Best Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama

Hey friends!

This week I’m virtually road-tripping around the South with a whole bunch of great bloggers for The Great Southern Road Trip.  We will be linking up all sorts of fun southern inspired posts for y’all to enjoy, sip and savor.

So, grab your mason jar of sweet tea and let me take you on a tour of my hometown, Birmingham, Alabama.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Y'all Sweet tea | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

I’ve drawn you a fun little map to help you get your bearings around town.  To the south is Red Mountain, to the West sits Legion Field (home of countless Iron Bowls), to the north is the Civic Center/ Concert Hall and to the East is Sloss Furnace. This doesn’t come close to showing all the things there are to do in Birmingham, but it hits the highlights and I sure did have fun drawing it!

Fun Cartoon Map of Birmingham, Alabama landmarks drawn by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

Over the past few decades, Birmingham has made HUGE strides to revitalize itself into a thriving little city without sacrificing any southern hospitality and charm. Today it has SO much to offer both locals and tourists, young and old.

Ready to see my city? Lezzzgo…

1. Visit Vulcan Park

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Iron man… Vulcan.  You cannot go very far in Birmingham without getting a peek at the giant cast iron statue atop Red Mountain. Vulcan, the Roman god of metalwork, is a 56 foot tall statue that made his debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  He was brought home to Birmingham where he has pointed his shaft (shank? What exactly is that thing, Vulcan?) at the sky ever since.  Only in Birmingham can you can ride an elevator to the top of a tower and take in the views of the whole city while standing beneath the bare buttocks of a cast iron man.

Vulcan overlooks Birmingham from Red Mountain | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy

(Don’t be fooled by that kilt he’s wearing.  It’s business in the front and party in the back.  There’s a full moon back there, trust me.)

2. Eat. And Eat. Then Eat Some More

Speaking of full moons, don’t miss out on the great barbecue restaurants that Birmingham has to offer.  You can’t throw a rock in Birmingham without hitting a barbecue joint or a Baptist church, but here are a few of the favorite BBQ restaurants that should be at the top of your bucket list:

Full MoonDemetri’sJim-N-Nicks, Saw’s Soul Kitchen or Dreamland BBQ.

If you have to choose just one, go for Dreamland.  They are probably the most famous. But Saw’s is giving them a run for their money these days.  EVERY local person I asked when doing a bit of research for this post recommended Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale.  So, maybe do Saw’s first!

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Eat at Saw's | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

If you’re not from the South, you might be confused by a little term we use to describe our favorite soul food restaurants.  It’s called a “Meat-n-Three”.  This means you get to pick up a tray, cafeteria-style, and choose which meat and three vegetables you want on your plate, along with a side of cornbread or roll. Dessert is extra.  So, if you’re looking for some meat-n-three goodness, be sure to visit any of these no-frills places while you’re in town.

Niki’s West  | Johnny’s  |  Ted’s  | Irondale Cafe

For real,though.  I could write an entire book about the places to eat in Birmingham.  If you can’t tell yet– we like to DINE up in here.  It’s just what we do. Unfortunately I cannot list all the excellent local choices in one blog post.

But, if you’re looking for somewhere a bit fancier, do not miss out on a chance to eat at any of the restaurants owned by Chef Frank Stitt. This dude has been putting Birmingham on the culinary map along with Chef Chris Hastings since the last century. OK, it was actually like the early ’90’s but whatever. You will not go wrong eating at any of these local restaurants owned by these two chefs in the Bham metro:

Hot and Hot Fish Club  |  Highlands Bar and Grill  |  Bottega  |  Chez FonFon

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Hot and Hot Fish Club | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

3. Pepper Place Market

Now that we’re done chowing down, let’s go walk it off around town.

If you happen to be visiting on a Saturday morning between April through December, you MUST go visit Pepper Place Market.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Pepper Place Market | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

It’s a giant Farmer’s Market with vendors that not only includes farmers but also local makers selling their wares (and more food of course). Every Saturday morning Pepper Place shuts down 29th Street and 2nd / 3rd Avenue South between the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant and the old Martin Biscuit Company.  Nowadays these two buildings are a hotbed of creative genuises (including the new Country Living Magazine headquarters) but on Saturday mornings it is the best Farmer’s Market in the Deep South. You can get everything from grass-fed meat to mushrooms along with live music and a festive atmosphere.  I adore Pepper Place but so does everyone else in town, so prepare for big crowds in the summer.

