We took this fun Alabama road trip over Spring Break. We didn’t realize there were so many cool places so close to home. We have two girls aged 6 and 8 years and my husband and I love good coffee and good food, so this trip had a little bit for everyone.
Our first stop was Auburn. (2 hours drive) This town has such a great vibe. College was on spring break while we were there so it was pretty quiet – great for us, who just wandered around soaking up the history of the Auburn University campus. A friend recommended a restaurant Acre and it did not disappoint. I would describe it a modern Southern Cuisine. Loads of fresh ingredients from their garden and a fresh approach to classic Southern dishes. The chicken fried bacon was my highlight – although not something I’d like to eat everyday.
A stroll around town was in order after lunch with a stop at Toomer’s Drug Store for their famous fresh squeezed Lemonade – don’t miss it. The girls enjoyed an ice pop at Steel City Pops while Mum had a quick peak at some of the stores on College St.
A quick drive over to Opelika is a must to check out the shops and cafes down by the railroad. Wish we had more time to spend here.
My coffee recommendation for Auburn is Prevail Union It’s popular with the college crowd so can get crowded but the coffee is worth the wait.
We were surprised by the gorgeous Lake Martin (2.5 hours drive) and the many towns and villages surrounding it. It is definitely on our list of places to stay this summer. With over 750 miles of shoreline there are plenty of places to eat, stay and explore. Perfect if you have a boat or watercraft and only 2 hrs from Fort Rucker!
No Alabama road trip would be complete without a stop at the highest point in the state – Cheaha State Park (4 hours drive) This state park has a lot to offer, with campgrounds, cabins and a lodge and a restaurant with a stunning view. There are some hiking tracks for the adventurous and also some geocaches to find to keep the kids entertained.
Situated close to Cheaha State Park is the Talladega Superspeedway . (4 hours drive) Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for a track tour but it was still cool to take a drive around the grounds and visit the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
The town of Anniston offered up the biggest surprise of our road trip. I had heard about the Anniston Museum of Natural History but did not have very high expectations. After all, what can this little town in Alabama offer that I had not already seen at the Smithsonian Museum in DC or the Natural History Museum in NYC? Plan to spend a couple of hours here and to be amazed at the size and diversity of the collection. The kids had a ball finding exotic animals they had not seen before and did not once whinge about being bored! There is also Berman Museum next door which features treasures and objects from around the world, collected by a local man on his travels. Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit, but it is on our list for next time we are in the area.
After our detour to Chattanooga we set off to find Russell Cave National Monument This is a neat place to visit and is an archaeological site with one of the most complete records of prehistoric cultures in the Southeast. There is a small museum with artefacts dating back from 10,000 BC. Also being a National Parks Service site, they offer a Junior Ranger program and my girls got to add to their collection of Junior Ranger badges!
Lake Guntersville State Park was a pleasant surprise for many reasons. Boating and fishing seem to be the most popular activities here. There is a large campground and beautiful lodge situated high on the bluff with a spectacular view. We stumbled across an awesome coffee shop – Jomokas Coffee Co Inc in the nearby town of Guntersville. Chatting with the owner was a delight and I strongly recommend the sausage bites – but get in early as they sell out quickly. They offer a small range of food (muffins etc) all baked in house.
Perhaps my favourite area we explored on our road trip was the area in the north of the state and west of the I-65. The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman worth a quick stop. Situated on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, it is a lovely to stroll around the peaceful gardens. The town of Decatur has much to offer on the banks of the Tennessee River. Avenues of old homes, interesting shops and the Point Mallard Park are all worth the visit here.
For music buffs, I highly recommend the Muscle Shoals (5 hours drive) area. Definitely watch the documentary Muscle Shoals before going to fully understand the impact this quiet area of Alabama has had on world music. It is possible to tour the FAME music studio but the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is currently undergoing a renovation. The list of legendary 60’s and 70’s music that was recorded in these two studios will astound – Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few.
The nearby town of Florence is worth a stop. Stroll the main street for neat shops, including the flagship store of designer Billy Reid. Stop in at the Court Street Market for breakfast and be treated so some amazing coffee and delicious food.
Just down the road in Athens the UG White Mercantile store has been a local intuition for almost a century. Here you will find just about everything, from cookware to camping gear and flip flops to candy. I had to drag my kids out of there which is most unusual as they generally wail “no more shopping Mummy” as soon as they see a store.
Just outside Tuscaloosa, towards Birmingham, is the Mercedes Benz Factory. There is a museum here and with advance reservations it is possible to tour the factory on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Much to my husband’s dismay, children must be 10 years or older to take the tour so we missed out.
To end our road trip, our final stop was Birmingham. One of the perks of trip planning is fitting in activities that I love. So we didn’t do much in Birmingham other than shopping. The Summit shops is a must stop for the shopaholic, offering all my favourites – Pottery Barn, The North Face, J Crew, Ann Taylor, Saks Fifth Ave, Madewell, Anthropologie and sooooo many more. Restaurants are plentiful in this area so you can keep going all day!