Whether you’re new to the state or have lived here for a lifetime, there are many uniquely Alabama experiences, places and events that are worth exploring. Need some inspiration for some upcoming travels and insight into some of our history, speech and art? Read on!
By Allison Law
is for Auburn landmarks and traditions: A trip to “the loveliest village on the Plains” isn’t complete without a visit to the War Eagle Wall (great for selfies) and Toomer’s Corner, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks that dates to 1896. The historic Samford Hall clock tower has been the backdrop for generations of graduation photos. Another tradition to experience: the tradition of “rolling” Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn athletic victory, when every stationary object is covered in toilet paper.
is for Beaches: If you’re new to the state and haven’t yet visited some of our sugar-white sand beaches, make plans now! Some of us think the cooler months are the best times to visit Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island and more (fewer tourists and cheaper lodging).
is for Cheaha: Alabama isn’t a mountainous state, but it does have a high point: Mt. Cheaha in Clay County is the highest point in Alabama at 2,407 feet. The surrounding Talladega National Forest and Cheaha Resort State Park offer a variety of hiking adventures, so grab a backpack and water and head outside!
is for depot museums: The rich histories of the railroads in Alabama are still preserved in several cities and towns, including Cullman, Fort Payne, Bridgeport, Selma and Huntsville. Many depots have been restored or renovated and offer a glimpse into the time when train travel was popular and affordable.
is for environment education: Connect to nature, explore conservation efforts and learn about Alabama’s diverse ecosystems. The Alabama Nature Center at Lanark in Millbrook; the McDowell Environmental Center in Nauvoo; the Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab; and the Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College are just some of the educational facilities dedicated to our precious environment.
is for football stadiums: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide, and Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, home of the Tigers, are two of the most iconic sports facilities in the Southeast, in any sport. Bryant-Denny has a seating capacity of 100,077, and Jordan-Hare’s is 87,451; to be in the stands of either stadium on a fall Saturday (particularly for an SEC matchup) is an electric experience. But both are popular attractions to visit during the off-season as well.
is for golfing: Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (known as the RTJ) boasts 468 championship holes at 26 courses in 11 sites all around the state. The Trail has been heralded by major media outlets, including The New York Times, as having “some of the best public golf on earth.”
is for history: The State Archives and the Museum of Alabama in Montgomery, across from the state Capitol, is the state’s government records repository, has a special collections library and research facility, and offers educational tours of the museum, which features rotating exhibits.
is for Iron and Steel Museum of Alabama: Located at Tannehill Iron Works Historical State Park in McCalla, this museum provides visitors with exhibits and activities that explore 19th-century iron making in the area south of Birmingham. The museum includes displays illustrating production techniques and more than 10,000 artifacts, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
is for Joe’s farm: Conservationist Christopher Joe, owner of Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours in Hale County, keeps his family farm flourishing and highlights some of the natural beauty of the Black Belt for visitors. “You don’t have to go around the world to see something amazing,” Joe told Alabama Living in 2021. His family farm is open for one-of-a-kind birdwatching and nature walks and tours.
is for Kentuck Art Center and Festival: This “experiential arts and culture economic engine,” according to its website, is in historic downtown Northport. Kentuck is likely best known for its annual Festival of the Arts in October, but the center provides year-round programming, “with the mission to perpetuate the arts, engage the community, and empower the artist.” The annual festival is nationally recognized and attracts more than 10,000 visitors. Kentuck.org.
is for lakes: Freshwater is one of Alabama’s greatest assets; our many lakes provide for navigation, drinking water, agriculture, flood control and more. But most folks associate lakes with recreation: Lake Guntersville, our largest lake, covers 110 square miles and is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the state. Lake Wheeler near Decatur is a birdwatcher’s delight, with bald eagles, herons, egrets and other species. Lay Lake, not far from Birmingham, attracts many recreational boaters. There’s also great fishing at the 23 Alabama Public Fishing Lakes in 20 counties across the state; many are family-friendly, park-like areas that offer bank fishing, picnicking and walking areas.
is for Minor League Baseball: Catch some of the rising stars of Major League Baseball as they make their way through the minor league system. The Birmingham Barons are a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox; the Montgomery Biscuits are the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays; and the Rocket City Trash Pandas in Madison are the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. Each ballpark offers a season full of family fun.
is for native American sites: Moundville Archeological Park was once the site of a powerful prehistoric community that, at its peak, was America’s largest city north of Mexico. Located on the Black Warrior River south of Tuscaloosa, the park preserves the 29 massive flat-topped earthen mounds constructed by the Mississippian people. Bottle Creek, located on Mound Island in the heart of the Mobile Tensaw Delta, was occupied from about 1250 and was an important site for local Indians. Moundville is operated by the University of Alabama, and Bottle Creek is administered by the Alabama Historical Commission; both are open to the public.
