Tourism Tuesdays November 22, 2016

  • Governor’s Mansion open for Candlelight Tours
  • $63 million in oil spill money released for Alabama coast
  • Architectural Digest: Alabama’s best-kept secret: Gulf Shores
  • Austrian company adds additional Alabama tours
  • Huntsville – The Rocket City and more
  • Ed Bridges to present book talk
  • Gulf Adventure Center to reopen at The Wharf in Orange Beach
  • Movie expected to begin filming in downtown Birmingham later this month
  • ‘American Pickers’ looking for large antique collections in Alabama; filming here soon  
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Governor’s Mansion open for Candlelight Tours

Gov. Robert Bentley will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.  “The Governor’s Mansion belongs to the people of Alabama and I want to share it with them during this wonderful season,” said Bentley. 

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day.  The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Lynne Coker Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

Choirs scheduled to perform include the Trinity Presbyterian Children’s Choir from Montgomery on Dec. 5, Forest Avenue Academic Magnet Elementary School Choir from Montgomery and Albertville High Vocal Ease on Dec. 12, Oxford Christian School Choir and Alabama School of Law’s The Footnotes on Dec. 19.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951.  The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, 12 and 19.   More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours by going online at


$63 million in oil spill money released for Alabama coast

Posted by Jason Johnson,, Nov. 15

Six coastal restoration projects totaling $63 million have been approved by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Gov. Robert Bentley announced.

Separate from the RESTORE Act and Alabama’s own settlements with BP and Transocean, the funds are being made available through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund NFWF uses to manage criminal fines brought against both companies in U.S. District Court in 2013.

On Nov. 15, Gov. Robert Bentley announced a third round of NFWF projects that will benefit Alabama’s Gulf Coast. (

A total of $356 million was awarded to Alabama, and so far, that has manifested itself in funding for 19 coastal restoration projects with a combined value exceeding $115 million.

The projects funded in the latest allocation from NFWF include:

— Multifaceted fisheries and ecosystem monitoring in Alabama waters and the Gulf of Mexico, $4.4 million. This will be the third and fourth years of fisheries monitoring.

— Bon Secour-Oyster Bay wetland acquisition, $12.5 million. The project will protect and restore about 935 acres of diverse coastal habitat in the city of Gulf Shores.

— Dauphin Island conservation acquisition, $3.5 million. The project includes the acquisition of about eight acres of remaining undeveloped beachfront on mid-Dauphin Island, and will include the construction of fencing and a dune walkover.

— Lightning Point acquisition and restoration, $6 million. The project includes the acquisition of more than 100 acres of coastal habitat to restore a stretch of shoreline at the mouth of Bayou La Batre River.

— Gulf Highlands conservation acquisition, $36 million. The money is to acquire and manage 113 acres, the largest privately held undeveloped beachfront remaining in coastal Alabama.

— Fowl River Watershed restoration: Coastal spits and wetlands, Phase 1, $1 million. This is the engineering and design phase to stabilize spits and marshland in lower Fowl River.

To read this article online, go to:


Architectural Digest: Alabama’s best-kept secret: Gulf Shores

By Perri Ormont Blumberg, Architectural Digest, Nov. 12

Sugar-white-sand beaches, a culinary scene rivaling New Orleans’s, a vibrant shopping district—Gulf Shores, Alabama, is one of America’s greatest under-the-radar beach towns. Wander your way through the Wharf, an entertainment district that’s a hybrid of Rodeo Drive chic and old-school Charleston charm, or enjoy fresh oysters and cocktails at one of the many waterfront locales. And, of course, there’s always the beach. Below, we’ve selected the best ways to spend your time.

