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6 Ways Alabama Really Is The State Of Surprises



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All states have a one-line moniker that succinctly describes what that state is about. All of these slogans are designed to draw tourists in. Tag lines such as “I Love New York” and “Virginia is for Lovers” are examples that have stuck in our collective conscience. 

In 1988, Alabama decided that it was time to change the mindset of Americans and attempt to erase the stereotypes that had been placed upon it. The marketing masterminds at the Alabama Tourism Department released a new campaign to draw in tourism dollars. Travel guides were published. Welcome signs at the state’s borders were updated. Radio and television ads blitzed the airwaves across the country all proudly proclaiming Alabama as the “State of Surprises.” 

The moniker was a surprise not only to travelers, but residents as well, who had no idea what they had in their own backyards, and there is a lot: brilliant white gulf beaches, rolling and rocky mountains, incredible sports and outdoor recreation, arts, and entertainment, soulful Southern cuisine, quirky off-the-beaten-path attractions. The list goes on and on. 

Here are six reasons why Alabama lives up to its moniker and why it should be considered for your next vacation getaway. 

An alligator along the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Alabama.
An alligator along the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta (Photo Credit: Joe Cuhaj)

1. Nature Abounds 

Researchers at the University of Georgia have called Alabama the “Fort Knox of biodiversity.” Its warm, moist climate combined with a myriad of rivers, streams, creeks, wetlands, and river delta make it one of the most biodiverse regions in the country with an incredible and bountiful array of wildflowers, trees, and an amazing list of aquatic and land-based wildlife. 

Then there are the impressive landscapes. The north region around Huntsville is a geologic wonderland. Destinations like Dismals Canyon, Cane Creek Nature Preserve, and the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls” — the Bankhead National Forest and Sipsey Wilderness — feature deep and mysterious canyons painted with thick green moss inviting you to explore the ancient crevices and rock shelters that Native Americans once called home and where towering waterfalls continue to cut into the soft stone. 

In the northeast, mighty waterfalls including DeSoto Falls and Little River Falls thunder into deep gorges.

Heading down to the central region near Birmingham, you can experience breathtaking panoramic views of the rolling Southern Appalachians from the many rocky bluffs of the Talladega National Forest, hike the mixed hardwood forests on the state’s long path — the 171-mile long Pinhoti Trail, and take a dip to cool off from the hot Southern summer sun in Chinnabee Creek

And along the Gulf Coast, pine forest seepage bogs create what is described as the most visually stunning collection of pitcher plants in the world at Splinter Hill Bog.

Joe Cuhaj canoeing one of Alabama's many rivers.
Joe canoeing one of Alabama’s many rivers (Photo Credit: Joe Cuhaj)

2. Outdoor Recreation 

With all of this natural beauty, you would expect that there would be some great outdoor recreational activities, and you would be right. 

With over 132,000 miles of rivers, streams, lakes, and coastline, Alabama is a paddler’s dream come true. Grab your kayak and try your hand at some whitewater adventure on Locust Fork or Flint Creek

Take to one of the state’s slow moving blackwater rivers for a lazy float with one of the best being the Perdido River Canoe Trail that borders Alabama and Florida. The trail offers cool swimming and picnicking on brilliant white sand bars and the chance to spend the night in one of the elevated trail shelters. 

For real adventure, paddle one of the many dark and mysterious bayous of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta on the Bartram Canoe Trail. The delta is the second largest in the country and resembles a rainforest hence its nickname, “America’s Amazon.” It’s best to explore this watery wilderness with a local guide like those at Wild Native

For cyclists, Alabama has some world-class single track mountain bike paths, many located within state parks including Chewacla and Oak Mountain. The best is found at Coldwater Mountain where 35 miles of trail challenges beginners to hardcore riders. 

And for you anglers, you’ve come to the right place. There are over 132,000 miles of rivers and streams as well as shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico, giving you the opportunity to cast your line for largemouth bass on Lake Martin, king mackerel, or red snapper off the 1,540 foot long Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier, or hop aboard a charter boat to land sailfish.

