What do Aretha Franklin, the Wilson Dam, and Belle Mont Mansion have in common? You can experience all three by visiting The Shoals. If you’re looking for things to do in Muscle Shoals Alabama let me help you out. A trip to The Shoals is the perfect self-care trip for empty nesters or anyone looking to experience what northwestern Alabama has to offer.
My husband watched the Muscle Shoals documentary on Amazon Prime (called “Muscle Shoals”) and we decided that we wanted to put this destination on our list. We were thrilled when we were able to work this trip into our schedule. The Shoals has so much to offer, especially to those who prefer to slow down and take in the scenery. We had both visited the area before, but neither of us had taken the time to explore the history, beauty, and significance that this north Alabama area boasts.
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What cities make up The Shoals?
If you’re not from the area, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about when I say “The Shoals”. Four northwestern Alabama cities located along the banks of the Tennessee River that span two counties are commonly referred to collectively as The Shoals: Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia.
The Shoals is about a two-hour drive from Birmingham. And if you enjoy scenic views complete with grassy fields and stretches of beautiful farmland, you’ll be in for a treat on the way to the Quad Cities.
The Shoals is a short drive from several larger cities:
Birmingham, Alabama: 98 miles
Nashville, Tennessee: 110 miles
Memphis, Tennessee: 138 miles
Atlanta, Georgia: 199 miles
Where are the best places to stay in The Shoals?
There are lots of beautiful and affordable options for overnight accommodations in The Shoals area. Many are conveniently located to dining and attractions and have amenities that are perfect for empty nesters or those seeking a little self-care. We chose to stay downtown Florence at The Stricklin Hotel.
The Stricklin Hotel
Located downtown Florence, The Stricklin Hotel is a quaint little boutique hotel that is conveniently located near restaurants, shopping, and attractions. Guest rooms are equipped with a desk, a Keurig coffee maker, a mini-fridge, and a flat-screen television.
Here is a quick tour of our room:
You’ll get plenty of rest in the plush beds with lots of pillows and comfortable bedding that are a perfect welcome after a long day of exploring The Shoals.
In the basement of The Stricklin is The Boiler Room–a full restaurant and bar that has live music, karaoke, and four vintage-style bowling lanes. There’s also a Big Bad Breakfast located adjacent to the hotel, making it very convenient to grab a hearty breakfast before heading out to explore the Quad Cities.
Pro tip: My husband and I had breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast and it was so delicious! I had the low country skillet and my husband had the creole omelet. We were both extremely pleased with our meals and our waitress was so nice and attentive. If you’re in the area and looking for a great breakfast, definitely give BBB a try!
Other places to stay in the area:
Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa – great location in Muscle Shoals. Boasts its luxurious bedding, proximity to attractions, and of course, being home to the one-of-a-kind 360 Grille. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or if you just want a unique dining experience with breathtaking views and phenomenal service, you’ll want to grab some reservations at this fine dining restaurant.
GunRunner Boutique Hotel – located downtown Florence, a short walk from the University of North Alabama. The rooftop bar and spa are two features that make this boutique hotel a popular choice. Uniquely decorated rooms and a list of fantastic amenities keep area travelers booking Gunrunner again and again.
Coldwater Inn – known for its luxurious amenities and its home away from home feel, the Coldwater Inn is a popular choice in downtown Tuscumbia.
There are also several other hotels and inns located in The Shoals area. You’re sure to find a cozy and comfortable spot while you’re exploring the area.
What are the top things to do in The Shoals?
Being an empty nester gives you the opportunity to explore places that you might not have considered when your house was full of kids. You can now opt for slower-paced options that allow you to enjoy historic sites and explore small towns that are rich in stories that will entertain and possibly inspire you. Plus, you might learn some new things in the process. I know we did!
We were so shocked to learn so many fun things about northwest Alabama during our time in the Quad Cities.
Best things to do in northwest Alabama
There were so many places that we wanted to visit while we were in The Shoals, but we simply didn’t have time to explore all of the historic places. Here are some of the best activities for empty-nesters to experience in the Quad Cities:
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is located in Tuscumbia, Alabama. It’s a great place to learn about all of the great music artists who have Alabama roots. Lionel Richie, Tammy Wynette, The Temptations, Hank Williams, Sr., Hank Williams, Jr., Eddie LeVert and Nat King Cole were among some of the most notable names we saw as we walked through the exhibits and listened to some amazing tunes!
Jukeboxes blaring memorable hits, statues, gold records, costumes, cars, tour buses, and other memorabilia are just a few of the things that were on display at the museum. If you’re a music fan, you’ll love exploring music history at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Ivy Green – Birthplace of Helen Keller
Helen Keller is a name that most Alabamians are familiar with because of her tremendous contributions to disability rights. Overcoming obstacles related to her own disabilities, Keller went on to become the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her outspokenness earned her the distinction of being a trailblazer in many ways and many people love to visit her birthplace to get a closer look at where she was born, grew up, and learned to navigate life as a deafblind person.
Right in the heart of Tuscumbia, Alabama sits the Virginia-cottage construction where Helen Keller and her family lived. Ivy Green, the name given to the home, is now a permanent Shrine and is included in the National Register of Historic Sites. Along with touring the main house at Ivy Green, you also get to tour a separate house that was built. This separate house is where Anne Sullivan spent lots of time teaching Helen Keller over the years.
You also get to see the gardens and grounds and the amphitheater where special events are held throughout the year. The Helen Keller home also hosts an annual festival that honors Helen Keller with a parade, party, music, and a performance of “The Miracle Worker.”
