Tourism Tuesdays January 22, 2019

U.S. Space & Rocket Center was Alabama’s most visited tourism attraction in 2018

The reinvention of Birmingham

The new national memorial you must see in Montgomery

EJI memorial named to U.S. Civil Rights Trail

48 hours in Mobile: the birthplace of Mardi Gras

Bust of Dr. King unveiled at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

Alabama Tourism leaders go to Chicago to talk vacations

Alabama Tourism information given out at UK consumer show

You can now stay in a fairytale castle in Fairhope

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


U.S. Space & Rocket Center was Alabama’s most visited tourism attraction in 2018
More than 849,981 people visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville last year, ranking it first among state attractions that charge admission, state tourism officials said. The Birmingham Zoo ranked second with 543,090 and the Huntsville Botanical Garden was third with 353,841.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Park in Birmingham placed fourth with 352,000 and the McWane Science Center in Birmingham was fifth with 347,508. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile was sixth with 343,034 and Point Mallard Park in Decatur was seventh with 274,448.

Adventureland Theme Park in Dothan was eighth with 250,000 and the Montgomery Zoo was ninth with 245,620. Alabama Splash Adventure was 10th with 190,134.

The Alabama Tourism Department also released attendance figures for other categories. The beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast were the most visited natural destination in the state, attracting 6.7 million tourists last year. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens attracted 352,000 visitors to make it the most attended free attraction. More than 890,000 people celebrated Mobile’s Mardi Gras making it the most attended event. University of Alabama home football games played at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa had the highest attendance for sports destinations with 609,250, followed by 591,236 at Auburn University.

Attendance figures were collected by the Alabama Tourism Department from local tourism organizations.

(note: Attendance figures for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Legacy Museum and The Park at OWA were not available.)

The reinvention of Birmingham
From the article by Jenny Adams on (Conde Nast Traveler)

From a blanket on the grass at Birmingham’s Railroad Park, you can hear the crowd as the bat cracks against a ball inside Regions Field. You can crack a can of Snake Handler, local Good People Brewing’s citrusy double IPA, on the patio adjacent the stadium. Or join the ticket holders queuing just seven blocks away on Third Avenue North, bathed in the soft, neon glow of the massive Alabama and Lyric theater marquees, waiting to see Graham Nash or Gov’t Mule.

We aren’t looking at Alabama’s biggest city through rose-colored glasses. Birmingham has arrived. Again. It’s a destination—for historic architecture, old theaters, James Beard award-winning Southern food. And yet, just under a decade ago, it wouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as other thriving food-and-culture centers of the South: Nashville, New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta. You might have passed through the city to visit the Civil Rights Institute, a benchmark along the Alabama Civil Rights Trail. Or maybe you were checking in on a friend or child at Samford University. But you weren’t planning a vacation here.

The ‘Hardest Hit’ City in America
Before it became a violent backdrop for boycotts, police brutality, and riots during the Civil Rights movement, Birmingham began her days as a renowned steel town. This “Pittsburgh of the South” rose quickly in the late 1800s and early 1900s as one of the only places on earth where iron ore, limestone, and coal were discovered within miles. Seams of red hematite iron lent the town’s Red Mountain its moniker, and when it rains hard here, the groundwater still bleeds a furious, brick hue.

All the money bore beautiful cast-iron buildings, Victorian red-brick factories, and Craftsman homes. President Roosevelt declared Birmingham “the hardest hit in America” when one-third of its citizens went on relief during the Depression. Decades later, the city made national headlines yet again. On Sept. 15, 1963, four girls—ages 11 and 14—were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. That same year, the lunch counter sit-ins put a national spotlight on police brutality.

“I remember hearing the infamous church bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church from my Sunday School classroom at First United Methodist. I was 15 years old. It sounded like the world ending,” says Tom Cosby, who worked for Birmingham’s Chamber of Commerce for 35 years before retiring in 2013. He transitioned into a role as one of the city’s most avid historic preservationists and today is an active fundraiser. Cosby has helped raise $11 million to restore the Lyric Theater and $15 million for the city’s 56-foot-tall Roman god of fire, Vulcan—the world’s largest cast-iron statue—among other causes. A lifelong native and one of her most passionate citizens, Cosby has a contagious enthusiasm for Birmingham’s potential.

