The city of Anniston in Calhoun County, Alabama has been involved in some of the country’s most historic events.
The city’s iron furnaces on which the industry relied, were destroyed by the Union cavalry during the American Civil War.
The US Army set up training camps nearby during WWI and WWII, and during the Civil Rights Movement, a life-changing event took place within the city.
All of this can be explored in the streets, parks and museums of Anniston and its surrounding areas.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy too, from hiking and mountain biking to wine tasting and tubing, so if you are touring Alabama, don’t just pass through Anniston, take a break and stay a while.
I’m an Alabama local and love exploring the state and all it has to offer. I’m sure you will find something fun to do on my list of the best things to do in Anniston:
1. Anniston Museum of Natural History
When H. Severn Regar moved to Anniston from the eastern seaboard, he offered artifacts and specimens from his beloved private collection to his new home town, on the condition that the city paid the shipping costs to move them! The citizens of Anniston, warming to the idea of a museum, decided to help out raising money to bring the collection south.
Thanks to them, you can now explore over 2,000 natural history items and diorama-style exhibits which span centuries.
The museum’s seven exhibit halls each take on a different theme. You can explore Africa Hall which contains a collection of over 100 animals in natural settings, or venture to Dynamic Earth Room with gemstones, rock formations, fossils and dinosaurs. Highlights of the museum include 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummies, a selection of open-air exhibits and wildlife gardens.
If you want to make the most of your trip to Anniston, I highly recommend the East Alabama Family Fun Multi-Attraction Pass. It includes admission to the Anniston Museum of Natural History, as well as other top attractions on my list.
2. World’s Largest Chair
Many people don’t realize that Anniston was once a world record holder – for the ‘World’s Largest Chair’! Built by Miller’s Office Furniture Store in 1981 as an advertisement for the store, the huge structure is set next to the roadside.
It is a towering 31 feet tall and can withstand heavy winds of up to 85 miles per hour.
Constructed from ten tons of steel, the tall chair wasn’t difficult to find for me, it can be seen from across the city.
Also see: 30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alabama
3. Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Preserve
With over 9,000 acres of parkland, the wildlife preserve was named after the dwindling mountain longleaf pine tree forests which are scattered across the southern states.
Located on the site of Fort McClellan former army base, the park forms part of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountain ranges.
It’s a perfect place for a hike, picnic or cycle, and hosts a variety of flora, fauna and birdlife, so don’t forget your binoculars.
I was fortunate enough to see the endangered white-fringeless orchid. You can also spot Black-throated Green Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers and Bachman’s Sparrows.
4. Oxford Lake
Oxford Lake is a popular recreational area for family and friends, located 5 miles south of Anniston.
With a range of activities, walking trails, picnic pavilions and playgrounds, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The park surrounding the lake, is also home to the oldest covered bridge in the state.
The Coldwater Covered Bridge is an historical landmark dating back to 1850. Sit back, enjoy a cool beverage and take in the tranquil scenery of the lake, alternatively, walk the hiking trail and immerse yourself in abundant nature.
5. Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail
Coldwater Mountain encompasses 4,183-acres of woodland and mountainous terrain, perfect for mountain biking. Located just outside Anniston, Alabama, beginners and seasoned cyclists can choose from a variety of trails to suit their levels of expertise.
From short and easy loops to fast descents and gravity trails, the terrain can be simple or challenging.
I didn’t have my mountain bike with me, but still really enjoyed the incredible scenery. So put on your hiking boots, pop a picnic in your backpack and walk the spectacular trails instead!
6. Hell’s Gate Bridge
If you enjoy exploring all things spooky and paranormal like I do, pay a visit to Hell’s Gate Bridge just outside Oxford, Alabama.
Known as the ‘Most Haunted Bridge in Alabama’, this creepy steel and wooden bridge is akin to something you would find on the set of a horror movie.
The bridge is said to be haunted because of a local legend. In the 1950s a young couple were driving and careered off the bridge plunging into the water below.
Locals say that if you stop on the bridge and turn off the lights at night, the couple will get into your car with you to continue their journey.
Spooky stuff? Or the product of a vivid imagination? You decide.
7. Top o’ the River Restaurant
You can’t visit Alabama and not sample some of the local delicacies.
