Tourism Tuesdays April 14, 2015

  • Travelers spent $11.8 billion in Alabama last year
  • Governor: Tourism Department will remain a Cabinet agency
  • ATD has presence at Unite Visit USA Trade and Media Marketplace
  • Alabama Shakes on PBS series
  • USA Today names Railroad Park one of 10 best parks that help revive their city
  • The Grand Hotel is in the running for a USA Today Reader’s Choice Award
  • The 10 Most Beautiful Towns in Alabama
  • America’s most indulgent food trails
  • How Alabama Is Using Barbecue to Sell Itself to the World
  • Jamie and Bobby Deen visit Decatur, Huntsville to film episode for new Food Network show
  • Take Five: Must-Eats on Alabama’s Gulf Coast
  • Two kinds of eagles can be seen in Alabama
  • Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow blows in the most watchers yet
  •  features Exploring America’s Civil Rights sites
  • New Huntsville Visitor Center Manager
  • Historic Chattahoochee Commission re-releases Civil War Letters Book
  • Alabama Makers Market
  • April Walking Tours Continue
  • Nominations open for the 2016 Top 100 Events in North America
  • Welcome Center Educational Retreat 2015
  • Attention CVBs and attractions: ATD needs pictures by May 29
  • Mobile Apps will be featured in 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide
  • It’s not too late – come learn how to work with the Alabama Tourism Department
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Travelers spent $11.8 billion in Alabama last year

Travelers spent $11.8 billion and were responsible for 167,273 jobs last year in the state, according to a report conducted for the Alabama Tourism Department. This represents a 7.3% increase in traveler spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

“Alabama offers tourists many areas of our state to enjoy,” Gov. Robert Bentley said. “The tourism numbers for 2014 show that Alabama welcomes many people to our state. Money spent on travel creates jobs, grows local economies and generates needed tax revenues. Travel spending in Alabama has increased by 79% over the previous 13 years and that is good news for our tourism industry.”

The top five counties with the largest travel-related expenditures are: Baldwin County with $3.5 billion in travel-related spending, Jefferson County was second with $1.7 billion, Madison County was third with $1.08 billion, Mobile County ranked fourth with $988 million and Montgomery County was fifth with $723 million.

Without the dollars collected by the tourism industry each household in the state would end up paying almost $400 in additional taxes according to the Auburn University Montgomery report by economist Dr. Keivan Deravi. The complete state tourism economic impact report will be available on April 17 at

Governor: Tourism Department will remain a Cabinet agency

Gov. Robert Bentley will not attempt to consolidate the Alabama Tourism Department into an expanded Department of Commerce, Chief of Staff Seth Hammett said today.

He phoned tourism director Lee Sentell to say that AIDT work force development may become part of the Department of Commerce, but that the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and the Tourism Department will not be consolidated into Commerce, as in some other states.

The tourism agency began in the former Alabama Highway Department as the Bureau of Publicity and Information, and funded by a 1 percent lodgings tax. Gov. George Wallace made the director a politically-appointed Cabinet position. His director Ed Hall renamed it the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel. Several years ago, the Alabama Legislature renamed it the Alabama Tourism Department.

Recent news reports had quoted legislative leaders as saying that the tourism agency might become part of Commerce.

ATD has presence at Unite Visit USA Trade and Media Marketplace

UK In-Market Representative Della Tully exhibited at the Unite Visit USA Trade and Media Marketplace in London recently on behalf of the Alabama Tourism Department.  The workshop-styled event was put together in partnership between the Visit USA Association UK and Unite Marketing & Promotions.  The event was staged at the Mermaid Conference and Events Centre in Central London and saw 46 Visit USA Association members (destinations and attractions) exhibiting to 55 UK travel industry partners. This year’s trade event was followed, for the first time, by a two-hour media marketplace.  Ms. Tully met with key UK tour operators including Virgin Holidays, Funway, Natural Travel Collection, Prestige Holidays, Premier, Collette, North America Travel Service, Responsible Travel, American Steamboat Company, Travel 2, Vacations By Rail and Bon Voyage.  Della also met with media partners including journalists writing for The Telegraph, Silver Travel Advisor, Travel weekly, Huffington Post, Jewish Chronicle, Just About Travel and Choice.

Alabama Shakes on PBS series
By Catherine Godby,, April 9

The Athens soul and rock band Alabama Shakes will appear in a four-part TV series this fall on PBS. Produced by T.Bone Burnett, Robert Redford and Jack White, “American Epic Sessions” revisits the 1920s, when a new invention, a recording machine, allowed artists to record their music.

The filmmakers connected music’s past with its present by recruiting artists, such as Alabama Shakes, to record on the reassembled machine. Using the original microphones and amplifiers, the musicians record straight to wax.

Along with Alabama Shakes, featured artists are Elton John, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Merle Haggard, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Nas, Willie Nelson, The Americans, Frank Fairfield, Ana Gabriel, Rhiannon Giddens, Bobby Ingano, Auntie Geri Kuhia, Pokey LaFarge, Bettye LaVette, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Taj Mahal, Fred Martin & The Levite Camp, Ashley Monroe, Charlie Kaleo Oyama and Blind Boy Paxton.

