Tourism Tuesdays August 2, 2016

  • Alabama Restaurant Week kicks off across the state on Aug. 12
  • One Alabama restaurant makes OpenTable’s ‘most scenic’ list
  • Auburn/Opelika Marriott ranked a top golf resort in North America by Golf Digest editors
  • Jay Leno takes Alabama-made motorcycles for a ride and review
  • Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson spotted dining in Auburn recently
  • “Let There Be Light” movie to film in Birmingham
  • Ken Hare’s Natural Alabama: So many Alabama birding sites; so little time
  • Pokemon Go takes over Space and Rocket Center for “Safari Zone Sunday”
  • Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama Restaurant Week kicks off across the state on Aug. 12


More than 150 restaurants will offer lunch and dinner discounts to encourage customers to try new dishes during the fifth annual Alabama Restaurant Week Aug. 12-21, state tourism officials announced.

The two-course lunch specials will range from $5 to $15 while three-course dinners will cost from $10 to $30, not including tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the option of offering specials at both lunch and dinner or choosing to offer just lunch or just dinner specials.  

“This is a great opportunity for people to try restaurants in their hometown and other places in the state while saving money,” said Alabama Tourism Department Marketing Director Grey Brennan.  “There are no coupons or discount books to buy or bring.  Diners at the participating restaurants simply ask for the Alabama Restaurant Week special.”

Restaurants that have signed-up to offer the specials include favorites like Cotton Row in Huntsville, Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, The A&P Social in Montgomery, The Trellis Room in Mobile and LuLu’s in Gulf Shores.  Multiple locations of Baumhower’s across the state are also participating.

Restaurants in more than 25 cities across the state have been included in Alabama Restaurant Week. Cities with participating restaurants include: Athens, Atmore, Auburn, Bessemer, Birmingham, Centre, Cullman, Daphne, Decatur, Gulf Shores, Homewood, Hoover, Huntsville, Leeds, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, New Market, Northport, Orange Beach, Pell City, Selma, Semmes, Spanish Fort, Troy, Tuscaloosa, and Vestavia Hills.

A full list of participating restaurants and the specials they are offering can be found at

The Alabama Tourism Department will be using the hash tag #DineAlabama16 on all of their social media channels to promote Alabama Restaurant Week. These social media channels include:


One Alabama restaurant makes OpenTable’s ‘most scenic’ list

By Lawrence Specker,, July 29

Does downtown Mobile have the most scenic restaurant in Alabama? One online dining reservation service seems to think so.

OpenTable has unveiled its list of the “100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America” for 2016, and a relatively new Mobile business is the only one in Alabama to make the cut. It is Dauphin’s, which opened earlier this year on the 34th floor of the RSA BankTrust Building.

Long the tallest building in downtown Mobile, the site lost that distinction a few years ago to the nearby RSA Battle House Tower. But it still commands a panoramic view including swaths of the Mobile waterfront and Mobile Bay,  I-10 and the city spreading out to the west. The top floor of the building was previously occupied by the Bienville Club, but this year Dauphin’s was opened by restaurateur (and former Crimson Tide and NFL star) Bob Baumhower. Its menu “celebrates classic coastal cuisine with hints of Caribbean and Creole soul.”

OpenTable says its list was based on “the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners.” Only 34 states made the list, with California hogging 24 of the 100 spots. The full list can be found at

To read this article online and see a complete list of restaurants, go to:


Auburn/Opelika Marriott ranked a top golf resort in North America by Golf Digest editors

Looking for great golf resorts in North America? Consider Pebble Beach Resort at Spanish Bay or Pinehurst. Perhaps the Four Seasons Resort Maui or The Broadmoor. How about the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National in Alabama?  Golf Digest recently released its” 2016 Editors’ Choice Ranking for North America” and the Auburn/Opelika Marriott was one of the 69 exceptional golf resorts highlighted. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National is adjacent to the Marriott and features three courses. RTJ Grand National hosts the PGA TOUR’s Barbasol Championship each July. Other resorts in the Southeast making the Golf Digest list include Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa in Birmingham (also a part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Resort Collection), Reynolds Plantation and Sea Island Resort.

Of the resorts recognized, the Auburn/Opelika Marriott was among the most affordable for lodging and golf. Guest rooms start at $159 and greens fees with cart are $85.

“The Golf Digest honor was announced in May just as we were completing a major renovation and preparing to welcome our Barbasol guests,” said Kevin Cross, general manager of the Auburn/Opelika Marriott. “With more than 1.6 million readers, Golf Digest is a major publication in the golf/leisure industry and we are delighted to be highlighted,” said Cross.  “Now that our multi-year comprehensive renovation is complete, we believe golfers, meeting planners and leisure guests will enjoy their stays at the Auburn/Opelika Marriott even more.”

