Staycation Treasures Close to Home

While many travel plans have been put on hold this year, now is the perfect time to explore the sites, attractions and awardwinning restaurants in East Alabama. Historic downtown Opelika houses unique shops and excellent restaurants in restored buildings, along with brewing companies and a distillery. Auburn is an exciting, lively village with diverse cultural offerings and celebrity chefs honing their craft. Surrounding towns have their own personality and charming enticements.


When arriving in downtown Opelika, stop at Side Track Coffee on Railroad Avenue for a morning cup of a specialty blend to sip while  browsing unique shops. Owned by Debbie Purves for over 30 years, The Gallery on Railroad is filled with local and European  art. The shop also features an array of serving dishes and decor for creating a chic setting for  entertaining, as well as a selection of packaged gourmet foods. Southern Crossing is located next door and houses a variety of items for the home, gifts and accessories. Down the street on Railroad Ave., browse Coveted Closet for attractive clothing and  jewelry selected by owner Holly Surrency. The shop is attached to Envy Hair Salon with a selection of hair products. On South 8th Street, stop by Heritage Gifts with unique gift items, and check out the jewelry at Taylor Made Designs. Up the hill on 8th Street, Wakefield Home, a lifestyle boutique, with designer Joan Asbury, is  located in a building from the 1880s. The busi- ness is located in front of Alabama Office Supply,  which was started by Joan’s husband’s family.

Just across the tracks, designer Stacy Jordan’s shop, Oliver Henry, is a one stop  store for everything for home decorating with fabric samples and décor. Down the street is the historic Winston SmithT hardware store. Have a peek inside to see the  Coca-Cola sign believed to have been painted on a brick wall around 1907. Other shop options to explore include Roland’s Thrift Store, James Brothers Bikes,  Whistle Stop Brew Shop, Almost Anything and Fringe, among others. Downtown offers several choices for lunch. Zazu Gastropub on 8th Street has fi e levels with  the top floor opening to a balcony. Aged wood blends with handmade brick walls and metal to reflect Opelika s history as a railroad town. Chef Graham Hage cures the restaurant’s own bacon and makes sausages in house. Try the braised short ribs or sweet tea chicken. Other options include Irish Bred Pub, Niffer’s, La Cantina, and Jefferson’s.

Butcher Paper Barbecue is located a few blocks from downtown and serves a flavorful brisket. After lunch, walk to the Museum of East Alabama on 9th Street. The museum has over 5,000 artifacts from the area’s past. Exhibits include Opelika’s POW camp, industry of the area, Indian history, famous Roanoke dolls, among many others. Mid-afternoon calls for a refreshing treat. Walk or drive to Second Avenue to O Town Ice Cream. A wide selection is named after popular places in Opelika. Sandwiches are also served. Walk off the calories by strolling the Northside Historic District, a block away. Another option is the CyberZone downtown. Head back to Railroad Avenue and relax at Ampersand Wine where over 300 bottles of wine are offered by the glass, or select a wine tasting. Other options include touring the Red Clay Brewing Company or Resting Pulse Brewery where live music and special events are often featured. If  a cocktail is more appealing, try John Emerald Distillery, serving a distinctive style of whiskey. The distillery makes the first legal whiskey in Alabama since prohibition.

For dinner, Café 123, located in the historic Haynie’s Drugstore building, is casual elegant with white tablecloths and candlelight. Chef Eron Bass creates southern cuisine with a French influence , including steaks and seafood. If you prefer to dine outdoors, order dinner to go and dine picnic style on the courthouse square.

Other Places in Opelika To Visit

Grand National for a day of golf. The Marriott Resort’s spa has received national awards. Explore Angel’s Antiques for unusual finds Mrs. Story’s Dairy Bar has remained in a single family for 68 years, with the fifth gen- eration serving chili topped footlong hot dogs,  soft-serve ice cream and old-fashioned milk shakes, named Alabama’s Best Milkshake. The chili hotdog and milkshake are listed in 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.


Start the morning at Mocha Mama’s on Gay Street with a cappuccino or stop in Toomer Drugs downtown for a refreshing lemonade. Interesting shops downtown Auburn include Behind the Glass with clothes and gifts, Ellie for dresses, casual wear and shoes, Wrapsody offering home accessories and seasonal décor, the Local Market inside J & M Bookstore and Ware’s Jewelry. A variety of other stores will fill a morning of shopping. For lunch, Hamilton’s On Magnolia is appealing to savor crab cakes, salads or sandwiches while seated outdoors. Other options include Acre, The Hound, Ariccia Cucina Italiana, Taco Mama or Amsterdam Café, a few blocks from downtown, among others.

After lunch, explore the Jules Collins Smith Museum of Art, one of Alabama’s leading art museums, with a collection of approximately 2,500 works of art ranging from traditional to contemporary. The building includes a café, gift shop and a terrace to view the three-acre lake and gardens. For a pre-dinner beverage, relax at Piccolo in The Hotel at Auburn University Hotel & Dixon Conference Center. Then, have dinner at Ariccia Cucina Italiana with authentic Italian fare, featuring freshly made pasta and Porchetta. While the dining room is cozy, the outdoor dining area on a crisp fall evening is enticing. Be sure to order dessert prepared by pastry chef Dallas Kee.

After dinner, you may want to return to Piccolo to cap the evening listening to jazz. Another option for dinner is The Depot, located across the tracks. With ambiance reminiscent of the golden era of train travel, the leather booths offer cozy seating, while a dazzling crystal chandelier highlights the dining room. Chef Simpson has assembled a seasonal menu featuring fresh seafood. Dishes are made from scratch. Plan your day to catch a production at the Gouge Performing Arts Center or a play at AU Theater (all depending on Covid 19).

Other Places in Auburn To Visit

Other good restaurant choices in Auburn include Lucy’s, Pannie-George’s Kitchen, Bow and Arrow, Pho Lee’s, Thai Kitchen and Big Mike’s Steak House, among others. The Flower Store on Moores Mill Road is popular with shoppers looking for gifts, home décor and flowers. The Kreher Preserve and Nature Center offers an outdoor adventures with numerous camps, events and activities for all ages. Children will enjoy the newest resident, Rona the gator, while they experience hands-on learning about the world around them. With 696 scenic acres, Chewacla State Park provides places to relax and for recreation.  Facilities include a 26 acre lake, swimming area, playground, a modern campground, picnic  areas, grills and shelters, cabins, hik- ing and mountain biking trails. Kayaks and mountain bikes  can be rented for the day. The Donald E. Davis Arboretum provides an outdoor haven with trails meandering through  13.5 acres of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and azaleas on the Auburn University campus. Enjoy a day of golf at Indian Pines Golf Course. Learn about the birds of prey at Auburn University’s Raptor Center located at 1350 Pratt-Carden Drive, Auburn.


Take a ride in the country to have dinner at The Waverly Local. Chef Christian Watson creates delectable dishes from scratch.

Alexander City

Built on a hilltop as an early 20thcentury farmhouse, SpringHouse is handsome with a rustic elegant ambience recalling the past,  offering alfresco dining with picturesque views. Chef Rob McDaniel serves a fresh seasonal menu. With lake views, Kowaliga restaurant serves ribs, catfish and other southern favorites. Catherine’s Market offers gourmet foods, cheeses and a deli.