“We had beautiful department stores downtown,” Cosby recalls. “People would window shop in droves. There once were 26 theaters, with the Alabama Theater and the Lyric being two of the most elegant. Birmingham was widely considered one of the top theater towns in America. Unfortunately, there was also serious racial injustice, and it understandably caused a lot of heartache.”

For downtown, things were taking a serious downturn. “People fled,” continues Cosby. “They left for the suburbs, which happened in a lot of American cities.” People questioned if Birmingham’s original heart could recover during the 1980s and ‘90s. The city’s central tracks were a particular blight, with no street lights and a growing drug problem.

Today, that once seedy stretch displays an entirely different landscape. “There were a lot of dominoes that fell the right way to enable Birmingham’s rebirth, but I think Railroad Park was probably the single most important one,” Cosby says of the now 19-acre green space. “So much of what Birmingham has to offer travelers now started because of that park.”

Restoration Everywhere
That park is truly something. It beat out Manhattan’s High Line for the ULI Open Urban Space Award in 2012, and it features a large lake, a stream system, native plants, a birch grove, a skate park, a bike share and—perhaps what Birmingham most desperately needed—a turning point for a vibrant, community-driven future. The $23 million required to create it was a mix of private and public funding—and it was raised in only three years. Sixty-four million was invested to build the adjoining Regions Field, designed by HKS of Dallas (known for the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas). This relocated the Double-A Birmingham Barons from the suburbs back to downtown.

The vacant and deteriorating 1914 Lyric Theater drew the attention of civic activists next, Tom Cosby among them. Another private-public fundraising campaign resulted in $12 million, and the former vaudeville house—once host to Mae West and the Marx Brothers—reopened in 2016, breathing fresh life into the old Theater District. “EverGreene Architectural Arts was hired to restore it,” says Glenny Brock, current outreach coordinator for both the Lyric and the Alabama. “EverGreene has restored more than 200 old theaters, and the Lyric had serious, decorative plaster work. It was apparently in better shape than almost any theater they had ever redone, largely thanks to the fact that it was reinforced with horsehair when it was built. We often repeat the statement that, ‘This place has good bones.’”

The gilded, ultra-ornate theater, with a massive, original mural depicting Apollo and the Muses above the proscenium, also has shocking acoustics. As a vaudeville theater, stage acts performed with vast movement and no microphones. National acts today are still crystal clear—and they’re rapidly selling out the place. Rock and indie bands like Drive-by Truckers have packed the Lyric of late, while the Alabama had a full house for Willie Nelson and the Dalai Lama (not on the same night, though—can you imagine that ticket?).

“Cities across America once had beautiful movie palaces, vaudeville theaters, and opera houses,” continues Brock. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of those sites are now parking decks. I think Birmingham is unusual, because we saved not only the Alabama and the Lyric … the Carver will reopen this year, too.”

The Carver Theater for the Performing Arts and Jazz Hall of Fame—Birmingham’s only remaining black theater­—is two blocks over. It will debut in 2019 as a performance space, as well as reopen the adjoining museum for the state’s jazz history. The museum houses instruments and personal effects from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and W. C. Handy, and operates a center for continuing education—not only in jazz, but also in civil rights.

“The Lyric and the Carver are significant,” Brock says, “because they allow for our ongoing conversation about race and history. During the old theater days, black audiences saw performances in black theaters. White audiences in white theaters. Except for the Lyric. From its opening night in 1914, it was the only one where black and white audiences saw the same show together—although they were segregated. It’s an incredible, now-living piece of American history.”

Restoration efforts don’t only extend to theaters here. Artists and entrepreneurs alike have taken advantage of one of Birmingham’s greatest assets: an abundance of available space. “Since we haven’t grown with the speed of Nashville or Houston, we don’t have that outward sprawl,” says Cosby. “We can be ‘in-fill’ oriented. You can put your business in a historic factory here, and you don’t have to be a billionaire’s daughter to do it.”

Entrepreneurs have turned formerly shuttered spaces into quirky coffee shops like Urban Standard; the vintage antique emporium What’s On Second; and boutique hotels like the Elyton, which opened in 2017 in the gorgeous, terra cotta-façade Empire building.

