The breeze is light, the sun is low, and the living is good. Florence Alabama with its Muscle Shoals Sound might just be the perfect getaway for a weekend of fun and relaxation!
Florence is nestled in the Tennessee River Valley, which the early Native American Indians named the “Singing River” because of the mystical sound of the water rushing over the river’s shallow water in areas known as “shoals.” The Valley is a now a vibrant mix of historic areas and quaint towns with new retail and restaurants that will give you plenty to do on a short getaway.
One of four “quad-city” towns in the northwest corner of Alabama, Florence’s neighboring cities include Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. The area is an easy drive from Nashville, TN (about 2 hours) or Huntsville, AL (about 1 hour). Consider driving in the night before so that you can have two full days to explore this area, especially if you want to enjoy the area’s fishing or golfing.
Day 1: Feel the Beat in Rock and Roll Heaven
Muscle Shoals Sound
You can hear the beat begin as you pull into town. The real soul of Florence is music, which can be found everywhere. This area is famous for the “Muscle Shoals Sound” that originated at several local famous recording studios in the 1960’s and continues to this day.
Before you go to Florence be sure to watch the 2014 documentary, “Muscle Shoals, small town, big music” which is available on YouTube. This evocative and informative video will give you a feel for the impact of this region on modern music today. If you don’t see it before you leave, you will likely be able to catch it on your hotel’s in-house entertainment channel. Watching it will give you a feel for the mood and the history of the sites you will visit.
Start your day off with a visit to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to get an overview of the many Alabama recording stars that have provided the soundtrack of your life.
You’ll be able to walk inside of the famous tour bus from the band Alabama, and see memorabilia from musicians from the past seven decades, including the greats of country, rock and roll, and the blues. You might want to cut your own single or video in the recording studio before you leave! Who knows you may be the next Muscle Shoals Sound.
Music History Tour
Next stop on your tour should be the recording studio of FAME, started by the well-known record producer Rick Hall in 1959. His FAME Rhythm Section cut hits over the years with some of the greats such as Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, The Osmonds, Bobbie Gentry, Wet Willie and Otis Redding. The studio remains in use today, and hosts many current recording artists and songwriters. You’ll have the opportunity to go into the recording studio, and look closely at the working soundboard.
Your afternoon will be well spent at the recording studio known as 3614 Jackson Highway. Cher was the first artist to cut a record there in 1969, and she named her album for the studio. After the informative tour, you can borrow a fringed leather vest and headband from the ticket desk and take a Cher look-alike picture in front of the building to mimic the cover of her iconic album!
In addition to touring the recording studio, you can take a peek at the hidden lounge where many musicians would rest between recordings, enjoying an alcoholic beverage brought in from a nearby county when this area was a “dry county.” If you’re a Rolling Stones fan, you will love seeing the studio where they recorded in 1969, and the bathroom where (as legend goes) Keith Richards struck inspiration for the lyrics of their hit, Wild Horses.
Break for Food
Take a lunch break in downtown Florence, which has a quaint feel with a modern buzz. There are several restaurants helmed by young chefs who focus on “farm to table” menus, using the abundant fresh products from around the state.
For a tasty green fried tomato BLT sandwich, try City Hardware on main street, or go across the street to Odette’s, which has a great sidewalk seating area.
Day 2: Relax or Expand your Knowledge?
So, now you’re going to have to make a decision. Do you want to spend the day relaxing, or would you prefer to see a historical site? Either way, you’re going to have several options in Florence.
Golf opportunities are abundant in this area, home of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals which is home to two 18-hole championship courses. A less expensive option is McFarland Park which has a driving range, as well as an 18-hole disc golf course. Discs are available for sale or rent ($5 per day).
If fishing is your sport, you can find river fishing, bank fishing, pier fishing, boat fishing, fly fishing, creek fishing, tournament fishing, sport fishing, and cane pole fishing. The Visitor’s Bureau can provide information on the best fishing places and tour operators.
Relax and Explore the Town
If you decide that you just want to relax, head over to McFarland Park with a picnic and a hammock. The views of the river are expansive. And the trees seem to be spaced just right for a quiet swing in the afternoon.
If you do decide to be energetic, then be sure to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House, which is the only Wright design open to the public in the southeastern United States. Built in 1939, this house is made of cypress, glass, and brick and still has original hardware and furnishings designed by Wright.
Another tour option is the childhood home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, where you can also attend an evening presentation of the stage play “The Miracle Worker” during the summer months.
If you have a passion for fashion, you will want to tour Alabama Chanin, the flagship store and design workshop of Alabama-born Natalie Chanin who is world-renowned for her designer line of sustainable and organic clothing. If you enjoy her style but can’t afford her couture she offers DIY kits of some simple accessories that will make you a fashion standout.
Before you head back home, be sure to stop at a Florence landmark, Trowbridge Ice Cream Bar, which has been in business at the same spot downtown for almost 100 years. The prices are humble (only $1.25 per scoop of ice cream!) and the flavors are wonderful.
All the Details
• Alabama Music Hall of Fame: Tours Tue – Sat 9 am – 5 pm
617 U.S. 72 West, Tuscumbia 35674
• FAME studio: Tours are Mon – Fri 9 am & 4 pm; Sat 10 am – 2 pm
603 E. Avalon Ave., Muscle Shoals, AL 35661
• 3614 Jackson Highway Studio: Open 10am – 4pm Monday-Saturday
Tour Times: 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm
Admission: $12 per person.
Other Places to Visit
• Helen Keller House: Also known as Ivey Green
Open Monday through Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Last tour starts at 3:45 p.m. daily
• Alabama Chanin
Be sure to check the website before you travel for any unique events or workshops scheduled during your trip that you might want to participate in.
Note: Marcy Gouge was invited on a media tour of Florence, Alabama by the Florence/Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, all of the opinions expressed are her own. All photos provided by the Bureau or taken by the author.
Planning a Visit to Alabama? Check out other MilesGeek articles featuring Alabama.