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If you could use a change of pace that includes warmer weather, friendly faces, and all the sweet tea you can drink, head down south to Alabama, the heart of Dixie. First-time visitors are often surprised to discover Alabama's natural beauty, delicious food, and stunning white-sand beaches. Visiting Alabama is also a great way to learn more about the civil rights movement and the history of the U.S. space program. Sports lovers will enjoy attending a college football game in a state that takes its football very seriously.

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U.S. Space and Rocket Center

If you have always dreamed of being an astronaut, a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is a can't-miss stop. With each ticket purchase, enjoy daily guided tours of the Saturn V Hall with amazing close-up encounters with the huge rockets that sent a man to the moon. You can also tour featured exhibitions, view hands-on demonstrations and presentations, and experience exciting museum simulators. Finish up the day with a National Geographic film or a visit to the planetarium. And if one day isn't enough for you, consider attending a week-long space camp; there are opportunities for both kids and adults.

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Bryant-Denny Stadium

College football fans will enjoy a visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Home of the Crimson Tide and the place where Paul "Bear" Bryant and Nick Saban became football coaching legends, this exciting sports venue can hold more than 100,000 fans, making it the eighth-largest stadium in the world. Though you can visit Tuscaloosa's football museum year round, true fans will want to plan their trip for the fall so they can attend a home game with all its pomp and pageantry.

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Beaches at Gulf Shores

If you thought Florida was the only place in the U.S. to soak up the sun on stunning white sand beaches, think again. A visit to Gulf Shores in Alabama features gorgeous emerald-green ocean views, world-class golf courses, and even a zip line that takes you out over the rolling dunes at Gulf State Park. You can even take a trip to 19th century Fort Morgan or to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to try to spot sea turtles. While you're there, don't miss an opportunity to try delicious Gulf Coast shrimp and tangy key lime pie.

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Montgomery U.S. Civil Rights Trail

Alabama's capital city, Montgomery, was one of the focal points of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Visit many key sites by traveling along the historic U.S. Civil Rights Trail. In Montgomery, you can stand on the steps of the Capitol which was the final destination of the march from Selma, explore Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church on Dexter Avenue, or visit the museum located at the site of Rosa Parks’ arrest. Also consider visiting the newly-opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first memorial of its kind, which memorializes the thousands of lynchings that occurred across the U.S.

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The Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival

Each March hundreds of artists and craftspeople bring their best works from all over the country to showcase at the prestigious Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival. Visitors will enjoy seeing paintings, ceramics, jewelry, wood, and glass art in a creative and celebratory environment. Live entertainment is offered throughout the three-day event and unique cuisine is served up in the food court. This annual event is held on the streets of beautiful downtown Fairhope, a city located on the shores of Mobile Bay which is considered to be one of the most unique communities in the United States.

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Blount Cultural Park

Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery is a haven for both nature lovers and lovers of the fine arts. This large city park features relaxing walking trails, duck ponds, and even a dog park. However, it is also the home of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts as well as the world-renowned Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Take stroll through the museum's new sculpture garden or catch a performance on the theater's famed Festival stage. Or, for a more intimate experience, try a show in the unique Octagon theater.

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U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Tour the inside of a mighty warship at the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The U.S.S. Alabama, which served during WWII, was transformed in 1965 into the heart of a veteran's memorial park. Open every day except Christmas Day, this park is a place where visitors have the opportunity to learn about history in a hands-on way. Learn more about the Alabama's military engagements, interesting aircraft, impressive tanks and other artillery. You can even spend the night on this historic battleship.

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De Soto Caverns

Explore an underground world and learn more about Alabama history at De Soto Caverns in Childersberg, Alabama. Named for Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto who first explored Alabama in the 1500s, the caverns are a popular summer destination since the temperature underground remains around a cool 60 degrees no matter the time of year. The Cathedral Room, the main room of the cave, is 12 stories high and boasts some of the largest accumulations of onyx-marble stalagmites in the country.

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Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest motorcycle collection. A motorcyclist's dream, this museum has over 1,600 vintage and modern motorcycles displayed nearly about everywhere you look. In an unique display decision, bikes are displayed randomly, rather than by date and year, adding an element of anticipation to each visitor's experience. The museum also features the world’s most extensive collection of Lotus cars, plus an interesting assortment of other rare cars.

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Sipsey Wilderness

Explore dozens of beautiful waterfalls in Alabama's Sipsey Wilderness. This protected natural area is situated within Bankhead National Forest near the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River in northwest Alabama. Try wilderness camping in this peaceful setting featuring virgin forest, or just spend a day hunting, fishing, or kayaking.

Alabama wilderness James Deitsch / Getty Images

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