Decatur is known as “The River City” and is located in the north of Alabama along the banks of the Wheeler Lake, for a city with a population of only 55,000 there is a surprisingly large number of things to do.
Before Decatur became the city it is today it was know as “Rhodes Ferry Landing” after Dr. Rhodes who operated a ferry along the river. In 1821 the city was finally incorporated with the name Decatur that we see today.
I grew up in Alabama and enjoy exploring the many cities and towns the state has to offer. I have visited Decatur several times and the city has never let me down.
There is a great sense of community in this city and a ton of things to do so here is my list of the 15 best things to do in Decatur.
1. Visit Carnegie Visual Arts Center
The Carnegie Visual Arts Center has its home inside one of the area’s many historical buildings. This old building holds many exhibits featuring both local and national works of art. You can also go to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center to partake in art classes (Classes are available for children and adults), camps and lectures.
The Center is open every Tuesday to Saturday and entrance to the public is completely free for all.
2. View Some Preserved Wildlife At Cook Museum of Natural Science
I think the Cook Museum of Natural Science is one of the finest museums of its kind, There is a large assortment of exhibits to look at, 2,000 in total including mounted birds, exotic insects, animals, sea shells, coral and minerals. There is a section with wildlife that is found in the Tennessee Valley, these have been put into one display case to keep them together.
Included in the museum is a section that is full of endangered and protected species including both a golden and bald eagle. I recommend taking a few hours for your visit, once you have finished looking around the museum there is an auditorium where you can sit and watch natural science films.
3. Purchase The Freshest Fruit At Decatur Farmers’ Market
When it comes to buying your food as fresh as possible nothing comes close to meeting the people that grew it and then buying it off them. The Decatur Farmers’ Market is open every Monday – Saturday between April and November.
The market is packed full of stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables and gets very busy at times. Each month of the market there is a special event put on as well, this event celebrates a particular fruit or vegetable that is in season at the time.
4. Explore The Old State Bank
Few buildings can tell as varied a tale as the Old State Bank. In 1832 the Alabama General Assembly authorized three banks in the area to begin their work, this was one of them. The building is now nearly two hundred years old and has seen two depressions and a civil war.
The use of the building has changed several times as well, in the past it has been a bank, hospital, guardhouse and dance hall. In 1972 the building was put on the National Register of Historical Places, it is a beautiful building and one that is decorated with many antiques from the Federal and Empire period.
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5. All Aboard The Pickwick Belle
Located on Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River is the Pickwick Belle, an authentic paddle wheel riverboat, the boat has been in operation since 2012, with its twin decks it is a fine sight to see.
The bottom deck of the boat features an enclosed 1,000 square foot dining room, galley and a bar, for those looking to sit outside the top desk is completely covered but set up for those that want to get a better view of the world around them, there is also a dance floor on this level. The boats does regular cruises up and down the river and can accommodate 112 passengers.
6. Experience The Great Outdoors At Wheeler Wildlife Refuge
The Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is a naturally preserved woodlands that covers over 34,000 acres of land. It is a truly unique place and allows visitors to experience wildlife in its natural habitat. The refuge was opened in 1938 to provide a home for the waterfowl in the area.
There is also an educational center on site that has an observatory made out of glass allowing you to get the best possible view of your surroundings. In the observatory you can pick up many leaflets showing you the best tours of the refuge to go on.
7. Visit The Oldest Park In Decatur
Delano Park is the oldest park in Decatur and has a great many things to see and do. My personal favorite is the WPA Rose Garden that was recently reconstructed to make sure it looked how it did when the park was originally planned.
The park was first opened in 1887 and spreads out over 28 acres, the park itself is listed on the National Historic Register due to its age. There is a Trail of History that runs from the east end of the park to the west end, there are also signs placed along the trail which tell you the story of the park as well as the city.
Other things of interest in the park include a picnic shelter, playground and tennis courts.
8. Go For A Round At Point Mallard Golf Course
Set within 200 acres of wooded flatlands is Point Mallard Park, the home to Point Mallard Golf Course. The course has a full eighteen holes and has won many awards in its rich history. It is a beautiful course surrounded by trees and it was designed with the contours of the land in mind so everything looks completely natural.
The course is 6,988 yards with a par of 72. There are some tricky slopes that need conquering on your way through the course but these all add excitement to your round.
9. Book A Seat At The Alabama Charity Championship Horse Show
The Alabama Charity Championship Horse show is an annual event that is held each year in October. The event attracts some of the best American Saddlebred, Hackney and Roadster horses in the country, this had made it the fourth largest Saddlebred show in the United States.
Tickets to this event sell out quickly every year and if you are thinking of coming to Decatur I highly recommend to plan your trip around this so as you do not miss it.
10. Watch National Pride At Stake At Riverfest
Americans take their BBQ’s seriously! for over twenty years Decatur has hosted an annual event called Riverfest, It is an event that is recognized by the state of Alabama as an official State Barbeque Championship competition.
The winner of the riverfest qualifies for the America Royal World Championship and also gets an invite to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational. What better place could you think of to get some great food and watch the competition battle.
11. Take A Trip To Mooresville
This should not really be on the list as it is not in Decatur, it is instead a tiny community that is just a two mile drive to the north of the city. Formed in 1818 the entire village is just twelve blocks of oak lined properties, properties that have been listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
Buildings worth taking a look at include the Stage Coach Inn and Tavern and an active post office that dates back to 1840. The town has also featured in a Walt Disney movie called Tom & Huck.
12. Ever Felt Like Viewing Your Old Tax Records?
With so many historic buildings to choose from in this town it is difficult to know which ones to visit if you are on a short trip. The Morgan County Archives should be somewhere on your list though. The archives are kept in the 1927 Tennessee Valley in Bank Street.
Here you can find 1500 cubic feet of archives and manuscripts dating all the way back to 1819. It is a beautiful building to view and one that has an extensive photograph collection, complete with pictures from the civil war.
13. Make A Stop At Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q
Out of all of the things to do in Decatur this is the one that fills me with the most excitement just thinking about it. Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q has such an amazing story that you cannot leave town with at least one visit, may two or three….
In 1928 Bob Gibson had a makeshift table that was made out of oak planks, these were nailed to a big Sycamore tree that he had in the back of his yard. By that table he had a hand dug pit, the smoke and smells of which drew the local town folk to see. Nearly one hundred years later that family tradition is still going strong, and still serving the people of Alabama.
In case you are not convinced, this restaurant has won more awards than I have had hot dinners!