The roots of American music are deeply entrenched in cities like Memphis, Detroit and New Orleans, but if you’ve seen the Muscle Shoals documentary you know that some of the most famous rock and roll songs and grittiest rhythm and blues came straight out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
This music legacy drew me to the area initially, but there are lots of things to do in the Florence, Alabama, and Muscle Shoals area whether you’re there for the musical heritage or not.
Until I visited, I didn’t realize that the Shoals isn’t a nickname for Muscle Shoals but rather a collective name for the quad-cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield.
The curious spelling of “muscle” in Muscle Shoals probably comes from early immigrants who changed the spelling of the “mussels” that once lined its shores on the Tennessee River.
Muscle Shoals Sound
The recent release of the Muscle Shoals documentary has brought a deluge of visitors to the area, and the studios have developed tours to help tell those stories and let people see firsthand where that unforgettable Muscle Shoals sound began.
Fame Studios (Muscle Shoals) – Take a tour of the legendary studio and birthplace of the Muscle Shoals sound. Some of the greatest songs of all time were recorded here with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section including artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Duane Allman, Otis Redding and Alabama. The studio was founded by Rick Hall, whom many consider the “father of the Muscle Shoals sound.”
Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (3614 Jackson Highway) (Sheffield) – The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka the “Swampers” left FAME to start up this studio which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The studio recorded music from artists such as the Rolling Stones, Lynryrd Skynyrd, Paul Simon and Rod Stewart. When Cher recorded her sixth album titled 3614 Jackson Highway, the address became a nickname for the studio. Public tours are offered daily.
Cypress Moon Studios (Sheffield) – Muscle Shoals Sound Studio moved to this location in the late 70’s, and artists like Bob Dylan, Bob Segar, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimmy Buffet recorded here. Now renamed, the studio serves primarily as a film and music production company. Tours by appointment.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame (Tuscumbia)- This museum celebrates the state’s native musicians and is home to Alabama’s tour bus, a 12-foot jukebox and the “Golden Country Car,” a 1960 Pontiac convertible encrusted with more than 500 silver dollars, 12 silver guns and Texas Longhorns as a hood emblem. It’s NUTS, but definitely a must-see!
W.C. Handy Birthplace and Museum (Florence) – Visit the cabin where W.C. Handy “the father of the Blues” was born, and visit the museum which houses an amazing collection of memorabilia including the original sheet music of “St. Louis Blues” and the piano on which it was composed.
Listen to live music – Check here for who’s where and when but rest assured there’s always live music in the Shoals.
Ivy Green (Tuscumbia)- Helen Keller’s Birthplace, now on the National Register of Historic Places includes original furnishings, personal mementos and the actual well-pump where she learned to spell “water”.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House (Florence) – Take a tour of the only Frank Lloyd Wright structure in Alabama. The Usonian designed-home was built in 1939 from cypress, glass, and brick and it’s quite fascinating to see the original furnishings, narrow hallways and minimalistic layout. It’s not a house for hoarders!
Indian Mound Museum (Florence) – Standing at 42 feet high, the Florence Indian Mound is the largest domiciliary mound in the Tennessee Valley area.
Belle Mont Mansion (Tuscumbia) – This stunning example of Palladian-style architecture has a U-shaped floor plan opening to a courtyard. The architecture is believed to have been influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Pope’s Tavern (Florence) – Once a stagecoach stop, tavern, inn, Civil War hospital and later a private residence, it’s also believed to have been a stop for Andrew Jackson on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. A collection of period memorabilia is now housed in the museum.
George H. Carroll Lion Habitat (Florence)- Visit the University of North Alabama mascots Leo III and Una (get it?) in their campus home. They’re so regal!
Wilson Dam (Muscle Shoals) – The navigation lock is one of the highest single lift-locks in the world and it’s open to visitors Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays.
McFarland Park (Florence)- On any given day, you’ll see a rainbow of hammocks throughout this tranquil park. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself buying a hammock and a good book and joining them.
River Heritage Park (Florence) – Stroll along the beautifully landscaped Walk of Honor pathway or take the kids to the splash pad. The park is next to the river and adjacent to the Marriott Shoals.
Old Railroad Bridge (Sheffield) – This metal railroad bridge is the oldest railroad bridge in Alabama and once carried trains across the Tennessee River. Now the bridge stops mid-air and serves as a pedestrian walkway and scenic Tennessee River overlook. It’s the perfect sunset spot!
Tom’s Wall (Te-lah-nay’s Wall) (Florence) – This touching memorial is built of rocks, each representing the steps Tom Hendrix’s grandmother took in her attempt to return to the Shoals after being forced to walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. The variation in rock sizes reflect the difficulty of the obstacles she faced on her journey. The largest un-mortared wall in the United States is a must-see.
Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve (Tuscumbia) – Enjoy a hike through canyons with waterfalls, wildflowers, cascading creeks and interesting rock formations.
Florence Harbor Marina (Florence) – A peaceful place to stroll, boat, fish or have dinner.
Coon Dog Cemetery (Cherokee) – This one of a kind burial site for hunting dogs began when Key Underwood laid his faithful coon dog companion Troop to rest in 1937. Don’t even think about burying anything but a coon dog here.
Forks of Cypress (Florence) – Named for the convergence of Big and Little Cypress Creeks, this once stunning plantation home was the only Greek Revival house in Alabama to feature a two-story colonnade around the entire house, composed of twenty-four Ionic columns. In 1966, the home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. This is all that remains.
Rattlesnake Saloon (Tuscumbia) – Live music, food and drink under a rock — who can say no to that?
Fairy Doors (Florence) – Mysteriously appearing (and sometimes disappearing), these fairy doors can be found around Florence. Turn it into a scavenger hunt! For hints on where to find them, check this FB page.
Eats and Treats
Trowbridge’s Ice Cream (Florence) – You can’t visit Florence without trying Trowbridge’s signature orange pineapple ice cream.
City Hardware (Florence) – Great atmosphere, great music, great food. This downtown Florence restaurant is a winner.
Stanfield’s River Bottom Grille (Florence) – Visit the only restaurant in the Shoals completely surrounded by water, and try the smoked brisket flat if it’s available. People (including me) rave about it!
Odette (Florence) – This slightly upscale but comfortable downtown eatery serves elevated American fare with a Southern twist. The house-ground burgers are excellent!
Swampers (Florence) – Get your fix of live music while you eat, and be sure to try the bacon wrapped jalapenos!
Marriott Shoals 360 Grille (Florence)- Enjoy dinner at this rotating restaurant with an absolutely stunning view of the Tennessee River.
Where to Stay
Not only does the Marriott Shoals have two distinctive restaurants (mentioned above), but the hotel itself is pretty spectacular. Located in Florence, it’s the ideal home base as you venture out and explore the Shoals area.
There is so much to see and do in the Florence, Alabama and Muscle Shoals area, so reach out to VisitFlorenceAL.com for help with planning a trip and check out my other posts on nearby Red Bay and Dismals Canyon for more Alabama travel ideas.
Comments & Reviews
Alli Smith says
I can’t believe I’ve never been to Florence or Muscle Shoals, AL! I didn’t realize that some of my all-time favorite musicians actually recorded there. I need to watch the documentary so I can catch up. I’m adding this my travel bucket list.
Wow so much to do and enjoy in that area. Will have show hubby for our next trip
Nancy L. says
After seeing this post, I have got to get to Florence, Alabama. Your photos are stunning and you visited so many lovely places. From the Music Hall of Fame to the beautiful parks, you really gave me a beautiful taste of Florence, Alabama.
Joanna @ Everyday Made Fresh says
Love this!! I’m originally from Alabama. Born in Dothan, moved to Irondale and grew up there until I was 15, when we relocated to Florida. I love the Florence Alabama area!!
