I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
April 30, 2021
“Let’s try Birmingham,” I suggested one winter afternoon a couple of years ago. My husband and I had been brainstorming ideas for a weekend road trip in January and coming up empty. Birmingham, though, seemed plausible — It was just under three hours from Nashville and its warmer climate made a surprise snowfall seem very unlikely. Plus, I had a few friends who lived in Birmingham and they had been raving to me about their city for years. We decided to give it a try.
I’m so glad we did. We’ve now visited ‘The Magic City’ three times over the last two years, and each time we return, we fall more in love. Birmingham is a perfect blend of sweet Southern charm and exciting, modern innovation. You’ll find a thriving arts community here and sophisticated shopping options, as well as a dedication to preserving the city’s natural beauty and outdoor spaces. It is a city that embraces its history -the good and the bad- and thoughtfully presents it in a way that allows us all to benefit from its lessons. Birmingham is also a place where food and the enjoyment of it is taken very, very seriously. We’ve had some unforgettable meals here and have only scratched the surface of the restaurant scene. Visiting reminds me to slow down and savor the moment — It’s the Birmingham way.
I’ve researched the heck out of this city and visited as many of Birmingham’s most popular restaurants, shops, and attractions as possible. The result is this list of things anyone visiting Birmingham can enjoy. Whether you’re bringing kids, your girl squad, or your significant other along for the journey, you’ll find plenty to do, eat and see in this post. First, though…. a little history.
Although it’s in the Deep South, Birmingham isn’t part of the Old South as we know it. The city was founded after the Civil War in 1871, at the cross-section of two new railroad lines. America was in the midst of its Industrial Era, and word was out that the region had a whole lot of iron ore, limestone, and coal under its surface — These are all ingredients used to make steel and Birmingham was the only place in the world that had all three in one spot. It was named after Birmingham, England — a model industrial city of the day — and quickly became known as The Magic City because it sprang up so quickly, ‘just like magic.’ Coal mining and pig iron producing commenced and became the new city’s economic backbone, and while these industries slowly died out over the ensuing decades, evidence of the city’s industrial roots can be seen everywhere you look in Birmingham. Iron is used in much of the architecture downtown and a giant statue of the Roman god Vulcan, erected in the 1930s, presides over Birmingham to this day.
By the 1960s, Birmingham had grabbed the world’s attention for a very different reason — It was the site of some of the biggest and most shocking clashes of the Civil Rights Movement, including the bombing of the 16th Street and Bethel Baptist churches, the release of police dogs on non-violent protestors, and the arrest and solitary confinement of Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, the city finds healing through careful examination of the events of those very troubled times. Tours, monuments, a city park, and a highly-regarded museum continually remind locals and tourists alike of Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and provide important historical context.
The two things you’ll need most in Birmingham are a car and Google Maps. Although nearly everything you could possibly want to do in Birmingham is no more than a 10 or 15-minute drive away, you’ll want a car to get to most of them — and Birmingham’s roads are, well, interesting! Expect a good amount of one-way streets, five-way intersections, and a surprising lack of signage when driving around the city. It’s not very large and therefore not too overwhelming on the roads, but we’ve been very reliant on Google Maps during our visits and made more than one wrong turn (that’s often how the best adventures begin!).
Another important tidbit: Many of Birmingham’s restaurants are closed on Sunday. If good food is as important to you as it is to the people who live here, you might consider visiting the city Thursday-Saturday instead of Friday-Sunday so that everything on your itinerary is open during your visit.
Are you ready now to see all Birmingham has to offer? Here goes!
In the 1960s, Birmingham was at the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement — In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the most segregated city in the nation. Consider the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute the most important stop on your first visit to Birmingham. Walking through this interactive museum (if you have kids, it’s best for ages ten and up) immerses you in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the history of racism in America in a way no classroom, book, or movie ever could. It is incredibly moving and informative and I promise the experience will stay with you long after your visit.
