As you watch travel shows and endless Instagram videos of beautiful travel destinations, the travel fever is dying, it might be time for a road trip. For those in the north-central Alabama region, a multi-day drive along I-22 could be just the thing for a fun weekend getaway. Begin your journey in the Magic City of civil rights history and a beautifully revitalized downtown, then head up the highway to Memphis, where you’ll feast your eyes on barbecue and blues. Although it’s only a 3.5-hour drive along I-22 to reach your destination, it’s the little stops and side attractions along the way that make this trip extra special. After all, life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Start your great journey in Birmingham with a mini tour through the Magic City. Get a bird’s-eye view of downtown atop Red Mountain at Vulcan, a giant statue of a Roman god and the city’s unofficial mascot. Then spend the day on a progressive food tour of the many restaurants nominated by James Beard. Lunch at Johnny’s Greek and Three Restaurant is always delicious, and snagging a table at Chez FonFon, Bottega or Automatic Seafood is always a coveted deal. Grab a drink at cocktail bars like Queen’s Park and Juniper, or compete with the locals at Mom’s Basement. Visit the Civil Rights Museum and the Birmingham Museum of Art, and end your visit with a scoop or two of artisan ice cream at Big Spoon Creamery.
Drive 40 minutes up the road to jasper, where you can spend some time getting to know the small town of almost 17,000 people. Stroll through historic downtown to see iconic buildings like Jasper City Hall, the Post Office, and the Masonic Temple, and stop at locally owned shops, restaurants, and boutiques. Afterwards, grab a beer (or two!) at Tallulah Brewing Company or Twister Barley Brewing, just two blocks from each other.
After a night in Jasper, take a 20-minute detour north Bankhead National Forest. Along the way (actually just five minutes north of town), stop at the Bankhead House & Heritage Center, a local museum housed in the 1824 Federal-style house where former Alabama Representative William Bankhead lived. The home is now dedicated to telling the history of Walker County and the men who served as part of the US Congress.
Once you reach Bankhead National Forest, plan your course to see canyons, waterfalls, lakes and springs in this protected area. Hiking trails abound. In warm weather you can swim or canoe at one of the lakes. And if you’re particularly brave, book a campsite and spend the night in a tent under the stars. While you’re in the area, check out the 148-foot sandstone bridge at Natural Bridge Park. It’s an Alabama treasure not to be missed!
Continue back to I-22 Winfield, where you should stop for a show at the historic Pastime Theatre, a restored theater where you can see everything from country to classical music performances. Afterwards, treat yourself to dinner at the popular eatery Cajun Connection. A po’boy with fried shrimp or a plate of catfish are the perfect choices to get you on a happy path.
Since you’ve made it this far, head into Magnolia State and make a stop Tupelo, Mississippi. The birthplace of Elvis Presley has plenty to see, including the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s childhood home and a museum dedicated to his life. While in town, don’t miss Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, where you can see everything from bison and pot-bellied pigs to zebras and emus. Stay at the city’s only boutique hotel. Hotel Tupelo has 79 charming and elegant rooms as well as a trendy bar and restaurant called Jobos. Before heading out of town, be sure to grab a meal at Kermit’s Soul Kitchen, a popular spot known for its smoked grilled specialties like ribs, chicken and brisket.
Take the final leg of your journey north across the state line Memphis, Tennessee. For more Elvis memorabilia, head to Graceland, the superstar’s legendary home. Then head to Beale Street to learn all about the blues. Dine at The Beauty Shop, an eclectic new American restaurant in a former salon, serving dishes like Watermelon & Wings and a Jamaican Jerk Fish Club Sandwich. Other must-stops include the Broad Avenue Arts District and the Dixon Gallery & Gardens.