See a trailer for “American Epic Sessions” at

To read this article online, go to:

USA Today names Railroad Park one of 10 best parks that help revive their city
By Ryan Phillips, Birmingham Business Journal, April 13

A popular downtown spot has gained new recognition for the Magic City.

Railroad Park in Birmingham was named by USA Today as one of the 10 best U.S. parks that helped to revive their city, as the repurposed rail yard continues to change the dynamic downtown.
Patrick Phillips, global CEO of the Urban Land Institute said parks have changed over the years to offer more than just a place to sit.

“It’s very different from the previous generation of parks that were designed to provide beauty and contemplation,” Phillips said

Alabama’s largest city had been an industrial powerhouse that largely ignored its physical environment, Phillips said, but the 19-acre park turned the former rail yard into a beacon of life for the city with event spaces, exercise areas, a central dining pavilion and high-quality design.

To read this article online, go to:

The Grand Hotel is in the running for a USA Today Reader’s Choice Award
By Tamara Ikenberg with Marc Anderson,, April 14

Our luxurious, tranquil getaway on the bay is getting respect from fine hotel connoisseurs all over the country.
The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Point Clear is currently ranked No. 3 out of 20 establishments on USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice Awards poll determining the Best Historic Hotels in the country.

There are 27 days left to vote.

The Grand follows No. 1, The French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind. and No. 2, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, Calif.

Other lodgings on the list include The Napa River Inn in Napa, Calif., The Gettysburg Inn in Gettysburg, Penn., and the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

The Grand, which is nearly 170 years old and is famous for its sumptuous brunches, is accustomed to being honored by top travel publications.

For example, last year, it was ranked 18th in  the “Best Resort in the South,” category of Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards, and in 2013, the Historic Hotels of America named the Grand the “Best Historic Hotel” in the country.

Travel & Leisure magazine also listed “The Queen of Southern Resorts” as one of the Top 500 Hotels in the World for 2013. It was the only hotel in Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle to make the list.

You can read more about The Grand in both our Coastal Alabama Staycation and Rooms With a View series.

Here’s a description of the hotel from my Staycation story:

Grand rooms offer views of Mobile Bay, the hotel marina,  and the meticulously groomed grounds, which include majestic and imposing 200-year-old oak trees, a paradise of a pool area, and charming herb gardens with birdbaths and stone statues of rabbits and other creatures.

The Grand is a world unto itself. It’s definitely fancy, but not at all stuffy.

Everywhere you turn on the sprawling 550-acre resort there are idyllic and unique sights to see. From the gleaming Civil War-era cannon to adorable ducks waddling through the foliage on the edge of sparkling ponds.

You can simply relax on the beach, sit on a balcony or a bench and get lost in the sumptuous sights or take part in an endless array of activities including golf, croquet, bicycling, fishing and roasting s’mores at beach bonfires.

The Grand, built in 1847, also has a rich, storied past. For instance, In 1864, part of the resort served as a Confederate hospital.

The hotel attracts many wandering history buffs, also known as heritage travelers or heritage tourists.

To read this article online, go to:

The 10 Most Beautiful Towns in Alabama

By Helen Armitage,

Home to diverse landscapes ranging from mountains and farmland, to river and coastlines, Alabama boasts some of the most picturesque towns in the South. From tiny mountain communities to stunning seaside settlements, we round-up 10 of the state’s prettiest towns.

Fairhope, Mooresville, Mountain Brook, Tuscumbia, Eufaula, Fort Payne, Mentone, Gulf Shores, Monroeville and Magnolia Springs are featured in the article.

To read this entire article and see the images online, go to:

America’s most indulgent food trails 
By Amanda Ziadeh, USA TODAY, April 10

Fully surrender yourself to the many tastes of the country with food trails meant to make you loosen your belt a notch or two. From farm-fresh to comfort-style, these cities and states have lined up the best restaurants, bakeries and markets for sampling delicacies and regional specialties. These trails cover spicy and sweet cravings, heavy desserts, southern cooking, barbecue, seafood favorites, Mexican and Italian cuisine, and more. If you’re looking to indulge, these guides and paths are your best bet.

The Alabama Heartland Trail is one of many comfort food-filled trails the state has to offer. Hop around to eight different restaurants and eateries for a true taste of central Alabama. Enjoy bites of fried chicken from the recognized Martin’s, and Dreamland’s famous-sauced ribs, as well as peach cobbler, seafood, steaks, free-range turkey breasts, fresh peach ice cream and candied pecans. Wash it all down with a legendary Toomer’s fresh-squeezed lemonade.

To read this entire article, go to:


How Alabama Is Using Barbecue to Sell Itself to the World

By Amy McKeever,, April 8

Why a tourism campaign might deepen the very meaning of barbecue in Alabama.

In late February, the state of Alabama’s tourism department made a bold declaration: 2015, it said, will be the Year of Alabama Barbecue. The campaign pushing Alabama’s barbecue legacy might have sounded like a bit of a stretch: Even a barbecue neophyte might be able to point to Memphis or Texas Hill Country as iconic homes to smoked meat, but Alabama? Not so much.