Where to Stay

Turquoise Place – These hotel-quality condos are available to rent year-round. The modern, turquoise glass architecture hints at what’s inside: sleek furnishings (think Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances and streamlined fireplaces surrounded by marble) with a massive Jacuzzi and gas grill on your private balcony. From $340/night;

Barefoot Bungalow II – This one-of-a-kind, ten-bedroom beachfront home features breathtaking views of the Gulf. Ample terrace space and a private plunge pool are just a few yards from the ocean. From $944/night;

Magnolia Springs – This bed and breakfast is tucked away in idyllic Magnolia Springs, about 30 minutes outside Gulf Shores. The lodging features romantic decor with historic flourishes dating from the home’s 1897 origins. Enjoy a three-course breakfast each morning. From $189/night;

Where to Eat

Fisher’s – Located on the bustling Orange Beach marina, Fisher’s showcases the cuisine of chef Bill Briand, a 2016 James Beard semifinalist. Local Alabama oysters and a craft cocktail are a must-try combo. Sample a few drinks and bites on the terrace upstairs or linger dockside as you watch the yachts roll in at sunset. 27075 Marina Road;

Big Fish Restaurant – Look around and you may think you’re at a buzzy, subterranean liquor den in Los Angeles. Grab a seat at the luxe wood bar with the fine company of a martini and a jumbo crab cake. Large groups can be accommodated in a handsome, curtained-off dining room. There’s also a whimsical garden out back. 25814 Canal Road;

Café Grazie – With a menu that mixes Gulf seafood and rustic Italian cuisine, this waterfront mainstay offers diners spacious booths overlooking the marina. On any visit, your feast may include seafood linguine, eggplant Parmesan, or a crab-stuffed portobello. 27267 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Suite 101;

Where to Drink

Bill’s by the Beach – Enjoy Gulf Shores’ laid-back spirit at this easygoing beachside joint. Its wine list offers over 115 options, but you may also want to steer your palate toward its loaded Bloody Mary with Gulf shrimp, a beef slider, sausage, white cheddar, bacon, pickled okra, spicy green beans, and more. Play a round of corn hole on the downstairs terrace. 300 West Beach Boulevard;

Cobalt – Tucked away by Perdido Bay Bridge, this tiki bar is a local favorite, with great seafood and live music. Traveling by sea? You can dock at one of the bar’s boat slips. 28099 Perdido Beach Boulevard;

The Gulf – This spot is inside a waterfront building constructed from old shipping containers. Dine on fresh seafood and sip cocktails or craft beers during one of the bar’s popular outdoor movie nights. 27500 Perdido Beach Boulevard;

Big Beach Brewing Company – This new brewery is Alabama’s southernmost, offering events like Pints and Poses (where yoga meets craft beer), songwriters’ festivals, and oyster cook-offs. 300 East 24th Avenue;

Where to Shop

MM II – In the middle of the Wharf, you’ll find this home decor spot known for its lighting fixtures, textiles, and fine art. Owner and interior designer Melanie Martin also runs nearby shop Melanie’s, where you may unearth an antique rug or a some handmade statement jewelry. 4830 Main Street, Suite 114;

Oh So Coastal – Finely crafted furniture, art, and more abound at this coastal-themed home furnishings store.

Weathered wood trunks and coral centerpieces make it particularly difficult to leave the charming boutique without a shopping bag (or two). 25741 Perdido Beach Boulevard;

What to Do

Gulf Coastal Arts Center – If you’ve ever dreamed of crafting your own glass items, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better studio than the center’s Hot Shop. But don’t worry, if you lack the artist gene, you can just watch the resident artists work and shop the store instead. For pottery aficionados, the center’s Clay Studio provides a variety of hands-on experiences. A newly renovated gallery is also slated to open in spring 2017. *26389 Canal Road;

Wild Native Tours – Hit the water to encounter dolphins, bald eagles, pelicans, and more. On this eco-cruise, knowledgeable guides will teach you about the region’s unique habitats and history, with plenty of anecdotes about pirates and local fishermen. Private charters are also available, along with coastal kayak tours. Various departure points;

