Known in the past as the Pittsburgh of the South because of its vast iron and steel industry and then surviving the horrible notoriety of racial unrest in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Birmingham, Alabama has relegated those identities to history and is enjoying its current reputation for outstanding food, natural and historical attractions, upscale shopping and great accommodations.
Birmingham’s Culinary Claims to Fame
Andrew Zimmern, television star and recognized food expert, recently referred to Birmingham, Alabama as “one of the best kept secrets in America.” He was speaking in a culinary context and had in mind the high acclaim achieved by Highlands Bar and Grill, owned by Frank and Pardis Stitt. After being nominated numerous times by the James Beard Foundation for Restaurant of the Year in America, Highlands won that amazing award in 2018. To quite literally put icing on that cake, Dolester Miles, Pastry Chef at Highlands, took home the award for Best Pastry Chef in America the same year.
Highlands has been serving diners since 1982, but other popular Birmingham eateries have longer track records for success. Irondale Café opened its doors in 1928 and is best known for fried green tomatoes and other Southern comfort food staples. Lloyd’s on Highway 280 has been serving barbecue, seafood and sandwiches since 1937, and Niki’s West, opened in 1957, is now into its second generation of ownership by the Hontzas family and has an astounding number of steam table choices for the long lines in their cafeteria every day.
More recent additions to the Birmingham, Alabama food scene include Galley and Garden in the Five Points neighborhood and Pizitz Food Hall in downtown. Global cuisines from Israel, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Mexico, Nepal, Hawaii and India share the space with American burger, biscuits, coffee, tea and cheese shops.
Specialized Themed Tours
If visitors are unfamiliar with Birmingham, Alabama they can choose from a variety of tours that give detailed looks into its past and present. Possibilities include itineraries featuring Civil Rights, Food, Industrial Highlights or Popular Attractions. Two food factories in the city – Golden Flake Potato Chips and Bud’s Best Cookies – give guided tours, complete with delicious samples. These are particularly popular for families with children or school groups.
Museums, Gardens, Science and Golf
It’s hard to imagine an interest or a hobby not covered in one of Birmingham, Alabama’s special attractions. Lovers of fine arts will appreciate the Birmingham Museum of Art and performances by the Alabama Symphony and the Alabama Ballet. The Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center maintains a packed calendar of plays, concerts and trade shows of all kinds.
Nature and animal lovers will enjoy the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. In fact, they are located in such close proximity, it would be easy to visit both in the same day. While you’re in the area, be sure to see the Vulcan Park and Museum and get a close-up view of the 56-foot statue looking out over the whole city from the top of Red Mountain.
Barber Vintage Motor Sports Museum, a short drive from the city, houses over 1200 motorcycles and race cars, and the McWane Science Center offers four floors of hands-on exhibits and a 280-seat, 5-story high IMAX dome.
Of the eleven sites on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail scattered throughout Alabama, two of those are in Birmingham. One with three courses is in Oxmoor Valley, and the other is at Ross Bridge. The Trail is the spectacular result of the vision of CEO Dr. David Bonner and the investment of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Golfers from all over the world come to the state to play this trail.
Upscale Shopping Options
Both the Riverchase Galleria and The Summit are filled with retail giants well-known to every American. They both have plenty of parking and dining options to suit your needs. However, if you’re looking for something more quaint or distinctive, consider heading to The Villages of Mountain Brook or 18th Street South in Homewood. In both cases, you’ll find street parking and dozens of locally-owned shops filled with tempting merchandise for your home, your hobbies or your wardrobe.
Variety of Accommodations
Birmingham, Alabama has a large number of chain hotels offering lodging for the budget-conscious to the splurge-worthy with dozens in the mid-range. If you want something extraordinary, consider one of the city’s two bed and breakfast inns. Cobb Lane B & B and Hassinger-Daniels Mansion B & B are both owned by Sheila Chaffin, who put her considerable skills as an architect and a city planner into practice with the renovation and restoration of both buildings.
The Redmont Hotel downtown is the city’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1925, but with recent extensive renovations, it reopened as its newest in 2016. This boutique hotel now boasts the very latest amenities and is owned by Hilton.
Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa is a perfect choice for an anniversary, a special occasion or anytime you’re looking for luxury. It sits adjacent to one of the expertly-designed Robert Trent Jones golf courses, and its architecture will remind you of a Scottish castle, especially when a kilt-wearing bagpiper calls the golfers in at sundown every night. The walls of the lobby are adorned with stunning works by the Alabama artist simply known as Nall.
Final Thoughts about Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama is a great place to spend a weekend or more. With couples, one can play golf while the other one shops and then come back together for dinner and a concert. Families can explore the zoo, the McWane Center and the popular casual restaurants. Everyone can find a museum or attraction that captures their imagination.
Birmingham, once full of factory fumes and civil unrest, is now a thriving city with a bright future and much to share.
Article Written by Connie Pearson of There Goes Connie.
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