When you explore Alabama by road, you’ll see the truth of those welcoming words and discover that the beauty of ‘Bama goes beyond the lush landscape. You might leave with hundreds of photos of stunning scenery, but you’ll never forget that stranger waving to you from their front porch as you drove into their small town or the taste of that homemade pie you had at the hole-in-the-wall diner. Sure, we’ve got some eccentricities, but we embrace our quirkiness.
Whether you’re visiting our favorite places at the top of the state or winding your way down to the bottom of a bottle at the FloraBama, you should take the scenic highways and byways whenever possible (boooo interstate). These routes take you to Alabama instead of through Alabama. They are the scenic country roads that lead you to small town main streets and the roadside BBQ shacks and diners that are the hallmarks of a classic road trip.
Road Trip Essentials & Tips
- Snacks on snacks on snacks: Ideally you’ll discover local treats on the road, but it’s always a good idea to have a supply of munchies on hand in case somebody gets hangry.
- First Aid: Specifically, drugs. Dramamine, Claritin, Imodium—whatever you need to keep yourself comfortable should your body betray you when you’re trying to enjoy long, windows-down drives and local cuisine.
- The Usual: A map (GPS), sunglasses, back-up sunglasses, good company, and a well crafted playlist that should probably include, “Sweet Home Alabama,” because … theme song. Press play and start driving.
- Clean Up: Have a stash of napkins in your car, and something that can function as a trash bag. Smelling like the former contents of the wrapper you sat on for two hours can really kill your road trip vibes.
- Sunscreen: If you’re driving, don’t forget to put sunscreen on your left arm. Unless, you consider the telltale one arm burn a road trip rite of passage. When you’re not in the car, slather yourself with the highest SPF you can find. This is Alabama—the sun will find your delicate skin. Don’t let that cloud fool you—it’s not blocking anything.
- Driver’s Seat Strategy: Ladies, call shotgun! You’ll have some of the best conversations of your relationship when road tripping as a couple. If he’s driving, he can’t go anywhere, fall asleep, or look at his phone. Victory! Alternatively, if say, you’d like to listen to an audiobook and he’d rather tuck and roll out of a moving vehicle than be subject to that, you can volunteer to drive. Leave early in the morning, and give him a pillow. He’ll snooze in the passenger’s seat while you listen to whatever you want.
North and Central Alabama
Lookout Mountain Parkway
This Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the country and stretches through Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Start in Gadsden, AL at Noccalula Falls Park and head northeast to the small town of Mentone (or vise-versa). There will be plenty of scenic vistas and stretches of country road on the way to a quaint mountain retreat
- Noccalula Falls Park & Desoto State Park: Do go chasing waterfalls. Grab a trail map and hike to a waterfall in one or both of these parks.
- The Longest Yard Sale in the World: (also called “The 127 Sale”) If you drive the Parkway in August, you can’t miss this four-day event set up along Lookout Mountain Parkway and the US 127 Corridor.
- Wildflower Cafe: Have lunch at this bric-a-brac filled charmer in Mentone. Try their signature tomato pie, the sweet potato biscuits, and the hummingbird cake.
- Mountain View Inn-B&B: You can’t beat the view at this place. It’s perched right on the edge of Lookout Mountain. There are also many cabin rentals available in the area.
Bizarre Pit Stop: Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro
It’s not the bargain hunter’s paradise that it was in the pre-internet era (the store knows the value of the high quality items and prices them accordingly), but it’s still an odd and entertaining roadside attraction. The Baggage Experience gives customers a chance to open an unprocessed bag (go through someone’s recently arrived unclaimed luggage). There’s something kind of sad about rooting through people’s lost things, but even if you’re not looking to claim any of the unclaimed for yourself, it’s fascinating to see the items and people that end up at this 40,000 square foot store in the middle of nowhere. Tip: Stop at an Alabama Visitors Center, and snag a 25% off coupon.
The Quad Cities: Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia make up the Metropolitan Statistical Area known as, The Shoals. This area of northwestern Alabama is the birthplace of W.C. Handy, ‘Father of the blues’, Helen Keller, and some of the greatest songs ever recorded. The unassuming town of Muscle Shoals is considered the “Hit Recording Capital of the World,” where some of the biggest recording artists of our time injected their sound with some soul: Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Cher, Bob Dylan—just to name a few.
- Fame Studios: Take a $10 tour and learn about the musical legacy of Muscle Shoals
- Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: the original studio started by session musicians, The Swampers, is currently being restored to it’s former glory, but you can still snap a pic of the iconic building and do a lap around the gift shop.
