10 Things To Do In Opelika, Alabama

From a craft distillery to hip boutiques, there’s plenty to explore in this former railroad town.

Opelika, AL
Photo: Photo: Courtesy Auburn-Opelika Tourism

Unless you’re from around these parts, there’s a very real chance you’ve never heard of Auburn. And if you’ve never heard of Auburn, home to the Auburn University Tigers and one of college football’s most loyal fan bases, chances are you won’t know much about Opelika. Little sister to Auburn, the historic railroad town has been picking up steam as a worthy weekend destination over the past decade. The town of around 31,000 has long been a day escape for Auburn residents looking to skirt college town crowds—especially on particularly frenzied gamedays. But increasingly, others are discovering the quiet charm and thriving community of local businesses that make Opelika truly shine. Here are 10 things to do on a visit to this charming Alabama small town.

1. Walk the Train Tracks

Once known as the trading center of East Alabama, Opelika is known for its rich railroad history. In 1848, the Montgomery & West Point Railroad Company completed a rail line from Montgomery to Opelika. Three years later, they put in a second line that led all the way to West Point, Georgia. The new line became the only rail route from New Orleans to Atlanta, putting Opelika on the map as a major trade town. Today, you can see the historic railroad tracks, and the freight trains that still run along them, in downtown Opelika.  

John Emerald Distilling Company

Courtesy of John Emerald Distilling Company

2. Tour John Emerald Distilling Company

Just a year before the 100th anniversary of Prohibition, father-son duo John and Jimmy Sharp realized a longtime dream and opened John Emerald Distilling Company in downtown Opelika. The family-owned distillery processes a comprehensive lineup of spirits ranging from single malt whiskey and double oak bourbon to spiced rum, barrel-aged gin, vodka, and even muscadine brandy. Stop into their processing facility and taproom for a tour followed by a tasting. After, pull up a seat the bar and order a creative cocktail that shows the craft spirits in their best light.

Red Clay Brewing Company

Courtesy of Red Clay Brewing Company

3. Go Brewery Hopping

Downtown Opelika may only consist of a few square blocks, but it has got no shortage of places to grab a cold one. Take a mini brewery tour by visiting both of Opelika’s beloved local breweries. On sunny days, grab a seat on Resting Pulse’s generous patio, and choose one of their refreshing fruit-inspired brews. The Margarita Gose, Mango Madness Fruited Berliner Weisse, Peach Bellini Brut IPA, or Opa Liken Lime Wheat are all great places to start. After, take the one-minute walk to Red Clay Brewing, a craft brewery and taproom dedicated to honoring Opelika’s southern roots. The Big Swamp Stout pays homage to the town’s name, which is the Muskogee word for “big swamp”. If you need a snack with your brew, order a custom pizza to share.

Studio 3:19 Opelika

Courtesy of Auburn-Opelika Tourism

4. Hit Up the Downtown Shops

Shopping in downtown Opelika is remarkably specialized. There’s a store for everything, from size-inclusive women’s clothing and accessories (Studio 3:19) to new and used vinyl records (10,000 Hz) to home and gift ideas (Southern Crossing). After you’ve exercised your credit card downtown, take it for one final hurrah at nearby Angel’s Antiques and Flea Market, which offers 68,000 square feet of one-of-a-kind finds.

5. Explore Northside Historic District

A short jaunt from the historic train tracks in downtown Opelika is the Northside Historic District. This residential neighborhood is filled with beautiful turn-of-the-century homes that have been lovingly restored to match their original appearance. Take a stroll along the charming streets and marvel at their grandeur. If you happen to visit during the holidays, all the better. You might catch the homes all dressed up for the holidays as part of the Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour.  

Opelika Street Art

Courtesy of Auburn-Opelika Tourism

6. Go on a Street Art Scavenger Hunt

Opelika has a colorful past and a bright future, and the walls of the town reflect that. Go on a street art scavenger hunt to see each of Opelika’s charming murals. Be sure to snap photos in front of the “Bless You” wall, yellow umbrella, butterfly, and “Greetings from Opelika” mural. Each is a Instagram moment waiting to happen!

Zazu Gastropub

Courtesy of Zazu Gastropub

7. Have a Meal at Zazu Gastropub

For fresh farm-to-table food in a relaxed atmosphere, Zazu is your spot. Inside, you’ll find cozy exposed brick walls, warm lighting, and natural wood floors in a multilevel space that includes a second-story outdoor dining patio overlooking downtown. The menu is a simple, Southern, and done right. At dinner, try Shrimp & Grits which utilizes Marsh Hen Mill stone-ground grits and Gulf shrimp with creole butter and okra. For lunch, the Brisket Sandwich, which features 16-hour smoked brisket alongside housemade barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and bread and butter green tomato, is a standout.

Sneak & Dawdle

Tara Massouleh McCay

8. Enjoy a Night Cap at Sneak & Dawdle

A moody, hidden speakeasy may be the last thing you’d expect from a small town in rural Alabama, and that’s part of what makes Sneak & Dawdle so great. Once you’ve found the giant wooden double doors marked with a bear seal, you’ll be transported into a dark, mysterious, and decidedly posh space where you’ll sip on craft cocktails while deep in intense conversation. The cocktail menu changes frequently and the bartenders are knowledgeable, so use them to determine your perfect tipple.

Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge

Getty Images

9. Visit the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge

Also known as the Pea Ridge Covered Bridge, this enchanting bridge is known for its iconic lattice trusses and wooden roof. The structure is one of only five remaining covered bridges in Alabama that dates to 1950 or before. Built in 1900, the bridge leads into the Opelika Municipal Park, where a mini train called the Rocky Brook Rocket runs seasonally and families often gather for play dates and picnics.

The Well

Courtesy of The Well

10. Caffeinate with Coffee or Tea

If you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up during your day out, Opelika has plenty of great spots where you can refuel with a warm beverage. Find small-batch locally roasted joe at Mama Mocha’s. If you want to linger, head inside the coffee house for a specialty coffee and pastry. Otherwise, you can stop by the next-door garage and pick up something to go from the quaint espresso bar. If coffee isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended), then get a real cup of tea at The Well. The whimsical tea house hosts traditional High Tea for small groups by reservation, but is also open Monday through Saturday with an impressive menu of loose leaf teas and specialty tea drinks to choose from.

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