The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is a must for lovers of naval history, WWII history, and military history in general. The park in Mobile, Alabama has lots to see (more on that in a moment) but the crowning gem is the USS Alabama, a WWII-era battleship that was in service protecting transit routes through the seas of Northern Europe as well as battling the Japanese for control of the Pacific theater. In fact, the USS Alabama was instrumental in the taking of the Marshall Islands and Nauru Island.
It's actually pretty neat to walk around the deck of a World War II battleship and you can also check out the USS Drum, a WWII-era submarine that's also house in the park. The coolest parts are sitting in the gun turrets of the USS Alabama and exploring the Drum to see how the sailors actually lived. It must have been pretty tough!
The park which, by the way, covers over 150 acres, also has a selection of military aircraft ranging from the Korean War to the current operations in Iraq. Admission is $15 for adults and around $6 for kids. With admission, you get to spend the entire day there so don't forget to bring a picnic to enjoy lunch out by the water.
The Kitche Kettle Village is a charming village in the Pennsylvania countryside, about 3 hours' drive from New York. It's a kind of Toyland, where it always feels like Christmas, even in August! You'll find yourself wandering through shops full of souvenirs, Christmas decorations, nativity scenes, lights, wreaths ... everything! Lost in this enchanted world, you can enjoy the many handmade products made by local Amish families. There's also food on offer, including pretzels, jams, and typical American peanut butter.
Chewacla State Park is a beautiful 700-acre state park near Auburn, Alabama about an hour east of Montgomery. The best park about the park is Chewacla Lake, a great spot to go canoeing, kayaking, or just take a dip in summertime. As it's a protected state park, they don't let you use a gasoline-powered boat in the lake. There are also a couple of streams in the lake for trout fishing.
If you're a hiker, Chewacla State park has you covered. There are eight or so trails for all abilities, my favorite of which was the Deer Rub Trail. It's a bit longer than some of the other trails like Sweet Shrub or Eagle Scout, but it takes you around the entire park and passes by the streams and waterfalls.
Admission, I believe, is only $3 for adults so it's a nice way to spend a family day without breaking the bank. If you've got a large family or group of friends, they also have really nice, quiet picnic pavilions which you can rent for around $50 and spend the entire day eating, drinking, and hanging out in the great outdoors.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a large museum and foundation in downtown Birmingham, Alabama that bring to life the struggles and values of the American Civil Rights movement. I'd suggest visiting the museum as part of a morning in Birmingham's Civil Rights district. The museum is located by other historical sites like Kelly Ingram Park and the famous 16th Baptist Church and it's worth spending a whole day immersing yourself in the area.
The museum itself is incredibly well-organized and interactive. You start with an 8-minute video which traces the history of the city of Birmingham from its founding to the days of slavery to the segregated city of the early 20th century. This video gives you the context to understand the rest of the exhibits detailing African American life in 20th century Birmingham and the city's important role in the Civil Rights movement.
I think it's one of the best museums in Alabama and I'd definitely put it in my Birmingham top 5. If you're only going to be in Birmingham for a day or two, make sure to pay a visit to the Civil Rights Institute. Oh, and before I forget...AAA members get a few dollars off the entry price to make sure to bring your card!
While in Stevenson, Washington, I came across this 200 foot long concrete pier that juts out into the mighty Columbia River. It's a cruise ship pier, but no ship was at it when I discovered it. The pier was very quiet, with only a few people around. I strolled to the edge, and took in the most beautiful, panoramic view of the River, the Gorge, the Bridge of the Gods. To my left were dozens of hang gliders zipping through the water and soaring in the air. To my right; a swarm of windsurfers taking off at the bank and circling around through their area of the river. It was so fun watching all the action, I probably stayed for at least 40 minutes. The beautiful backdrop didn't hurt either. If you stop in Stevenson to eat or are even just passing through, check out Stevenson Landing to just slow down and take in the beauty and action of the Columbia River Gorge.
Dauphin Island is both a small town and an island on the Gulf coast of Alabama not too far from Mobile. If you're looking to escape from the city for a few days and just kick back on the beach, then Dauphin is definitely a good choice.
As far as the beaches on Dauphin island go, they're not the absolute best you can find in the state. That honor would have to go to the Gulf Shores area. However, the beaches on Dauphin aren't bad: the sand is soft and the water is pretty clear for the gulf. The beaches get a bit narrow at times, but thankfully Dauphin Island isn't usually too crowded.
In terms of things to see, I have two recommendations: first, spend a day checking out Indian Mound Park. Apparently, Dauphin Island was inhabited by Native Americans who built mounds in the area and you can still see them today. Plus, the park is beautiful and makes for a great place to clear your head. Secondly, check out Fort Gaines, a Civil War-era fort coastal for which you can still visit today.
The US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is a real shrine to the American Space Program and rocketry in general, whether it be scientific or military. The museum is sort of an offshoot of Redstone Arsenal, home to the United States Army's Missile Command.
Inside, the museum, there are exhibits which range from ballistic missiles to artifacts from the famous
Apollo missions including the actual Apollo 16 command module and a lunar rover. Aside from just artifacts, the museum also has lots of interactive activities like wind tunnels and simulators which let kids (and adults) learn about the basics of rocketry and space flight as well as have some fun while they're at it.
