Alabama is one of those states of the USA that feels a little overlooked by the UK traveller, who happily head to nearby Florida, New Orleans or Nashville, seemingly unaware of what’s on offer in Alabama. But on my ten day road trip I discovered a huge variety of experiences, from the high-tech Rocket City of Huntsville to the cultural melting pot of Mobile and the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores.
In between there was the inspiring Civil Rights trail that lead me to Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery, as well as the art museums, gracious Greek revival mansions and endless shrimp and BBQ washed down by bottomless iced tea and Southern hospitality. This article is a long one covering (at least) 50 things to do in Alabama, but I hope it will leave you with the inspiration to plan your own road trip through this fascinating state in America’s Deep South.
Things to do in Huntsville Alabama
Huntsville in Northern Alabama made a great start to my road trip. This easy going city has a downtown that’s just about manageable on foot or bike, although you’ll be able to see more if you have a car. Due to the caves that lie beneath the city, most buildings are only a few stories high, giving Huntsville a small town feel and I was struck how quiet the roads were and how easy it was to get around.
Known as The Rocket city due to its connections with the US Space Programme and the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville has an affluent feel with plenty of employment from technology companies who have moved there. If you enjoy art, culture and food, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in Huntsville and could easily spend a few days or a long weekend here although I only had 2 days to see as much as possible.
1. The US Space & Rocket Center at Huntsville – for wouldbe astronauts
Set on a huge campus on the edge of Huntsville The Space Center has to be the number one place to visit for the city. It’s a big attraction, so set aside half a day to look around at a leisurely pace and also check out the amazing Space Camp programme with residential courses for children and adults, to inspire the astronauts of the future. Highlights for me were the mockup of the Space Station (find out how astronauts eat, sleep and go to the loo!) and the Saturn V hall with enormous rockets and Apollo 12 lunar module. Can it really be 50 years since a man stood on the moon?
2. Twickenham historic district – take a Historic Huntsville tour
I love looking at beautiful old houses and Huntsville was the first place on my road trip where I came across the Antebellum mansions of the Southern USA. The name refers to the old houses and mansions built before the civil war of the 1860s since Ante = before, Bellum = war, just as we might refer to a ‘Georgian’ or ‘Victorian’ style of architecture in the UK.
The Twickenham historic district is the most rewarding of the neighbourhoods, since this is where you’ll find the oldest houses concentrated in just a few blocks, so it’s easy to walk or drive around to see them. There are leaflets available at the Huntsville Convention & Visitor Bureau that tell you the history of notable houses and you can also access free audio tours at Huntsvillehistorytours.org. The visitor bureau runs free walking tours around the historic districts in the spring and autumn.
3. Huntsville Museum of Art – a great visit for art lovers
I love visiting art museums and the Huntsville Museum of Art is in a beautiful setting overlooking the grassy lawns and lakes of Big Spring Park. The museum has a variety of galleries with small but well curated collections, so it’s a great one if you don’t have a lot of time. Highlights for me were the moving black and white photos in the exhibition Vietnam: The real war, the beautiful landscapes from the Ponchin legacy, French father and son artists and the craftsmanship of the Buccellati silver menagerie with figures of animals using semi-precious stones and silver.
4. Big Spring Park – lakes and lawns to relax
Big Spring Park is the public space at the heart of the downtown area of Huntsville, named after the spring bubbling up out of the ground where the first settler John Hunt built his cabin. The larger area of the park where the Huntsville Art Museum is located is landscaped with shallow lakes and Japanese bridge and is often used for festivals and community events. The smaller section of the park across the road, has a water feature that’s fed from the original spring and they are both a fun place to wander or have a picnic. Read Tripadvisor Reviews
5. Alabama Constitutional Hall Park – step back in time
In the oldest part of downtown Huntsville, you can step back in time to the summer of 1819 when delegates gathered in the large cabinetmaker’s workshop to agree the Alabama state constitution. The old wooden buildings have been reconstructed around the open courtyard on their original sites to show a cross-section of life at that time, with the houses of the postmaster, cabinet maker, printer and blacksmith. You can wander freely around the courtyard to see the houses from the outside, visit the shop and cafe and also take a guided tour to see the furnishings showing life inside the houses. As part of the same family of museums, you may also like to visit the Earlyworks children’s museum and the Huntsville depot and museum
6. Harrison Bros. Hardware – shop for great Rocket City gifts
This family run store on Courthouse Square retains the appearance of the hardware store it once was, with the old counters, shelves and cash registers. These days it’s less of a place to buy nails and tacks and more of a destination to discover the perfect locally made souvenir to take home with you. They pride themselves on selling ‘American made’ and you’ll find plenty of mementos of your visit to Rocket City, from local crafts to homeware and toys.
Harrison Bros. Hardware Website | Open Monday – Saturday, closed Sunday
7. Huntsville Botanical Garden – for nature lovers
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful botanic garden is only 30 years old and is run mainly by volunteers. The 112 acres encompasses a number of gardens within a garden and is so large that we had a guided tour by golf buggy, so you’ll want to allocate half a day to do the gardens justice. My favourite spots were the the Damson aquatic garden with a Japanese style pavilion reflecting in the water-lily filled pools and the Daylily garden which was in full flower when we visited, a sunset of yellow, orange and pink.
I also thought the children’s garden was amazing, with wading pools, dinosaur bones, and fairytale creatures to spark the imagination. Don’t miss the butterfly house where the colourful creatures dart around you, dipping in pools and resting momentarily on the flowers and leaves.
8. Burritt On The Mountain – historic house and park
This beautiful historic mansion, is set on the Monte Sano mountain (although it’s actually more of a hill) that overlooks the city of Huntsville. William Henry Burritt was a homeopathic doctor and built this house as a retirement home to take advantage of the cooler air and woodland setting on the mountain. The house is furnished as it would have looked in the 1930s and there is also a historic park where log cabins and old wooden houses have been relocated to show what life would have been like in the 19th and 20th century. Meet the goats on the farm, attend folk school to learn handicrafts and chat to history interpreters dressed in period costume.
9. Lowe Mill – artists studios in an old warehouse
This old textile mill on the edge of Huntsville has been converted into an arts centre, housing over 200 working artists, with studios, shops and cafes. There are workshops, classes and concerts on the dock where the musicians play on the raised walkway and you can hang out with a picnic or buy food in the area around the water tower. Lowe Mill was closed when I visited but I enjoyed a quick stop at Piper and Leaf where they sell artizan tea blends and a look at some of the colourful murals outside.
10. Street art in Huntsville
I love street art and was thrilled to find a couple of murals close to Big Spring Park. The huge Koi mural with fishes that threaten to gulp you up, is on the side of a building at the intersection of Spring St SW and Spragins St SW. The mural was created by local creative firm Red Brick Strategies and on reading about it later I discovered that there’s a point marked RB on the street corner where you can get a 3D effect. Just around the corner facing the watercourse of Big Spring Park is the “Welcome to Huntsville” rocket mural which makes a fun picture. There are a few other spots to find murals and artwork around town, such as the Clinton Row Color Walk and the Spaces Sculpture trail of public artworks – download the free app to discover all the locations.
More information for Visiting Huntsville
Plan your visit to Huntsville on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, email@example.com or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Huntsville: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned and there is also a Blue Bikes scheme allowing you to rent bikes in the Downtown area.
