No doubt about it, the South loves to dress up and throw a party. One doesn’t have to look any further than Mardi Gras season in New Orleans to know the statement above is true.
But the Big Easy isn’t the only place that goes all out with floats, krewes and general revelry. A handful of destinations hosts similar festivities, all with unique touches. However, all celebrations have one similarity ~ you’re guaranteed to have a memorable time.
So, wear your best purple, green or gold duds and get ready to yell, “throw me somethin’, mister!” Hold your hands out to catch the trinkets as they rain down from the floats, and laissez les bons temp rouler (let the good times roll)!
St. Louis, Missouri.
It’s considered as one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations outside of New Orleans, and it all takes place in the neighborhood of Soulard.
Events over the weeks-long period include a Cajun Cook-Off and Taste of Soulard to superlative-worthy events such as the Purina Pet Parade (the Guinness World Record holder for the largest costumed pet parade in the world) and Tito’s Wiener Dog Derby (the longest-running dachshund derby in the nation). The merriment culminates with the Bud Light Grand Parade, featuring over 100 krewes.
Did You Know: Soulard is one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places (one of its many distinctions) in 1972, the eclectic area is home to the oldest church and oldest building and various restaurants/bars/boutiques. In addition to its Mardi Gras celebration, annual events include Soulard Concert Series and Soulard Oktoberfest.
Beads, beads, and more beads are thrown into the crowds as over 20 parades roll through the Entertainment District during the two weeks of Mardi Gras! Galveston.
Recognized as the largest celebration of its kind in Texas and the third-largest in the U.S., the event appeals to all with a lineup of live entertainment performances, Family Gras activities and Fiesta Gras festivities.
Worth Seeing: Out of destruction comes art in Galveston. Hurricane Ike destroyed the stately oak trees in 2008 and left only stumps behind. With the assistance of three artists (Jim Phillips, Earl Jones and Dayle Lewis), homeowners decided to do something positive with the remains and created whimsical sculptures, which you can see on a self-guided tour.
Lake Charles, La.
The second-largest Mardi Gras fete in Louisiana takes place in the southwest part of the state. Lake Charles and the surrounding area host their fair share of parades, some with elaborate floats and all with creative costumes.
And that's just the beginning of the fun.
There's also a gumbo cook-off, a Second Line stroll and more, including a chicken run (yes, you read that correctly) in nearby Iowa.
Eat Up: Perfect as a meal or snack, boudin (pronounced "boo-dan") is a cajun/creole sausage with cooked rice, pork, liver, onions and seasonings. The Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail highlights local food establishments, specialty meat shops, or grocery stores in the area offering the delicacy. Be sure the try the cracklins with a side of Steens for dipping.
Experience the "greatest free party on earth" in Lafayette. The city hosts a wide range of parades, the Courir de Mardi Gras at Vermilionville and the Le Festival de Mardi Gras à Lafayette, which features carnival rides, live music, and much more.
Immerse Yourself: From Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve-Acadian Cultural Center to Cajun Food Tours, there are numerous ways to learn about and engage in Cajun ways and culture. You can even learn the two-step if so you dare.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
From Picayune to Pascagoula, the good times roll along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the form of parades through Fat Tuesday. Claim a spot to watch such events as Krewe of Barkloxi PAWrade and Ocean Springs Carnival Association Night Mardi Gras Parade.
The "Carnival on the Coast" adds to its overall festive atmosphere with family-friendly and grown-ups only activities like the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center Children’s Mardi Gras Celebration and D’Iberville Mardi Gras Kick-Off (King Cake shots, anyone?)
Creative Coast: Given its surroundings, it is no surprise that artists are drawn to Mississippi Gulf Coast. Whether it’s galleries or museums like Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs or Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, or murals in Fishbone Alley in Gulfport, art is plentiful in the region. Discover artists who have called and those currently calling the Mississippi Gulf Coast home.
Mobile and Coastal Alabama
It’s all about catching MoonPies, beads and creative throws during parades in the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras - Mobile. Over 40 of them pass through downtown, making it easy to experience multiple ones in a day.
However, the snack cakes and other unusual items aren’t the only unique attributes to the city’s celebration. Mobile's Joe Cain Day honors the man said to have brought back Mardi Gras after the Civil War.
Don’t forget about the parades on the Alabama Gulf Coast (Orange Beach and Gulf Shores) and Eastern Shore (Fairhope, Daphne, Foley, Spanish Fort) - even OWA gets in on the Mardi Gras action with parades and Mardi Gras-related haunted house.
The More You Know: Mobile is home to seven National Register Historic Districts, all found throughout midtown and downtown.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast offers 32-miles of beaches to explore.
Daphne is known as "The Jubilee City." it’s one of the few spots in the world where conditions make it possible for fish, shrimp, and crabs to move to the shoreline and are easily scooped up.
Like its counterparts to the west, Mardi Gras in Pensacola and the nearby area are heavily parade-centric, with everything from the Milton Mardi Gras parade to the Pirates of the Lost Treasure Flotilla in Perdido Key.
The apex of Pensacola Mardi Gras celebration is with the last parades: Krewe of Lafitte Illuminated Parade, a night parade and the Pensacola Mardi Gras Grand Parade, held the following afternoon.
Go Back in Time: From Fort Pickens, a pre-Civil War era fort on Pensacola Beach, to the Historic Pensacola Village, with 28 museums, historic homes and properties, Pensacola offers over 450 years of history to explore.