The Wharf at Orange Beach – Enjoy first-rate entertainment at a breezy, outdoor amphitheater. Sometimes you can get lucky and snag last-minute $20 tickets to acts like Miranda Lambert and Jimmy Buffett. 23101 Canal Road;

To read this article online, go to:


Austrian company adds additional Alabama tours

The Austrian tour company Amerika Reisen has added two new fly-drive tours to their product lineup that include Alabama destinations.  “Start to New Horizons” is a family vacation of that includes Atlanta, Huntsville, Birmingham, Gulf Shores, Montgomery, and returns to Atlanta while “Music-Rockin’ Down the Highway” is a music themed vacation that starts in Nashville and ends in New Orleans with the Alabama cities of Florence/Muscle Shoals and Mobile.   Amerika Reisen is working with the receptive firm Tour Mappers in securing hotel and attractions tickets on these two fly-drive vacations.

Alabama German Representative Janin Nachtweh worked with Amerikariesen in getting the tours added.   Nachtweh and Grey Brennan met with Karin Ochenbauer of Amerika Risen at ITB in Berlin and again at IPW in New Orleans during this year.  In addition, Brennan visited Tour Mappers on a Travel South sales mission in October.

Other trips offered by the company that include Alabama are; “In the footsteps of film & music” which includes Birmingham and “Gone with the Wind” which includes Mobile and Montgomery.

To view the tours, go to


Huntsville – The Rocket City and more

By Chris Christensen, Amateur Traveler

I was a space geek as a kid. To be fair, I was launched a little over 3 years after Sputnik and we were all a little space crazy in the 1960s. I had books on spacecraft and remember being glued to the TV during the Apollo missions. Getting a small peek into what it would be like to attend Space Camp made me feel like I was 12 again (which is how old I was when Space Camp opened).

Standing under one of 3 remaining Saturn Five rockets in the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama would have been worth the trip, even if that were all Huntsville (The Rocket City) had to offer. But, Huntsville has much more to offer.

I was visiting Huntsville as a guest of the Visitor’s Bureau as a pre-trip for the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference to be held there in May 2017. We stayed at the spacious Embassy Suites (the nicest Embassy Suites I have ever seen) near the Von Braun Center where the conference will be held. The Von Braun Center is named for German scientist Wernher von Braun who invented the V-2 rockets used by Hitler’s Germany but later was the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket that so captured my imagination as a child. Von Braun and  his team came to Huntsville in 1950.

We started our tour of Huntsville with a walking tour of the Twickenham Historic District which is one of the largest collections of antebellum homes in the South. The city was captured by Union troops during the Civil War without a battle when a telegraph operator (a Mr. Larkin from Philadelphia) who was a Union sympathizer failed to pass along word of their approach. One attraction in the neighborhood is the 1819 Weeden House Museum which was the home of local artist and poet Maria Howard Weeden. Our guide also pointed out the “spite” house, which was built just tall enough to wreck the view from the house of a rival businessman.

We walked from there to city hall in downtown. On the way we passed by the spot where Alabama’s constitution was signed at what is now Constitution Village. Only a few feet away are the footprints of astronaut Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut (assuming we don’t count some chimps and monkeys).

We happened to run into actress Tallulah Bankhead on the street near City Hall. Bankhead was one of the city’s most famous relatives, although she was perhaps better known for her outrageous personality than her acting skill. It was doubly strange to run into her given that:

1) She died in 1968

2) She bore a strong resemblance to someone who works at the tourism board.

We made a quick stop at Harrison Brothers Hardware which opened in 1897. These days you can find more souvenirs there than 10 penny nails. If you look carefully outside the store you will find one of the 12 brass ducks from the Lucky Duck Scavenger Hunt. The visitor center has a small prize for the first 300 visitors to find all 12. They are spread out over a 3,000 step (2.5 mile) walk. You can pick up a brochure for the walk at the visitor center or at local stores like Harrison Brothers.

