Cool evening view in Fairhope, Alabama.

8 Most Inviting Towns in Alabama

While the larger urban areas of Alabama offer many reasons to visit, there is much to see and experience. Birmingham, with its steel industry and rolling hills, may be the Pittsburgh of the South, Tuscaloosa may be the home of the legendary and historic University of Alabama, and Mobile may be the gateway to the Gulf and a treasure trove for Civil War enthusiasts, but pack an overnight bag and consider what makes these small towns in Alabama so inviting.

Gulf Shores

Aerial view of The Hangout at Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Aerial view of The Hangout at Gulf Shores, Alabama. Editorial credit: Felix Mizioznikov /

On Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Gulf Shores has everything the more distant and pricey beach towns in Florida have. Jimmy Buffet often boasted of outings in the area, as did other poets and musicians. If your idea of vacation is sand, sun, and waves, then Gulf Shores lives up to its name. If you prefer something less aquatic, the town still provides. Historians can visit the Fort Morgan historic site. If you like your swimming water shark-free, try Waterville, USA, one of the best water parks in the region. If a nice meal and a drink with friends is more your speed, no one can do better than LuLu’s Gulf Shores Restaurant, which is also family-friendly.

Fort Payne

Gault Avenue in Fort Payne, Alabama.

Gault Avenue in Fort Payne, Alabama.

Perhaps the greatest claim to fame of Fort Payne is that it is home to the music group Alabama, the most successful country band in history. If you are not a fan of their music, there is plenty to see and do in the outdoors. Fort Payne is the anchor for one of the state’s great natural landscapes, Lookout Mountain Parkway, and boasts Little River Canyon, practically a wonder of the natural world. Outside of town, Manitou Cave, once occupied by Indigenous People, is certainly worth a visit. While in town, be sure to tour Fort Payne Opera House and Fort Payne Depot Museum, which used to be an actual train station on the old rail line.


Street view of Heflin, Alabama.

Street view of Heflin, Alabama.

This small town sits at the midway point between Atlanta and Birmingham and, as such, was developed as a railroad stop. Heflin is the gateway town to all the outdoor activities of the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area. After lunch at Marie’s Barbecue House, and once inside the grounds, start exploring the Mountain Center- Natural Resource Center to get your bearings. Heflin is the home of seven hiking trails, five birdwatching trails, a wine trail, and even a canoe trail. If it happens outside, you can likely do it in and around Heflin.


Beautiful fall view of Oneal Bridge over the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama.
Beautiful fall view of Oneal Bridge over the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama.

If you know who W.C. Handy is, Florence will be a quasi-religious experience. Known as the Father of the Blues, he was born here in 1873, and the town now boasts the W.C. Handy Home, Museum, and Library. You could spend all day there, or after a snack at Trowbridge's Ice Cream and Sandwich Bar, you can spend time at Wilson Park along the waterfront or the campus of the University of North Alabama. And don’t neglect Pope’s Tavern Museum or the Rosenbaum House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Since you are close, you may move on to…

Muscle Shoals

City of Muscle Shoals sign, "Hit Recording Capital of the World," in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA.

City of Muscle Shoals sign in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA. Editorial credit: Luisa P Oswalt /

What do Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, and Percy Sledge have in common? They all made music at FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals. In fact, the town legitimately lays claim to dozens of musicians from nearly every genre, so FAME is something of a pilgrimage, whatever your tastes. Add the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to your visit, and you have a complete package once you have sampled the fare at 306 Barbecue and finished at The Pie Factory.

Dauphin Island

Aerial view of Dauphin Island on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Aerial view of Dauphin Island on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

For the pure beach experience, one cannot beat Dauphin Island at the southern tip of the state and the entrance to Mobile Bay. I don’t always like sand between my toes, but when I do, I want Dauphin Island sand. The town and the island are one and the same. It is fifteen miles long and a quarter mile wide, full of houses and condos for travelers coming from inland. It is one of my favorite getaways on the entire Gulf Coast. The rhythmic surf and turquoise waters keep you enchanted, so bring your supplies with you. The only way on or off Dauphin Island is by ferry to the west, or a long road to the east.


Sunset view in Fairhope, Alabama.

Sunset view in Fairhope, Alabama.

Named by its first residents because they thought they had found a paradise on earth, Fairhope has become home to eccentrics, artists, hippies, a thriving art scene, and retirees looking for quiet and serenity. If that sounds like your ideal spot as well, consider a visit to this small town on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Spend the morning in the Montrose Historic District, take in lunch at Gambino’s Italian Grill, and use the afternoon to explore Battles Wharf before lounging the evening at the Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa. On second thought, Fairhope will need a whole weekend.


Clock tower atop White Hall on the campus of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. The building and clock were constructed in the early 1900s.

Clock tower atop White Hall on the campus of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. Editorial credit: Mccallk69 /

The most famous attractions of Tuskegee are those that connect to the past. Visit the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site on the campus of Tuskegee University, one of the premier institutions of higher learning for African Americans. The school was founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881 and has played a vital role not only in the history of the South but also in the nation. From 1932 to 1972, Tuskegee was the site of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which saw hundreds of black men treated for the disease but never told they had it. Moton Field houses the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, home to the nation’s first all-African American fighter squadron.

Discover Alabama's Hidden Highlights

Alabama boasts an abundance of inviting small towns, which is much of the reason so many people born and raised in the state stay and raise their own families here and why so many tourists pay a visit. From Muscle Shoals in the northwest corner of the state to Gulf Shores at the southern tip, Alabama’s small towns give visitors plenty from which to choose. Good food, historical connections, and natural beauty are just the beginning of a trip to Alabama.

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