The Pizitz Building is another restored terra-cotta masterpiece. Owned and operated as a high-end department store from the 1920s through the 1980s, the 200,000-square-foot landmark building sat glaringly empty until Bayer Properties bought it for $1.6 million in the late ‘90s. Painstakingly restored, the main-level reopened as a food hall in 2017. You can dine on everything from liver mousse to homemade pimento cheese at Busy Corner Cheese & Provisions, try Ethiopia’s “teff” flatbreads at Ghion Cultural Hall, or slurp barbeque-chicken ramen at Ichicoro IMOTO. This August, a cinema will open in the basement with two screens for independent movies.

“We have this saying that Birmingham is not Mars,” says David Silverstein, principal with Bayer Properties. “Meaning: things that work in other cities will also work here. I think, because of the past, this city can tend to doubt itself.”

Hard to Doubt a Winner
One thing Birmingham has never doubted is its culinary skill. From collard greens and peach cobbler at Niki’s West (open since 1957) to prime rib at John’s Restaurant (now John’s City Diner) since ’44—food has long been part of the conversation here. Today, that conversation has only gotten louder.

“The city caught my attention because of how pleasant it is,” says Rodney Scott, the James Beard Best Chef Southeast 2018 for his Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston. He’s set to open his next, identical concept in Birmingham first-quarter 2019. “It’s a big city, but it feels like a small town,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like New York or Chicago, but it’s just as important a food city in my opinion.”

Media agrees. In 2017 Food & Wine magazine announced it would relocate to Birmingham, joining fellow Time Inc. pubs Southern Living and Cooking Light here. “This was less about cutting costs and more about maximizing the facilities we have in Birmingham,” editor in chief Hunter Lewis told The New York Times. “Also thinking about the consumer first—there are sophisticated food eaters and wine drinkers everywhere now, in cities big and small.”

Case in point: At the annual James Beard Awards—the Oscars for American chefs—you’ll always find one, if not several, Birmingham-based nominees. Chef Frank Stitt, an 11-time nominee, is by far the most famous. His Highlands Bar and Grill took home Most Outstanding Restaurant in America in 2018. He also owns the Italian-focused Bottega and the French bistro, Chez Fonfon, all three just steps from each other in the Five Points area.

Shall we namecheck a few more? Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club and Ovenbird took home Best Chef Southeast in 2012. Nick Pihakis has been nominated for Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and chef Timothy Hontzas has two consecutive Best Chef South semifinalist nods for his low-key, meat-and-three joint, Johnny’s.

James Lewis—a semifinalist for Best Chef South in 2011 and 2012—has been serving hand-crafted pizzas and pastas since 2006 at Bettola. His mozzarella comes next-day from Naples, Italy, but his vegetables come from Alabama growers. Bettola’s location in the Pepper Place District—a 350,000-square-foot series of warehouses—is particularly notable. These factories along the tracks once shipped out Dr. Pepper and now contain restaurants, coffee houses, and galleries; meanwhile, the Pepper Place Farmers Market hosts 110 Alabama growers, live music, and crowds numbering 10,000 on weekends.

Bold-faced names in warehouses serving up farm-fresh meals—this is a trend Birmingham is more than willing to get behind. It’s just another example of the city’s bounty, be it produce or property, that’s making chefs decamp here, and visitors want to be here.

It’s a quick stroll from Pepper Place to the tropical, Havana-styled Queen’s Park for an after-dinner drink. Owner/Manager Laura Newman gave up the Big Apple for the Magic City in 2017 and just opened Queen’s Park this month. She brought her vision to life in an empty space dating back to 1924. Crystal chandeliers cast light on original fixtures, exposed brick walls, spooling greenery and her quirky drinks like the Midnight Breakfast––Tito’s vodka, vanilla and cereal milk. Nearby, Kristen Hall, executive pastry chef and co-owner of The Essential, offers up fresh pastas daily in a repurposed 1887 building on a cobblestone avenue in the Loft District.

“These old downtown, historic spaces are there for the taking,” advises Cosby. “We have more of them left than any other city down South. It’s incredible to see young people in particular moving in to shake things up. Birmingham is big enough on a worldwide stage that it matters. But, it’s small enough that a regular person can make a difference.”

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The new national memorial you must see in Montgomery
From the article by Valerie Fraser Luesse on

Search every city in the South, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sliver of pavement more enriched by history—or laden with it—than Dexter Avenue in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. There’s the Winter Building, once home to the Southern Telegraph Company, which tapped out the orders for Confederate troops to fire on Fort Sumter; Court Square, part of Jefferson Davis’ inaugural procession route; the bus stop where Rosa Parks waited for a ride that sparked the Civil Rights Movement; the church Martin Luther King Jr. pastored—they’re all here. You can stand on the steps of The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and clearly see the state capitol steps that Dr. King was not allowed to ascend when he addressed the thousands of Selma-to-Montgomery marchers.

