Mardi Gras is the final night before the beginning of Lent, making it the perfect time to indulge in all of your favorite rich, cheat day foods—whether you're planning to give them up the next day or not. Also referred to as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras historically consisted of elegant society balls, during which rich, fatty foods were served up before the formal fasting period began. Over time, the celebration morphed into a carnival, marked by a street procession with participants wearing masks and riding in carriages or on horseback.

Nowadays, however, the carnival portion has been magnified into a full day of partying, and many cities in the US simply don't hold back when it comes to this yellow, green, and purple celebration. Here are the five best Mardi Gras parties to live it up this year on Fat Tuesday (February 28th) and the weekend beforehand.

1. New Orleans, LA

This one's a given, but New Orleans doesn't mess around when it comes to Mardi Gras. It was the first place in the US where Mardi Gras was celebrated when French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in Louisiana on the holiday in 1699 and named their landing spot the "Point du Mardi Gras."

Because of the celebration's long history in New Orleans, the city has become the ultimate place to visit during the holiday. In fact, Tulane University has all classes cancelled on the Monday and Tuesday of the holiday. Every year, thousands of people dressed in purple and green crowd Bourbon Street to enjoy King Cake and watch the 20+ parades over the course of the four days from Saturday to Fat Tuesday.

While a bunch of restaurants are closed for the festivities, there are a few spots you should definitely check out when you start to get hangry and you're looking to escape the craziness for a bit.

2. St. Louis, MO

St. Louis is historically a French town, named after King Louis XIV, known for his extravagant events and the flaunting of his monarchy. The Soulard district in downtown St. Louis is home base for a month-long celebration of Mardi Gras. Family-friendly events include a pet parade and a grand parade with over 100 floats.

But on the Saturday and Tuesday of the holiday, it's best to leave the kids behind. Saturday is a huge "darty" centered in the Soulard district, accompanied by a rowdy parade, during which people on the floats will toss out colorful necklaces of beads to everyone in the crowd.

Soulard is known for its incredible food scene, too, with restaurants like Mission Taco and Pekara Bread Bakery boasting special menu offerings for the holiday. Bud Light hosts a $100-a-head party tent in Soulard, too, if you're looking to ball out (but not on a budget) this Mardi Gras.

3. San Diego, CA

San Diego hosts the United States' biggest west coast Mardi

Gras celebration. You might not think that a city with a Spanish name would be so in to celebrating a holiday popularized by the French, but don't be fooled.

On the Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Gaslamp Quarter hosts a NOLA-inspired food tasting where you can enjoy traditional Louisiana fare and a bunch of booze for $25 a person. Not only is there a large parade and block party in the Gaslamp, but you'll also find a live DJ mixing beats all night long and street performers like fire-eaters and stilt-walkers. 

4. Mobile, AL 

Despite the fact that New Orleans is the first place in the US where the holiday of Mardi Gras was first commemorated, Mobile was the location for the original Mardi Gras carnival celebration. In 1702, a few years after the French settlers arrived at what they called the "Point du Mardi Gras" near New Orleans, they held the first real celebration of the holiday in Mobile.

Today, Mobile starts throwing Mardi Gras parties in November, covering the city with beads, candies, toys, flying discs and moon pies. After Hurricane Katrina, Mobile hosted the largest Mardi Gras celebration in history with a 900,000+ person crowdPopular restaurants to eat at on Mardi Gras in Mobile include The Blind Mule, which serves authentic southern foods like seafood gumbo and a Cajun Boudin sausage wrap, and Pollman's Bake Shop, easily recognizable by the long lines of people at the door, trying to get their hands on a King Cake. 

5. Galveston, Texas

Not only can you enjoy dozens of concerts and parades in Galveston for 10 days leading up to Fat Tuesday, but you'll also be able to fit in some relaxing time on the beach. Galveston also boasts 20 separate balcony parties where you can enjoy drinks, while soaking in the great view of parade-goers below.

The parade itself features more than 2,000 umbrella dancers and eight marching bands. Galveston does, however, charge a cover of $15, which gives you access to all the festivities, while keeping crime to a minimum. The charge is worth it: it keeps the booze coming, while also maintaining the calm. A great dish to try while on the island is the Texas Coastal Gumbo. Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar serves up a hot and spicy bowl of it with an ice cold beer for those looking to catch a hearty meal between events at the celebration.  

If you find yourself within range of any of these five cities, you're sure to have a blast this Mardi Gras. But if not, just remember: the holiday was originally meant for indulging before a fasting period—so be sure to give yourself a well-deserved cheat day this upcoming Fat Tuesday, wherever you may be.