Birmingham, Alabama is in the heart of the state with attractions like the Sloss Furnaces and Civil Rights landmarks like the 16th Street Baptist Church. But it’s also well located to explore other parts of the state. It’s easy to pick up your rental car downtown or at the airport and return to your hotel in the evening.
Distance from Birmingham: 1 hour 20 minutes
Montgomery is the capital of the state and it doesn’t have as many attractions as Birmingham, there is plenty to see. There are a number of Civil Rights memorials and museums including the Legacy Museum and the Rosa Parks Museum.
The Hank Williams Museum and the Fitzgerald Museum honor two natives of the city. Old Alabama Town is a collection of restored buildings telling the history of the state. And if that’s not enough, the landmarks in Selma and Tuskegee are not far away.
Chow down at Chris’ Hot Dogs, open since 1917, serving chili dogs and burgers to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Hank Williams. Central is known for its artfully prepared Southern food. Vintage Year has an extensive wine list and an adjoining cafe open for breakfast.
Distance from Birmingham: 1 hour 30 minutes
Huntsville is best known as the home to the US Space and Rocket Center, where countless rockets were prepared and where Space Camp is located. Give yourself at least three hours to wander this sprawling museum. The Huntsville Museum of Art downtown has an impressive collection of American works.
Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment has shops, restaurants, offices, and artist studios as well as live music on weekends. Huntsville is also home to many craft breweries. If you’d rather stay outdoors, Monte Sano Mountain is a favorite place nearby for hikes.
Blue Plate Cafe has Southern-style specials, starting with breakfast. Happy Tummy in Lowe Mill has a vegetarian-friendly menu that includes unique sandwiches and wraps. Honest Coffee Roaster- Huntsville is a hip coffee shop that serves breakfast and lunch as well as coffee, a second location from the Franklin original.
Distance from Birmingham: 1 hour 45 minutes
If you haven’t heard of Muscle Shoals, you’ve likely still heard one of the famous songs recorded in the area’s studios. Many are now open to visitors, including FAME Studios. Downtown Florence has fantastic restaurants and shops, including the flagship Billy Reid store.
The W.C. Handy House and Alabama Music Hall of Fame are also must-sees for music fans. Ivy Green was the home of Helen Keller, while the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House is the only home by the architect in Alabama. Further afield, visitors can drive a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway to Tom’s Wall, a memorial to the Trail of Tears.
Odette in Florence has the best food around, featuring Southern-inspired seasonal favorites. City Hardware has fantastic burgers, while Claunch Cafe has the best chicken salad. Rivertown Coffee is ideal for a light breakfast and boost.
Distance from Birmingham: 1 hour 15 minutes
As Alabama’s highest peak, Cheaha Mountain sits at an approachable 2,407 feet above sea level. Visitors to Cheaha State Park can hike or drive to the top, where there’s a Civilian Conservation Corps Museum.
The area sits in Talladega National Forest, a 300,000-acre preserve with trails for hiking, ATV use, and mountain biking. DeSoto Caverns and Talladega Superspeedway are a short drive away from the forest. They host concerts and driving experiences.
Distance from Birmingham: 1 hour
You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama. The school has the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art, an art collection featuring contemporary works as well as self-taught Southern artists.
But if you did come to Tuscaloosa to cheer on the Crimson Tide, don’t miss the Paul W. Bryant Museum, named for the school’s famous coach. Exhibits focus on all of the school’s athletics teams, including early sports at the school, a replica of “Bear” Bryant’s office, and even his iconic houndstooth hat.
Like any good college town, Tuscaloosa has plenty of sports bars. Rama Jama is a longtime favorite, decked out in crimson, with all-day breakfast. The fried green tomato BLT is a customer favorite. Chuck’s Fish was named in honor of Civil Rights lawyer Chuck Morgan and serves a variety of American dishes.