We made a brief stop at the Veteran’s Memorial. I appreciated the signs on the path between the memorial and the highway that showed members of the armed forces from every era in American History. I need to go back to that park when I have more time.

We ate a catered lunch at Huntsville Depot Museum before exploring the historic buildings. The old depot was used for a brief time in the Civil War to hold prisoners. Check out the graffiti written by prisoners on the walls of the upper stories.

Our next stop in our whirlwind tour was the beautiful Huntsville Botanical Gardens. The gardens were probably my second favorite site after the space center. There is a wonderful event center that is under construction, a butterfly house and a great activity area for kids.

In the winter, the garden is decorated for the Galaxy of Lights extravaganza. Large animated light displays are placed along the parks roads and visitors drive (or walk on special walking nights) through these displays. The Galaxy of Lights is created by some of the army of volunteers that work on the gardens. Leader of the Galaxy of Lights’s “Galaxy Guys” (and girls), Bob Hovde, led us on a special preview of this year’s lights display that evening.

We made a quick stop at Three Caves which is on the land of the Land Trust of North Alabama. The caves are left over from an old limestone quarry. It is no longer safe to enter the caves but the area is used for summer concerts because the cool air flowing out of the caves provides a natural air conditioning. The area also has an abundance of hiking trails but our itinerary was too packed for hiking any of them.

On the second day, we visited Burritt on the Mountain which contains the mansion of an idiosyncratic local doctor which became the city’s first museum. Also on the grounds are an event center and a wonderful historic park filled with old log cabins and similar buildings which had been collected from all over the region. The area was filled with children the day we were there as they run programs for local schools.

Our catered lunch at the depot on the day was provided by New Market Barbecue from the nearby town of New Market with some good down-home BBQ. They had what I think of as a traditional red BBQ sauce as well as white sauce and a vinegar based sauce. Our yummy desserts came from Grille29.

The first night we ended up at Campus No. 805 which is a former high school and middle school which has been converted into bars, breweries, a park and an event space. The fermentation tanks for the Straight to Ale brewery are in the old gym with the basketball hoops and scoreboard still present. Lockers are still in the hallways. It looks like some old principal’s worst nightmare.

We ate at Yellowhammer Brewing (reviews) / Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza. These would appear to be one business but Alabama law, we were told, does not allow a brewery to sell food (for no reason I could imagine) so they are two related businesses that share a common space. Of course, I also could not understand why breweries were not legal until 2009.

The beer drinkers in the group (not me) enjoyed the beer samples from Yellowhammer while we all enjoyed the pizza. I had, and very much enjoyed, the only sweet potato and goat cheese pizza I have ever had. My other favorite was the meat lovers pizza which co-owner Stan Stinson and Tina Ford created to overcome the false impression that they just had vegetarian options in the days when they ran the business out of a mobile pizza oven. The pizza oven that Stinson and Ford use was manufactured by Forno Bravo, which happens to be from my hometown of Salinas, California.

The second night we ate at Pints and Pixels (reviews) above U.G. White Mercantile where we had chili, sliders and other bar food. It was simple but good. We were presented with a small cup of tokens for the classic arcade games that fill the establishment. I learned that I am no better, but maybe no worse, at Joust and Spy Hunter than I was in the 1980s.

The morning of the second day we visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center where we had a guided tour given by Alex McCool who was instrumental in the design of the propulsion systems for the very Saturn V rocket that dominates one of the large display areas. This is the sort of city where your neighbor, the guy in front of you in the line at Starbucks, your Little League coach and yes your docent, may be a rocket scientist. Don’t do what we did and rush through the museum. Space geeks should plan on a few hours, and leave some time just for the gift shop.

In the area outside I was busy trying to recognize all the of the full size rockets or rocket models they had on display. The Saturn V, Mercury-Redstone and Space Shuttle scale model were unmistakable, but I had to ask about some of the more obscure rockets. They also have a few carnival type rides like the Space Shot free fall tower and the G-Force Accelerator (spinning thingy).