Taking kids? Check out my guide on bringing your children to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Tickets for adults are $15, kids are $13. Because of Covid, right now all tickets must be purchased online.
Just across the street from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is the church where a bomb killed four young schoolgirls in 1963. Today, the 16th Street Baptist Church is still in operation and visitors are welcome to come inside, see the sanctuary, and talk to members who are on hand to answer questions. Book a tour ahead of time at the church’s website. The tours are at least an hour long, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling with children.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to visit Birmingham again without having a meal at Chez Fonfon. This charming French bistro is the casual version of Highlands, its sister restaurant next door, and it is exquisite. We had a leisurely Friday afternoon lunch here on our first day in Birmingham and I was thoroughly charmed by the food, the drinks, and the atmosphere. The beef tartine appetizer was out of this world and definitely a star attraction of our meal. We also enjoyed the fried oysters with remoulade (a Highlands specialty) and the Hamburger Fonfon, which is one of the bistro’s most popular offerings. The french fries earned a special mention from this french fry connoisseur since they were perfectly crisp and delicious, and the coconut pecan cake, made by James Beard award winner Dolester Miles, was just… well, you’ve simply got to come here and have a slice for yourself. Period.
I can’t recommend this restaurant enough, particularly if you’re unable to get a table at the uber-popular Highlands next door (which is currently closed due to COVID), or you want Highlands-quality food in a more laidback atmosphere. Reservations are recommended — Visit resy.com or call 205-939-3221 to make them.
Some shops earn a spot on our itinerary because of the owner’s personality and charm, and Jim Reed Books definitely fits the bill. I read lots of glowing reviews about this used bookstore in Birmingham’s loft district, which boasts floor-to-ceiling books and an especially gregarious owner who’s said to know where each and every one of the 50,000 books here is located. We stopped by and were not disappointed.
I put Jim Reed (who was indeed charming and full of bookish knowledge) to the test by asking for an out-of-print book called Angelique, written by a French author and published in the 1960s. “Angelique? That’s part of a series,” Reed said without hesitation. “I’ll be right back.” He headed into the stacks, returned with two books from the series and informed me he had a third in storage, which he could extract with a few days’ notice. Added bonus – Both books were very reasonably priced! If you’re a book lover or simply like a good adventure, definitely make time for Jim Reed’s bookstore.
I am absolutely in love with this art-filled grand hotel in the upscale Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook — The Grand Bohemian Hotel staff call their decor ‘Southern Bohemian Renaissance,’ I call it ‘Eccentric Millionaire Channels Alice in Wonderland.’ Whatever it is, it works! The hotel is large and absolutely gorgeous, just a few minutes from downtown, and in walking distance from some really lovely shops and restaurants as well as the botanical gardens and zoo — Plus it’s home to the best rooftop bar in Birmingham (See Habitat, below)!
If there’s must-eat restaurant in Birmingham, Saw’s BBQ is it — and any of its four Birmingham locations will do. Join the line at the register and place your order for Saw’s Carolina-style smoked pulled pork, chicken or ribs — and whatever you do, don’t miss Saw’s legendary sweet tea chicken sandwich. The breast is marinated in sweet tea and pickle brine before being fried and honestly, I think some sort of hoodoo incantation is performed over it as well because it is out. Of. This. World. Saw’s crispy, thin-sliced onion rings are another Ferrier family favorite.
The last time we visited, an older couple sat down at a nearby table, solemnly tucked paper napkins into their collars like bibs, and waited in silence for their food to arrive. It was the most Southern thing I’ve ever seen, y’all, and I was SO THERE FOR IT.