Barbecue is intensely personal and democratic. Change up the meat, the cooking style, or the sauce, and you’ve got your own style of barbecue. But barbecue is also a paradox, taking on identities from region to region. In Texas, barbecue means brisket. In the Carolinas, it’s whole hog. Memphis has wet and dry pork ribs, and Kansas City offers a little bit of everything (plus burnt ends). In these regions, the big four, the word barbecue means something at once specific and variable.

In Alabama, barbecue means something, too. Trouble is, not many people outside the state — even barbecue obsessives — know what that is.  “We really don’t have an identity,” says restaurateur Nick Pihakis, the younger half of the father-son duo behind Alabama-based mini-chain Jim ‘N Nick’s. The Year of Alabama Barbecue hopes to change that by exploring the roots and regional quirks of barbecue in the state. Its multi-pronged campaign includes a barbecue trail smartphone app, academic research into barbecue’s political history, and a Hall of Fame for the restaurants that have endured the test of time. The goal isn’t just to market Alabama barbecue to outsiders (though of course it is primarily that). In the end, some hope the campaign will deepen the very meaning of barbecue in Alabama.

Alabama barbecue may not be as well defined as it is in Memphis or Texas, but there are a few key factors. For one, most Alabama barbecue restaurants focus on pork — specifically pulled pork from slow-cooked shoulders and butts, Pihakis says — thanks to the abundance of pig farming in the state. Carolyn Wells, executive director of the barbecue nonprofit Kansas City Barbeque Society, adds that there’s a fair amount of wild game in Alabama barbecue; generally it’s smoked over an open pit with hickory wood. Barbecue-stuffed baked potatoes are ubiquitous.

But another aspect of the state’s barbecue identity is its lack of a coherent identity.  Just as barbecue is regional within the United States, barbecue is regional within the state of Alabama. Pihakis explains that restaurants in the southeastern part of the state tend to use a mustard-based sauce, while Birmingham and its environs stick to a tomato-based sauce. Up north is where things get more interesting. Decatur legend Big Bob Gibson, open since 1925, pioneered the mayonnaise-based white sauce and pit-roasted chicken that the state now proudly claims as its own. Archibald’s in Tuscaloosa is known for its ribs. And Jim ‘N Nick’s is exporting the Alabama barbecue with locations in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Alabama has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other state. It’s also home to 252 pro barbecue teams.

Though Alabama barbecue might not have much of a reputation among casual observers, barbecue is an undeniably big deal in-state. Brian Jones, the public relations director at the Alabama Tourism Department, claims that it has the most barbecue restaurants per capita than any other state. Alabama also has 252 professional barbecue teams, the 10th-most in the nation according to Mike McCloud at the Kansas City Barbeque Society, and it’s the state with the 12th-most sanctioned barbecue contests (11). Pitmasters such as Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q have become legends on the competitive barbecue circuit.

Meanwhile, on the amateur level, the barbecue clubs found throughout the South are especially fierce in Alabama. In fact, these clubs are essential to its identity, argues Mark A. Johnson, a graduate student at the University of Alabama and author of an essay titled, “Pork Ribs & Politics: The Origins of Alabama Barbecue.” Barbecue clubs have a fairly straightforward origin story: For years, Johnson writes, groups like the Montgomery Gun Club or the Alabama State Bar Association would hold club meetings catered with barbecue. Those types of meetings eventually inspired clubs dedicated solely to barbecue and community-building. “In a sparsely populated state,” Johnson told Eater, “a barbecue is a way to get everyone together.” And club members don’t just eat: They share their own barbecue recipes and pass those on to younger generations, building entirely new regional varieties and legacies.

As is true throughout the South, barbecue has a long history in Alabama. Knowledge of barbecue first spread to the state from the East Coast in the early 19th century, according to Johnson. Beyond discussion of barbecue clubs, his essay paints a matter-of-fact portrait of barbecue’s stateside evolution: From its early days providing sustenance (and an excuse) for political candidates to court working-class voters, to the modern food culture that mainly takes place in restaurants and countryside roadside shacks. It traces the deepening grooves of Alabama’s barbecue identity, which became pork-centric as pig farming grew in the state, then developed regional quirks — such as the white sauce of the north — as quickly as pitmasters could invent them.

The evolution of barbecue was also often influenced by the state’s changing racial politics.

But the evolution of barbecue in Alabama was also often influenced by the state’s changing racial politics. In the time of slavery, it was typically black men doing the cooking and white men doing the eating. During Reconstruction, a barbecue might just as easily be hosted by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate black voters as it might be thrown by a white politician hoping to court potential black voters (however few were allowed the vote). Overall, Johnson writes of that era that “barbecues among white Alabamians became forums for celebrating white supremacy, cultivating rosy memories of the antebellum South.” A century later, barbecue would play a central role in a landmark test case for the Civil Rights Acts of 1964: In the 1960s, Ollie’s Barbecue in Birmingham went to the Supreme Court to argue for its right to decline sit-down service to black customers. Ollie’s lost and, decades later, closed, but its history-making resistance to integration remains part of Alabama barbecue’s legacy.

But Johnston argues that barbecue in Alabama has become more inclusive over the years and sometimes offered opportunity to the same people it oppressed. Since black slaves served as pitmasters in the early days, he says, they held and were best positioned to pass on the knowledge of how to do it well. In the late-19th century, institutions such as the Negro Business League of Montgomery held their own barbecues to raise membership, and barbecue also provided a ladder for black entrepreneurs in the 20th century to open businesses such as “Big Daddy” John Bishop’s legendary Tuscaloosa restaurant Dreamland Cafe.