We had, as mentioned above a brief intro to Space Camp. We rode the 1/6 Gravity Simulator where you bound along the surface of “the moon”. The Multi-Axis Trainer spins you in 3 different ways at once, but didn’t make anyone in our group sick, although you might think it would. Space Camp runs programs for kids, adults, and families. I learned they also run programs for kids with disabilities which were covered in part in the movie A Smile as Big as the Moon.

Huntsville is not just about science. We visited the Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment center where an old textile mill has been turned into spaces for artists and other crafters. I particularly enjoyed some of the painting and stained glass. One shop had maps of places that do not exist, but that did not stop people from looking at them and saying, “oh yes, I’ve been there”. Piper & Leaf has a popular tea shop in the complex and Suzy’s Pops a popular ice pop shop.

We made a visit after hours to the Huntsville Museum of Art for one of their lecture series Voices of Our Times Lecture Series. We happened to be there to hear journalist Carl Bernstein. We did not have a chance to visit the museum’s exhibits.

Our Huntsville journey ended with a drink at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard (reviews) which is one of the coolest eclectic entertainment establishments I have ever seen. It is a collection of stages and bars and a restaurant set in an old lumberyard and decorated with what its owner calls a “whimsical collection of funky treasures”. They put on special events like a rubber duck float race down the street outside or human foosball in the spacious interior. It is nicknamed Huntsville’s Backyard and I want one just like it for my hometown.

Two days was just barely long enough to do a sampling of the many things that Huntsville has to offer. Huntsville is worth a visit and may change the way you think about Alabama.

To read this article online, go to:


Ed Bridges to present book talk

Alabama: The Making of an American State

On Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 12 p.m., Ed Bridges will present a book talk on his new bicentennial history Alabama: The Making of an American State at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) in Montgomery.

Alabama: The Making of an American State, released in the fall of 2016 by the University of Alabama Press, is a comprehensive, beautifully illustrated new resource for anyone seeking a broad understanding of Alabama history.

With the approaching bicentennial of statehood in 2019, this book offers a fresh perspective on the unique social, political, economic, and cultural forces that have shaped our state.  Bridges began work on the book soon after he retired as Director Emeritus from the ADAH in 2012 after serving 30 years as director.  However, thinking about the structure and interpretive approach began much earlier as he was guiding the agency’s work in designing the new Museum of Alabama exhibits.  His purpose, Bridges said, was to offer a new resource for the bicentennial period because “our understanding of the past serves as a framework that guides us in the decisions that we make about the future.”

Bridges is a native of Georgia and a graduate of Furman University.  He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of Chicago.  In 1982, Bridges began his 30-year tenure at the helm of the ADAH where he built on the legacies of his predecessors and shaped the reputation of integrity and professionalism that are the cornerstones of the agency today. Bridges has served as president of the Alabama Historical Association, as well as a member of the Alabama Historical Commission, the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame, the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame, the Governor’s Mansion Advisory Board, and the Alabama Historical Records Advisory Board.  He is a recipient of the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s Annual Humanities Award and has been inducted into Alabama Academy of Honor. He is co-author of Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence.

Copies of Alabama: The Making of an American State will be available for purchase at the presentation.

The Alabama Department of Archives and History is located in downtown Montgomery, directly across the street from the State Capitol. It is the state’s government records repository, special collections library and research facility, and is home to the Museum of Alabama, the state history museum. The Archives and Museum are open Monday through Saturday, 8:30 to 4:30.

To learn more, visit or call (334) 242-4364.


Gulf Adventure Center to reopen at The Wharf in Orange Beach

The Pulse, Nov. 21

One of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s most popular attractions has found a new home. Gulf Adventure Center (GAC) has reached an agreement to relocate their popular zipline course to The Wharf in Orange Beach, Ala., subject to final approvals and permitting.