All 129 guest rooms and most common areas have been renovated, including guest corridors and lobbies, as well as the ballroom and meeting rooms, according to Cross. “Guest rooms have been completely remodeled to include 49-inch televisions and a full wall mural of golf scenes shot at the Robert Trent Jones courses at Grand National,” he said. “The guest baths have been upgraded and outfitted with granite vanities and full glass shower surrounds. The exciting new design is modern and fresh for today’s traveler.”

Jay Leno takes Alabama-made motorcycles for a ride and review

By Charles J. Dean,, July 25

Alabama-made Motus Motorcycles received some national attention when former Tonight Show host and gearhead Jay Leno gave the company and its premium bikes some attention on Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube.

Leno took a Motus bike for a ride and review of it and its proprietary V4 engines.

Motus is an American motorcycle manufacturer based in Birmingham.

Motus founders Lee Conn and Brian Case were invited to Leno’s Big Dog Garage earlier this month to tell Leno the story of how a small group of entrepreneurs set out in 2008 to make a motorcycle unlike any other, according to a company press release. Born out of a recession and developed with some of America’s most sophisticated engineering partners, Motus began shipping the world’s fastest production pushrod motorcycles to its network of U.S. dealers in 2015. Motus also supplies its turnkeyAmerican V4® Baby Block® powertrain to other builders and OEMs around the world for marine, offroad, and other powersports applications. according to the company.

“Jay is without a doubt a very knowledgeable and down-to-earth gearhead. He applauded our effort, particularly with developing our own engine,” said Brian Case, design director for Motus. “He’s a huge fan of our V4 engine and has known about Motus for a while.”

Company president Lee Conn said, “Jay has a deep understanding of the rich history of American motorcycles and he helped us take a step back and appreciate where Motus fits into that lineage. This type of exposure is really important as we expand our dealer network and continue to spread our name and message out into the public eye.”

The episode featuring Motus gave viewers the chance to see what Leno thinks about the engine and motorcycle, including onboard commentary during his ride. “It was pretty surreal to be chasing Jay Leno through the LA canyons, all on motorcycles that we developed from scratch,” said Case.

To read this article online, go to:


Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson spotted dining in Auburn recently

By Amber Sutton,, August 1

Celebrities Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn surprised diners and the staff at Hamilton’s in Auburn recently after attending a movie screening of their film “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Danielle Walker, a hostess at the restaurant, said it was a relatively slow night so only a few tables were seated when Vaughn and Gibson arrived.

“We only had about two other tables in the restaurant that were filled,” said Walker. “The staff was really excited though. We were all in the back just trying to playing it cool. We all called our parents.”

Walker said the pair told the staff that they had just come from a private screening of their new film at Fort Benning and were told that Hamilton’s was good so they decided to drive over.

Since then, the news of their presence in Auburn has gotten plenty of reactions on Twitter, and Walker said the restaurant and its staff have gotten lots of calls about their brush with fame.

To read this article online, go to:


“Let There Be Light” movie to film in Birmingham

Create Birmingham announced that the feature, “Let There Be Light,” has begun preproduction this month, with principal photography to begin the second week in August.  Filming will occur in Birmingham, Vestavia Hills and other locations around Jefferson County.


The production will employ approximately 50 Alabama crew members, a number of Alabama cast members in small roles and more than 300 background talent throughout the production.

The faith-based feature film is directed by and stars Kevin Sorbo, perhaps best known for his two television            series, “Hercules” and “Andromeda” and the movie “God’s Not Dead.”  Sorbo first visited Birmingham when he worked with Alabama filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin on their 2014 film, “Coffee Shop.”

Sorbo’s wife, Sam (“Chicago Hope,” “Hercules”), is co-screenwriter of “Let There Be Light” and stars alongside her husband.  Her writing partner, Dan Gordon (“The  Hurricane,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Passenger 57”) started his career as a writer and executive story editor for Michael Landon’s “Highway to Heaven” television series.

Multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning artist, Travis Tritt, has a featured role in the film.  A 30-year music-industry veteran, Tritt has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1992.

“We’re thrilled to help the film industry make connections in Birmingham and discover our unique surroundings.  This is a great example of how the creative industry is leading the way to make an impact on the local economy,” said President & CEO Buddy Palmer.      

Create Birmingham, working with the Alabama Film Office, was instrumental in recruiting the production for       the Birmingham area.  According to Sorbo, the “Let There Be Light” production team cancelled a planned scouting expedition to another state based on the very positive reception and experience scouting Birmingham.


Ken Hare’s Natural Alabama: So many Alabama birding sites; so little time

By Ken Hare, WSFA 12, July 29

The Alabama Birding Trails System is a collection of eight birding trails with 270 different birding sites stretching across Alabama, and my goal is to one day bird them all. But I’ve got a long way to go, both in the number of sites I still want to visit and in the miles I have to travel to see them.

