If you’re considering moving to Alabama, get ready for breathtaking shorelines, low costs and some of the kindest neighbors you’ll ever meet. Between its deep-rooted history, mouth-watering food and passion for college football, you’re going to love being a part of the authentic Alabama experience.
Here’s the best part: you’re going to love the cost of it, too. Alabama’s largest city was even deemed the most affordable city in America.
Before you pack up your things and head South, we put together everything you need to know about Sweet Home Alabama to help you live like a local.
So, what is Alabama known for, anyway?
Alabama is the physical heart and the cultural soul of the Deep South, rich in history, industry, art, and barbecue. Alabama ranks 30th in size and 23rd in U.S. population in the U.S., with more than 4 million people calling this 52,000-square-mile state home.
If you’re going to be new to the area, here are a few things that set Alabama apart.
Alabama was the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, leading to the divisive and deadly Civil War. But it’s also where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached and changed history. Alabama was the site of key moments in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It’s where 3,000 demonstrators marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma. There’s arguably no better place to learn about the modern history of the U.S. than right here in Alabama.
Its mouth-watering food.
Alabama is one of the greatest food destinations in the U.S., so get ready to eat. Locally owned restaurants dish up slow-cooked Southern dishes, elegant fine dining and fresh seafood. If you want to try out the authentic barbecue, be sure to stop by Golden Rule Bar-B-Q in Irondale, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Dothan, and Dreamland BBQ with four locations around the states. (Want to eat your way across the state? The Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame is a great resource.)
For some of the country’s best soul food, you don’t want to miss Alabama’s meet-and-threes. Restaurants like the City Cafe in Northport, Martin’s Restaurant in Montgomery and Mary’s Southern Cooking in Mobile offer Southern food the way it should be enjoyed: in great quantities. Be sure to bring your appetite. A long spread of fried catfish, fried green tomatoes and so much more will definitely make you want to come back for seconds.
And that’s before you even get to the banana pudding.
Its beautiful landscapes.
For vistas from white-sand beaches to mountain ranges, Alabama has it all. Visit Gulf Shores for a 32-mile stretch of silky sand and clear, blue water. Head northeast for hiking and stunning views in the Talladega Mountains. Then it’s just a two-hour drive to the verdant shorelines and crystal-clear water of Smith Lake. Those are just a few samples of the beautiful scenery Alabama has to offer, not to mention plenty of active and lazy-day options for enjoying the outdoors. Alabama is a nature lover’s paradise.
Its musical heritage.
In Alabama, you’ll find roots deep in music and a history that has played a huge role in the development of blues, jazz and country music around the world. Between the Jazz Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Hank Williams Festival in Montgomery, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia and the music studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama has long celebrated its musical heritage and the artists who have emerged from it. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of some great music legends that are all found here. Nat King Cole, Jimmy Buffet, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones and countless others have recorded in Alabama.
If there’s one thing you need to know before moving to Alabama, it’s that football is a way of life. This is especially true with the in-state rivalry between the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers. Every year, more than 100,000 fans gather to witness the Iron Bowl at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Jordan-Hare stadium in Auburn.
This is not to say that Bama and Auburn are the only football offerings in the state. Teams like the Troy Trojans and the UAB Blazers win bowl games and put fans in the stands. But when you hear the question, “Who are you for?” your choices are the Tide or the Tigers. Your friends, neighbors and coworkers will want to know if you say “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle”— and you’ll want to answer confidently.
Did you know?
Alabama is also the only state in the United States that provides the natural resources needed to make iron and steel. As a result, Alabama is the largest supplier of cast-iron and steel pipe products in the entire U.S.
Popular Towns in Alabama
Alabama is divided into 67 counties, consisting of 169 cities and 291 towns. If you’re moving to Alabama, it doesn’t matter which town you live in—you’ll be located conveniently to everything you need. Montgomery and Birmingham are less than a three-hour drive from Atlanta, and the beaches of Mobile and the Gulf Shore are about the same distance from New Orleans.
Whether you’re looking for a thriving downtown scene or some spots on the water to relax, here are some of the best places to live in Alabama.