Johnson’s essay ends on that note of optimism, but it doesn’t hold back from discussing some of the more pernicious influences on Alabama’s barbecue culture. What makes that warts-and-all approach surprising is that the essay is part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing campaign: It teamed with the Southern Foodways Alliance to commission a report tracing the state’s barbecue history, with a particular focus on the role the cuisine has played in local politics — for the better and for the worse. “We wanted someone to look at it from an academic rather than a promotional point of view,” Jones says. The ATD figured the campaign had to be a complete package if it was going to do justice to the ardor Alabamians have for barbecue.

When the Alabama Tourism Department announced the Year of Alabama Barbecue, it made headlines across the country. Even the New York Times picked up the news, much to even the tourism bureau’s surprise. After all, subject-focused marketing campaigns are typical, and none of Alabama’s previous “Year Of” designations had landed in the American paper of record. But, then again, Alabama had never specifically celebrated barbecue before.

According to the Kansas City Barbeque Society, it’s not just barbecue-tourist dollars that can boost an economy. Based on its annual survey of members and teams, the KCBS calculates that “a typical barbecue team” spends $1,000 on average during a competition weekend in another city (taking into account hotels, gas, food, and supplies/entry fee).

With 450 contests taking place annually nationwide, that totals $14.4 million in direct economic impact from the barbecue competition circuit (at 450 contests featuring an average of 32 teams, spending $1,000 each). That number doesn’t include each competitor’s equipment, food costs, or vehicles that transport the smokers — some of which can cost up to $15,000 — to each locale.

Ten years ago, Alabama Tourism director Lee Sentell came up with the idea to devote an entire year to specially focus on one topic: For the last decade, Alabama has focused on art, history, and outdoor sporting. The state has also celebrated Alabama food — twice. During the first Year of Alabama Food, the tourism bureau printed a pamphlet of the “100 Alabama dishes to eat before you die,” highlighting unique local places in both cities and rural areas. It’s proved popular, and is now in its fifth printing with about one million copies circulating. While Alabama’s rural areas might not have historic attractions or quaint bed-and-breakfasts, Jones says, they might have a roadside barbecue shack that’s worth a detour from the interstate.

But focusing on barbecue is a smart marketing strategy on a more emotional level. Jones says the ATD figured this out during the 2012 revival of the Year of Alabama Food campaign. It launched a March Madness-style bracket of barbecue restaurants which ignited passions across the state, resulting in social media engagement the likes of which the tourism office had never seen before. “It was almost like football,” Jones says of the fervor. People proselytized the sauce recipes of their hometown barbecue restaurants and talked trash on competitors. “No one will ever beat out Big Bob Gibson’s of Decatur, Alabama,” wrote one Facebook supporter on the bracket’s 2014 edition. “NO ONE!!” “Shane’s Rib Shack of Huntsville give [sic] Big Bob Gibson’s a run for the money!!” another Facebooker replied.

“You could tell they had an emotional pull with some of these places,” Jones says. In a state known for its long history of pit-smoked meats, that’s not surprising. Barbecue clubs helped shape some of Alabama’s communities, and those communities in turn helped shape the wildly divergent identity of Alabama barbecue. And Johnson told Eater that part of what makes barbecue restaurants appealing is that they’re “like stepping back through time.” Though Alabama’s legacy is younger than its competitors in Memphis or the Carolinas, it too has been passed down through generations. Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s points out that Archibald’s Bar B.Q. started in a pit in George Archibald Sr.’s backyard more than 50 years ago.

Carolyn Wells of the Kansas City Barbeque Society has her own theories about why barbecue is so galvanizing. For one, you eat it with your hands, kicking back with friends and maybe a beer, the ultimate in comfort food. She also points out that barbecue goes a long way in bad economic times. But barbecue is also as collegial as it is competitive. “The competition family is very much a brotherhood,” she says. Pitmasters like Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s gain national laurels and travel around the country promoting their restaurants, their hometowns, and their states, but at the end of the day they’re barbecuing with friends just like anybody else.

With just about a month under its belt, the Year of Alabama Barbecue has only just begun. Its kickoff components included the barbecue trail (similar to civil rights trail apps available in many Southern states), a road-trip recipe book from former Southern Living travel editor Annette Thompson, Johnson’s essay on barbecue and politics, a website and a Facebook page, and national and regional ad buys. A photo exhibit and documentary about the state’s barbecue history and iconic pitmasters will be displayed at festivals and competitions across the country, and the tourism department will make its first inductions into the Alabama barbecue Hall of Fame in May or June. And more programs will roll out as the year goes on, Jones says.

Wells, of the KCBS, says that it’s rare for a state-level tourism office to get involved with barbecue promotion. Even in Kansas City, it’s the local government — and not the state of Missouri — promoting barbecue. “I think they’re trailblazers in this area,” she says. Mike McCloud, the national marketing director for the KCBS, agrees that the Year of Alabama Barbecue is on “the leading edge.” McCloud describes the campaign as “a golden opportunity” for Alabama to wrest media attention from the big four barbecue regions and remind Americans that barbecue is universal. “I would venture every state has its own unique barbecue story,” he says.

