Every Saturday morning, locals flock to the site of a former Dr. Pepper Plant for the area’s largest market. At Pepper Place Farmers’ Market, 100 seems to be the magic number. There’s nearly one hundred outdoor stands loaded with Chilton County peaches and vine-ripe tomatoes, all grown within a hundred-mile radius. For immediate gratification, try Bob’s Soon-to-be-Famous Pimento Cheese with a slice of hearty wheat from Magnolia Bread Co. and wash it down with JaWanda’s Sweet Potato Pie. There’s honey tastings, chef demos, and plenty of local color.
Not Saturday? No worries. Stop in locally-owned Lucy’s Coffee in the hub of the medical district on University Boulevard for bacon, egg and cheese nourishment in the form of an Egg MacLucy. A patchwork of mix-matched tables and chairs, including an eye-catching 1950s mustard-yellow couch give the spot a homey feel while the gracious staff welcomes visitors like family. Fair warning, parking is a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.
Plentiful days of sunshine make Birmingham an outdoor mecca. After fueling up, head to the 1,500-acre Red Mountain Park for 12 miles of exceptionally well-maintained hiking and biking trails. For adventure seekers, there’s a zip line tour and a challenging rope and obstacle course called Beanstalk Forest.
When the lunch bell rings, find your way to the hip Avondale neighborhood for Post Office Pies, recently voted best pizza in ‘Bama. Boasting a retro-cool location in a former post office and an owner with substantial kitchen cred including stints at Gramercy Tavern and Momofuku, this spot’s wafer-thin pizzas and seasonal salads live up to the hype.
While you’re in the neighborhood, pop in another of the city’s acclaimed beer establishments, Avondale Brewing with a dozen beers on tap, all named for local legends. Lore has it that a circus owner and his elephant Miss Fancy once brought crowds to nearby Avondale Park. The pachyderm now graces a label and serves as the brewery’s mascot.
The Magic City is filled with mythic tales and none is taller than the Roman god of fire and forge, Vulcan. At 180-feet tall, he’s the world’s largest cast iron statue and a weirdly wonderful symbol of the city’s one-time iron-and-steel glory. The superhero, cast from local iron in 1904, occupies a perch on Red Mountain with stunning views across the city and valley. Take the elevator to the top to truly appreciate Vulcan’s watch post.
Photo via Flickr/Bill Blevins
For a highly original shopping spree conveniently within Vulcan’s shadow, make your way to the tree-lined neighborhood of Forest Park. You’ll get a feel for the city’s vibrant art scene with a stop in Naked Art Gallery. Pick up one of Belgium-born owner Vero Vanblaere’s light-switch covers painted with Birmingham landmarks as a souvenir.
For funky wardrobe finds, check out neighboring Zoe’s Consignment. From second-hand designer labels to vintage duds, chances are you’ll find a new-to-you treasure.
To feel the pulse of the city’s downtown revitalization, take a stroll along 2nd Avenue North. Enjoy an aperitif at Collins while learning more about the city from the super-sized Birmingham-centric periodic table hanging above the bar.
Just be sure to put your name on the list for dinner at neighboring El Barrio first. When you walk through the door of the bustling Mexican-meets-Southern joint, you might wonder if you’re still in Birmingham. Walls lined with reclaimed wood mix with modern concrete and iron trimmings give off a Brooklyn vibe. The menu showcases locally sourced ingredients and outrageously good sauces making dishes like the roasted chile relleno with stuffed black beans, cactus and roasted-garlic cream a new Southern favorite.
Local heroes St. Paul and the Broken Bones have helped shine a light on the city’s robust music scene and nowhere is the diversity and breadth more clear than the little venue with an oversized presence, Bottletree. If jazz is your thing, don’t miss a show in the dimly lit, romantic Ona’s Music Room featuring the city’s best pianists and horn players.
Birmingham is easy to reach from most spots in the U.S. with Delta, United, American, Southwest and US Airways all flying into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. The airport is located five miles and less than 15 minutes from downtown.
For historic ambiance, it’s hard to beat the Tutwiler, known locally as “The Tut.” With a Hampton Inn affiliation, you might think cookie-cutter, but that’s far from the case here. This grand dame of Birmingham hotels has been welcoming guests since 1914 and oozes with elegance and charm.
For a taste of new Birmingham, reserve a spacious room at the recently opened Westin located in Uptown, the city’s recently unveiled dining-and-entertainment district. Enjoy half-price pints and three-dollar sliders during happy hour in the lobby at Todd English Pub.
Jess Simpson is a freelance writer and blogger with a passion for all things travel, art and the outdoors.