With so many things to do in Decatur Al its no surprise it is the largest city in the Morgan County region.
Visit any time of year and you’ll find day-trippers and weekenders from the American Southeast, and probably a few visitors from much farther away.
Why? Because the city is filled to the brim with historic buildings and unique attractions.
From wildlife preserves to historical centers, BBQ joints, and waterparks, there’s definitely something for everybody to enjoy in Decatur!
Keep reading to learn about all the things to do in Decatur Al and find out if this city should be on your travel checklist.
Cook Museum of Natural Science
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The Cook Museum of Natural Science is one of the leading natural science museums in America. With more than 2,000 exhibits on display, you can spend an entire afternoon exploring, interacting with, and learning about nature.
The museum wasn’t always so grand, in fact, it began with the professional insect collection of John Cook, Sr. which he opened to public viewings by appointment. It is from these humble origins that the Cook Museum of Natural Science took its name.
The museum is a great experience for people of all ages, there’s really no shortage of interesting things to look at. I found the exhibits featuring the local birds and exotic insects to be especially cool, but I also enjoyed the large display of seashells, coral, and minerals.
A section featuring endangered and protected species highlight stunning golden and bald eagle specimens.
You can easily spend a few hours exploring the exhibits, but be sure to leave some time in your visit for a stop at the in-house auditorium. Here you can sit back, relax, and enjoy some wonderful natural sciences films.
If you are lucky enough to visit when the museum isn’t too busy, you might even be able to get some one-on-one time with the knowledgeable museum staff to answer any questions you may have.
Need more information? Check out the Cook Museum website.
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
On the outskirts of Decatur sits the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, a stunning naturally preserved woodlands that spans over more than 34,000 acres of land. It’s a perfect way to follow up a visit to the Cook Museum of Natural Science.
The refuge was originally opened in 1938 to provide a home for the many species of waterfowl that are native to the area. Today the refuge operates under the management of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which oversees the Redstone Arsenal area of the park.
During my visit to the refuge, I enjoyed exploring the nature trails. If you’re up for a bit of hiking, you can make the brief climb to the glass observation tower to enjoy the view. While you are there, visit the educational center and pick up some pamphlets outlining the best tours the refuge has to offer.
If you’d prefer to sit back and enjoy the birds in their natural habitat, there are plenty of places to stop and watch. No matter how you choose to experience the park, it’s sure to be a great time for families and individuals who enjoy spending time in nature.
Get all the information you need about the refuge from their website.
Historic Railroad Depot
Originally constructed in 1905, Decatur’s Historic Railroad Depot was built on the site of an inspiring speech by President William McKinley in early May 1901. President McKinley’s visit was brief, with him leaving aboard the same train just a few minutes later, but the impact had been made.
The depot helped facilitate Decatur’s growth into the bustling city that it is today, and the city has shown its appreciation. In 2013, the original railroad depot underwent a $2.5 million restoration.
As it stands now, the depot is split. One half of the building is home to a police station, and the other is a train museum containing materials from the original railroad and a number of HO, O, and G Scale electric model trains.
There was a lot to enjoy when I visited the Historic Railroad Depot for myself. It was very obviously put together with great love and care. Everything is carefully laid out and organized, and the space is filled with restoration projects completed by hand by local Eagle Scouts.
Notable restorations include a vintage luggage cart, a model O gauge track system, and old electrical signs, restored to working order.
I particularly enjoyed the HO-scale model train layout which is filled with tiny replicas of many historical Decatur landmarks.
The love for local history is obvious here, and the helpful museum guide was more than willing to discuss the exhibits with us in length. If you are looking for a great way to spend a few hours, with or without the family, the Historic Railroad Depot is a must on the list of things to do in Decatur.
Morgan Price Candy Company
Looking for a sweet way to spend some time? Look no further than the Morgan Price Candy Company, just off Sixth Street. It’s a family-owned business that’s been serving up tasty treats and good times in the area for more than 25 years.
