Alabama is a state that may not be high on your list of vacation spots — but it should be!
For nature enthusiasts, there are plenty of places to explore. History buffs will learn so much by visiting the state’s Civil Rights Movement locations, and science fans will find great places to spend their time, too.
With beaches, race cars, museums, gardens, outdoor activities, lakes, and more, Alabama is a great place to spend your time. Here are 24 things to do in Alabama that you and your family don’t want to miss.
US SPACE AND ROCKET CENTER
Do you remember hearing about Space Camp on TV when we were kids? I do. I remember being so jealous when kids got to go to Space Camp, even though I never wanted to be an astronaut. Even if going to the moon was never on your list, have you ever wanted to know more about the folks who have? At the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, you can do just that.
Hop aboard the Discovery Shuttle simulator to see what it would be like to be on the spacecraft. Or check out the INTUITIVE Planetarium shows during your visit and stick around for Cocktails & Cosmos.
The center has even created traveling exhibits that make their way around the world, giving you a chance to experience their work even outside of Huntsville, Alabama. Some of those exhibits have included Apollo: When We Went to the Moon and Neighborhood Earth.
A visit here is one of the absolute best things to do in Alabama!
ALABAMA CIVIL RIGHTS TRAIL
Although the Civil Rights Trail covers more states than just Alabama, some of the biggest moments in United States Civil Rights history took place in Alabama. Throughout the state, there are historic places that served as turning points of the movement.
Because of the violent nature of some of the history behind these spaces, do keep in mind the emotional toll some of these sites may cause.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham was put on the map. Some of the biggest moments of the time were fraught with violence, such as the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four Black girls, and Bethel Baptist Church was bombed more than once. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a place that honors the movement and showcases how a segregated Birmingham operated. The institute also has a replica of the Freedom Riders bus.
Kelly Ingram Park is a natural space peppered with sculptures showcasing the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. The statues also represent the use of the park as a gathering place for movement organizations.
Like the park, the Carver Theatre also represents the resilience of Birmingham’s Black community. Carver remains a performing arts space with its history dating back to the days when the Birmingham Black Business District was segregated from the rest of the city.
As the capital of Alabama, Montgomery rightly became a central area of the Civil Rights Movement activism. Here you can visit historic sites that are significant in the movement’s history, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s church. Take some time to see the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, the Freedom Rides Museum, and the Dexter Parsonage Museum. Pay your respects to those lost during the movement at the Civil Rights Memorial Center.
Go see the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where movement leaders met and even thought up the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Then head over to the Legacy Museum, which tells the story of racial injustice in the country starting when enslaved people were shipped overseas.
But be sure not to miss The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The country’s first memorial of this kind, it remembers the countless Black Americans who were lynched in the nation’s history. Many of which were undocumented, per the Civil Rights Trail website.
Read More: 23 THINGS TO DO IN MONTGOMERY AL
Of the areas in the south marked by the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is often thought of or written about in popular culture is Selma. The marches that eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 began here. Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the first of those marches trod, stands strong here. In commemoration of the brave people who marched for voting rights, the Lowndes Interpretive Center tells their story.
Selma is home to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute and the Selma Interpretive Center, so no one forgets how hard the people of the movement fought for equality. You can even travel the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, a 54-mile trek, to follow the footsteps of the 1965 activists.
BARBER VINTAGE MOTORSPORTS MUSEUM
George Barber took his passion for racing Porsches and transferred it to motorsports and collecting/restoring classic cars. That passion culminated in the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, which is the world’s largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles.
Barber’s collection includes more than 900 motorcycles with over 1600 total vehicles.
What makes Dismals Canyon especially unique, besides its designation as a National Natural Landmark, are its inhabitants.
This natural space, less than 100 acres, is a conservatory with particularly special critters called Dismalites. Per the canyon website, these little buggies are only able to thrive in a few places on the planet. The glow worms light up the night at the canyon and guided night tours are offered for visitors to see their remarkable brilliance.
There are even cabins on the premises if you need a place to crash after a late-night looking at Dismalites.
The Birmingham Zoo is a must-visit when you’re in the area. This fantastic zoo features almost 550 animals from 6 continents, and is the perfect place to learn more about the different species found here.
See animals like lions, giraffes, elephants, sea lions, a jaguar, and more. Visit the Trails of Africa area, the Children’s Zoo, and so much more. You’ll need to spend the whole day here to see it all!
In addition to all the animals, you’ll also find a train, a carousel, delicious restaurants, behind-the-scenes experiences, and special events throughout the year.
THE BEACHES OF GULF SHORES/ORANGE BEACH
Two of the most popular beaches in Alabama are right up against the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on the Gulf Coast are two prime places to get some sun and swim.
At Gulf State Park, you can even hang out at Lake Shelby if you want to get some kayaking time in. Do be mindful that alligators populate the park, so just keep an eye out.
In addition to the white sandy beaches, make sure to make time to check out the amazing restaurants that can be found here!
BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART
As one of the region’s best art museums, the Birmingham Museum of Art has over 27,000 pieces. Founded in 1951, the museum represents a range of art history from ancient to modern times.
Some of their past temporary exhibits have included Voices So True, Lost Realms of the Moundbuilders, Ways of Seeing, and Haitian Flags from the Cargo Collection.
BELLINGRATH GARDENS AND HOME
What was once the home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Bellingrath Gardens and Home is open all year, with special events transforming the home and the gardens. These can include the Bellingrath’s Beers & Blooms and the Magic Christmas in Lights.
According to Bellingrath’s website, the flowers may change up for the season, though there is always something lovely to see. That can include over 400 kinds of camellias, which are the state flower of Alabama.