Getting to Huntsville: It’s easy to fly into Huntsville Airport from numerous US destinations and if coming from the UK you can connect via Charlotte (as I did), Atlanta or other US airport hubs. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Driving time from Atlanta Airport to Huntsville – 190 miles / 3 hrs 40 mins
Driving time from Huntsville to Florence – 73 miles / 1 hr 25 mins
Hotels in Huntsville
Huntsville Marriott at Space and Rocket Center
I stayed at the modern Huntsville Marriott hotel, with a view towards the adjoining Rocket Center, so I woke up with a view of the Saturn 1 and Saturn V. My spacious room was one of those that had recently been updated in contemporary style, with a large walk in bathroom and a picture of some far off galaxy above the bed. The hotel is located a little outside the downtown area, a short walk to the Rocket Center and a great base to use for visiting Huntsville.
Restaurants in Huntsville
Huntsville has a great food scene and here are some of the restaurants I tried in Huntsville and can personally recommend;
The Blue Plate Cafe | This traditional diner is THE place to go in Huntsville if you want the full Southern Breakfast experience, of bacon, eggs, cheesy grits, biscuit and gravy washed down by bottomless coffee. It’s the food your mother or grandmother might have cooked if you grew up in Alabama and attracts all the locals who relish their childhood favourites of fried chicken, collard greens and a slice of pie. I tried the Blue Plate Breakfast $6.39 (Read the reviews)
Pane e Vino | An Italian inspired restaurant with outdoor terrace at the Huntsville Museum of art in Big Spring Park. The restaurant is owned by leading local chef Jame Boyce and offers relaxed dining with pizza, salads and pasta dishes – I enjoyed my butternut squash ravioli for lunch after visiting the art museum $11 (Read the reviews)
Connors Steak & Seafood: In the Bridge Street Town Centre neighbourhood, serving steak and seafood with bags of Southern flair. I enjoyed the Cajun Red Grouper mesquite grilled with couscous and collard greens $25 and Voodoo Shrimp in spicy remoulade sauce $12 (Read the reviews)
Grille 29: A popular independently run restaurant in the pretty neighbourhood of Providence Village, with a menu that features steak, seafood and Southern flavours. I tried the excellent Firecracker Shrimp with a spicy Cajun sauce $14 and Bacon jam sea scallops $15. (Read the reviews)
Things to do in Muscle Shoals and Florence Alabama
Just over an hour’s drive from Huntsville, so easily doable as a day trip, is Muscle Shoals, which many people visit on a musical tour of the Southern States. In fact there are four cities in “The Shoals”; Muscle Shoals, Florence, Tuscumbia and Sheffield, but they merge into one area straddling the Tennessee River, so that you are never quite sure which of the four you are in.
Many music lovers are drawn there after watching The Muscle Shoals documentary (2013) which celebrates the Fame and Muscle Shoals Recording Studios, and the legendary artists who recorded there. The area is still famous for the talented musicians who live in the area to be close to the music studios at Memphis and Nashville, who you may find playing in the local music bars, but there are some other interesting to see in the area.
11. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio – hear about the music legends
Behind the doors of this inconspicuous building on a busy highway, you can discover the music history that was made at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Set up in 1969 by four talented session musicians who decided to leave the nearby Fame recording studio, it quickly built a reputation that attracted artists like Cher, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones to record there. It was said in the Muscle Shoals Documentary that “Each time a person went to Muscle Shoals, they came out of there with a hit.”
The studio is still in use by musicians, but it now mainly offers tours of the small recording studio, when you can hear some of the stories of what these music legends got up to. Take a photo on the same porch where the Rolling Stones stood after they recorded 3 songs at the studios while on a tour of the US (perhaps their productivity was down to the fact that Alabama was a dry state at the time?) or stand at the front where Cher was photographed for the cover of her first solo album, 3614 Jackson Highway.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Website | Read the reviews | Open daily 10am – 5pm | Tour tickets $15 | Best to ring ahead to book on a tour as schedules may change depending on whether the studio is in use.
12. Frank Lloyd Wright – the Rosenbaum House
This house in a suburb of Florence was built by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is now open to the public as a museum to visit on a guided tour. The house was built in 1939 for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum and is an example of Wright’s Usonian design, which was intended as an inexpensive family home that was affordable for every American family. Everything in the house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the house itself is relatively small, despite being extended as the Rosenbaum’s family grew, since the Wright philosophy was that as much time as possible should be spent outside enjoying nature.
13. Ivy Green – the Helen Keller Birthplace
If you have time you can also visit the birthplace of Helen Keller at Ivy Green which is near Muscle Shoals – sadly I didn’t have enough time to fit this in. As a baby, disease had left Helen Keller deaf and blind, but with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan she learned to communicate and went on to school and college, working throughout her life to help others who were blind and deaf. The house and grounds have been kept as they were at the time Helen Keller’s family lived there with information about her life and inspirational work.
Hotels in Florence and Muscle Shoals
Stay at Gunrunner Boutique Hotel
I loved staying at the Gunrunner Boutique Hotel, with 10 quirky and individually designed suites that are themed on local places and personalities. The Gunrunner is unassuming on the outside – the square brick building was once a car showroom with a central lift to take cars up to the first floor. But climb the stairs past the old Harley motorbike and you’ll reach the huge central bar area, with wood beams, brick walls and comfy vintage furniture. Each of the suites leads directly off this common area, so you feel a bit as if you are in some rockstar’s home with guitars and memorabilia scattered around.
I stayed in the Sam Phillips suite, named for the legendary record producer, who was born in Florence Alabama and managed stars like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis under his Sun Records label. My room was enormous with a retro sitting area, guitar ready for me to strum, a bar to mix a drink for any visiting music stars and en suite bathroom with claw foot bath and separate shower. Other suites were themed on the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Frank Lloyd Wright House and local fashion designer Billy Reid, each one thoughtfully designed to evoke the local heros. Entrance to the hotel and rooms is via key code so you come and go as if it was your home, and there’s a roof terrace which is a fun place to relax with a drink in the evening.
Lunch at Champy’s Fried Chicken, Muscle Shoals
For lunch in Muscle Shoals I can recommend Champy’s Fried Chicken, a roadside diner that’s part of a small group of restaurants around the South USA. There’s a certain 50s style in the melamine tabletops and checked PVC tablecloths, with a jukebox and neon signs, car and college memorabilia around the walls. This is where you can really get into the Southern style of cuisine with a basket of succulent fried chicken cooked to order, and sides of slaw, baked beans or French fries.
Dinner at Odettes in Florence
For dinner I was at Odettes which is less of the home cooking and more of the refined American fare. It’s all seasonal and sustainable with a nod to Southern flavours and seems to be the go-to restaurant for foodies in downtown Florence. Odettes is open through the day for lunch and brunch and at dinner I tried a couple of the smaller plates – the strawberry salad with pesto and an amazing charcuterie board of local cheeses, pickles and cured meats which the server was impressively able to recite the names of each of the dozen or more items.
More information for Visiting Florence and Muscle Shoals
Plan your visit to Florence and Muscle Shoals on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 87428299,
Getting around Florence: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned.
