Ten Reasons to Visit Sweet Home Alabama - TravelMole


Ten Reasons to Visit Sweet Home Alabama

Friday, Jan 12, 2024 0

 

Looking for your next destination?  Here are ten reasons why Alabama should be top of your list.

 

Soul music and soul food, a Mardi Gras that predates New Orleans, the rolling foothills of the Appalachians and swathes of white sand on Gulf Coast beaches, literary legends along with a Civil Rights past… Alabama is the sweet surprise of the South.

 

 

 

Musical highs in Alabama

 

From Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man’ to Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves a Woman,’ much of the soul-shaking soundtrack of the sixties and seventies was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones referred to it as ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’. Both FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio still operate (the latter was revived after receiving a grant from rapper Dr Dre) but you can also take tours (famestudios.com, muscleshoalssoundstudio.org). Nearby in Florence, the wood cabin where the Father of the Blues W.C. Handy was born is now a museum (wchandymuseum.org). In Montgomery, step back into the life of country star Hank Williams at the Hank Williams Museum (thehankwilliamsmuseum.net).

 

Civil War to Civil Rights

 

 

At Alabama’s State Capitol building in Montgomery, delegates from southern states voted to establish a new nation in February 1861 and inaugurated Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, setting the stage for the American Civil War. It was on the steps of the Capitol that more than a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous ‘How Long, Not Long’ speech after a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, a signposted route which tourists can now follow.

 

Dr. King was the pastor of what is now the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, just a few minutes’ walk from the Capitol. Dexter Avenue, one of America’s most historic streets, is also where in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man; The Rosa Parks Museum features both a restored 1950s bus and the original fingerprint arrest record of Mrs Parks. Nearby is the Freedom Rides Museum, in the former Greyhound Bus Station where segregationists attacked civil rights activists who were peacefully protesting against separate facilities for public transport (visitmontgomery.com). Today, Montgomery features as the backdrop to the new screening of The Wonder Years, a reboot of the hit series from the late eighties and early nineties shown on Disney Plus, detailing the life of a Black teenager growing up in 1960’s Montgomery.

 

Birmingham is another important part of the Civil Rights Trail; 2023 marked the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which tragically killed four young Black girls.

 

The last American slave ship, The Clotilda

 

Of the thousands of ships that participated in the transatlantic slave trade, few have been found, which explains the excitement when the wreck of the Clotilda was identified in 2019. This schooner transported 110 people from Benin in Africa to Mobile in 1860, more than 50 years after the United States banned the importation of slaves; it is the last known American slave ship and was scuttled to hide the evidence of the illegal activity. After the Civil War, some of the survivors and their descendants created a new home for themselves in the area, known as Africatown.

 

Africatown Heritage House recently opened, with multisensory exhibits and artifacts from the ship to bring life to the story of the 110 captives. Visitors can take a boat tour on the Mobile River and hear stories of the captives who sailed the same waters —in a very different manner. Today, the National Geographic documentary Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship is out on Disney Plus, while Netflix has bought the rights to Descendant, which tells the story of the slaves’ descendants.

 

America’s oldest Mardi Gras

 

 

Just two hours from New Orleans, Mobile celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was  founded. Dauphin Street’s wrought-iron railings and pastel facades give it a similar architecture and ambience to New Orleans. If you’re not there for Fat Tuesday, the Carnival Museum has a collection of fun floats, glittering crowns and gowns (mobilecarnivalmuseum.com).

 

The world’s largest space museum and Space Camp

 

The place for gravity-defying rides, interactive exhibits and planetarium shows, Huntsville U.S. Space and Rocket Center

 

has developed a range of rockets, from those that put America’s first satellite and astronauts in orbit to NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket and the Space Shuttle. Visitors today can try the flight simulator, take part in underwater astronaut adventures, relive man’s landing on the moon in a virtual reality experience or run the gauntlet of the multi-axis trainer. Popular space camps are also held here, including three-day family visits and week-long stays for children, who undergo the basics of astronaut training. There are specific space camps for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired (rocketcenter.com).

