“It’s nice to have you in Birmingham.”
These days you’ll see that lovely slogan gracing buildings all over the city as part of Magic City Mural Collective’s “99 murals in 99 neighborhoods” project.
And, here’s the thing: it’s true. It is nice to have you in Birmingham.
Visitors are coming to the Magic City in record numbers to explore award-winning restaurants, craft breweries, innovative art festivals, and renowned outdoor attractions. And this trend has every chance to continue as Birmingham was recently announced as the host of the 2021 World Games.
You might say there’s a cultural renaissance underway and the city is eager to invite visitors to experience the new Birmingham. With an overabundance of Southern hospitality and charm, world-class cultural and sporting attractions, and historical importance to boot, the city is poised to entertain and surprise you.
Start your morning with a Parisian café experience at downtown’s Continental Bakery. Owner Carole Griffin’s love for baking with simple, artisanal ingredients inspired a tasty menu of homemade croissants—try the apricot pecan—and decadent pastries. The charming space is packed with musical instruments for impromptu performances by the café’s loyal artist following.
For an emotional and educational look at how ordinary people and extraordinary actions changed the world, a visit to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must. Installations provide insight into the American civil rights movement as well as struggles against injustice the world over.
Quiet your growling stomach with a visit to Green Acres, a downhome downtown lunch spot on a bustling stretch of historic 4th Avenue North. This local favorite dishes up mountains of crispy fried chicken and catfish to regular devotees.
Or opt for a downtown institution straddling the line between old and new. The juxtaposition is apparent with one look at the building’s exterior. John’s City Diner features a classic neon sign above the door and a brand new “Nice to Have You” mural gracing the building’s side. The dining room with its original tiles and banquettes may seem old school, but the locally-sourced menu is anything but stuck in the past. Try the Alabama raised pork chops with bourbon-maple glaze and lightly battered Gulf Coast oysters with balsamic reduction.
Photo via Flickr/Robert S. Donovan
After Southern grub, a leg stretching is in order. Head to Midtown for a walk in the park. Railroad Park, a visionary project transforming a derelict industrial area into a 19-acre green space has become the city’s living room. Notice the rail yard’s original cobblestone cleverly recycled in benches throughout the park. Grab a seat and watch locals of all backgrounds play. From skater punks performing feats in the park’s three skate bowls, moms taking a free Zumba class under the pavilion, and Frisbee on the lawn, it’s a Birmingham slice of life not to be missed.
The city’s beer scene is percolating with new micro-brewers popping up around town and a one-block walk brings you to one of the most popular, Good People Brewing Company. Enter through the taproom in this converted industrial space, then tour the brewing operation while sipping El Gordo, the imperial stout we just named as the country’s best.
Good People Brewing Company
As you exit, you’ll see the largest sign boasting a city’s name this side of Hollywood. The steel “Birmingham” façade of Regions Field, home to the minor-league Barons leaves little doubt the city is baseball proud. And, with good reason. Winning a league championship in 2013 and busting national attendance records, the Barons prove this isn’t just a football-obsessed town.
Before leaving Midtown, drive through the trippy illuminated tunnel on 18th Street, one in a series of installations called “Birmingham Lights,” designed to artfully connect the downtown core with the city’s medical and university districts.
You could easily spend a week hopping from one award-winning fine-dining experience to the next and the place to begin is James Beard-favorite Highlands Bar and Grill For three decades, Chef Frank Stitt has crafted culinary masterworks from the palette he labels “French-inspired Southern.”
The lively bar area, filled with crowd-watching mirrors and see-and-be-seen locals provides a sexy start. Order oysters on the half shell and a glass of champagne to set the mood before moving to the elegant chateau-inspired dining room for Gulf Coast redfish served with roasted potatoes and locally-grown seasonal vegetables and baked grits with country ham, mushrooms and thyme.
Have a nightcap at a historic spot consistently voted as one of the South’s best bars. The Garage is southern gothic to the hilt with a long, sordid history, an otherworldly courtyard packed with dripping wisteria and long abandoned statuary, and a laissez faire vibe. Good thing it stays open late, this is a place for lingering.