You will be pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do in Florence Alabama, a charming yet trendy small town in Northeast Alabama. When you visit Florence Alabama, the boutique hotels, cafes and great restaurants are located in historic downtown Florence. In a residential area of the city, you will find the Rosenbaum House Florence Alabama which is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alabama. Go a bit further afield to visit the rest of the Shoals and you will find lots o outdoor adventure on the Natchez Trace Parkway as well as sites relating to the Native American presence in the area. Among the other things to do in North Alabama include Muscle Shoals Recording Studios and Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birth place and museum. Your problem won’t be finding attractions in North Alabama but fitting them all into your Alabama road trip!
Things To Do in Florence Alabama
The Washington Post described Florence Alabama as “if Brooklyn was plunked down in a Southern state” – an apt description. You’ve definitely got the Brooklyn vibe going on in this small town – great food, cafes filled with hip young people and interesting architecture. And, of course a super cool industrial chic boutique hotel, the GunRunner.
Florence Alabama is located a mere 1 1/2 hours from the big city delights of Huntsville Alabama heading east past Decatur Alabama. You will plenty of things to do in Florence Alabama and the Shoals area in general (covering the Quad Cities Alabama) if you are visiting the region on a Southern road trip.
Getting Around To Attractions in Florence Alabama
In Florence Alabama things to do are split between the easily walkable Florence Alabama downtown and everything else which will require a car. Attractions in Florence Alabama that will require you to drive will include the Rosenbaum House, Tom’s Wall and the Wilson Dam.
Florence Alabama Downtown
The restored Florence Alabama downtown is in a word charming. Among the things to do in Florence AL is check out the cool architecture in the historic area of downtown Florence Alabama.
The historic area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings in downtown Florence AL date from 1880-1920 when the area was part of an industrial boom. If you are wondering what to do in Florence Al, don’t worry. There are plenty of things to do in Florence Alabama because it is a cool college town.
What first caught my eye at the Florence store of fashion designer Billy Reid was the artwork of Alabama folk artist Butch Anthony which I had seen previously at Lowe Mill Arts in Huntsville. Billy Reid himself is technically from Louisiana but his wife is from Florence Alabama. The ethos of Billy Reid design is contemporary Southern casual elegance. He’s got 13+ stores on the East Coast of the USA as well as having his clothes carried in Nordstrom and Selfridges in London.
The Billy Reid store is located at 114 N. Court Street, Florence AL 35630.
How can you not go into a store called Ye Ole General Store? Around since the 1940’s, Ye Ole General Store has been named among the best vintage stores in the USA. Ye Ole General Store is located at 219 N. Seminary Street.
Studio 23 is an arts and crafts store that sells stuff from makers in the Shoals area. Studio 23 is located at 333 East College Street.
The GunRunner Hotel is an industrial-chic boutique hotel in Florence Alabama downtown. It’s a great stylish play to stay or just stop by to have a drink at the bar (or the rooftop terrace).
Restaurants in Florence Alabama
No doubt from the addresses below you will see that Court Street is the main drag in Florence Alabama! And, has some of the best restaurants in Florence Alabama.
Trowbridges Florence Alabama is the oldest retail outlet in the town still in its original premises. Thankfully the diner is definitely channeling retro chic from the 1950’s (not 1918 when this grandaddy of Florence Alabama restaurants was established). The waitresses are recovering addicts or domestic abuse survivors.
The orange pineapple ice cream at Trowbridges Florence Alabama has been highly rated by locals, magazines (e.g., Travel & Leisure) and listed on the 100 dishes to eat before you die. I am so glad I did because I can now die happy. The chicken salad is also pretty great.
When you visit Florence Alabama, Trowbridges is the ONE place that I insist you work into your trip. Total small town charm filled with locals and great cheap food. You really don’t find these type of places very much anymore!
Trowbridges Florence Alabama is located at 316 N Court St. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday.
For casual fine dining, check out Odette’s which is down the street from Trowbridges. A farm to table restaurant set in what used to be a shoe shop, this restaurant set the the trend for nicer edgier dining establishments in Florence Alabama. I had a divine strawberry salad and fried oysters from the Gulf Coast. There is a kid’s menu.
You can find Odette’s at 120 North Court Street, Florence Al 35630 and open 7 days a week.
