Mardi Gras: Five Southern alternatives to New Orleans

New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebration. The live music, parades, alcohol and beads fill the streets for weeks. The average attendance is estimated at about 1.4 million people annually over the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Some might find it overwhelming. If you want to celebrate the final days before lent, here are five alternatives. If you’re driving, you can likely hit each one, making it a perfect Mardi Gras road trip.

Baton Rogue, Louisiana

The state capital of Louisiana, Baton Rogue knows how to throw a party before Lent. They offer multiple parades in the weeks and days leading up to Fat Tuesday, with the biggest festival being the Saturday before. It is a great place to start your Mardi Gras journey. See the schedule.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is the smallest town on this list, and one of three in Mississippi. What separates this town from others is their unique parade. Floats comprised mostly of decorated golf carts motor through downtown. After catching your fill of beads, head to Cuz’s for dinner, or straight to The Blind Tiger for a drink or two.

Biloxi, Mississippi

If you plan to attend the Biloxi Mardi Gras parade, arrive early and plan to stand for a while. The long route means if you are near the end, you won’t see a float for at least 45 minutes after the parade officially starts. The wait is worth it. Bring a cooler of beer while you wait, or chat with other who setup full party areas while they mix drinks and grill. Biloxi provides a tailgating party atmosphere, different from New Orleans. Once the floats reach your vantage point, you’ll have to pay attention to avoid pelting by plastic. If you’re goal is to go home with so many beads you can’t bend your neck, you will enjoy this parade.

Gulfport, Mississippi

Gulfport offers the best of all worlds. A midsized parade at dusk with lights, music and floats. A perfect spot for a low-key evening, especially after attending the Biloxi show. Stop by Half Shell Oyster House for some of the best seafood on the coast, or Chandeleur Island Brewing Company for fantastic beers.

Mobile, Alabama

Continue down the coast to celebrate Fat Tuesday in style. Mobile throws the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, and is the oldest, starting in 1703. While the party there lasts for days, it is a perfect destination for the last days before Lent. See the schedule.

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Jason is a writer and photographer. He has been published on, Beloit Daily News, The Capital Times Mashable and CNN. You can follow him on Twitter @The_Dean.

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