10 must-see Alabama attractions not to be missed

Peter Watson

Whether you're planning a weekend of golf or a seven-day beach getaway for the entire family, these must-see Alabama attractions have something for everyone.

The USS Alabama battleship in Mobile, AlabamaMichael Hare/Shutterstock

From Huntsville to Dauphin Island, from buzzing urban metros to idyllic Gulf Coast beaches, from vast national parks to intimate state reserves, Alabama is desperate to welcome tourists back to the Yellowhammer State this summer.

As such, their tourist board – Sweet Home Alabama – has put together this hand-picked list of must-see state attractions.

10 must-see Alabama attractions

Escape to the fresh air of green spaces, visit intriguing museums and national monuments or bask in the spectacular beauty of Alabama with these 10 must-see Alabama attractions courtesy of Alabama's official tourism board.

1. Gulf Coast Beaches: Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Dauphin Island

Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast is home to 32 miles of beach access and turquoise waters that are the perfect spring break trip.

The Gulf Coast is the state’s most popular tourist destination, attracting more than more than 6.3 million visitors last year.

Sugar-white beaches, fresh seafood, championship golf courses, dolphin watching cruises, charter fishing trips, wildlife areas and historic sites are just a few of the treasures.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo features 16 acres with more than 250 exotic animals in natural habitats.

Other area attractions include the Fort Morgan Historic Site, Adventure Island and Waterville USA.

More information: www.gulfshores.com

2. US Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville

The US Space & Rocket Center is the largest spaceflight museum in the world.

Its collections of rockets and space artifacts contain more than 1,500 items include Mercury and Gemini capsule trainers, the Apollo 16 capsule and a Saturn V rocket.

The Saturn V is suspended 10 feet above the floor, allowing visitors to walk underneath it.

The US Space & Rocket Center also has interactive exhibits, space-travel simulators, a six-story IMAX theater and is home to Space Camp, Aviation Challenge and Robotics Camp.

More information: www.rocketcenter.com

3. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (statewide)

The state’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail features more than 460 holes at 11 different sites offering a total of more than 100 miles of golf.

Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, came up with the idea to develop a golf course system that would attract retirees and visitors.

The trail, which opened in 1992, lets travelers enjoy the state’s natural beauty by stretching from the Appalachian foothills in the north to the gulf coast.

Scattered throughout the trail sites are all located with easy highway access and no two are more than a 2 ½-hour drive apart.

The New York Times said that the RTJ Golf Trail offers “some of the best public golf on Earth,” while The Wall Street Journal said the trail may well be the biggest golf bargain in the country.

More information: www.rtjgolf.com

4. Civil Rights District National Monument, Birmingham

Before leaving office in January, President Barack Obama designated the Birmingham Civil Rights District as a National Monument.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Monument includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the death of four young girls during a 1963 white supremacist bombing galvanized the nation; Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters faced down police dogs and water hoses; The Gaston Hotel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy stayed in the spring of 1963. 

Also within the monument site are St. Paul United Methodist Church, portions of the 4th Avenue Historic District and The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

More information: www.nps.gov/bicr

5. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile

At Battleship Memorial Park visitors can explore the mighty USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars in World War II.

The battleship is more than two football fields long and had a crew of 2,500. Also on display is the Mach 3 A-12 Blackbird super-secret spy plane, the B-52 stratofortress Calamity Jane, the submarine USS Drum, an original plane that was used by the Tuskegee Airmen, plus 22 other aircraft and weaponry from all branches of the military.

More information: www.ussalabama.com

6. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Birmingham

In April 2014, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as being the world's largest motorcycle collection.

With its creative architecture and great attention to detail, Barber is home to more than 1,400 motorcycles that span 100 years of production.

More than 650 bikes can be seen on any given day, and 200 different manufacturers from 20 countries are represented in the collection- from Harley-Davidson, Honda, and Indian- to Showa, DSK, and Cagiva.

More information: www.barbermuseum.org

7. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Sheffield

The newly restored Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, where the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon recorded major hits in the late sixties and seventies, was selected as the Alabama Tourism Department’s attraction of the year for 2017.

The studio, reopening in January after being closed for decades, benefitted from nearly a million-dollar gift from Beats Electronics producer Dr Dre who was inspired by the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka the Swampers, opened the studio in 1969.

Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett dubbed the building “Muscle Shoals Sound” and attracted some of the biggest names in the business.

The Rolling Stones recorded “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” for their “Sticky Fingers” album at the studio.

The Staple Singers cut “I’ll Take You There” and the studio rhythm section backed Bob Seger on “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll.”

Other artists who recorded there included Cher, Steve Winwood, Linda Rondstadt, Rod Stewart and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Restored to the way it looked in the early 1970s, the non-profit studio is open for daytime tours and nighttime recording sessions.

More information: www.msmusicfoundation.org

8. Vulcan Park and Museum, Birmingham

Vulcan is the world’s largest cast-iron statue; made of 100,000 pounds of iron and 56 feet tall, he stands atop of Red Mountain overlooking the city.

Vulcan Park and Museum features spectacular panoramic views of Birmingham and surrounding areas from an open-air observation balcony atop the statue’s 124-foot pedestal.

Visitors can enjoy interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits and displays that give insight into the region's geology, history and industrial growth as well as a beautiful 10-acre urban green space. 

More information: www.visitvulcan.com

9. Museum of Alabama, Montgomery

The Museum of Alabama is located in the Alabama Department of Archives and History building across the street from the Capitol.

The museum opened in 2014 and tells the complete story of Alabama from prehistory to the present.

More than 800 artifacts, hundreds of images and documents, and 22 audiovisual programs tell the story of struggles over the land, the rise of a cotton economy, the Civil War, industrialization, world wars, civil rights, the race to the moon and more.

More information: www.museum.alabama.gov

10. Bellingrath Gardens, Theodore

Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore is a lush 65-acre floral oasis that is one of the top public gardens in the U.S. Walter Bellingrath, owner of Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant, bought the former fish camp on the banks of the Fowl River in 1917.

The overgrown property was pruned and cleared for a grand expanse of gardens, and opened to the public in 1932.

Bellingrath built a lavish home on the grounds in 1936 that has become a modern-day museum filled with fine art, antiques, and the country’s largest collection of Boehm porcelain.

The gardens contain more than 2,000 plants representing 75 varieties including azaleas, hydrangeas, petunias and chrysanthemums. Bellingrath Gardens has twice won the honor as America’s most outstanding rose garden.

More information: www.bellingrath.org

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ

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