Nestled on the banks of the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is a city with a fascinating history.
This city is home to the “Muscle Shoals Sound”, and since the 1960s its state-of-the-art music studios have played host to world-class artists such as Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones.
It was also birthplace of W.C Handy and was home to Helen Keller who strove to improve facilities and treatments for the deaf and blind community.
Nature lovers will also adore Muscle Shoals, as it offers great opportunities for world-class fishing, plus a whole host of hiking, biking trails and golf courses.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House
This family house in Florence, Alabama was built by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright for husband and wife Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum.
It was constructed using the Usonian House concept which refers to a group of middle-income family homes built with a simple, functional design in the years leading up to World War II. Often built on inexpensive or unusually shaped pieces of land, the houses are “L-shaped” to allow a flowing terrace and garden.
The Usonian design house features cantilevered roofing, a large stone hearth inside and an undercover carport.
The clever use of glass windows around the property is designed to bring the outdoors, indoors, and each room has a separate door leading to the gardens.
The Rosenbaum House is only one of a handful of Usonian properties remaining in America and it contains original furnishings which can be viewed on your tour.
If you are interested in architecture and the use of natural materials in housing, make this your first stop.
2. FAME Recording Studios
FAME Recording Studios may have been set in an understated building away from many of the big U.S city recording studios, but by the mid-1960s it was one of the best-known studios in the world! It was the epicentre of a new sound called the “Muscle Shoals Sound” and a haven for singers and songwriters of any colour or creed to record in, even during times of the Civil Rights Movement which affected much of Alabama.
The founder of the studios, Rick Hall, was credited for turning the career of Aretha Franklin around, taking her from an artist who was struggling, to the legendary “Queen of Soul”. As word spread about the new “Muscle Shoals Sound”, more and more artists gravitated to the city, including Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker and the Rolling Stones, and more recently, the studios have played host to Steven Tyler, Demi Lovato and Alison Krauss.
In fact, over the past 50 years, FAME Recording Studios have recorded or published over 350 million records which have sold worldwide.
Today, you can see where the magic happens on a tour of the recording studios, listen to tracks which were recorded there, view photos and even record your own music in this iconic space.
3. Ivy Green
Ivy Green was the birthplace of Helen Keller who was left deaf and blind after a childhood illness.
It soon became clear than Helen was a determined girl and was not going to let this affect her quality of life.
She taught herself to read Braille and went onto write 11 books, several articles and lectured all over the world.
At her home, Ivy Green, you can see where she grew up, and browse hundreds of personal effects, pieces of memorabilia, and even see the famous well-pump where she would sit to learn.
If you are travelling in late June, you can also enjoy the annual Helen Keller Festival held at her former home in Tuscumbia.
4. River Heritage Park
This scenic Florence, Alabama park overlooks the Wilson Dam and Tennessee River.
Whether you fancy a stroll along shaded tree-lined pathways, a riverside walk, a picnic with family and friends, or you wish to cool off in the interactive fountain/Splash Pad, you can do it all at River Heritage Park, located just a few short miles from Muscle Shoals.
5. Wilson Lock and Dam
Wilson Dam is an impressive structure stretching 1,384 metres in length, spanning the Tennessee River between Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Constructed in 1918, it was named after then President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.
Although in the early days it didn’t reach full capacity, today the dam can generate 663 megawatts of electricity for this region of Alabama.
You can also see Wilson Lock when you visit the dam.
Each year over 3,700 boats and barges pass though it to reach their destination.
You can hike the trails to gain incredible views of Wilson Dam and Lock, or head to the revolving restaurant of a nearby hotel for an elevated 360-degree panoramic perspective.
6. Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
If you are a music fan, you may also wish to visit Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama.
The former coffin show room was transformed into a music studio in the late 1960s, when it was opened in direct competition to FAME Recording Studios.
Over the years, a plethora of famous artists recorded here, including Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson.
The studio interiors still date to the 1970s, with analogue recording equipment, instruments and memorabilia, and the building has recently reopened to accommodate tours.
So, if you want to learn more about these famous studios and experience the same atmosphere as musical greats did in the 70s, make sure you spend a few hours at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.
7. Old Railroad Bridge
The Old Railroad Bridge first opened back in 1832, and by 1840 it had become a fully-functional toll bridge.
However, this was short-lived, as it was damaged by tornadoes, fierce flooding and storms.
It was closed until 1858 when it was reopened with additional piers to support the lower deck toll road and upper deck railroad.
The improved bridge didn’t last long either, as Confederate soldiers decided to burn it down during the Civil War to prevent enemy crossings.
A new bridge finally opened in 1939, and today, although it’s no longer used for vehicles it has been preserved and restored as an historical landmark of the area.
You can walk or cycle along the bridge gaining incredible views of the river and city.
8. Pickwick Lake
Beautiful Pickwick Lake stretches for 50 miles in length and encompasses areas of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
This lake is popular with anglers offering grassy flats, rock bluffs and deep ledges to fish along.
It’s one of the few lakes in the region stocked with spotted bass, giant striped bass, huge catfish and sizeable largemouth bass.
In fact, it’s known as one of the top bass lakes in the southern states.
During winter months, veterans’ brave cooler temperatures to catch sauger as they migrate upstream.
You can hire a boat and gain bank access from Muscle Shoals, but don’t forget to gain a fishing license before you go.
9. Indian Mound and Museum
Indian Mound and Museum in Florence, Alabama is the perfect place to visit if you want to learn more about native Indian tribes who once lived in the area.
Many prehistoric tribes settled in areas around Florence as the river and shoreline forests were abundant with mussels, fish, berries, seeds and hickory nuts.
Inside the museum you can see a vast collection of artefacts discovered in the area, including clay pots, fish hooks, spear points, jewellery and pottery.
There’s also an impressive collection of soapstone carvings, woven textiles and pipes sculpted to look like animals.
In this rare glimpse into the past, continue your journey to the mound – the largest in the Tennessee River Valley, and imagine what life was like in simpler times before commerce and industry took over the area.
10. 360 Grille Revolving Restaurant
If you’re a keen photographer, and enjoy delicious food, why not dine at the 360 Grille near Muscle Shoals? Located on top of the Renaissance Tower of the Marriott Hotel in Florence, this revolving restaurant allows you to dine whilst enjoying panoramic views of the city, Muscle Shoals and the Tennessee River.
Serving everything from generous salads to succulent steaks, this elegant elevated restaurant is the perfect location for a romantic dinner for two.
11. Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame honours all professionals of the music industry from artists, songwriters to performers and producers.
In addition to information, photographs, exhibitions and a research library, you can also explore the “We Believe in Music Walkway”. Surrounding the fountain in front of the entrance, the walkway is covered with granite stones and bricks carved with names of music stars, production companies and fans.
If you are a music lover, you can even have your own stone commissioned, so that for years to come, visitors to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame can see your name by the fountain too!
12. Garden Gate Café
If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful eats in Muscle Shoals, check out Garden Gate Café.
Serving a selection of southern-style comfort food ranging from cornbread to country fried steak, slaw and chicken, you are sure to find a dish to suit the whole family.
Portions are generous, and prices reasonable, making it the ideal place for dinner after a busy day of sightseeing in the local area.
13. Pope’s Tavern
Located in downtown Florence, Pope’s Tavern is one of the city’s oldest structures.
Once an inn, tavern and stagecoach stop, it also served as a command centre and hospital for both sides during the Civil War.
This fascinating museum is filled with stories of how the city was fought over 40 times, showcasing antiquities, uniforms and weaponry from this tumultuous era.
You can take a tour, ask the knowledgeable curators lots of questions and browse intriguing exhibits on display.
14. W.C. Handy Birthplace & Museum
William Christopher Handy was also known as “Father of the Blues” and was known for musical blues gems such as Beale Street Blues, Memphis Blues and St. Louis Blues.
In Florence, Alabama you can take a tour of the legend’s home, view hand-written sheet music and see photographs of his journey to stardom.
This simple, yet informative museum is a must-see for all visitors with a penchant for blues music, or fans of the great artist himself.
15. Tuscumbia Railroad Depot Museum
If you adore all things locomotive, then visit Tuscumbia Railroad Depot Museum within a few minutes’ drive of Muscle Shoals.
Set inside a fully-restored train 1888 train depot, the museum showcases photographs, maps, interactive train simulators and demonstrations from knowledgeable curators.
If you enjoy delving deep into local history, and are a railroad fanatic, this place is a must-visit while in Muscle Shoals.