A visit to Alabama isn’t complete without barbecue.
Birmingham, AL is in its Renaissance period. With the city’s history rooted in iron and steel, it became a diverse hub thanks to the medical and automotive industries. But don’t be fooled by it being the largest city in Alabama; the local hot spots are centrally located and easy to access.
If you’re in a road trip mood, Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Florida are a few short hours away. Home to James-Beard award-winning chefs, soul-healing soul food, and the Food & Wine Test Kitchen, Birmingham also sets itself up as a spectacular and growing food city, earning itself the moniker “The Dinner Table of the South.” While Birmingham might not immediately ring any bells as a travel destination, we’re here to stop gatekeeping on the Magic City.
Here are our must-dos for your next trip and how to make the most of it.
Where to stay
With locations peppered throughout the south’s trendiest cities, including Asheville and Charleston, it’s no surprise the Grand Bohemian Hotel, a Kessler Collection property, planted roots in Birmingham’s posh Mountain Brook neighborhood. If the selfie opportunities with the moody, avant-garde decor (we’re talking purple couches that Prince would envy) weren’t already enough of a sell, the hotel has a wide array of unique activities for guests, including cooking and wine blending classes and an art gallery showcasing local up-and-coming artists.
To catch two butterflies in one jar, the Elyton Hotel is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, within walking distance of restaurants and bars. Its rooftop bar and lounge, Moon Shine, offers sweeping views of the city. With 111 guest rooms and 6 suites, this property owns the Goldilocks effect of a boutique hotel — not too big and not too small. Bonus points: It’s pet-friendly.
As the oldest operating accommodation in Birmingham (99 years and counting), the Redmont Hotel has seen many iterations, including a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2016. Under the umbrella of Hilton’s Curio Collection, this reasonably priced, 120-room hotel is made for any traveler. For those on business, it sits a few blocks from the downtown convention center. After refreshing yourself in your room after work, you can catch a show five blocks away in Birmingham’s Theater District. With the hotel’s 1920s-inspired decor, you’ll find it easy to get your Gatsby on before heading out for a night on the town.
Where to eat
Last Call Baking is everything you’d want out of a local bakery and patisserie. A rotating menu keeps things exciting, while unique goods ranging from passionfruit morning buns to Japanese milk bread egg sandwiches make this place an unforgettable Birmingham breakfast experience worth the early wake-up call. Don’t skip out on the classics — their croissants are heavenly.
A visit to Alabama isn’t complete without barbecue. Dubbed the best barbecue in Birmingham, Saws BBQ offers a variety of Southern staples. Their “Pork N’Greens” is the south on a plate with collard greens served over creamy cheese grits, pulled pork, and topped with fried onion rings. At Johnny’s, multi-James Beard semi-finalist chef Timothy Hontzas specializes in Southern dishes with Greek influences inspired by his family heritage. Here, you’ll find keftedes (Greek meatballs) and red beans and rice on the same menu with a wide array of accompanying sides that make it difficult to select a meat and just three.
For dinner, Automatic Seafood and Oysters is mandatory. The 2022 James-Beard Best Chef: South winner, Chef Adam Evans's restaurant dazzles. Start with their expertly curated array of oysters and work your way through a menu that highlights the best seafood the Gulf has to offer. If you’re not in the mood for something from the sea, Chef Evan’s has a fantastic selection of land proteins and vegetarian dishes to boot. Also, get a round (or two) of their yeast rolls with honey butter. Dinner is a must, but you can also treat yourself to their outstanding weekend brunch.
Things to do
Kick off your morning with a walk, run, hike, or bike throughout Red Mountain State Park. With over 1,500 beautiful acres and more than 16 miles of trails, it’s worth a visit, no matter your preferred outdoor activity. If you stumble across any of the park’s three hidden treehouses, you can catch a magnificent view of the cityscape.
The Market at Pepper Place is the spot to be on a Saturday morning or early afternoon. It’s crowned as the largest producers’ farmers market in the state and boasts over 100 tents in the summer months. Among the swaths of local vendors, you can eat, purchase gifts, watch local chef demos, and listen to live music all while stocking up your fridge and pantry for cheap.
For a relaxing afternoon, catch a movie at Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema, a non-profit independent movie theater. Before the show, enjoy the Pizitz Food Hall, with lots of casual dining food stalls selling everything from pho to burgers.
The fun doesn’t stop once it gets dark — Birmingham is a big brewery town. Avondale Brewing Company hosts live concerts throughout the year, both on their outdoor stage and in their upstairs show area. Other hopping options (pun intended) include Cahaba Brewing Company, Good People Brewing Company, and Ferus Artisan Ales. Back Forty Beer Company is a great place to gather for a beer, but don’t sleep on their Margherita pizza or kale salad.
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