- Old Railroad Bridge: Not far from the restoration project you can take a walk on this rustic picturesque bridge and enjoy the view of the Tennessee River.
- The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green: Every Friday and Saturday evening in July you can catch a performance of The Miracle Worker, at Ivy Green, the birthplace and home of Helen Keller. Tickets are $10 and include a tour of the grounds before the show.
- Trowbridge’s: Try the signature orange pineapple ice cream at this old time soda fountain in Florence.
- Rattlesnake Saloon: Hop in the back of the Saloon Taxi, a pickup truck with benches in the bed, and eat at the restaurant in the cave half a mile down the road. Cool off and chow down at lunchtime, or come after 5 p.m. for a cold beer and some live music. The burgers are burgers, but the experience and location are what you’re coming for anyway.
- Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa: Spend some time at the pool and grab a drink and catch some live music at the Swampers Bar.
Rocket City: Huntsville
Rocket scientists in Huntsville, AL figured out how to send man to the Moon, and now they’re working on sending man to Mars. Mind. Blown.
- U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC): NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is a big deal. At USSRC, the official NASA Visitor Center for the MSFC, you can stand beneath a Saturn V rocket, one of only three remaining in the world, and do what everyone else does—marvel. Another highlight among the many fascinating pieces of space exploration history is the desk of Dr. Wernher von Braun, one of the most important rocket developers and chief architect of the launch vehicle that propelled man to the Moon. You’ll get chills when you see his 1969 calendar, where “lunar surface achieved,” is scrawled in pencil on July 20 (the day Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind).
- Straight to Ale Brewery: Come back down to earth at this longstanding Huntsville brewery. Toast the man who gave us Space Camp, with a Wernher von Brown Ale, or try a Monkeynaut—it’s out of this world (pun totally indended).
The Magic City: Birmingham
Birmingham is getting a lot of attention as the hot new destination in the southeast, and the world! The city is shining brightly thanks to the revitalization efforts of the community, and the ever-expanding food scene.
- Drive-In: While you’re on a classic road trip, indulge in another throwback. See a movie at the Coyote Drive-In in Leeds (about 20 minutes outside of Birmingham). The theater is new, but it’s still retro fun. You’ll find the drive-in off of US 78, where U.S. Route 411 begins, a rural route that goes on to pass through Gadsden (see The Lookout Mountain Parkway above).
- Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum: This museum outgrew its original location in Birmingham’s Southside and moved to nearby Leeds. It is now officially home to the world’s largest collection of motorcycles. There’s a whole lot more going on at the grounds, track, and museum, and this place keeps expanding!
- Vulcan Park: The cast-iron Vulcan Statue has overlooked the city of Birmingham since the 1930’s. In the park you’ll see the statue up close and maybe too personal (bare bottom), and a panoramic view of the city from the observation deck.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: Birmingham was at the center of tragedy and triumph during the Civil Rights movement. Learn about the historic events at this powerful museum.
- Breakout Birmingham: Pay someone to lock you in a room! At Breakout Birmingham you choose a scenario (Kidnapping, Heist, etc.), and figure out how to escape or otherwise solve the mystery before your time is up.
- Theatre District: Catch a movie, show, or music performance at one of the city’s historic entertainment venues: Alabama Theatre or The Lyric (newly restored to it’s former glory).
- Melt (Avondale): A favorite food truck turned brick-and-mortar restaurant. Try the Mac Melt with bacon on sourdough and dream about it for the rest of your life.
- Chez Fonfon (Five Points South): If you talk about food in Birmingham, you’ll probably hear Frank Stitt’s name. One of his restaurants is always a safe bet for superb food. Chez Fonfon is a trendy French bistro that’s famous for, of all things, the burger.
- Avondale Brewery (Day): This brewery revitalized the Avondale neighborhood. Get some lunch to-go from a neighboring establishment, order a flight from the bar and sit in the large yard out back. There will probably be live music to cap off a great lunch and very modern Birmingham experience.
- The Garage (Night): Bring some cash and have a beer in the courtyard, where vines and colorful string lights tangle overhead and interesting antiques are casually scattered about. Inside, it looks like a hole-in-the-wall bar with a lot of character, but the magical looking courtyard really makes it a hidden gem.
- Redmont Hotel: Birmingham has seen a wave of revitalization and restoration, and the recently renovated Redmont Hotel, the oldest continuously operated hotel in the state, is a perfect example of how Birmingham is looking to the future without forgetting its past.
