Coming to Birmingham? Bring your Appetite.
After all, you’re coming to the Dinner Table of the South
It has been said that you can’t throw a martini olive without striking one of Birmingham’s James Beard Award-winning fine dining establishments. And that’s not far from fact. Let’s take a tour.
Any tour of Birmingham’s food scene must begin with one of Birmingham’s chef célèbre, Frank Stitt’s restaurants. Stitt grew up in Cullman County, Alabama, traveled the world over learning from culinary masters, and returned to his neck of the woods to open a number of excellent dining experiences. Known for fresh, seasonal foods prepared beautifully, and an ambiance that transports you to left bank Paris, Bottega, one of Frank’s longest standing restaurants, is a bucket-list-level stop on the Birmingham food journey.
The thing about Frank is that, by being an excellent chef and an equally excellent mentor, he almost single-handedly spawned Birmingham’s world-renowned restaurant scene. Many have been influenced by his work. Which takes us to our next stop: Hot and Hot Fish Club founded by former Highlands sous chef, Chris Hastings. And to show you the extent to which Birmingham has become fertile ground for restaurants, our next location, Helen, was founded by none other than Chris Hastings’ sous chef, Rob McDaniel.
By and large, Birmingham’s restaurant culture thrives on the excellent produce grown in the agrarian community surrounding the city, locally procured meats, and seafood flown in from the coast. Farm-to-table took to Birmingham like a fresh-caught grouper fillet takes to rarified butter. And, with the Gulf Coast just a puddle-jumper away, you can believe that grouper will have indeed been fresh caught. Speaking of seafood, if that’s your passion, an evening at James Beard award-winner, Adam Evans’ Automatic Seafood and Oysters or George Reis’ Ocean will be food for your soul.
That said, if upscale Asian and Asian fusion cuisine are where your tastes run, you’ll want to explore Bamboo, Jinsei Sushi, and Shu Shop to name but a few. Or, if you prefer a more European approach, you’ll want to check out places such as Gianmarco’s, Bocca Ristorante, Lé Fresca, or Chez Fon Fon.
Here is a partial list of some of the Birmingham area’s best-known restaurants:
- Café DuPont
- Chez Fon Fon
- Oven Bird
- Lé Fresca
- Galley and Garden
- Roots & Revelry
- Blueprint on 3rd
- Automatic Seafood & Oysters
- Bistro 218
- Dyron’s Low Country
- Michael’s Restaurant
- Bocca Ristorante
- Moss Rock Tacos & Tequila
- Silver Coin Indian Grill
- El Barrio Restaurant Y Bar
- Farrelly’s Southern Bar & Kitchen
The Kinda Food that Just Soothes the Soul
Singing the praises of barbecue, soul food, and the meat and three
It isn’t just fancy dining that earns Birmingham its foodie reputation. There’s some of the best comfort food, soul food, and home cooking in the world to be found here. In fact, you’ll even find James Beard awarded meat and threes like Johnnys or beautiful old classic James Beard-recognized restaurants like The Bright Star. Nothing fancy, mind you, just authentic, real, and deeply satisfying.
For soul food you’ll want to explore places like Eagles Restaurant, Ruth’s Café, Magic City Grille, and Granny’s Fish ’N Grits. And, for barbecue, there’s Carlile’s, Rodney Scott’s BBQ (yet another highly awarded restaurant), Martin’s Barbecue, Johnny Ray’s, Full Moon, SAW’s, and Miss Myra’s just to name a few. Seriously, if we named all of the great barbecue and soul food joints in and around Birmingham, we’d probably blow up the Internet.
There are whole areas of Birmingham where you could spend a month of Sundays and never eat in the same restaurant twice. In the tiny, tony community of Avondale, for example, you’ll find authentic Mexican fare at Taco Morro Loco, craft beer and burgers at Ferus Artisan Ales, gourmet grilled cheeses at Melt, world famous pizza at Post Office Pies, and upscale bar food at Avondale Common House. And those are just the ones that come immediately to mind.