When the Winter Building was completed in the 1840s, Dexter was known as Market Street because it was a center for trade in the city—and that included human trade.

“We had more enslaved people in Montgomery in 1860 than in New Orleans,” says Bryan Stevenson, whose Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is responsible for the groundbreaking new Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which remembers more than 4,400 documented victims of lynching.

Both sites, which opened in 2018, are as inspiring as they are harrowing. Built on the location of a former warehouse where enslaved men, women, and children were forcibly held, the 11,000-square-foot Legacy Museum uses technology to bring visitors face-to-face with the injustice of slavery and lynching—and the legacy of that injustice, which has repercussions in our society even today.

The EJI worked with the nonprofit MASS Design Group and such artists as Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, Dana King, and Hank Willis Thomas to complete the national memorial, which attracted 100,000 visitors in its first 10 weeks. Resting on a peaceful 6-acre hilltop, the memorial includes 800 tablet-like monuments, one for each county in the U.S. with a documented lynching. The names of all the victims from each county are etched into a 6-foot-tall monument. Some hold only a few names. Others are completely full. Either way, it’s chilling to stand below and look at them suspended above.

The EJI has begun a necessary, albeit difficult, conversation, but Stevenson has built his life’s work around the belief that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” As he explains, “I just think there’s something redemptive and reparatory and restorative waiting for us if we commit ourselves to truth and reconciliation.”

A few years before the EJI opened these two civil rights experiences, it planted three unassuming historical markers—initially deemed too controversial for this community—at slave-trading sites. “We worked with the mayor and the city, and after a lot of back and forth, we put up three markers in downtown Montgomery: one outside the EJI building, one down by the river, and one where the slave depots would have been,” Stevenson says. “It was surprising to me how meaningful that was to many people in this community. A lot of African-Americans were energized—but it wasn’t just black people. There were others saying, ‘Thank God we’re finally starting to tell the truth.’ ”

Since the early 2000s, Montgomery has been getting progressively bolder about truth telling. Before the EJI turned a national spotlight on slavery and its aftermath, the city had already confronted another harsh reality: Nobody wanted to live there. New families weren’t moving in, and the young locals who left for college weren’t coming back. Mayor Todd Strange doesn’t mince words: “We were a mulligrubby capital city. You could go out at five o’clock in the evening, and everybody was on their way home. Nothing was happening.”

Golson Foshee leads the development-and-property management arm of a family enterprise called Foshee Residential, with his architect brother, John. The Foshees are longtime Montgomerians.

“Out of the 70 people in my high school class, only 6 or 7 are still in Montgomery,” Foshee says. Parents work hard to educate their kids, he explains, but Montgomery hasn’t reaped the benefits because students who leave for college don’t return. “What a lot of us are trying to do is create a magnet to attract back our kids,” he says.

Most agree that what sparked Montgomery’s downtown renaissance was the Minor League Baseball team, the Biscuits, and its new stadium on the Alabama River. The ballpark opened in 2004, giving locals a family-friendly reason to go downtown. And then the opening of a Hyundai manufacturing plant provided a big economic boost.

About the same time that the Biscuits were stepping up to bat on the riverfront, the Foshees got involved with historic properties downtown, first managing them and then buying and renovating. “There is a lot of intrinsic value and beauty in these old buildings that we tried really hard to preserve,” Foshee says.

When Mayor Strange took office in 2009, he and the city government also focused on downtown—Montgomery’s core—and worked to engage the private sector and encourage investment.

Among those who responded were entrepreneurs Sarah Beatty Buller and her husband, Mark, of New York. While scouting Montgomery locations, Mark discovered Dexter Avenue and was impressed by its historical significance. The first major project he and Sarah took on was the old Kress department store, which bridges Dexter Avenue (predominately white in the 1960s) and Monroe Street (once home to many thriving black businesses). The Bullers have bought a number of other buildings downtown, working to preserve and renovate them to meet the needs of the community.