Sarah Bailey says
Oh wow what an amazing looking place to explore, they have so much going on. I love the look of all the food as well, they really know how to make a good hearty dish.
This sounds like an amazing place to visit. I would love to take my kids as they haven’t been there yet.
Alabama is one of the few states I have not gotten to yet. I am hoping to get that state in the next couple years. With the focus that you have here I know where I’d like to go to.
Ben Butler says
Big wheels keep on turnin’ carry me home to see my kin. Singin’ songs about the southland. I miss Alabamy once again, and I think it’s a sin!
That’s my old stomping grounds! If you drove to Florence from pretty much anywhere in Alabama, you drove right through Elgin, my home town. It’s where Highway 72 and Highway 101 meet. I grew up running trot lines on the Tennessee river and floating down Bluewater and Second Creeks and Elk River on a Flatbottom boat. You cannot beat North Alabama.
Back in my music playing days, I visited Muscle Shoals Sound like it was Mecca. I freaking love this post. Brought back a TON of memories.
Tomi C says
Muscle Shoals is on my music travel bucket list. I saw that documentary on PBS and it amazed me how many talented musicians were in the area and how those chart topping artists sought them out. If those walls could talk! WOW!!! They’d sure have a lot to say.
Rose Cottrill says
Those musicians display outside the museum is pretty cool. This is my kind of adventure. I hope we could visit Alabama in the future!
This looks like so much fun. Love the Coon Hound cemetery.
Rach Ferrucci says
Great post – this looks like so much fun and I need to get there! I especially love Ben’s comment, looks like he needs to get back there LOL!
Amber Myers says
I’ve never been to Alabama before. After seeing this photos, I feel like I need to go. I’d love to check out that Hall Of Fame.
I need to send this article to my cousin. He’s a big music promoter in our area and really digs traveling to places that have a rich musical background. Overall, Florence looks like a wonderful place to visit for everyone!
It would be so cool to see the music studio. I love historic places like that, I think they have so much character!
Omg, I had no idea there was so much to do! As a scrolled by each pic, I said to myself “I’d love that”, or “my bf would love the”
He’s a musician and would get a kick out of the music studio and I’m a Frank Lloyd Wright fan and would love to see the house. We’re both big fans of historic homes and good food 🙂
Wow never heard of the muscle shoals area. What happened at Forks of Cypress with the old plantation being burnt down is really interesting.
Rebecca Bryant says
I am coming to live with you. You visit the most awesome places. I would have loved every moment of this trip.
M Caroline Kosman says
You had me sold at the sea of hammocks at McFarland Park! That sounds like a lovely way to spend an entire afternoon. As a Canadian, I hadn’t heard much about Florence Alabama and the Muscle Shoals Area, and I’m so glad I stopped by!
Kelly Hutchinson says
I have always wanted to visit the Shoals! I have heard about the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios for years! So much musical history there!
I always love your travel posts because I learn about so many new places to visit. There is so much going on in this post, I don’t know what I would do first. But I want to do them all. Another great idea for places for my husband and I to visit when he retires in the near future.
I’d love to take one of those riverboat cruises. Always imagined AL being boring but looks far from it!
Dawn Nieves says
I’m so adding this to my travel list. It looks like an amazing place to visit with so much history.
Chelley Martinka says
A part of the country I never would have thought to visit… but it looks amazing! I need to put Alabama on the bucket list!
I love Alabama! Such rich history. I love learning about the history of music in our country. It’s so fun.
Nancy at Whispered Inspirations says
I am totally adding this to my list of “must travel” destinations. I have heard so many great things about Florence Alabama and I would love to discover it for myself!
I love Alabama but have never been to Muscle Shoals. Now I really, really want to visit! I would love to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Thanks so much for posting this info!