Walk down the Jones Valley Trail extension to the Pepper Place area and you’ll find healthy eats at Blue Root, some keenly hipster bar food at Lumbar, and upscale fare at Blueprint on 3rd, Bettola, Hot and Hot Fish Club, and Ovenbird. Head south from there and check out Lakeview.
In Lakeview, you’ll encounter an amazing mix of food ranging from burgers and beer where all the cool kids go at Jack Brown’s Burgers and Fries, knock-your-socks-off Nashville hot fried chicken at Hattie B’s, pizza at Slice, Mexican at Los Amigos, barbecue at Moe’s, Middle Eastern at the Purple Onion, easygoing bar food at Five, and superior sushi at Umami. (Reading that paragraph is like like going around the world in 30 seconds.)
Now, you could (and should) keep heading south where you’ll encounter all sorts of delights ranging from Demetri’s BBQ, to next-level Mexican at Taco Mama, La Paz, and Sol y Luna. There’s pizza at Jim Davenport’s, an old school lunch and soda counter at Gilchrist, and simple elegant dishes at Brick and Tin.
In Hoover, also south of Birmingham, you’ll definitely want to check out Tortuga’s Pizza – Birmingham’s home for deep dish pies, Jubilee Joe’s (if Cajun gets you fired up), Blue Pacific to get your Thai on, or Archie’s Bar-B-Q & Burgers for – you guessed it – one heck of a BBQ sandwich or burger. And, honest to goodness, we’re just scratching the surface. We could write a book on the restaurant scene in Birmingham.
When it comes to food, Birmingham is truly a melting pot in the best sense of the phrase. Our culture is a delightful salmagundi of tastes and cultures. If you are a self-proclaimed foodie, a galavanting gourmand, an epicure of the broadest order… Birmingham is simply a must on your next trip south.
All this Eating’s Bound to Make A Body Thirsty
There’s no better place to stir it up than Birmingham’s beer and cocktail scene
At least one interpretation of the name, Birmingham, has it that the original UK version was named for a frothy, yeasty beverage. While the name isn’t “Beermingham,” it’s fair to say that the stateside version of Birmingham jumped into the craft-frothy-yeasty-beverage scene with gusto. Now, you’ll find more than a dozen different breweries scattered about the city.
Here’s a thought: start out at Cahaba Brewing and head west along the Jones Valley Trail extension.The trail will take you by nearly every brewery in town. In Avondale there’s Ferus Artisan Ales and Avondale Brewing – known for their Miss Fancy’s tripel, a Belgian-styled beer named for the famed elephant who, around the turn of the last century, resided in the zoo that occupied what is now Avondale park. Miss Fancy is known for having been tasked to drink much of the confiscated beer during the Prohibition years. It was tough work, but the large pachyderm was up to the task.
As you head west, you’ll encounter Ghost Train, Back Forty Brewing (about two blocks off the trail), Trimtab, (about three blocks off the trail), and Birmingham District Brewing and Hi-Wire Brewing. Further west in the Parkside district, you’ll find Good People and Monday Night Social Club. If you make it that far, and have sampled beers at all the breweries, we’d recommend an Uber or taxi at this point.
If your tastes lead toward stronger spirits, you’ll find Birmingham just as accommodating as it is for your beer drinking friends. Four local distilleries have cropped up in recent years, Dread River, Redmont, Campesino, and Sweet Home. You’ll find their distillations in any number of the cocktail bars around town. Dread River has its own bar on premise – a great way to sample their craft and hear how it’s made.
The cocktail scene, meanwhile, is intoxicating. New bars offering beautifully crafted cocktails have been catering to lovers of the mixologist’s art for many years now – places such as Queen’s Park, Paper Doll, The Margaret, and Collins Bar, to name only a smattering. And there are the old standbys, Lou’s Pub, and the Red Lion Lounge for example. You can find places that specialize as well, such as Mayawell, which offers an unparalleled selection of tequilas and mezcals. South of town in Hoover, you might want to stop by Barrister’s Tavern, or Pub 261. Further south in Helena, you won’t want to miss Goodfellas Social Club.
We’ve barely stirred the surface of what’s available when it comes to cocktails. Suffice to say, if happy hour makes you, well, happy, Birmingham will greatly exceed your expectations.
