Oh sure, visiting Times Square and the glittering ball drop on New Year’s Eve is an unforgettable experience, but the folks on the Gulf Coast know how to celebrate, too.
From unusual drops to kid-friendly parties, even a polar bear dip, the Gulf Coast has an eclectic array of New Year’s Eve celebrations that you should experience at least once in your life.
Here are six of our favorite unique celebrations that you can ring in the New Year right. Oh, and did I mention? The only snow you’ll have is along the snowy white beaches.
1. Beach Ball Drop
Panama City Beach, Florida
The emerald, green waters of the Gulf light up as Panama City Beach rings in the new year with its annual Beach Ball Drop at Pier Park.
There are actually two events on New Year’s Eve. The first is the Family Celebration that takes place on South Pier Park Drive and begins at 5:30 p.m. This event gives younger children a chance to join in the fun with face painters, balloon artists, and live music until 8 p.m. when the countdown begins and at zero, a dazzling fireworks display lights up the night sky, and 10,000 beach balls are dropped to the delight of young and old alike.
After the family beach ball drop and the youngest head home, the party continues at Celebration Tower in Pier Park with the Midnight Celebration featuring even more live music and fun until midnight when the 10-foot diameter, 800 pound LED beach ball sitting atop the 80-foot tower begins its descent to celebrate the New Year and a second magnificent fireworks display ignites the night.
Admission to both of the celebrations is free. Be patient. Tens of thousands attend the event each year.
The roads to Pier Park will be closed to traffic so be prepared to park on a side street away from the main event and walk in.
The area around Pier Park is lined with many local and national restaurants and shops so you can make it a full day of fun or make reservations at one of the many hotels that line the beach for an extended stay to experience other Panama City Beach attractions like the nearby Gulf World Marine Park.
2. Countdown Seaside
The quiet town of Seaside is an incredible getaway in and of itself. Its sundrenched beaches, cool Gulf breezes, and laid-back way of life have drawn many to this quintessential “seaside” village for many years.
On New Year’s Eve, this oceanfront town literally lights up with its annual Countdown Seaside celebration.
You’re invited to bring a blanket or lawn chair to the city’s amphitheater in the square at 4:00 p.m. to enjoy live music, arts, and crafts. This celebration, however, is a little different than most in that the festivities culminate with a mesmerizing fireworks show at 9 p.m., not midnight.
While well attended, the Seaside celebration is less crowded than most along the Gulf Coast and is completely family-friendly. Make your plans to arrive early in the day to explore the town’s many shops, featuring the work of local artisans and chefs, and of course, dig your toes in the beautiful white Gulf beach.
3. Flora-Bama New Year Bash
Perdido Key, Florida
You’re invited to celebrate the new year “on the line” — the Alabama-Florida state line — at one of the biggest New Year’s Eve beach parties on the Gulf Coast at the world-famous Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key, Florida.
Each year, thousands attend the event that rocks in the New Year with three stages of bands. Your admission to this 21+ event includes an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. that serves up delectable baby back ribs, shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and more. Also included is a souvenir Koozie, party favors, and a champagne split at midnight.
At the stroke of midnight, a breakfast buffet opens.
Tickets are available online but let me warn you, get them quick! The event sells out quickly. Ticket prices go up $5 after December 24.
Parking is very limited at the Flora-Bama so it is recommended that you take a taxi or Uber.
You must have a wristband to enter the venue. Giving out wristbands to ticket holders begins at 2 p.m. with doors opening at 6 p.m.
4. Polar Bear Swim Flora-Bama
Perdido Key, Florida
We’re all familiar with the world-famous Coney Island Polar Bear Dip in New York where brave souls ring in the New Year with a brisk swim in the frigid waters off Brooklyn. Since it started in 1903, the event has become a tradition in locations across the world, even here on the Gulf Coast during the Flora-Bama Polar Bear Dip.
The bar and restaurant that straddles the Florida-Alabama state line hosts the event that encourages participants to wear their best, gaudiest costumes and take the plunge in the “frigid” waters of the Gulf. The perfect way to get rid of that New Year’s Eve hangover.
Okay, so the water isn’t as cold as it is up north, but it can get cold and get your teeth chattering.
Hundreds of people take the plunge every January 1 at high noon and those that go completely underwater get a free draft beer and ham, cornbread, greens, and the good luck vegetable black-eyed peas for lunch. The swim is followed by the biggest New Year’s beach party on the coast.
Admission to the Polar Bear Dip and party is free. Of course, there is a charge for drinks and food. Once again, parking is limited at the Flora-Bama so get there plenty early or consider an Uber, taxi, or Lyft.
5. Moon Pie Drop
Mobile, Alabama, is known as the “Mother of Mystics,” the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the U.S. The parades that roll down the city streets each year feature ornate floats with masked riders tossing goodies to the thousands of revelers who fill the streets. One of those goodies is a Southern classic — the Moon Pie.
To celebrate this totally Mobile tradition and the New Year, the city closes off downtown streets to traffic for the annual Moon Pie Drop!
You heard right. Each year at the stroke of midnight, a 600 pound electric Moon Pie drops from one of the city skyscrapers to ring in the new year followed by a spectacular laser light show and fireworks display.
Before the magic hour, the city is electric as the Second Line Brass Band parades through the streets, live entertainment takes place on several stages, and incredible dining awaits you at the many local restaurants that line the historic city streets.
Oh, and we can’t forget — the celebratory cutting of the world’s largest Moon Pie. Line up early to get your taste.
The main road into Mobile, U.S. Highway 90, is closed to traffic well in advance of the event and I-10 will be backed up with cars so plan on either arriving very early or look for alternative routes into town.
Parking is available in a number of city lots and garages but you may want to consider public transportation to get to the event. Parking is not allowed on the street during the celebration.
There are many fabulous hotels in downtown Mobile so you can spend the night without worrying about the traffic and or having one too many celebratory toasts.
6. Crescent City Countdown And Fleur De Lis Drop
New Orleans, Louisiana
When it comes to a citywide party, the first town that comes to mind is New Orleans, so you know that this will be a celebration like no other.
But don’t think that it’s all one big raucous party. There are dozens of celebrations going on in the Crescent City for revelers of all ages.
One of the biggest college football games is played in NOLA on New Year’s Day — the Sugar Bowl. The day before, the city welcomes players and fans in style with a good old-fashioned Mardi Gras parade complete with giant floats and throws.
The parade begins at 2:30 p.m. at the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street on the south side of the French Quarter and an hour later ends at Canal Street.
For the kids and grandkids, the Audubon Zoo hosts Zoo Year’s Eve from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with many of its animal ambassadors making an appearance, costumed characters, and a Pepsi toast at noon.
The big event takes place at historic Jackson Square where thousands of people flock to enjoy music, food, and at midnight, a magical fireworks display illuminates the city and a giant fleur-de-lis is dropped.
The events at Jackson Square and the Allstate Sugar Bowl parade are free and open to the public. There is an admission fee to the Audubon Zoo. Parking is always a challenge in New Orleans but there are plenty of lots and garage options available.
Check out other New Year’s Eve celebrations and more Gulf Coast activities: