner CSS Alabama, is located in Mobile’s scenic French Quarter. It’s home to the Admiral’s Quarter, a relaxing cocktail lounge that features live jazz on Fridays, and Oliver’s, a fine-dining restaurant with two rooms for small meetings. Other amenities include a pool, whirlpool and private courtyard with a gazebo. For meetings, the property has 152 guest rooms and 5,000 sq. ft. of event space. Fun fact: The Admiral Semmes was the first building in Mobile to have air conditioning, a blessing in the summer’s subtropical humidity.
Mobile Botanical Gardens are 100 acres of cultivated and natural habitats, with plants such as camellias, Japanese maple and eight collections of rhododendrons, including 1,000 azaleas; 2,100 sq. ft. of event space is available.
Located on 550 acres overlooking Mobile Bay, Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa boasts two challenging golf courses as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. It’s been recognized by Conde Nast Traveler magazine as one of the Top 125 Golf Resorts, and by Travel & Leisure as one of the Top 500 Hotels in the World. For non-golfers (or anyone looking for a break between tee-offs) the hotel also offers 10 tennis courts, a 20,000-square-foot spa and an elaborate pool complex with access to a white-sand beach. The 35,500 sq. ft. of versatile meeting space in 24 rooms, along with 405 spacious guest rooms, make the Grand Hotel a prime meetings destination away from the hustle and bustle of Mobile proper.
Mobile’s location on the Gulf of Mexico gives it access to some of the country’s best seafood. Wintzell’s Oyster House (pictured) opened in 1938 as a six-stool bar, serving up regional favorites such as gumbo, crab cakes, crawfish etoufee and of course, fried and raw oysters. Today, it has several locations around Alabama, and its gumbo, a thick Cajun stew featuring okra and seafood, has been voted best in the city by Mobile Bay Magazine.
A fancier option is Osman’s Restaurant, which serves Continental specialties including angel hair carbonara, breaded and fried brie, and Wiener schnitzel. Group dining is available.
Battleship Memorial Park, home to the World War II battleship USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum, was founded in 1965 when thousands of Alabama’s schoolchildren raised more than $100,000 in nickels and dimes to save the two warships from the scrapyard. Today, they’re joined by several other vessels and planes in a 36,000-square-foot pavilion. Although the facility was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina (to this day, the 35,000-ton Alabama lists slightly to port), it’s been completely repaired and is available for groups of up to 1,200.
“Whether you’re hosting 400 or 4,000, Birmingham’s wide variety of meeting space and lodging options guarantees that we are the right place,” says Vickie Ashford, director of travel media for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “From the state’s largest meeting facility to smaller non-traditional venues, we are well-equipped to accommodate meetings and convention of all sizes.”
Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, with more than 220,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 40,500-square-foot ballroom, is the largest convention space in Alabama. It’s connected to two hotels, Sheraton Birmingham Hotel (757 rooms, 35,000 sq. ft.) and The Westin Birmingham (294 rooms, 9,900 sq. ft.). Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa boasts the fourth-longest golf course in the world, a 12,000-square-foot spa and 259 guest rooms. It has 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the a ballroom with a capacity of 1,200.
Birmingham is easily accessible by the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM), with flights to more than 25 cities.