While Alabama is taking the opportunity to tell its story right now, McCloud also believes the Year of Alabama Barbecue campaign could have ripple effects. Like any pioneering marketing strategy, he expects to see some of elements of this campaign adopted elsewhere. “Five years from now, there might be six or seven barbecue trails in other states,” he says. In other words, this celebration of Alabama’s barbecue legacy just might inspire a legacy of its own.

Eater Video: American barbecue styles explained in two minutes

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Jamie and Bobby Deen visit Decatur, Huntsville to film episode for new Food Network show
By Kelly Kazek,, April 11

Jamie Deen, wearing a T-shirt and khaki shorts, ambled up the sidewalk toward C.F. Penn Hamburgers, casually greeting a crowd of people who, after waiting an hour and a half for his arrival, didn’t realize at first this was one of the men they’d come to see.

But within minutes, people crowded around Jamie and his brother Bobby, sons of renowned cook Paula Deen and celebrity chefs in their own right, who were in Decatur Saturday morning filming an episode for a new Food Network show called “Southern Fried Road Trip.”

The brothers were scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. and a line of people formed outside Penn’s at 7:30.  However, the Deens and the crew from 11 Studios/Follow Productions arrived in Huntsville later than expected Friday night and called to say they would be late for the Saturday morning shoot.  The group spent the night at The Westin Huntsville at Bridge Street.

They were also set to film at Blue Plate Café in Huntsville on Saturday afternoon for the same show.
Members of the crew arrived for set-up at Penn’s at about 9, while Jamie and Bobby came at about 9:40 a.m. The men posed for photos and signed autographs for people who had waited patiently for their arrival before getting down to the business of filming a TV show.

Inside C.F. Penn’s, a crew member told people sitting on stools at the old-fashioned counter to get ready to eat some hamburgers.  The customers were to be part of the episode.

Penn’s has been open since 1927 and is known throughout the region for its unusual burgers, called “slug burgers” because the patties are made with a mixture of meat and top-secret fillers.

Vandiver said he sent the Food Network an email about five years ago describing the restaurant’s long history but never heard from anyone. He received a call “out of the blue” a few months ago about filming an episode of the new show at Penn’s.  Vandiver said he is not supposed to give any details about the show.  The episode is expected to air later this year.

When Jamie Deen arrived at Penn’s, Dorothy Waddell requested a photo with him and soon had tears in her eyes.  She said she was having the photo made to show her daughter, Tania Caldwell, who recently had surgery and was unable to attend.

William Peter Baggs, 17, of Decatur, said he came to be part of the filming because Penn burgers are a tradition in his family.  “I’ve been coming since I was a little kid,” he said. “Around here, this place is legendary.  This place is my childhood.  This place is my dad’s childhood.”

Baggs said the proper way to eat a Penn’s burger is with mustard and onions, no ketchup.

Decatur native Lisa Davis now lives in North Carolina but was in town visiting her mother this week.  “I have to have a Penn’s hamburger when I come home,” she said.  Her mother, Betty Parsons, said her husband Jackie brought her to Penn’s on their first date.

Laura Adamsky of Decatur was first in line at Penn’s, along with her sister from Maryland and friend Louisa Sanders.  “I’m a big fan of theirs and their mother’s,” Adamsky said of the Deens. She also mentioned the legend that Elvis Presley would send people to Decatur for Penn’s burgers whenever he had a craving.

To read this article online, go to;

Take Five: Must-Eats on Alabama’s Gulf Coast
By Jennifer Stewart Kornegay,, April 13

The sparkling blue-green Gulf of Mexico rolls back and forth, in and out, its lacy foam-edged waves caressing Alabama’s almost blindingly white shores. It’s a scene that’s been known to transfix more than a few visitors, keeping their bottoms glued to their beach chairs for hours on end. There’s no shame in falling under the spell of Alabama’s beaches, but you do have to eat, and lucky for you, the restaurants in communities like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are turning out dishes well worth pulling yourself away from the serenity of sand and surf. From the elementary to the elegant, at places both old and new, here are five must-eats on Alabama’s coast.

1. Oysters Earle at Fisher’s Upstairs

At this bastion of upscale coastal cuisine adjacent to Orange Beach Marina, a thoughtful approach to fresh seafood and local ingredients, cotton-candy sunset views and a sophisticated but never stuffy atmosphere draw crowds of locals and visitors. A standout starter, Oysters Earle elevates Bon Secour oysters on the half-shell with the addition of garlic-leek butter. Chef Bill Briand roasts them just enough to unleash the butter’s richness while retaining the integrity of the plump oysters’ texture. Reservations are highly recommended for Upstairs, but Fisher’s has the best of both worlds, also offering casual dining in its downstairs dockside area mere feet from the marina’s wet slips.

2. West Indies Salad at Bayley’s

You can find this uncomplicated dish on menus all over Alabama as well as other Gulf states, but it was invented at Bayley’s Seafood Restaurant in Theodore, just off Dauphin Island. Soon after opening his restaurant in 1947, owner Bill Bayley Sr. made and served the first-ever West Indies Salad, combining flavors and techniques he encountered while serving as a merchant seaman. Today, Bill Bayley Jr. is runs things and still makes the restaurant’s claim to fame the way his dad did—translation: a visit here provides a glimpse into culinary history in addition to a fine meal. Every mouthful of the original West Indies Salad will make your taste buds sing with a humble, harmonious mix of tart vinegar, sweet crab claw meat and the bite of white onion.