Pepper Place Farmers Market | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

4. Take Home a Souvenir

For the best Birmingham swag to commemorate your trip to the Great State of Alabama, be sure to head to the Maker’s Village at Pepper Place.  I spotted all of this amazing Birminghamorabilia there:

Birmingham Alabama Swag | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

If Maker’s Village isn’t open, you can purchase direct from these seller’s websites:
Jill Marlar Birmingham Landmark Pillows  |  Wooden Alabama inlaid with turquoise, dishtowel and cutting board by Digs Design  |  1871 Project screenprinted banners and t-shirts

5. Shop Downtown Homewood

Homewood is just over Red Mountain from downtown. Just go straight past Vulcan’s butt and you’ll run right into it. Can’t miss it.

Park anywhere and start shopping.

downtown homewood

18th Street in Homewood offers some of my favorite window-shopping stores including At Home Furnishings, Seibels, Alabama Goods. Penzey’s Spices, Homewood Toy and Hobby Shop and Nadeau Furniture . Be sure to do lunch at O’Carrs Delicatessen for the best chicken salad and fruit plate of all time.  Gahhh, I did not mean for this post to be all about food, but come on….

ocarrs deli chicken salad fruit plate | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

6. Got Kids? Try the McWane Center, the Zoo or the Botanical Gardens

The McWane Science Center is a great place to spend the day with kids.  They sneak in lots of learning experiences right in the middle of all the fun so the kids don’t even realize it’s making them smarter.  There’s also an IMAX theater.  The Birmingham Zoo and the Botanical Gardens are right down the road, and both could easily take the better part of a day to walk through.

7. No Kids?  Try a local brewery

Birmingham is chock full of local breweries, but two of the best flank the city on either side –  Avondale Brewery on the east and Good People Brewing Company on the west.  Go and sip a spell.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Good People Brewing Co. | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

8. Take me Out to the Ball Game

Right across the street from Good People Brewing sits the brand new Region Field. The Birmingham Barons are now playing downtown at this beautiful field, and it is NICE, y’all.  This part of town used to be a barren wasteland, but they have stepped up their game and built a HUGE new baseball stadium with the best Birmingham signage in town.  There are lofts going in all around this part of town, and it’s making a major comeback so definitely add this to your must-see list.

Regions Park in Birmingham, AL- Home of the Birmingham Barons | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

9. Visit Railroad Park

Right down the street from Regions Field is a massive green space that was recently built to rejuvenate a formerly not-so-nice area of town. Railroad Park offers a huge walking/ bike path, skate park, picnic areas, koi ponds and just a big safe place to run around outside.  It’s just a few blocks away from Children’s Hospital, which is super convenient for any family spending an extended amount of time there.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Visit Railroad Park | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

10. Find the End of the Rainbow

As you can see on my cartoon map- the train tracks divide Birmingham down the middle into the north side of town and the south side of town. A few years ago Lightrails were added to brighten up the tunnels that run under the viaducts.  This one is the 18th street viaduct right at the end of Railroad Park.There are quite a few of them now, and they make for a pretty cool photo op.

Lightrails Rainbow Tunnel under the viaduct in Birmingham | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

11. See a Movie at the Alabama Theatre

There is no better place to see a movie than inside this grand old movie palace.  It is simple spectacular, and you have not lived until you experience it.  My very first trip to the Alabama Theatre was to see Gone with the Wind when I was 9 years old, and I will never forget it.  Put this on your list near the top.

The Alabama Theatre | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

12. Learn Birmingham’s Black History at the Civil Rights Institute

Ok, folks. This one is a big one.  If you do nothing else while you’re here in town, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must-see stop on your trip.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Visit the Civil Rights Institute | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

Birmingham has a long and difficult history with racism, but the Civil Rights Institute faces it head-on, without embarrassment or bias.  All of our awful racial scars are revealed in this place that sits right across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young black girls died from a bomb blast by the KKK in 1963.

Denise McNair belongings at the Civil Rights Institute | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

On the other corner sits Kelly Ingram Park, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. joined Reverend Shuttlesworth in the marches to end segregation.  The Civil Rights institute addresses all of this unflinchingly, with dignity, and in a way that brought me to tears over and over again during our 2 hour visit.