For good Italian food, there is Ricatoni’s (107 North Court Street) which is in the 100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama pamphlet, and for great Mexican food, there is Rosie’s Mexican Cantina (302 North Court Street).
Rosenbaum House Florence Alabama
The only Frank Lloyd Wright house in the state, the Rosenbaum House Florence Alabama is a state treasure. Surrounded by more traditional looking houses in an upscale residential area, the Rosenbaum House still looks totally modern. And totally different. The low-lying wood and brck structure just blends naturally into its tree lined plot of land.
The Rosenbaum House Florence Alabama still has much of the original Wright-designed furnishings as well. The original house only cost $12,000 (admittedly in 1939) but the value is priceless today.
The Rosenbaum House Florence AL is located at 601 Riverview Drive Florence AL 35630. It is open from Tuesday through Saturday.
Pope’s Tavern and Museum
Pope’s Tavern and Museum is near Alabama’s oldest university, the University of North Alabama founded in 1830. Pope’s Tavern and Museum has seen a lot of history. It was a rest stop along Andrew Jackson’s military road that connected Nashville via the Natchez Trace to New Orleans. Supposedly, Andrew Jackson himself stayed here on his way to the Battle of New Orleans.
During the Civil War, Pope’s Tavern and Museum operated as a field hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. The museum is full of Civil War relics as well as other items from the 18th and 19th century.
Pope’s Tavern and Museum is located at 203 Hermitage Drive, Florence Al 35630. The subject of a recent renovation, Pope’s Tavern and Museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday.
Things To Do in Tuscumbia Alabama
Tuscumbia Alabama is named after a Chickasaw chief who welcomed American settlers in 1815. Little did Tuscumbia know then that in a short time frame, his people would be forcibly relocated to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. No good deed goes unpunished.
Helen Keller is Alabama’s most non-controversial state hero. You can visit a shrine and a museum to this remarkable woman at Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green. The former cotton plantation is now a fraction of its former size but you can still see the places where she spent her formative years with her family and her governess, Anne Sullivan.
Every summer there is a Helen Keller festival in downtown Tuscumbia. Moreover, every June and July, the grounds of Ivy Green are transformed into an open air theatre. You can watch performances of The Miracle Worker, the play based on Helen Keller’s autobiography.
Ivy Green is located at 300 W. North Commons, Tuscumbia AL 35674. It is open 7 days a week.
Belle Mont Mansion
Belle Mont mansion is another cotton plantation just like Ivy Green. Belle Mont though is more along the lines of the grand sugar plantation mansions I had seen on the River Road in Louisiana. Sort of like a castle needs a turret, I feel short-changed if a plantation doesn’t have grandeur or at least the odd column.
At Belle Mont you can see the influence of Thomas Jefferson on architecture again – the fusion of Roman and Paladian architecture that you see in Charlottesville Virginia. Not a surprising connection since the original owner of Bellemont was a Virginia planter who lived near Jefferson’s Monticello. The original plantation was 1500+ acres worked on by 152 enslaved people.
Belle Mont Mansion took four years to complete using enslaved labor. Then the owners turned around and sold it to the next family the next year. The second family used Belle Mont until the 1940’s when it was abandoned. The state acquired the ruins of Belle Mont Mansion and 35 acres surrounding it in 1983.
Belle Mont is located at 1569 Cook Lane, Tuscumbia Alabama 35674 and open Wednesday through Saturday. They do regular events throughout the year such as a quilt show and a musical event in connection with the W.C. Handy festival in Tuscumbia. (How ironic that the celebration of an African American’s music still keeps up the coffers of this cotton plantation). The biggest event of the year at Belle Mont is their annual plantation Christmas on the first Sunday of December.
Rattlesnake Saloon Tuscumbia Alabama
The Rattlesnake Saloon Tuscumbia Alabama is a scary name right? The restaurant is named after a den of rattlesnakes found nearby during its construction. Located under an amazing bluff, the Rattlesnake Saloon is a picturesque place to eat. The menu has colorful names like skunk rings (onion rings) and bronco bits (fried pickles). The food is very American (whole lots of meat) but there are vegetarian and gluten-free options if you ask. Both the Rattlesnake Saloon Tuscumbia Alabama and the nearby Coondog Cemetery are in the Atlas Obscura list of weird and wonderful places to visit in the state.
