Alabama is jam packed all year long with fun festivals and events that celebrate the best of the South. From southern BBQ to Mardi Gras to music, there are plenty of great reasons to pack a cooler, grab your friends, and explore the abundance of outdoor events the state has to offer. Here, 10 Alabama festivals and events not to miss this year.
1. Mercedes Marathon; Birmingham, February
There’s something for everyone during the weekend of the Mercedes Marathon, which takes place the second weekend in February: the Marathon, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay, or Regions Superhero 5K. Now in its 16th year, the Mercedes Marathon has become a Birmingham tradition that has helped raise millions of dollars for local charities. Stop by the Health and Fitness Expo, which is free and open to the public. Relax with a craft beer from the Good People Brewing Co. Beer Garden and make sure to indulge in some Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ.
2. Mardi Gras; Mobile, February
Fifteen years before New Orleans was founded, Mobile celebrated what is now the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States. Since its origins in 1703, the three-week celebration in February is still going strong with parades, marching bands, and festivities. Don your most elaborate mask and get ready to snag beads and doubloons at one of Mobile’s numerous parades, or, if you’re lucky enough to score an invitation to one of the balls, dust off your coat tails or evening gown for a truly memorable night. And local bars are always reliable spots for lively Mardi Gras revelry.
3. Baldwin County Strawberry Festival; Loxley, April
This beloved fruit is the main attraction the second weekend in April at this two-day festival, and more than 180 art and craft exhibitors, a dozen food vendors (strawberry shortcake is a staple), music, and antique auto show round out the action. And as of 2017, there’s a 5K to help you work off all the shortcake (bonus: it also supports local causes). Make a weekend out of it and head over to Alligator Alley, where you can see more than 450 alligators in their natural habitat.
4. Tour de Blue; Moody, April
Beginning and intermediate-level cyclists, this one’s for you: The Tour de Blue and its three distance options—50-, 76-, and 100-mile rides—offer a challenging, two-wheeled exploration of Alabama. The ride takes place the last weekend in April and is hailed as one of the most scenic routes in the state. Riders will enjoy ascending Blount Mountain and cruising along McClendon Gap, then get a look at Chandler Mountain before riding through the historic town of Asheville.
5. Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic; Decatur, Memorial Day Weekend
In the mid 1970’s, Decatur purchased a hot air balloon. Some 40 years later, the town now holds the oldest hot air balloon race in the mid-South. Sixty pilots take to the air, some competing in the Hare and Hound Race, while other balloonists participate in stunts like trying to grab a ring off the top of a tall pole while mid-flight. Stick around until evening for the Balloon Glow and a chance for a free tethered balloon ride this Memorial Day Weekend.
6. HangOut Music Fest; Gulf Shores, May
Gather your music-loving friends and head to Gulf Shores the third weekend in May for the HangOut Music Fest. Multiple stages offer a mix of electronic, rock, hip-hop, indie, and jam bands. With its breezy beachside setting, the festival, which is complete with activities and attractions such as the Hammock Beach, an obstacle course, beach volleyball, ferris wheel, food and beer, offers something for both beach lovers and music buffs.
7. Rock the South; Cullman, June
What started as an event to mark a year-long recovery effort after devastating tornadoes, Rock the South is now known as the "biggest party in the South." Spirits and money are raised in equal parts at this annual country music festival that celebrates Southern culture, family, community, and giving back. Rock the South has raised more $400,000 for local charities and, as of 2017, will offer on-site camping. There are also some glamping options for those who prefer creature comforts while roughing it.
8. Alabama Renaissance Faire; Florence, October
Take a break from the daily grind and get medieval with this festival, which features sword fights, musicians, jugglers, and magicians. A chess tournament and sonnet writing contest add to the fun. Held on the third weekend in October, the Faire has a full food court, but for a culinary treat, consider the Renaissance Feast, a 10-course affair that takes place a week beforehand. Bonus? The festival and all its merriment are free (but when the hat is passed tokens of appreciation are welcomed, too).
9. Peanut Festival; Dothan, November
It’s only fitting that the nation’s largest peanut festival is held in Dothan, the peanut capital of the world, to celebrate the harvest and the hardworking farmers that make it happen. This 10- day festival is spread over 200 acres, complete with amusement rides, music concerts, ag demonstrations, fireworks, and, of course, piles of peanuts.
10. Galaxy of Lights; Huntsville, November-December
A delightful family outing and fun Southern tradition, the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s Galaxy of Lights is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Tune into the Christmas radio station while you gaze at beautiful displays of light and color. If you want to get a head start on burning off the holiday treats, opt to go on a walking night, which are held in early and mid-November and offer a fun, car-free way to experience the magic.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.