Getting to Florence and Muscle Shoals: It’s easy to fly into Huntsville Airport from numerous US destinations and if coming from the UK you can connect via Charlotte (as I did), Atlanta or other US airport hubs. You can then drive the 1 hr 25 mins from Huntsville to Florence and Muscle Shoals. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Driving time from Huntsville to Florence – 73 miles / 1 hr 25 mins
Driving time from Florence to Birmingham – 120 miles / 2 hrs
Things to do in Birmingham Alabama
Birmingham Alabama is a city the sprung up from no-where in the 1870s, its growth on the back of the iron and steel industry being so rapid that it was known as The Magic City. Of the places I visited in Alabama, Birmingham was the one that had the most “Big City” feel, with high rise office buildings and walkable streets laid out on a grid system. There was a slightly more edgy feel here; on the one hand a vibrant food scene with lively bars and restaurants, on the other I saw people in the park who were clearly homeless or unemployed. Birmingham is also one of the important stops on the Civil Rights Trail to learn about the protest movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King and other church leaders.
14. The Pizitz Food Hall – food stalls from around the world
After driving from Muscle Shoals, it was lunchtime as I arrived in Birmingham, perfect for my first stop at the Pizitz Food Hall. Birmingham locals told me of the days when the Pizitz was the leading department store in town and quite a treat to visit. The building has been converted into apartments on the upper floors with the food hall in the ground floor. I love food halls like this where you can eat around the world, ordering different dishes from any of the food stands, and buy a drink at the central bar.
I was looking for something healthy to offset some of the rib-sticking Southern fare I’d been eating, so I ordered a rainbow selection of salads from Eli’s Jerusalem grill and took it to the outside patio – baking hot even under the sun umbrellas. I liked the look of the Ethiopian buffet at Ghion Cultural Hall, and keeping it multicultural, there was also Vietnamese at PhoPho, Nepalese at Mo Mo and Hawaiian at Poke as well as more local cuisine with Alabama Biscuit and Piper & Leaf artisan teas.
15. 16th Street Baptist Church – learn about the Civil Rights movement
Birmingham Alabama is one of the most important places to visit on the Civil Rights Trail, linking important locations that were part of the fight for equal rights for African American citizens in the USA. 16th Street Baptist church is one of a cluster of places to learn about the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham and was the site of an infamous bombing in 1963, killing 4 young girls who were attending Sunday School. This atrocity by white supremacists in Birmingham brought the attention of the world onto the movement and sparked further protests in the city. I visited the church and joined a tour group to hear more about those events and the striking stained glass window above the entrance, that was donated by an artist from Wales.
16th Street Baptist Church website | 1530 6th Avenue North Birmingham, AL 35203 | Group tours for 10 or more by prior arrangement $5 per person | If you are not with a tour you can visit the church Tuesday – Saturday and it’s worth checking if there are any tours planned that day | closed for tours Sunday and Monday but visitors are welcome to join the Sunday service at 11am (Praise and worship from 10.45am).
16. Kelly Ingram Park – sculptures from the Civil Rights movement
Just across the road from 16th street Baptist church is the Kelly Ingram Park which is often used for community gatherings and events. There’s a charming sculpture of four little girls playing, which is chilling when you realise that these innocent children are depicted just before the bomb exploded that killed them in the church. Walking through the park are more sculptures that show snapshots from the civil rights protects of the early 1960s. Here are the children cowering as the water cannons are trained on them, the ferocious police dogs snarling on the leash and the children who were imprisoned en masse after the protests.
Kelly Ingram Park | Read Tripadvisor Reviews |16th Street Birmingham (opposite 16th street church) | always open and free | Free mobile phone tour explaining the sculptures is available to anyone with a mobile phone. The dial-in number is 205-307-5455
17. Birmingham Civil Rights institute – learn about the civil rights struggle in Birmingham
Cross the road again from Kelly Ingram Park and visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum that’s dedicated to the Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham. My visit started with a short video explaining the Civil Rights movement and at the end the screen rose to reveal the first gallery of the museum showing the realities of segregation.
White classrooms with the latest furniture and teaching aids contrast with the outdated and crowded black classroom, while a black teenager looks on enviously as white children of the same age have fun, knowing that the two groups are forbidden to meet or form friendships.
You’ll see a replica of the freedom riders bus, where white and black activists travelled together on the interstate buses to challenge illegal segregation and Rosa Parks who refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman. This is an excellent museum that’s a must-visit in Birmingham for all ages to illuminate the realities of life for Black and White in the 1960s in Alabama.
18. Historic Bethel Baptist Church – HQ of the Birmingham Civil Rights struggle
Across town I also visited an important church that was a centre of the Civil Rights movement, the Historic Bethel Baptist Church. While the congregation now worships at a larger, modern church just down the road, the original Bethel Baptist church has been preserved as a historic monument and is open for tours or by appointment. This was the church where Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth was pastor 1953 – 1961 and became a leader in the planning of Civil Rights protests in Alabama.
He was set upon by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members when he tried to enroll his children at an all white school and barely escaped with his life, and despite many other attacks he always advocated non-violent protest. The church became the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights which took action against segregation and the planning centre for the Freedom Rides action on the buses. Outside the church are information boards and you can see the ‘ghost house’ shape of the pastor’s house next to the church, which was destroyed in a bomb although Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth who was inside was miraculously unharmed.
Historic Bethel Baptist Church | Read the Tripadvisor Reviews | 3233 29th Ave. N., Birmingham | Tours Mon, Weds, Fri or by appointment (205) 324-8489
19. Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum
One area where the black community were allowed to excel was in sport and the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum is an interesting small museum about the baseball league that nurtured this talent. The museum brings together the artefacts, baseballs, player’s uniforms and trophies from the league, but more than this it tells the story of Negro league baseball – it was more than just a game! I enjoyed the hologram of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige showing just how fast he could pitch that baseball as you stand with it heading towards you.
20. Birmingham Museum of Arts
Although the Civil Rights attractions are an important part of any visit to Birmingham, there’s much more to see and I enjoyed visiting the Birmingham Museum of Arts which was just across the park from my hotel. When I was there a 60s style mural was being painted in the foyer, and giant glass flowers climbed around the staircase. I enjoyed the Sculpture Court at the back of the glass fronted facade with shallow pools and a curvy reclining nude, the American art gallery leading off from this and the Wedgwood collection of pottery, which was rather incongruous to find something so English so far from home.
21. Vulcan Park and Museum – Birmingham’s iron and steel heritage
I found it interesting to learn that Birmingham was a new city that sprung up from nothing in the 1870s, after deposits of iron ore were found conveniently close to the railroad. It was the iron and steel industry that provided jobs that brought people flicking here, including many freed slaves and immigrants. To learn more about this part of the city’s industrial heritage, you can visit the Vulcan Park and Museum and take the lift (or climb if you are energetic) to the top of the Vulcan statue. The gigantic iron statue of the bare bottomed god Vulcan was created for the St Louis World Fair in 1904 to represent the city, and was afterwards placed on a column overlooking the city, with a viewing platform that allows you to survey the whole of Birmingham.