“Our planning with management at The Wharf is going very well. They’ve got a fantastic property, great infrastructure, established traffic and a sharp business development team,” said GAC Managing Partner Tom Schlinkert.

After non-renewal of their lease at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Ala., GAC was forced to close in the beginning of October 2016. According to the master plan for Gulf State Park, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources plans to use the land that GAC formerly occupied for a parking lot and elevated pedestrian walkway over Alabama Highway 182, providing access to the new Gulf State Park Lodge.

With contract renewal off the table, GAC Managing Partner Tom Schlinkert began searching for a new location.

Schlinkert believes The Wharf provides an ideal location and says the GAC team is excited about creating a new course for visitors to enjoy there.

“We’re looking forward to bringing new activities to The Wharf and attracting new customers to the complex,” he said. “Once plans are complete, GAC will reveal details for the new course and expansions to the business.”

The target launch date is spring of 2017.

“The Wharf is thrilled to welcome Gulf Adventure Center to the property as it continues to provide unique entertainment options to the community and visitors alike,” said Kristen Guenther, management team leader at The Wharf. “We are confident in the success of this venture and look forward to what’s to come.”

To read this article online, go to:


Movie expected to begin filming in downtown Birmingham later this month

By Bob Carlton,, Nov. 17

“Office Uprising,” an action-fantasy movie starring up-and-coming Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, is expected to start filming in downtown Birmingham later this month.

Lin Oeding — whose stunt credits include “Inception,” “Straight Outta Compton” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” – will direct the movie from a screenplay by Ian Shorr (“Splinter”) and Peter Gamble Robinson, the Hollywood trade publications Deadline Hollywood and Variety have reported.

Filming is expected to begin Nov. 29 and continue through Dec. 23, according to a casting call for background extras posted on Craigslist.

Thwaites, whose acting credits include “Ride” with Helen Hunt and “The Giver” with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, is also set to star in the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” with Johnny Depp.

The “Office Uprising” cast also includes Jane Levy, who starred in the horror-thriller “Don’t Breathe” and in the ABC sitcom “Suburgatory,” and Ian Harding from the ABC Family series “Pretty Little Liars.”

The casting notice says “Office Uprising” will be filmed “in downtown Birmingham and/or close proximity” and that most of the scenes are interior shots.

Two unidentified production trailers were parked along Second Avenue North between 19th and 20th streets this morning.

Deadline Hollywood describes “Office Uprising” as “the story of an underachiever working at a major weapons manufacturing firm who finds that his co-workers have been ‘weaponized’ by a new energy drink designed for the military” and who must rescue his true love from “an office building full of psychotic coworkers armed with tomorrow’s deadliest tech.”

To read this article online, go to:


‘American Pickers’ looking for large antique collections in Alabama; filming here soon  

By Kelly Kazek,, Nov. 16

The stars of the History Channel show “American Pickers” will be in Alabama later this year to film episodes for the series, according to the show’s production company, Cineflix Productions.

Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz will be in the state with their team, looking for large collections of antiques and vintage relics to feature on the show.

A press release states: “Mike and Frank have seen a lot of rusty gold over the years and are always looking to discover something they’ve never seen before. They are ready to find extraordinary items and hear fascinating tales about them. ‘American Pickers’ is looking for leads and would love to explore your hidden treasure. If you or someone you know has a large, private collection or accumulation of antiques that the Pickers can spend the better part of the day looking through, send us your name, phone number, location and description of the collection with photos to: or call 855-OLD-RUST.”

“American Pickers” is a reality show that “explores the fascinating world of antique ‘picking,'” according to Cineflix.

“The hit show follows Mike and Frank, two of the most skilled pickers in the business, as they hunt for America’s most valuable antiques. They are always excited to find sizeable, unique collections and learn the interesting stories behind them.”

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Dec. 2, 5:30 p.m. – Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting & Open House          Alabama State Capitol


Dec. 5, 12 & 19, 5:30 p.m. –  Candlelight Tours                                            Governor’s Mansion



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