The museum is fun to visit by itself, but it also organizes bus tours of the entire Redstone complex and its various testing areas and national historic landmarks. The US Space & Rocket Center also hosts the nationally-famous Space Camp, which many of us are lucky enough to remember from our childhoods. All and all, it's one of the most important and interesting things to visit in Huntsville, Alabama and a must for fans of science, military history, and rockets!
Birmingham Zoo is the city zoo in Birmingham, Alabama and, despite not being as famous as other zoos around the country, has some excellent exhibits and makes for a fun day out with the kids. In fact, the Birmingham Zoo is so popular that it's been ranked as one of the most popular attractions in the entire state for many years running.
The Zoo has standard exhibits like the predator, reptile, aviary, and primate zones, but it also recently added an exhibit called Trails of Africa which showcases a small herd of African elephants and even lets you gt up close and personal with giraffes. Seeing the massive creatures up close is definitely the highlight of the Zoo. I'd also like to make a special mention of the shows and activities. They have regular sea lion and bird shows and you can take the kids on camel rides during the spring and summer.
Besides all the exhibits, the zoo also has shops and several cafes so you can spend the whole day with the family enjoying the displays and learning about the animals.
The Cheaha Mountain is nestled in the gorgeous Cheaha State Park in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near the town of Delta, Alabama. Cheaha Mountain is actually the highest peak in Alabama but it's apt for hiking novices, so no worries if you're not in tip-top shape.
The park is full of trails, some more difficult than others, so make sure to have a look at the park entry and see which trail is most appropriate for your group. I personally liked the Lake Trail which starts at scenic Lake Cheaha and heads up the mountain without actually reaching the peak. The trail takes around an hour and isn't too difficult although the final stretch is a bit steep. The best part of the trail are the views of the park during the climb...simply breathtaking! No wonder they call Cheaha the "Alabama Alps!"
If you're not really a hiker, you can also just drive the Skyway Motorway. It's sort of a miniature (but no less beautiful) version of the Blue Ridge Parkway and lets you have all the views without all the sweat and blisters!
The park costs only $3 for adults and children under 6 get in free. Even if you're not planning on hiking, the park makes for a fun day out to walk around, fish, and enjoy the countryside.
Russell Cave National Monument is an exceptional park near Bridgeport, Alabama not only for the beautiful landscapes surrounding it, but also for it's interesting history. The cave was used for thousands of years as a shelter for the prehistoric inhabitants of North America and, from a scientific perspective, is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country.
The cave itself is enormous and goes over 7 miles into the earth, making it also one of the largest caves in the country. The interior, though, is delicate so you need to visit with a park guide. You can arrange a visit (they happen several times a day) at the visitors center and explore the park of the cave that was used in prehistoric times and where they've discovered all sorts of artifacts and arrowheads.
The park itself also has some hiking trails. One, the Nature Trail, is paved and apt for families with kids and pets, while the other, the Backcountry Trail, is a bit wilder. The trails are only a mile or two long and don't take too long to explore. If you happen to be passing through this part of Alabama, don't miss the chance to miss one of the largest and most important caves in the US!
The Bellingrath Gardens and Home is a gorgeous park just a few minutes outside of Mobile, Alabama. I would go as far as to say it's one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in the entire state! The park consists of a large gardened estate and mansion on the Fowl River and is a really lovely place to get lost. They have Japanese-style gardens, rose gardens, a famous "Mermaid Pool," and large variety of plants, shrubs, and flowers for you to explore. You can also tours the Bellingrath Mansion, a stunning example of Southern taste and class.
The gardens cost $12 to visit while the mansion brings to total up to $20. What's my recommendation? I'd go to Bellingrath Gardens in the morning before the heat and humidity (and tourists) set in and explore the gardens at your leisure. Don't worry about seeing everything...just wander and let yourself be surprised by an unexpected fountain or blooming tree.
Oh, before I forget...if you can, try to plan a visit to Bellingrath Gardens around Christmas time. They hang thousands and thousands of lights around the gardens and the results is absolutely magical.
Railroad Park is an urban park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama and one of the prettiest parts of the city. It was built over rail lines and in fact a lot of the materials they found were used to built the actual park. To say that Railroad Park is an oasis of ponds and trees is to sell it short. It has a lake, a really beautiful water curtain, and several ponds and streams that run through the park.
I'd also like to add that there's a path that circles the park that is a little under a mile long. It's the perfect place to go jogging if you're looking for a little peace and fresh air. Also, there is free wi-fi throughout the entire premises so next time you need to catch up on some work you can ditch the Starbucks and head for a nice bench by the lake.
There's also a skate park, a Venice-beach style fitness area, and several playgrounds for the kids. That's actually probably my favorite part...there's a little bit of everything so people for all walks of life can come and enjoy the park. Oh, if you're in Birmingham in springtime, make sure to check out the Relax by the Tracks concert series the hold every year.