Oh wow! What a great place to visit. It is so rich in music history. I’ll have to make sure and watch the documentary.
This looks like a gorgeous area. I love FLW homes and have volunteered during Wright Plus with his home and Studio in Oak Park, IL for many years. I didn’t realize he had a house here!
I definitely have to vis Florence and the Muscle Shoals area. There is so much to see and the food looks divine.
Christy Maurer says
Yes! I do need to visit this area! My son would love the music studios and come on…Muscle Shoals has got the swampers…so any southern rock fans need to visit lol. I love that coondog cemetery! Just like in Sweet Home Alabama!
Dawn Lopez says
There are SO many places to visit and activities to do in Muscle Shoals. I would love to visit the Lion Habitat. I think big cats are awesome and this looks like fun!
Travel Blogger says
This sounds so amazing! I would love to tour the muscle shoals area. I am a big music fan, and I would love to see the places where Bob Seger, Cher, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the like recorded some of their music. So much history and great food here! I need to get to Alabama.
What a special town! Looks like so much fun! So that big car with the horns reminds me of Big Tex in the Pixar Cars movies. have you seen it? haha
I lived by there for almost 11 years. It is an amazing place to visit. Such great people and things to do.
Shelley R Zurek says
Holy Cow! I have been to Birmingham for Mardi Gras but I had NO IDEA how much there was to do. I would really like to see the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House
I need to go on a rock and roll tour of America. Sounds like Muscle Shoals is one place I can’t miss! Love that I will eat well while rocking out!
Kita Bryant says
Alabama is such a fun state to visit. I have friends in Mobil and we always enjoy ourselves.
Hali @daytodayMOMents says
What a thorough post, love all the adventures!! The history, the fun and food. Wow!
Pam Wattenbarger says
Sounds like Muscle Shoals has a lot to do whether you are interested in music history or not! That coon dog cemetery would have been really interesting to my dad.
Ellie Augustin says
What a fun place to visit! I’m from NY so this would be one awesome adventure all around for me for sure!
Neely Moldovan says
What a cool history! It looks like such a fun place to visit! I may have to put it on my list!
Amy Desrosiers says
My grandfather lives in Alabama. I actually made my first plane trip there as a child when i was 2. I would love to go back as an adult.
AnnMarie John says
I’ve heard about this place but I’ve never gone there before. How I wish I had, it’s perfect for music lovers like me. I will definitely enjoy touring this place.
Carol Cassara says
Taking the tour would be so exciting and satisfying. I love that they take you to all the best places and more. It’s definitely worth going to.
Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place says
I think I have more than enough reasons to visit this place! There’s so much too do! I would love too good here someday soon.
I have never been to Alabama but it sounds like such a beautiful place with lots of character and history. I love music so it sounds like Florence and Muscle Shoals are a must visit!
I never thought that there are so many places to visit in Alabama. My first favorite is rainbow of hammocks in the MacFarland Park. Having a nice scenery and tranquility is a good way to relax.
Annemarie LeBlanc says
I have been reading a lot about the beautiful places to visit in Alabama. I just love the southern charm, especially the way they prepare their food! Music is also a big crowd drawer. I think we should start planning for a trip there too!
Nikka Shae says
Wow! This looks like. Fun trip! Next week I’m doing a tour in Alabama and I can’t wait to visit!
Victoria Heckstall says
Wow!This such an amazing and interesting place to visit,The foods are looks so delicious,Awesome .Would love to visit there in Alabama
Shannon Gurnee says
This sounds like an awesome place to visit! Looks like lots of fun things to do!
Our Family World says
I’d love to see myself in Florence, AL, in McFarland Park. I am imagining how relaxing it would be to be doing as you did, relaxing in a hammock under the shade of a big tree!
jamie sanders says
I have never been to the East Coast, I need to add this one to my bucket list. That park on the Lake is just gorgeous !
Wow your trip looked amazing! I am loving all of these photos and now want to book a trip there!