22. Railroad Park – 19 acres of green space
I chanced upon Railroad Park as I walked around at the end of a long hot day, deciding on a whim to explore what I’d noticed on the map as one of the few large green spaces in Birmingham. Unlike many cities, Birmingham is not built on the banks of a river, so the 19 acre park which was created in 2010 provides a welcome open space for leisure and recreation. As the name suggests, the park runs alongside the railroad and there are boardwalks and pathways beside the lakes and water features, with plenty of places to stop and relax. As it was still hot even in the evening, I bought a welcome sno-cone from the Shymeer Ice van near the Cafe pavilion and wandered around for a while, enjoying the landscaped wetlands as the sun went down.
23. Magic City sign and the Rotary Trail
Close to Railroad Park I also noticed the famous Magic City sign which is a replica of an older sign and now marks the start of the Rotary Trail. The original sign stood in front of the Birmingham terminal station and the name “Magic City” was a reference to the speed with which Birmingham had sprung up from the 1870s to become a thriving and prosperous industrial hub by the 1920s. The sign was re-created to mark the Rotary Trail, which is a green corridor running for half a mile for walkers and cyclists to use and links to other trails in the city.
More information for Visiting Birmingham Alabama
Lots more information is available when you visit the Birmingham tourism website
Plan your visit to Birmingham on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Birmingham Alabama: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned, although much of the downtown area is easily walkable and taxis can also be used to get around.
Staying in Birmingham Alabama: I stayed at Tutwiler Hotel and you can check prices and book for a range of hotels in Birmingham Alabama here.
Getting to Birmingham Al: It’s easy to fly into Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport from numerous US destinations and if coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs. If visiting Birmingham as part of a road trip as I did, it is convenient to start in Atlanta or Huntsville and drive south through Alabama, or start in New Orleans or Pensacola and drive north. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Driving time from Florence to Birmingham – 120 miles / 2 hrs
Driving time from Birmingham to Selma – 90 miles / 1 hrs 40 mins
Driving time from Birmingham to Montgomery – 90 miles / 1 hrs 20 mins
Hotels in Birmingham Alabama
Stay in Birmingham at Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel
For the two nights I spent in Birmingham, I was in the grand and historic Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, which is very centrally located in the Downtown area. The Tutwiler Hotel opened in 1915 and was known as the Grande Dame of Southern Hotels, hosting the great and the good of Birmingham in a hotel that reflected the city’s prosperity at that time. Although it was replaced by in the 1970s by a high rise building for the Alabama Bank, the nearby luxury apartment building also created by Major Tutwiler, was transformed into the current 148 bedroom hotel run by Hampton Inn and Suites. The style here is classic, and I had a very elegant suite on one of the upper floors with classic wooden furniture and windows opening to the balcony.
Restaurants in Birmingham Alabama
Birmingham has gained a strong foodie reputation in the last few years and likes to call itself “The Dining Table of the South,” with some justification judging by the huge range of restaurants on offer. Chef Frank Stitt has put the city firmly on the gourmet map with his Highlands Restaurant, judged as the best restaurant in the USA in the prestigious James Beard Awards. While I didn’t get a chance to eat at Highlands (the wait for table is months long!) I did try a few other excellent places that I can personally recommend;
Pizitz Food Hall – I’ve already mentioned the Pizitz Food Hall which is a great stop, especially at lunchtime. Take your pick of cuisines from over 12 different food stalls, with a bar that’s a popular stop for cocktails and evening drinks.
Saws Soul Kitchen – Avondale is a fun neighbourhood to visit for relaxed dining, especially in the evening when there’s a lively bar and restaurant scene. One of the best is the small and unassuming Saws Soul Kitchen, where there are just a few tables but the queues can get quite long, just for those coming for takeaways. It’s a great place to try the famous BBQ meats and other Southern dishes, like their signature Pork & Greens, with pulled pork on a base of grits and sweet-sour collard greens, topped with onion rings – my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Alabama Peanut Company – I was intrigued by the idea of boiled peanuts, so stopped at the Alabama Peanut company on the pretty cobbled Morris Avenue to try them out. I learned that boiled peanuts are a popular snack when you are going to the beach, and even though they are boiled and served in their shells there’s a clever way that the flavour of Cajan spice or Dill Pickle permeate through to the peanuts inside. The Alabama Peanut Company is in a large, airy shop where they also roast and boil the peanuts, and you can sit and eat a few at the tables inside or browse some of their merchandise of t-shirts and baseball caps with the “Southern and Salty” slogan.
The Essential – Right next door to Alabama Peanut Company is a fun little neighbourhood restaurant The Essential, which was recommended to me so I thought I’d give it a try. I arrived early and was seated at the bar, but by the time I left it was packed with locals both inside and on their outside patio. The menu is full of well priced light dishes with a Southern take on world cuisine – I tried the Nicoise-ish salad with barely seared tuna on greens with egg, potato and olives and the butter croissant ice cream was incredibly rich and delicious. If I lived locally this is a restaurant that I’d be happy to return to time and again.
Bottega – For a rather special atmosphere and dining experience, try Bottega, set in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building in the Highlands neighbourhood of Birmingham. This is one of the restaurants run by Chef Frank Stitt and I loved the warm red walls and buzzing atmosphere of the Cafe with the more formal restaurant next door. The Bottega Cafe is inspired by the relaxed wine bars and trattorias of Italy, with plenty of Italian inspired dishes. I enjoyed my Dolphin fish from the specials menu and a slice of the signature coconut pecan cake which was extremely moist and moreish, with a drink of fresh lemonade with a hint of vanilla.
Just south of Birmingham Alabama
24. Clanton Peaches – the peach water tower and Peach Park
I’d heard that Clanton is the Peach Capital of Alabama and as I was heading south on the Route 65 Interstate, I decided to make a stop on my drive between Birmingham and Selma. I spotted the Peach Water Tower (yes it looks like a giant peach) and turned off at Exit 212 to have a closer look, parking at the Headley’s Big Peach Farm shop where there were plenty of juicy peaches on sale. I also treated myself to one of their peachy ice lollies from the freezer counter which came in a few different flavours.
I needed to press on to Selma and sadly didn’t have time to head on to the better known Peach Park just off Exit 205. The farm shop and restaurant complex selling everything peachy, has grown from the original roadside stall and now offers a whole range of food and gifts, selling peach ice cream, peach cobbler and lots of other peach products. Close by is another similar operation Durbin Farms Market where you can stock up on peach chutneys and preserves.
Things to do in Selma Alabama
Selma is around 1 hour from Montgomery and makes a great day trip, or half day stop on a road trip if you are touring Alabama. The town developed on the banks of the Alabama river as a centre to transport cotton and other goods down to the Gulf Coast. During the early 19th century Selma grew wealthy at the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt of rich agricultural land, and you can see the old buildings along Water Street, although now looking a little run down. Many people visit Selma to find out more about the Voting Rights movements and the Selma Marches that started here, with interest generated by the film “Selma” that dramatises the events of 1965 and the marches led by Dr Martin Luther King.
25. The Selma Interpretive Centre
The best place to start any visit to Selma is at the Interpretive Centre at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where you can pick up visitor information about all the things to do in Selma and find volunteers ready to help you. The Interpretive Centre forms the start of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail and there’s lots of information and audio-visual displays, so it’s worth spending some time to take a look.
You’ll learn about the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King and other church leaders, which was featured in the film “Selma” co-produced by Oprah Winfrey. The three marches brought publicity to the discrimination on voting rights in the state of Alabama and forced the US government of President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass legislation to outlaw discrimination in voting rights on the basis of race or colour.
