For those of us living in Southern California, Alabama is not what one might call a vacation destination. Driving along Highway 59, I can’t help but think that if history had run a different course, travel to Alabama might have required a passport today. And in some ways, it still feels like another country in its own right.
I flew into Atlanta and rented a car; driving is really your only option if you want to see the state. I took Route 85 to Auburn and stopped to walk around and get lunch.
Although Toomer's Corner is sadly a site of the past, Auburn is a pretty town – despite what Alabama fans will tell you. I’m not a Tigers fan, but the bar scene in downtown Auburn is fun, especially during football season. If you want to see this town in full swing, go for the Iron Bowl in Auburn and you can witness one of the greatest rivalries in college football.
Continue down Route 85 to Montgomery and visit Hank Williams’s gravesite in Oakwood cemetery. Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War and also where Martin Luther King preached to his congregation in a small chapel. Though a small city, Montgomery has earned its place in American history. The Cloverdale neighborhood is an elegant garden district reminiscent of New Orleans.
If you spend the night, be sure to visit 1048 Jazz and Blues with live music till 4 a.m. And check out Railyard Brewery for your craft beer fix before cruising out of town.
You’ve probably heard of the Robert Trent Jones Trail if you’re a golfer. If you want a challenge, visit Capitol Hill in Prattville for a round of golf. Opt for a round on The Judge or The Senator, and see how you fare.
They joke that “the sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones golf course.” You’ll understand once you play a round.
Lake Martin is a popular summertime destination for many. Stop through the charming town of Wetumpka where several scenes in the movie Big Fish were filmed. Get lost on some of the roads around Lake Martin. Money can go a long way down here, and if you’re looking to get away, this is the place to do it.
The end of the cotton industry meant hard times for many small towns in Alabama. In some ways, I think traveling through some of these small towns is the best way to understand how a failing economy atrophies into extreme poverty. The city of Detroit may have declared bankruptcy, but visit the once-thriving city of Union Springs and it’s not a very different story.
Through much of the South, especially in areas of extreme poverty, you’ll see that civil rights and equality didn’t do much to remediate the situation. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and people have found ways to get around the laws handed down to them.
We think of vacation as a chance to get away, but I think it should also be a chance to think about the world at large and our place in it. Yes, some of the stereotypes about Alabama hold true, but upon visiting you'll understand how they came to be. This beautiful state has a lot to offer recreationally, but it also has a lot to teach us about our past as Americans and where we stand today.