 

Literary greats: from Harper Lee to F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

The inspiration for the fictional Maycomb in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was Monroeville, where the author grew up and where her friend, Truman Capote, spent his summers. The play, which is now on at London’s Gielgud Theatre, can be seen at the courthouse (monroecountymuseum.org). F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, who was born in Alabama, lived about two hours away in Montgomery from 1931-32 where he worked on Tender is the Night and she worked on her book, Save me the Waltz. Their home is now a museum, where you can stay in the Zelda or Scott suite from about £109 a night for two (thefitzgeraldmuseum.org).  Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish, later a Tim Burton film, was born and grew up in Birmingham, while Winston Groom wrote Forest Gump in Mobile. And Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston’s account of how Cudjo Lewis journeyed from capture in Africa to captivity in Alabama on board the Clotilda, was published in 2018, a year before the scuttled ship was identified in Mobile.

 

White-sand beaches on the Gulf Coast

 

The 32 miles of Gulf coast beaches in Alabama are the perfect place to kick back. Explore the Gulf State Park’s 28 miles of trails by biking, hiking or even Segway. The park is home to 325 species of birds as well as alligators, bobcats and nesting sea turtles. Dubbed the Red Snapper Capital of the World, Orange Beach is the place to go to land a fish, including grouper and amberjack. If you catch a big one, many of the local restaurants will cook it for your dinner (gulfshores.com).

 

The Appalachians in North Alabama

 

The Appalachian foothills tumble into Alabama, offering hiking, kayaking, fishing, rappelling, bouldering and cycling in scenic settings. Serious hikers should set out on the Pinhoti Trail, with 171 miles of its 335-mile length in Alabama and the remainder in Georgia. Cathedral Caverns State Park has a cave complex where you can see the stalagmite Goliath, 45 feet tall with a 243-foot circumference, as well as its much slighter counterpart, 27 feet tall but only three inches wide. Stay in a rustic log cabin in Desoto State Park on the scenic Lookout Mountain and hike to Little River Canyon (alapark.com, nps.gov).

 

The Dinner Table of the South

 

 

Is Birmingham really “The Dinner Table of the South” as the city proclaims?  Absolutely.  It is home to soul lifting meat-and-three restaurants, the nearly year-round market at Pepper Place and James Beard Award-nominated restaurants and chefs, like Frank Stitt and his restaurants, Highland Bar and Grill, Chez Fonfon, and Bottega or Chris Hastings’s Hot and Hot Fish Club.  The Golden Rule is all about barbeque.  Literally.  This is the oldest running restaurant in the state and the 16th oldest in the nation.  Thirsting for more?  Stop by and see what’s on tap at one of the many craft breweries celebrating the art of beer.  With a bounty of fresh ingredients coming from nearby gardens, fields, farms and waters, Birmingham is ready to tantalize your taste buds and fill your belly.

 

Unclaimed Baggage – the lost luggage store

 

 

Ever wondered what happens to suitcases separated from their owners at airports? Many end up at Scottsboro’s Unclaimed Baggage, America’s only retailer of lost luggage. About a million tourists a year visit this shop, where you can find everything from wedding dresses to newly bought duty free at a huge discount. Among the strangest things they have had sent are fully packed parachutes and a mummified falcon (unclaimedbaggage.com).

 

Talk about an easy fly-drive destination — you can drive from Huntsville in north Alabama to Mobile in south Alabama in just over five hours. What’s more, none of the major cities are too far apart: Birmingham is just 1.5 hours to both Huntsville and Montgomery, which in turn is 2.5 hours from Mobile. Alabama is easy to get to as well, with direct flights to Atlanta, Georgia, a two-hour drive from Birmingham. There are so many more reasons to come to Alabama just waiting for you to unwrap.



Learn more about Sweet Home Alabama


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