Selma Interpretive Centre | Address: 2 Broad Street, Selma
26. Walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge
The Edmund Pettus bridge across the River Alabama is a landmark for the civil rights movement of the 1960s, since it was the starting point for the Selma marches of 1965. As protesters for black voting rights marched across the bridge on 7 March 1965, they were driven back by teargas and police wielding batons, an incident that became known as “Bloody Sunday”. A second march two days later was led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and other church leaders, but on crossing the bridge, they knelt to pray before turning back to avoid the risk of further confrontation and injuries, which became known as “Turnback Tuesday”. The final march started at the Edmund Pettus bridge on 17 March after the US courts granted permission for the march and ended with 25,000 people gathering on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, where Dr. King addressed the crowd.
Edmund Pettus Bridge | Public landmark, always open
27. Brown Chapel AME Church – the planning centre of the Selma marches
The Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church was the headquarters for the planning for the protest march of 1965 that became known as Bloody Sunday, and you can visit for a tour of the church to learn more by appointment. This was where the marchers assembled, and after having been driven back by tear gas and police batons, was where the injured were brought and taken to the local hospital. The church is still in use and was designated a National Historic landmark in 1997, with a monument to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. at the front of the church and an audio-guide that you can access from your phone.
Brown Chapel AME Church | Address: 410 Martin Luther King Street, Selma | Tours by appointment but you can visit to see the church exterior and Martin Luther King monument.
28. Sturdivant Hall – a beautiful Antebellum mansion
Before you leave Selma, be sure to take a drive around the Old Town historic district, where you will find many beautiful Antebellum homes built around the 1830s before the American Civil War. Sturdivant Hall is one of the finest Greek Revival style mansions in the Southeast and was built in 1952 as the townhouse for Colonel Edward Watts, who owned a plantation some distance from Selma.
With its striking columns and porticos, antique furniture of the period and fine furnishings, Sturdivant Hall offers a glimpse into the wealth that was generated by Alabama’s Black Belt, with fertile agricultural land that grew the cotton that was transported down the Alabama river. There’s a shop full of beautiful gifts in the old kitchen beside the house and a lovely garden to look around.
Sturdivant Hall Museum | Address: 713 Mabry Street, Selma | Visit for a tour or self-guided look around | Open Tues – Sat 10am – 4pm |
More information for visiting Selma Alabama
Lots more information is available when you visit the Selma and Dallas County Chamber tourism website
Plan your visit to Selma on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, email@example.com or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Selma Alabama: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned.
Staying in Selma Alabama: I did not stay in Selma but there are a number of smaller hotels and also apartments for rental through Airbnb like the Woolworth Lofts. The historic St James Hotel is set by the river and is currently undergoing renovation, to reopen as a boutique hotel which should help to rejuvenate the historic Water Avenue district.
Getting to Selma Al: Selma is easy to reach by road from either Birmingham or Montgomery, Alabama. The most convenient airport for Selma is either Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport or Montgomery Regional Airport, with flights from numerous US destinations. If coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs as I did and I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Driving time from Selma to Birmingham – 90 miles / 1 hr 40 mins
Driving time from Selma to Montgomery – 50 miles / 55 mins
Things to do in Montgomery Alabama
29. The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
If you’ve seen any of the Great Gatsby movies or read the books of F Scott Fitzgerald you’ll be in love with the glamour of the Jazz Age. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald seemed to epitomise the era of the Roaring 20s, a glamorous couple who travelled constantly and lived a restless and creative lifestyle. Zelda grew up in Montgomery and The Fitzgerald Museum is set in the house they rented for a year in the 1930s and is dedicated to their lives together.
I enjoyed looking around the downstairs rooms of the museum, with artefacts and memorabilia from their lives, including their letters to each other. Although the novels of F Scott Fitzgerald are better known, Zelda was also a talented painter and writer of the novel Save me the Waltz, with her beautiful paintings on show in the museum. I also stayed in one of the two apartments above the museum which are available to rent through Airbnb.
The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum | Address: 919 Felder Avenue, Montgomery | Open Weds-Sun 10am – 3pm | $10 Adult ticket |
30. Walk around downtown & riverfront of Montgomery
After arriving in Montgomery from Selma and looking around the museum, I headed into the Downtown area of Montgomery in the late afternoon for a look around. At the Riverfront Park I could see how the town of Montgomery must have thrived on the river traffic, located as it is on the high ground above a strategic bend of the Alabama River. From this wharf cotton bales would be loaded onto boats to be taken down river and the railroad, which arrived in 1840 made the city an important transportation hub.
As dusk fell my walk took me along Commerce Street, the main shopping and commercial street in the past which ends at the Court Square Fountain. It looked very pretty with flood lights lit up, but I later learned that this was built on the site of the Artesian well that supplied the town with water and was also the site of the slave market in Montgomery. Another fun story I heard at the museum was that Zelda Fitzgerald as a girl liked to jump into the fountain to cool off, wearing a nude bathing costume so that passers by were scandalised thinking she was naked! There are lots of historic markers around town that give you more information about the different things to see as you walk around Montgomery.
31. National Memorial for Peace and Justice – a memorial to the victims of lynching
Of all the places that I visited in Alabama, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as the Lynching memorial, is the one that stuck in my heart. This incredibly moving memorial was opened in 2018 and commemorates the victims of racial terror and lynching through hanging, shooting and burning that terrorised black communities in the Southern USA. Although the subject is horrific, the memorial itself is calm and dignified, using space and shape rather than graphic images to convey its meaning. 800 corroded steel columns represent all the counties of each state where lynchings took place, with the names of the victims engraved on each one. As you walk through the memorial the floor slopes down, until the columns hang above your head with inescapable symbolism. This is an extremely powerful memorial and one that you must visit and also take children to see, if you are in Alabama.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice | Address: 417 Caroline Street, Montgomery | Open daily except Tuesday 9am – 5pm | Adult ticket $5
32. The Legacy Museum – from slavery to mass incarceration
The partner to The National memorial is the Legacy Museum, situated in downtown Montgomery in an old brick warehouse that formerly held slaves waiting to be sold. The Legacy Museum packs just as powerful punch, although this time it’s through imagery, photography, video and audio-visual displays that follow the legacy of slavery and segregation to the present day. The witnesses are the faces and voices that speak to you; the slaves who describe the agony of being separated from their children and loved ones; the first hand video accounts of racial violence and the prisoners speaking from inside the Alabama prisons. The message is clear, that the inequality of black and white that originated in slavery continues to the present day, embedded in economic inequality and unequal treatment of the judicial system.
The Legacy Museum | Address: 115 Coosa Street, Montgomery | Open daily except Tuesday 9am – 7.30pm | Adult ticket $8 | No photography is allowed in the museum
33. The Alabama State Capitol building
From the Court Square fountain, Dexter Avenue leads up the hill to the imposing white columns and dome of the Greek Revival style Alabama State Capitol building. Built in 1851 on top of a hill that was originally known as Goat Hill due to its use as a grazing ground, the building briefly served as the capital of the Confederate states and has since been the seat of the Alabama state legislature. It was at the steps of this building that the third Selma march for voter rights ended in March 1965 and Dr Martin Luther King addressed a crowd of 25,000 people.
