Headed to the beach? 18 stops for food, sites and shopping between Nashville and the ocean
Nothing beats a trip to the beach. The only downside is the drive from Nashville down to the Gulf of Mexico. But we are here to make the trip more pleasant.
The USA TODAY Network has reporters and editors across the South. We asked them for their favorite places to stop when they head to the ocean.
Why settle for a fast food hamburger when wood-fired pizza is waiting a few miles off the interstate? Who needs fried nuggets when you could have fresh seafood for lunch? And if you avoid meat, we have vegan restaurants as well.
We found places to shop for fresh fruit or pecan candy. There is a lake where you can practice your diving skills. And museums that will teach you about Southern history.
Did we not include your favorite stop? Email email@example.com and we’ll add it to the list.
Near Huntsville, Alabama
SEE: Saturn 1B Rocket
The Saturn 1B rocket was the engine of NASA’s Apollo program. Only three remain on display, including this one on the side of the road in Alabama.
Mile marker 3 on I-65 in Alabama: Alabama Welcome center on Interstate 65 (near Ardmore)
Explore rockets, space ships, satellites and more at this Smithsonian-affiliated museum. Huntsville calls itself “Rocket City” for its work on U.S. space missions.
Exit 1 from I-65 then 29 miles: One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama; 800-637-7223
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
EAT: Post Office Pies
The wood-fired pizzeria has developed a national reputation. Along with classic combos, Post Office also offers vegan and gluten-free options.
Exit to I-20E from I-65, then exit 126B: 209 Springs St., Birmingham, Alabama; 205-599-9900
Daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
EAT: Underground Vegan
Fill up on meat-free versions of “chicken” sandwiches, burgers and loaded French fries.
Exit to I-20E from I-65, then exit 126A: 2012 Magnolia Ave. South, Birmingham, Alabama; 205-202-6315
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 6 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
EAT: Johnny’s Restaurant
Owner Timothy Hontzas adds a Greek twist to the classic Southern meat-and-three menu with dishes like baked Greek chicken or keftedes (meatballs). Johnny’s also has classic options like meatloaf, fried green tomatoes and greens all made with produce from area farms. In 2022, chef Hontzas was a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South for his work at this casual, lunch-only spot.
Exit to I-20E from I-65, then exit 126A: 2902 18th St. South, Homewood, Alabama; 205-802-2711
Sunday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
South on I-65
SEE: Blue Water Park
Stay on the surface with a paddleboard excursion ($10/day). Or strap on your tank and dive into this quarry, which offers depth from 30 feet up to 130 feet for advanced divers ($30/day).
Exit 246 from I-65: 100 Industrial Park Drive, Pelham, Alabama; 205-663-7428
Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment
SHOP and EAT: Durbin Farms Market
Stock up on peaches, peach ice cream, peach jelly and plenty of non-peach products at this popular stand. The market also has a sandwich shop.
Exit 205 from I-65 to SR-22: 2130 7th St. South, Clanton, Alabama; 205-755-1672
Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
SHOP and EAT: Peach Park
Melissa Brown of the Nashville Tennessean called it “a must-stop for most folk driving to the beach in Alabama. Homemade ice cream and a fun little area to run around for kids.” More than just peaches, you can get a full meal here.
Exit 205 from I-65 to SR-22: 2300 7th St. South, Clanton, Alabama; 205-755-2065
Daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
SEE: Jackson Lake Island
Friendly goats roam the island, which was the set for Tim Burton’s 2003 movie “Big Fish.” You can picnic, kayak, fish or even camp overnight. Day access is $5 for adults, and $3 for children 2 to 10; camping is $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Exit 179 from I-65 onto US-82 West: 1057 Cypress Lane, Millbrook, Alabama; 334-430-7963
SEE: The Legacy Museum
The museum explores the history of racial injustice in America, from the enslavement of Africans through the era of lynching, Jim Crow and the U.S. prison complex ($5 admission, children under 6 free). The museum also hosts The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument to the more than 4,000 Black men and women who were killed by mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Exit 172 from I-65: 400 N. Court St., Montgomery, Alabama; 334-386-9100
Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.)
EAT: Plant Bae
Billed as an “all-American vegan restaurant,” Plant Bae aims to satisfy both vegan and non-vegans with its meat-free dishes, like the Philly Cheese Bae, Plant Beau Burger or its beefless tacos.
Exit 172 from I-65: 175 Lee St., Montgomery, Alabama; 334-676-2961
Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
I-65 to the ocean
SHOP and EAT: Priester’s Pecans
Load up on pecan candies for the trip, get a cone of pecan ice cream or stop for a sandwich. The pecan shop also has a place where dogs can take a walk.
Exit 142 off I-65: 1575 Old Fort Road East, Fort Deposit, Alabama; 334-227-8355
Daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
EAT: The Shack
“Super kitschy, amazing seafood and BBQ and homemade pork rinds,” said Amber Roberson of The Tennessean. Don’t miss the ice cream parlor in the back.
Exit 96 off I-65: 281 Highway 83, Evergreen, Alabama; 251-578-0046
Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
SEE: Monroe County Museum
Harper Lee grew up and set her classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Monroeville. Today the Monroe County Courthouse hosts an exhibit on Lee and her childhood friend and fellow author Truman Capote. The 1930s courthouse was recreated in Hollywood for the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” $5 dollar admission.
Exit 93 off I-65 onto US-84, then 27 miles: 31 N. Alabama Ave., Monroeville, Alabama; 251-575-7433
Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“My family — my mom, dad and older brother — always stopped briefly at the USS Alabama Battleship Park on our way to Destin, Florida every summer when I was a child,” said Kerri Bartlett, editor of The Daily Herald in Columbia, Tennessee. “The ghostly-gray ship always looked a bit strange to my 6-year-old eyes against the landscape surrounded by the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico and yellow almost-Florida sun.” The park also includes tours of a WWII submarine and displays of tanks and aircraft.
Exit 9 off I-65 onto I-165S then 8 miles: 2703 Battleship Parkway, Mobile, Alabama; 1.800.GANGWAY
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (last tickets sold at 4 p.m.)
The convenience store has a cult following for its pristine restrooms, aisles of snacks and toothy mascot.
Exit 37 off I-65 then 30 miles towards Gulf Shores: 20403 County Rd. 68, Robertsdale, Alabama
EAT: Redd’s Hotdogs
After 33 years in business, this hotdog cart is not going anywhere. Redd’s now has a second cart in Foley, Alabama, at 715 N. McKenzie St.
Exit 37 off I-65 then 30 miles towards Gulf Shores: 21925 S. Milwaukie St., Robertsdale, Alabama; 251-269-9428
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
EAT: Lambert’s Cafe
At Lambert’s, you get dinner and throw. The family-style restaurant, with traditional fare like meatloaf, fried chicken or hamburger steak, stands out for delivering its rolls through the air.
Exit 37 off I-65 then 56 miles towards Gulf Shores: 2981 S. McKenzie St., Foley, Alabama; 251-943-7655
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily