Florence, Alabama is a vibrant city in the heart of The Shoals region. With a rich history, beautiful scenery, and plenty of activities, Florence is an ideal destination for a fun and exciting getaway. From outdoor adventures to cultural attractions, there’s something for everyone in Florence and The Shoals. From musical legacies to scenic wonders, our mini guide invites you to explore the heartbeat of Alabama’s cultural hub in The Shoals.
The Shoals is the area of northwest Alabama that includes Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. This region is known for its music heritage and is home to some of the most iconic recording studios in the world.
What many people associate with Florence and The Shoals is it being the home of the University of North Alabama, the birthplace of Helen Keller, and the location for the Alabama Renaissance Fair.
The region is a great place for a long weekend excursion. Below are some of the best things to do in Florence and The Shoals.
1. See the Rosenbaum House
The Rosenbaum House is a Florence landmark and is the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure in Alabama. It’s also the only such house that is open to the public in the southeast.
The house is a must-see for fans of architecture and design. Designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Stanley and Mildren Rosenbaum, the house was built in 1939 and is now open for tours. Visitors can explore the house to learn more about its history and admire its Usonian design.
The Rosenbaum house is located at 601 Riverview Drive and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and on Sunday from 1:00 pm until 4:00 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.
2. Visit the Birthplace of WC Handy
Known as the “father of the blues,” William Christopher (W.C.) Handy was born on November 16, 1873, in a small log cabin built by his grandfather in Florence.
While in Memphis in 1909, Handy wrote his first hit called “The Memphis Blues.” (It is accredited as the inspiration for the dance known as the “foxtrot.”) The City of Memphis credits Handy as being “Memphis music’s first international star, its first great songwriter and its first major music mogul.”
The W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum & Library is located at 620 W College Street. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Tickets are $12 for adults ages 16 and older.
3. Climb the Florence Indian Mound
The Florence Indian Mound is a Native American archaeological site located in Florence. The mound is 43 feet high and visitors to the museum are welcome to climb the stairs to reach the summit.
The mound was built by American Indians of the Woodland period between 100 BC and 400 BC. The adjacent museum houses spear points, arrowheads, animal effigy pipes, textiles, and other ancient tools.
The Florence Indian Mound and Museum is located at 1028 S Court Street. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and on Sunday from 1:00 until 4:00 pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students.
4. Explore Downtown Florence
Downtown Florence is a quaint city center with local plenty of specialty shops and dining options. It’s easily walkable and a great place to explore.
If you are a fan of fashion, be sure to stop by Florence-based designer Billy Reid’s store. He’s an award-winning designer who made his home in Florence after 9/11.
You can buy New York fashion in the heart of downtown Florence. Billy Reid is located at 114 N Court Street. It is open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm and on Sundays from noon until 4:00 pm.
Every first Friday of the month from April to December, downtown Florence transforms into a lively and buzzing epicenter of music, art, food, and fun! First Friday is an event that has something for everyone. The streets come alive with street performers and vendors selling unique handmade items.
Speaking of food, you’ll want to try out some of the local restaurants such as Trowbridge’s, a long-time favorite of Florence residents. It’s been in business since 1918 serving homemade ice cream and sandwiches.
Trowbridge’s is located at 316 N Court Street and is open from Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm.
If you like Thai food, then make your way to Yumm Thai Sushi and Beyond. The name pretty much sums up what you will find at this local favorite.
5. Learn About Slavery In the Shoals at Pope’s Tavern Museum
Pope’s Tavern is a historic building located in Florence, Alabama. Built in 1832, it was originally used as a stagecoach stop and inn. It later served as a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
Today, Pope’s Tavern is open to the public and serves as a museum that showcases artifacts from the Civil War era. Visitors can explore the tavern to learn more about its history and view the artifacts on display.
Pope’s Tavern is located at 203 Hermitage Drive and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students.
6. Visit the Local Art Galleries at the Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts
The Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts is a cultural hub located in Florence, Alabama. It’s the headquarters for the City of Florence’s Department of Arts and Museum. It’s home to several galleries and art studios that showcase works from local and regional artists.
The center is housed in three historic houses in the heart of downtown Florence, including the home of Reverand Hiram Kennedy Douglass, which he willed his home to the City of Florence in 1975, and the Southall-Moore House, which was donated to the city in 2007.
The center also hosts events throughout the year, including meetings, concerts workshops, and programs. Not to be missed is Arts Alive in May, an arts festival featuring local artists with booths and vendors.
The Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts is located at 217 East Tuscaloosa Street and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Admission is free.
7. Picnic at Wilson Park
Wilson Park is a beautiful park across from the art museums in the heart of downtown Florence. It’s the location for “Music in the Park”, Easter egg hunts, Arts Alive, Handy Festival activities, the Alabama Renaissance Faire, and Christmas in the Park.
8. Roar With the Lion at UNA
The University of North Alabama is home to Leo III, a real live lion who resides on the campus. As UNA’s mascot, Leo stands for pride, strength, and courage – all qualities that are embodied by students of the university. He resides in his own special habitat area. Leo III has become an important symbol of the university, inspiring students and sports fans alike. It’s free to visit him and take a picture, so don’t forget to bring your camera. Go Lions!
9. See Wilson Dam
The overlook at Wilson Dam in Florence, Alabama offers stunning views of the Tennessee River. Wilson Lake is a popular spot for fishing and boating. Visitors can also take a tour of the dam and learn about its history.
The original Corps of Engineers project was completed in 1927 and in 1959 the main single-lift lock was completed along with several improvements. Today, the main lock is the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains. It has a normal lift between 93 and 100 feet.
Tours of the dam are offered from May through September and can be booked online through the US Army Corps of Engineers website.