Red Mountain Park is hands-down my favorite place to hike in Birmingham. Located at Red Mountain Ridge and just a 15 minute drive from downtown, the forests here were once the site of ore mining operations. Today, the new park has over 15 miles of trails with two city overlooks, three lofty tree houses, an adventure tower, and a zipline course (closed now due to Covid, but I’m guessing it will open again soon). We thought the trails here were gorgeous and full of surprises and I highly recommend Red Mountain if you’re looking for some exercise and natural beauty while you’re visiting Birmingham. Check out the Red Mountain Park trail map to plot out your adventure ahead of time.
Let’s get something straight — I’m definitely not a car/motorcycle aficionado. Yet even I couldn’t help but be impressed by the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, an enormous and extremely popular museum and racetrack park owned by gazillionaire (I’m guessing here) George Barber, whom I’m now determined to meet in person some day after having personally made the pilgrimage to see his collection of dinosaurs in Elberta, Alabama. George Barber is an extremely wealthy lover of dinosaurs and therefore someone I Need to Know. Wow, things have taken a turn. Where were we? Oh yes, cars and motorcycles!
At the Barber Museum, you will see the world’s largest motorcycle collection, as well as plenty of interesting and historic cars and a whole lotta men who’ve come out to see them. In fact, if you’re single and wondering where all the men are, um, THEY’RE HERE. Come on out. The Barber Museum draws more than 350,000 visitors a year from around the world and it’s one of the most popular attractions in Birmingham. It’s worth a visit if anyone in your party loves things on wheels or is looking for a husband.
I’ll be honest — I can’t visit a city without scoping out the local coffee shops and choosing a favorite. In Birmingham, the honor goes to The Red Cat. With locations at Pepper Place and Railroad Park, this full-service cafe is sure to please all ages. Breakfast is served all day, along with sandwiches, soups and salads for lunch. We loved their signature lattes — The Russian Blue (dark chocolate and mint) and Persian (white chocolate and almond) both were delicious — and we went absolutely crazy for their caramel apple bars.
Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, has towered over Birmingham on his Red Mountain perch since the 1930s — To this day, he’s the largest cast-iron statue in the world. Climbing all 159 steps (or taking the glass elevator) to the top of the tower and checking out the city from the observation deck is a must-do for any BHAM visitor. And as added incentive, if you take the steps you can claim a sticker boasting of your accomplishment when you come back down, allowing you to flex mercilessly in front of everyone for the rest of the day. In addition to the observation tower, Vulcan Park has an interactive museum detailing the history of Birmingham and Vulcan’s part in it. Admission to the observation tower and museum is $6 for adults, $4 for kids.
The Birmingham locals lovvvve their Rainbow Tunnels, and why wouldn’t they? Located at the 14th, 18th, 19th and 20th Street viaducts in downtown Birmingham, these LED-lit underpasses are so Instagrammable, it hurts — and they’re an easy way to impress the kids while you’re driving through town. The tunnels are the work of artist Bill FitzGibbons, who came up with the idea in 2013. The city saw it as a way to transform dark, scary places into pedestrian and cyclist-friendly connectors to the city’s historic sites. I’m a fan.
If I’ve learned anything from our travels, it’s that if I see a line formed outside a cookie shop, it’s best to simply join it and ask questions later. That’s how we ended up with a box of some of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. Cookie Fix in Homewood is the result of owner Amy Jason’s extraordinary cookie dough recipe, which yields a tall cookie that’s crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. The shop features more than a dozen rotating varieties of cookies baked fresh in small batches each day as well as frozen cookie dough you can take home for that just-baked cookie-eating experience. If you can, go on Sammie Saturday, when cookie sandwiches filled with flavored icing are up for grabs. They are heavenly.