In this column, let me touch on four sites I have visited in recent weeks, including one that is likely to make my Top 10 birding sites list in future columns. The four sites stretch from North Alabama to the Florida line.

Conecuh National Forest – I love this birding “site” — even though calling it one site is misleading. The national forest covers about 83,000 acres from a point a few miles south of Andalusia to the Florida line. In that forest are literally dozens of good spots to look for different species of birds.

Conecuh NF has a wide variety of habitats — dense mixed-tree woodlands, swampy areas, small ponds left in their natural state, and larger lakes with well-trimmed edges.

But the highlight of the Conecuh habitats is its large tracts of mature, well-managed Longleaf Pine forests. Longleaf Pines dominated the Alabama landscape 200 years ago, but exploitation dramatically reduced the number of longleaf forests — especially mature forests. By the way, the Longleaf Pine is Alabama’s official state tree.

Where you have mature Longleaf Pine forests you have the possibility of finding Alabama’s rarest woodpecker — the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker once flourished in the South, but the loss of Longleaf Pine habitats reduced its numbers dramatically.

Return trips to Conecuh National Forest are definitely in my plans — especially to get a good photo of the elusive Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, but also to check out several other small lakes I have yet to visit. The area holds promise to become one of my favorites.

Paul M. Grist State Park was one of the victims of a Legislature-created funding crisis for state parks last year and was briefly closed, but a visionary cooperative agreement between leaders of the park system and Dallas County have resulted in it being reopened.

This 1,000-plus acre park about 15 miles north of Selma is focused on an attractive 100-acre lake and campground.

This is an attractive park, not just for birding but for fishermen, hikers, campers and picnickers. Its closing would have been a big loss to the area, and the Legislature’s siphoning away funding was shortsighted. Nature lovers should applaud Dallas County and state park officials for working out a way to keep it open.

Sherling Lake Park is another small, attractive park with nice walking trails and the potential for good birding, though it clearly is aimed more at fishermen and campers. Built around small lakes, the surrounding rolling hills are dominated by large open pines with mixed woods in the lower areas.

The Mallard Fox Creek Wildlife Management Area is almost 1,500 acres of a variety of habitats, including agricultural fields where I saw Eastern Meadowlarks, doves and Bluebirds, hardwood forests with finches and grosbeaks, and backwaters with Wood Ducks and herons.

This is a definite regular stop for me when I’m in the area.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Pokemon Go takes over Space and Rocket Center for “Safari Zone Sunday”

By Caitlan Dallas, WHNT19 News, July 24

Pikachus and Charmanders were among some of the guests at the Space and Rocket Center Sunday, as they’re the latest to join in on the Pokemon Go craze. They hosted a “Safari Zone Sunday” offering guests a special admission price if they showed the app on their phones.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Trevor Daniels says they wanted guests to enjoy their resources, while also getting to play a game that’s been special to people for a long time.

“We wanted to do something like a really authentic throwback to, you know, a game people have really enjoyed for 20 years,” he said.

The Space and Rocket Center has 22 poke stops and 3 gyms on its property. That means their guests will never run out the things they need to play the game. Daniels came up with the idea because he thinks it’s a win-win, with guests also getting to see the center at the same time.

“You know, they’re doing the fun pokemon go thing but they’re also learning about space, and seeing kind of what the rocket city has to offer,” he said.

For those who are new to the game, Team Mystic player Aaron Simons had a great tip.

“Pikachu’s always the best pokemon to catch,” he said.

His mom, Tammy Simons, said the game is a bonding experience for them. The family has long had a membership to the museum, but they came Sunday to enjoy the new spin on space learning.

“Even though he’s 10 we’re kind of on even levels, so he’s a little bit more of an expert than I am.  He can teach me some stuff so it’s kind of neat.  We’ve have some really good conversations over it,” she said.

The Space and Rocket center hopes Sunday’s event helps guests catch them all, while learning a little something too. 

More than 500 guests attended the center Sunday, just for the Pokemon Go event. The Space and Rocket Center said if the community wants it, they hope to put on more of these events in the future.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism (AGCT), slated for Aug. 20 – 23, at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and to celebrate achievements.

Several highlights will be the Alabama Tourism Department’s annual update, a presentation on the Alabama Bicentennial Commission by Executive Director Jay Lamar and an update on the Alabama State Parks by Director Greg Lein.

For more information and registration, go to:


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Aug. 12 – 21                           Alabama Restaurant Week                                         Statewide

Aug. 20 – 23                           Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism           Orange Beach

Sept. 7 – 9                               STS Fall Forum                                                          Birmingham



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.

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