Why You Should Plan a Weekend in Florence, Alabama
Sister city to storied Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the tiny-ish town of Florence (just across the Tennessee River) has crystallized as a haven for musicians, artists, designers, and entrepreneurs seeking a creative community minus the chaos and pricetags of bigger cities. 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. Florence manifests the idea of quality over quantity. Sure, there aren’t 10 different coffee shops, a bevy of bars, or a slew of critically acclaimed restaurants, but the ones it does have are so good you’ll have no problem returning.
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.
Eat Dinner at Odette
Gracefully balancing between neighborhood watering hole and fine dining hot spot, this farm-to-table-inspired eatery is a welcome surprise for visitors to the tiny, bucolic town of Florence, Alabama. Chef Josh Quick’s dishes prove that fresh, forward-thinking ideas aren’t relegated to big city menus from seared catfish nestled in a hill of Carolina Gold rice over blue crab étouffée and green tomato salsa, to red curry deviled eggs or a shell pea risotto topped with crispy chicken skin. At the bar, you’ll find the state’s largest bourbon selection (one of the few bars to sport a rare bottle of A.H. Hirsch) and a creative craft cocktail with drinks like the Magic Carpet Ride with gin, Saint Germain, elderflower, cucumber tonic, and butterfly pea tea.
Stay a While at The GunRunner
The GunRunner's rooftop overlooking downtown and the cliffsides along the Tennessee River has become locals new favorite haunt at this recently opened boutique hotel. Inside the lobby acts as its own mini-museum to the area’s musical history. While the term “themed-suites” might sound more Vegas than North Alabama, rest assured that they benefit from the city’s design-minded nature. Stay in the Frank Lloyd Wright Suite, one of only three sanctioned rooms in the world in homage to the famous architect who designed a home in the West Florence neighborhood. Downstairs, TURBO has all the offerings of more metropolitan coffee shops including, you guessed it, avocado toast.
Grab Coffee at Rivertown
This humble coffee shop has transcended its functional role to become a place more akin to an alternative city hall. Inside you’ll find residents 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. Chef-owner John Cartwright also has a knack for serving sophisticated sandwiches, salads, and burritos that belie the ultra-affordable prices.
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.
Find the Fashionable Side
Florence is famously home to fashion designers Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin who both have their eponymous flagship stores in town, which operate as social hubs for locals and visitors. Billy Reid recently renovated the back room of their shop into a kitchen and event area where they host chefs from across the country. At Alabama Chanin, you’ll find yoga and workshops happening regularly in the hybrid boutique-cafe-factory.