It’s that most wonderful time of the year when visions of snowy winter days and brilliantly lit Christmas trees with colorfully wrapped presents beneath their bows dance in our heads. The people along the Alabama Gulf Coast more than make up for the lack of snow for the holidays with their trademark Southern hospitality and warm, festive holiday celebrations and traditions.
It’s Christmas time once again in L.A. (Lower Alabama), and here are 11 holiday experiences along the coast you shouldn’t miss. Some restrictions may apply to the events listed here due to COVID-19. We recommend that you visit the event website for updates on scheduling and cancelations.
1. Magic Christmas In Lights At Bellingrath Gardens
The holiday season is made even brighter with a walk through Bellingrath Garden’s Magic Christmas in Lights display. The 65-acre garden is filled to capacity with over three million lights, a host of 1,100 custom-designed set pieces including giant lighted swans swimming in the reflecting pond and brilliant fountains made entirely of lights (all of which were created by staff members), and 15 special holiday scenes.
The light show is open from Black Friday to January 3. Tickets are under $20 for adults and are discounted for children. For an additional fee, you can add a tour of the historic Bellingrath Home outfitted in its holiday finery.
Pro Tip: Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days for the display. Plan on visiting weeknights or Sunday.
2. Celebrate The Holiday Season At Bragg-Mitchell Mansion
The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is one of Mobile’s grandest antebellum mansions where centuries-old oak trees line the path to the door and beautiful flaming pink azaleas welcome you inside in spring, but in winter, the mansion -- which was built in 1855 -- becomes magical when it is decorated to the hilt for its holiday season display. Its elegant, pillared porch is decorated with wreaths, and an expansive Christmas tree greets you in the main living room. The tall spiral staircase leading to the second floor is draped with fresh evergreen garland, and the upstairs rooms that showcase antiques and furnishings of the day are adorned with holiday trimmings appropriate for the period.
The Bragg-Mitchell holiday display is open from December 1 to December 18. Guided tours are given Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and begin on the hour. Admission is less than $15 dollars for adults, and children, seniors, and active military members receive a discounted rate.
Pro Tip: The mansion hosts many private events, such as weddings, throughout the year, and Christmas time is no exception. You should visit their event calendar to make sure the mansion is not closed for a private event before arriving.
3. Christmas Night Of Lights At Hank Aaron Stadium
It’s touted as Mobile’s largest synchronized Christmas light show, and trust me -- it is! Over one million lights are synchronized to the classic holiday tunes that play over your car radio as you drive through the spectacle. And the best thing about it is that the lights are on for you come rain or moonlit night.
Christmas Night of Lights is open from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day with the lights coming to life from 5:30 p.m. to 10pm. Admission is under $10 per person, and children four and under free. Purchase your tickets online.
4. Christmas At Oakleigh
One of the Port City’s oldest antebellum mansions, Oakleigh (built in 1833) opens its doors for a festive holiday display and celebration for two nights only (December 18 and 19). The evenings are filled with fascinating tours of the home led by the Oakleigh Belles, who tell you about the rich holiday traditions of the period as you walk through the decorated home. And there’s Christmas cookies, too.
Doors open December 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and December 19 from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are under $15 per person, and children five and under free. Order your tickets online.
Pro Tip: Due to COVID-19, group sizes and admission will be limited on the 18th. Admission will not be limited on the 19th, but capacity will be. Order tickets early.
5. Christmas On The Eastern Shore
The eastern shore of Mobile Bay really knows how to put on a Christmas parade. All of the cities and towns up and down the bay pull out all of the stops when it comes to their annual holiday parades, with marching bands from around the region, candy throws, and even the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.
Two of the most popular take place in the towns of Daphne and Fairhope. Daphne will hold their tree lighting this year at city hall on December 3 starting at 6 p.m. with music and snacks. Their parade rolls down Main Street December 5 at 11 a.m.
Fairhope lights up on November 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. with a dazzling light display that blankets the streets of downtown.
The Fairhope parade is truly spectacular as it weaves its way through these tunnels of lights; however, as of this writing, the parade has been canceled due to COVID-19. It will be back in all of its glory next year.
6. Boat Parades
The most beautiful holiday light displays along the Alabama Gulf Coast can be seen at one of the many boat parades.
The Alabama Coastal Christmas Boat Parade takes place on December 12. Boats line up at Tacky Jacks in Gulf Shores and light up the intercoastal waterway all the way to the Wharf. There are plenty of good viewing locations along the north side of the Intercoastal Waterway, Alabama Highway 180.
Pro Tip: If you park along the highway, be sure to park well off the side of the road and out of the way of traffic. You best bet might be to view the parade from either Tacky Jack’s or the Wharf.
7. Christmas Through The Ages At Fort Gaines
Take a fascinating trip back in time to learn about Christmas through the Ages at historic Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island. The day-long living history event will be held on December 12 and features re-enactors stationed throughout the stone fort (built in 1821) telling stories of how the holiday was celebrated from Mobile’s earliest days in 1700 to the 1900s.
The fort will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is less than $10 for adults, discounted for children under 12, and free for children under five.
8. History Museum Of Mobile’s Holiday Market
The History Museum of Mobile presents a fascinating journey through Mobile’s 300 plus-year history, and every Christmas, the museum gives visitors a wonderful present. It begins with the annual Holiday Market where artisans and vendors from across the region gather and can help you finish up your Christmas shopping. The market will be held outside at Colonial Fort Conde this year from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The museum (which is located in the old Southern Market/city hall that was built in 1855) opens its doors to the public with free admission!
Pro Tip: Metered parking is waved on the city streets during the market. Parking is also available at the Fort Conde parking lot.
9. Christmas At The Saenger
The “most beautiful playhouse in all of Dixie,” the Saenger Theater, hosts numerous holiday programs throughout the season. The theater, which was built in 1927, is a simply gorgeous venue that has been described as having the “motif of a French palace during the Renaissance” with ornate plaster casts of legends from Greek mythology and opera boxes reminiscent of elegant European opera houses. At Christmas, the theater is bedecked in fine holiday greenery and lighting and features holiday concerts by the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and classic holiday movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas all on the big screen.
Visit the Saenger event calendar for a listing of all of the holiday cheer they are offering up this year.
10. Winter At The Wharf
In the warm Southern sun, you can lace up the skates and take to the Wharf’s ice skating rink, take your photo with Santa, take a moonlit horse and carriage ride through the dazzling Christmas lights, ride the rails on the North Pole Express, finish your Christmas shopping during Holly Days on Main, and that’s only the short list!
Visit the Wharf calendar of events online for a complete schedule and prices.
11. MoonPie Over Mobile
The holiday season wraps up in the Port City on New Year’s Eve with the annual dropping of the MoonPie. You heard right. Mobile, the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America, has a tradition that during the annual Carnival celebration, masked revelers toss MoonPies to the throngs of people lining the parade route. In honor of this tradition, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the city drops a giant MoonPie from the RSA Bank Trust building, then fires off a gigantic fireworks display. There is dancing and partying in the street, and party goers get to sample a piece of the world’s largest MoonPie. There is even a MoonPie General Store where you can stock up on different flavors of the tasty treat, gifts, and souvenirs.
Organizers note that there will be alterations to the festivities this year due to COVID-19.
Pro Tip: Needless to say, parking can be an issue for the MoonPie drop. Visit the city’s parking website for options.