Alabama was a state frequently overlooked in my travels, perhaps because it’s a short three-hour drive from my house. I’d passed through many times before and visited a friend at Auburn, but sought to rectify the missing destinations this year. In the fall, I road tripped through North Alabama, through the stunning mountains of Mentone and to Huntsville before going to the western part of the state. I fell madly in love with Florence, the largest town in the area known for its rich musical history. And I’m here to share the reasons why.
For more on the music history of Florence and its surrounding communities, namely Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, read my accompanying post on This Is My South.
Florence, Alabama is not your traditional destination, certainly not like media darlings Charleston or New Orleans, but there’s something in the water here that breeds creativity. The Native Americans said the river sang to them and allowed one brave young woman to come home after the Trail of Tears. The music history is unparalleled, bringing artists to record here in the 1960s, all in the name of the “Muscle Shoals Sound.” Names like Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan all crafted songs here. Today, artists like John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, and members of The Alabama Shakes still call the area home.
But the creativity is no longer limited to music. Locals stayed here and college students settled down here, keeping the talent close to home. Billy Reid Florence AL, a nationwide brand of American made clothing, has their headquarters in Florence. Their stunning showroom is a design lover’s dream. Court Street Market is the town’s all in one creative space, featuring a coffee shop, cafe, popsicle stand, and accessories store. I had breakfast at Woodpecker Cafe inside the market, overlooking the street.
While the “attractions” aren’t typical, they’re unique to Florence. Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum is one of the few homes created by the famous architect that allows visitors and is the only one in the state of Alabama. The former family home has been fiercely protected in the community after falling into disrepair. Tom’s Wall is another unique landmark, built off the Natchez Trace Parkway in honor of a local man’s Native American ancestors. The manmade wall winds through his property and many stones have been brought from afar by visitors. It was his relative that returned to Florence by following the “Singing River.” An Indian mound museum will soon open to further connect visitors with the Native Americans that lived in the area well before European arrival.
The food scene in Florence is surprising for the amount of residents. For comparison, I live in a high population suburb of Atlanta that has very few independent restaurants. But perhaps this town developed an “if you build it, they will come” mindset. Odette has become a favorite of locals and celebrities, named for the owner’s great-grandmother. The menu puts a unique spin on Southern favorites using as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible. Their cocktail menu is clever as well. Singin’ River Brewing operates in a similar fashion, bringing craft beer to the small town. The brews are all named for elements of the Shoals, including Handy’s Gold blonde ale and The Swamper porter.
Experience the impact of the singing river firsthand by catching a live music act in Florence. The Shoals Community Theatre hosts touring acts and plays. On The Rocks, Wildwood Tavern, and Flobama all offer entertainment on different nights.
This is the type of Southern town rarely found between the pages of glossy travel magazines, but no less worth visiting.
I visited Florence with the assistance of Visit Florence, Alabama.