Vulcan Park is most famous for being home to the Vulcan statue, the largest cast iron statue in the world and, at over 50 feet tall, on of the largest statues in the United States. Vulcan Park is located on top of Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama and offers what are probably the best views in the entire city. The statue itself is depicts the Roman god Vulcan, the forger, and is in tribute to Birmingham's mining and forging past.
The park is open 7 days a week and costs around $6 for adults with discounts for veterans, seniors, and kids. While the statue and the views are worth the trip alone, they've recently put a lot of work into transforming the park into a full-on educational center with a museum detailing Birmingham's mining history dating all the way back to its founding.
The best times to visit the park are on 4th of July and during the autumn concert series. On July 4th, they organize the largest fireworks display in the state of Alabama and the spectacle couldn't be better. In the fall, they organize after-work concert series in the afternoon accompanied by craft beer and, of course, great sunsets over the city. If you're in Birmingham, spending an afternoon up at Vulcan Park should definitely be on your list!
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is located at the Barber Motorsports Park, a massive auto racing track in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. Catching a race at the Barber (like the Alabama Grand Prix) is thrilling enough for racing enthusiasts, but if racing isn't your thing you should still pay a visit tot he Vintage Motorsports Museum.
The museum itself houses over 1200 motorcycles ranging from some of the earliest models ever made (they had motorcycles in 1904?) to modern speed bikes and all kinds of beautifully decorated vintage motorcycles from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. One of the interesting parts is seeing the different types of bikes from around the world. They also have a large collection of classic Lotus racing cars and the Ferrari which was used to win the World Championship in 1964. Truly some beautiful machines!
Admission for adults is around $15 and a bit less for kids. Children under 3 get in free. If you're in the Birmingham area and you're a fan of classic bikes and cars, or just plain old workmanship, make sure to take a trip out to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
Gulf State Park is definitely the best state park in Alabama and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful state parks in the US. Why? The beach! Who knew there were pristine white-sand beaches in Alabama? You don't need to travel to the Florida Keys to find powdery white beaches and clear-green waters, just head to Gulf State Park.
The best part of beach bums is probably Alabama Point. You have to take a long wooden walkway to get there but once you do it's worth it! The sand is nice and soft so the kids can make sand castles and it won't burn your feet in summertime. The best part is that if you avoid going on Memorial Day or Labor Day, it's really not crowded at all. If you're more into fishing, Lake Shelby has some great freshwater fishing and there are guides in the area who'll take you out if you don't have a boat.
Finally, Gulf State Park also has a golf course. I'm not a golfer myself, so I can't add much, but I hear it's pretty nice and the prices are reasonable. Long story short: Gulf State Park has some of the best beaches in the US and it's great place to relax with the family without all the crowds.
The McWane Science Center is a large science museum in downtown Birmingham, Alabama that's a great choice to bring the kids for a day. You know, a little fun and education at the same time never hurts! Thee other nice thing is that there's a bit of everything, from dinosaurs to IMAX to interactive games, so you're sure not to get bored.
I especially liked the World of Water, a large exhibit based around fish, amphibians, and other critters. The kids' favorite was undoubtedly the sharks and stingrays on the bottom floor. They have a tank where you can walk right up and bet the animals...lots of shrieks and giggles to be had for sure! Another cool exhibit was the Alabama Dinosaurs. I never knew Alabama has such a...prehistoric past. They had a couple of big T-Rex looking ones that were pretty impressive.
The admission is $13 for adults and $9 for kids, plus a bit extra if you want to go to an IMAX show. Frankly, I think a day with the exhibits, activities, and games is enough to keep the flock entertained. It's definitely a place to check out if you're traveling through Birmingham with kids.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is one of the most prestigious and extensive art museums in the Southeast United States. It has over 20,000 works showcasing everything from Pre-Columbian artifacts to African art to the most contemporary works from the region. Especially impressive is the European Art collection which features the Kress Collection of Renaissance Art, a mix of paintings and decorative arts ranging from the 13th to 18th centuries.
Another highlight is the Native American Arts section which has artworks from tribes from throughout the United States, including Navajo weavings and woodworking by the Pacific Northwest tribes. Don't miss the chance for a stroll through the Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden to see works by Rodin surrounded by beautiful tiled fountains. It's one of the prettiest and most unique places in the city.
What's the best part? It's free! That's right, you can spend the day perusing centuries of fine art for free. Of course, if there's a traveling exhibit there'll be a surcharge but the museum's permanent collection is otherwise free of charge and open to the public seven days a week!
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are the largest botanical gardens in Alabama and a real pleasure for nature lovers, couples, and those of us who just like relaxing strolls. One of the best parts is the sheer variety of gardens they have to explore: there's a Japanese-style garden, formal gardens, rose gardens, and even a garden dedicated to Southern Living magazine! Like I said, there's no shortage here!
The best plan is to just head into the garden and take a stroll wherever the wind takes you. Grab your significant other and just head down a trail, enjoying a conversation and the beautiful flowers in bloom. There's also a "Plant Adventure Zone" that has some education activities if you're traveling with kids and they get a bit restless among all the peace and quiet!
Both the entrance fee and parking are free, so you can pay a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens at any point during your trip to Birmingham without worrying about going over-budget. Oh, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses!