Best of The Best Disney Rides

Here at The Hill Hangout we’re all about some travel. Between my parents jobs, my soccer tournaments, my sister’s soccer tournaments, and all the little weekend getaways we do a lot of traveling. Disney is somewhere we’ve been before and loved it! Along the way we’ve ridden a lot of rides, so we thought today we’d share with you some of our favorites. Welcome to the Best of The Best Disney- Rides Edition.

1. BEST 1ST TIME ROLLERCOASTER

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The Barnstormer- Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom- This rollercoaster is perfect for those who are new to the whole jig. Those smaller kids, grandparents, or unsure adults on your trip can figure out whether or not they like rollercoasters as much as you do. Its a small coaster so it won’t be too traumatizing if its not enjoyable. 😉

2. BEST NON-MOVING ATTRACTION

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Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor- Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom- This attraction is one of our family’s favorites. It is good, clean jokes that make your kids laugh so hard they might wet their pants. It is a great thing for the whole family to enjoy and it’s a different show every time, so you can go back again and again.

3. BEST BIG KID ROLLERCOASTER

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Rock-N-Rollercoaster- Hollywood Studios- This coaster is the grandaddy of them all. It is only for those who think they can go the distance and really ride. It’s in the dark, but you do get to sit by your friends! If you’re single, or hate waiting in lines, then the single rider line is available for this ride.

4. BEST DISNEY PLAY

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The Circle of Life- Animal Kingdom- This show is a really great one! It’s a spin-off of the crazy popular movie, The Lion King. It encompasses life-size puppets, amazing singers, and yes, even trampoline “monkeys”. It is a fun show for all ages and is great for large groups.

5. BEST ANIMAL ATTRACTION

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Kilimanjaro Safaris- Animal Kingdom- This ride is so amazing! You get to ride through the african safari on an open-air car and see live safari animals. it is great for all ages and especially the animal lovers in your crew. It isn’t intense like a rollercoaster, so don’t worry about crying kids.

6. BEST RIDE IN EPCOT

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Soarin’- Epcot- This ride really is neat. It takes you on a hang-gliding tour through some of the most well-known attractions in the world. See the Great Wall, the Sidney Oprah House, and many other famous destinations. This is a popular ride in Epcot, so it’s a good idea to get fast-passes ahead of time.

7. BEST WATER RIDE

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Splash Mountain- Fronteirland in Magic Kingdom- We’ve never been to the Disney water parks, but we’ve heard great things. Our favorite water-like ride is Splash Mountain. You might want to bring out the ponchos for this one folks because you might get a little wet. We have been so pleased with this mountain along with its sister rides, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain.

8. BEST CHARACTER MEET-UP

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Epcot Character Spot- Epcot- For those kiddos who love to get their autograph books signed, this it the place to go. You get to see several classic Mickey Mouse Disney characters all at one time here! It is inside so a great break form the heat if you’re struggling. When we went, the lines weren’t too long, but that could have just been the time of day. Epcot is a great park to meet other characters as well, such as Belle, Mulan, Jasmine, and Snow White in their corresponding countries.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our favorite Disney rides! If you’re hungry for more, check out Best of the Best Disney Food and 5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Trip . See y’all next time!
XOXO, Mary Anneliese

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Best of the Best Disney Food

As you’ve probably figured out by now, our family loves food. We don’t love all food though. We have been to disney twice as a family and eaten in a lot of restaurants. Some restaurants are really yummy, some are not so good, and some are good just for the experience. Below, we have put together a list of our family’s favorite food to eat in the magical place.

BEST EXPERIENCE

Best of the Best Disney Food

1. Rainforest Cafe- Outside Animal Kingdom- The Rainforest Cafe is such a fun restaurant! It feels exactly like you are in a rainforest all throughout the place. The food is good, but the scenery and experience is even better. Your kids that thrill over animals will be ecstatic about this place. Be sure to note that this is outside Animal Kingdom and not accessible through the park, but is right next door to the Animal Kingdom entrance.

BEST BREAK RESTAURANT

Best of the Best Disney Food

2. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre Restaurant- Hollywood Studios- This eatery is a super great one! What I mean by break restaurant is that this is a place where your gonna want to stop for a while to have fun. It’s not the place to grab a quick bite before your next fastpass, but is rather a fun experience in itself. You get to eat in retro convertible car booths and watch old movies while you’re there.

BEST BUFFET

Best of the Best Disney Food

3. Tusker House- Animal Kingdom- This place is so yummy!! We ate there for lunch on Thanksgiving Day and it was amazing! It is a buffet that has all kinds of fresh, great food and if ya go on Thanksgiving, they serve traditional turkey and dressing.

BEST SNACK FOOD

Best of the Best Disney Food

4. Golden Oak Outpost- Frontier Land in Magic kingdom- This place is a great one to grab something at before you hit your next stop. They have chicken fingers and waffle fries. We didn’t have the chicken, but the waffle fries were delicious and came in so many different flavors. You can get ’em plain, but you can also get them piled high with BBQ, lettuce, sour cream, and more!