From the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to the Sloss Furnaces National Landmark, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, Birmingham has played a significant role in Alabama’s cultural and economic development. Today, Alabama’s largest city boasts a thriving cultural epicenter, numerous trails in Red Mountain Park and a business center that’s home to multiple Fortune 1000 companies (not to mention the headquarters of the Southeastern Athletic Conference). With more than 200,000 people in the city proper and more than 1.1 million people in the surrounding metro area, Birmingham is the most populated area in Alabama. It offers the draw of urban and suburban life without the exorbitant big-city price tag.
As the state capital and Alabama’s second-largest city, Montgomery offers rich history, ample job opportunities and vibrant downtown life. From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, Montgomery has played a vital role in some of Alabama’s most significant achievements. It’s also home to the Alabama State Capitol building, where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered one of his most famous speeches to a crowd of 25,000 in 1963. Today, Montgomery is recognized nationally for its recent downtown revitalization and new urbanism projects.
From turquoise waters to deep-sea fishing at The Wharf, to panoramic bay views, Mobile is the ultimate beach destination. Known for being one of the largest shipping ports in the U.S., the city has a deep history of its own. This history includes its centuries-old Mardi Gras tradition, WWII-era Battleship Memorial Park, the trailhead of the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route a history book’s worth of and architectural styles. (Mobile is also the original home of Mardi Gras, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.) Whether you’re relocating to this part of Alabama alone or with your entire family, you’re going to love it in no time.
Known as the Rocket City, Huntsville is the third-largest city in Alabama with a population of 193,000. Home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (along with Redstone Arsenal, a military base of the U.S. Army), Huntsville is the place to be for military, aerospace and advanced-technology businesses. It is even called the STEM capital of the country. It hosts one of the largest research parks in the U.S., one of the most well-educated populations in the world, and several Fortune 500 companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and more.
Auburn is a top-10 college town. It’s home to 65,000 locals as well as 24,000 students at Auburn University. It is Alabama’s fastest-growing metro area and it’s been ranked among U.S. News’ top ten places to live in the U.S. The school is the largest employer in the area and offers dynamic job opportunities. With affordable housing, an award-winning school system and tons of sports perks, it’s no wonder Auburn is a sought-after place to live. Centrally located near Atlanta, Birmingham and Montgomery, the area is easy to get to and easy to love.
Schools in Alabama
Although Alabama is largely known for its college football, its opportunities for higher education are second to none. Alabama is home to 61 colleges and universities, among them:
The University of Alabama
Located in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama houses an art gallery, a 50-acre arboretum, a classroom dating back to prior to the Civil War and two museums. In addition to its impressive academics, UA’s football team is one of the best in the country. UA boasts more than 15 national championships.
Auburn University was originally founded as an agricultural college, but it has since grown far beyond its roots. With more than 24,000 students and 1,300 faculty members, as well as groundbreaking research in engineering and bioscience, AU has been ranked among the top 50 public universities in the U.S. for the last 20 years.
Founded in 1887, Troy University is the flagship university of the Troy University System. It serves more than 18,000 students on four campuses and online and offers, among other excellent programs, a nationally ranked School of Journalism. It has been named to Princeton Review’s “Best in the Southeast” list multiple times.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Not to be confused with UA an hour’s drive to the west, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, established in 1969, is a nationally renowned center for medical research and education. More than 17,000 students pursue degrees in more than 140 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs here. And we can’t forget the top-ranked UAB School of Medicine.
What to Do in Alabama
If you’re not a huge football fan (and our advice is: maybe keep that to yourself), Alabama offers plenty of other activities to keep you entertained.
Alabama does have sports that aren’t football. The Birmingham Barons consistently make a strong showing in baseball. Baseball fans can also head south to cheer on the Montgomery Biscuits. (Don’t forget to try their signature biscuits and gravy at the ballpark.) The Birmingham Legion FC is Alabama’s soccer team playing in the USL Championship league. The team is known for its passionate fanbase and its nod to Birmingham’s history in the steel industry after every home goal — striking a brick of molten iron with a hammer and sending sparks flying.
If you’re more of a doer than a watcher, Alabama offers plenty of opportunities to get active. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a collection of beautiful, championship-caliber golf courses across the state. Numerous state parks are great for hiking, camping, mountain biking, rafting, climbing, learning about wildlife from experts and other fun activities. Or just enjoy a nice, relaxing day at the beach or on the lake and take in the outdoors without moving a muscle.
