Dauphin Street: With its wrought-iron balconies and eclectic array of restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and bars, Dauphin Street -- in the historic heart of the city -- often draws comparisons to New Orleans' Bourbon Street. But it is decidedly more calm and family-friendly. You're more apt to run into families attending events such as ArtWalk, rather than wild revelers -- although those certainly are present at times. Held the second Friday of each month (except in February), ArtWalk is a festive gathering of artists, craftspeople, musicians and food trucks. Nearby galleries open their doors and offer complementary wine and cheese, while vendors sell their wares on the street.
Crescent Theater: While exploring Dauphin Street, be sure to check out this historic, intimate theater that shows independent and locally produced films and serves wine and beer. Be sure to arrive early to score one of the theater's ultra-comfortable leather recliners. (208 Dauphin Street, 251-438-2005; open seven days a week, hours vary)
Three Georges Southern Chocolates: Established in 1917, this is one of Dauphin Street's best candy shops. It offers favorites such as pralines, heavenly hash and pecan pie, as well as gift baskets. (226 Dauphin Street, 251-433-6725; Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Wintzell's Oyster House is another landmark on Dauphin Street; it serves an impressive selection of Gulf seafood including its famous gumbo and West Indies Salad (chilled lump crabmeat and onions marinated in an oil and vinegar dressing). You can spend hours reading the witty sayings of founder J. Oliver Wintzell, which cover the walls from floor to ceiling. (605 Dauphin Street, 251-432-4605; Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
William & Emily Hearin Mobile Carnival Museum: Discover the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States at this museum where visitors can browse full-size replicas of parade floats and displays showcasing dazzling costumes -- crowns, jeweled trains and scepters included -- of Carnival kings and queens of yesteryear. The museum is wheelchair accessible and offers lively guided tours. (355 Government Street, 251-432-3324; Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Church Street Graveyard: An historical cemetery surrounded by handmade brick walls with an iconic gate made of Mobile-wrought iron. It contains elaborate monuments covered in moss, dating as far back as the early 1800s. Joe Cain, the man said to have founded the modern celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile in 1832 (more than two decades before New Orleans), is buried here. In early spring, both his and author Walter's graves are adorned with sparkling plastic beads from the most recent Mardi Gras parades, which take place in February and March of each year along with their more famous New Orleans counterparts. (On four acres adjacent to the Ben May Main Library, 701 Government Street)
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park: Here you'll find the the USS Alabama, which saw major action in World War II in the South Pacific, as well as other vessels and aircraft from WWII to more recent conflicts. (2703 Battleship Parkway, 251-433-2703; April to September open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., October to March open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Christmas Day)
History Museum of Mobile: Located in the Old City Hall, this museum has both permanent and touring exhibits. (111 S. Royal Street, 251-208-7508; Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.)
Mobile Museum of Art: Art lovers will want to check out this museum, which features an array of permanent, traveling and seasonal exhibitions. (4850 Museum Drive; 251-208-5200; Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center & IMAX Theater: This museum offers breathtaking IMAX films, prestigious touring exhibitions and permanent interactive exhibits popular with kids. (65 Government Street, 251-205-6893; Tuesday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.)
Bellingrath Gardens and Museum Home: Located approximately 25 miles south of the port, Bellingrath has more than 60 miles of lush grounds to view a dazzling array of foliage such as the azaleas for which the city is famous. (During the holidays, they have elaborate light displays.) The home itself was built in 1935, using bricks salvaged from 1800s Mobile buildings, and is filled with antiques. (12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore, 251-973-2217; open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)Farther Afield: The Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay offers wonderful shopping, particularly in Fairhope, a historical burg overlooking Mobile Bay with a downtown that has a wealth of quaint shops and restaurants. Beyond that are Alabama beaches with their crystal blue-green waters. A little over an hour to the west is the Mississippi Gulf Coast, providing a wealth of seafood restaurants and casinos, most of which are concentrated in Biloxi.