3. Grilled Grouper Salad at The Gulf

This multi-level spot fashioned from old shipping containers painted a brilliant sea blue is an alfresco dining option perched on the edge of the Perdido Pass in Orange Beach. Boats floating by and a constant flurry of activity create an environment that appeals to all kinds: from kids skipping across a sodded lawn to hip young couples lounging on white sofas sinking into a swath of sand. Its menu changes often, but the salad with grilled grouper is always a smart choice. Just-caught fish is left nearly naked, seasoned sparingly with salt and pepper and grilled with a hint of butter before being laid to rest on a bed of greens dressed just right (every leaf coated but not a soggy one in the bunch) with tangy house-made balsamic vinaigrette. It pairs well with a minty-fresh mojito and palm tree shade.

4. Fried Oysters at Doc’s Seafood Shack

This laid-back eatery boasts “the best fried shrimp in the civilized world,” yet it’s the oysters that bring most people back. Proving that simple can be simply amazing, the fried oyster basket at this longtime favorite (with locations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach) is packed with soft, briny bi-valves dunked in batter and cooked to crisp perfection in hot oil. They’re wearing a thicker coat of crunchy crust than oysters done with just cornmeal, but the texture and taste of the South’s most sought-after mollusk still shine. Crisp cole slaw with a hint of sugar, basic crinkle fries and rust-colored hushpuppies complete the meal.

5. Cheeseburger at Pirate’s Cove

On a thin ribbon of sand rising a few feet out of shallow Arnica Bay in Josephine, Pirate’s Cove Yacht Club beckons hungry, thirsty boaters to tie up to its weathered dock, claim a picnic table and wait (and wait) for their plastic red tray heavy with wax-paper-wrapped burgers and little cardboard boats of thick-cut fries to arrive. Open for more than 50 years, Pirate’s Cove is a mash-up of tin-topped wooden decks surrounding a small central structure that actually has walls. And in these walls, in a tiny kitchen, a cheeseburger that’s attained legend status by possibly inspiring Jimmy Buffett’s classic song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” is made. Local lore says the Alabama-coast native penned his famous ode to Americana (with its annoyingly catchy chorus) after enjoying this Cove specialty. Each thick, hand-formed beef patty is cooked to order and blanketed in melty cheddar before lettuce, tomato, mustard and ketchup are piled on. Meat and tomato juices mix with the condiments to slide right out of the bun barrier, creating a messy masterpiece that’s more than good enough to make the story ring true.

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Two kinds of eagles can be seen in Alabama
By Carrie Threadgill, GulfCoastNewsToday, April 9

Twenty years ago, if people told me they saw an eagle in Alabama, I would have guessed that it was probably just a vulture. Now, when people tell me they saw an eagle in the winter, I ask them, “Which species?”

While we have an increasing number of bald eagles year-round across the state, we are actually discovering a small wintering population of golden eagles in Alabama as well.

The story of the bald eagle recovery is one of the greatest wildlife success stories to date. In the 1950s and 1960s, the well-known pesticide DDT, which caused eggshell thinning, devastated bald eagle numbers. Shells became so thin that they would not hatch, or would break when adult birds would sit to incubate them. After DDT was banned in 1972, eagles began to rebound slowly, but still could not be found breeding in Alabama.

By 1984, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) began a “hacking” program, releasing juvenile eagles from six different locations in the state with the hope that they would establish nesting territories.

Hacking involves releasing juvenile eagles at towers in certain locations to imprint them so they will return to those areas to breed as adults. During a seven-year period, 91 juvenile eagles were released, which resulted in increased nesting activity in Alabama. Thanks to the success of this program, eagles can now be seen nesting across the state.

Most often, bald eagles are seen along large bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers, but it is not uncommon to see them soaring over open land away from water or nesting away from water as well.

While we have bald eagles in the state year-round, people may not realize that we also have golden eagles in Alabama during the winter months. Golden eagles tend to be more secretive than bald eagles, which are most often seen out in the open, usually near open water. Golden eagles are more of a forest species, and tend to stay close to forested areas, making it harder to locate those birds. They are found most often near ridge tops in forested areas.

In the western United States, a substantial golden eagle population is already in existence. New evidence suggests that a separate eastern population breeds in eastern Canada and winters along the Appalachian Mountains and down into Alabama.

To read this article online, go to:

Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow blows in the most watchers yet
By Lydia Seabol Avant,, March 29

More people came out to watch the Blue Angels this weekend as part of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow than any other Tuscaloosa air show to date, according to the city of Tuscaloosa.

It is estimated that a total of around 90,000 watched the air show on Saturday — including about 65,000 people on airport property and the rest in surrounding areas — and a total of about 73,000 who watched the show on Sunday.

“This is definitely our largest air show,” said Deidre Stalnaker, spokeswoman for the city of Tuscaloosa. The second-largest crowd attendance, she said, was likely the first Blue Angels show in Tuscaloosa in 2009. “We are very, very pleased with the turnout.”