The Rattlesnake Saloon is located at 1292 Mount Mills Road, Tuscumbia Alabama 35674. It is only open on the weekends. The Coondog cemetery is in Cherokee Alabama – follow the signs from Alabama HWY 247.
Other North Alabama Attractions
The Shoals area has plenty to do that is worthy of more than the day trip I did. Other North Alabama attractions include a world renowned music scene, Native American cultural sights, and outdoor attractions for hiking and camping.
Muscle Shoals Recording Studios
Muscle Shoals recording studios have a well-deserved reputation for churning out hit music. It’s one of the fun things to do in Florence Alabama – ok well technically, Muscle Shoals.
Interest in the Muscle Shoals Recording Studios has been piqued again by a documentary called Muscle Shoals from 2013 about Rick Hall who created the signature sound of an era. Tens of thousands of people have visited the Muscle Shoals Recording Studios since the documentary.
The original FAME Studio (an acronym for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) was started in the 1950’s by Rick Hall in downtown Florence Alabama. It’s located in a strip mall near a CVS pharmacy and you can still take tours.
The other big name in Muscle Shoal recording studios is the 3614 Jackson Highway Recording Studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio formed when the four members of the rhythm section of FAME Studio broke off to form their own enterprise. Once again located in a nondescript building, this Muscle Shoals sound studio has recorded some legendary music.
A tour of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio shows how it looked in the 1970’s when this hit music was being created. This recording studio is definitely faithful to the 70’s vibe – brown carpeting, gold records lining the wood panelling and an orange sofa from 1969 still covered in duct tape.
If only the brown plaid sofa in the ‘secret’ bar area used to entertain visiting rockers in a dry country could talk!
The 3614 Jackson Highway Recording Studio is located at 3614 N. Jackson Highway, Sheffield, AL 35660. FAME Recording Studio is located at 603 East Avalon Avenue , Muscle Shoals AL 35661. Both Muscle Shoals recording studios are open for tours Monday through Saturday.
About a 40 minute drive away from the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, you can find Tom’s Wall, an easy exit off the Natchez Trace Parkway. Tom’s Wall is another of the great things to do near Florence Alabama.
Tom’s Wall Florence AL is a stunning testament to family memory. In memory of his great-great-grandmother Te-La-Nay, Tom Hendrix built a wall over a mile long by hand. Te-La-Nay was a Yuchi Native American forced to walk the Trail of Tears to a reservation in Oklahoma. She was the only Native American who is known to have returned to her ancestral lands.
She had to return secretly through a journey took 5 years. Tom Hendrix put a stone for every step she took in her journey back home. By the end of the project, his son Trace was helping build the wall. When visiting, you find Trace Hendrix at the wall and hear the story directly from him like I did.
Tom’s Wall is located at 13890 County Road 9, Florence AL 35633. There is no admission fee for Tom’s Wall which is open daily. Trace Hendrix does sell a book and stone carvings though. I found the whole place beautiful, serene and deeply spiritual.
Natchez Trace Parkway
I have to admit the only part of the Natchez Trace I saw was near Tom’s Wall. If my kids had been with me, we would have hiked along a part of the Natchez Trace Parkway, whether or not I was turned into a mosquito chew toy.
Around since Native American times, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Scenic Byway spanning 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez. The Natchez Trace cuts a cross the Northeast corner of Alabama near The Shoals. This mere 25 miles section allows the road to connect the states of Tennessee and Mississippi.
Andrew Jackson’s Military Road built in 1820 cut 220 miles from the Natchez Trace on the journey between Nashville and New Orleans. Both the Natchez Trace and Jackson’s Military Road were important in encouraging new settlers to populate the Mississippi territories.
If my son were with me, he would have insisted on seeing Wilson Dam because he loves architecture. The Wilson Dam, unlike the Art Deco Hoover Dam in Nevada, is neo-classical in style. When the Wilson Dam was finished in 1918, it was the largest hydroelectric plant in the world. The army engineer who headed the team building the canal for the Wilson Dam went on to build the Panama Canal and the army engineer who headed the dam itself went on to build the Aswan Dam on the Nile River in Egypt.
The Wilson Navigation Lock is located at 704 South Wilson Dam Road, Florence AL 35630.
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Although we received free entry into Ivy Green and 3614 Jackson Highway Recording Studio and dinner at Odette’s from the Florence Alabama tourism office, this did not in any way affect our opinion or reviews given in this article.
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