I’ve lived in Birmingham my entire life. Seriously – even college. The longest I’ve ever been away from this city was six weeks at the age of 16 when I went overseas.
As a kid, Birmingham was clearly a dying city. My parents told stories of what it once was, but it was impossible to imagine. Downtown was boarded up, everything happened in the suburbs, and we were all bored.
There was nothing to do.
In the past five years, my city has gone through a beautiful metamorphosis. Residents began having a new sense of optimism and burden to invest in the city. Things began to actually change, and all of a sudden, we had a vibrant, beautiful, exciting city.
(Did you know that we have the number one amount of green space per capita in the nation? A great deal of that has been created in my adulthood.)
It’s officially summertime, and it’s time to get out and explore the city – both the new and the old. If you’re not from Birmingham, you’re on your own. (And you should really consider moving here.) If you are from Birmingham, here are my suggestions.
1. Hike the trails at Red Mountain Park. [Free] They’re beautiful, have fascinating iron mining relics, and some pretty stunning views. Make a checklist of the major lookouts and treehouses and find them all.
Some of the trails even look like this. How much more magical could Birmingham get?
2. Tour Birmingham’s Local Coffee Shops. [Cheap] My favorites are Seeds Coffee Company, Church Street Coffee and Books, Octane, Urban Standard, The Red Cat, Hart and Soul, and O’Henry’s. Tell me if you discover any more jewels.
3. Go shopping at The Grand River Outlet Mall. [Free to as much as you want to spend] – They have a great kid’s play area, fantastic shops, and even better deals. Make sure you stop by the welcome center in the food court and get a coupon book.
While you’re in the area…
4. Find the Leeds Memorial Park. [Free] The slides there are taller than any other slides in Birmingham. AND they still have a merry-go-round! If you have children who like thrills, it’s great. And if they don’t, there’s a little kid park, too. If you need lunch afterward, check out Rusty’s BBQ. Rusty will make you feel at home, and he has the best white sauce in the city.
5. Eat a hamburger and enjoy the views at Tip Top Grill on Shades Crest Road. [Super Cheap] And while you’re there, walk down to Lover’s Leap. Just hold your kid’s hands well.
6. Visit Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. [Free] Take a stale bag of bread to feed the fish, ducks, geese, and turtles – they’ll be expecting it. Also, find the totem pole on the other side of the lake – it’s pretty fantastic.
7. Eat an outdoor dinner (or lunch) at Chez LuLu. [Moderate] Leave the kids with someone else if you can – it’s quite romantic.
8. Go to a Movie in the Park at Avondale Park. [Free] The amphitheater there is fantastic, and they have a fantastic operation headed up by Marco of Silvertron Café, which is where you should eat before attending.
9. Hike The Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. [Free] A largely forgotten jewel of Birmingham, this mountainside is fantastic. The views are well worth the hike, with or without kids – just don’t try to bring a jogging stroller.
While you’re in the area…
11. Take the kids to The McWane Center. [Moderate] It’s fun, sneakily educational, and is a great thing to do when it’s too hot to go outside.
12. Go to an ArcLight Stories night. [Cheap, not with kids] This is a unique and fascinating event where several people tell short stories from their lives. You will laugh, you will cry, you will learn to appreciate humanity.
13. Cool down at Steel City Pops in Homewood. [Cheap] If you need lunch to boot, Nabeel’s is around the corner and Little Donkey is next door. Tip: If you have a popsicle aversion like I do (even thinking about the feeling of biting into a popsicle makes me cringe,) get a milk-based one. They’re soft and quite manageable.
14. Go to a movie at The Alabama Theatre. [Moderately Cheap] It’s unforgettable.
15. Plan a walk downtown. [Free] You’ll be amazed at the things you notice.
16. Go on a Scavenger Hunt at Crestline Park. [Free] The contest is closed, but you should still be able to find the clues!
17. Canoe the Cahaba River. [Moderate] I have very fond memories of doing this as a kid, and seriously want to do it as an adult. We did tube the Cahaba a few years ago, and I must say I was a fan of Lazy-Man’s’-Canoeing.
18. Go on a Sunset Walk along the Ridges of Red Mountain. [Free] You knew I was going to suggest this, right? I guarantee it will change your outlook on the city forever.
19. Go to a Birmingham Barons game. [Moderately Cheap] Experience why this stadium is changing the face of Birmingham.
While you’re down there…
20. Visit the LightRails. [Free] It will make any night cheerier.
21. Take a short walk on the Irondale Furnace Trail. [Free] It’s a fun and easy view of some of Birmingham’s industrial history, as well as a gorgeous taste of nature.
22. Railroad Park. [Free] It’s one of our favorite places to hang out after dinner as the sun is setting. They have playgrounds, lakes, walking trails, and more.
23. Discover the hidden trails at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. [Free] That place is GIANT. You have no idea.
24. Drive a little over an hour to Spring Valley Beach Water Park. [Moderate] It’s been a few years since we’ve visited, but we loved it. They have waterslides, a huge pool, and they allow you to bring in all of your own food.
25. Spend a day hiking, swimming, BMXing, or relaxing at Oak Mountain State Park. [Cheap]
27. Visit Vulcan, of course. [Cheap] The free park is improved and better than ever, but it’s worth a few bucks to go to the top and see his view of the city. Also, those few bucks get you into the museum, which is always worth a walk-through.
28. Visit Tannehill State Park. [Cheap] I feel like half my childhood happened at Tannehill. And they’re all good memories.
29. Visit The Birmingham Zoo. [Moderate] Go in the mornings – the animals are always perkier, unlike me.
30. Walk along The Jemison Park Nature Trail. [Free] It’s beautiful, easy to manage, and shady. It also has a unique way of getting across the creek.
33. Head to the Gardendale Splash Pad. [Free] They also have an adjoining playground when it’s time to dry off.
34. Go on a drive through Mountain Brook and see who can spot the biggest house. [Free] Feel free to pretend that Birmingham’s royalty lives here.
Enjoy your summer. Explore. And let me know what you find.
And if you’re not in Birmingham, what do I need to come experience in your city?