KKK robe and wooden cross on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute - a glimpse into the history of Birmingham Alabama

They open the tour with a 10 minute video that ends with a photograph of the “white” and “colored” public water fountains from the pre-segregation days.  Then the curtain rises, and the ACTUAL water fountains are sitting there where the photograph had been.  So many chill-bumps.

In 1968 my mother was working for the phone company downtown just a few blocks from where the Institute sits today, and she was well acquainted with fountains like these. The tour guide asked our group to spot the differences between the two fountains.  All the obvious answers were stated, then my mother pointed to the “white” fountain and said “This one had cold water, and the other had hot.”  The water from the “colored” fountain was not refrigerated, so it would sit in the sun until the water in the metal pipe underneath was near boiling temperature on a hot summer day.

Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Visit the Civil Rights Institute | Photo by Beth Bryan | www.unskinnyboppy.com

I could go on and on with stories from our trip to the Civil Rights Institute, but let me just say PLEASE go and visit this place.  Whether you are a tourist or a local who has never visited before, it is imperative to learn about the history of this city and our nation so we can avoid the same mistakes in the future.

We are just one generation past all of these awful events, but we have come so far.  The people of Birmingham today are not the people of the past. Today we are a city that loves our neighbors and welcomes visitors with open arms.

It truly is a magical city.

Skyline Sunset from Red Mountain - Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama- Photo via www.PictureBirmingham.com - used with permission from Rachel Callahan

Photo via www.PictureBirmingham.com – used with permission from Rachel Callahan

Please come see us sometime soon!

The Great Southern Road Trip begins with Heather at Southern State of Mind.  Be sure to start with her post and visit all the stops along this fun virtual road trip! You can also follow along on instagram or facebook by searching #greatsouthernroadtrip.

Now drive on over and tour Texas Hill Country with my friend Rachel at Maison de Pax!

Visit all the stops on the road trip here:
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THE GREAT SOUTHERN ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

Monday Graphic- FINAL

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Southern Hospitality {Marietta, GA} | Our Southern Home {Caswell Beach, NC}

TUESDAY ROUTE:

Tuesday Graphic- FINAL

Unskinny Boppy {Birmingham, AL} | Maison de Pax {Austin, TX}

Atta Girl Says {Greensboro, NC} | 3 Little Greenwoods {Aiken, SC}

WEDNESDAY ROUTE:

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Dixie Delights {Savannah, GA} | Slightly Coastal {Fernandina Beach, FL}

Uptown Acorn {Grand Isle, LA} | The House of Wood {Nashville, TN}

THURSDAY ROUTE:

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11 Magnolia Lane {Southern Pines/Pinehurst, NC} | The Turquoise Home {Huntsville, AL}

Duke Manor Farm {Pendergrass, GA} | Domestic Charm {Charlotte, NC}

FRIDAY ROUTE:

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Our Fifth House {Charleston, SC} | At Home with the Barkers {Greenville, SC}

Simple Stylings {Mount Pleasant, SC} | Refresh Restyle {Bishop, GA}

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Speak Your Mind

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Comments

  1. HI, friend! You did Birmingham a lot of justice with this post! I too came to love Birmingham while I was living there, although it wasn’t ever “home” to me, but the friends I made will go with me forever. It’s a fine place to be from!

  2. Cathy Hitt says:

    Thanks Beth for a great tour of our city! You did such a great job describing all the fun things here in Bham to do and the history. I love your map… girl you are super talented!

    Thanks!
    Cathy

  3. Cassandra E says:

    Made me cry. Thank you for sharing the whole picture with such grace. The world became a little more beautiful today.

  4. I fell in love with Birmingham while my niece attended Samford University. What a great guide to the city.

    Nancy

  5. Beth…..you did a beautiful job!! Such a wonderful post. Thank you.

  6. I agree with you on almost everything…EXCEPT the BBQ! Dreamland is overrated, try Miss Myra’s instead…it’s a hidden gem, and the best BBQ in Birmingham in my opinion 🙂 http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118557453211080795

    • I hear ya! That white bread sticks to the roof of your mouth. LOL Dreamland has such a reputation but it wouldn’t be the first place I go for BBQ. Thanks for mentioning Miss Myra’s. I’ve never heard of it! I love Lazy Boy BBQ but it’s out in Helena, so I skipped it for this post.

