Written and Photographed by Cameron Carnes
Florence, Alabama, is an old-fashioned town remaking itself for the modern world and remembering the treasures of the past. Old factory buildings have been repurposed to house modern designers; meanwhile, a century-old ice cream shop serves its treats as though no time has passed.
Florence is the home of the University of North Alabama (UNA), the birthplace of designer Natalie Chanin, and the adopted town of designer Billy Reid. It’s somewhere between a college town and burgeoning city, with a little something Southern that just can’t be defined.
Located two hours away from Birmingham by car, Florence is the perfect destination for a day trip. If you’re looking to tour the whole of the Shoals, it’s a perfect jumping off point, but the town itself has enough going on to keep you occupied. Families, young couples, and really anyone looking for short getaway can find something in Florence to enjoy. To help you plan your excursion, we’ve put together a list of places that you shouldn’t miss on your next trip.
You can eat and eat well for pretty much every meal in Florence. Start your day with homemade biscuits and skillet gravy at Stagg’s Grocery or grab a hamburger for lunch. It’s a local favorite for soul food, and what you eat there will stick with you while you’re enjoying the rest of your day.
For a more upscale dinner (or a great cocktail or pour of bourbon), check out Odette. Their Old Fashioneds are made the traditional way: muddling a sugar cube soaked with house-made bitters and then stirring the mixture with bourbon and ice. Don’t miss their burger. It’s on Garden & Gun’s list of the best burgers in Alabama for a reason.
To knock out one of the dishes on the “100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Die” list, hit Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Bar. Their orange and pineapple ice cream is well worth the drive. It’s like a more complex dreamsicle with tiny chunks of pineapple to make the texture a bit more varied.
If you’re looking to shop at a big box store, Florence has you covered. But it can also satisfy your needs for locally made designs and curated goods. Alabama Chanin features custom and off-the-rack designs for women by Florence native Natalie Chanin. Their 25,000 square feet of converted textile manufacturing facility space is home to their showroom, café, production area, and DIY shop. Free tours of their adjacent production area are held every weekday at 2 p.m.
Internationally renowned clothing designer Billy Reid’s designs have racked up awards for his signature blend of Southern style and high fashion. With fans like Daniel Craig, his clothing has most notably appeared in 2012’s blockbuster James Bond film Skyfall. In Florence, his company headquarters is decorated with family heirlooms.
In the Shoals, music geeks don’t have to go far to find somewhere to get their next fix. Florence is home to Pegasus Records, a combination music, comics, and video store. Talk a bit to the owner about the latest issue of The Strain or pet the owner’s dog. As one Facebook review puts it: “Remember High Fidelity with John Cusack? That’s what it feels like at Pegasus.”
Florence is full of history. Considered to be one of the four most beautiful examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work from the 1930s, the Rosenbaum House was restored by the city of Florence in the 1990s. As one of the best examples of Usonian architecture, its close proximity and general beauty are a treat.
For families with kids, the Children’s Museum of the Shoals is a place to learn through play. It offers art, science, history, environmental, and cultural exhibits. History buffs will love Pope’s Tavern and Museum, whose building has housed a tavern and inn, stagecoach stop, commander center, and hospital during the Civil War. These days, it’s filled with a large collection of memorabilia from the 1700s and 1800s.
Green space is abundant in Florence. Looking for a place to run, walk, exercise, or hang out? Deibert Park may just be the perfect choice. As the sign at the entrance says, picnicking is encouraged. Pack a blanket, pick up a sandwich (or several), and go enjoy the park’s beautiful rolling fields and ponds.
People looking to walk along the river, fish, or eat on a floating restaurant should definitely make a stop at McFarland Park. Veteran’s Park is home to the local disc golf course. Art and music lovers should not miss Wilson Park, especially if there’s an art or music event going on. Skaters, there’s even something for you: Cox Creek Park has a skate park where you can play.