College Towns: Auburn & Tuscaloosa
If there’s one thing we do really well in Alabama, it’s college football. Experience gameday, or stop in for some food at these rival college towns.
- Game Day: You don’t need tickets to the game to enjoy tailgating on game day at either Auburn University or The University of Alabama, but experiencing a game from inside the stadium is something you shouldn’t pass up if you can snag some tickets. Even if you’re not a fan of football, you’ll get caught up in the excitement with the rest of the crowd, and the pre-game and halftime entertainment is always engaging. ESPN recently named Auburn’s eagle flight, the best pre-game tradition in the SEC. At a game in Jordan Hare stadium you see Auburn’s War Eagle soar above the crowd and land in midfield before every home game.
- The Amsterdam Cafe (Auburn): Try the Crab Cake & Avocado Sandwich, considered by many to be one of the best dishes in Alabama.
- Dreamland Bar-B-Que (Tuscaloosa): Tuscaloosa is home of the original Dreamland location (now a popular regional chain), and you can’t pass up an opportunity to try their famous food in the place it all started.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail: Cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and follow the 54-mile route of those who marched to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The official march, and the events surrounding it, represents the political and emotional peak of the Civil Rights Movement. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers neared 25,000.
The State Capital: Montgomery
- Civil Rights Memorial Center: Finish your journey through history with a walk through this humbling and informative exhibit.
- Alabama Shakespeare Festival: ASF is Alabama’s State Theater, and one of the largest and most well regarded professional theaters in the country. See one of their high quality productions, or simply take a stroll on the grounds of the surrounding park (a perfect picnic spot).
The city proclaims itself the Peanut Capital of the World, and the National Peanut Festival (the largest in the country) is held here every November to honor peanut farmers and celebrate the harvest. Load up on boiled peanuts at any roadside stand or store and explore!
- Peanut Characters: Go on a scavenger hunt and see how many peanut characters (peanut statues decorated like famous people) you can find. They have cheat sheets in the visitor’s center, where you’ll find the golden peanut and the Elvis peanut, but it’s more fun to spontaneously stumble upon them.
- World’s Smallest City Block: Guinness proclaims the small triangle of land at the corner of N. College St., N. Appletree St., and E. Troy St., the smallest city block in the world. A stop sign, yield sign, street sign, and a marker bearing its proud title, crowd each other inside the tiny triangle.
- Folklore Brewing & Meadery: A hidden gem in the country. Drive down the dirt road and visit the friendly folks brewing craft beer in the middle of nowhere. Sip on a Front Porch Pale Ale, and enjoy a game of cornhole in the back of the barn.
The Gulf Coast
Alabama’s Gulf Coast is undoubtedly Alabama’s crown jewel, and the pinnacle of any road tripper’s journey through the state. When you get closer to the water, something inside relaxes. Cruising Highways 90 & 98 is about taking it easy, and appreciating the simple things in life.
The Azalea City: Mobile
After cruising down I-65 South, follow signs to I-10, but exit and drive across the causeway (Battleship Parkway) that carries US 90 & 98 across Mobile Bay, smell the food cooking at the great seafood restaurants on either side, admire the permanently anchored Battleship (USS Alabama), then cruise through the Bankhead Tunnel, and emerge onto oak lined Government Street in downtown Mobile. Explore the streets (Dauphin St. is a must) and squares, and venture out onto the Bay.
- 5 Rivers Delta Safaris: Just off of Battleship Parkway between the City of Mobile and Spanish Fort, the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center offers incredible guided tours (via canoe / kayak, hiking, or boat). It’s a literal adventure through the quiet, uncorrupted aquatic nature of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
- Mardi Gras: The good times started rolling in Mobile first, and we won’t let you forget it! Experience a parade if you’re in town for the season of the Moon Pie, or visit the Mobile Carnival Museum to learn about the famous coastal festivities.
- OK Bicycle Shop: This place features incredible homemade, elevated Mexican-style cuisine (tacos, margaritas, empanadas, quesadillas, etc). The ceiling is covered with bicycles, and the bar consumes a quarter of the interior space, but there’s a garden courtyard out back if you’re feeling a little claustrophobic.
Dauphin Island Excursion: Locals go to the island for lots of things, fishing, beaching, and bird watching being chief among them. Dauphin Island is also home to historic Fort Gaines as well as the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, a major center for marine sciences research. If your final destination is Gulf Shores and you feel like taking a short cut, you can always take the ferry, which goes from the island to Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan.
