If you only had one day to spend in Birmingham, Ala., what would you do? Here are my recommendations.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you’ll need a hearty one if you plan to see all of what Birmingham, Ala., has to offer in one day. Make your first stop at Urban Standard, located on the City’s burgeoning Second Avenue North. Owner Tomek Wrzesien dishes up the best grits you’ll find outside of your Grandma’s kitchen — perfectly salted and divinely creamy. Shell out the extra 2 bucks for cheese and Conecuh sausage, made just down the highway in Evergreen. You won’t be sorry. Wash it all down with a house-made chai before you walk across the street for a little shopping at Charm, which features new and vintage jewelry, handbags, accessories and gifts. A few doors down you’ll find What’s on Second, an antique store that claims to carry “everything that has ever been made.” One peek through the front window at all the wonders inside and you’ll realize they ain’t lying.
The year 1963 was a turning point in the civil rights movement, and Birmingham was the site of many crucial events that began to turn the tide of discrimination. The City is remembering “the movement that changed the world” with a year-long 50 Years Forward tribute. Stand on the corner where Birmingham’s awful history meets its promising future with a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church, the target of a racially motivated bombing that took the lives of four little girls. Across the street in Kelly Ingram Park stands the recently-unveiled “Four Spirits” statue memorializing victims of that bombing Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. For a complete overview of the history of the civil rights movement, visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which faces both the park and the church.
If all this history has made you a little peckish, drive east to the up-and-coming neighborhood of Avondale for lunch at Saw’s Soul Kitchen, a teeny-tiny barbeque joint which is gaining a king-sized reputation for some of the best food in town. Get there early for a plate of their pork ‘n greens. If that’s not for you, choose from burgers, po’ boys, and other delectable offerings all neatly (sort of) printed out on the chalkboard by the register. When your belly is full of ‘que, you might want to take a little rest next door at Avondale Brewing and enjoy a sampling of their craft brews. And walk across the street to Freshfully and stock up on locally grown produce and Alabama-made grocery items.
While away the afternoon in the cool, tranquil halls of the Birmingham Museum of Art while you enjoy its diverse collection or take a stroll around Railroad Park’s 19 acres of green space in the heart of town. Movie lovers might catch a matinee at the Alabama Theater, home to the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, where Birmingham audiences have been enjoying talkies since 1927. And ghost hunters can climb around Sloss Furnaces to get a feel for how nineteeth-century workers produced the pig-iron that put Birmingham on the industrial map while keeping an eye out for the ghost of James “Slag” Wormwood, a brutal foreman who fell to his death in one of the furnaces…or was he pushed?
Did you know that Birmingham is home to both the oldest and the newest baseball fields in the U.S.? Rickwood Field, built for the Birmingham Barons in 1910, has been seen in movies such as Cobb and Soul of the Game, and is currently used for a throwback game each year where players wear period uniforms. The Barons currently play at the brand new Regions Field, where they recently captured the Southern League Championship ending their first year in the new facility with a bang.
Enjoy dinner at Alabama’s oldest family-owned restaurant, The Bright Star. Recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of “America’s Classics,” The Bright Star is a shining example of Birmingham’s rich Greek heritage serving up steaks, snapper, and gumbo to generations of hungry customers since 1907. After dinner, enjoy a night-cap at The Garage Cafe, a wisteria-covered watering hole found in a string of old garages where early twentieth century elite could rent space to house their motor cars.
Standing guard over the greater metropolitan area from atop Red Mountain is Vulcan, god of fire and forge and the largest cast iron statue in the United States. Ride the elevator to the top of the observation deck for a breathtaking view of the valley below. As you gaze out over the twinkling lights of Birmingham — a place where the past and the future collide in an explosion of progress — you will understand why Birmingham is indeed the Magic City.