LAST UPDATED ON 1/29/22
For as long as we can remember, Mardi Gras has been about indulgence, and it’s no different in Mobile! These two and a half weeks of celebrations leading up to lent are filled with parades, balls, trinkets, MoonPies, indulgent food, and drinks. Most might think of New Orleans when imagining the festivities but the true birthplace of Mardi Gras is in fact Mobile, Alabama.
Mardi Gras in Mobile
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and is celebrated on the day before “Ash Wednesday.” The first Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1703 by French settlers in the newly established port town of Mobile. Although this celebration was much smaller and unlike what Mardi Gras is today, it set the precedent for future celebrations.
In 1711, Mobile saw its first Mardi Gras parade which is believed to be the first in North America. Today, there are more than 30 parades organized by mystic societies that take place in Mobile during Mardi Gras.
Things to Know
1. Family-friendly festivities:
Mardi Gras in Mobile is a bit more intimate and family-oriented (but no less impressive) than the way it’s celebrated in New Orleans. Schools even close for the week leading up to Fat Tuesday so kids can attend the celebrations with their families. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t stroll about with an adult-beverage in hand…it’s still Mardi Gras, folks!
2. Trinkets and throws:
Beads, stuffed animals, MoonPies, ornate cups, and sometimes even ramen noodles get thrown to the crowds from floats at Mardi Gras parades. If you catch a doubloon, hold on to it because they’re collectibles!
Some of the food traditions in Alabama associated with Mobile’s Mardi Gras are king cakes, milk punch, and the Bloody Mary. However, none beat the beloved MoonPies when it comes to importance. The legend goes that these chocolate-covered graham cracker confections were brought back from Chattanooga Bakery.
The idea was that they would be safer to use as throws during Mardi Gras than the traditional Cracker Jack Box. Today, people can’t get enough of them and a huge MoonPie even drops on New Year’s Eve in Mobile to show its legendary status!
Mardi Gras in Mobile lasts for around two to three weeks and has many events including more than 30 parades. These parades, primarily organized by Mobile’s mystic societies, roll down six charted routes in downtown Mobile.
With sometimes more than three parades making their way through the streets in a day, it gets hard to catch them all. Here are the days and parades you do not want to miss:
1. Joe Cain Day:
Celebrated on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Joe Cain Procession or the “People’s Parade” is a sort of free-for-all. It celebrates the man who revived Mardi Gras after it was banned during the civil war.
Expect it to be nothing like the parades organized by the mystic societies. This procession, unique to Mobile, is held to celebrate the “average Joe” and it does just that, in the most fun way possible!
2. Lundi Gras:
The Floral Parade held on Lundi Gras, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the one to look forward to for families. Come noon, the parade, featuring younger riders and floats provided by public schools, makes its way through its route. The day also sees a family-oriented midway, complete with carnival rides, food, and games.
3. Fat Tuesday:
The Knights of Revelry parade held on Fat Tuesday is a crowd favorite because of the unique throws it offers! It’s also hosted by one of the oldest and most established krewes.
4. Order of Myths:
Founded in 1867, the Order of Myths is the oldest continuing Mardi Gras parading group in Mobile. The group is always the one to present the closing parade on Fat Tuesday and does so in a way that calls back to olden times.
Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile are carried out mainly by mystic societies. These social groups meet throughout the year and during Mardi Gras, hold parades with extravagant floats and people dressed in colorful costumes.
Some mystic societies have lavish parties called masquerade balls that are invitation only. Although there are only a few balls open to the public, you can always learn more about the mysteries surrounding mystic societies and Mardi Gras in Mobile by visiting the Mobile Carnival Museum.
Mobile Carnival Museum
All displayed in glass cases for your viewing pleasure, you will see sparkling gowns, trains, scepters, and jewels worn by Mardi Gras royals from the past. Learning about how it all began makes celebrating Mardi Gras even more fun!
During Mardi Gras season in Mobile, almost everything becomes centered around those splendid three weeks. There is usually a medley of events to indulge in. Here are a couple:
1. Road Trips to Mobile Mardi Gras:
If you live within driving distance of Mobile, check to see if there are any Mardi Gras road trips (such as this Columbus, Georgia one) rolling through your town. Enjoy a trip of parades, food, shopping, and parties with a fun bunch, all while skipping the hassle of finding parking!
2. Mobile Mystery Dinners:
Enjoy a Mardi Gras-themed murder mystery dinner sponsored by Mobile Mystery Dinners and performed by MMD Players. Expect a delicious meal and a couple laughter-filled hours of detective work!
Mobile Mystery Dinners hosts other mystery dinner events during different seasons of the year but they all require prior reservations and tend to sell out fast!
Some good vantage points for views of the parade and catching throws are Bienville Garden and the intersection of Dauphin and Royal Streets. What sounds better than Mardi Gras amidst the sprawling old oaks of Mobile!
