Home to America's first wave pool and a first-class bug museum, Decatur, Alabama is a great destination located half an hour from Huntsville. Whether you are in the River City for a soccer tournament, a bass fishing tournament, or just passing through on your way to the beach, here are some top things to do in Decatur.
1. Explore the Murals
Take a walk through the streets of Decatur to see an array of fascinating murals. There are all sorts and styles, so no matter what you're into - there's something for everyone!
Don't miss the set of Kelsey Montague wings - the first in the state of Alabama!
2. Visit St. John's Episcopal Church
St. John's Episcopal Church was built in the late 19th century and still stands as an architectural landmark that reflects early 20th-century beauty and gracefulness. St. John's is the only church in Decatur to be built in the Gothic style.
3. Go the Park - Point Mallard
Point Mallard is not an ordinary park. During the Spring and Summer, it is the heart of Decatur.
While Point Mallard is known for having America's first wave pool, it's so much more than that. Yes, it's home to the largest water park in North Alabama with attractions like an Olympic-sized swimming pool with diving platforms, waterslides, a lazy river ride, and a Squirt Factory & Duck Pond for little ones.
Point Mallard has a quaint campground nestled in the woods next to their park. Some of the amenities include free wifi, electricity, water hookups, a dump station, a grocery store, three covered pavilions with restrooms & showers (so you can easily clean up after your day out on Point Mallard's trails), an enclosed meeting facility, kids playground, and grills.
There's even more! Point Mallard also has an open-air chapel that's perfect for small weddings, batting cages, a driving range, tennis courts, baseball fields, and soccer fields.
4. Learn About Bugs at Cook Museum of Natural Science
Many people across the South are familiar with the jingle, "Lookie, Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie, Cook's Pest Control." The company has been terminating termites for over 90 years.
What began as a personal bug collection and became a small museum in 1968 eventually evolved to a modern bug museum located in the heart of downtown Decatur.
The Cook Museum of Natural Science is organized in sections and it's a fun journey exploring them all. From the arctic desert to space exploration, the museum is a science junkies playground. One of the absolute coolest thing I have ever seen in a museum is the interactive sand table that represents a topographical map where visitors can form mounds and watch lava magically flow, make rain or snow fall, as well as create lakes.
The Cook Museum is located at 133 4th Avenue NE. The museum is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm and is closed on Sundays. You can purchase your tickets in advance online. Admission prices for adults (ages 15 and up) is $20, $15 for children ages 3-4, and $17 for military and seniors (plus 9% tax).
5. Step Back In Time At the Old State Bank
The Old State Bank in Decatur is a familiar landmark for the city. The stately building opened its doors as the Branch of the Bank of the State of Alabama on July 29, 1833. During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital for the Union army.
Today, the building is a museum with the bottom floor showcasing its banking roots and the second floor providing a glimpse into life in the early 19th century.
Guests who have a tour guide may learn about some familiar old sayings like, "Nighty, night, sleep tight..." See the bed below? The strings that support the bedding were drawn tight for a good night's sleep. For guests who had overstayed their welcome, the ropes would be loosened in hopes that they would leave.
The Old State Bank is located at 925 Bank St NE and is open Monday - Friday from 9:30 until noon and 1:00 until 4:30. Admission is free.
6. Check out the Train Museum
In 1905, the Southern Railway constructed a union passenger depot in Decatur as part of its railway system that spanned from Tennessee to Alabama. Abandoned for a time, the building has been renovated and restored since then with painstaking care taken by experts for maintaining original architectural elements like high ceilings, old doors, intricate carvings on wooden paneling - all evidence left behind by generations before us who worked hard every day just so we can enjoy this beauty today.
You can learn more about trains, and if you're lucky, you might even catch one chugging by the museum.
Tours take place on the half hour beginning at 1:30 PM until 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. All museum tours are FREE of charge!
7. Shop Like a Local
There are two main shopping streets in downtown Decatur - 2nd Avenue and Bank Street. There are a lot of local shops on both streets that you can explore.