Right across the street from Cookie Fix, you’ll find Alabama Goods — the quintessential store for everything Alabama. From jewelry, art, and home decor, to t-shirts, food, and gift baskets, Alabama Goods has it all. It’s the perfect spot to find a special souvenir commemorating your visit — or to placate the people you’ve left at home! Plus, they have room spray that smell like Sloss Furnaces here! How can you resist? 😂
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are another experience that make Birmingham truly special. Unlike other cities’ botanical gardens, admission is free here and the gardens are open 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk — and when we visited on a recent Friday afternoon, plenty of people were taking advantage of the opportunity. The gardens were filled with children playing, people of all ages walking, and lots of families, engaged couples, and prom goers posing for photos. Not only are these gardens vast and beautiful, but also there’s real sense of community here that’s lacking in other botanical gardens. Come to enjoy the many native plants on display (the biodiversity in these gardens is the fifth-highest in the state) or just to get some exercise in a beautiful setting. This is a very safe place to get in a walk while on vacation.
Don’t be put off by its strip mall location; locals know Eli’s Jerusalem Grill is one of the best spots in town for delicious, healthy Israeli cuisine. Husband and wife team Eli and Laurel Markshtien opened the restaurant in 2014 and the concept was so successful that they’ve since opened a second location inside downtown Birmingham’s Pizitz Food Hall. The secret to their success: Top quality organic ingredients and family recipes passed down from Eli’s Israeli grandmother.
We tried and especially loved the beef kabob, lamb chop, and Israeli couscous, and the thick, fluffy pita bread was truly special. Eli’s is also kid-friendly and has an extensive kids’ menu .
Oh, and if you visit: Eli is pronounced “Ell-lee.”
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is another Birmingham must-do in my book. The original furnaces were built to produce pig iron in the 1880s as railroaders, land developers and speculators flocked to the area to take advantage of the iron ore and minerals under Birmingham’s soil. Over the next several decades, Sloss Furnaces grew and flourished as the United States established itself as an industrial giant. The plant expanded and new machines, tools, and technologies were added over the years, but there was a dark side to the progress — Although two-thirds of the workers were African American, these workers were strictly segregated from white employees. They had separate bath houses, time clocks, and company picnics, and their jobs were bottom-of-the-barrel positions.
Today, Sloss is the only preserved 20th-century blast furnace in the United States operating as a historic site. Guided tours here do an excellent job of explaining how the blast furnaces operated as well as giving visitors an insightful look at the troubled history of the furnaces’ laborers. You can also opt for a self-guided tour of the facilities — Be sure and pick up the self-guided tour brochure at the front desk before starting off.
Why should you visit if you’re not a history buff? BECAUSE SLOSS FURNACES IS AMAZING. I personally find the history of the place fascinating, but I can promise you that everyone in your group will enjoy walking through the site, even children — The place is an Industrial Era wonderland and looks like the set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. There are some really unique and memorable opportunities for photos here, and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the U.S.
My advice is to take the guided tour if you’re interested in the history of Sloss Furnaces and opt for the self-guided tour if you simply want a good look at the place. Either way, you’ll need to schedule an appointment ahead of time to visit — Sloss Furnaces has a guard at the gate and you won’t be able to just show up without a reservation. Sloss Furnaces is open Tuesday through Saturday; tickets are $5 per person for the self-guided tour, $7 per person for the guided tour. For more information on reservations, visit the Sloss Furnaces website.
When we drove past this little house in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood and I saw the sign for Mary Charles’ Doll House, I insisted my husband pull over so that we could check it out. I’m so glad I did — It was one of our favorite experiences during our most recent trip to Birmingham. Inside, 85-year-old Mary Charles Robbins held court, surrounded by an astounding number of antique and vintage dolls, doll accessories, dollhouses, and dollhouse furniture. We talked with her for a long while and found her to be utterly delightful.
Mary Charles opened her store in the 1970s and only recently moved it to this 1920s bungalow. Now, with the help of two employees, she repairs antique dolls and sells many of the dolls you’ll remember from your own childhood — and her collection of dollhouse furniture is exquisite and not to be missed! If you love dolls or if you just want to meet one of Birmingham’s most interesting residents, don’t miss this place!
We try to make a lunch stop at the Pizitz Food Hall every time we visit Birmingham — Located inside the historic Pizitz building downtown, this spacious, light-filled space houses 12 food stalls, a restaurant, and a bar.
