Not everybody wants to go to the beach for Spring Break. Some people want to stay home, and some people like the bright lights of a big city away from home. Birmingham can be just the ticket for all of the above. Take the break in your hometown, if that’s Birmingham, or come see what’s shakin’ in Alabama’s largest city.
Come to Play:
Start out your day at the Birmingham Zoo, one of Alabama’s most popular attractions. Warmer weather brings back seasonal favorites such as the Predator Zone, Children’s Zoo Splash Pads, Dino Discovery and much more. Just across the street are the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which are peaking with color this time of year, so stroll through. This is also a good place to stop for lunch at The Gardens Café for soups, salads, sandwiches and a good children’s menu.
Then head up to Vulcan Park & Museum to see everyone’s favorite iron dude. Grownups like the panoramic view from the balcony of the world’s largest cast iron statue. Children are delighted to find he has on no pants. It’s great fun for everyone.
At Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, visitors of all ages are awed by the world’s largest collection of motorcycles. If you’re a racing enthusiast, this is as good as it gets, and it’s great eye candy for people of all interests.
For a family that loves barbecue, may we suggest supper at Jim “N Nick’s on the city’s Southside? Ask your server to keep the cheese biscuits coming. Or find light and oh-so-fresh pizza at the popular Post Office Pies in the historic neighborhood of Avondale.
If you’re of the hipster generation Spring Breaking in Birmingham, you’ll want to hang around the Avondale neighborhood into the evening to check out Avondale Brewing Company and the music schedule at Saturn. And while you’re checking schedules, see what’s up at Iron City and WorkPlay too.
Here’s another rare nighttime opportunity— the “In the Park After Dark Mega Zip.” On March 25 and April 1, guests at Red Mountain Park can zip line in the dark along the Kaul Adventure Tower. Gear up by the campfire as night falls. Then take two thrilling zips down the 1,000-foot Mega Zipline. Ride side by side with a friend. Reservations required.
Come to Eat:
Lots of folks are traveling these days simply for the pleasure of finding exceptional dining. And a lot of those folks are finding it in Birmingham. Food media giant Zagat recently named Birmingham the “#1 Next Hot Food City in the U.S.” That’s pretty big stuff, so let’s get to it.
Your place for lunch is Chez Fonfon, celebrity chef Frank Stitt’s French bistro, which is not at all fussy like it sounds. The award-winning Hamburger Fonfon is high on the list of recommendations, along with trout or salmon prepared as only Frank’s chefs can do. Or visit Bottega Café, another of Frank’s notable restaurants, this one serving Italian dishes with a little Southern twist.
Have dinner at El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar on happening Second Avenue. Their multi-regional Mexican cuisine is far from your local taco joint. Try the Butternut and Chayote Taquitos or the Grilled Chorizo Meatloaf with a Paloma. If you’re in a sushi frame of mind, go across the street to the sleek, contemporary Bamboo on 2nd for Electric Eel or the Godzilla Roll.
Trattoria Centrale is calling you for breakfast. Right in the heart of downtown, this popular eatery serves up a breakfast of cherry and rosemary scones for a light meal or pancetta, scallion and goat cheese omelets for a more filling start to the day.
Remember, there’s much to see and do in between meals. Don’t miss the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has just opened a new exhibition called “All the Colors of the Rainbow.” It features Uzbekistan Ikat clothing and jewelry from 19th century Uzbekistan. (Yes, we had to ask too. Ikat is an ancient technique of dying clothing. These items are more than 150 years old and still are vibrant in their varied patterns. The jewelry looks like something from this spring’s runways!) Stay for lunch at Oscar’s at the Museum for a really good upscale seasonal menu and a glass of wine.
Consider your dinner options, for they are many. Try the trendy new Ovenbird in historic Pepper Place. This is James Beard-winning Chef Chris Hastings’ place. Order and share several small plates—Beef Empanada, Shishito Peppers, Smoked Fish Salad. Then go for entrees of Braised Goat or By-Catch Ceviche.
Call well before you arrive and make reservations at Gianmarco’s in the Homewood neighborhood. Fine Italian dining here is dark, romantic and delicious. Lamb is the truth at this place. Another place to make reservations well before your visit is the venerable Highland’s Bar and Grill. This is Frank Stitt’s very first venture into being a restaurateur and is every bit as fine as the James Beard folks say it is.
If you just can’t get reservations at either of those restaurants, try out fresh seafood at Ocean or Carrigan’s Public House on historic Morris Avenue for the Dalai Lamba Melt with house ground curried lamb. Birmingham is a city of folks who love to cook and love to eat. Check out other dining itineraries here.
Come to Learn:
Learning is not a bad or boring option for Spring Break—especially with the riveting things you can learn while visiting Birmingham. No, really….
Make plans to spend time at McWane Science Center for the Body Worlds Rx exhibition. The traveling exhibit uses preserved human bodies and body parts to explain the workings of organs, muscles, the nervous system and skeletal structures. The bodies are preserved through plastination, a technique that removes body fluids and replaces them with plastics that harden. The preservation of the donated bodies is, of course, one of the interesting facets of the exhibition, but it is also educational. The specimens on display show comparisons and contrasts between healthy bodies and organs and those stricken with disease. The whole body plastinates, as they are called, show muscles and ligaments in motion in a pole jumper, a swimmer and more.
Photo via: SteelCityUrbex
Wander through the towering smoke stacks, and learn the history of Birmingham’s beginnings in the iron and steel industry at Sloss Furnaces. Now a National Historic Landmark, Sloss is the only 20th century blast furnace in the country being preserved and interpreted as a museum. Another interesting ditty about Sloss is that some say it’s haunted by a former foundryman named Theophilus Calvin Jowers.
You can spend an hour or a day exploring the Birmingham Civil Rights District and the city’s significant role in America’s Civil Rights Movement. Birmingham is the city that changed the world. The story begins at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and moves over to adjacent Kelly Ingram Park. Take the free cell phone tour there to learn about the tumultuous events of the 1960s. Across the street is Birmingham’s most famous civil rights landmark, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four young African-American girls died in a horrific bombing in 1963. For more civil rights sites and African-American treasures, go here.
Spring Break in Birmingham…it’s just the break you needed. For complete lodging information and more entertaining itineraries, click right here.