Last Updated on February 25, 2023

Decatur, Alabama is tightly connected to the Tennessee River, both geographically and emotionally. It is positioned purposefully along the banks of the river to meet the needs of industry and the passions of outdoorsmen. 

This city of about 55,000 people in the north central part of the state is proud of its heritage and dedicated to its future. Southern hospitality oozes from its pores, and patriotism is on prominent display, especially during Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July. For years, the town’s newspaper, The Decatur Daily, incorporated a famous quote from its namesake Commodore Stephen Decatur in its banner: “My country, right or wrong, but still my country.” 

Decatur is about 30 minutes from Huntsville International Airport and is halfway between Birmingham, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, right off Interstate 65.

The Cook Museum of Natural History

Cook Museum of Natural History opened in the summer of 2019 and is a state-of-the-art, immersive experience exploring paleontology, zoology, geology, and nature art in a setting that can be enjoyed by the whole family. 

With live animals, a large aquarium, a kinetic sand table, displays of thousands of insects, a working beehive, and a tree with a rope bridge to climb, it is easy to spend several happy hours here and then enjoy lunch at Nature’s Table Café.

Outdoor Recreation at Point Mallard Park

© Decatur Morgan County Tourism

With a water park, campground, golf course, ice rink, and sports fields, Point Mallard Park is a hub of activity year-round. 

The water park includes a wave pool that opened in 1969, making it one of the first in the country. Giant water slides, a lazy river, an Olympic size pool, a beach area, and a “Squirt Factory” for the youngest guests make up the water park. 

The campground is popular with the RV enthusiasts and the golf course hosts the Spirit of America Golf Tournament every summer. 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

© Decatur Morgan County Tourism

Thanks to years of dedicated work, the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge has become suitable habitat for 300 species of birds, as well as hundreds of reptiles, fish, and mammals. 

Sandhill and whooping cranes migrate through the refuge every year, and their arrival is a much anticipated event for bird watchers and nature lovers. 

At the refuge, you’ll find an informative visitors’ center, an observation building, and well-maintained walking trails.

Fish on the Tennessee River

Bass, bream, crappie, and catfish, some trophy-sized, fill the waters beside Decatur and entice fishermen of all ages and skill levels. 

The Decatur Boat Harbor, under Decatur’s famous bridge, is a particularly popular spot to put in a boat, but there are a number of other launches, including Ingalls Harbor. 

Don’t be surprised to find others trying their luck along the bank or venturing into the shallow waters in waders. 

The Princess Theater

© Connie Pearson

The Princess Theater began as a livery stable in 1887 and transitioned through the years to a silent film and vaudeville stage before receiving a makeover in 1941 to its present art deco design. 

Until 1978, it was a movie theater, then it was purchased by the City of Decatur and became a venue for concerts, plays, musicals, lectures, and film series. The Princess Theater maintains a full calendar that lures visitors from miles away.

ward-Winning Barbecue at Big Bob Gibson’s

Big Bob Gibson BBQ is synonymous with Decatur and is a must-try when visiting the city. The original Big Bob was an imposing man who figured out how to lure people in with smoked meat and white sauce made in his backyard. The demand grew and led him to open his first café in 1952. 

The business has flourished ever since and is now in the hands of his grandson, Don McLemore, and Don’s son-in-law Chris Lilly. In addition to smoked pork, brisket, chicken, turkey, and beef, the homemade pies with mile-high meringues are signature items on the menu. 

Shop on Bank Street

Antique and boutique shoppers will enjoy Bank Street in Decatur. Furniture, light fixtures, home décor, upscale cooking utensils, and vintage accessories are just a few of the items you will find for sale on Bank Street. 

If for some reason you still want more stores, just continue down Bank Street until it curves into Second Avenue. Once you pass the Princess Theater, you’ll find more boutiques where you can search for treasures. 

Admire the Public Art

© Connie Pearson

Decatur is home to the Alabama Center for the Arts, conveniently across the street from the Princess Theater. The Center has drawn area artists in who want to teach, take classes, display their work inside, and share their talents by creating art the public can enjoy. 

An increasing number of buildings and spaces are becoming canvases for creative efforts. A walk or drive around the historic section of Decatur will reveal delightful color and whimsy.

Attend a Festival or Carnival

The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic takes place over Memorial Day weekend and brings in dozens of balloonists and their team members. The colorful launches begin at Point Mallard Park and can be seen all along the river. 

The Spirit of America Festival is held during the Fourth of July and is highlighted by the recognition of a patriotism award winner, the crowning of a new Miss Point Mallard, and a giant fireworks show. 

The Carnegie Carnival takes place during Mardi Gras season and is a family-friendly and well-attended parade, complete with beads and moon pies. 

Morgan Price Candy Company

Creating some of the most delectable English toffee you can find, Morgan Price Candy Company has gained a well-deserved reputation for excellence. 

Chocolate-covered cherries, peanut brittle, and seasonal treats such as dipped strawberries, gourmet apples, and gelato are worth the calories. They also have a selection of sugar-free and no-sugar confections to suit your needs. 

The extensive gift offerings make this a very popular stop, and it’s a short walk from Big Bob Gibson’s, meaning you can cover two great places with one parking space. 

Author

  • Connie Pearson

    Connie Pearson is an Alabama-based freelance travel and food writer and blogger with over 300 articles published both online and in print. Her personal blog, There Goes Connie, covers travel and inspiration. In her earlier years, she was a public school music educator and then a missionary in Ecuador. Her book, Telling It On the Mountain: 52 Days in the Life of an Improbable Missionary chronicles her years in South America. Her newest book, 100 Things to Do in Huntsville and North Alabama Before You Die was published by Reedy Press in April 2022. She has two more books due for publication in 2023.