As it was a Sunday when I visited, I didn’t get a chance to look inside the building which is open on other days for public visits, when you can see the House of representatives, Senate Chamber, Old Supreme Court Chamber and Rotunda. However you can walk all around the building which has some pleasant gardens with trees and shrubs and see the replica of the Liberty Bell and the Avenue of Flags from all of the 50 states of the USA.
Alabama State Capitol Building | Open for self-guided visits Mon – Sat 8am – 4.30pm with some guided tours on Saturday | Free entry
34. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church – a historic landmark for the Civil Rights movement
The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church sits on the street corner within sight of the Alabama Capitol Building. Ironic since this was the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was pastor between 1954 and 1960. How many time must he have gazed at that seat of state government that enforced the policy of segregation and denied African Americans their rights to vote?
Because I was visiting Montgomery on a Sunday I didn’t see inside the church, although visitors are welcome to join Sunday worship. On Tuesday to Saturday you can make a tour of the church, which was the centre for planning the Montgomery bus boycott, see the pulpit where Dr. King preached and the mural documenting the key events of the Civil Rights movement. A few blocks away is the Dexter Parsonage Museum where Dr King and other pastors lived during their church ministry, which is now an interpretive centre and has been restored to look as it was when Dr King lived there with his family.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church | Address: 454 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery |Tours of both church and parsonage museum are available Tues – Sat each hour 10am – 4pm
35. Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
As I headed out of Montgomery, my final stop was the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, which is situated on a grassy campus just outside the downtown area, so you ideally need a car to get there. It moved to the current building on the Blount Cultural Park in the 1980s, having outgrown previous buildings in the city. The museum is a nice mix of contemporary and old masters and I especially enjoyed the colourful art glass, the collection of American painting and sculptures and the outdoor sculpture garden. There’s also a colourful children’s gallery and activity area, making this an ideal stop for families.
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Website | Open daily except closed Monday | Free entry
More information for Visiting Montgomery Alabama
Lots more information is available when you visit the Montgomery tourism website
Plan your visit to Montgomery on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Montgomery Alabama: I found that the Downtown area of Montgomery is very walkable, but most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned, as some are further afield.
Getting to Montgomery Al: It’s easy to fly to Montgomery Regional Airport, with flights from a number of US destinations. If coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs as I did or drive from a larger airport such as Atlanta. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices. If visiting Alabama as part of a road trip as I did, it is convenient to start in Huntsville to the north or Gulf Shore in the south.
Driving time from Montgomery to Birmingham – 90 miles / 1 hr 25 mins
Driving time from Montgomery to Mobile – 170 miles / 2 hrs 20 mins
Accommodation in Montgomery – the Fitzgerald Museum Apartments
It was fun to visit the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery and even more fun to stay in one of the two apartments upstairs. Although you don’t get out of hours access to the museum, the apartments are themselves a homage to the life and work of Scott and Zelda. I stayed in the Zelda Suite, with a portrait of Zelda hanging over the mantelpiece and enjoyed looking at the reproductions of her beautiful paintings and her framed letters to Scott.
The apartment is spacious and comfortable, and is decorated in the style of the 1930s when the couple lived there. There are two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen, all with a delightfully retro feel, as if you are visiting the home of your rather stylish grandmother.
Where to eat in Montgomery
I tried a few different restaurants in Montgomery and can personally recommend the following;
Cawhaba House for breakfast – The small frontage gives way to an airy diner, which is the perfect place to try Southern specialties for breakfast, brunch or lunch. You can build your own breakfast here with any combo you like, but I tried the Southern biscuit with pimento cheese biscuit, fried green tomato and crispy bacon $5 as well as some cinnamon beignets dusted with icing sugar $2. On your way out, treat yourself to a jar of the local preserves and jellies.|31 South Court Street Montgomery
Dreamland BBQ for lunch – Dreamland was packed when I visited on a Sunday lunchtime, with families queueing to get their fix of Southern BBQ, but luckily I squeezed in at the bar. Dreamland has 10 locations across the south and as you can imagine it’s all about the BBQ, with their smoked pork ribs being a specialty. Not sure I could handle the full-on meaty experience I opted for a lighter version of Smokehouse cobb salad, which still came with a generous portion of shredded BBQ pork on top $9.99| 12 West Jefferson Street, Montgomery
Central for dinner – Central is one of the leading restaurants in Montgomery for casual but upscale dining, using local ingredients and Southern flavours. It’s located in a large, airy space within the old brick warehouse in the Alley, a complex where there are a number of different restaurants all leading off the Alley. I tried a couple of smaller dishes, the smoked and fried pork belly with a tangy peach chutney $16 and the wedge of Iceberg salad topped with bacon, candied pecans and a blue cheese dressing $10| 129 Coosa Street, Montgomery
36. Priesters Pecans – everything made with Pecans!
Just south of Montgomery I stopped at Priesters Pecans in Fort Deposit, a restaurant and farm shop that’s dedicated to everything made with Pecan nuts. This was clearly a popular stop, with the car park full and crowds in the shop stocking up on the big bags of pecan nuts, pecan candies and pecan pies. I queued for some Pecan ice-cream, one of the many flavours on offer, although the server had difficulty understanding me when I asked for the Pee-can flavour, until she realised I meant Pe-caaan! Take your ice cream or pie out onto the porch where you can sit in a rocking chair to enjoy it, a relaxing stop before heading off on the Route 65 interstate again.
Priesters Pecans | 80 Bishop Bottom Rd, Fort Deposit | Turn off Route 65 at exit 142
Things to do in Mobile Alabama
It was fascinating to arrive in Mobile and find a city with a completely different feel to Birmingham and Montgomery. This port city on Alabama’s Gulf Coast has a much more relaxed and cosmopolitan feel, having been a cultural melting pot over the centuries, since being colonised by the French, British and Spanish in the 18th century. Areas of the downtown have the same wrought iron balconies that are familiar from New Orleans and the city is proud of being the original home of Mardi Gras. Carnival is a big deal here.
37. A wander down Dauphin Street
Dauphin Street is where you’ll want to start your visit to Mobile, running through the heart of the Downtown area, with pretty boutiques selling curiosities, antiques, arty gifts and crafty souvenirs. Many of the buildings have the shady wrought iron balconies that tell you you’re on the southern coast, and there’s a similar look as New Orleans, reminding you that this is the original home of Mardi Gras. The name is a reminder that Mobile was capital of the French colony of Louisiana in the 18th century and the street is named after the crown prince or Dauphin. As you walk along there are a couple of pretty squares where you can stop at Bienville Square and Cathedral Square.
38. The Oyster trail in Mobile
As I wandered along Dauphin Street I spotted some colourful painted Oyster Shell sculptures which are part of the Oyster Trail. The sculpture trail is a project by the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program with 12 stops around the downtown area and more around Mobile Bay. You can download a map of the painted Oyster sculptures around the Downtown area, which were painted by different artists in 2013. The Oyster gardening programme involves volunteers who farm oysters from their piers around the bay and the aim of the sculptures is to raise awareness of the importance of oysters in the bay’s eco-system.
More info: The Oyster Trail
39. Streetart around Mobile
Being from Bristol I love to see street-art murals and look out for them wherever I travel. Along Dauphin street there were quite a few fun murals including this Heart of Mobile mural which is definitely the spot for a selfie opportunity. Mobile clearly has a strong artistic community so look out for more of the street art in Mobile as you wander around, especially around the area of restaurants and bars where Wintzell’s Oysters is situated.
