Exploring Alabama’s Azalea City

Where we’re at: I’m covering my road trip in the American South in April and May of 2022.

What even is the south?

It was a question I found myself mulling on my inbound flight to Mobile, Alabama, the start of a three city, three state Southern USA road trip that would also take in Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. A speaking gig at a travel conference in the final destination had prompted the journey; the promise of my perpetual fellow yes-girl Katie of Traveling Spud in the passenger seat prompted the rest.

My travels in this particular region of my homeland were limited. If you exclude Texas and Florida, which many boundaries of this nebulous region do, I’ve only ever visited big mega cities like Nashville, New Orleans, and Atlanta, with some quick stops to festivals in Tullahoma, youthful summers in Myrtle Beach, a college scouting trip and a sister weekend in Savannah. Thus, I’m going to try not to let the novelty get the best of me and make every other sentence of this post a southern anachronism like Bless your heart but I cannot make any promises, people!

Alabama was my 25th state — an exciting halfway mark on my journey to someday experience every state in America! And I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to add it to the list.

We’d started our trip here courtesy of our Wander Women Retreat guest turned friend Catherine — beware, I will take you up on all invitations, casual or otherwise, to visit you in your home city. I walked out of the airport into the thick spring evening air to find my two friends drinking champagne in the parking lot; a warm welcome indeed.

We headed to our Airbnb, a gem of a find, and crashed into bed. This being a longer trip with some built in work time, we had opted for something more homey for our four nights in Mobile — though I was tempted by the chic boutique hotel The Admiral, which I’ll check out shall I ever return!

The next morning, our weekend began with a bang — or a bike, more accurately. Catherine scooped us up for a morning event that was more or less made for me! It was an outdoor fitness pop-up with local gym Crew Fitness, which instantly reminded me of my own hometown sweat fix, Anatomie.

The event included post-workout brunch and bubbles onsite at The Cheese Cottage, which was every bit as adorable as it sounds. It was the best way to start the day! Afterwards, we spent a lazy day catching up at Catherine’s parents’ beautiful pool, them bringing a local crawfish boil to Katie’s absolute delight.

Early that evening, we got gussied up to head down to Dauphin Street. Here, we strolled around marveling at the city’s cute murals, noting great restaurants and cafes, and spotting the city’s painted sidewalk oysters — officially known as The Oyster Trail, and getting the lowdown from Catherine on all things Azalea City. Turns out, this here was the first municipality in Alabama, dating back to 1702 — and was also the birthplace of America’s Mardi Gras.
We settled on dinner at El Papi, where in true small town style, Catherine seemed to know just about everyone on the patio, but also bookmarked Noble South for a future meal.

We also stopped for a post-dinner cocktail at Post, a chic wine bar, and I reminisced on a favorite wine bar by the same name back in Albany. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last I drew comparisons between the two cities on opposite latitudes.

The next morning we got our steps in with a walk back downtown for breakfast.

Our reward was breakfast tacos and iced caffeine at Nova Espresso, a spot so hip it wouldn’t have been out of place in Austin or Brooklyn. Catherine had told us since we met that we’d be surprised by Mobile — and we were.

We were fueling up for a big day. Originally, Catherine had tickled us with stories of Florabama, a waterfront bar on the state line featuring cheap buckets of beers, a Sunday morning church service, and more pickup trucks than you could even dare to dream; memorialized in song by many a top country artist.

Sadly, yet also delightfully, that weekend was the bar’s famous annual Mullet Toss — which, after marveling at an event where everyone threw around a bunch of out-of-fashion wigs, I was informed was a get together in which people throw fish — which meant traffic would be backed up clear to Mississippi.

So instead, Catherine created a multi-stop Mobile Bay dive bar tour, inviting the neighborhood and renting a party bus complete with a pole and someone’s left-behind branded prom cups. I could not even imagine a better outcome if I tried.

We kicked things off at River Shack, where we tried our first bushwackers — it’s a mudslide, basically! — and giggled at alligator bites on the menu. Frankly though, things were a little classier than I was hoping for.

I was beyond satisfied at Trader’s On the Causeway, a quirkily-shaped bar located on yes, the causeway, which served up the true nostalgic dive vibes my Banyan-loving heart craves every once in a while. My usual tipsy dive bar order of “your finest glass of champagne!” got the usual laughs it always does (depending on how many non-champagnes have been consumed, a British accent may or may not be added), and our White Claws were perfectly complemented by the free crockpot meatballs on the bar.

Free meatballs? Five stars.

We made our way back towards Mobile, where we continued our bar crawl with some local watering holes like Ice Box, swapping our party bus for a gold cart chauffeured by a very patient designated driver. A few delivery pizzas back around the kitchen island later, we declared it a wildly successful Sunday.

And the next morning, we were back to — ever so slightly groggy — business.

For one rare moment demonstrating that we have the capacity to learn from our repeated mistakes, Katie and I had actually scheduled in some purposeful work days during our trip, rather than hoping the time space continuum would rupture and we’d suddenly discover extra hours in the day.

Luckily, we had some beautiful settings for work calls and email binges, between our spacious Airbnb and local coffee shops like Knucklebones.

We paused for a break at the Mobile Carnival Museum, which honors the Mobile roots of Mardi Gras. It brought back many of my own special memories of the more well-known New Orleans version with my sister, and is a nice way to get a feel for an event I think everyone should experience once in their lifetime!

The small museum is packed with displays but a quick stop overall, making it easy to pop into a busy day.

The Big Easy on our minds, we couldn’t help but make “lunch” a stop at Mo’Bay Beignet Co., in my mind a Mobile must-do! We loved the signature syrups for dipping our favorite southern treat into.

The shop was pretty dang Instagrammable, too! And paired with the Mardi Gras museum, made for a cute little tribute to another favorite Southern sister city.

After our break, it was back to work! Doesn’t remote work look good on Katie?

When we finally signed off for the day, Catherine had one more treat in store for us. Friends we’d met on the bar crawl had generously offered to take us out for a short sunset sail on the Bay.

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect end to the weekend than this one. Reminiscing about our Wander Women adventures in Lebanon, Egypt, and now right here in Catherine’s hometown — with Wander Women Israel right ahead on the horizon.

As usual, Katie and I pulled out of town the next morning (after a rental car drama you’ll definitely read about in my next re-started recap!) chatting about our inevitable return trip — which will definitely involve a side-trip to Dauphin Island, Mobile’s nearest beach getaway.

I only had the vaguest notions of what Alabama would be like before my arrival and yet Mobile still surprised me. I can’t imagine this trip without the warm hospitality of our amazing host, and am grateful to her for a truly incredible girls’ trip in the most unexpected of locations.

Stay tuned for Mississippi up next!

Have you been to Alabama? Tell me about your trip! And if not… is this what you expected?

Thanks to Visit Mobile for welcoming us with media passes to local attractions!