Eli’s Jerusalem Grill is here as well as two more of our favorite Birmingham food experiences: Indian street food vendor Silver Kati and MO:MO:, which serves up the most incredible Himalayan/Nepalese homemade dumplings and Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches. Sit inside or head out to the large courtyard if the weather’s nice. And don’t worry about finding a parking spot on the street — Instead, park in the Pizitz deck (the entrance is at 1st Avenue North & 18th Street North) and the first two hours of parking are free!
I consider the Birmingham Museum of Art to be a must-visit on any trip to the Magic City. This sizable museum is known as one of the best in the southeast because of its collection of more than 27,000 works of art representing many different cultures. Its Asian art collection is considered the best in the Southeast, its Vietnamese ceramics collection just might be the best in the United States, and its Renaissance, Baroque and European decorative arts collections are simply divine. And. It’s. FREE. I easily could have spent half a day here — There’s a lot to look at!
If you have kids, be sure and ask for a scavenger hunt at the front desk to make things more interesting for them. Younger children will want to check out ArtVenture, a state-of-the-art interactive gallery with hands-on activities for kids from 2 to 12 years old. And if you’re a nerd like me and want to go more in-depth with your kids during your visit, the website includes several lesson plan ideas and activities for teachers. The museum is located in downtown Birmingham and open Tuesday-Sunday.
Looking for a picturesque spot for cocktails? I recommend Habitat Feed & Social, the rooftop bar at The Grand Bohemian. Drinks here are pricy but the bartenders are friendly and the ambience and decor here match the upscale whimsical perfection of the hotel. Go on a night when the weather is nice and enjoy the surrounding views of the insanely charming Mountain Brook suburb of Birmingham.
My favorite spot in Birmingham for souvenirs is the Yellowhammer Print Shop, now located in Pepper Place. Here, designers Brett Forsyth and Brandon Watkins sell t-shirts, mugs, dishtowels, tote bags, and more featuring their retro-style Birmingham designs. You won’t find a cooler memento of your Birmingham visit anywhere else.
For an iconic family vacation shot, this is our favorite skyline view of Birmingham. You’ll find it located directly beneath the Vulcan Observation Tower. Park in the lot for the Vulcan Trail and take the sidewalk that runs alongside the road on the other side of the guardrail. Toward the end of the guardrail, you’ll come across this Instagram-worthy view of Birmingham. Surprise! You’re welcome.
When The Redmont Hotel opened in downtown Birmingham back in 1925, it was notable for having a private bathroom in every bedroom, chilled water, and ceiling fans. Today, the newly restored hotel offers guests a historic boutique hotel experience at an affordable price— and possibly a few ghosts thrown in at no extra charge. The third and ninth floors are said to be “most haunted.” Walk to McWane Science Center, the National Civil Rights Center, and the Pizitz Food Hall or enjoy beautiful views from the hotel’s popular rooftop bar. Country music fans, take note: Hank Williams spent his final night here in 1952 while on a road trip from Montgomery to West Virginia.
For all the foodies in the house, have I got a Birmingham restaurant for you! Owned by James Beard award-winning chef Chris Hastings and his wife, Idie, OvenBird takes a cue from Argentina, Portugal, and Spain and utilizes a wood-burning, cast iron hearth (the iron is a nod to Birmingham’s history) for its unique and delicious small plate menu offerings. Make your reservations well in advance and prepare to take your place in a crowd of locals there to see and be seen.
We went on a gorgeous spring evening and with all the doors and windows opened to the night air, the ambience at OvenBird was unbeatable. We can highly recommend the Wagyu beef shoulder (I felt a shiver now just thinking about it) and the exquisite mushroom conserva (a salad I ordered after noticing that literally everyone else in the restaurant was ordering it – Wise choice on my part). Go if you consider yourself to be a culinary adventurer and you will not be disappointed.