“I’m from Boston, so I grew up on history,” Sarah says. “And that is what attracted me to Montgomery. It happened here, and the stories don’t get more dramatic or more thought-provoking. In leaning into those stories, I think that we as a country and as a people, regardless of party or religious affiliation, can find a human connection in one another and a way forward. I feel it strongly.”

A leap in tourism has both accompanied and fueled the growth downtown. The streetscape along Dexter Avenue got a $6.8 million face-lift. Renovated sports facilities are attracting championships and bowl games. The Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center opened in 2008; two new properties are under construction, with two more being planned, Mayor Strange says.

Downtown Montgomery also has good food, from the farm-to-table fare served at Central restaurant to Latin and Caribbean flavors at D’Road Cafe´and Island Delight to classic Southern cooking at Cahawba House. Locals will tell you not to bypass landmarks like Chris’ Hotdogs (it’s over 100 years old) or Capitol Oyster Bar on the river.

Determined to help Montgomery become “the food mecca of the South,” San Francisco transplant Ashley Jernigan founded JDB Hospitality, a marketing, brand-management, and public relations firm. She works with the city’s tourism and food-and-beverage communities.

Jernigan moved south to attend Alabama State University and decided to stay. “Everything I do on behalf of JDB Hospitality is wrapped around advocating for the entire area,” she says. “It allows me to build relationships and get more people to come here. I could buy a house here at 23 years old. My mortgage was the same as what it would have cost me to rent a parking space in San Francisco.”

Mayor Strange sees the city’s future in technology. It is home not only to Maxwell Air Force Base but also to the Air Force Cyber College and to Air University. Montgomery has one of only a few 100-gig Internet exchanges in the Southeast, the mayor explains. You can hear the wry humor as he talks about it: “When tech magazines mention us in the same breath with Silicon Valley, Huntsville, and Austin, we get very prideful—and we have to ask for forgiveness.”

As forward-thinking as Montgomery has become, it’s the rich history of this place that has attracted attention. Even the older civil rights sites that don’t employ the EJI’s sophisticated technology still inspire with their authenticity and passionate staffs.

The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church has its original pews and stained glass windows, Dr. King’s office downstairs, and the pulpit from which he preached. Go there to meet tour ministry director Wanda Battle, if for no other reason. “When you talk about human rights and social justice, you’re talking about how we treat each other, and you’re talking about love and faith and compassion,” she says. “That’s what Dr. King shared, because in his work, he was always fascinated with how the mind of man—meaning philosophy—melded with theology—meaning the mind of God.”

Battle believes current events have spurred a renewed interest in civil and human rights, which is why many are now drawn to Montgomery. “People are fascinated by this history of overcoming and standing for what is right,” she says. “Mahatma Gandhi’s quote was, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ I make that personal, and I share it with people on my tours.”

Few figures in the Civil Rights Movement represent “it begins with me” more than Rosa Parks. Dr. Felicia Bell is director of Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum, which is located on the campus downtown. This modern facility and its Children’s Annex tell the story of Mrs. Parks’ life and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. It draws international crowds. “Sometimes, the young children who come here love to tell us what they already know about Mrs. Parks,” Bell explains. “So we always take the time to listen to them. And then we try to impart some things that they possibly don’t know: that she was an activist all of her life, that she was more than just the woman who was arrested on the bus that day.”

Bell believes children are key to the tourism boom in Montgomery because they take field trips to the sites and then go home and tell their parents. And when kids can interact with history, as they do aboard a time-traveling bus in the Children’s Annex, they learn about it at a whole new level.

No doubt Stevenson would agree. An attorney and law professor by trade, he has dedicated his life to advocating for the poor and the disenfranchised. “I think it’s important for children to know the history of this country, because in some ways, they’re going to encounter the legacy of that history,” Stevenson explains. “And if they don’t have a context, then it will be easy for them to get confused. So I believe that giving children a sense of what has happened and where we are in this struggle to get to a better place is so important.”

In the end, Stevenson is as optimistic as he is realistic: “I am persuaded that justice will come when the ideas in our minds are fueled by the convictions in our hearts. It’s not just minds that we have to change. We have to change people’s hearts.”

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EJI memorial named to U.S. Civil Rights Trail
From the article by Brad Harper on

A Montgomery memorial to lynching victims will be officially added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail on Martin Luther King Day, tourism officials announced.

The Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice joins about 120 other sites across the country in the trail, places where tourists can learn details of major events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Trail sites have benefited from increased exposure since the initiative launched last year, said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell, one of the people behind the effort.

EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and its nearby Legacy Museum quickly became international destinations when they launched last April. They topped 100,000 visitors in the first three months and more than 300,000 by the end of 2018.

The memorial in downtown’s Cottage Hill neighborhood is filled with hanging columns etched with the names of people who were lynched between 1877 and 1950.

Admission is free on Martin Luther King Day.

Time Magazine named EJI Founder Bryan Stevenson one of its “31 People Changing the South,” last year, and Stevenson told the magazine that he’s starting to see a willingness to embrace change.

He told Time that he has “no interest” in using the memorial to punish people, but that the goal is to better understand history so that the South and the nation can move forward.

A film based on Stevenson’s best-selling book, “Just Mercy,” filmed in Montgomery last year, with Michael B. Jordan playing Stevenson. It’s scheduled to release next January.

Five Florida sites were also announced for the trail. They include sites where racial activists staged “wade-ins” at segregated beaches and where baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson trained among white teammates.

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48 hours in Mobile: the birthplace of Mardi Gras
From the article by Nicole Letts on

As we all know, living in the South has its perks. Beyond access to incredible food, we also have access to some of the country’s oldest and most beautiful cities. Mobile, Alabama is one of them. If you look at a map of Alabama, you’ll find two “feet” at the bottom of the state. The right foot is Baldwin county, home to quaint Fairhope and coastal Gulf Shores. The left foot is Mobile, home to a vibrant art scene, award-winning restaurants, a rich history, and a carnival season like no other.

For me, I’ve had access to Mobile for, quite literally, my entire life. I was born there, and even after we moved to bustling Atlanta, we spent year after year making the trek down I-65 to visit family and friends. Years later, I attended college in Mobile, and still today, I make the trip a few times a year. Mobile is a part of me, which is why when I was given the opportunity to explore the town as a tourist and not as a former college student, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to look at the city I’ve known for 34 years with fresh perspective, and while I was certainly able to do that, I found myself eagerly pointing out old haunts and creating time to visit them.

That’s the thing about Mobile. When you visit, you’re bound to find something, somewhere, or someone that sticks with you. Perhaps it’s the burger at Callaghan’s, the homes in Conde Village or the soft salty breeze coming from the Mobile Bay. No matter what you fall in love with in Mobile, take a weekend to be charmed by the Azalea City.

Check-in to the Battle House Hotel & Spa, a historic hotel with a fiery, storied past. The first hotel on the site burned in 1829, the second in 1852 and the third in 1905. Reopening in 1908, the hotel became a preeminent destination for hosting elaborate parties and distinguished guests – including Elvis Presley. After a stint in which the hotel remained closed (from 1974-2007), it reopened complete with some of the original features found in the rotunda today. After dropping your bags in your room, take the elevator to the second floor. Have your travel partner stand facing the arch in one corner of the room while you venture to the opposing side. Whisper about where you should go next; you just might hear their not-so-silent response.

Use the afternoon to get acquainted with Mobile. Consider walking down Dauphin Street to one of the many art galleries within the city. The Alabama Contemporary Art Center, just off of Cathedral Square, offers exhibitions that explore current events through the arts. There’s no cost for admission on Fridays, but donations are always welcome.

Head back to the hotel to gussy up for dinner. Treat yourself to a complimentary happy hour cocktail in the lobby before meandering across the street for a meal at Dauphin’s. The restaurant, located on the 34th floor of the Trustmark Building, offers incredible 360 degree views of the city below and is a perfect way to catch a glimpse of what you’ll be exploring tomorrow. The vibe is slightly upscale, but remember, you’re dining near the coast where everything is a pinch casual. Start with an appetizer of West Indies Salad, a Gulf Coast delicacy where lump crabmeat marries tart vinegar for a refreshing dish. Every entree is as delectable as the next, and there truly is no wrong choice, but if we must point you to an item, you can’t go wrong with the fresh catch of the day. Finish your meal with a tableside spectacle: an indulgent dessert called Leslie’s Passion (berries en flambe over vanilla ice cream). Then, complete day one with a nightcap and live music at Royal Street Tavern, conveniently located at your hotel.

On Saturday morning, start the day at Fort Conde. No, you’re not headed for a history lesson, but you are on a mission for biscuits (and coffee). Sylvia’s Biscuits and Poboys is located just inside the walls of Mobile’s historic colonial fort. Here, you can indulge in crumbly, buttery, Southern-style biscuits topped with everything from fresh Gulf crabcakes to locally made jam. Trust us, there’s no better way to start your Saturday.

From biscuits, make your way to the Mobile Carnival Museum to mingle with Southern royalty. As the birthplace of Mardi Gras, Mobile takes pride in all things carnival, and the museum is where you can see that pride come to life. Stand atop an authentic Mardi Gras float to feel what it’s like to exuberantly toss trinkets, or “throws” as they’re called by society members, into the crowd. Ogle intricately designed Mardi Gras regalia like 18-foot handmade trains adorned in fur and sparkling tiaras and scepters. Discover Mardi Gras’ past and learn about mystic societies’ costumes, symbols and origins. Truly, the experience is a glistening history lesson that will have you giddy to return for carnival itself.

After the museum, you’re bound to be hungry. Instead of a typical lunch, plan ahead and book a walking food tour with Bienville Bites. Curated by Mobile residents Chris and Laney Andrews, this exclusive Mobile experience gives you a taste of Mobile. Tours take guests to different Mobile establishments for a sample of each stop’s specialties while pointing out different aspects of Mobile’s history. Bites along the way include Gulf Coast gumbo at the Royal Scam, beignets from Panini Pete’s, and pralines from Three Georges Candy.

No 48-hour weekend in a new city is complete without a little shopping. There are plenty of accessible boutiques near the hotel, but to visit some of our favorites, grab your car from the valet and head beyond the downtown area to explore. Your first stop should definitely be at Atchison Home. Located in a historic building with 20,000 square feet of antiques, interior decor and accessories, you’ll love exploring every corner of this well-appointed shop. Be sure to venture to every floor, including the sale room at the top. You never know what deals you might find! Next, head towards the Spring Hill neighborhood. There you’ll find The Collective, a sunlight-drenched women-and-children’s boutique filled with unique gifts, art, home decor and more. Pick up a 36608 candle to remember your trip to Mobile.

For dinner tonight, plan to spend the evening in Oakleigh Garden Historic District. The neighborhood, filled with stately historic homes and quaint squares with fountains, will have you swooning and possibly even exploring real estate options. Dine at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, a lively local dive bar with a unique past. In fact, according to Mobile Historian, Cart Blackwell, restaurant goers once needed a key to get in. Today, open windows, a fantastic burger and homemade French onion dip beckon people inside.

On your last day in Mobile, kick things off with a boozy brunch at the Ruby Slipper. Just a short walk from the hotel, the menu at this Gulf Coast staple is filled with benedicts, pancakes, omelettes and other breakfast grub. However, the real star of the show is the bacon infused vodka bloody Mary prepared with housemade mix.

From the restaurant, embark on one final tour, a self-guided exploration of Mobile’s African American Heritage Trail. Interactive Map B, which can be downloaded from the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail website, offers a numbered trail in the downtown area as well as historical information about each stop. Guided walking tours are also available for an even more in depth look at Mobile’s African American heritage. Once your tour is complete, load the car and head towards home knowing you’ve enjoyed a fantastic weekend on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

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Bust of Dr. King unveiled at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
From the article by Krista Johnson on

Martin Luther King Jr.’s words filled the walls within Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church as hundreds waited in anticipation to see the unveiling of a bronze memorial of King.

As the Rev. Cromwell A. Handy lifted the cover off the bust, the crowd quickly joined together to sing “How Great is Our God.”

The existence of the bronze sculpture, from the shoulders up, was a moment Handy said he had been waiting on for a long time. As pastor of the church that King served from 1954 to 1960, Handy pointed to the hundreds of streets named after the civil rights leader, and then to the bust as proof that King has not and will not be forgotten.

People from throughout the country showed up for the birthday celebration at the historical church to commemorate King and the work he started inside its basement. At just 25, King became the senior pastor of the Baptist congregation and quickly started a movement that led to national change.

Despite systematic barriers, Handy pointed to the accomplishments of African-Americans throughout history. The crowd cheered as he spoke of the time when “we weren’t allowed in the outhouse, but then we made it to the White House.”

Forward-thinking was a common theme of the event, with each speaker recalling the country’s painful history but focusing on continuing to fight for progress.

“This is a different city than it’s been and it changes every day,” City Councilman Charles Jinwright said. “The community needs to understand something very big started here.”

“Where do we go from here?” Jonathan Peterson asked the crowd. A spoken-word artist and program director of nonprofit That’s My Child, Peterson presented his poem, “Black to the Future,” in which he challenged each person “to write tomorrow’s history today.”

“We have to work harder because the odds are stacked against us,” he said.

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Alabama Tourism leaders go to Chicago to talk vacations
Alabama tourism leaders held discussions and gave away material to the more than 27,000 attendees at the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show. Tami Reist, North Alabama Tourism; Kay Donaldson, Alabama Bass Trail; Lyn Williams, Hunstville/Madison County CVB; Mikayla Mast, Hunstville Space and Rocket Center and Mickie Justice and Tiffany Flowers from Alabama Tourism Department were on hand in the specially designed 30-foot Alabama booth.

The two-day show at the Donald Stephens Convention Center in the Rosemont area of Chicago is in its 15th year. The show was held Jan. 12-13.

Many people from the Chicago area can plan their trips to Alabama by either driving Interstate 65 or through direct flights.

Besides Alabama, other Southern destinations at the show were the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Daytona Beach, Emerald Coast Florida, Louisville Tourism, Panama City Beach and Visit Mississippi.

Alabama Tourism information given out at UK consumer show
Some 30,000 people from the United Kingdom attended the Destinations Holiday and Travel Show last week in Manchester with many walking away with information on vacationing in Alabama. The consumer travel show is conducted in association with the Sunday Times and the Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Destinations is the biggest consumer travel show in north England.

Andy Facer of the Alabama Tourism Department’s U.K. office was at the show in the Deep South booth where the five states of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana promote travel to our region.

This year the Destination show was held Jan. 17-20.  Manchester is the fifth largest city in the U.K.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing in the UK, contact

You can now stay in a fairytale castle in Fairhope
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

If you’ve ever dreamed of going inside the whimsical castles in Fairhope, now’s your chance to stay in one.

Pagan Sheldon Mosher recently announced that she and her husband Dean Mosher, who live in the well-known Mother Castle, are renting a studio apartment in Sheldon Castle, the home she grew up in, through Airbnb. “Storybook Castle BnB” will be available starting Jan. 20.

Pagan’s father, the artist Craig Sheldon, started building his castle using local materials after World War II.

After Pagan and Dean were married in Sheldon Castle’s front yard, they started “castle-izing” a small cottage next door. Now, 40 years later, their home, Mosher Castle, is a Fairhope landmark, complete with a moat and a drawbridge. The latest addition is a copper dragon named Hendrix that wraps around one of the towers.

From 2005 to 2008, the Moshers used Sheldon Castle as a bed-and-breakfast inn. For the past few years, Pagan’s sister and her husband have called it home. Dean designed a studio apartment for his mother, who lived there until she moved to an assisted living facility.

Now the studio will offer visitors a chance to stay in one of the enchanted castles that are located at the foot of Oak Street. In addition to Craig Sheldon’s old tools and other interesting objets d’art, the space features a vaulted ceiling, heavy beams, a large bay window and a private bathroom. It also has two entrances.

Pagan points out that guests staying there on Friday mornings during the school year will experience a true Fairhope treat, when children from Fairhope Elementary School’s Walking School Bus traipse across the property on their “castle walk,” en route to school. “We dress up and they get treats,” she says. “It’s five minutes of laughter of 4-to-8-year-olds and their families.”

The Moshers enjoy talking about their unique castle compound, and they’re accustomed to strangers stopping by to take pictures. “The uniqueness will sell it,” Pagan says of the new Airbnb.

A retired professional ballet dancer who still teaches at her dance studio in Fairhope, Pagan says she’s thinking of eventually renting her now-grown children’s bedrooms in the tower of Mosher Castle. “I’m setting myself up when I retire from the dance business for being an innkeeper,” she says with a laugh.

But she’s looking forward to hosting overnight visitors in Sheldon Castle. “We always had fun with our guests,” she says. “We’re looking forward to doing it again.”

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“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Spring Break season is right around the corner. Alabama is a hot spot for family Spring Break trips with award-winning restaurants, white-sand beaches, hiking and biking trails galore, and much more. Update your Partner page and add events to show trip planners what you have to offer.

What are you waiting for? Login and update your Partner account today.


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