While You’re Here, Visit Birmingham’s Historic Civil Rights District
It’s a must-see National Monument
As most people of a certain age remember, a cultural revolution took place in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s. It was the battlefield of America’s Civil Rights Movement, a struggle for simple decency and common sense.
The story of Birmingham’s role in the long march to civil rights has been told and retold around the world. With the opening of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 1993, the city found a place to tell its own story.
Though the events of the 1960s steal the spotlight, the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and Alabama evolved from a complex history of race relations in the American South. Richly detailed exhibits in the Institute reveal slices of Black and White life from the late 1800s to the present. A series of galleries tells the stories of daily life for African Americans in Alabama and the nation and how it differed dramatically from the lives white people of that era took for granted.
The Institute documents the rise of the movement and the succession of events it bore around the nation: the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man; the U.S. Supreme Court’s bus desegregation ruling in 1956; James Meredith’s 1962 admission to the University of Mississippi.
Just across the street is Birmingham’s most famous civil rights landmark, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Though Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the church that drew worldwide attention, it was Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church that is credited with shaping the Civil Rights Movement here. Civil rights legend, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church from 1953 until 1961. The church often served as a gathering place for discussions of civil rights among Blacks, gatherings that angered white supremacists. In 1958, Bethel Baptist was bombed, though the church was empty at the time.
The bombing cemented Shuttlesworth’s fiery determination to bring Birmingham to the center of the Civil Rights Movement. His high profile in the movement incited other acts of violence against him. On Christmas night in 1956, a bomb was planted under the parsonage where he and his family lived. The blast destroyed the house, blowing up the bed Shuttlesworth occupied. Miraculously, he walked away from the destroyed parsonage unharmed.
Shuttlesworth later endured vicious beatings while trying to integrate schools, buses, and businesses. He remained active in the Birmingham struggle even after he moved to Cincinnati in 1961. A statue of Shuttlesworth at the entrance of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute pays tribute to, some say, an unsung hero and his self-described “agitation for civil rights.”
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, across from the Civil Rights Institute is designated a National Historic Landmark. In the basement of the church on a September Sunday morning in 1963, four African American schoolgirls were changing into their choir robes. A bomb set by Ku Klux Klansmen ripped through that side of the church, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, all 14 years old. The bombing shocked and sickened the city and the world and was a turning point in the status of race relations in this country. (The story of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing is told with intensity in filmmaker Spike Lee’s documentary Four Little Girls.)
Adjacent to the Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park served as a congregating area for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including the ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers by Birmingham police. Images of those attacks haunted Birmingham in the decades that followed, but they were the same images that were instrumental in overturning legal segregation.
Dramatic sculptures all around the park vividly depicts the events that took place there in the 1960s. Among the sculptures are three ministers kneeling in prayer, a tribute to the important role of Black clergy during the movement. The statue is based on a picture of the late Reverends John T. Porter, A.D. King, and Nelson H. Smith.
Also in the neighborhood is the A.G. Gaston Motel, where the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. regularly stayed in Room 30, meeting there with other civil rights activists to plan the scope of the Birmingham campaign. Motel owner and Black business magnate A.G. Gaston offered rooms at discounted rates to leaders of the movement. In 1963, a bomb was detonated below Room 30 causing extensive damage.
The nearby Fourth Avenue Business District remains active with restaurants, barbershops, and bakeries. This cluster of Black-owned businesses was the core of African American social and commercial life in the early 1900s and later when white-owned shops and stores refused to serve Black customers. Minority-owned businesses still operate in the district today, serving a steady stream of customers of all races.
These sites together were named a National Monument as one of the final acts by President Barack Obama. In 2023, Birmingham is recognizing a 60-year anniversary of the momentous events that took place in the city in 1963.
Birmingham Is Not Just What You Saw in History Books
Allow us to show you another side of the greater Birmingham Area
Over the past 120 or so years, Birmingham has transformed from a rusty, gritty industrial town to a genuinely sweet place to visit. Known foremost for welcoming our visitors in a way that takes the notion of Southern hospitality to its highest level, Birmingham has become a cosmopolitan city that embraces its southern and industrial roots while offering up fresh new experiences. Let us introduce you to a few of them.
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, located on the east side of Birmingham, houses more collectible motorcycles than any other place on the planet. The museum, which houses some 1,600 motorcycles, is situated on a hilltop overlooking a 2.38 mile, 17-turn track that hosts events yearlong including Grand-Am, Pirelli World Challenge, Vintage Racing Series events, AMA SuperBike races, and the IndyCar Series. If you can visit on race weekend, more the better. Or, if you’d prefer, try the Porsche Driving Experience where you can actually take laps on the beautiful Barber track.
No trip to Birmingham would be complete without checking out the big iron man on the mountain. At Vulcan Park & Museum, the statue of Vulcan, Roman God of the Forge, is the largest cast iron statue in the world. Designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904, Vulcan has stood atop Red Mountain overlooking the valley in which Birmingham is nestled since the 1930s. The view from his pedestal alone is worth the trip.
If you’re bringing the kids, you’ll want to check out the McWane Science Center. The McWane Center, whose mission is to “spark wonder and curiosity about our world through hands-on science,” has fascinating interactive exhibits as well as an IMAX theatre. It’s well worth the time you’ll spend there.
Alabama Adventure and Splash Adventure is another great way to entertain the kids. Weather permitting, you can enjoy water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, and many other opportunities for fun in the water. Or, if dry entertainment is the order of the day, you can enjoy rides such as The Rampage, a 120-foot high, classic wooden roller coaster, or The Vault, a laser maze challenge.
A visit to the Birmingham Zoo and Birmingham Botanical Gardens makes for an excellent day. The two are conveniently located adjacent to one another – an easy walk made perfectly for a beautiful day. Meet our furry, feathery, and scaly neighbors. Notable personalities you won’t want to miss include Giovanni the seal, Nairi the orangutan, Zuri the giraffe and Bulwagi the African elephant, to name but a few of the characters you’ll be introduced to at the zoo.
Stroll over to the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens and enjoy a peaceful shaded walk through an incredibly rich floral experience. Be sure to visit the Conservatory and check out the Citrus, Desert, and Tropical Houses, each featuring a flora from unique ecosystems.
If you enjoy all things botanical, you’ll also want to try Aldridge Gardens. This 30-acre woodland garden sports a five-acre lake, walking trails graced with Japanese maples, snowflake hydrangeas (discovered and patented by garden namesake, Eddie Aldridge), outdoor exhibits and enviro-sculptures. Not to miss: the Ken Jackson Collection of Frank Fleming bronze sculptures, the largest such publicly-available collection.
A visit to Birmingham should definitely include an introduction to the industry that built it. And, there’s no better place for a look at Birmingham’s iron and steel history than the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, a fixture in Birmingham since the 1880s. While the furnaces ceased operation in 1970, you can still wander over the 50-acre site and enjoy either a guided or self-guided tour. Who knows, you might even run into the ghost of James “Slag” Wormwood, the notorious foreman who lost his footing and fell into a pool of molten iron.
Birmingham offers a number of museum experiences as well. Consider spending several hours at the Birmingham Museum of Art. In addition to frequent traveling exhibits, you will also enjoy the standing collection of more than 27,000 pieces. From there, it’s a short walk along Birmingham’s City Walk (an attraction in and of itself) over to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, a 33,000 square-foot museum – one of the largest sports halls of fame in the nation – that is home to more than 6,000 pieces of sports memorabilia dating back to the first induction class in 1969.
While we’re on the subject of sports, you may also want to check out the Negro Southern League Museum. Housed in a three-story building adjacent to the Birmingham Barons’ Regions Field, the NSLM celebrates the great African-American baseball players who were part of the Negro Southern League dating back to the 1920s. Back before professional baseball was integrated, the Southern Negro League was a way into the Negro American League and Negro National League for talented young players. Here you can learn about the greats like Satchel Paige, Louis Santop (the first great power hitter in Negro League baseball), and Bullet Joe Rogan, to name but a few. From the NSLM, you may want to head over to America’s oldest ballpark Rickwood Field to enjoy an even richer experience.
