When you think of Alabama, what instantly comes to mind? For us, it's the Yellowhammer State's involvement in the Civil Right Movement.
You can dive into the history in the small towns beyond Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, before dipping into the warm waters of the Gulf Coast. Alabama has beaches for weary souls and fun-seekers.
You can spot dolphins or alligators, catch shrimp and eat oysters, or go leaf peeping in quaint Southern towns if you're in more of a Sad Girl Autumn mood. Don't forget to sample the state's rich musical heritage in your road trip playlists.
Gulf Shores is becoming a must-visit destination on Alabama's coast. The town has so much going for it, from white-sand beaches, Gulf seafood at Orange Beach marina, and entertainment at The Wharf district to Gulf State Park and eco-cruises covering the local biodiversity.
If you're artsy or appreciate beautiful craftsmanship, check out the Gulf Coastal Arts Center, where you can make your own glass and clay items or watch the experts do their thing. Gulf Shore's unsung status as a resort town adds to the appeal.
Magnolia Springs is half an hour from Gulf Shores and a sheer delight. With a population numbering less than 1,000, this is a true small town and one that exudes Southern hospitality.
Mail travels along bayous by riverboat; if that weren't charming enough, the streets are lined with oaks and magnolias, and the scent of honeysuckle isn't hard to find.
You won't go hungry, either—Moore Brothers' Market sells gourmet produce, and Jesse's serves fine dining with the best Alabama produce. Spend the day on a pontoon, or go kayaking at the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. You can swim here too, but this is alligator territory, so you've been warned.
Magnolia Springs Bed & Breakfast's romantic decor has elements that date back to 1897, and the service is warm and attentive. Visit the nearby town of Foley for the day while you're in the area.
No trip to southern Alabama and the Gulf Coast is complete without a stop in the beautiful city of Fairhope. It doesn't have white sand beaches, but Mobile Bay frequently pops into view, and The Grand Hotel is a local highlight.
This town loves biking, so you can cycle your way past historic homes or along a coastal trail. Downtown is walkable and eclectic, with galleries, boutiques, and numerous dining options. Fairhope is also on the Antique Trail, so keep an eye out for treasure.
Dauphin Island is another Alabama coastal town that feels undiscovered by the masses. It has the convenient amenities many folks hope for on vacation, but you can also get peace and quiet.
The weather is pleasant all year long, and you can go fishing, bathe in the ocean, or visit the Audubon Bird Sanctuary for wetland and maritime forest trails and see the migrating birds. Learn military history at Fort Gaines or take kids to the Alabama Aquarium at the Sea Lab.
Best of all, you don't need to leave the island for music events and art classes. It's bliss.
Let's move north for a moment. Muscle Shoals is the music capital of Alabama, sometimes called the birthplace of Blues.
It's where Aretha Franklin came into her own, and Otis Redding, Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones all recorded at FAME studios. That's some serious star power!
Muscle Shoals is one of four towns that make up The Shoals, and there's lots to see in the region.
Ivy Green is the birthplace of Helen Keller, and Frank Lloyd Wright designed Rosenbaum House. The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia is an unforgettable spot to grab a bite or a drink under the overhanging rock.
Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama. It's a lovely college town in West Alabama with plenty to see and do. You can attend a football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium or go on an 18-stop civil rights trail to deepen your understanding of civil rights issues in the 20th century and now.
Barbeques in Tuscaloosa are a carnivore's dream, so don't miss out, and go shopping at businesses with names like The Pants Store and The Shirt Shop.
The Tuscaloosa Riverwalk along the Black Warrior River is a must-do, as is a trek to the Moundville Archaeological Park with its pre-Columbian Mississippian mound city remains.
Fort Payne in Lookout Mountain Parkway used to be called Alabama's Sock Capital, but this town in the Heart of Dixie is less sock-centric these days.
At the foot of the Appalachians, Fort Payne is a slice of paradise for nature lovers. You can hike at Little River Canyon National Preserve and De Soto State Park, chase waterfalls, or simply come to check out the leaves during the fall.
Heading to East Alabama, Eufaula is a must-visit during April. The annual Eufaula Pilgrimage is a treat for history, design, and architecture aficionados.
You can tour the town's many interesting antebellum homes and old buildings, and when you've had your fill of manmade structures, head to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge to see bald eagles and feel patriotic.
Auburn's food scene is thriving, so if you go where the gastronomy is promising, you'll want to check out this hot spot where farm-to-table dishes compete with cosmopolitan fare to tantalize taste buds.
Auburn University has a world-class culinary school under its belt, and many of the local chefs are James Beard nominees.
Do you want mountaintop splendor that makes you sigh with contentment?
Mentone moments will do that for you. This town isn't far from Fort Payne, so you can hit similar outdoorsy attractions. But Mentone has a cute main street and fantastic views from Brow Park that demand a detour or dedicated visit.