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8 healthy ways to kick off the new year in Alabama

Light on Yoga Fitness in Huntsville, Alabama.
Strike a pose doing aerial yoga in Huntsville at Light on Yoga Fitness. | Photo by Doug Lighton

Who says a healthy start to 2021 has to be humdrum? From scaling 40-foot walls to antigravity spas to Capri Sun–style mocktails, Alabama has myriad ways for you to boost your sense of well-being. These home-grown faves have you covered, whether you’re out to get active, kick-start a good-for-you habit, or just give something new a whirl. 

1. Light On Yoga Fitness

601 Humes Avenue NE, Huntsville. (256) 479-4724; lightonyogafitness.com.

light on yoga in alabama

Light on Yoga Fitness offers everything from aerial yoga to trampoline fitness classes. | Photo by Doug Lighton

Stretch and pose mid-air. Bounce up that heart rate. Or even slip on your old ballet shoes for another twirl. Light On Yoga Fitness’ new, light-filled downtown studio boasts out-of-the-ordinary ways to get physical. “We try to offer students a variety of options to challenge themselves,” says owner Cathy Lighton. In aerial yoga classes, practitioners dangle from silk harnesses, testing their balance from unfamiliar angles. Others opt for high-intensity cardio, performing jump combos on personal-size trampolines. Lighton adds that the studio’s gorgeous hardwood floors (the studio was once a church) practically beg for ballet and ballet barre classes. With 15 instructors, there’s something for everyone. From $20 per class.

2. Magnolia Float Spa

3849 Gulf Shores Parkway, Suite 11, Gulf Shores. (251) 943-8112; magnoliafloatspa.com.

magnolia float spa

Floating can reduce stored tension and stress. | Photo courtesy Art of the Float

Get as close to zero gravity as the Earth-bound can at this spa on the Alabama coast. Guests slip into sleek, 8-foot-by-5-foot pods filled with water and a thousand pounds of Epsom salt and … just … float. Under these buoyant conditions, joints feel zero pressure and muscles magically loosen. “It allows your body to release all the stored tension,” says owner Taylor Lane. “Most people have a euphoric feeling, because their body is finally truly rested.” Each guest controls the lights and music within his or her pod, and lids can be left open for those who might feel claustrophobic. From $59. 

3. Esther’s Eatery

1416 Huntsville Road, Florence. (256) 349-5231; estherseatery.com.

Esther's eatery

Treat yourself to a healthy frozen treat, such as vegan and gluten-free sorbet. | Photo by Jessica Fender

The concept of healthy permeates this charming, new fast-casual spot in Florence’s Sweetwater neighborhood, especially when it comes to frozen treats. Lime zest flecks a chile-lime sorbet laced with tequila. Pumpkin, cinnamon, clove, and ginger combine in a creamy coconut-based vegan ice cream. The tidy 8-ounce cartons list the contents’ seasonal ingredients—sometimes as few as four. “It’s important to know what you’re putting in your body,” says owner Celeste Pillow, who offers patrons whole-food–based options for grab-and-go bowls, gluten-free pastries, and an inventive selection of natural wines. “We’re proud of the minimal ingredients, and we try to showcase that.” 

4. Bankhead National Forest

1070 State Highway 33, Double Springs (starting points vary, depending on hike). (205) 471-7724; fs.usda.gov/detail/alabama.

sougahoagdee waterfall

The trek is worth the view of Sougahoagdee Falls. | Photo by Lane Leopard

Winter months are some of the best for waterfall gazing in Alabama’s northwest corner, and Bankhead National Forest has plenty to see. Turkey Foot Creek winds through a sandstone canyon before its dramatic plunge—Turkey Foot Falls—into the state’s only Wild and Scenic River, Sipsey Fork. The easy hike is just a mile round-trip from the Sipsey Picnic Area. For a more challenging trek, travel 4 miles round-trip along Brushy Creek to the trio of plunges of Sougahoagdee Falls. Start at the Brushy Creek Bridge. As there are no official trails to the falls—just well-worn, unofficial footpaths—it’s especially important to practice leave-no-trace etiquette. 

5. Hippea Camper

Locations vary daily, Huntsville. (256) 520-8109; hippeacampsite.com. 

hippea camper

Dig into vegetarian dishes like avocado toast and taco rice. | Photo by @MadisonVeganEats

At Huntsville’s first plant-based food truck, there are plenty of comfort food favorites such as “meatball” subs, lasagna, tamales, and pimento cheese sammies. What diners won’t find on the all-vegan and mostly gluten-free menu? Salads. “We’ve actually never served a salad,” says Hippea Camper proprietor Garrett Hardee, who cruises around town in a retro ’70s-era camper. “We want vegan food to be more accessible and faster.” Fresh-pressed juices made—as much as possible—from local organic produce round out Hippea’s healthful menu. Find weekly specials and schedules online. 

6. Gadrock

1403 Rainbow Drive, Gadsden. (256) 312-8185; climbgadrock.com.

gadrock

Gadrock climbing gym has climbs for all skill levels. | Photo by Carrie Machen

Gadsden’s new rock climbing gym, Gadrock, boasts 4,500 square feet of climbing surface and opportunities for every skill level, from knock-kneed beginners to pros training for big climbs. “There was all this outdoor climbing available, but not an indoor facility for people to climb in,” says co-owner Carrie Machen, who launched Gadrock in 2018 out of a family passion. Training is available; walls reach 40 feet tall in most places; and a bouldering space welcomes the ropes-free set. On good-weather days, catch views of Coosa Lake through the gym’s massive bay doors. Day passes, $15; gear rentals, $5.

7. Spa at The Grand Hotel

1 Grand Boulevard, Point Clear. (251) 928-9201; grand1847.com/spa.

spa at the grand hotel

Relax and rejuvenate at The Spa at the Grand Hotel. | Photo courtesy Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa

A recent renovation has left the Spa at The Grand Hotel in better shape than ever. This Point Clear oasis features more treatment rooms, a full-service luxury salon, and innovative treatments like high-end CBD enhancements and Ashiatsu massage. In the latter, therapists perform the service with their feet, balancing themselves using bars along the ceiling and leveraging their body weight to penetrate knots and stretch muscles. “Our therapists are unparalleled with anyone else I’ve worked with in the industry,” says Tiffany Jacobsen, director of spa operations. Under usual circumstances, booking a treatment gives guests access to a gorgeous quiet room, a whirlpool, a sauna, two pools, and more. Massages start at $175.

8. Unplugged

1024 20th Street S., Birmingham. (205) 957-6367; barunplugged.com.

unplugged alabama

The bartenders at Unplugged can mix up a creative array of mocktails. | Photo by Ross Andrews

Skipping alcohol doesn’t have to mean skipping a night out. Birmingham’s hippest new watering hole, the ’90s-nostalgic Unplugged bar, has bespoke mocktails on demand. Trust the minds behind homages to old-school lunchbox snacks—think Gushers and Ecto Coolers—to get creative behind the shaker. Bar manager Ross Andrews subs fresh juices for standard mixes, handcrafts novel cordials like hibiscus and smoked peanut butter, and plays with sugar-free syrups. “I don’t like to limit options for guests,” he says. Crowd favorite Crunk Juice, served in a Capri Sun–like pouch, serves up Kool-Aid realness and, he adds, is easy to make sans-alcohol. Oh, yeah!

Travel journalist and guide author Jessica Fender chronicles her adventures crisscrossing the country at TravelerBroads.com. 

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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