Also noteworthy for any visitor to Birmingham (regardless of their golf acumen) is Topgolf. A hybrid of driving range, restaurant, bar, and interactive game, Topgolf is fun for everyone, whether they know the business end of a 3-wood or not.
A more comprehensive list of attractions in the Birmingham area may be found here.
While You’re Stepping Out, You Might Want to Step Out.
You’re coming to a city with more outdoor wonders than you can shake a hiking stick at
We often hear from first-time visitors that they were amazed at how green it is in and around Birmingham. Right they are. We take great pride in our outdoor spaces. So, when you’re packing, you may want to consider throwing your hiking boots in the suitcase or strapping your mountain bike on the car.
Whether you’re into biking, hiking, water fun, fishing, golf – you name it – we’ve got it going on here in the greater Birmingham area. From serene trails that pass through some of Birmingham’s most interesting historical spaces, to the Cahaba River, richer in terms of biodiversity than all of England, to exquisite golf courses with views that will make you catch your breath, Birmingham has plenty to offer the outdoors enthusiast. Let’s start with parks.
At more than 11,000 acres, Alabama’s largest state park, Oak Mountain State Park, is about a twenty minute drive from downtown Birmingham. There, you can find everything from petting zoos to hiking and biking trails, to lakes and waterfalls. The recent addition of an Aquapark and cable wakeboard course have taken summertime at the park to a whole new level.
Also close to the city center you’ll find Red Mountain Park and Ruffner Mountain. Red Mountain Park features 16 miles of multi-use trails that meander through some 1,500 wooded acres, three tree houses with incredible views, a six-acre off-leash dog park, and the remnants of iron ore mines and ore processing facilities that date back to the 1800s.
Ruffner Mountain is also built on old mining lands. Views from the trail that circles the old limestone quarry alone are worth the walk. Deep in the heart of the park you’ll encounter old mine entrances, ore crushers, and the remnants of the railroad that carried iron ore and limestone into the iron mills in town.
South of the city in the community of Hoover, you will find the Moss Rock Preserve. At almost 350 acres, Moss Rock features trails, waterfalls, and outcroppings of stone that attract a huge number of rock climbers. After wandering through the preserve you’ll want to check out the small village nestled at its southeast border where you’ll find food and drink options along with other retail businesses.
Birmingham has also embarked on an ambitious project to connect the city and all of its surroundings via the Red Rock Trail System. Currently, 125 miles of trail connect urban walking trails with beautiful parks and wooded trails. One such trail, the Jones Valley Trail connects Birmingham from east to west and passes within blocks of almost every craft brewery in town. At the west end, you’ll find Railroad Park and Regions Field. At the east end you find yourself in the hip little community of Avondale. Not to miss: the Rotary Trail which passes through an abandoned railroad cut through downtown, and the Sunrise Rotary Plaza featuring a dramatic sculpture by renowned local artist, Deedee Morrison. The Kiwanis Vulcan Walking Trail, a four-mile out-and-back walk is also worth the visit. Above you the iron man, Vulcan, himself looks over you as you enjoy dramatic views of the city below.
Birmingham’s city parks are amazing in their own right. Down in the Civil Rights district, Kelly Ingram Park serves as a sobering reminder of hard-won freedom. The aforementioned Railroad Park, on the other hand, provides 19 acres of gentle city park terrain with ponds and playgrounds. Avondale Park, one of the oldest in the city, features baseball and softball fields, a spring-fed pond frequented by many waterfowl species, and the stone structures that used to be part of the zoo located there in the early 1900s.
These are but a few of the many parks, trails, and wild spaces that dot the landscape in and around the greater Birmingham area, offering ample opportunity for visitors to stretch their legs and commune with nature.
