12 Surprising Sites in Alabama

From crystal clear, white-sand beaches (Orange Beach) to forward-thinking art galleries (Birmingham), this ultra-Southern state is dripping with charm. Known as the Heart of Dixie, The Cotton State and the Yellowhammer State, call Alabama whatever moniker you want, just be prepared to swoon when you enter. With an unforgettable history that often leads visitors to think this state is stuck in the past, you’ll be surprised when you find the art, culture, natural beauty and kindness here. All photos courtesy of the Alabama Tourism Department.
By: Jennifer Frazier
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Park It Downtown in Birmingham

The downtowns of many cities have been forgotten over time. Not the case in Birmingham. With the addition of Railroad Park in 2010, the entire downtown area has been revitalized, showing how progressive this city truly is. This eight-block green space brings running and biking paths; fitness classes, including yoga, Zumba and boot camp; free music concerts; picnic space; skateboarding ramps and food trucks. Bring the entire family, including your four-legged loves.

Bugging Out in Enterprise

An ode to a beetle. What? Yep. You read it correctly. In the town of Enterprise stands the world’s only monument that pays homage to an agricultural pest, the boll weevil. History has it that swarms of the pest ate up the town’s cotton crop, forcing farmers to expand their farms, leading to healthy, diversified crops. Thus, they called the bug "a herald of prosperity" and in 1919, erected the Boll Weevil Monument of a woman holding a boll weevil on a pedestal.

Get Your Motor Running in Leeds

Mere miles outside of Birmingham, on the fringes of the big city, sits the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Not only is it one of the most unexpected finds, sitting off the highway in the tiny town of Leeds, but it’s also one of the most impressive. Expect more than 1,200 vintage and modern motorcycles and racecars and the largest collection of Lotus cars, although about 600 are actually on display at a time. One bike dates back to 1902 and the collection is revered like none other of its kind in the world. The other half of the attraction is a world-class 16-turn, 2.38-mile road course, where visitors can watch regular races.

A Falling Beauty in Gadsden

While the main focus of Noccalula Falls, a 250-acre public park, is its impressive 90-foot waterfall, this beauty also offers many other natural features, including a gorge trail winding through a basin and past caves, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, a pioneer homestead and Civil War carvings. For the kids, there’s a petting zoo, mini-golf course and the 1899 Gilliland-Reese Covered Bridge. While there, consider the legend of Cherokee maiden Noccalula who plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn't love.

Reach-Out-and-Touch Faith in Cullman

Put the Holy Land visit on the bucket list and visit this replica site instead (for now). This miniature version of Ave Maria, known as the "Jerusalem in Miniature," is the lifetime work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey. Fashioned out of cement, stones and, well, junk (think marbles, seashells and old costume jewelry), the Ave Maria Grotto is a 125-piece reproduction of some of the most well known and revered religious structures in history. Bring the camera and enjoy the scene, which, ironically is totally off scale due to the fact that Brother Zoettl has never actually visited the original sites.

Man of Steel in Birmingham

This gigantic statue, made in 1904 from local iron, is a great source of pride for the Magic City, as it represents the area’s successful steel and iron industry. It’s also one of the greatest sources of a big laugh. The Vulcan statue sits high atop Red Mountain, overlooking Birmingham. Holding a spear in one hand and a hammer in the other, this tough dude is wearing a skimpy ensemble that doesn’t cover his backside. Thus, when in town, you’ll constantly be "mooned" by Vulcan.

Just Peachy in Clanton

When driving along Interstate 65 between Birmingham and Montgomery, don’t crash if you spy a big peach in the sky. In the town of Clanton, the town’s large water tower is topped with an impressively large peach, an ode to the city’s reputation as the perfect place to buy the juicy summer fruit. Stop by one of the many fruit stands in the town of Clanton to sample what the tower represents.

Ugly Mugs in Hamilton

Have you ever heard the phrase, "That’s one ugly mug?" It comes to life here, at Jerry Brown Pottery. Folk artist and traditional pottery maker, Jerry Brown, a ninth generation potter, turns clay into something really, well, ugly. The story goes that slaves made these jugs to distinguish what was safe to drink and what was not, depending on the face put on the jug. Visit to purchase a jug, or to see the artist himself turn clay into ugly and awesome works of art.

Life’s a Beach in Orange Beach

There’s a chance you’ll be blown away by how spectacular these beaches are (no offense to Alabama). Crystal clear, blue waters meet powdery white sands in this beach town that feeds into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t tell everyone you know, as these 32 miles of sand are still somewhat of a secret to any outsiders.

The Court Is in Session in Monroeville

Visit the stomping grounds of the legendary book To Kill a Mockingbird. Penned by author Harper Lee, the famed, Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, the book was based on these parts, where the writer was raised. Study the book’s fictional courtroom setting of Maycomb (based on Monroeville), which has been restored to its 1930s glory, and visit the three permanent exhibits of the museum at Old Courthouse Museum.

A Melodious Museum in Montgomery

Even if you’re not a country music fan, you still know the name Hank Williams, and most likely can sing along to his famous tune, "Your Cheatin’ Heart." The country crooner died in 1953, at the young age of 29, in the backseat of his Cadillac. Although his life was short, it was legendary. See portraits, memorabilia, photographs, clothing, his childhood shoeshine box and even the Caddy he died in at the Hank Williams Museum, a must-stop for any music lover.

The Fight Continues in Birmingham

Birmingham carries the weight of a complicated history. Learn more about what happened here and how this city became an instrumental catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. Located in the Civil Rights District, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute shows the struggles of the American Civil Rights Movement, particularly those of the 1950s and 60s. Bring some tissues, as it’s nearly impossible to tour this place without being moved to tears.

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