If you haven’t heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, then you’re seriously missing out! This small northwest Alabama town was once the Hit Recording Capital of the World. Find out the best things to do in Muscle Shoals for a rockin’ vacation!
During the 60s and 70s, the best musicians from around the world came to Alabama to get some of that Muscle Shoals sound and the fame that came with it.
Growing up nearby in Huntsville, I’ve visited the Shoals area a few times. There’s a ton of great history in this area, but for now I just want to focus on its music history. So if you’re a music-lover looking for the best things to do in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, then keep reading!
Top Things to Do in Muscle Shoals for Music-Lovers
1. Visit FAME Recording Studios
The best things to do in Muscle Shoals are visiting the famous recording studios that landed this small town on the map. I recommend starting with the first studio, FAME, and then moving on to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios was started in the 1959 by Rick Hall. The studio moved to its present location at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals in 1961.
The studio recorded its first hit record Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” in 1961. That’s when word about this incredible small town began to spread.
FAME started off recording soul and R&B artists like the Tams, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James. It expanded into pop with the Osmonds, then into country in the 1980s with Jerry Reed the Gatlin Brothers.
The studio has produced a large number of hits that have become known as the “Muscle Shoals sound“. And it’s still an active recording studio!
You can take a Studio Tour and see where some of the greatest music of all time was recorded. I loved being able to go inside Studios A and B where all the magic happens. Famous artists still record in these studios today!
You can also take a special Backstage Tour to see behind the scenes. You’ll get a look inside the publishing office, Rick Hall’s personal office, some of the studio’s most coveted awards, and a collection of historic instruments.
The session musicians at the studio became known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, or the Swampers. In 1969, the four primary members left to form a competing studio just down the road, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which is where we’re headed next!.
2. Tour the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was formed in 1969 by the Swampers when they left FAME Recording Studios.
While FAME recorded a lot of soul and R&B, the Muscle Shoals Sound recorded more rock and pop performers, including The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bob Dylan.
The original studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield closed in April 1979. The recording facility then moved to 1000 Alabama Avenue, which closed in 2005. The 3614 Jackson Highway studio is now a museum.
Beats Electronics and a Muscle Shoals documentary brought in the funds and attention needed to renovate the location. Major restoration work began in September 2015, and the studio was closed to visitors. Before it reopened in January 2017, the Alabama Tourism Department named it the top tourist attraction for the new year.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this little concrete building recorded hit albums for famous artists like Cher and Bob Seger.
The tour of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is a lot of fun. You’ll get to learn about the speakeasy in the basement and the one studio that spans the entire building.
3. Visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame
After visiting Muscle Shoals’ famous recording studios, you’ll definitely want to visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
This 12,500-square-foot exhibit hall opened in 1990 in Tuscumbia. It’s located just a few minutes from FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound studios.
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame honors the accomplishments of Alabama singers, songwriters, producers, and a multitude of Alabamians that have made a significant impact on the music industry across all genres of music.
Achievers are honored on the Hall of Fame roster, with a bronze star on the walk of fame, and through informative exhibits. In this museum, you can find everything from costumes and instruments to wax figures and the band Alabama’s Southern Star tour bus.
4. Stop for a moment at Tom’s Wall
For this stop, we’re going way back to Native American music history. The Yuchi lived in this area in the 18th century before the Europeans settled here.
The Yuchi called the nearby Tennessee River the Singing River. When the tribe was forced out during the Trail of Tears, one young girl escaped and spent years walking back to Alabama to be near her Singing River.
In the 1980s, her great great grandson Tom Hendrix built a memorial wall of stones to honor her. He collected stones from over 120 countries in different shapes and sizes, each one representing a step in his great great grandmother’s journey. Tom’s Wall in Florence is the largest un-mortared rock wall in the US and the largest memorial to a Native American woman.
5. Eat at the Rattlesnake Saloon
Have you ever eaten inside a cave? The Rattlesnake Saloon is a restaurant built under a natural stone bluff in Tuscumbia.
The restaurant and bar regularly hosts live music and entertainment. It’s a great place to experience Muscle Shoals’ modern music scene.
Because seating is almost all outside under the stone bluff, it’s only open seasonally from February to November. It is wheelchair accessible, though!
6. Have a drink at Singin’ River Brewing
Singin’ River Brewing was the first brewery in the Shoals. The name comes from what the Yuchi called the Tennessee River — the Singing River.
The Yuchi said the river had a song that was at times soft and quiet and at others loud and boisterous. Singin’ River beers celebrate the variety of song of the river and the Shoals.
Visit their taproom and patio in Florence to try out brews like Swamper, Handy’s Gold, and Princess of The Singing River.
7. Eat and drink at Swampers Bar and Grille
Swampers Bar and Grille is a casual lounge in the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence. It is named for the Swampers, the famous session musicians from FAME Recording Studios who started the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.
On the menu, you’ll find Southern favorites and comfort foods that range from shrimp and grist to beer chili.
They also have regular live music and entertainment, dining on an outdoor terrace, and decor of Muscle Shoals music memorabilia.
8. Stay at the GunRunner Boutique Hotel
If you need a unique place to stay in Muscle Shoals, the GunRunner Boutique Hotel is it.
The GunRunner has 10 luxury suites that are uniquely designed to cerebrate the Shoals’ music, art, and history.
Stay in a suite that pays tribute to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, to the “Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” Sam Phillips, or to the Florence-based Single Lock Records.
What are The Shoals?
The Shoals area is made up of four different towns: Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals. A visit to the area means seamlessly moving in and out of each of these four towns as you discover the history of the Muscle Shoals sound.
So if you were wondering why few of the things to do on this list are actually in Muscle Shoals, that’s why!
Things to Do in Muscle Shoals Map
Ready to plan out your musical trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Use the map below to find all the sites listed in this post!
I hope you have a rockin’ time exploring the Shoals!
Muscle Shoals, Alabama FAQ
How far is Muscle Shoals, Alabama from Birmingham, Alabama?
Muscle Shoals is about a 2 hour drive from Birmingham (about 113 miles).
How far is Muscle Shoals from Florence, Alabama
Muscle Shoals is right across the Tennessee River from Florence, Alabama. It’s just about a 10 minute drive (about 4 miles).
What does Muscle Shoals mean?
No one knows for sure where Muscle Shoals gets its name, but there are a few theories. The first theory is that this part of the Tennessee River is where mussel shells could be found back in the day. The second theory is that the shape of the river here looks like a muscle in a person’s arm. The third theory comes from booklets published before Muscle Shoals was incorporated that said the Native Americans traveling upstream found the currents to be difficult to navigate, so you needed a lot of muscle. One thing is certain: “shoals” refers to a shallow part of the river, so the name comes from the Tennessee River. We just don’t really know where the “muscle” part came from.
What is Muscle Shoals famous for?
Muscle Shoals is famous for music. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was the Hit Recording Capital of the World, with famous artists coming from all over to record albums at FAME Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sounds Studio.
More Things To Do in The Shoals
Ready to visit Florence, Alabama? Plan your trip with these tips.
- Book your flight to Florence: Find the cheapest flights using Skyscanner, my favorite flight search engine.
- Find Accommodation: You can find top hotels in Florence, Alabama using Hotels.com.
- Start Packing: Make sure you’ve packed everything you need with my packing list resources.
Have you experienced any of these fun things to do in Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Let me know in the comments!