It’s hard to believe this privately-owned nature preserve is just a few minutes away from downtown Birmingham. Fourteen miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult make Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve one of the largest urban nature preserves in the nation. Mined for its iron ore from the late 1880s until 1953, conservationists have managed to protect the mountain’s natural features and pay homage to its history as well.
There are lots of trails to choose from and AllTrails has a great list of the most popular trails and their features. We opted for the 3-mile Quarry Ridge loop trail and enjoyed exploring the quarry area. Other trails will take you through wetlands and over rocky outcrops. You can download a trail map here.
The preserve’s visitor’s center is known as the Tree House — Its award-winning design includes a living plant roof and sustainable building materials. It’s closed now because of Covid, but I suspect it will be reopening soon. The center includes a gift shop, wildlife exhibits, and between 25 and 30 animals currently being cared for by preserve employees and volunteers.
Admission to Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve is free, but a $3 per person admission fee is suggested.
The Birmingham Zoo has more than 950 animals including sea lions, alligators, monkeys, lions, and more, as well as splash pads, a carousel, and a train ride around the park. I do recommend you buy your tickets online before you visit — We went to the zoo with only a couple of hours to spare before it closed and still waited in line 30 minutes for tickets. It’s a popular place!
It’s a guarantee you’ll hear about GianMarco’s Restaurant if you visit Birmingham and ask about its best and most beloved restaurants. Owned and operated by father and sons team Giovanni, Giani & Marco Respinto and located in a cozy Homewood neighborhood, this is where the locals go for date nights and celebrations and it has the feel of a true locals-only hotspot. Inside, the restaurant is surprisingly utilitarian and brightly-lit — Our bartender at The Collins Bar recommended we ask for a table in the wine bar out back, which has a more intimate feel (it’s pictured above) and I’d definitely recommend you do the same if you dine here. You will also need to make a reservation, and it’s best to call a few weeks in advance. The tables here fill up fast!
The food is traditional Italian. It is hearty. It is solid. It is not particularly fancy or inventive, but sometimes you just want a deliciously comforting meal with no surprises and that’s exactly what you’ll get at GianMarco’s. The dish everyone raves about here is the fiocchi — fresh pasta purses with pears and gorgonzola, walnuts, prosciutto, shaved parmesan, and drawn sage butter — and it was indeed the star of our meal. We also loved the tuna crudo appetizer, and our main courses were enormous and quite satisfying. If you have a family of picky eaters, there’s definitely something on the menu here that will appeal to everyone.
Opened by Robert Jemison back in 1914 to convince the American & Iron Steel Institute to hold its convention in Birmingham, the Tutwiler Hotel was constructed in the style of a true turn-of-the-century Grand Hotel. Today, it’s a Hampton Inn & Suites, but the hotel still has its original marble floors, exteriors, and vaulted ceilings, as well as lots of historic photos of the property and cool old-fashioned details like fireplaces in the guest rooms. We were very comfortable during our recent stay here (these are Hilton beds, after all- We slept like babies) and loved being in the center of things downtown, plus the staff here couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful, from the valets and bellmen to the front desk employees. A workman told us the hotel is about to update its guest rooms, so expect things to get even swankier once that renovation is complete.
If you’re looking to walk off some of the calories from a big Birmingham meal, Jemison Park is an ideal option. Located in Mountain Brook, this 54-acre linear park includes a 3.4 mile loop trail that’s flat and has some lovely little details like the Old Mill, pictured above. In fact, let’s talk about the Old Mill for a moment — It has a really interesting backstory. Built in 1927 to make the then-new suburb of Mountain Brook more desirable, it originally was a very popular tea room where residents flocked for meals that ranged from $.50 to $1.50. Once the tea room closed, the mill was converted into a private residence and has changed hands several times since then.
Jemison Park is very much a city park, so expect lots of nearby traffic, as well as walkers and runners. Still, on a nice day, it’s a lovely spot for an amble.