Directions, Parking, and Routes
Little purple signs all over the place will tell you that there’s no parking allowed along the route two hours before and after the scheduled parade. Failure to oblige could result in you bailing your car out of towing jail.
Make sure to check which roads are blocked before making your way into Mobile on Fat Tuesday. It’s usual for Highway 90, the Bankhead Tunnel, and parts of I-165 to be closed. I-65 from the East, although chock-full of traffic, is one of the few reliable ways of getting into town on the big day.
Where to Buy Mardi Gras Masks
Although buying masks at a costume or party shop in Mobile somewhere near the parades is an option, my hunch is you’d rather be more prepared than that! Pick from the masks below to be Mardi Gras ready:
Where To Stay
Originally opened in 1940, the elegant Admiral Hotel is one of the most iconic fixtures of Mobile’s Downtown Historic District – even more so during Mardi Gras. It’s conveniently located within walking distance of Dauphin Street and right on the route of most of the major parades, making it perfect for viewing.
Catch a front row seat at the gorgeous Malaga Inn on Church Street to watch all the Mardi Gras festivities. You’ll get to enjoy the views and even catch some throws in ultimate style and comfort. The historic boutique inn is located extremely close to the Mobile Civic Center, making it so that most parades pass right behind the building.
Where To Eat
If you’re looking for a quick bite without having to stray too far from the festivities and music, get some grub at one of the many food trucks and vendors lining the streets. However, if what you want is a sit down Mardi Gras dining experience in Mobile, check out the restaurants below.
Don’t forget to check their websites before visiting because available items, specials and hours of operation may vary during Mardi Gras, especially on Fat Tuesday.
Dew Drop Inn
Dew Drop Inn on Old Shell Road was founded in 1924 and is the oldest restaurant in Mobile. This reasonably priced, retro-looking inn has vinyl booths and walls filled with old photos. Almost everything is a sure shot at this original joint, but one must-try is the Dew Drop Hot Dog. Trust me and order it “all the way!”
Pollman’s Bake Shop
Check out the famous Pollman’s Bake Shop in downtown Mobile and try out their classic Mardi Gras king cake. Glazed in purple, green and gold (for power, faith and justice), the braided roll like cake is simply delicious.
It’s light, flaky, garnished with pecans and filled with yummy cream cheese. If you get the slice that contains the hidden plastic baby inside, you are believed to be granted luck and prosperity in the year to come.
Drop by Noble South on Dauphin Street for an elegant Mardi Gras brunch. This old warehouse-style building, repurposed into a rustic-chic restaurant, serves inventive Southern-inspired cuisine fit for a king – a Mardi Gras King.
From West African peanut stew, interesting cocktails to classic Gulf shrimp and grits, this place has everything to satiate all your Mardi Gras cravings.
The Royal Scam
Located along the main route of most of the Mardi Gras parades, The Royal Scam restaurant is the perfect place for a yummy bite and a perfect view! Try their scrumptious seafood gumbo to get into the Mardi Gras spirit. With their spacious courtyard and extensive wine, beer and liquor selection, it’ll be a cinch.
Felix’s Fish Camp
Named Felix’s as a nod to Mardi Gras traditions in Mobile, Felix’s Fish Camp is a restaurant that’s a must visit for its delectable seafood, but even more so for its novelty dessert. The confection in question is their Moon Pie a la Mode, made with a Chattanooga Bakery original Moon Pie.
The moon pie is heated until the chocolate melts and the marshmallow turns gooey, then split in half and topped with vanilla ice cream. The unique dessert is available year round but is definitely best savored during Mardi Gras season!
Moon Pie General Store
If you still find yourself short on moon pies after the parade (highly unlikely), head to Moon Pie General Store to stock up on them. Banana, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and salted caramel are the classic flavors to choose from, although there are seasonal flavors you might come across as well!
The store also has a fun surprise for adults to try – boozy milkshakes! These handmade alcohol-infused ice cream drinks are a fun way to top off your Mardi Gras experience in Mobile.
Tips for Mardi Gras in Mobile
Hover on this image to get my best tips for attending Mardi Gras in Mobile!
Know Before You Go
- Bring something to store your prized catches.
- Get a parking spot about 90 minutes before the start of a parade because streets will close.
- Make a light-up sign to create a target for throws.
- Don’t jump the barricades.
- Please, don’t litter!
- Dress in layers - it can be warm or chilly depending on the weather and this way you will be prepared.
- Bring blankets and lawn chairs for the wait.
Are you ready to do Mardi Gras in Mobile fashion yet? I sure hope so because it’s undoubtedly a must-add for your Alabama bucket list!
If you have visited Mobile during Mardi Gras, what was your favorite part? Do you have any tips or suggestions of your own you would add? Hit me up and let me know!