Alabama is quite an eclectic state, with many charming towns and attractions dotting its roads, each with its own story to tell.
From outdoor recreation to slightly eerie attractions, the State of Surprises offers travelers totally unique experiences not to be missed. Here are nine of our favorite stops along Alabama’s major thoroughfares and back roads.
1. Civil Rights Trail in the United States — Montgomery
Alabama’s capital, Montgomery, played an important role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Not only was it the end point of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery that saw the establishment of the law on the 1965 voting rights, but it’s also where Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man, where Judge Frank Johnson Jr. authorized bus desegregation, and where the moving speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Holt Baptist Church has brought millions of people together to peacefully protest for basic civil rights.
Montgomery is one stop on the US Civil Rights Trail, a series of historic sites in 15 states and Washington, DC that trace the history of the civil rights movement. In Montgomery, you can spend several days learning about this important moment in American history by visiting the Rosa Parks Museum, the Freedom Riders Museum, the Legacy Museum, and the moving National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which recognizes the thousands of lynchings that happened. Across the country.
And that’s just the start of your journey.
Pro tip: To begin your journey through history, use the interactive Civil Rights Trail map to plan your visit.
2. FAME Recording Studios – Muscle Shoals
It all started in 1959 when Rick Hall, Tom Stafford and Billy Sherill set up a recording studio above a drugstore in Florence, Alabama. The Florence Alabama Music Enterprise, or FAME Recording Studios, then created a unique sound along the banks of the Tennessee River – the Muscle Shoals Sound which fused blues, R&B, country and gospel music through the power of powerful brass and bass guitars.
During these early years, the studio produced albums for Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Even today, artists like Alicia Keys and Steven Tyler have recorded there.
The studio opened its doors to fans and tourists with a once-a-day tour Monday through Friday at 9:00 a.m. and hourly every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Pro tip: I recommend buying tickets and reserving your place for the daily tour in advance. And to really elevate your experience, book tickets for the new Backstage Tour that takes you even deeper into the studio’s musical history.
3. American Space and Rocket Center – Huntsville
Huntsville, Alabama is known as “Rocket City”. Here, Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team developed the rockets that would eventually send men to the moon, where technicians monitor the International Space Station 24/7, and where components of the latest rocket lunar, space launch system, are being evaluated. .
This rich space history is celebrated at the US Space and Rocket Center. In this museum, you’ll find thousands of historical artifacts that trace America’s space quest from its beginnings to the present day, including real space vehicles.
Throughout the center, interactive simulators and rides like the HyperShip motion-based simulator, G-Force accelerator and multi-axis trainer allow adults and children to experience what it’s like to be an astronaut.
Redstone Arsenal bus tours are also available and take visitors to the site where our journey into space began in the late 1950s.
Pro tip: Not only is the US Space and Rocket Center home to Space Camp, where kids, adults and families can train like astronauts do, but also new camps: Space Camp Robotics, where you build robots; the Aviation Challenge to learn about flying and aircraft; and the US Cyber Camp to learn more about cybersecurity.
4. Canyon of the Dismals—Phil Campbell
Hidden in the town of Phil Campbell, in northwest Alabama, lies a truly remarkable natural wonder: Dismals Canyon.
The canyon includes a 1.5 mile long hiking trail that kids of all ages will love. Dismalites, or Orfelia fultoni, are phosphorescent insects that cling to canyon walls and can be seen glowing brightly after sunset.
The path leads you through the rock-strewn maze of the canyon with high moss-covered sandstone walls. The trail steps back in time through centuries of geological and human history, and two waterfalls brighten up the otherwise endless greens. And, of course, at night there is this dazzling light show put on by the Dismalites.
After exploring, stop at the canyon’s country store for snacks, lunch, or a good old-fashioned treat from the soda fountain.
Pro tip: The descent into the canyon can be difficult for some. It’s a steep walk.
5. Rattlesnake Saloon – Tuscumbia
Want a unique culinary experience? Next, plan to visit the Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia. What makes this restaurant different is that it is built under a deep rock shelter, a kind of cave carved into a rock wall. And as if that weren’t enough, when it rains, a natural waterfall flows over the front of the restaurant. How about that?
The menu is made up of traditional American dishes with good Old West sounding names – the Rustler Burger, Prairie Sandwich, the Buckaroo. Wash it all down with your favorite fountain drink, beer or cider.
Pro tip: If you need a place to stay, there is the Seven Springs Lodge located right next to the saloon which offers overnight accommodations in cabins, campsites and, get this: rooms in one of two elevators.
6. Museum of Wonders — Seale
Billed as a “modern-day cabinet of curiosities,” the Museum of Wonder doesn’t disappoint with its, shall we say, “unique” exhibits: the world’s largest gallstone, Bigfoot’s footprint, a turnip with a human face. You had the idea.
The museum is the brainchild of artist Butch Anthony. Anthony dives into an art form he calls Interangleism. He works with a wide variety of mediums to create bizarre taxidermies and metal and bone sculptures.
Butch likes to be left alone, but so many people wanted to see his collection that he opened it to the public as the world’s first drive-in museum.
Pro Tip: Visit the museum’s exhibition webpage for other places where you can see Anthony’s works – and when the artist himself leads a guided tour through the museum, a rare treat.
7. Cathedral Caverns State Park – Woodville
Your Alabama experiences continue underground at Cathedral Caverns State Park.
Located just north of Lake Guntersville in Woodville, Alabama, the entrance to Cathedral Caverns will take your breath away. It measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high, and is believed to be the largest such entrance to a commercially mined cave in the world. But that’s nothing compared to what awaits you inside.
A 90-minute guided tour led by park rangers takes you deep into the cavern, where decorative lights illuminate the incredible scene beneath the Earth. You’ll encounter a rock formation that looks like a frozen waterfall, a forest of stalagmites, a gravity-defying stalagmite 27 feet tall but only 3 inches wide, and the big show: Goliath, one of the largest stalagmites in the world. . It is 45 feet high and 243 feet in circumference.
Pro tip: Visiting the cave any time of the year is a joy, even in the sweltering heat of an Alabama summer. The cave maintains a constant temperature of 60 degrees all year round.
8. Ave Maria Grotto—Cullman
Stroll the grounds from Ave Maria Grotto to St. Bernard Abbey along a two-block long path. It’s like traveling the world in miniature.
Along the two-block long driveway you’ll discover the Views of the World, all hand-crafted and sculpted by Friar Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk who arrived at the abbey in 1892. In 1918 he began creating miniature architectural reproductions from leftover building materials and household items. His creation was completed in 1958 when he was 80 years old. When it was completed there were over 125 reproductions.
The detail of the miniatures is remarkable. You’ll see Herod’s Gate, the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and more.
9. Bellingrath Gardens—Mobile
Bellingrath Gardens and Home is still one of the state’s most popular attractions. And it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit. The garden always has beautiful fragrant flowers waiting for you.
In spring, thousands of red, white and pink azaleas burst with color. In summer, hydrangeas and roses are revealed. Fall brings the magnificent cascading blooms of chrysanthemums, and in winter its more than 400 varieties of camellia and the spectacular Magic Christmas in Lights, during which the gardens’ 65 acres are covered in 3 million lights, over 1 000 decors and 15 scenes.
Pro tip: Bellingrath Gardens is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). Guided tours of the house are offered daily every half hour. The Bellingrath website has ticket information.
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