For revelers around the world, February conjures images of Mardi Gras and Carnival. For Americans, Mardi Gras is synonymous with New Orleans -- but it doesn't have to be. From Mobile, Alabama, to Portland, Oregon, February is filled with parades and other events celebrating Mardi Gras. Instead of traveling to the Big Easy for the celebration, revelers can save a bundle by taking in a Fat Tuesday festival closer to home.
Galveston brings the Big Easy to Texas with the island's 106th Mardi Gras celebration, which runs Feb. 17-28. The festival, which is the third-largest Mardi Gras bash in the United States, is set to draw more than 300,000 revelers. They'll flock to Galveston to take in more than 30 concerts, five masked balls, 20 balcony parties, and 22 parades.
The Mobile Mardi Gras festival boasts more than 50 parades over a full month between Jan. 28 and Feb. 28. Some of the nearly 70 balls and costume de rigueur parties sell tickets to the public, while the more exclusive balls are invitation-only. Visitors can also join certain parade groups, but not the hyper-exclusive troupes that limit membership to those who were literally born into the club.
For nearly two full months, the historically French Soulard district of St. Louis transforms into the French Quarter. The party started with a 12th Night celebration on Jan. 6 and runs to Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28. Festivities include the Wiener Dog Derby, the Missouri Lottery Run for Your Beads 5K race, and the Mayor's Mardi Gras Ball. Visitors looking to keep up with the event schedule can download the festival's Palaroo mobile app.
Pensacola's Mardi Gras festivities run through the end of February and include the All Krewe Food Drive Challenge, the I Pink I Can Run walk/run event to support breast cancer patients, the Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade, and the Escambia Westgate Mardi Gras Parade.
The Masquerade Parade and Celebration and the Big Easy Bites & Booze Tour are just two of the events at the Gaslamp Quarter Mardi Gras on Feb. 28 in San Diego. They aren't free, however. This So-Cal Mardi Gras party offers several price options, including discounts for military service members. About 20,000 visitors are expected to watch the parade, and they can hit more than 20 hotspots along the tour.
LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN
For 25 years, the Coulee Region Mardi Gras has stood out by being a family-oriented celebration. Festivities include a costume ball on Feb. 18, the Bourbon Street Bash on Feb. 22, and a Fat Tuesday celebration on Feb. 28. Proceeds benefit tuition assistance and technology development programs at local Catholic schools, with donations exceeding $20,000 last year alone.
Billed as "Florida's biggest party," Mardi Gras at Universal Studios in Orlando lasts for 50 full nights through March 25. Every night features a parade, New Orleans-themed live music, and Cajun food.
MISSISSIPPI'S GULF COAST
Mississippi's Gulf Coast gives its more famous Mardi Gras neighbors to the west a run for their beads during Carnival season. The celebrating started on Feb. 11 and culminates on Feb. 28. There are a variety of parades and float processions for kids and adults alike, as well as balls, masquerades, pet events, and jazz celebrations.
The hip Philadelphia suburb of Manayunk is celebrating Philly-style by hosting a Mummers Mardi Gras Parade on Feb. 18, or Feb. 19 if it rains. Sixteen string bands will take part in the festivities. The string bands will each host an after-party, and proceeds go to the Mummers, one of the city's oldest and most-recognizable traditions. The event also offers family-friendly activities such as face painting and photo booths.
This year's Mardi Gras parade in San Francisco takes place on Feb. 28 on the border of the city's famed Mission and Castro districts. The event is free, and other activities include comedy shows, a San Francisco history night, and Carnaval-season kickoff festivities in the Mission District. Local brass bands and other musicians dominate the celebrations.
EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
Refusing to leave all the celebrating to its southern neighbors in New Orleans, Eureka Springs hosts Mardi Gras festivities throughout February. Visitors can let the good times roll in the Ozark Mountains at the Coronation Ball, the Night Parade, the Black Light Ball, a jazz parade, and several other themed balls and galas.
Billing itself as "the most authentic Louisiana Mardi Gras experience in the Pacific Northwest," Portland's Fire on the Bayou Mardi Gras Ball is slated for Feb. 18, and a parade is scheduled for Fat Tuesday. The party, organized by the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus, features outrageous costumes, contests, food, drinks, and dancing. General admission tickets are $30.