When you bingeing travel shows and watching endless Instagram videos of beautiful destinations is no longer scratching the travel-bug itch, it may be time for a road trip. For those in the central-to-north Alabama region, a multi-day drive up I-22 could be just the thing you need for a fun weekend away. Start your trip in the Magic City with Civil Rights history and a wonderfully revitalized downtown, then make your way up the highway to Memphis where you can get your fill of barbecue and blues. Though it’s only a 3.5-hour drive along I-22 to get where you’re going, it’s the little stops and side attractions along the way that will make this trip truly special. After all, life’s not about the destination but the journey.
Kick off your big trip in Birmingham with a mini tour of the Magic City. Get a bird’s eye view of downtown atop Red Mountain at Vulcan, a giant statue of a Roman god and unofficial mascot of the city. Then, spend the day enjoying a progressive food tour of the many James Beard nominated restaurants. Lunch at Johnny’s Greek-and-three restaurant is always delicious and snagging a table at Chez FonFon, Bottega, or Automatic Seafood is always a coveted move. Grab a drink at cocktail bars like Queen’s Park and Juniper, or kick it with the locals at Mom’s Basement. Pay a visit to the Civil Rights Museum and the Birmingham Museum of Art and finish your visit with a scoop or two of artisan ice cream at Big Spoon Creamery.
Drive 40 minutes up the road to Jasper, where you can spend some time getting to know the small town of almost 17,000. Take a stroll through the historic downtown to see iconic buildings like Jasper City Hall, post office, and the Masonic temple and stop into locally owned shops, restaurants, and boutiques. After, grab a pint (or two!) at Tallulah Brewing Company or Twister Barley Brewing, located just two blocks from one another.
After a night in Jasper, take a 20-minute detour north toward Bankhead National Forest. Along the way (actually just five minutes north of town), stop at the Bankhead House & Heritage Center, a local museum located in the 1824 federal-style house where former Alabama representative William Bankhead lived. The home is now dedicated to telling the story of Walker County and the men who served as part of the U.S. Congress.
Once you get to Bankhead National Forest, plot your course to see canyons, waterfalls, lakes, and springs in this natural preserve. Hiking trails abound. If the weather is warm, you can go swimming or canoeing at one of the lakes. And if you’re feeling extra bold, book a campsite and spend the night in a tent under the stars. While you’re in the area, see the 148-foot sandstone bridge at Natural Bridge Park. It’s an Alabama treasure you won’t want to miss!
Continue the path back down to I-22 through Winfield, where you should stop for a show inside the historic Pastime Theatre, a restored theater where you can see everything from country to classical music performances. After, grab dinner at local favorite Cajun Connection. A fried shrimp po’boy or catfish plate is the perfect thing to set you on your merry way.
Since you’ve made it this far, cross over into the Magnolia State and stop in Tupelo, Mississippi. The birthplace of Elvis Presley has plenty to see, including the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s childhood home and a museum dedicated to his life. While you’re in town, don’t miss the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, where you can see everything from bison and pot belly pigs to zebras and emus. Stay the night in the city’s only boutique hotel. The Hotel Tupelo has 79 charming and sophisticated rooms, plus a trendy bar and eatery called Jobos. Before leaving town, don’t miss a meal to Kermit’s Soul Kitchen, a favorite farm-to-table spot known for its smoked barbecue favorites like ribs, chicken, and brisket.
Take the final leg of your trip north across the state line to Memphis, Tennessee. You can find more Elvis memorabilia at the superstar’s iconic home of Graceland. Then, visit Beale Street to learn all about the blues. Have dinner at The Beauty Shop, an eclectic new American eatery housed in a former salon where you can nosh on dishes like Watermelon & Wings and a Jamaican Jerk Fish Club Sandwich. Other must-stops are the Broad Avenue Arts District and Dixon Gallery & Gardens.