Even the home is a piece of Alabama history. Brick from the 1852 birthplace of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, as well as ironwork from the Southern Hotel, became building blocks for the home.
Known as the Sunset Capital of Alabama, Dauphin Island is a charming town beloved by residents and visitors alike. Despite its quaint size, the island is home to an Audubon Bird Sanctuary, the historic site Fort Gaines and a sea lab.
Visitors love the swimming, delectable fresh fish, and cozy resort setting. Spend some time admiring the Dauphin Island Heritage & Arts Gallery, relax at East End Park or bring your fishing pole over to Dauphin Island Pier.
Anyone who knows the antics of Ricky Bobby will be familiar with Talladega Superspeedway. This track is considered NASCAR’s “biggest and baddest track,” which has hosted racing since it opened in 1969.
It’s also widely considered to be a cursed racetrack, because of the number of fatal accidents that have occurred on the premises.
MCWANE SCIENCE CENTER
This hands-on science-focused center in Birmingham is dedicated to a mission to “spark wonder and curiosity about our world,” per its website. The McWane Science Center encourages the scientific mind of all ages to marvel at what this field of study can do.
Some of this center’s permanent exhibits include Itty Bitty Magic City, Sea Monsters, Science on a Sphere, and the World of Water Aquarium.
ROSENBAUM HOUSE MUSEUM
Far from the area that is known for its Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, Alabama has one of its own. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama is considered one of the best examples of Wright’s Usonian style.
Take a 45-minute guided tour through the home, led by experienced interpreters, and learn more about what makes this home so special. Closed Mondays.
UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE CENTER
Have you ever wondered what happens to luggage that doesn’t get claimed at the airport? There is a good chance it ends up here, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama.
This venture began, per the shop’s website, in 1970 when Doyle Owens took a borrowed truck to D.C. and sold a load of unclaimed bus baggage on a table outside a rental home. Decades later, this is still a viable business. Suppose that solidifies the “one man’s trash is another person’s treasure” adage.
After your visit to the center, make sure you explore the town of Scottsboro. This small town is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and is filled with antique shops and beautiful nature hikes.
NATURAL BRIDGE OF ALABAMA
Once upon a time, the world was covered in natural bridges. Some of those bridges still stand today and one is the Natural Bridge of Alabama.
Here you’ll find a sandstone bridge almost 150 feet long and 60 feet tall. Finding it takes just a two mile hike through Natural Bridge Park. You might even spot a large Native American Indian head in a large rock. Who knew nature was such an artiste?
MOBILE CARNIVAL MUSEUM
New Orleans has a claim on Mardi Gras culture, but Mobile, Alabama has a claim on its birthplace. At the city’s Mobile Carnival Museum, you can catch a glimpse of the area’s hold on carnival culture and learn about what makes it tick.
Check out some photos from back in the late 1800s of just how elaborate the Mobile Mardi Gras can be. Eat your heart out, Bourbon Street.
Read More: 12 SURPRISING THINGS TO DO IN MOBILE, AL
GOAT ISLAND IN LAKE MARTIN
For those looking for places named for exactly what they are – meet Goat Island in Lake Martin. This island is inhabited by goats.
Bring the whole family to enjoy these adorable island-dwelling goats. The goats are only on the island during the warmer months – usually April through October. The kids will have so much fun visiting with these friendly animals.
Leave your furry friends at home (or on the boat,) the goats aren’t fond of the family dog. We can’t blame them for that. (Want to know what they do like, though? Cheetos!)
GULFQUEST NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM OF THE GULF OF MEXICO
As one of Alabama’s newest museums, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico has just shy of 100 exhibits and displays to teach visitors about the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the museum’s website, it doesn’t have permanent exhibits but temporary ones, so the museum’s work is always changing. Some of their exhibits have included Ocean Planet Theater, Seaside Scenes, and Tools of the Trade.
MUST-SEE STATE PARKS
These are just a sampling of the state parks in Alabama. All told, there are 21 state parks in the state accounting for nearly 50,000 acres of land and water in the state.
Whether you’re interested in beaches or mountains, there is something for every kind of nature adventurer in Alabama. (Except maybe deserts. There aren’t any deserts.)
CHEAHA STATE PARK
At Cheaha State Park, you’ll find the highest point in the state at the end of the Appalachian Mountains. With its expansive natural surroundings and rock formations, you’ll see one of the more unique state parks in the country.
From lodgers to camping sites, there are also several kinds of accommodations to choose from at Cheaha, so you don’t have to say goodbye after a long day’s hike.
LITTLE RIVER CANYON STATE PARK
With its titular river that runs down from the mountains, Little River Canyon State Park is a place visitors flock to for its plethora of rare flora and fauna, as well as its waterways. Swimming, fishing, climbing, and whitewater are plentiful here, so be sure to bring your adventurous side with you to this park.
DESOTO STATE PARK
Not far from Little River Canyon you will find Desoto State Park. Here, there are waterways worth admiring, as well as a bunch of outdoor activities to enjoy.
With kayaking, biking, rock climbing, and flower finding, you’ll be hard-pressed to be bored here. There are also plenty of accommodation options at this park, so you can make a weekend of it.
CATHEDRAL CAVERNS STATE PARK
Even if it is one of Alabama’s newer state parks, Cathedral Caverns State Park is no less magnificent. Opened to the public in 2000, this park was once known as Bat Cave, according to the Alabama Park website.
Venture through these cathedral-esque caverns to admire stone formations like a “frozen” waterfall and stalagmite forests. Cave tours are offered throughout the day, with activities on the premises for kiddos too, like gemstone mining.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ALABAMA
- LAKE MARTIN: 19+ Ways To Enjoy The Freshwater Coast
- GULF SHORES: Most Loved Orange Beach & Gulf Shores Restaurants
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