While Saturday had more pre-sale tickets, there were more people who bought tickets at the gate on Sunday, Stalnaker said.

Many of those who attended on Sunday spent the afternoon with family, enjoying the day’s clear skies and warmer temperatures while watching the Blue Angels’ aerobatics.

To read this entire article online, go to:  features Exploring America’s Civil Rights sites
By Dave Bodle,, April issue

Landmarks commemorating the fight for racial equality enhance group tour itineraries in the 12 states that make up Travel South USA.

For many Americans the turbulent 1960s were defined as “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”  The social taboos of sexism and racism were being challenged and relaxed.  Even before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed, racism and discrimination were being confronted.

A 1948 executive order by President Truman called for the equal treatment of all in the Armed Services.  The 1954 Supreme Court ruling overturning the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson separate but equal educational facilities decision opened the door for school desegregation.  Fast forward to January 2015 when the convictions of the Friendship Nine, jailed for 30 days in 1961 after a sit-in protest, were vacated.

Although civil rights challenges continue today, there are historic sites of the civil rights movement located throughout the Southern states.  Each pays tribute to the history, people and events that took place there.  Whether your trip is a walk in the footsteps of civil rights activism or simply a stop on a Southern tour, plan to explore these historically significant attractions and experience the stories they tell.

To read this entire article, go to:

New Huntsville Visitor Center Manager

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has selected former Executive Director of the Weeden House Museum, Lynne Williams, to manage the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center. At the Weeden House, Williams was responsible for managing daily operations, communicating the history of the home to visitors and tour groups, and the overall promotion of the museum.

Williams will manage more than 20 Visitor Information Assistants (VIAs) and volunteers at the downtown Visitor Center as well as the Visitor Information booth at the Huntsville International Airport. The Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center is the central resource for visitors to Huntsville/Madison County, offering informational brochures, attraction discount coupons and a wealth of knowledge of what to do for fun in Huntsville/Madison County.

“We’re thrilled to have Lynne join our staff,” said CVB President/ CEO Judy Ryals.  “Lynne brings first-hand experience of exactly what visitors are looking for and how to best assist them as a former Executive Director of the Weeden House,” adds Ryals.

Williams, who also previously worked at the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center as a Visitor Information Assistant herself, details her goals for the position.

“The Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center is such a great resource for not only visitors…but locals who are looking for something fun to do,” Williams said. “We want to increase the number of people who use the Visitor Center and make sure we’re doing all we can to let visitors and residents know we are here for them.”

“The customer service and hospitality industry is what I’m most passionate about,” Williams said. “This is a dream job for me.”

For more information, contact Jessica Carlton, Huntsville/Madison County CVB Marketing Manager at 256.551.2294 or

Historic Chattahoochee Commission re-releases Civil War Letters Book

The Historic Chattahoochee Commission (HCC), in cooperation with Mercer University Press,
has re-released In the Land of the Living: Wartime Letters of Confederates from the
Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia.  This unique book was originally published in a
limited edition in 1981 and has been out of print for many years.  Written by residents of southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia, it is the most comprehensive collection of Civil War letters to be published.

Poignant in emotion, informative in detail, and broad in scope, the correspondence in the book provides the reader with a unique opportunity to understand the Civil War and how it affected individuals and families from an intensely personal perspective.  The writers collectively paint
a compelling portrait of a watershed moment in national history from a regional viewpoint.  They
make well-known events tangible and lesser-known sidebars illuminating.  Appropriately, this
volume reaches Americans as our nation contemplates the Civil War and its impact on American
history during the war’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

“This edition juxtaposes the writings of commissioned officers with those of the private
soldier,” writes Doug Purcell, former HCC executive director.  “While the Chattahoochee letters
are a small sample, they indicate a correlation between military rank and literary skills.  There is,
however, a less clear relationship between rank and humane sensibilities.  Some of the most
compassionate and poignant letters were written by the private soldiers who had the least
education or literary ability.”

Ray Mathis (1937-1981) was a professor in the department of history at Troy University.  He was the author of Pilgrimage to Madison, College Life in the Reconstruction South, Uncle Tom, Reed’s Memoir of the University, and John Horry Dent: South Carolina Aristocrat on the
Alabama Frontier.

This hardback, 244-page book includes maps, and an index.  It retails for $35 plus $5 for postage and handling.  Books may be ordered from HCC, P. O. Box 33, Eufaula, AL 36072-0033.
36072-0033. Please add $1 postage for each additional book ordered.
For further information, contact HCC at 334-687-9755. Inquiries are
welcomed by email at

Alabama Makers Market

The Alabama Tourism Department will host the first Alabama Makers Market Thur., June 4, at the RSA Activity Center in Montgomery.  The market will showcase the talented artists and crafters of Alabama for the gift shop owners and managers in Alabama.

Hours of the market will be 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Setup begins at 8:30 a.m.  The RSA Activity Center is located at 201 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, AL  36104.

Artists and crafters can register for free booth space where they will be able to display their items and meet with buyers from Alabama gift shops to wholesale their products to them.  For an application, contact Leigh Cross: OR by phone, 334-242-4416.  Deadline for applications is May 1.

Gift shop owners/managers should RSVP to Leigh Cross: OR by phone, 334-242-4416.