Fortunately, the Southeast’s largest catfish and seafood restaurant is located in Anniston! Serving freshly caught and prepared produce, seasoned with their own secret recipes, you could soon be tasting the Largest Seafood Platter in the World, Creole Boiled Shrimp Dinner, or a whole fried Catfish! Don’t worry if you don’t like eating fish, there’s baby back ribs dipped in mouth-watering barbecue glaze, or a selection of scrumptious chicken dishes too.
Today, Top o’ the River Restaurant has 4 locations in Alabama, including Anniston.
8. Berman Museum
The fascinating Berman Museum in Anniston was started by an American GI, who was stationed in North Africa during the Second World War.
During his tour, the man, Farley Berman, met a French spy who later became his wife.
During their travels together, they collected weaponry, antiques and over 6,000 bizarre items from all over the world.
These artifacts include Hitler’s silver tea service, a bullet firing flute, and a James Bond style ink pen which fires a .22! If you wish to delve a little deeper into the museum archives, I recommend to schedule a tour and step behind the scenes to discover an intriguing selection of medieval and cold-war weaponry.
9. Freedom Rider’s Park
In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American woman, Rosa Parks stood up for her rights when instructed to relinquish her bus seat for a white passenger. The incident reverberated throughout the USA and thus began the Civil Rights Movement.
Years later in early 1961, the US Supreme Court voted that segregated public buses were ‘unconstitutional’ and that this practice should cease.
However, the southern states had other ideas, ignoring the ruling and enforcing segregation on public transport further. The Freedom Riders – a group of multi-racial Civil Rights Activists, would drive buses into cities to try to facilitate change across southern states.
On May 14th, 1961, the KKK attacked a Greyhound Bus in Anniston with a firebomb. The Klan held the doors shut so passengers could not escape for several minutes.
The image of the ‘Burning Bus’ was broadcast throughout the world, but it shocked citizens of Anniston the most.
They began to bring about change, working together for peaceful desegregation.
This is shown in Freedom Riders Park today, with artwork, stories and photographs which show how one event caused a city to come together as one.
10. Zinn Park
Zinn Park is located in the heart of Downtown Anniston.
It’s a great place for a family day out, with pavilions, jogging and walking pathways and even a fun splash pad for the kids.
Martin Luther King Jr. Pavilion hosts a range of events and concerts throughout the year which visitors can enjoy alongside locals.
There’s also a playground which is adapted for children with disabilities which means nobody needs to be left out.
11. White Oak Vineyards
The state of Alabama produces delicious fine wines, and if you’re in Anniston you can sample a few of them at White Oak Vineyards.
Nestled in scenic rolling hills, the winery offers a vast selection of French hybrid red and white wines and southern fruit and Muscadine wines.
Muscadine is a wine made solely from American grape varieties, as the grapes have low sugar content, the wine has sugar added, making this a sweet drink and a superb dessert wine.
Visitors can sample the different wines, pick up a bottle or two, and browse juices, jellies and jams at the farm shop.
12. Longleaf Botanical Gardens
Located next to Anniston Museum of Natural History and Berman Museum are the picturesque Longleaf Botanical Gardens.
For me, this is was great place to relax and reminisce following a morning at the museums.
The gardens feature tropical cascades, and borders filled with a kaleidoscope of colored flowers and plants.
There’s a specially dedicated section for butterflies and hummingbirds, and even a garden for plants which thrive solely in central Alabama.
The Longleaf Nature Trail shouldn’t be overlooked either, you can spot over 25 native tree species as you walk through shaded woodlands sprinkled with fragrant azaleas and hydrangeas.
13. Cheaha State Park
At 2,407 feet above sea level Cheaha State Park is a treat for lovers of nature.
With spectacular views of lakes, mountains and spectacular sunsets, it’s a place no visitor to Alabama should miss.
Arrive early and stop for buffet breakfast at Vista Cliffside Restaurant with panoramic valley views of Talladega National Forest, then when you are suitably nourished, set out on one of the area’s hiking or biking trails.
If you feel up to it, visit the high point at Cheaha Mountain.
With a bunker tower and observation deck, it’s the perfect place for photography.
More on Alabama: 15 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Alabama
14. Tubing on Choccolocco Creek
Enjoy a leisurely day tubing on nearby Choccolocco Creek.
If you enjoy watching the world drift by from the water, you can spend a few hours floating lazily along scenic river banks.
Bring family, bring friends, pop on your life jacket and you’re good to go! This lazy river floating experience is perfect if you have spent a few day’s sightseeing in the area and just want time to kick back, relax and do nothing but float and admire the scenery.