Experience the Culture
Alabama Scenic Byways lead to famous landmarks and off-the-beaten-path places worth seeing. On the Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail, visit the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center in Camden to shop for original works—such as quilts, pine-needle baskets, and pottery—handmade by artisans in the 19-countyAlabama Black Belt Heritage Area. Follow the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway to see what’s blooming at 65-acre (26-hectare) Bellingrath Gardens and Home and to tour Civil War sites like Fort Morgan.
Best Bets: November 5-19, Bellingrath hosts the 53rd Annual Fall Outdoor Cascading Chrysanthemums. From Bellingrath, it’s about a 30-minute drive to downtown Mobile, where you can connect to the Historic House Museums of Mobile Alabama Road Trip. Tour stops include Historic Oakleigh and the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, an elegant antebellum home set amid live oaks.
Insider Tip: From Camden, take the ferry to Gee’s Bend, home of the celebrated Gee’s Bend quilters. Plan ahead to visit the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective (where you can buy quilts and other folk art) and to watch quilters at work at the Boykin Nutrition Center.
See The Cities
Follow I-65 through the heart of Alabama to explore the state’s three biggest cities: Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile. Birmingham’s former Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Bottling Company is reborn as Pepper Place, an industrial-chic entertainment and design hot spot. In downtown Montgomery, stroll the Alley, the state’s first entertainment district. From here it’s a short walk to Riverwalk Stadium, the historic train depot turned ballpark home of the Montgomery Biscuits Double-A baseball team. Mobile’s Lower Dauphin Street Commercial District, or LoDa, is the place to party, shop, and people-watch.
Best Bets: Saturdays April to early December, the Market at Pepper Place hosts a Rooted in Alabama Farmers Market featuring local products and live music.The Fitzgerald Museum is housed in the Montgomery home where F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife, Zelda, and their daughter lived briefly in the early 1930s. Take a tour to see family artifacts, such as paintings by Zelda.
Insider Tips: Ribs and white bread get all the love at Dreamland Bar-B-Que in The Alley, but the single-serving banana pudding could be the best two bucks you’ve ever spent.
Don’t Miss: Birmingham’s twin trendsetter neighborhoods—Forest Park and South Avondale—border the southern edge of the city’s renovated urban oasis, Avondale Park.
Explore the Parks
Follow the footsteps of freedom fighters on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, one of seven Alabama national parks. The signposted trail (on Route 80) covers the 54-mile (87-kilometer) route taken in the 1965 Voting Rights March, and its National Park Service interpretive centers in White Hall and Selma capture the story of the seminal civil rights march. The Selma Interpretive Center sits at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where police clashed with unarmed civil rights demonstrators on “Bloody Sunday,” on March 7, 1965. At the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, learn about the famous World War II-era, all-black squadron of pilots.
Best Bet: Inside the Selma Interpretive Center, kids can collect some of the free trading cards the National Park Service created to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Insider Tip: In northern Alabama, Little River Canyon National Preserve runs mostly on top of Lookout Mountain, where you can find scenic waterfalls, cliffs, and canyon rims. Mountain bike in the backcountry on 23 miles (37 kilometers) of dirt and chert (fine-grained rock) roads.
Don’t Miss: Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is home to 354 wildlife species and 901 plant species with a tour road loop bordering the edge of the battlefield.
Hear the Music
The Shoals are alive with the sounds of homegrown Alabama music. Located in the northwestern part of the state, the Shoals—including Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Florence—boast numerous music pilgrimage sites. Record your own single at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. Handwritten music and a trumpet belonging to the “Father of the Blues” are part of the collection at the W.C. Handy Home, Museum & Library in Florence. In Muscle Shoals, tour FAME Studios where the artist list includes Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and other legends, as well as up-and-comers like Jason Isbell and Dylan LeBlanc. The Rolling Stones recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield in 1969. The Sound Studio is closed for restoration, but you can pose for a selfie outside.
Best Bet: In Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, tour the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (closed Sundays and Mondays), located inside the historic Carver Theatre.
Insider Tip: Fort Payne in northeast Alabama is home to the band Alabama and its Fan Club Museum and gift shop.
Along Alabama’s 53 miles (85 kilometers) of coastline, seafood restaurants advertise, “You hook ’em, we’ll cook ’em.” Shipp’s Harbour Grill in Orange Beach has a $15 and up catch-and-cook menu (plus a regular one), and Mikee’s in Gulf Shores fries, broils, blackens, pan grills, or sautés your catch—or you can order off the menu. Sample some southern-style potato salad—different for its spicy-sweet taste from creole or Dijon mustard and added sweet pickles or pickle relish—at Homewood Gourmet, in Homewood near Birmingham. In Montgomery, Mrs. B’s Home Cooking serves southern comfort foods like oxtails, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and corn bread.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Insider Tip: Taste true soul food at Birmingham’s Eagle’s Restaurant (closed Saturdays), which holds only about 30 people. Get there before noon for lunch plates that feature fried chicken, steamed cabbage, and candied yams.
Don’t Miss: In Millbrook, Barber Berry Farm grows over two acres (0.8 hectares) of pick-your-own, pesticide-free blackberries, blueberries, and grapes. Days and hours it’s open vary; check the website in advance or order online.
Go where the wild things (and wild places) are by following an Alabama outdoor adventure trail. The Alabama Scenic River Trail covers about 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) from the Georgia border to the Gulf of Mexico, and is one of the longest river trails in a single state. To get the most out of your trip, book a guided tour with a local outfitter. The North Alabama Birding Trail is a collection of 50 sites where you are most likely to see part of the state’s collection of shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, birds of prey, and waterfowl. Current North Alabama bird sightings are reported through eBird. The Alabama Garden Trail covers seven beautiful botanical spots throughout the state, such as the Huntsville Botanical Garden, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and the Mobile Botanical Gardens.
Best Bet: In central Alabama, Horse Pens 40 is a 115-acre (47-hectare) private park and home to one of the most dense climbable bouldering fields in the world. Horse Pen 40 hosts the CukoRakko Music and Arts Festival in the spring and fall.
Insider Tip: On the coast, explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail through Gulf State Park. Hike it on foot or go on wheels with such providers as Coastal Segway Adventures (reservations required).
Don’t Miss: True Adventure Sports in Northeast Alabama offers the Sky Swing, cave rappelling, bouldering, and other adrenaline-pumping activities.