April Walking Tours Continue

Some 27 towns across Alabama are on display during Saturday mornings in April as part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s April Walking Tours.

A variety of community leaders are leading the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns.  The hour-long tours start at 10 a.m. on April 18, and 25.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours are: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Atmore, Heritage Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Brundidge, Studio 116; Columbia, Old Bank Building (April 4 & 18 only); Columbiana, M & F Bank, Cullman, Cullman County Museum Decatur, Old State Bank Building; Demopolis, Public Square; Dothan, Wiregrass Museum of Art; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center; Greensboro, Hale County Courthouse; Greenville, Historic Depot/Chamber of Commerce.

Huntsville, Constitution Village (April 4 & 11 only); Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 18 & 25 only); Mobile, Cathedral Basilica; Montgomery; Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Mooresville Post Office; Phenix City; Amphitheater; Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Troy, Chamber of Commerce; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.

The tours are coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.  “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours.  These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state.  We have done more than 2,000 walking tours since the beginning of the program twelve years ago and they keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at


Nominations open for the 2016 Top 100 Events in North America

American Bus Association’s (ABA) Top 100 Events in North America is an annual compendium of the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada.  Each spring, a committee of ABA-member motorcoach and tour operators selects the Top 100 Events for the subsequent year; the list is unveiled in September.  Winners are chosen from hundreds of celebrations, festivals, fairs, commemorative events, and more that have been nominated by ABA members.

If you have events that will be celebrating milestones or anniversaries for 2016, please contact Rosemary Judkins at to have them submitted.  Deadline to submit is April 30.

Welcome Center Educational Retreat 2015

The 2015 Welcome Center Educational Retreat will be in Tuscaloosa at the new Embassy Suites Hotel on Nov. 8–10.

Industry partners are encouraged to attend the retreat and present overviews of their destinations.  The Welcome Center employees are often the first people to greet visitors and provide them with travel information for the state.
The annual educational retreat provides an overview of the tourism products around the state and is presented in different locations to highlight the tourism assets of the host destination.

The Welcome Center Retreat will feature tours of the host city, educational sessions and networking opportunities.

More details will follow as the time draws near.  Check it out at:

Attention CVBs and attractions: ATD needs pictures by May 29

The Alabama Tourism Department will soon be working on a photo book.  We need really great high res images from you.  The deadline for getting these in is May 29.

Things are ‘greening up’ all over the state so grab your camera and go take beautiful pictures that you can share with the Alabama Tourism Department.
Great tourism images should include:

  1. Identifiable locations indigenous to Alabama with plenty of colorful flora around.
  2. Attractive people wearing bright, solid-color clothing – no jeans – and having a wonderful time.

Images should be made when the site is in full sunlight, preferably early morning or late afternoon, but never between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Images also need to be:

  1. High resolution – at least 4” X 6” and 300 dpi, but bigger is better.

For information on the best way to send your images, please contact Peggy Collins,  or 334-242-4545.

Mobile Apps will be featured in 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide

We need your help.  We are compiling a list of mobile apps offered by our Alabama Tourism Industry Partners.  A section in the 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide will be dedicated to mobile apps promoting the Alabama Tourism Industry.

If your organization has developed mobile apps to promote your area/attraction/business/event, please send a description and link to Jo Jo Terry,  Please send information regarding mobile apps that are even in the development stage.   The deadline is May 29.

If you have any questions, please contact Jo Jo Terry by email or phone, 334-353-4716 direct line.

There is still time to sign up for the Alabama Tourism Department Workshops

In just one week the Alabama Tourism Department will host a Tourism Workshop on Tue., April 21 in Birmingham and Wed., April 22 in Montgomery.  These workshops are for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.

Many of ATD’s staff members will be in attendance at these workshops and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them.

On Tue., April 21 the workshop will be held at the Vulcan Park and Museum, 1701 Valley View Drive, Birmingham and on Wed., April 22 the workshop will be at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building, 401 Adams Avenue.  Times for both days will be 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.  There is no registration fee.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Apr 15                         Alabama Tourism Advisory Board Meeting & Update, Montgomery, AL
Apr 21 & 22                Alabama Tourism Department Workshop – Birmingham/Montgomery
Apr 22 – 24                 WTM Latin America (Trade) – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Apr 30                         Deadline to turn in Top 100 nominations for ABA
Apr 30 – May 3          Nashville Southern Women’s Show – Nashville, TN
May 1                          Deadline to sign up for Alabama Makers Market
May 29                        Deadline to get images to ATD
May 29                        Deadline to turn in mobile app information to ATD

Tourism Day Celebrations at Welcome Centers

Celebration time at all Welcome Centers is: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

May 6                          Sumter Welcome Center, Tourism Day Celebration
I-20/59 East of MS Line
May 7                          Cleburne Welcome Center, Tourism Day Celebration
I-20 West of GA Line
May 14                        Lanett Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-85 West of Georgia Line
May 15                        Houston Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
U.S. 231 North of FL Line
May 14                        Baldwin Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-10 West of FL Line
May 7                          Grand Bay Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-10 East of MS Line
May 14                        DeKalb Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-59 West of GA Line
May 28                        Ardmore Welcome Center Tourism Celebration
I-65 South of TN Line


 Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department