A moment of solitude on Alabama's Gulf beaches.
A moment of solitude on Alabama’s Gulf beaches (Photo Credit: Joe Cuhaj)

3. Hitting The Beach 

Alabama’s footprint along the Gulf Coast is relatively small compared to its neighbors but it still has some of the finest sugary white beaches anywhere along the gulf. The snowy white dunes and gently sloping shoreline are brought to life by the mesmerizing turquoise waters of the gulf that outline the shore. While these beaches are becoming more and more well known, the area still has a quaint and inviting charm about it that makes this the perfect vacation destination. 

You would be hard-pressed to find better hosts than the towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores that serve up Southern hospitality and sure-fire fun-in-the-sun. After spending some time enjoying the sun and surf, hop aboard a dolphin cruise and watch the playful mammals frolic in the wake. For the daredevil in you, cool down with a thrilling ride down one of the giant waterslides at Waterville USA, or strap in and hold on for a heart-pounding ride on the Rollin’ Thunder at OWA amusement park

One of Alabama's entertainment venues: the Saenger Theater in Mobile.
One of Alabama’s entertainment venues: the Saenger Theater in Mobile (Photo Credit: Joe Cuhaj)

4. Arts And Entertainment 

World-class music venues, theaters, and events can be found across the state from Huntsville to Mobile. Standouts include cool jazz at the Perfect Note in Hoover, a true mix of genres at the Stove House in Huntsville, and the eclectic array of artists and music styles found at the Soul Kitchen in Mobile.

One of the country’s largest music festivals, the Hangout, is home-based in Gulf Shores. Each year, music lovers party the night away on the beach featuring food and fun, with several stages highlighting an incredible variety of national and local musicians. 

The state’s big four cities — Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile — have excellent symphonic orchestras that delight music lovers with performances of arrangements by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and even John Williams. 

Before the last note is just a memory, make sure you pay a visit to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia where you will learn about the rich musical history of the state including legends like Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, and the band Alabama, to name only a few.

Resembling the bow of a ship, the GulfQuest Maritime Museum in Mobile, Alabama.
The GulfQuest Maritime Museum, which resembles the bow of a ship, in Mobile (Photo Credit: Joe Cuhaj)

5. Fascinating Museums 

And we can’t forget about the state’s world class museums. Learn about the past, present, and future of space flight at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and learn of the sadness and horrors of slavery in America at the incredibly powerful Legacy Museum in Montgomery. 

In Mobile, the GulfQuest maritime museum showcases the history of the state’s oldest city and its role in the maritime history of the Gulf Coast. The museum features dozens of interactive exhibits including one where you can pilot a tanker ship into the port. 

Mobile is known as the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America. The history of the revelry and pageantry is brought to life at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Many don’t call Mobile the “Mother of Mystics” for nothing. 

6. Southern Comfort… As In Comfort Food 

Every state has its own outstanding barbecue spot — Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis. But let me tell you, it isn’t Alabama barbecue. 

You haven’t lived until you duck into a mouthwatering three-bone rib sandwich at Campbell’s in Talladega, sample the tangy hickory smoked pork ribs at the world famous Dreamland BBQ with locations in Northport, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Mobile, or revel in the smoke from the smoker as you walk into Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q in Bessemer. 

The state is also known for its incredible seafood served up fresh from the boats that work the waves of the gulf. Some of the best seafood dining is located on the causeway (US Highway 98 / US Highway 90) that connects Mobile and Baldwin Counties on Mobile Bay. Locals will tell you the best can be found here in the big three seafood restaurants: the Original Oyster House, Bluegill restaurant, and Ed’s Seafood Shed. Each serves up its own variation of delectable fried, flamed, and half-shell oysters and dozens of mouthwatering fish and crab dishes all caught fresh from the bay and gulf. And there is an added bonus — a spectacular light show at sunset on Mobile Bay.

The Bottom Line

So, as you see, Alabama truly is a state of surprises. No matter what your pleasure, it offers up plenty of exciting vacation options. Visit the Alabama Department of Tourism website for more great adventures.

Read more about what Alabama has to offer here:

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