With its brilliant white Gulf beaches, beautiful mountains, soulful cuisine, and top-notch entertainment, Alabama is an excellent place for an extended vacation or a quick escape. Travelers from other regions quickly realize why Alabama is known as the “State of Surprises.” From its rich history and culture to its quirky, off-the-beaten attractions, the state offers something exciting to discover around every bend. If you’re new to Alabama or a long-time resident, you can spend countless weekends exploring the state’s wilderness areas, backroads, and thriving cities.
As you’re poring over maps and doing research for your next great getaway, consider the following reasons that you should add Alabama to your travel calendar.
Nature at Its Finest
They don’t call it “Alabama the Beautiful” for nothing! The state is an ecological and geological wonderland. In the northern part of the state, you can experience deep canyons with towering waterfalls like those found at Tuscumbia’s Cane Creek Nature Preserve, the Sipsey Wilderness (known as the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls”), and Bankhead National Forest.
Take in the incredible views of the rolling Southern Appalachians from the rocky bluffs of the Talladega National Forest. Search for bald eagles at Lake Guntersville State Park and glimpse hundreds of other species of birds along Alabama Birding Trails. You can even get eye-to-eye with an alligator in the bayous of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.
Although Alabama has a relatively small footprint along the Gulf of Mexico, it has some of its finest beaches. About 31 miles of sugary white sand hugs the turquoise waters of the Gulf.
The towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer everything you could desire in a beach vacation. The sugary white sand, clear waters, and calm surf make this a prime spot for the whole family to enjoy. From condos to rental houses, you’ll find accommodations to suit large and small groups and just about any budget. And what would a seaside area be without amusement parks? Cool down on the giant waterslides of Waterville U.S.A., or take a death-defying ride on the Rollin’ Thunder at OWA amusement park.
Hiking, paddling, climbing, fishing—you can do just about any outdoor activity in the wild areas of Alabama. Ever wanted to thru-hike a classic long trail? Try hiking the state’s famous long path, the 170-mile Pinhoti Trail, which winds along the ridges of the southern-most Appalachians. Grab a paddle and shoot the rapids on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River or Flint Creek. Seeking a more leisurely float? Do a day trip on one of the state’s many blackwater rivers like the Perdido in Baldwin County or Escatawpa in Mobile County.
For a unique paddling adventure, follow the Bartram Canoe Trail through the dark, mysterious bayous and backwaters of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, which has been called “America’s Amazon.”
For those who prefer to explore on two wheels, Alabama offers world-class singletrack mountain bike paths at Chewacla State Park and Oak Mountain State Park. If you love to climb, you’ll find some of the world’s best bouldering at Horse Pens 40 northeast of Birmingham near in the town of Steele. Experienced climbers should head to the northeast corner of the state to try some of the challenging routes in Little River Canyon.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, Alabama is probably best known for its outstanding fishing. There are more than 132,000 miles of rivers, streams, and of course, the Gulf of Mexico, where you can wet your line. Try for record-breaking largemouth bass on Wilson Lake in northwest Alabama. Or, head to the other end of the state to catch king mackerel or red snapper from the 1,540-foot-long Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier.
Arts and Entertainment
If you like to plan your vacation around top-notch entertainment, you’ll find great music venues and theaters throughout Alabama. All of the major cities—Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile—have excellent symphonic orchestras that perform everything from Mozart to John Williams. Throughout the state, clubs and dinner theaters host a wide variety of live music. Jazz lovers should plan to spend an evening at Jazzi’s on 3rd in Birmingham, while fans of rock and other contemporary styles can hear local and national artists at Soul Café in Mobile.
As the home state of Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, and the band Alabama, the state has a rich musical history. To learn more, visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. Or, head north to Florence to tour the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studios. Fantastic artists like The Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin produced some of their greatest hits at these studios.
One of Alabama’s most significant impacts on history has been its involvement in space flight. At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, you can get an in-depth look at the glorious past and amazing future of the nation’s space program. The museum’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration holds an actual Saturn V rocket and other fascinating artifacts, while museum films and exhibits detail efforts to put people on Mars.
Perhaps the most powerful and stirring museum in Alabama is Montgomery’s Legacy Museum. It chronicles the sadness and horrors of slavery throughout history with displays that will touch every heart. You should allow plenty of time to examine the many memorials with the names of individuals who died from lynching.
As a state that touches the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama has also been shaped by its maritime history. The Gulfquest National Maritime Museum in Mobile chronicles the city’s importance as a port town and Alabama’s role in global trade. The museum includes dozens of interactive exhibits including one where you can pilot a tanker ship into the port. While you’re in Mobile, be sure to visit the Mobile Carnival Museum, which traces the history of Mardi Gras from its birth in the Port City to current-day festivities.
The Best Southern Eats
Oh, sure, barbecue from Kansas City and St. Louis is good, but it’s not Alabama BBQ! Dive into a mouthwatering three-bone rib sandwich at Campbells BBQ in Talladega, or sit down to a pork plate at Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q in Bessemer. Sink your teeth into tangy hickory-smoked pork ribs at the world-famous Dreamland BBQ in Northport, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Mobile. And don’t miss the legendary white sauce at Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur.
And we can’t leave out the seafood. You’ll find some of the finest—and freshest —down south in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Locals will tell you that there’s none better than the Original Oyster House and the Bluegill Restaurant on the Causeway that crosses Mobile Bay. Both serve delectable fried, flamed, and half-shell oysters and dozens of mouthwatering fish and crab dishes all caught fresh from the bay and Gulf.
Oh, and few people know this, but two Southern seafood delicacies were created right in Mobile—the West Indies Salad and gumbo. That’s right. Legend has it that the first gumbo was boiled up in North America by the first women who came to the fledgling city from France around 1704. The tradition lives on.
If you who love offbeat, weird, and quirky attractions, you’ll find plenty of oddities while wandering Alabama’s backroads. In Andalusia, watch in awe as players vie for the World Domino Championship. In Elberta, the townspeople pay tribute to England’s Stonehenge at “Bamahenge.” Or, head to Florence to see Tom’s Wall, the world’s longest memorial to an Indian. Tom Hendrix built this stone wall to honor his great-great-grandmother, who was Native American. The wall is made of 8.5 million pounds of individual rocks that serpentine across the landscape for more than a mile.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.