Fans of indoor activities have plenty of options for culture and fun. The Alabama Ballet and the BJCC Concert Hall, both located in Birmingham, provide national-caliber tours and entertainment of the artsy and less-artsy variety, right here in Birmingham. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Rocket City, Alabama (that’s Huntsville, remember), has interactive exhibits and real space artifacts for space enthusiasts of all ages. And museums of art, music, history, sports, science and more can be found all over the state.
Moving to the South
If you’re a northerner moving to the Alabama, let’s just say that it may take some adjusting. Here are a few things you need to know before making the big move.
Mild winters mean hot summers.
If you’re not a fan of snow, you’re in luck. Summers in the South can hover anywhere between the 90s to 100s with lots of humidity. Winters are more than bearable with January highs in the 50s and minimal snow. But while the winters are mild, Southern states are not necessarily in the clear the rest of the year. Alabama has one of the highest rates of hurricanes and tornadoes in the entire country. You’ll soon learn that this comes with the territory. Just be sure to have emergency plans and safety provisions in place. (And watch out when meteorologist James Spann rolls up his sleeves. Just trust us on this.)
Life is significantly more laid back.
Southern folks seem to have more of a leisurely lifestyle than everyone else in the country. Where you’d normally find chaos, hustle and bustle, and rush-hour traffic (we’re thinking of Queens, New York), you’ll find slow paces, friendlier drivers, and lots of bless your heart. After relocating to the South, it shouldn’t take you long to get into the Southern state of mind. Just make sure that everything you do, you do with a smile.
The stereotypes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
When you think of moving to the South, it’s tough to avoid the cliched stereotypes. But before you assume anything, just make sure you take the time to educate yourself. Southern states are home to some of the most well-educated professionals in the nation. Not everyone says y’all with a thick accent. The South is just as much of a metropolis as it is a small town. But of course, there are still those traditions that Southerners won’t ever grow tired of. These include sweet tea in a mason jar, authentic barbecue and Saturday tailgates. (Don’t knock it ‘ti you’ve tried it.)
The Cost of Living in Alabama
Boasting some of the country’s most affordable home prices, lowest cost-of-living indexes, and relatively low taxes, Alabama is a very affordable state to live in. The median home value in Alabama in a given year ranges between $135,000 and $145,000, giving you much more value than other housing markets in the country.
Three of Alabama’s largest cities—Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville—consistently rank among the top 25 places in the nation with the lowest cost of living.
Getting Around Alabama
If you’re moving to Alabama, chances are you’ll find yourself traveling mostly by car. It’s the fastest way to get around (and also the most scenic), and public transportation options are limited. Interstates converge on Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile and make quick transportation between those cities (and to other states). They also connect to Anniston, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville.
And here’s the good news: Overall, the traffic isn’t as bad as it is in many other states. Although, that can vary depending on how congested an area you’re in. Residents of the greater Birmingham area, for example, lead the state in terms of time spent driving to work (26 minutes). Tuscaloosa leads the state’s five largest metros for short commutes (nine minutes).
Navigating around the state will be a piece of cake, as long as you have transportation plans.
Here are your two best transportation options:
- By Rail. There are three major train stations in the state of Alabama: Birmingham, Anniston, and Tuscaloosa. The stations are all served by Amtrak’s Crescent service. Crescent has a daily route that links New York Penn Station with New Orleans, stopping at a number of major cities on the way. While both rail and bus options are available, they’re limited within the city and to some suburbs. If you’re looking for efficiency, traveling by automobile is your best bet.
- By Car. If you’re driving yourself around, commutes will be a relative breeze in Alabama. A well-developed system of highways makes this an easily navigable state no matter who’s behind the wheel. The principal highway routes into Birmingham are I-65 from the north and south, I-20 from the east and west, I-59 from the northeast and I-20/59 from the southwest. With the number of revitalization projects going on in its large cities, parking is what tends to be problematic. Taxis and rideshares are available in most Alabama cities.
Moving to Alabama?
With its rich history, beautiful coastlines and undeniable Southern hospitality, it’s no wonder Alabama is a desirable place to live. Whatever your reason may be for moving to the South, Life Storage offers self-storage in Alabama as well as moving trucks to assist you and your family with your move.
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Update: This post was originally published on December 29, 2017, and was revised on June 3, 2020, with new information from Alamaba expert, Caperton Gillett.