And thanks to its proximity to another Decatur hotspot, Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que, the Morgan Price Candy Company is the perfect way to finish off a night at dinner.
The shop itself has a unique atmosphere with a ton of cute items on display, including serving sets, bowls, cups, towels, and of course, candy! The items are made fresh in-store using old family recipes, and you can sample a new daily selection of chocolates and candies in the tasting area of the shop.
There are so many different things on offer, I definitely recommend trying the samples so you don’t miss out on any of their great treats. Between the items we sampled and the ones I bought to enjoy at home.
Some of my favorites were the traditional English toffee and the chocolate-covered strawberries. Prefer something with a little less sugar? The shop also offers a fantastic gelato that is thick and creamy while still light on your tongue.
There was nothing I didn’t enjoy during my time here, I’ll definitely be back if I get the chance!
Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que
You can’t visit Decatur without a stop at Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que! The restaurant is a historic institution not just for the city, but for America. It’s nationally recognized as one of the oldest and most celebrated barbeque restaurants in the country.
The business was originally founded in 1928 by ‘Big’ Bob Gibson, a former L&N Railroad employee turned restauranteur with an incredible story. His restaurant began as a single table consisting of oak planks he nailed to a large Sycamore tree in his backyard. Nearby, he dug out a cooking pit which became his best advertisement.
The smoke and smells would draw in people from around the neighborhood, and the rest is history! It’s been nearly 100 years since that first incarnation of Big Bob Gibson’s began serving up the classic BBQ it would later become famous for, and a lot has happened.
The restaurant has now been owned and operated by four generations of Big Bob’s family. It has also won more than 15 awards at the World Barbecue Championship for its special menu of brisket, chicken, pork, and ribs, and introduced its legendary Original BBQ White Sauce.
The restaurant has only gotten better with time. I stopped by for lunch during my trip and I ended up coming back on another night for dinner. Everything I tried was excellent and the portions were very generous for the price. I especially enjoyed the Beef Brisket and their
pulled pork sandwiches.
If you’re visiting for the first time, you have to try something from the menu featuring their house-made BBQ white sauce. I tried it on a piece of smoked turkey and enjoyed the unique tang and creaminess of the sauce.
Luckily, if you get hooked on the food or their secret sauces, Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que ships a selection of their menu nationwide. Visit the website for more details.
Point Mallard Waterpark
Is there anything more fun than a day at the waterpark? Not according to the Decatur locals who’ve made Point Mallard Waterpark an unofficial home away from home each summer since it first opened in 1970.
It’s not hard to see what makes the park special, first off, it’s massive, spanning more than 500 acres running along the bank of Flint Creek and bordering the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. And all that space doesn’t go to waste.
The park is home to multiple sporting facilities, playgrounds, a beach, and even a mini-golf course, all of which are accessible throughout the season.
It’s also conveniently located right next to the Point Mallard campgrounds, making it a frequent destination for tourists. While I didn’t stay at the campsite, I did take the opportunity to check out enjoy everything else the park had to offer, starting with the J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatic Center.
The aquatic center is the waterpark highlight from which the park takes its name. It’s actually home to the first wave pool in America, as well as a lazy river, a sandy beach, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. More daring guests will also enjoy the two highspeed waterslides and 10m diving tower.
Younger guests will find their fun in the Kids area which is home to a few smaller pools, the duck pond, a concessions shop, and Squirt Factory.
After my time at the aquatic center, I began exploring the other attractions the park has on offer and I found no shortage of things to do. There are places to play baseball, golf, tennis, and even enjoy some ice skating!
The most unique thing about the park is probably the semi-enclosed Point Mallard Prayer Chapel, where weddings, religious services, and other events are held.
You’ll need to set aside an afternoon, if not a whole day to enjoy the full experience of Point Mallard Waterpark, but I definitely recommend bringing the family here!