When You Visit, Bring Your Sticks
We’ve got some of the finest golf courses in the country
Birmingham is graced with moderate weather for much of the year, which makes it an excellent golf destination. With courses ranging from the highly rated Limestone Springs course to the gorgeous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses at Oxmoor Valley and Ross Bridge, the beautiful pine-wooded course at Oak Mountain State Park, and the city’s oldest municipal course at Highland Park, you can almost always find a tee time on any one of the 17 or so courses that surround the city. And, if weather becomes an issue, there’s always Topgolf where hitting golf balls and enjoying excellent food and drink come together for year-round entertainment, rain or shine and regardless of skill level.
Put on Your Shopping Shoes
Birmingham’s rich shopping scene will have you getting your steps in
When The Summit was first built in 1997 it was the first of what would become known as lifestyle centers. Open air, fashionable anchor stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Belk, restaurants such as P.F. Chang’s and Chuy’s, boutiques and makeup stores, outdoor outfitters like Orvis, Mountain High Outfitters, and REI, you name it, you can find it at The Summit.
That said, if your tastes run more to a more personal shopping experience, you’ll want to wander through some of our more tony shopping villages such as Mountain Brook Village, English Village, and Crestline where you’ll find exquisite little boutiques such as Brogue & Cuff and ETC. guaranteed to meet the expectations of even the most refined tastes.
Birmingham is also home to a number of eclectic shopping experiences. In the ascendant neighborhood of Woodlawn you’ll find hip little shops such as Club Duquette, known for comfortable but stylish clothing, supplies for easy living, and a vibe that’s all its own. In Lakeview you’ll want to check out Billy Reid’s place (he is, after all, Alabama’s most famous fashion designer), the Stone Hollow Farmstead where you’ll find turmeric vinegar, apple butter and other delights, and Design Supply – 9,000 square feet of abstracts and chic tabletop accessories.
In Avondale, check out Ore Mercantile for hip clothes and accessories as well as a first-rate deli. In Forest Park, you’ll want to visit Shoppe and General. Shoppe offers up plants and gardening supplies while General serves up art books and beautiful flea market finds as well as a mean pimento cheese sandwich.
No trip would be complete without losing a good hour or so in Jim Reed’s Books & the Museum of Fond Memories. Looking for a hard-to-find book? Jim’s probably got it. If not, he can find it. And his place is simply fascinating. If books are your thing, you can also hoof it over to Alabama Booksmith in Homewood where every volume is a signed edition. And the owner, Jake Reiss, is masterful at sussing out delicious gifts in the form of autographed books.
If you’re into architectural items and antiques, Birmingham has the goods. At Architectural Heritage, you can find Italian marble mantels and copper chimney pots. At the Antique Market on Linden, you’ll stumble across a truly random selection of everything from a carved figurehead from a Spanish galleon to vintage barware.
Just south of Birmingham in the Vestavia community, you’ll discover some interesting shopping spots as well. From Learning Express Toys – a rare neighborhood toy store, to Manhattan South – a contemporary boutique that marries up West Coast styles with a truly personal level of customer service, to Annabelle’s – a delightful stationery and gift shop, you’ll find just about anything your heart desires.
From established purveyors to hidden gems, the greater Birmingham area is a truly delightful place to shop.
Prepare to Kick Up Your Heels
When it comes to emerging music and excellent venues, Birmingham rocks
People don’t necessarily think of Birmingham first when they think of music, but we’re here to tell you that perhaps they should. Birmingham has become somewhat of an incubator for new and interesting music. Birmingham has spawned a broad range of music from the powerful soul of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, to singer songwriters such as Rebecca Egeland, Love Moor, and Kyle Kimbrell, to rock ’n’ roll groups like Heath Green and the Makeshifters, Holy Youth, and Alabama Rose. And, with venues like Oak Mountain Amphitheater, Iron City, WorkPlay, Saturn, and Zydeco, you’ll find acts from all over the country stopping in to make music.
Any musical discussion of Birmingham would be incomplete without mentioning Oasis. This classic rock ’n’ roll dive offers up heaps of ambiance, live music, and a full bar. You can also find that authentic feeling of a down-and-dirty music venue at the old standby, The Nick.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of things to do here in the greater Birmingham area. There’s plenty more than we’re able to convey here. We recommend you spend some time on our site if you’d like more in-depth information about any of these wonderful experiences.