New boutique hotels, popular eateries, a museum dedicated to Native Americans and attractive shops have opened in the last two years in Florence, Alabama, along with past attractions that have gotten a makeover. It’s time to revisit this university town with a widely-recognized music significance.
1. Ancient mound beside new museum
The 43-foot high (13.1 m) mound constructed by Native Americans more than 2,000 years ago is one of the largest and oldest in the Tennessee Valley. The treasured collection of ancient tools, pottery, spear points and pipes is the largest in Alabama. The mound has been a source of pride and fascination for ages, but the museum costing 1.76 million USD sitting beside it just opened in 2017. After two years of planning and building, the Florence Indian Mound Museum now showcases chronological displays dating back to the Paleolithic period.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and is wheelchair accessible.
2. Two new boutique hotels
Within a couple of blocks of each other, two buildings have been renovated and completely repurposed as hotels. One is up and running. The other is already taking reservations for their summer of 2018 opening.
The Gunrunner Boutique Hotel opened in August of 2017. Formerly a pawn shop referred to as “The Gunrunner,” the new owners decided to keep the name because it signified a recognizable location for the Florence people. A coffee shop and an upscale barber shop are on the ground floor, plus one of the guest rooms which is handicap-accessible. There is no reception desk, because all guest registrations are handled electronically. In the back of the building is a large event space and a private parking area, suitable for guest vehicles from motorcycles to Ferraris.
American Idol winner Taylor Hicks has been a guest at Gunrunner, along with others from as far away as Sweden. But, even locals enjoy spending the night and enjoying dinner at one of the fine restaurants just a short walk away. The upstairs common area is open and inviting with a bar where an old elevator shaft used to be.
Each guest room has a different decor with a distinctive theme based on some kind of connection to a North Alabama person, business, legend or even a racehorse. The owners hope guests will visit at least 10 times, staying in a different guest room each time.
The newest downtown lodging will be the Stricklin Hotel. The street level already houses a new breakfast and lunch restaurant, which is the brainchild of Chef John Currence of Oxford, Mississippi. In the basement will be a space called the Boiler Room that will include a stage, a bowling alley and video games by day and an adult bar area by night. Upstairs will be 24 guest rooms. The location at 317 North Court Street is perfect for providing a place to sleep, work or play while guests explore all Florence and the Shoals area has to offer.
3. Two fresh and popular new eateries
Big Bad Breakfast is on the street level of the Stricklin Hotel. A restaurant that began in Oxford, Mississippi is spreading across the southeastern United States, and the Florence location opened in May with “crazy good” results, according to one of the owner/partners. Open from 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. seven days a week, students from the University of North Alabama, townspeople, fishermen heading to the Tennessee River and business and professional people are excited about this new breakfast and lunch option. The large biscuits are popular, along with the homemade jams, the locally-sourced bacon and sausage, plus varieties of omelets, skillets and pancakes.
Ray’s at the Bank is an upscale lunch and dinner restaurant located in a former bank building at 1411 Huntsville Road in Florence. With its white tablecloths and vintage decor, it is a popular place for ladies to meet for lunch. The dinner menu changes daily and is suitable for a special date night. Steaks and seafood at Ray’s are reported to be fresh and fabulous.
4. Attractive new shops appearing among the established brands
The shops along Court Street and its side streets have always brought people into downtown Florence. The window displays lure you in to get closer looks and make your purchases. Designer Billy Reid, whose wife is a Florence native, has his flagship store in that location, even though he also has stores around the country.
A relatively new business on North Court Street is Reclaimed Spirit by Stacey, referring to owner Stacey Hamner. Reclaimed Spirit offers a wide selection of merchandise ranging from home decor to jewelry and bath, body and baby products. Ms. Hamner created a signature scent for the toiletries at The Gunrunner Boutique Hotel, which can be purchased in her store. She also offers art and hand lettering classes for children and adults.
5. Music continues to be the headline in this part of Alabama
Florence and its close neighbors, Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, have been synonymous with the music recording industry for many years. FAME Studios, Cypress Moon Productions and 3614 Jackson Highway have produced some of the most iconic music in American history. The Rolling Stones, Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd and hundreds of other well-known names have recorded in Florence and Muscle Shoals. Tours of the three main studios should be on every visitor’s must-do list when they are in the area.
The studio named for its address—3614 Jackson Highway—recently underwent a major renovation and welcomes music lovers daily. Tours cost 15 USD per person and are given every hour on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week. It’s a good idea to make a reservation for a tour in case a recording session alters the available tour times on the day you want to visit.
If you have time to visit Cypress Moon Productions, contact owner Tonya Holly for a tour. She and her husband Kelvin have been in the recording and entertainment business for many years, and she will happily show you the walls adorned with the autographs of great musicians.
A wide range of attractions in Florence, Alabama
From Native American artifacts to the history of Rock and Roll with the pleasures of boating and fishing on the Tennessee River and golfing on a Robert Trent Jones course thrown in for good measure, Florence, Alabama is full of attractions to suit enthusiasts of all kinds. The Helen Keller Festival in late June, the W.C. Handy Festival in late July, the Renaissance Faire in late October and a calendar full of events on the campus of the University of North Alabama also provide reasons to visit. However, if you’re only interested in spending the night, enjoying some great food and exploring a few shops, downtown Florence will fill those requirements in pleasurable ways, as well. If you have visited in the past, maybe this list of new attractions will have you thinking about a return trip.