40. Mobile Carnival Museum – get into the spirit of Mardi Gras
You won’t go far in Mobile before discovering that the city is the home of the original Mardi Gras and that Carnival is a big deal here. Mardi Gras takes place in February each year with carnival floats, parades and balls, but you can learn more about it and enjoy the costumes all year round at the Mobile Carnival Museum. The exhibition space on three floors takes you through the origins of Mardi Gras which started in 1703 and you’ll see the colourful floats and incredibly elaborate jewelled costumes worn by the carnival kings and queens. There are 14 different galleries, with an introductory video and you can take a self guided audio tour through your phone.
41. Views from Dauphin’s restaurant
On the 34th floor of the RSA Trustmark Building in downtown Mobile, the Dauphin’s restaurant is a great place for lunch with views over the city. From our window table we could see across the city to the port area and the Mobile Bay beyond. The restaurant also offers a bar area serving small plates and the emphasis is on local produce and Creole influences with plenty of seafood, such as crab, shrimp and fresh fish from the Gulf.
Dauphin’s Restaurant website | Trustmark Building, 107 St Francis St, Mobile
42. Moon pies – to eat or throw as a Carnival favour
As I left the Trustmark Building after lunch at Dauphin’s I spotted the Moonpie store, selling gifts and souvenirs, as well as the sweet Moonpie confections that are a favourite of Mobile. This biscuit sandwiched with marshmallow and coated in chocolate, comes in lots of different flavours and originated at the Chattanooga Bakery in Tennessee. The Mobile connection comes because Moonpies are a popular favour to be thrown from the carnival floats to an eager crowd and are the one that everyone hopes to catch.
Moon Pie website | Shop at 107 St Francis St, Mobile
43. The Condé-Charlotte Museum – a historic Antebellum House
While there are many beautiful historic districts in Mobile, the Condé-Charlotte Museum is an Antebellum house that’s very centrally located in the downtown area, so easy to visit if you only have limited time. Although it was closed the day I visited, I stopped by for a photo of the pretty porch and balcony with Greek Revival style columns. You can take a tour of the house which was originally a courthouse and jail before becoming a family home and is full of elegant antiques and furnishings.
Condé-Charlotte Museum website | Address: 104 Theatre Street | Open Tues – Sat 11.30 – 3pm | Adult ticket $10
44. History Museum of Mobile
I popped into the History Museum of Mobile as I often find that these city museums are useful to get an insight into the history of the places you visit. There are some interesting exhibitions with miniature houses and fine table settings from Mardi Gras balls, but I especially enjoyed the temporary exhibition about the Sensational 60s, following the fashions of the decade, with novelties like the bikini and the trouser suit.
History Museum of Mobile | Address: 111 S Royal Street, Mobile | Open daily | Adult ticket $10
45. Historic Oakleigh House Museum – a beautiful Antebellum mansion
Oakleigh House sits in the historic Oakleigh Garden neighbourhood, with oaks that drip with moss and the pretty Washington Square that seems to epitomise gracious Southern living. Oakleigh House is a fine example of a Southern Antebellum mansion, built by cotton broker James Roper in the 1830s. I visited the house and luckily was able to join one of the tours which run every house, taking a walk through the history of the house which survived the civil war unscathed and was home to a number of Mobile’s leading families. There are a number of different historic districts around Mobile and you can pick up a map at the visitor bureau or find various driving trails on the Mobile Historic Development Commission website.
Historic Oakleigh House Museum Website | Address: 350 Oakleigh Place | Open Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon tours every hour | Adult ticket $10
46. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
My final place to visit in Mobile was the USS Alabama which is on the road heading out of town towards Gulf Shores. The warship was built for the US Navy in the 1940s and served through the Second World War before being decommissioned in 1962 when she returned to her home state to become a museum. There’s a lot to see here, and after exploring inside the ship and over the different deck levels in the exhausting heat, I had every respect for the crew who had to serve in what seemed like a baking oven of grey metal.
On the shore beside the ship there are lots of tanks and military vehicles on display, with more aircraft on display in the Medal of Honor Aircraft Pavilion. Also on display is the submarine USS Drum and you can walk through her cramped working quarters, although I found it just a bit too claustrophobic and decided to stay above deck.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park | Spanish Fort, Alabama | Open Daily Adult ticket $15
More information for Visiting Mobile Alabama
Lots more information is available when you visit the Mobile tourism website
Plan your visit to Alabama on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, email@example.com or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Mobile Alabama: I found that the Downtown area of Mobile is very walkable, but most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned, as some are further afield.
Getting to Mobile Al: It’s easy to fly to Pensacola Airport with flights from a number of US destinations. If coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs as I did or drive from a larger airport with direct UK flights such as New Orleans. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices. If visiting Alabama as part of a road trip as I did, it is convenient to start in Gulf Shore in the south.
Driving time from Mobile to Montgomery – 170 miles / 2 hrs 30 mins
Driving time from Mobile to Gulf Shores – 50 miles / 1 hr
Hotels in Mobile – Hampton Inn Mobile Downtown
While in Mobile I stayed in the Hampton Inn in the heart of the Downtown area, just around the corner from Dauphin Street where there’s lots going on. The busy hotel was full of guests on holiday, families coming and going and enjoying the small outdoor pool area behind the hotel. I enjoyed my stay in the extremely spacious suite with classic decor, two double beds and a large living area. There’s a car park for the use of guests behind the hotel, which is useful considering that the hotel is in the heart of the city.
Hampton Inn Mobile Downtown | Address: 62 S Royal Street, Mobile
Restaurants in Mobile Alabama
Dauphin’s – I enjoyed lunch with views over Mobile at Dauphin’s on the 34th floor of the Trustmark building, close to Dauphin Street. The menu has plenty of Gulf seafood and Cajun flavours and I tried the signature dish of Gumbo Z’ herb, a broth of greens, local Conecuh sausage and smoked meats, which was delicious together with a Power Greens Salad, washed down with fresh lemonade flavoured with thyme.
Winszell’s Oyster House – This is a bit of a Mobile institution and although there are a number of Wintzell’s locations in Alabama, the one where I ate in Mobile on Dauphin Street is the original restaurant. It’s all about the seafood here, with a menu full of crab, shrimp and above all the oysters. I hate to think how many oysters they get through, which are served by the dozen and half dozen “fried, stewed or nude”. I tried the Oysters Rockefeller, cooked with spinach and butter sauce as well as a plate of West Indies Salad, a local dish of crab meat dressed with oil and vinegar.
Things to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are two towns on Alabama’s Gulf coast that merge into one, so are generally treated together as one area. This is a popular holiday destination for visitors from the USA who come for the beautiful white sand beaches backed with dunes and the Gulf State Park with lakes and trails. It’s all about beach and nature here but there are plenty of fun activities to try, as you explore the natural park and coastline and connect with its flora and fauna.