  7. Freida Fletcher says:

    BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO!!! (Insert standing ovation here!) 👏👏👏

    Beth, what a fun visit back to my hometown! This trip was simply incredible, and very much needed! I was born and raised in Birmingham, and miss it terribly. Now that I-22 is finally open, I can, and will, get my dose of “the Ham” more often!

    I have been enjoying your blog for quite some time, but have never reared my head. I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better. You have such a creative mind, and have been a fabulous source of inspiration. After reading today’s entry, I just couldn’t sit still any longer. What a beautiful representation for “our hometown” ! Kudos, my friend!
    And by all means….RTR!

  8. What an excellent post! I’ve spent plenty of time in Alabama, but somehow have missed Birmingham. Now it’s on my must-visit list!

  9. Kelly W. says:

    Great job, Beth! We just went to our first Baron’s game at Region’s Field on Friday. It’s a beautiful place! And I totally agree on the Alabama Theater. We took C there 2 years ago to see Singing In The Rain. It was magical! 🙂 And there’s nothing better than watching The Wizard of Oz there! One thing you forgot about O’Carr’s is the MILKSHAKES! The BEST ever! For BBQ, if you haven’t tried Lazy-Boy-BBQ, you need to! Super yummy but they are in Helena, not B’ham proper. Thanks for shining a light on our great city!

    • I LOVE Lazy Boys too! But yeah, I had to keep it limited for this post and Helena is a far piece from downtown. I need to do a series of posts about road-tripping Alabama! We have been marking tons of stuff off our bucket list this summer! Hope y’all are having fun!

  10. Thanks so much for a great tour of your hometown! You did such a great job showing all the awesome fun there is to have while honoring the history that took place there.

    We have a “Hot Fish Club” at our favorite South Carolina beach that we adore. Loved learning about yours!

  11. LOVE it!!! I’m down the road in Auburn, but my sister and her family have lived in The Ham for almost 33 years. They’ll be moving back home in a couple of years, though. I think you hit it right on with your post!!

    • I hit post before I finished. Woops!!
      You’re right, you could do an entire post about the fab places to eat and drink and I hope you do. Your post was so much fun and I look forward to many more.
      War Eagle from Auburn!!

  12. The Birmingham drawing is awesome! Would you happen to have it available as a print? I’d love it for my office!

  13. Jan Fusco says:

    Thank you for sharing that. As a 1976 graduate of Samford University it brought back some good memories and some new places I’d love to come back and visit. Birmingham is a beautiful city. After graduation I came back to the panhandle of Florida where I grew up but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Birmingham.

  14. I’ve pasted through Birmingham many times, but never stopped for a visit. I never knew your town is full of so many fun things to do! And who doesn’t love some yummy BBQ? Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers,
    Lori in Blue Ridge, GA

  15. laura janning says:

    what an amazing recap of birmingham. i must say I would love that open market if I lived nearby.

  16. I think you “did us proud!” I’ve done it all except The Civil Rights Institute. I have to do it soon after reading about it here. Such a fun map! Are you selling them?

  17. I enjoyed taking the tour around Birmingham with you. I’m an old girl living near the Gulf Coast these days, but I grew up around Birmingham, so this brought back a lot of memories, and showed me some new places that I didn’t know about. Pepper Place is one of my absolute favorite places to visit during the market-so many amazing vendors and things to choose from. You did a great job of showing what great things Birmingham has to offer!

  18. Hi Beth! Thanks so much for featuring us as a road trip stop! We’re proud to call Birmingham home 🙂

  19. Great article, and what a lovely map!

    Regarding what it is that Vulcan is holding – it’s a spear! He was the god of the forge and made weapons for the gods…he’s holding it up to admire his handiwork. For anyone that is curious, you can learn more about the big guy here:

    http://visitvulcan.com/about/vulcans-story/

  20. Britney AJ says:

    Recently my husband I relocated to Birmingham our two boys from Chicago; I must say we have been enjoying it thus far! Birmingham is definitely NOT what people believe it to be. <3 <3

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  27. […] road trips. We have spent our summer of 2016 seeking out all the fun places around Birmingham and we haven’t even gotten close to finding them […]

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