I’m going to call Highlands Bar & Grill the best Birmingham restaurant we’ve never been to. That may seem strange, but we couldn’t score a reservation on our first two visits to Birmingham and on our most recent trip, it was closed due to Covid. How, then, do I know it’s so good? On our last trip, we ate at Chez Fonfon next door, where some of Highlands’ most popular menu items are currently being served while it’s closed, and because of that and its stellar reputation, I feel confident in saying Highlands is definitely big-night-out worthy on your Birmingham vacation. Just be sure that you call well in advance (as in AT LEAST TWO WEEKS in advance) for your reservation — It is an extremely popular place for dinner.
This James Beard Award-winning restaurant has been open since 1982 and features a French cuisine-inspired menu that changes daily and ‘features the best from each harvest,’ according to its owners. Our beef tartine and fried oysters at Chez Fonfon both were Highlands creations and they were absolutely incredible — but the real reason I’ve always wanted to dine at Highlands is because of its pastry chef Dolester Miles, believed by many in the food industry to be the absolute best pastry chef in the United States. The self-taught cook won a James Beard Award of her own three years ago and her coconut pecan cake in particular, which we also enjoyed at Chez Fonfon, is outstanding.
We will have dinner at Highlands some day. Oh yes. We will. And you definitely should, too.
We happened across this Pepper Place shop during our last visit and fell in love. Frontera features hand-crafted forged wrought iron furniture and accessories, as well as home goods imported from artisans in Mexico and everything here is inventive and fantastic — I went away with so many decorating ideas, as well as a set of painted metal snowmen I can’t wait to display next Christmas.
Railroad Park is downtown Birmingham’s greenspace and I’m including it mostly for the parents out there, because sometimes on a trip, you just need a playground or a place for the kids to run wild for a little while before you continue on your way. Railroad Park is an ideal place to do just that. It has two play areas for kids, a skate park, plenty of room to roam, and a flat, paved ¾-mile outer loop trail. Plus, in winter there’s ice skating! Special note for tired parents and hungry kids at the park: There’s a Red Cat coffeeshop (see above) right across the street.
It’s hard to imagine a better bar for a cocktail — Voted one of the 100 best bars in the South, The Collins Bar in Birmingham’s loft district has an intoxicating combination of hipster appeal and Southern charm. We’ve grown used to the attitude dished out at Nashville’s hottest bars and found the warmth and friendliness of The Collins Bar’s staff to be a welcome relief. There’s no need for a cocktail menu here — The expert bartenders will ask what you like and come up with the perfect concoction to suit your tastes. The decor could best be described as ‘hip retro dive bar’ (we really liked the paper airplane art) and I loved the diversity of its patrons, who represented every age and stage of adult life. The Collins Bar is clearly a local favorite and we’ll definitely be back!
No city is complete without a bustling farmer’s market and Birmingham has one of the best in the Southeast. The Market at Pepper Place happens every Saturday morning year-round from 7am to 12pm, but the real season begins in April — Once the weather gets warm, up to 100 vendors raise their tents at Pepper Place and sell everything from fresh local produce, meats, cheeses, and baked treats to arts and crafts and handmade goods from local artisans. Check the Pepper Place Market website ahead of time to see who’s going to be there during your visit and what’s in season.
In the heart of downtown Birmingham, you’ll find the McWane Science Center, a four-story interactive children’s museum with tons of exhibits that will keep kids of all ages busy for hours. Our favorite features included the mega slide from the fourth floor down to the third and the indoor zip line, which gave us all a lot of laughs. The museum’s train ride is very popular with the younger crowd, and your smallest children will enjoy Itty Bitty Magic City, an indoor village created especially for the 5-and-unders. While you’re there, make time for an IMAX movie on the theater’s 5-story tilted, domed screen. The IMAX projection room is viewable from the lobby and it’s definitely worth stopping to see. Added bonus: The museum is right across from the Pizitz Food Hall — Lunch, anyone?