FAME Recording Studios
We certainly couldn’t leave the Muscle Shoals area without visiting the original studio in Muscle Shoals: FAME Studios! Known as the “heartbeat of Muscle Shoals”, FAME dates back to 1961 and has seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Redding, Alabama, Mac Davis, Bobby Gentry, and others.
Oh, and it doesn’t stop there. More recent artists like Alicia Keys, Third Day, Vince Gill, Aloe Blacc, Tim McGraw, Leann Rimes, Martina McBride and Travis Tritt have cut songs at FAME, too. It felt amazing to walk into a room that these famous artists have been in. It was quite an experience.
Pro Tip: If you purchase the Backstage Tour, you get to go “behind the velvet rope” to get exclusive views of FAME’s Publishing Office, Rick Hall’s office, and an up-close look at FAME’s numerous awards and recognitions.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Our first stop was Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is a small studio that is packed with so much history. The musical instruments and other memorabilia in the studio will get music lovers excited about their visit to MSS.
Notable artists that have cut hits at this studio are The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, George Michael, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart and Cher.
Chris Stapleton’s ballad, “Cold,” was recorded in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
We had an amazing tour guide, Terrell Benton, who made our experience so enjoyable! We learned so much about Alabama’s musical heritage during our time at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House
Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Rosenbaum House is a notable landmark in the Florence area. Known for its unique design and use of natural materials, this historic structure is unlike any house that was built during its time.
We enjoyed walking through and looking at the layout of the house and were amazed at how the house seemed to go on and on and on. There were so many details and features that added to the personality of this home.
W. C. Handy Birthplace and Museum
The W.C. Handy Birthplace and Museum is located in Florence, Alabama. It is filled with memorabilia to help you learn all about the Father of the Blues. You also get to explore the actual birthplace and home of W.C. Handy and see the original furnishings of the house.
Snaking around Tom Hendrix’ property near the Natchez Trace Parkway, you’ll find a unique un-mortared rock wall. Legend has it that Tom Hendrix spent years constructing the wall in honor of his great great grandmother’s trek during the Trail of Tears. The wall serves as a memorial and is very unique.
It was a bit off the beaten path, but we are certainly glad that we took the scenic drive out to see this inspiring structure.
George H. Carroll Lion Habitat
The George H. Carroll Lion Habitat houses the mascot of the University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama. It is a climate-controlled facility and is said to house the only live lion mascot in the United States.
Florence Indian Mound Museum
Alabama has a rich history of ancient Native American monumental architecture. Throughout the state, you can find monumental structures that date back years before the arrival of the Europeans. Along the trail of sites highlighting those structures, you’ll find the Florence Indian Mound.
What are some top restaurants in the Muscle Shoals area?
Whenever we venture to a new area, we always turn to the experts for advice on where to eat. Who are the experts? The people who live there! We always want to try exclusive places that are off the beaten path and that, frankly, you can’t get on every corner in every city. So, when we asked for the best places to eat in The Shoals, these were the places that we heard over and over.
We didn’t get to try every place on the list, but you better believe we tried! That’s okay, though. It. just means that we’ll have to go back for another visit to try the ones that we missed.
360 Grille (Florence). Fine dining. A rotating restaurant that offers spectacular views of Florence.
Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken (Muscle Shoals). As the name suggests, Champy’s offers famous friend chickens and delicious sides. Obviously very popular in the area because multiple people pointed us to this restaurant while we were in the area.
Rattlesnake Saloon (Tuscumbia). Literally a restaurant under a rock. A must-see if you’re in the area. Definitely a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else. Serves burgers, appetizers, sandwiches, and other favorites.
The Pie Factory (Muscle Shoals). A New-York style pizzeria in Alabama. Locations in Florence and in Muscle Shoals. If you’re a pizza fan, you’ll want to check this place out.
The Red Clay Table (Sheffield). Located in Sheffield’s revitalized area. We didn’t get a chance to eat at The Red Clay Table, but several people recommended it.
306 Barbecue (Muscle Shoals). 306 Barbecue offers authentic Southern-style, pit barbecue with all of your favorite sides.
Even though Florence is a small town, it has a very charming and historic downtown area. We were able to get out and walk from our hotel to many shops, bars and several local attractions. Downtown Florence is a very vibrant area and according to the city’s website, they play host to several fun events and festivals.
Here are some of the businesses and restaurants we spotted:
Cherry Tree Lane Bridal & Formal
Ye Ole Country Store
Alabama Outdoors Florence
Quad Cities Carpet LLC
Southern Bath & Kitchen
Cottonwood Farm & Grocery
Coats Clothing Co
Restaurants in Downtown Florence
Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Bar
Rosie’s Mexican Cantina
Rocatoni’s Italian Grill
Pimentos , Burgers, Bar and Grill
Singin’ River Brewing
Other attractions in The Shoals
Wilson Dam Waterfall
Oak Railroad Bridge
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals
TVA Muscle Shoals Trails Complex
Belle Mont Mansion
If you are someone who loves history, you’ll be smitten with The Shoals area. Several of the landmarks in the area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so you’ll have the opportunity to experience some places that are rich with people and events that have shaped not only Alabama history but also world history.
From nature trails and music studios to Helen Keller’s birthplace and other historic sites, there is so much to see in The Shoals. We are so glad that we took this trip to the area to get a firsthand glimpse of the history and beauty that lies in this area.