is for OWA: The 520-acre OWA (pronounced OH-wah) Parks and Resort is a family fun destination in Foley (near the Baldwin County beaches) that features a 23-ride theme park, an outdoor wave pool, and the region’s largest indoor water park. Just outside the ticketed area is Downtown OWA, a pedestrian-only streetscape that features dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities. It’s owned and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
is for “Peanuts Around Town,” the public art works all over the Dothan area that pay homage to the peanut, a commodity that is significant in the Wiregrass. A collection of approximately 50 five-foot fiberglass peanuts are decorated by local artists and highlight various businesses and locations. Dothan hosts the annual National Peanut Festival each fall, and the city is known as the “peanut capital of the world.”
is for the Quad Cities of Alabama (Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia), also known as “the Shoals.” This area of northwestern Alabama is home to a wealth of attractions, including Ivy Green (Helen Keller’s birthplace and home), the picturesque campus of the University of North Alabama, recreational opportunities on lakes Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler, the Rosenbaum House (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and, most notably, an amazing musical history. FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway have had songs recorded by music royalty and are open for tours; the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, named for “the father of the blues,” features a summer music festival.
is for RV parks: Our readers who enjoy the RV lifestyle have several favorites. Gunter Hill Campground outside of Montgomery has a nature setting on the backwaters of the Alabama River; south of Montgomery is the Kick Back Ranch and Event Center, which has an RV park and other amenities. Foscue Creek Campground is nestled on the forested lake shore of Demopolis Lake, the largest on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway. Many of the state parks have RV camping; Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores is a favorite.
is for safari parks: Looking for a drive-through adventure? Make some new animal friends with a trip to Alabama Safari Park in Hope Hull (open year-round), or the Harmony Park Safari in Huntsville (open March through November). Hope Hull’s park is 350 acres, and in addition to the drive tour, there’s walk-about to the giraffe feeding tower and a petting area for your farmyard favorites. Huntsville’s park is a federally licensed nature preserve of free-ranging exotic and endangered animals. AlabamaSafariPark.com and Huntsville.org
is for “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Make the pilgrimage to Monroeville, hometown of author Harper Lee and the inspiration for Scout’s hometown of Maycomb. Begin a visit on the square with a tour of the Old Courthouse Museum, where you’ll get a glimpse into the life of Lee and her friend Truman Capote. Check out visitmonroevilleal.com for information on the annual stage adaptation of the book, which is in April.
is for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center: Based in Huntsville, the center is a Smithsonian affiliate, the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the home of Space Camp. It features one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia on display anywhere, features traveling exhibits from all over the world and has immersive astronomy shows, live entertainment and theater experiences in its state-of-the-art planetarium. The authentic Saturn V rocket, one of only three in the world, is located in the Saturn V Hall of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. rocketcenter.com
is for Vulcan and other noteworthy statues: Statuary help tell the story of a time or place and bring a sense of community to small towns and big cities alike. The Vulcan statue is the city symbol of Birmingham, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. Other notable statues (worth a stop for a photo, if you’re driving around) include the bird dog statue, confirming Union Springs’ status as a field trial destination; the Boll Weevil statue in Enterprise, which is less about honoring the cotton pest and more about the diversification of agriculture in that area; and the larger-than-life sculpture of country music icon Hank Williams, which stands across the street from the museum dedicated to his legacy in Montgomery.
is for waterfalls: From gurgling brooks to raging rivers, Alabamians fall for waterfalls, so head out with your camera and do some exploring. Among the most well-known are Noccalula Falls in Gadsden (pictured), Little River in Fort Payne, DeSoto Falls in DeSoto State Park, the falls in Chewacla State Park in Auburn, Dismals Canyon Rainbow Falls in Phil Campbell, Moss Rock Preserve and Falls in Hoover (yes, in the city of Hoover) and Mardis Mill Falls in Blountsville.
is for extreme milkshakes: Got a sweet tooth? Several restaurants and shops offer these massive shakes that take the cake. The milkshake is merely the foundation for myriad embellishments, including sauces and drizzles, candy and candy bars, crushed cereal, marshmallow fluff, whipped cream and even entire wedges of cake, all precariously perched atop glass jars. Check out The Mason Jar in Auburn, K&J Elegant Pastries and Creamery in Alabaster and The Yard Milkshake Bar in Gulf Shores, Fairhope and Madison (among others).
is for y’all: Probably the best-known word in the Southern vernacular, this pronoun is a contraction of “you all” and is properly spelled “y’all.” It’s a second-person plural that sounds so much more comfortable than something like “you guys.” Though some outside the South may perceive a speaker who uses “y’all” to be backwards, to Southerners it’s warm, inviting and hints at one of our treasured traditions: Southern hospitality.
is for zip lines: Looking for a little treetop adventure? Check out the zip lines at three of Alabama’s state parks (Lake Guntersville, Wind Creek and DeSoto) or at others, including Butter and Egg Adventures in Troy, and The Vision Zipline Tour in Huntsville. These and other places offer other outdoorsy fun, so check out their websites for hours and days of operation and make the most of a day out.