Old Decatur Historic District
The Old Decatur & Albany Historic Districts are a must-see for anyone with an interest in old architecture. The area spans 116 acres and contains the highest concentration of bungalows and craftsman homes built in the Victorian era.
The oldest homes in the neighborhood were originally constructed in 1829, while the most modern buildings are almost brand new. The mix of ages and design styles gives the district a unique feel.
Houses of note in the area include the Dancy-Polk House, later known as the Polk Hotel, and the J. T. Jones House. But perhaps the most interesting from a historical perspective is the Mc Entire House.
The Mc Entire house is one of Decatur’s oldest buildings, originally constructed before 1836. Over the years the building would be the site of multiple significant events, serving as headquarters for both the Confederates and the Union in the American Civil War.
The Confederates would also use the space to make their plans for the Battle of Shiloh.
If you are up for a bit of walking, I definitely recommend taking an official tour of the district and discovering the rich history of the area with a guide.
Carnegie Visual Arts Center
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Originally constructed in 1904, the Carnegie Library of Decatur was repurposed and reopened as the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in 2003. The center is dedicated to encouraging exploration of the visual arts, as well as providing education and unique cultural experiences to those in the area.
Enjoy the architecture of the historic building as you explore its exhibitions, both national and local. If looking at so many wonderful works of art gets your creative juices flowing, you can sign up for an art class at the education center within the building, or attend a lecture from a visiting artist.
With the constant introduction of new exhibits, I could see myself frequenting the Carnegie Visual Arts Center for a bit of culture. The best part? The Carnegie Visual Arts Center is open to the public at no charge every Tuesday through Saturday.
Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
The Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts has been a staple of culture in northern Alabama for more than a hundred years. The center grew to the icon it is today from unlikely beginnings as a horse stable in 1887.
As you can imagine, the building has changed a little over the years to accommodate its current role.
The first major shift occurred in 1919 when the Princess made its transformation from stable to silent film house, presenting classic pictures and vaudeville acts.
A second remodeling took place in 1941, transforming the Princess into the art deco-style theatre that locals know and love today. Its iconic marquee sign has been lighting up the Decatur skyline ever since.
Visit today and you’re not likely to find a silent film playing, but there is plenty of entertainment. The venue is regularly home to live music, plays, and dance performances, in addition to hosting their own special events such as the monthly songwriters night in their Listening Loft.
And you won’t need to enjoy the entertainment on an empty stomach, the entrance to the theatre is a coffee shop with a built-in snack bar. The theater is also within walking distance of some of the cities most popular restaurants.
I stopped in to enjoy a show and followed it up with lunch at the Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Co. just a few blocks away.
Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Co.
The Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Co. is a craft brewery and a popular local hangout for all ages. Though they don’t have an in-house kitchen yet, you won’t be enjoying your drinks on an empty stomach.
Customers can order from a variety of local restaurants, right at the bar, or even bring in their own food. On weekends you can even enjoy a variety of fresh food from local food trucks that gather outside of the brewery.
Of course, the main attraction at any brewery is the drinks, and Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Co. doesn’t fail to deliver. Each day they have an assortment of 12 craft beers and four flavors of handcrafted soda on tap. Visitors can sample each drink before they order, and you can them to go when you order a growler.
Enjoy the drink specials each weekend with some entertainment. In addition to the visiting food trucks, the brewery regularly hosts live music, trivia and game nights, and sports.
Visit on Sundays for a more family-oriented experience with things like face painting and an ice cream truck.
If weather permits, I recommend enjoying your meal on the patio which is pet-friendly and a perfect spot for some passive people watching.
Bank St Art and Antiques
In the mood for some more history? Your trip to Decatur wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Bank Street Art and Antiques. This old antique shop is a cut above others you may have visited, offering three floors of well-arranged and carefully displayed antiques, art, and collectibles for you to enjoy.
There’s so much to see, I recommend making two stops here if you enjoy combing through the old treasures. If you’re lucky, you might even find a piece of Decatur to take home.
Overall the shop had a wonderfully cozy feel. The people working there were very friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate when I had questions about items in their collection. I’d definitely visit again to find some special accent pieces for my home.
Get a sneak peek of some of their pieces on the Bank Street Antiques website.
Morgan County-Decatur Farmers’ Market
Visiting the area between April and November? Don’t forget to stop by the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers’ Market.
There’s no better place around to buy fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables, directly from the farmers that grew them. There are also tables of locally baked goods and artisanal crafts to explore.
If you’re planning a visit, I’d recommend stopping in on a weekday to avoid the crowds so you can really enjoy all that the market has to offer. Depending on when you visit, you may even get to enjoy the monthly special event which highlights an in-season fruit or vegetable.
The Pickwick Belle
Take a ride across Wheeler Lake and down the Tenessee River on the Pickwick Belle, an authentic paddlewheel riverboat, that’s been ferrying happy customers around since 2012.
The twin deck riverboat offers beautiful views of the surrounding water and scenery on its covered upper deck, which also features a large dance floor for events. On the lower deck, you’ll find a comfortable 1,000 square foot dining room, galley, and bar to meet all your food and beverage needs.
If you are short on time when you visit, the flexible schedule of the Pickwick Belle might make it a can’t miss attraction. The boat runs multiple times each day, accommodating up to 112 passengers on each cruise.
Mel’s Sweet Treats
Mel’s Sweet Treats is a unique little bakery hidden well off the beaten path in Decatur. If you are looking to visit, you’ll have to find it without your GPS, but it’s worth the time it takes to navigate.
The bakery, and its lineup of imaginative treats, are the brainchild of owner, operator, and lifelong baker Melissa Cook, better known to locals as Mel.
She’s serving up a full menu of cold and hot sandwiches, wraps, salads, milkshakes, and smoothies alongside the sweet treats for which the shop is named. And there’s no shortage of those, with 31 unique flavors of cookies and an assortment of bars, squares, brownies on offer as part of the shop’s regular offerings.
I particularly enjoyed the Texas Sheet Cake and Lemonade cookies, as well as the Strawberry Pretzel Salad I tried with lunch. You can check out all the offerings for yourself on the shop’s website.
The Village of Mooresville
While it’s not technically in Decatur, the tiny village of Mooresville is worth a visit, sitting just two miles north of the city limits. You might recognize the scenery from the Disney Movie, Tom & Huck.
The village, just twelve blocks in size, was constructed in 1818 and has secured a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. While you’re here, I’d recommend checking out the Stage Coach Inn and Tavern, as well as one of the oldest active post offices in America, operating since 1840.
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A list of things to do in Decatur wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the cities oldest public park, Delano Park.
The park was first opened in 1887 as part of a plan to redevelop Decatur after the American Civil war and named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The age of Delano Park has even earned it a spot on the National Historic Register.
The park lives up to its historic presence, covering more than 28 acres of land with walking paths, a picnic shelter, a playground, splash pad, and tennis courts, much of which was introduced in a recent remodeling.
A highlight of the improvements is the stunning WPA Rose Garden which has been carefully replanted and organized to recreate the appearance of the garden at the time it was originally planted.
Another must-see is the Trail of History which crosses the park from east to west, leading you over an iconic concrete bridge that’s been the background to countless photographs, memories, and events.
As you walk along the trail, you will find signs posted which share the history of the park and the city of Decatur.
I really enjoyed my time here. It’s a unique experience to walk through nature and envision the history that has taken place around you.
There’s really no shortage of things to do in Decatur, Al. The city is a haven of historical landmarks and American culture, making everyone who visits feel at home. Whether you just have a few hours in the area, or you are visiting for a few days, there’s sure to be plenty of things to keep you busy.
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