by Stephanie Harper – Mobile, Alabama is known for the earliest Mardi Gras celebration (which locals will argue is the first) and the Tensaw River Delta and Mobile River. An estuary with unique and diverse wildlife can be found there for year round exploration. Surrounding Mobile Bay are a plethora of family activities and outdoor adventure that even a coastal expert couldn’t resist.
The origin of one of Mobile’s natural curiosities, the jubilee, just happens to take place on the coast of Mobile Bay–large populations of shrimp, crab, flounder, and even eel wash up on shallow parts of the shore in search of more oxygen-rich waters, and as a result, make way for easy to catch hauls. This phenomenon is just one of the many reasons to visit Mobile Bay, Alabama – and why locals and tourists come back.
Urban Eco-Exploring in Mobile, Alabama
In order to fully grasp the outdoor appeal of Mobile, checking out the city museums and centers are a good way to whet your coastal palate. The Gulf Coast Exploreum and Science Center is quick walk from several downtown-area hotels.
An IMAX theater shows outdoor-supported films year round, and the facility’s all-ages educational exhibits change according to the museum’s focus. At a reasonable $17 your family could easily spend half a day getting lost in the wonders of hands-on learning.
Just down the street is the Gulf Coast Maritime Museum, one of two interactive maritime museums in the country. (If you get the chance to take part in a tour, be sure to ask about the origin of the sand in the cases located at the front of the exhibit hallway) The Museum itself is modeled after huge cargo ships.
Museum Tip: Be sure to look at each cargo container as you pass by and read the nautical phrases and expressions.
The “Ships Ahoy!” exhibit gives visitors the chance to act as boat captain and navigate a push boat through the bay’s waters. Another notable exhibit is the “Ocean Planet Theater”, where a six-foot diameter planet Earth is hung overhead, and real-time satellite data featuring weather patterns are displayed on its surface.
Beachy Alabama Vibes and Estuarium Excursion
About 40 minutes away from the museums and downtown Mobile is the quieter, more picturesque Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary is a beautiful location to not only observe birds, but also take a small hike in through swamp, beach, lake, and dune terrain.
At the start of the sanctuary is a boardwalk that loops around the property and transitions to each distinct environment. Alligators and turtles swim together in Gaillard Lake and water lilies border the swamp-lake edges.
Just a little further along the loop, sand starts to show up along the boardwalk leading to the coast, where miles of white sand dunes and the gulf waters meet. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet in Alabama’s coastal beach, down the road is the Estuarium Dauphin Island Sea Lab where you’ll learn about four key habitats of coastal Alabama: the Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands, and the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Intimate educational opportunities during a visit are seen throughout the building, and there’s even a small touch tank to interact with some selected species of sea critters. The stingray tank outside the building is a whirlwind delight, especially during feeding time. Catch fast glimpses of the rays as they rise above the water for some close encounters.
Kayaking with Alabama Alligators
It sounds a bit wonky, but kayaking with alligators is a thing in the Mobile Tensaw River Delta along the Bartram Canoe trail. Check in at the 5 Rivers Delta Center, and before you get suited up for the tour, explore inside and learn why Alabama ranks second among aquatic-related extinctions. This is the only place where the “Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers flow into Mobile Bay”.
Peer at the American lotus aka the water lily, just beyond the waters edge near the floating platforms. Launch at the docks for a 3-hour kayak trip to paddle alongside blue heron, alligators, and various other birds that migrate through the causeways and wetlands.
Kayaking Trip Tip: Look out for wild rice growing along the trail. At the end of the trail, stop to check out the new floating camping platforms and plan your next canoe-camping trip.
3 Bonus Outdoorsy Family Activities in Mobile Bay
Alligator Alley: See over 200 American alligators all in one place. 251-946-2483, gatoralleyfarm.com
Coastal history at Fort Gaines: Tour the historic fort while learning about the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. (251) 861-3607, dauphinisland.org/fort-gaines
”Secretly Awesome Harbor Tour” with Captain Mike Dorie: go on a boat tour and view birds, cargo ships, landmarks, and alligators. (251) 272-4088, wildnativetours.com
Family Friendly Mobile Lodging: Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel: Opt for a riverside view room with expansive views of the mobile bay. Be sure to add in the breakfast buffet! (251) 438-4000
Pro Travel Tip: Booking.com guarantees the best prices for any type of property and no booking fees (yes, please!).
4 Family Friendly Mobile, Alabama Eateries
Dauphin’s: Upscale, local gulf coast grub with awesome service and even better views. (251) 444-0200, godauphins.com
Ed’s Seafood Shed: Authentic southern seafood. Make sure to order the shrimp or gumbo. (251) 625-1947, edsshed.com
Lighthouse Bakery (Dauphin Island): Fresh baked goods. Try the chicken salad on a croissant and get extra potato salad! It is the best. (251) 861-2253, Visit them on facebook
Panini Pete’s: Paninis, burgers, and more. Muffaletta is solid and must get beignets for dessert and don’t forget the lemon! (251) 405-0031, paninipetes.com
Visiting one the most biodiverse ecosystems in in the continental US is an experience that can only be seen first hand. This beautiful port city and all its coastal treasures will be hard to forget.
Note: Visit Mobile provided complimentary meals, accommodations, and activities for the purposes of this article.
Stephanie Harper is a freelance writer living in Asheville, NC. Originally from Oakland, CA, she and her husband, James, decided to move their blended family cross-country in hopes to broaden their landscape for outdoor adventuring and love of nature. You can follow the Harper family on her blog raisingkidswild.com.