If you travel by land towards the Gulf Shore Orange Beach, cruise down the highway, and swing onto Alt 98 for a little trip through beautiful, whimsical Downtown Fairhope (check out a video tour below). The scenic bay view alone makes the detour well worth it. Heading inland is the charming walking downtown area where you can grab a bite to eat.
- Fairhope Municipal Pier: Park on the bluff and take a walk through the park area and down the pier.
- Panini Pete’s: Enjoy a basket of beignets with a citrus twist, and a cup of coffee before you stroll the quaint streets of the city or continue your journey to the beach.
Gulf Shores/Orange Beach
Weigh yourself down with food and booze at the locals’ favorite beachside shacks and watering holes. Then, sweat it out on the sand and cool off in the soul-soothing salt water. Rent a condo or beach house, and bask in the beauty of Alabama’s beaches for days. If you’re just down for the day, find a public parking spot (try 6th Street, 13th Street, or Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores or Alabama Point in Orange Beach), pick your place in the sand, and plant your umbrella.
- Beach: How does one beach? However you’d like! But here are a few suggestions:
Walk out from your preferably beachfront condo or house, or find a public access ramp, and roll your well-stocked cooler until you find a spot you like (you won’t have to go far).
Lay around for hours snoozing, reading, chatting, or listening to music (and constantly applying sunscreen).
Or, play in the sand and waves with whatever entertainment you or your beach neighbors (friendly people near you who are willing to share) have brought—football, cornhole, bocce ball, body boards, etc.)
Rent an umbrella and lounge chair (or bring your own), eat seafood, drink beer, hydrate, repeat.
Be sure to leave only footprints when you’re done for the day (we like our beaches immaculately clean—and you do, too).
- Hangout Music Festival: This beachside music festival is getting bigger and better every year, and it’s a great final destination for your Alabama Road Trip. Other festivals we love include the National Shrimp Festival, The Wharf Uncorked, and Flora-Bama’s Mullet Toss.
When you’re not sure if you’re drenched in sweat or salt water, and sand is sticking to you in awkward places, you eat like the beach bum you are. Lucky you, there are some great holes to crawl into to get your grub on.
- Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar: This Perdido Beach Blvd haunt is considered one of the last great American roadhouses. A hub for live music, crazy contests, and whatever else they feel like doing, the Flora-Bama (which straddles the Alabama / Florida state lines) is one of the oddest, most genuine hot spots on the coast. Get yourself a bushwhacker and a basket of Royal Reds (the most delicious deep-water shrimp to be had), and kick back on the patio overlooking the water.
- Pink Pony Pub: Located on Gulf Drive right on the beach, this bubble gum pink pub has been around since the 1950s. And since the 1950s, it’s been doing what it does, which is refreshing beach bum palates with crispy fried bites of coconut shrimp and calamari, fresh, local seafood, filling southern po’boys, and sumptuous, juicy hamburgers.
Local’s Tip: this is one of the only places you can bring your drinks and snacks from the restaurant onto the actual beach … perfect sunset spot!
- King Neptune’s Seafood: Housed in what looks like the kind of place you pull over to buy fresh seafood on Gulf Shores Parkway, King Neptune’s is one of the most undisputed holes-in-the-wall of the island. Unsurprisingly, the place is known for its seafood. Although they have an extensive menu, head straight for the platters of steamed, grilled, and fried seafood sensations. King Neptune’s fare is best served if you’ve just popped out of the ocean and already feel a little salty.
Eccentric Sights in Elberta:
When you’re (reluctantly) headed back home and towards the Interstate, you get a few random roadside attractions on one road in this city off of Highway 98, including:
- Bamahenge: A fiberglass replica of Stonehenge in the woods of Alabama off of Barber Parkway. There are no signs. Hint: turn left at the sign for Barber Marina and look to the right.
- Dinosaurs in the Woods: These guys are scattered along the road a quarter mile past Bamahenge (and one brave dino has even invaded the ladies’ room).
- The Lady in the Lake: At Barber Marina you can see the head and knees of the fifty-foot woman chilling in the lake. Not creepy at all. (Note: the Lady in the Lake has currently been removed for repairs).
- Roman soldiers: Find these ancient warriors standing guard in the parking area and gardens.
Make sure to stop by the Roadkill Cafe during lunch time for some good, old-fashioned Southern grub, including a buffet featuring fantastic fried chicken, fresh biscuits, slow-cooked green beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy.