Alabama’s Southern Charm
Exploring Three Historic and Adventurous Family Getaways
By Karen Cohen
Travelers to Alabama, our neighboring state to the West, arerewarded with experiences that highlight history, science and plenty of Southern charm. In particular, three cities in Alabama – Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery – offer rich experiences for visitors, and each is only a few hours away. Deciding where to go begins with choosing an interstate highway.
I-85 South takes you to Montgomery, whose history includes a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. I-20 West takes you to Birmingham, another Civil Rights mecca and the epitome of Southern hospitality. And to visit the famous U.S. Space and Rocket Center and other attractions in Huntsville, start by driving north on I-75.
Montgomery, Historic Destination
About a two-and-a-half-hour drive along I-85 South, Montgomery offers visitors a first-hand look at pivotal civil rights and Civil War moments in American history.
You can walk through the historical home where Dr. Martin Luther King and his family lived between 1954 and 1960 at the Dexter Parsonage Museum (334-261-3270). Visitors can also witness where Dr. King pastored at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (334-263-3970).
Just around the corner is the Civil Rights Memorial (334-956-8439), a circular black granite table engraved with the names of civil rights martyrs. The adjacent Civil Rights Memorial Center offers exhibits and educational activities.
Located on the Troy University Montgomery campus, the Rosa Parks Museum (334-241-8661) elegantly showcases educational exhibits and materials associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Tour the home of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis at the First White House of the Confederacy (334-242-1861); Montgomery was the confederate capital. Six blocks of authentically restored 19th and early 20th century structures at Old Alabama Town (334-240-4500) provide a walk back in time.
Open for nearly 100 years, Chris’ Hot Dogs (334-265-6850), a mom-and-pop diner, has served famous figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, both Bush presidents and Elvis. For a more upscale meal, Central (334-517-1155) dishes out seasonal ingredients, fresh Gulf seafood, local meats and greens. The A&P Social (334-356-3814) combines Southern comfort with seasonal ingredients and items such as pimento cheese, raw oysters, and fried chicken. The Filet and Vine (334-262-8463) menu offers gourmet sandwiches, soup and salad bar, and fresh meats.
Choose lodging right in the historic downtown area and walk to attractions from Embassy Suites Montgomery (334-269-5055), Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Montgomery (334-265-1010) or DoubleTree Montgomery Downtown (334-245-2320). For more luxurious accommodations, the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa (334-481-5000) offers fine dining and modern amenities, including a lavish spa, indoor pool and fitness center.
If you are looking for a true bed-and-breakfast experience, stay at Red Bluff Cottage (334-264-0056) to enjoy quaint comfort overlooking the Alabama River.
Birmingham, Alabama’s Largest City
Just over a two-hour drive along I-20 West, Birmingham offers Southern hospitality nestled in the gorgeous foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Visitors can take a historic trip walking through the Civil Rights District, the neighborhood that was the focus of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. At the center of the district is the Civil Rights Institute (205-328-9696), where a multi-media tour will narrate the civil rights story through galleries and exhibits.
For motor enthusiasts, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (205-699-7275) has the largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles in the world, as well as a large and colorful collection of racecars.
The world’s largest cast iron statue watches over the city from atop Red Top Mountain at the Vulcan Park and Museum (205-933-1409). Enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view from the statue’s observation balcony.
The McWane Science Center (205-714-8300) enlightens kids and adults alike with four floors devoted to hearing, touching and experiencing the wonders of science.
A trip to Birmingham wouldn’t be complete without some good Southern cooking. However, the city serves up more than Southern food. For a French-inspired Southern fine dining experience, try Highlands Bar and Grill (205-939-1400). Looking for affordable home-cooked Southern food in a buffet style? Niki’s West Steak and Seafood (205-252-5751) is the place.
Iron Chef winner Chris Hastings blends French, Southern and California styles of cooking at Hot and Hot Fish Club (205-933-5474). Hastings also owns Ovenbird (205-957-6686), where seasonal southern ingredients are served in small plate format, so you can sample and share various items.
Staying in the heart of downtown at hotels such as Sheraton Birmingham (205-324-5000) and The Westin Birmingham (205-307-3600) provides walkability to attractions and restaurants. And, for a more luxurious stay, the newly renovated historic Redmont (205-957-6828) exudes 1920s glamour with modern amenities.
Huntsville, ‘The Rocket City’
Huntsville is approximately three hours and 15 minutes away in a journey that starts on I-75 North. As the STEM capital of the South, “The Rocket City” boasts deep history and scientific influence.
STEM is science, technology, engineering and mathematics. What better place to experience STEM than at the world’s largest space museum, U.S. Space and Rocket Center (256-837-3400)? Here, visitors can discover space through interactive exhibits and more than 1,500 space artifacts.
Visitors looking to experience military history can head to the U.S. Veteran’s Memorial Museum (256-883-3737) to view more than 30 historical military vehicles from World War I to the present.
Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment (256-533-0399), located just southwest of downtown, gives creative visitors the opportunity to shop and explore the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States with more than 131 working studios.
If you are looking for a scenic outdoor escape, savor the breathtaking views of the picturesque city from atop Monte Sano Mountain at Burritt on the Mountain (256-536-2882). Take a walk among colorful butterflies in the nation’s largest open-air seasonal butterfly exhibit at the Huntsville Botanical Garden (256-830-4447).
Huntsville is also home to nationally-acclaimed chef, James Boyce. He owns Commerce Kitchen (256-382-6622), serving up turn-of-the-century-style and classic cuisine in a casual bistro setting. Cotton Row (256-382-9500) dishes out seasonal and local fine American cuisine with strong Southern influences.
The eclectic sounds of live music and entertainment accompany delicious Southern fare at the indoor/outdoor eatery Lumberyard Kitchen (256-715-7130).
Guests looking for convenient access to historic downtown Huntsville can stay at area hotels such as Embassy Suites Huntsville (256-539-7373), connected via a sky bridge to the Von Braun Center; or the Hilton Garden Inn Huntsville Space Center (256-430-1778), located less than a mile from the Space and Rocket Center. The Westin Huntsville (256-428-2000) offers convenience for visitors seeking an elegant stay in a mixed-use development.
Vibrant Cities for Family Adventures
A short drive from Atlanta, Alabama’s vibrant cities reward visitors with history, family adventures and stunning scenic views. Georgia’s neighboring state provides guests a quick escape where you can encounter everything from Civil War history to the future of America’s space program. Just start your trip by choosing an Interstate.