The interaction of bacteria with surfaces has important implications in a range of areas, including bioenergy, biofouling, biofilm formation, and the infection of plants and animals. Many of the interactions of bacteria with surfaces produce changes in the expression of genes that influence cell morphology and behavior, including genes essential for motility and surface attachment. Despite the attention that these phenotypes have garnered, the bacterial systems used for sensing and responding to surfaces are still not well understood. An understanding of these mechanisms will guide the development of new classes of materials that inhibit and promote cell growth, and complement studies of the physiology of bacteria in contact with surfaces. Recent studies from a range of fields in science and engineering are poised to guide future investigations in this area. This review summarizes recent studies on bacteria–surface interactions, discusses mechanisms of surface sensing and consequences of cell attachment, provides an overview of surfaces that have been used in bacterial studies, and highlights unanswered questions in this field.