Let me be honest with you — I did not know if I would like Florence before I visited. I (wrongly) assumed that there would be nothing to do, that the food wouldn’t be as good as Atlanta food, and that we would be ready to go when the time came. I WAS WRONG. Florence will forever hold a piece of my heart – it was the most charming little city and I am counting down the days until I can go back again.
I hope this Travel Guide helps those traveling to Florence, Alabama find the best restaurants and the best hotel, but I also hope that it reaches those that are not considering to travel to Florence. I hope that it the eyes of many and shows everyone that this is a city you want to visit. I can guarantee that you will love it and want to go back.
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WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
– Florence, Alabama is home to The University of North Alabama, so it is a college town. I did not see much college life downtown, but we were also there on an off weekend, right after Thanksgiving, so I assume all of the college students were still at home with their families.
– Florence is a great place to go and relax! There is a downtown area, but I never felt crowded, rushed, or stressed out while there. Everyone seemed very relaxed.
– There is a huge music scene, which I loved! In fact, I found out that one of my family members actually recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios for one of his albums. It was so neat!
WHERE TO STAY:
We were there for a wedding weekend, so half of our group stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott Florence and the other half stayed at Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, which is what Ian and I opted for.
I have an entire review on the gorgeous hotel if you are interested, but if you don’t have the time to read it, then just trust me on this one: stay there! We stayed in the Patton Suite and it was perfect for us. The bathroom was huge, we felt like we were sleeping on a cloud, and the view was gorgeous. On top of that, the service was amazing. The entire hotel was extremely clean and the Christmas decorations were everywhere. We loved it!! Downstairs, you will find a restaurant and bar called Swampers where you can grab a bite to eat, get drinks, sit out by the fire pits, and even listen to music. It was so convenient. We did not try out the spa this time, but I definitely want to next time we head up to Florence (which hopefully will be soon!). If you are in search of a clean, relaxing, and comfortable place to stay, definitely choose The Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK:
Florence has a plethora of great restaurants downtown and in the general area, but we were limited on time, so unfortunately, we could not try them all. I seriously cannot wait to go back for more of a foodie trip!
Places we tried that I recommend:
- City Hardware: According to their website, City Hardware serves “emerging American with a Southern accent that serves Sushi.” Located downtown on the main drag, City Hardware was the first place that we tried just because we drove past it and gave it a shot. We are so thankful that we did because it was amazing! My sister and I both had Ahi Tuna Salads with sides of mashed potatoes (ha!), while Ian had the Ribeye. I am not joking when I tell you that his steak was one of the better steaks that I have had in my life. My salad was great, but I am dreaming of the day that I can go back again to order the steak!
- Swampers Bar & Grille: Located in Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, right next to the lobby, Swampers is a fantastic place to grab drinks, listen to music, or eat a fantastic meal. We had an amazing experience at Swampers and I have a full review on my blog. My favorite part of Swampers was the music, the fire pits, and of course, the food and drink. We loved stopping at the bar & grille each night for a night cap and each morning for coffee!
- Ricatonis: Yum is an understatement. Sporting a wood burning oven that was custom made in Italy, Ricatonis is THE place for Italian food in the city. Our first day staying at Marriott Shoals, we asked them where to eat and this is the place that they recommended. I am so glad we got to try it! As soon as you sit down, you get a bag of fresh, hot bread right out of the oven. The service was fantastic, the food was amazing, and the prices were very reasonable, as well. I ordered the Ravioli Ricatonis, which I highly recommend, Jenny ordered the Chicken Alfredo, which was amazing, and Ian ordered the Fettuccini Alfredo. You cannot go wrong no matter what you order from Ricatonis.
- The Factory Cafe at Alabama Chanin: I wrote this blog post about The Factory Cafe and everything that I wrote is still true to this day. I dream about this place. The thick bacon, the cheesy eggs, and the healthy (but amazing) granola. Everything was perfect and Atlanta needs a place just like this!
- On The Rocks: We only came here for drinks, but apparently they serve food, as well, and the reviews are great! If you are looking for a fun bar to visit, check out On The Rocks. The drinks were extremely affordable and the bartenders did a fantastic job making them.
- BLANK Coffee • Comics • Records: I LOVED this little place. The service (I assume it was the owner, but could be wrong) was amazing – he was so, so kind. The latte I ordered was very tasty, and they had the cutest little shop full of comics, records, and other little additions. I even found two of my cousins records here and purchased them.
Other places on my list:
- Odette: I really wanted to try this place, but we unfortunately ran out of time. According to their website, “Odette is a neighborhood eatery and shop in historic downtown Florence, Alabama, serving elevated American fare with southern and international influences. Our menu features locally- and sustainably‑sourced ingredients in a contemporary, inviting and comfortable atmosphere.” Sounds amazing, right?! Expect to find dishes like scallops, rabbit, steak frites, cheese & charcuterie, and many small plates and snacks. This will be the first place I try when back in Florence!
- 360 Grille: 360 Grille is one of Marriott Shoals restaurants! It is located on top of the Renaissance tower, and it revolves in order to showcase the best views of Florence! The dishes all sound amazing – Butternut Squash Risotto, Frenched Pork Chop, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, and Southern Baked Alaska are just a few of their offerings. It looks like they also have an amazing Sunday Brunch. If you look over their reviews on TripAdvisor and beyond, you will find words like “magical,” “best,” and “incredible.” I seriously cannot wait to try this restaurant – it looks like heaven!
- The Carriage Wine & Market: The Carriage Wine & Market was recommended to me before we were even in Florence and I was so disappointed that I was not able to try it out. They offer wine, wine cocktails, premium wine, draft beer, and anytime bites. I really wanted to go for a glass (or glasses) of wine and to try their fromage & charcuterie. Next time!
- Wildwood Tavern: I heard amazing things about Wildwood Tavern and I am so sad that we did not have time to go! Their motto is “Keep Florence Funky,” which really stands out to me and makes me want to try their food. Their drinks sport cool ingredients like pineapple-cilantro-poblano shrub, fruity pebbles-infused syrup, and fresh peach-infused syrup. The food is definitely up my husbands alley: “Fancy dogs” with toppings like Jamaican jerk sauce, toasted cheddar cheese, house made kimchi, house made, award winning chili, and bulgogi korean bbq sauce. Catch me at Wildwood Tavern next time I am in Florence.
WHAT TO DO:
The Shoals area has an abundance of things to do! Check out the music scene, shop downtown, or head to historical landmarks such as the Helen Keller Birthplace and the Rosenbaum Home. I would also recommend taking The Walk of Honor, outside of Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, and maybe even testing their spa out!
No matter what you do, you will have a great time. It is a great city full of so many unique touches and historical significance.