Sister city to storied Muscle Shoals, Alabama, just across the Tennessee River, the tiny city of Florence defies all small town stereotypes while simultaneously preserving all the customary charm. It’s where CFDA award-winning fashion designer Billy Reid shoots hoops at the local YMCA, and celebrated musicians like Donnie Fritts hang out at the local coffee shop on Saturday mornings. Burgeoning artists grab scoops of orange-pineapple ice cream at the old-fashioned soda shop Trowbridge’s or pink hot dogs topped with vinegary slaw at Bunyan’s BBQ; Grammy-winners will play a space that only fits 100.
Whether you’re on a musical tour of the South or getting out of town for the weekend, here are five of our favorite things to do in Florence, Alabama.
Dinner at Odette
While Birmingham might be known as Alabama’s de facto food destination, one of the state’s most dynamic restaurants sits downtown on Florence’s Court Street two doors down from Billy Reid’s flagship shop. Odette's menu gracefully walks the line of neighborhood restaurant and fine dining destination. From fancy pork rinds to za’atar-seasoned fried cauliflower and broccoli with french onion sour cream, crispy shallots, and pickled onions, the small plates show off their inventive side, but the burger is something of local legend (pro tip: get it with chimichurri). The bar also holds the state’s largest collection of bourbon, and an unexpected cocktail list that would look more commonplace in New York’s East Village.
Catch a show at 116 E. Mobile
Owned and operated by local label Single Lock Records, 116 E. Mobile not only serves as the city’s main music venue hosting artists like Roseanne Cash, Patterson Hood, and John Paul White (a co-founder of Single Lock), but it also functions as an incubator for local and regional musicians writing the next chapter of Muscle Shoals music and a community gathering spot.
Grab coffee at Rivertown
This humble coffee shop has transcended its role to become something more of a city hall. Inside you’ll find the city’s creative community mixing and mingling with financial advisors, doctors, professors, and everyone in between talking about their new ambitions and latest projects over cups of powerful Muletown-roasted coffee. Owner and chef John Cartwright also has a knack for serving sophisticated sandwiches, salads, and burritos that belie the ultra-affordable prices.
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Tour Muscle Shoals Sound
While it might not be in Florence proper, no trip to the Shoals would be complete without a recording studio tour. Just a short trip across the river, this studio that produced records and hits like The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and “I’ll Take You There” by The Staples Singers has recently reopened to visitors (with the help of funding from Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics) who can now see the entirety of the renovated space including the fabled basement.
Walk through historic neighborhoods
Whether it’s the Victorian-lined Wood Avenue or the cottages and bungalows of Walnut Street, or even the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house (considered one of the finest examples of a "Usonian" home) on Riverview Drive, there’s no shortage of sidewalks from downtown that lead into idyllic streetscapes of azaleas, porch swings, and flowering dogwoods.