Mobile hosted its first Mardi Gras in 1703 — nearly 150 years before New Orleans did — so the genteel folks in this city clearly know how to celebrate.
- Bellingrath Gardens and Home
(November 26 – January 31) Inside and out, this 65-acre estate is decorated for the holidays. Tours of the 10,500-square-foot home, with its lavish furnishings and traditional holiday decorations, leave every half-hour. Outside — amid the camellias, poinsettias, and snapdragons in bloom — some 3 million lights twinkle on more than 900 individual pieces in 12 themed scenes.
- Robert Moore & Co. Christmas Town A holiday-themed superstore, it's open for business year-round. But if Santa himself were to wander through this more than 35,000-square-foot, million-plus-item emporium, he might whisper, "Hmm, this is all a bit much." Each day busloads of tourists buy everything from a 99-cent ornament to a $30,000 Swarovski centerpiece. This year's hot item: hand-painted seashell ornaments, starting at about $20.
America's first European settlement was established here in August 1559 — and soon abandoned as uninhabitable, thanks in part to a hurricane that hit about a month later. The hurricanes still come, but there's no keeping modern-day visitors away.
- Winterfest Performance Tours (November 26, December 4, 10, 17, 18, 19) Take a 50-minute downtown walking tour accompanied by guides who sing holiday tunes. You'll stop along the way for 16 short vignettes — including a living nativity scene, Charlie Brown's Christmas, Scrooge and his ghostly visitors, and an Elvis impersonator singing "Blue Christmas."
- New Year's Eve Pelican Drop (December 31) New York City drops a Waterford Crystal ball; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, drops a giant marshmallow Peeps chick. At midnight on New Year's Eve, Pensacola drops a 13-foot, half-ton illuminated pelican from a 100-foot crane. Concerts, food, and fireworks ensue, though really it's all about the pelican.
Greater St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
With its swaying palms and frolicking dolphins, the Tampa Bay area is an unlikely winter wonderland. Yet it's amazing what a determined populace will do to conjure up visions of sugarplums.
- Miracle on Cleveland Street
(December 4) The miracle is 40 tons of machine-made snow, dumped on one of Clearwater's main drags. With daytime temperatures in the 70s, the snow doesn't last long — but there's also live music, a Christmas train, two giant slides, and a visit from Santa.
- Holiday Lights in the Gardens (November 26 – January 2) One of the newest U.S. public gardens (it opened in 2000), the 150-acre Florida Botanical Gardens are home to endangered and threatened wild species such as bald eagles, gopher tortoises, and Sherman fox squirrels — and, during the holidays, to some 35 acres of 425,000 environmentally friendly LED lights. A $2 donation is all that's asked.