Shops on 2nd Avenue
The Shops on 2nd Avenue houses over 35 different vendors selling home decor, clothing, bath & body products, handcrafted food, and unique art. The shops are closed on Sunday and open Monday - Saturday at 10:00 am.
Second Read Books
If you like to read and prefer a good old-fashioned book, then Second Read Books might be right for you. It's a small second-hand bookstore with a friendly staff.
Bank Street is the perfect place for some quality time with friends as you walk down this historic shopping district, where there are plenty of specialty shops and antiques to experience.
Tammy Eddy Antiques and Interiors antique store has a varied collection of antiques, home furnishings, jewelry, and gift items. Whether you're in the market for an adorable keepsake or have your eye on something more extravagant-- their friendly staff is there to help!
The Cupboard is a local, gourmet kitchen store in Decatur that values creativity and provides an outlet for those with culinary aspirations. They carry many items you won't find at big box stores which they feel better suits their philosophy of serving the niche market of budding chefs who are looking to take more control over what goes into every dish.
The shop has also been hosting classes on cooking skills like Knife Skills or how to Create your Own Charcuterie Board from Scratch as well as Growing Your own Herbs (& More).
8. Shop For Local Produce
The Morgan County Decatur Farmer’s Market is one of the oldest farmer's markets in the state and it takes place 6 days a week from May to October. In addition, there are many events that happen throughout summer like a strawberry festival or tomato sandwich day and in fall they have a jack-o-lantern contest, too!
The Farmer's Market is located at 211 First Avenue SE in downtown Decatur.
9. Get Back To Nature at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
North Alabama is a natural haven for all kinds of birds. It's only natural that people from all over flock to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, home to the annual North Alabama Birding Festival.
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a refuge for wildlife and recreation. Hiking, hunting, bird watching - it's all possible here! Thousands of people come to the Wheeler each year to enjoy the solitude, commune with nature, and share their love of animals.
10. Hook a Big One
Wheeler Lake and the Tennessee River come together to form a kaleidoscope of natural beauty, with the added bonus that it's easily accessible by residents. Wheeler Lake is a favorite destination for visitors and locals alike.
Ingall's Harbor is the site of many bass fishing tournaments and has a large boat ramp, making it a great spot to set launch to catch some of the largemouth bass that are in Wheeler Lake. Other fish you might catch include smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie, spotted bass, and bluegill.
11. Explore the Local Culture
The Princess Theatre is a one-hundred-plus-year-old landmark located in North Alabama. It was originally used as a livery stable and has gone through many changes over the years, among them having a "facelift" and being turned into an art deco style theatre with brightly lit neon signboards.
In 1978, the Princess Theatre closed its doors, but thanks to a major renovation in 1996 and funding from the city of Decatur, this old movie house reopened as an amazing arts center! Now every year it serves more than 20 thousand students who come through Decatur on school field trips or during after-school programs like Young Audience Professional Series performances and masterclasses with visiting artists. The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Daikin Festival
Daikin America, a Decatur-based company and manufacturer of air conditioning equipment, hosts an annual community party in celebration of their Japanese heritage.
The Daikin Festival features live entertainment such as drumming demonstrations, hot-air balloon rides, cultural displays including traditional calligraphy, and an art contest. Admission is for everyone and includes free food and entertainment!
Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic
The Alabama Jubilee Hot-Air Balloon Classic is the oldest hot-air balloon race in the mid-South. It started in Decatur, Alabama in 1978 and today draws about 60 pilots from 20 states for two days of competition during the annual Memorial Day holiday weekend while also serving as a must-attend community event that attracts visitors from all over America.
River Clay Festival
The River Clay Fine Arts Festival (River Clay) brings together people from across the region to celebrate visual arts in all its forms. The juried fine art festival includes an artist market, artist demonstrations, children's art activities, and student exhibits at a picturesque setting at Decatur City Hall.
If you're in the River City for whatever reason, these are some top things you'll want to do while there!