From rockets to racecars and soothing mountain vistas to the big-city skyline, North Alabama has something to entice even the most discriminating traveler. Especially if you are renting your vacation home directly from the owner.
The first-time visitor may be surprised to find North Alabama has plenty to boast about on a national scale. Decatur opened the country's first wave pool, and Point Mallard Park still attracts throngs of swimmers each summer. Huntsville's U.S. Space & Rocket Center created U.S. Space Camp, which has inspired spinoff versions and even a movie. The space museum is one of the Southeast's biggest tourist attractions.
At Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, visitors can marvel at one of eastern America's deepest gorges. Scottsboro can lay claim to a unique shopping treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center, which even attracted the interest of Oprah Winfrey.
Millions watch Birmingham's Mother Angelica on the Eternal Word Television Network. Visits to see her show can be combined with tours of the new Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, on a 339-acre farm in Hanceville. Modeled after the Franciscan churches of the 13th century, the beautiful building stands 88 feet high and has a 116-foot bell tower, marble paving, stained-glass windows and touches of 24-carat gold.
At Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, visitors can marvel at one of eastern America's deepest gorges.
So where to begin? As Alabama's largest city, Birmingham is a logical start. Its attractions include McWane Center, a hands-on science museum for the whole family; the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum (in a state where college football is a year-round sport); the Birmingham Zoo, where a 6-foot Komodo dragon is creating quite a stir; world-class shopping at the Riverchase Galleria; and VisionLand, the state's only theme park.
Leaving Birmingham, NASCAR fans won't want to miss the action at Talladega Superspeedway, where between races you can tour the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
If golf is more your speed, consider the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which The New York Times called "some of the best public golf on Earth." Its reach extends through North Alabama with Oxmoor Valley in Birmingham, Silver Lakes near Anniston and Hampton Cove in Huntsville.
Cheaha State Park in Lineville has Alabama's highest peak, plus newly renovated accommodations with Jacuzzis sure to relax you even if the view doesn't.
Double Springs has a double attraction with scenic cruises on Looney's Riverboat and an outdoor Civil War musical drama at Looney's Entertainment. History buffs can explore more of Alabama's past in Huntsville at EarlyWorks Children's Museum, the South's largest hands-on history museum.
In the northwest corner of the state, Florence and Tuscumbia pay homage to the memories of famous former residents W.C. Handy and Helen Keller with festivals and museums. Tuscumbia honors Alabama's music superstars at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Several of the eight state parks in North Alabama are newly renovated, and bed and breakfasts that dot the region offer a romantic alternative for weekend getaways.
Whether visiting North Alabama for the first time or exploring the road less traveled, travelers can expect some pleasant surprises.
Cutting a broad band across the middle of Alabama, the Central region is home to well-known cities: Tuscaloosa, Selma, Montgomery & Auburn.
Each is jam-packed with a wide array of attractions and accommodations. Equally worth the trip, however, are the small towns to be found along county roads. Small refers only to the size of the towns, not the amount of fun to be had.
Central Alabama provides many locations to stop and smell the roses. In Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama Arboretum offers 60 acres and 2.5 miles of trails with a focus on native plants. Across the region in Auburn, the Davis Arboretum is home to 150 tree species native to the Southeast. In Montgomery, Jasmine Hill Gardens will transport you back to ancient Greece with 20 acres devoted to mythical gods and Olympian heroes.
If you prefer modern gridiron heroes, head for the hallowed halls of Auburn University and the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). In Alabama, football is played with extreme vigor and the fans are equally spirited. In Auburn, trace the steps of Tiger football with a visit to the Jonathan Bell Lovelace Athletic Museum and Hall of Honor. Over in Tuscaloosa, celebrate the Crimson Tide with a stop at the Paul W. Bryant Museum.
If you are looking for heroes of our military history, the Central region provides many great locations to pay homage to our past.
If you are looking for heroes of our military history, the Central region provides many great locations to pay homage to our past. In Fort Mitchell, visit the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery, the final resting ground for U.S. military veterans from WWI to present day. Then continue your military tribute in Montgomery with a stop at the Alabama War Memorial and Wall of Honor.
For sites that honor the African-American struggle in Alabama, be sure to visit the George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee and the Murphy African-American Museum in Tuscaloosa. Pause for reflection at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, where water flows over the names of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement. Revisit the lessons of the past at Selma's National Voting Rights Museum & Institute, located near the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an infamous icon of the voting rights struggle.
If your heroic sense of adventure is calling you to explore off the beaten path, then head down county roads in search of these great attractions:
Hear the call of the wild at the Al Holmes Wildlife Museum in Wetumpka. Man's best friend is honored in Union Springs at the Bird Dog Statue. In Thomaston, visit yesteryear at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center. Cross the Tallapoosa River in Tallassee with one of the world's longest curved bridges. The Tom Bevill Visitor Center in Pickensville provides exhibits that describe life in the Tombigbee River Valley. In Montevallo, visit The American Village, a Colonial village inspired in part by Mount Vernon. Wrap up your journey in Clanton at the Durbin Farms Fruit Market with a big dish of homemade peach ice cream.
Though the cities and towns range in size, adventure in Central Alabama is always on a grand scale. Make time in your plans to venture off the main roads and discover the charm and hospitality that await. We'll save you a seat under the oak tree.
Alabama's Gulf Coast
The diversity of Alabama's landscape and attractions is nowhere more evident than in its Gulf Coast region. And the voices of this region ring out that diversity.
They beckon visitors to join in today's excitement: You'll hear "Bingo!" at the Creek Palace on the reservation in Atmore. Or to learn of yesterday's struggles: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" is the battle cry chronicled at historic Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay. And "Throw me something, mister!" is the annual anthem of Mardi Gras revelers in Mobile.
As you wind your way through the old oaks and tall pines of Alabama's vast woodlands, you'll hear echoes of the past. They linger in the small town charm and in the variety of museums and attractions dedicated to the settlement, industry and lifestyle of the region.
In Monroeville, literary voices speak volumes at the Old Courthouse Museum, which was used as the model for the famous trial scene in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the novel written by Monroeville native, Nelle Harper Lee. These voices are revived each year with the annual spring performance of the play.
As you reach the coast, the past meets the present in Mobile. The voices of its 300-year history are clear at such attractions as the newly renovated Museum of Mobile (opening June 2001), the Battleship USS Alabama, and Fort Gaines. The music of the present can be heard in the city's downtown. Clubs and fine restaurants have revitalized downtown and made it, once again, the center of activity for those visiting the Port City.
The waterways have a story of their own. These stories of past and present can be heard from experienced guides on wildlife expeditions in the delta and paddlewheel jaunts on the river.
And don't forget to listen for the call of the songbirds along the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. It's a collection of prime spots around Mobile Bay for watching indigenous shore and wading birds all year, as well as neo-tropical migrants in spring and fall.
As the trail takes you around the bay, you can visualize the images Southern writers through the years have described: Moss-draped oaks, quaint townships and true Southern hospitality. All of which are so alive on the Eastern Shore.
The most familiar voice of the region is the lapping of the Gulf of Mexico on the sparkling sands of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. In summer, it serves as background noise for excited children running in the surf, and for the conversations of family members, reuniting for a visit. All year long, it is the soundtrack for watersports, deep sea fishing trips, inland excursions and long walks into the sunset. Off the beach, you'll hear the screams of delight from those enjoying the area's attractions, such as water slides, bungee towers and go-cart tracks.
And when that voice inside you says, "shop," "golf," or "eat," you've got plenty of options throughout the Gulf Coast region. Specialty boutiques and outlet shops, such as the outlet stores and antique galleries to be found in Foley, say, "It's you!" Championship golf courses, all around the bay, beckon, "Stay and play." And the variety of fine seafood restaurants asks the burning question: "Fried, grilled, baked or blackened?"
Listen to the voices of the Gulf Coast region. They'll make you feel at home. And they'll call you back again and again.
The area code for Southwest Alabama is expected to change to 251, which will affect dialing in some areas.
Adventure or relaxation? Southeast Alabama serves up both, along with bountiful sides of history and hospitality.
Select from a menu of prime offerings along the Chattahoochee Trace, a swath of river border celebrated by both Alabama and Georgia. In Eufaula, pull up a rocking chair on a fern-filled front porch and drink in local lore. Shorter Mansion, Kendall Manor Inn, Fendall Hall, Hart House . . . where do you start? And the choices mount during spring Pilgrimage when a medley of antebellum homes, brimming over with antiques, open their doors for tours.
Fill your plate at nearby Lakepoint State Park Resort, choosing from recreational options such as swimming, golf, tennis, hiking, picnicking, biking, water-skiing, boating and fishing. View egrets, white-tailed deer and even alligators at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, and take in Tom Mann's Fish World Aquariums. Try your luck on Lake Eufaula, the Big Bass Capital of the World.
Play the sleuth in nearby Clayton and search out the stories behind the Whiskey Bottle Tombstone and the town's rare antebellum Octagon House. Continue to Columbia, where you can tap into the dynamic world of energy at the Farley Nuclear Visitors Center.
On your way to Dothan, the region's largest city, take time to explore inviting Landmark Park and get a taste of the Wiregrass region's natural and cultural heritage.
On your way to Dothan, the region's largest city, take time to explore inviting Landmark Park and get a taste of the Wiregrass region's natural and cultural heritage. Downtown, you'll see the handsome Dothan Opera House and the Wiregrass Museum of Art. Area history makes colorful splashes on city buildings-perfect palettes for the Wiregrass Festival of Murals. Other enticements include Adventureland Theme Park and Water World. At the Visitor Information Center, a giant gold peanut sculpture proclaims Dothan as "Peanut Capital of the World." Don't leave the area without visiting Johnston Peanut Butter Mill in Brundidge.
Continue to Ozark, the home of historic Claybank Church, before heading for Fort Rucker to see the world's largest helicopter collection. Tour the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, which features extensive exhibits that cover the complete history of Army aviation.
Enterprise boasts a unique statue that could only be found in the land of cotton-the Boll Weevil Monument. Why pay homage to a pest? This tiny insect forced farmers to diversify with crops other than cotton and therefore safeguard the local economy.
Save plenty of time to amble through yesteryear at Troy's Pike Pioneer Museum, with its captivating collection of outbuildings, farm implements and household furnishings from more than a century ago.
Greenville, a Sunday-stroll sort of town filled with historic homes, churches and public buildings, lives up to its title as Camellia City and lures golfers to its sweeping emerald courses. Nearby, Georgiana offers a tempting treat that country music lovers find hard to resist-a house filled with the personal possessions and memorabilia of a musical legend at the Hank Williams, Sr. Boyhood Home & Museum. Savor Southeast Alabama. Dip into its playful and historic fare, and enjoy the flavor of its easygoing pace.