The Best Mardi Gras Celebrations if You Aren't in NOLA
'Tis the season to throw inhibitions and an exorbitant amount of beads to the wind: It's Mardi Gras time. While New Orleans may be synonymous with this wild Carnival celebration, turns out you don't need to travel to the Big Easy to get a taste of the Fat Tuesday flavor. These seven non-NOLA locales take these epic festivities just as seriously -- from music and masquerades to dancers and debauchery.
Masked Carnival antics have been going on in Mobile since the early 1700s -- more than a decade before a single bead was thrown towards half-dressed spectators in Louisiana. Mobile's claim to fame is being "the country's original Fat Tuesday," and now hundreds of years later, this Alabama Mardi Gras still draws in millions of people for a three-week affair of parades and masked balls. Costumed members of the city's various mythic societies pile onto floats -- most of them two-story, fitting up to 15 riders -- and throw all manner of goodies to revelers in the streets.
St. Louis, Missouri
Aside from being the birthplace of Chuck Berry and Anheuser-Busch brews, St. Louis is actually a badass place to visit and boasts the biggest Mardi Gras outside of NOLA. And let's just say that with tens of thousands of attendees and more floats than you can even count, the Grand Parade is the piece de resistance of this entire affair. Show up for the beads and stay for the food -- street vendors set up along Soulard and the area's finest establishments serve up food and drink specials and live music.
If this were a Westside Story-style showdown with New Orleans repping the "Jets,” then Biloxi is unequivocally the "Sharks." It hosts arguably one of the most lively Mardi Gras celebrations on the Gulf Coast. We're talking a 300-year-long history of 25 different parades, over 100 floats, and a party at literally every bayou. Plus, gambling is legal there -- yet another reason the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast is supremely underrated.
This Lousiana Mardi Gras is packed with Creole flavor in the form of masked men in search of ingredients to make the perfect pot of gumbo. (Yep, this is real -- it's called Courir de Mardi Gras.) And even though Carnival walkers are technically begging for sausage from parade spectators, it's actually far less X-rated than the New Orleans version of Mardi Gras.
Per usual, if there's a raunchy party to be had, Florida will find a way to throw its beads into the Alligator pit. Tampa has Gasparilla -- while not technically associated with Mardi Gras, it certainly rivals it, with hundreds of pirates invading the shores with beads and booze galore. And unbeknownst to many, Pensacola has been hosting its Grand Mardi Gras Parade since the 19th century, and it's still the town’s largest event with more than 100,000 spectators a year.
Adding "Texas Style" to the end of anything pretty much ensures it's going to be over the top -- so it should be no surprise that Mardi Gras in the Lonestar State is a rowdy ol' time. The five-day-long extravaganza is a massive honky tonk meets state fair meets music festival, including more than 20 country bands, and if we were to guess, hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of Cajun-style BBQ.
Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean
Sure, it's not technically in the US, but "the biggest street party on Earth" deserves a place on this list. Kicking off at 4am the Monday before Ash Wednesday and rolling for 48 straight hours, this Trinidad Carnival is often described as a religious experience -- and it's no joke. Odds are you won't even see the streets since they're so full of dancing masqueraders decked out in brightly colored body paint, costumes, and headdresses -- not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people losing themselves in all of it. Warning: It's very likely you won't be able to hear anything but calypso music ringing in your ears for up to a week after the parade.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.