10. Watch the Boats Go By At McFarland Park
McFarland Park is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to enjoy the beauty of the Tennessee River. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll, watch boats float by, or simply relax on one of the park’s benches and take in the scenery.
McFarland Park is a local fishing spot, with some using boat docks as fishing piers. Fishing licenses are required and can be obtained online at Outdoor Alabama.
11. Play or Walk at River Heritage Park
River Heritage Park is located by the Marriott Shoals Hotel and is a great spot for kids to blow off some pent-up energy. The playground has a cushioned surface underneath making for a soft landing should someone fall.
At the park, there are tables and chairs, a walking trail, restrooms, swings, and a splash pad with views of Wilson Dam.
The park is located at 10 Hightower Place and is free.
Fame Recording Studios, located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is one of the most iconic music recording studios of all time. Originally established as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises in 1959 by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, and Tom Stafford, it has become an essential part of American music history.
The studio’s reach and influence on popular music over the years is unparalleled. Aretha Franklin recorded some of her most beloved classics including “Respect” and “Think” there. Demi Lovato, Alicia Keys, Etta James, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, and many other legendary artists have all graced the iconic studio’s hallowed halls over the years.
Today, tours of Fame Recording Studios are available to visitors who want to learn more about this storied landmark. There are two tours available: the Standard Tour ($20) and the Backstage Tour Experience ($40) which includes everything from the standard tour PLUS a behind-the-scenes look at selected areas of the studios that are normally off-limits.
Fame Recording Studios is located at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The studio is open Tuesday – Friday from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm and on Saturdays from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. To book a tour, visit the FAME Recording Studios website.
13. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is a world-famous recording studio that has been home to some of the most iconic music of the 20th century. It was founded by four session musicians known as The Swampers – Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood – who decided to become entrepreneurs. Muscle Shoals Sound quickly developed a reputation as one of the premier recording studios in the world.
Cher was among the many stars to record at the studio and in 1969 named her debut solo album after the address of the studio. Cher’s time at Muscle Shoals Sound helped cement its legacy as one of the great recording studios of all time. To this day, it continues to draw renowned artists who seek to capture the unique sound of The Shoals.
Today, visitors to Muscle Shoals Sound can take tours of the recording studio and learn about its history. Tours are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and military, $10 for students, and free for children ages 10 and younger. Tours take place every hour on the half-hour from 10:30 am until 3:30 pm.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is located at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm.
14. Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame offers tours for those who want to get a closer look at the rich and highly celebrated music history of the Yellowhammer State. Tours are self-guided and feature interactive exhibits. You can even hop aboard the tour bus that was once owned by the group Alabama.
At the museum you can channel your inner singer and record a song at the recording studio at the museum. For only $20, you can select from over 300,000 songs and have it recorded. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the lyrics or if you can’t play an instrument. They have that covered! Be sure to book your recording session before you go.
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is located at 617 US-72 W in Tuscumbia, Alabama. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm and on Saturdays from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for students (ages 13-18), $6 for children ages 6-12, and free for children ages 5 and younger.
15. Step Back in Time at the Belle Mont Mansion
Located near Tuscumbia, the Belle Mont Mansion is a stately home that sits atop a hill overlooking North Alabama. Built between 1828 and 1832, the 19th-century mansion offers a glimpse into the past with its grand columns sweeping view of the North Alabama countryside. The home may have been influenced by Thomas Jefferson or one of his craftsmen and is one of a few Palladian-style houses in the South.
Admission to the home is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and military personnel, and $3 for children ages 6-18. Tours are available by appointment only. The home is closed during state holidays.
Belle Mont Mansion is located at 1569 Cook Lane, Tuscumbia.
16. Visit Helen Keller’s Birthplace – Ivy Green
Ivy Green is the birthplace of Helen Keller. The house was built in 1820 and became a shrine to Helen in 1954. Helen spent her childhood days at Ivy Green and it was here that she first experienced the joys of learning under the guidance of Anne Sullivan. Visitors to Tuscumbia can tour the historic site and learn about Helen Keller’s life.
The house features original furnishings and artifacts from Helen’s era, providing a glimpse into the past. In June -July each year, Tuscumbia holds The Helen Keller Festival which includes a performance of the Miracle Worker. General admission tickets are $15 per person.
Ivy Green is located at 300 North Commons Street in Tuscumbia, Alabama. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am until 4:00 pm. The last tour starts at 3:45 pm.
17. Visit Tom’s Wall
The largest unmortared wall in the United States is just outside of Florence. Referred to as Tom’s Wall, the wall was built by Tom Hendrix, a great great grandson of a Yuchi Native American named Te-lah-nay. Tom’s ancestor was forced from her home to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. After spending a year there, Te-lah-nay spent five years making her way back to Alabama.
After hearing, “All things shall pass. Only the stones will remain,” Tom was inspired to build the memorial. He has spent more than 30 years building the wall using rocks collected from over 120 countries. It is the Trail of Tears, a memorial to all those forced to leave their homes.
Tom’s Wall is located on the Natchez Trace at 13890 Lauderdale County 8 in Florence
18. Stay in a Boutique Hotel
The GunRunner Hotel is a cozy boutique hotel located in downtown Florence. This 10-suite hotel has been featured in Southern Living Magazine and offers a unique and charming atmosphere for guests.
A unique feature of the hotel is that it offers luxurious anonymity. There is no front desk and you won’t get interrupted by housekeeping. Each of the suites comes with a luxurious bed and bath, and plenty of space to spread out. Guests can put on a robe, enjoy a cup of coffee, and decide where to head for breakfast.
The hotel is within walking distance of several restaurants and shops in downtown Florence.
The GunRunner is located at 310 E Tennessee Street in Florence. Visit GunRunnerHotel.com to make reservations.
FAQs about The Shoals
What are your favorite things to do in Florence and The Shoals?