Vacation is the one splurge we give ourselves each year. I feel very strongly that every family needs a vacation because you need a break from the everyday normal routine. You need the stress relief. At the same time, I understand what it is like to check prices and realize that you simply cannot afford to get away. That is why I wanted to be a part of Year of the Staycation.
Let me encourage you not to be depressed that you cannot take an expensive vacation but to look at your city with fresh eyes. Grab a map and make a circle of everything you can reach within a 90-minute drive. For me, this would be Mobile, Alabama. Come and tour the area with me!
Aside from the beauty of oak-lined streets, downtown Mobile is an amazing place to just go and walk. So, park the car for free behind Fort Conde, which you can tour at no cost, and take a stroll. The Museum of Mobile is a gorgeous place to start and the admission cost is extremely reasonable at $5 per adult and $3 per child with a maximum of $20 per family. Children ages 6 and under are free. Visit on the first Sunday of the month and everyone gets in for free.
Bienville Square and Cooper Riverside Park make perfect spots for a picnic lunch or swing into The Spot of Tea for a reasonably priced meal with southern flavor. Of course, I am particularly fond of Cathedral Square with its beautiful view of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and neighboring art gallery, Space 301, since it is one of the stops Bill and I made on our first date.
If you have children with you, you might also consider the Gulf Coast Exploreum. While the Exploreum is a fabulous place with numerous hands-on exhibits and Imax Theater, it does cost a bit, but hey! You are saving a ton by sleeping in your own bed. You have to live just a little. And speaking of, you need to swing by Three Georges Candy Shop for a sweet treat or Serda’s Coffee Company for a quick shot of caffeine.
South Mobile County
One of the most beautiful gardens in the United States is nestled under the oaks at Bellingrath Gardens and Home. Full of fragrant blooms throughout the year and featuring a cruise of Fowl River aboard the Southern Belle, these gardens are a pleasure for all ages. Did I mention they were the 2004 Top Public Rose Garden in the United States? Make a note of it just in case you are quizzed later.
A little further to the south is one of Alabama’s most beautiful beaches at Dauphin Island. The public beach boasts a fishing pier stuck over dry land due to the relocation of the Sand/Pelican Island Shoal System aggravated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
If you are on The Island, you should also visit Fort Gaines and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium which highlights the four main habitats of coastal Alabama: the Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
The Eastern Shore
A staycation would not be complete without a trip across the glittering waters of Mobile Bay to the eastern shore, Baldwin County. With a treasure trove of golf courses like Craft Farms and Rock Creek, the Eastern Shore boasts several destinations for “retail therapy” at The Eastern Shore Centre (where the children love to play in the fountain) and Tanger Outlets. (Just stick to the clearance racks!)
The Eastern Shore also has a historic side at Fort Morgan. One of our favorite activites is to ride the Mobile Bay Ferry across the mouth of the bay, which arrives just behind the fort. We stand along the side of the ferry, hoping for a glimpse of dolphins.
You can also spot dolphins playing off the coast of Gulf Shores. There are only two beaches in the world where the sand will squeak under your feet and this is one of them. If the sun gets too hot, you can seek refuge at The Track or cool off at Waterville USA. (Note that both of these are “tourist destinations” which can also be called “expensive.” So, look for coupons available in local coupon books.)
Other Sites to See
Mobile Carnival Museum ~ Mobile is often overlooked as the birthplace of Mardi Gras but this museum keeps its heritage clearly focused. You can discover how floats are constructed and inspect the intricate robes, crowns and scepters.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park ~ I am proud to say that I have visited this glorious ship about a bazillion times and never grow weary of the history it holds. Children get especially excited as they traverse through the bunks and kitchen of the ship. You can also tour a submarine, the USS Drum, and view amazing aircaft in the adjacent pavilion. There is a pier where you might catch a glimpse of an alligator and picnic areas for a relaxing nibble… for you, not the alligators.
Bragg-Mitchell Mansion and/or Oakleigh Historic Complex ~ Be transported back in time with a tour of these beautiful antebellum homes. Both provide a gorgeous backdrop for family portraits, but the Oakleigh Complex has several areas available for tour that reveal daily living in mid-19th century daily living: society, servant and working class.
Hank Aaron Museum and Stadium ~ Tour the childhood home of Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron, and catch a game from the Mobile Bay Bears. Avoid the costly concessions by sticking a few water bottles in your purse.
Mobile International Speedway ~ If you love car racing, then take a night to visit the Speedway. Check their website for special events throughout the summer.
Blakeley State Park ~ A sanctuary for the outdoorsman, this park boasts nature trails, camping, Civil War battlefield, and eco-tour by boat of the Delta. You can explore the area by walking, cycling, or horseback riding. (Bring your own horse.)
There is truly so much to do in south Alabama that I could write for days and probably miss something wonderful. So, I encourage you to do some investigating of your own and search out things to do. (Maybe you will win some Swagbucks as you search!)