47. Cycling in Gulf State Park
The 6000 acres of Gulf State Park includes two miles of unspoiled white sand beaches and the lake and wetland area that sits inland, on the other side of the beach road. The three lakes are surrounded by trails and boardwalks, making it easy to explore on foot or better still by bike. There are a number of locations to hire a bike and I picked up one at the Lake Shelby picnic area where kayaks, paddleboards and canoes could also be hired. I cycled along the trail, over the bridges and stopped at the Nature Centre by Middle Lake, where there was lots of information about the wildlife in the park, with picnic spots and warnings not to feed the alligators!
Gulf State Park | Bike hire at Lake Shelby $25 per day
48. Go the beach – Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Of course this area is mainly a holiday destination, especially for visitors from the USA who drive from other parts of Alabama and out of state to stay in the many condos (holiday apartments) that line the beach. The quieter section of the beach is within the state park, since the only accommodation permitted is the recently built hotel The Lodge, where there’s an area of public sunbeds for hire. The beach is also a nesting site for sea turtles, with education programmes to “Leave only footprints” and a bigger emphasis here on being eco-friendly than I saw elsewhere in Alabama. There are car parks for many sections of the beach and cycling is easy here, with a long pier that’s popular for fishing. More info: Alabama Beaches
49. Take a Dolphin cruise from Gulf Shores
One of the favourite parts of my visit to Gulf Shores was the Dolphin cruise I took with Cetacean Cruises from the landing stage near The Wharf Marina. We set off in the mid afternoon and I must admit it was blisteringly hot to start with, but once we headed out into the lagoons the breeze picked up and we spotted quite a few dolphins playing around the boat at a safe distance. They were difficult to photograph, briefly coming up for air and then diving down again, until we saw a shrimp boat where the Dolphins loved to hang out, getting a free meal from the discarded catch. It was a fun trip out on the water with the sail up, keeping a sharp look out for dolphins, with some excellent information from the crew who also served drinks on board and helped out with photos.
Cetacean Cruises website | Dolphin and Sailing cruise from $27 | 4673 Wharf Parkway West, Orange Beach
50. Visit Fort Morgan and take a trip to Dauphin Island
An easy day trip from Gulf Shores is Fort Morgan which is just a 30 minute drive along the coast and sits at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Its strategic position controlling the mouth of the bay and access to the port of Mobile made it a key site during the American Civil War and subsequent conflicts. From Fort Morgan you can easily take the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island, for a scenic cruise across the bay and a visit to the corresponding Fort Gaines on the other side. Although I didn’t have time to take this trip, I thought it would be an interesting thing to do if you want a change from the beach.
Fort Morgan Website | Open Daily | Adult ticket $7
More information for Visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama
Lots more information is available when you visit the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach tourism website
Plan your visit to Alabama on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Getting around Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned, but you can also easily rent bikes to use in the Gulf State Park and beach area.
Staying in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama: I stayed at the Hotel Indigo Orange Beach – you can check prices and book for a range of hotels in Gulf Shores Alabama here.
Getting to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Al: It’s easy to fly to Pensacola Airport with flights from a number of US destinations. If coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs as I did or drive from a larger airport with direct UK flights such as New Orleans. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Driving time from Gulf Shores to Mobile – 50 miles / 1 hr
Driving time from Gulf Shores to Pensacola Airport – 40 miles / 1 hr
Hotels in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Stay – Hotel Indigo Orange Beach
For the couple of nights I was in Gulf Shores I stayed at the delightful Hotel Indigo, set just across the road from the beach, with a hotel shuttle to drop you off at the beach pavilion. This is a stylish boutique hotel with mostly larger suite style rooms, with relaxed contemporary decor that echoes the colours of the ocean. The minimum check-in age of 25 means that there’s a calm feel here, with a large lobby complete with swings, a restaurant and bar area and a large pool with sunbeds. I loved having the extra space of a large sitting area and fridge, with the feel of being in my own apartment but with all the amenities of a hotel. Next door is the Southern Grind Cafe where you can eat brunch and lunch or shop for fun gifts and homeware. The hotel is dog friendly and many guests rent bikes to cycle from here along the Backcountry trail that starts just behind the hotel.
Hotel Indigo Orange Beach Website | 22843 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
Stay – The Lodge at Gulf State Park
Although I didn’t stay there, I also had a chance to visit the Lodge at Gulf State Park, a beautiful new resort hotel that was opened just a year ago. The hotel is run by Hilton Hotels, but owned by the State of Alabama, which means that revenues generated go to support other state parks in Alabama. The rooms here are pale and understated and the wood clad hotel has a unique position overlooking the sand dunes and protected beach, since no other development is permitted in the State Park. There’s a strong emphasis within the hotel on conservation and I enjoyed a beach view lunch at their relaxed Foodcraft restaurant.
The Lodge at Gulf State Park | 21196 E Beach Boulevard, Gulf Shores
Where to eat in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Woodside Restaurant – for breakfast | A relaxed cafe that’s on the edge of the Gulf State Park near Lake Shelby and the ideal place to stop for breakfast or brunch if you are cycling around the lake. I tried the South Island Parfait $6 with fresh fruit and banana bread served with Greek yoghurt and honey.
Foodcraft – for lunch | This is the more casual of the two restaurants in The Lodge with an air conditioned inside area and a deck overlooking the beach. Breakfast is also served here for the hotel and the lunchtime menu includes lots of light dishes like soup, sandwiches and salads. I tried the fried oysters on flatbread with arugula salad, bacon and mozzarella $17 – delicious!
The Gulf – for dinner | I loved the buzzing beach club feel of The Gulf, the reclaimed metal shipping containers reminding me of Bristol. It’s a huge area overlooking the water, where you order at one of the two kitchens and then your dinner is brought to you at the outside dining tables. Although it was packed with families and friends on holiday, somehow it all worked and I loved my shrimp tacos $13 washed down with fresh lemonade.
Cobalt – for dinner | For something a bit more upscale try Cobalt, which is hugely popular (I just squeezed in at the bar) and has a large outdoor patio overlooking the water at Perdido Bay. I enjoyed the tuna salad $16 with barely seared fish on a salad with pecans, goats cheese and pickled vegetables as well as BBQ Gulf Shrimp sauteed in butter sauce $13
Wow! congratulations if you made it to the end of this article! I know it’s a long one but I wanted to showcase the tremendous variety in the state of Alabama that makes it the perfect road trip destination. No longer can you say “What’s there to see in Alabama?” – I hope I’ve given you the answer!
Map of Alabama
You can use this map of Alabama that I’ve made to easily find all the places mentioned in my article
More information for Visiting Alabama
Plan your visit to Alabama on the Alabama Tourism website and book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,270 per person (based on 2 people sharing room only) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays.
This price is based on 2 nights Marriott Huntsville, 1 night GunRunner Hotel Florence, 2 nights Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham Downtown Tutwiler, 1 night Hampton Inn & Suites Montgomery Downtown, 1 night Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Historic District Mobile and 2 nights Hotel Indigo Orange Beach. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, email@example.com or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com
Hotels in Alabama: You can check prices and book for range of hotels in Alabama here.
Getting to Alabama: It’s easy to fly direct from the UK to the USA via nearby airports such as Atlanta or New Orleans or you can connect via numerous US airport hubs and then flying on to regional airports such as Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery or Pensacola. I recommend using Skyscanner to search for the best routes and prices.
Hotels in Huntsville
This article was sponsored* by Alabama Travel and America as you like it who provided the experiences mentioned while I was in Alabama.
* More info on my policies page