Take 20: Things to see and do in Alabama along Interstate 20
by Marilyn Jones Stamps
Interstate 20 dates back to the 1960s and is a major east–west transportation system that runs for more than 1,500 miles from Kent, Texas to Columbia, South Carolina, passing through the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia along the way. Such a lengthy and historic route beckons you to get off and explore a myriad of wonderful attractions, and what better place to do that than in Alabama?
Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama
From Mississippi, I-20 (along with I-59) crosses the Alabama state line near York. The route stays conjoined as it passes through Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama and its trophy-winning Crimson Tide football team.
A must-visit while in Tuscaloosa is the Paul W. Bryant Museum (300 Paul W. Bryant Dr.; 205-348-4668). It honors the life and legacy of one of the most celebrated coaches in college football history and follows the Crimson Tide football team from its beginning in 1892 to the present through interactive exhibits and more. A museum gift shop, where you can purchase a piece of sports history to take home, is also available.
Nearby is the Tide’s playing field at Bryant-Denny Stadium (920 Paul W. Bryant Dr.; 205-348-2262). Built in 1929, this stadium is one of the largest in the world with a 101,000-plus seating capacity. In front of it are statues of several award-winning Alabama football coaches, including Coach Nick Saban who is credited with having led the Tide football team to four national championships and numerous other titles since becoming its head coach in 2007.
At the Alabama Museum of Natural History (Corner of 6th Ave. & Capstone Dr.; 205-348-7550), located on the campus in Smith Hall, you’ll learn about the state’s natural diversity from prehistoric times to the present. You’ll also discover Alabama’s beautiful rivers and trails and learn about the many resources that help make the state special. Nearby is the University of Alabama Arboretum featuring scenic gardens and walking trails.
Birmingham and the Civil Rights District
From Tuscaloosa, head to Birmingham where I-20 and I-59 pass through downtown as one before splitting at Exit 130, just east of the Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport. Before reaching the airport, named for famed civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth, you’ll want to take the 17th Street exit off I-20 for a visit to the Civil Rights Historic District.
Located in the heart of the district is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute [520 16th St. N; 205-328-9696), one of the country’s foremost museums and interactive learning centers devoted to telling the story of America’s struggle for civil rights. Just outside of the facility is Kelly Ingram Park (5th Ave. N. & 16th St. N) where you can sit and reflect on the tragedy and the triumph that defined America’s tumultuous civil rights period of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Tip 1: An audio tour of the sculptures located in Kelly Ingram Park has been developed by the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau . It is free and available to anyone with a mobile phone. The dial-in number is 205-307-5455.
Next, prepare yourself for a visit to nearby 16th Street Baptist Church (205-251-9402). This National Historic Landmark and World Heritage-nominated site is where four little girls were killed and numerous others were wounded on Sept. 15, 1963 by a bomb planted under the steps of the church by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The tragedy drew national attention to the South's violent struggle for civil rights.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café
Hungry? I-20 will take you eastward from Birmingham to the town of Irondale, home of the Irondale Café (1906 1st Ave. N; 205-56-5258). This eatery, which started as a hot dog stand in 1928, was made famous in Fannie Flagg’s novel, turned movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café.” In addition to the historic café, Irondale offers lots of rail history. Its caboose is a popular destination for viewing the more than 50 different trains that still pass through the town daily.
Leeds/Birmingham: Home of Barber Motorsports
From Irondale, make your way to Barber Motorsports Park (6040 Barber Motorsports Pkwy.; 205-699-7275), home of the North American Porsche Driving School and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The beautifully manicured park, situated on 740 acres on the eastern edge of Birmingham, was built by former Porsche race car driver George Barber. It encompasses a 17-turn, 2.38-mile road racing track that brings auto and motorcycle racing fans together throughout the year for events such as the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race in the spring and the highly anticipated Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival in October.
Tip 2: Before departing the Leeds/Birmingham area, be sure and visit the restaurants and stores at The Outlet Shops of Grand River and the nearby Bass Pro Shop , where the excitement of the outdoors is brought indoors for your enjoyment.
Talladega and the Talladega Superspeedway
From Leeds, I-20 will take you to the heart of Talladega, another racing community. Located near the town of Lincoln, it is home to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (3366 Speedway Blvd.; 205-362-5003) and the acclaimed Talladega Superspeedway (3366 Speedway Blvd.; 877-Go2-DEGA), recognized as “the biggest, fastest, most competitive motorsports facility in the world.” The speedway is home to several racing events throughout the year, including the NASCAR 500 races that take place in the spring and fall.
Tip 3: Tickets to the Talladega races sell out early and accommodations book fast, so you’ll want to plan well in advance if you want to go.
In addition to enjoying the races at Talladega, you can become part of the action when you sign up for one of the track’s adrenaline pumping driving experiences. Driving ‘Dega allows you to experience firsthand the thrill of maneuvering the 33-degree high banks of the world-class Talladega race course on your own or riding shotgun in a real NASCAR race car at top speeds with a professional racing instructor at the helm.
Anniston: Where History Comes Alive!
Your I-20 road trip ends in Anniston where history is brought to life at several area sites. The Anniston Museum of Natural History (800 Museum Dr.; 256-237-666) offers a children’s room, museum store and seven fascinating exhibits, where visitors can explore the wilds of Africa, the wonders of the North American wilderness, and the mysteries of 2,000 year-old mummies, all in one setting. Nearby is the Berman Museum (840 Museum Dr.; 256-237-6261), featuring ancient treasures and objects from around the world, including rare and exotic weaponry, ceramics, furniture, and more.
The Anniston Civil Rights Trail (1128 Gurnee Ave.; 256-236-3422) encompasses nine historic stops, including the Greyhound Bus depot where Freedom Riders testing desegregation laws regarding interstate transportation were attacked in 1961.
Where to Stay and Dine
On this road trip, you’re guaranteed not to run out of great places to overnight and wonderful places to dine. Click the links for Tuscaloosa , Birmingham, Leeds , Talladega and Anniston for more information.
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (6030 Barber Motorsports Pkwy.; 205-699-7275), which started in the mid-1990s, was named by Guinness World Records in 2014 as the largest motorcycle museum in the world. It showcases more than 600 motorcycles from Barber’s collection of 1,200, displays the largest known collection of Lotus race cars, and offers a museum store featuring books, caps, mugs and other sports memorabilia.