Looking for toothpicks made from actual human teeth? Or perhaps you’re aching to own a set of ‘murder albums’ containing crime scene photos from the 1950s? Birmingham Oddities is the place for you! We stumbled across this shop while waiting for a table at El Barrio and, well, it’s odd, all right. Half the store is devoted to all things creepy and weird, the other side features local art with a dark side. It’s an appropriate stop if you’re looking for quirky shopping options, or if you’re waiting on a table at El Barrio (and trust me, you WILL be waiting). Do note, Birmingham Oddities is only open Thursday through Sunday. Oh, and don’t open those murder albums. Just… don’t.
If you’re in search of an especially family-friendly hotel that’s close to everything, I’ve got a solution for you! We absolutely loved our peaceful, spacious suite at the downtown Homewood Suites when we visited Birmingham with our kids. Our suite had a full kitchen, a large seating area, and lots of room to move around without constantly bumping into one another — We thought the hotel was a wonderful option for families. Breakfast was also included in our stay, which is always welcome when we’re traveling.
This one goes out to all the parents. Let’s say you really want to eat local, but you also need a place that’s kid-friendly and won’t be filled with people who stare disapprovingly at every move your children make. I recommend Pizzeria GM. Owned and operated by the brothers behind the upscale GianMarco’s, Pizzeria GM is a casual, noisy neighborhood joint serving up many of the same high-quality Italian dishes GianMarcos is known for, along with hand-tossed pizzas and savory sandwiches. And while there’s no official kids menu, just ask and the chefs will be happy to make a kid-sized burger, chicken fingers, pasta with butter, mac and cheese, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
We tried lots of dishes during dinner here and our entire family was united in loving the meatball appetizer, the polenta fries, the Italian ham pizza, and the house made chips with bacon gorgonzola dip. You don’t have to have kids to enjoy this restaurant, obviously, but it does stand out as a place where you can savor some of Birmingham’s best cuisine in a child-friendly atmosphere.
There are lots more bars in Birmingham — We couldn’t visit as many as we wanted to because frankly, we didn’t want to get blackout drunk. Fortunately Alex, our crazy awesome server at OvenBird, made this helpful list of Birmingham’s coolest bars, so I thought I’d just share it with you and save you the trouble of trying to figure out the bar scene all by yourself.
Neon Moon – Billed as “your favorite neighborhood cocktail bar,” this Second Avenue bar opened in Spring 2020 and specializes in beer, whiskey, and fun cocktails.
Queen’s Park– From the same owners as Neon Moon (and only a couple of blocks away), Queen’s Park is inspired by and named after Trinidad’s historic Queen’s Park Hotel, known for its hospitality, luxurious decor, and cutting edge cocktails. You’ll find a tiki cocktail menu here featuring drinks with names like the Sandy Bottom and the Wicked Wahine as well as a standard menu filled with all kinds of inventive cocktails that have me more than ready for a visit the next time I’m in town.
Collins Bar – We went here! See my thoughts above.
The Atomic Lounge – Alex’s thoughts: ’50s vibe, order the Sex Panther.’ Apparently, this drink is so good, the bar sells Sex Panther t-shirts! The Atomic was a James Beard Award semifinalist in 2018 and 2019 for Best Bar Program AND named one of the South’s best bars by Southern Living, so I don’t think you can go wrong with this pick. Owned by husband and wife team Feizal Valli and Rachael Roberts, The Atomic Lounge showcases their love of mid century modern design, craft cocktails, dive bars, and costumes — Costumes and board games are available to any patrons who wish to partake. How could you not have a good time here?
That’s all I’ve got for now — I’m sure I’ll be back with more advice after our next Birmingham visit. Looking for more ideas? Lonely Planet’s recommendations are always on point and they’ve listed even more Birmingham bars and restaurants to check out.
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