6 Fun Places to Visit in Alabama
“Sweet Home, Alabama, where the skies are so blue.” Everybody knows the lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most famous song, but how many have explored the state? Alabama is not a state that many associate with tourists, but if you visit, you will see how much this beautiful state has to offer. Here are six fun places to visit in Alabama that I recommend seeing at least once. You’ll be glad you did.
(this article was originally written in Jan 2016, but updated in April 2020)
Montgomery, surprising to many, is the capital of Alabama. The Alabama Capitol Complex is stunning and one of my favorites in the country. It is decorated in proud Greek Revival and listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the First Confederate Capitol.
USA Today named Montgomery, Alabama, the #1 Best Historic City in the ‘Readers Choice Travel Awards’. Montgomery offers a revitalized riverfront pedestrian area and a plethora of historical events. My favorite thing to do is to drive through the historic Garden District and admire the antebellum homes and mansions. I picture myself sitting on one of the massive porches in a white rocking chair, sipping a cold glass of iced tea.
Montgomery has noteworthy museums, foodie-worthy gourmet restaurants, an impressive craft beer scene, and a zoo. History buffs will appreciate Montgomery’s 88′ tall Confederate Memorial Monument, dedicated to the 100K+ Confederate veterans of the Civil War. It is a beauty.
For me, a lover of anything flag-related, the Avenue of Flags, is fantastic. This collection of every United States flag has a native stone from each state and is on the South wing of Montgomery’s capitol grounds.
Mobile (pronounced Mob-EEL) is a historic city on the Gulf Coast with charming homes, pristine colleges & universities, and a thriving cultural scene. Carnival Cruise Lines made Mobile a port for sailing the Caribbean. Photogenic squares are abundant throughout this city, as well as picturesque bridges and a beautiful skyline. Also impressive is the list of concerts and cultural events that find their way to Mobile. I recommend Bayfest, a three-day festival with 125 live music acts.
A crowd-pleaser in Mobile is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The decommissioned ship was launched in 1942 and made Alabama its permanent home after a successful campaign to bring the vessel back in 1964. This remarkable ship, nicknamed “the Mighty A” has the capability of firing shells as heavy as a car for 20 miles with profound accuracy.
The Memorial Park has aircraft and military vessels from several wars, as well as a B-52 bomber.
Mobile’s downtown square is a local favorite. I like to people watch around the square, which is busy with local traffic and playful squirrels. Be sure to browse the cool shops that adorn the brick sidewalks.
For dinner, try Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Guy Fieri pick, and a Gulf Coast tradition since 1938. The oyster shucker is Instagram video-worthy.
For the best photographs in Mobile, my pick is I-10 toward the George Wallace underwater tunnel and at the RSA Battlehouse Tower. Mobile also holds the title for the oldest Carnival (Mardi Gras) celebration in America. With over 900 places of worship, one may find themselves in the true “Bible Belt” in Mobile.
FYI: Mobile was the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. For the next 100 years, it would be ruled by the French, British, and Spanish flags, then eventually sold to the US in 1813.
Known as the “Rocket City,” Huntsville is most notably known for the Marshall Space Flight Center/NASA and the US Space and Rocket Center. It offers a plethora of other attractions and activities as well. Huntsville is a family-friendly mid-size city where most things are within 15 minutes of each other, making the city easy and relaxing to navigate.
Huntsville has over 3000 acres of parks and green space, making it an ideal outdoor recreation destination. The Huntsville Botanical Garden is the number one tourist attraction as rated on TripAdvisor, and their butterfly exhibit is worth the visit alone. One of the biggest parks is Big Spring Park International Park, the center of downtown and the site of frequent outdoor concerts and festivals. Nearby is Cotton Row, a 2015 USA Today Top 10 Best Southern Fine Dining Restaurant that was voted #1.
Rocket City is quickly becoming a force in the craft brewing world. There are currently nine breweries in the area, including both chain and local breweries. After going over 70 years without a single commercial locally brewed beer, things have quickly progressed. Thus, when in the area, make sure to stop by a few for some tastings. In addition to great beer, they are perfect places to meet locals to get other recommendations.
Fairhope, on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay, wins the prize as my favorite city in Alabama. This darling town has over 100 unique stores, art galleries, and priceless antique stores, along with foodie-worthy eateries. Be sure to visit the funky coffee shop, relaxing parks, and Fairhope Municipal Pier, a great place to stroll around and people watch. Lots of picnics and events take place in this scenic setting, which also features walking trails and fishing. I first read about this delightful place in Southern Living magazine and knew I would love it before even visiting.
My favorite places to eat in Fairhope are Panini Pete’s (the burgers will knock your socks off!) and Dragonfly, known for the innovative Asian-inspired rice and noodle bowls.
The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort Golf Club and Spa is a great place to have dinner and a sunset walk around the bay. The food is magnificent and service, impeccable. Though the Marriott Resort is actually in Point Clear, all locals refer to it as being in Fairhope. Who am I to argue with them?
#5 Natural Bridge
My daughter and I stumbled upon this beauty while driving the backroads through Alabama. I’ll have to say that it was a pleasant surprise! The Natural Bridge Park of Alabama is a rock bridge formation made of iron ore and sandstone with an arch measuring a 148 feet span. With a height of 60 feet, that makes Alabama’s Natural Bridge (dating back 200 million years by geologists) the longest east of the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed climbing through the rock formations to take fun pictures. Heed caution as the rocks can be very slippery.
Both Southern and Northern Civil War troops used trails in the Natural Bridge area; therefore, many soldier graves are nearby. Along the trail paths, you will encounter around 27 kinds of ferns in the damp grounds and murky climate. A variety of hemlock trees that date back to the Ice Age also dot the landscape.
Natural Bridge Park has a warm and welcoming gift shop so you can take home a souvenir from your visit.
#6 Orange Beach/Gulf Shores
When you think of Alabama, do you think of beaches? Unless you are familiar with the state, chances are you are most apt to think Southern accents and football. However, Alabama has some of the best beaches in the country, that lie beside the Emerald Coast.
While Florida’s beaches tend to overshadow those in Alabama, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are worth getting to know. Used synonymously, both offer many family-friendly indoor and outdoor activities with a 32-mile stretch of sugar-white beaches. The water is generally warm, which is a bonus.
A trip to this area would not be complete without a visit to the famous Flora-Bama. Founded in 1962, Flora-Bama (an enormous lounge and oyster bar) is a popular attraction and known for a good time. It gets its name because it is found just beside the line that divides the states of Alabama and Florida. The Flora-Bama hosts annual events such as the Mullet Toss, Shindig on the Sand, Fishing Rodeo, and Super Bowl Chili Cook-off. You have got to check these events out for yourself!
A little over eight miles away lies the beautiful Wharf, the Gulf Coast’s premier shopping and dining destination, often featuring concerts at their outdoor amphitheater.
The Gulf Shores State Park was named one of “The 50 Best State Parks in America” by Yahoo. It boasts beautiful beaches and an outdoor pavilion with concession stands, picnic tables, and bathrooms with showers. There is also a free public beach area offering similar amenities. Both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are optimal places for shopping, historical attractions, art galleries, a family get together, vacation, or road trip.
Where Will You Travel in Alabama?
What did you think of these great places to visit in Alabama? The state has so many beautiful offerings that it is hard to narrow down what cities to visit.
Do you have any other locations that you would recommend?
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A special thanks to Tara and Erica Cotten of Trippin Twins for helping write this article. After all, Alabama is their alma mater.
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