BEST ETHNIC FOOD

Best of the Best Disney Food

5. San Angel Inn Restaurante- Mexico in Epcot- This restaurant is a super cool experience. If you’re looking for fantastic tex-mex, this isn’t your place, but the cool scenery and fun times made it worth it for us to go. It is inside, but is painted to make you feel like you’re outdoors in Mexico with all your Mexican friends.

BEST SWEET TREAT

Best of the Best Disney Food

6. Aloha Isle- Adventure Land in Magic kingdom- This is called a Dole Whip. It is one of Disney Park’s most iconic desserts and is super yummy. It is a vanilla ice-cream/pineapple-y dream boat. You can find it at Aloha Isle in Magic Kingdom, but it is also available in many other venues throughout the parks and resorts.

BEST NON-PARK FOOD

Best of the Best Disney Food

7. Wolfgang Pucks- Downtown Disney- This restaurant is so fantabulous! It isn’t in the parks, but is a fantastic place for dinner one night, or lunch before ya leave town. The food is crazy good and we all loved what we got when we went.

I hope y’all enjoyed reading about all our Disney travels! If you are hungry for more Disney, check out 5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Trip. Thanks for reading!
XOXO, Mary Anneliese

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5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Vacation

Our family loves Disney. I’m pretty sure it’s on most kiddos’ bucket list as a thing to do one day. I have personally been three times, but only vividly remember two. In those two we have been once for New Year’s and once for Thanksgiving, and both were super fantabulous. However, before we went we did extensive research on what to take, wear, and pack for the parks. We have made a checklist below of 5 things that will save your Disney vacation.

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1. Cooler Backpack– This backpack will change your Disney experience. If you haven’t ever used one, they are phenomenal! The top part is mesh for all your chips, crackers, and granola bars, and the bottom is a cooler for water, sodas, and juice boxes. This thing will save you so much money at Disney because food is expensive. Even just packing a lunch and some snacks will save you big bucks. We would pack crackers in the top and put cheese, chicken salad, and pimento cheese in the cooler part for a super yummy lunch. One tip is to use Rubbermaid containers with the backpack so that your chips, fruit, etc. don’t get crushed.

5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Vacation from TheHillHangout.com

2. Umbrella Stroller– When we went to disney my sister, Patterson, was 5 and then 7. She was really too old for a stroller, but in Disney we used one to keep her legs from getting so tired. We found a great stroller on Amazon, but it has been discontinued. {I’ve linked one that is similar though.} We used our stroller every day in the parks. We put jackets and souvenirs in the bottom compartment and we strapped the cooler bag (listed above) on the back when we didn’t feel like carrying it. Patterson fell asleep every night in this thing and there was no complaining that her legs hurt from walking.

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3. Battery Pack– The second time we went to Disney we discovered this, and it was a life saver!! There aren’t many electrical outlets in Disney, so it can become hard to keep your phone charged with all those family pictures. And if you’re using a Disney Parks app, they take a lot of battery use! One of the most useful things is a battery pack. You can charge it overnight and have it ready for the next day in the park. We got one with 2 outlets so that 2 phones can charge at once. It is an amazing thing to have so you don’t ever have to slow down your Disney adventures.

5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Vacation from TheHillHangout.com

4. Rain Ponchos– These things are another great thing to have in Disney! They are perfect for those flash showers and water rides. They are a life saver if your kids are dying to go on those water rides, but you don’t want to get soaked. You can also use them to cover your stroller and camera when showers pop up. I’ve linked some they have on Amazon, but you can find them at the dollar store too for about 1/10 the price you would pay in the Disney parks.

5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Vacation from TheHillHangout.com

5. Phone Powered Fan– This fan really comes in handy at Disney. It can get so hot, especially if you go in the summer. These fans plug in to the charging outlet on your iPhone and spin using your phone’s battery. The instructions say they only use 4% of your battery life per hour of use, but I can’t swear by that. They are great at Disney, but also for baseball games or swim meets during usual summer days.

I hope this is helpful for your next Disney vacation! Let me know when you’re going so I can tag along!
XOXO, Mary Anneliese

5 Things That Will Save Your Disney Vacation

Free Family Fun in Washington DC

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A couple of years ago our family went on one of the best vacations of our lives. We traveled to Washington DC as a combination work/fun/educational trip, and we are still talking about how much we want to go back. One of the best surprises we discovered is that there is plenty of free family fun in Washington DC. My girls were 13 and 7 at the time, and there was so much to see and do that we had a hard time fitting it all into one trip. We were blessed to be able to stay six days, but there was still so much we didn’t get to that we want to make another trip soon.

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One tip that wasn’t free but made a world of difference for us is the DC Metro. We walked as much as we could, and DC is a terrific walking town, but when we got tired or it got to be too dark we rode the Metro. It was easy to navigate and we felt very safe the whole time. People were friendly and the Metro staff is very helpful.

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We didn’t have clearance for a White House tour, but we did walk by it. It is just as moving as you’d think. It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that one of the most powerful men in the world is just inside that gate and that so many decisions are made there that influence the entire world. It really is breathtaking.

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Just down the street from the White House is the White House Visitor Center. It is an information center that has tons of exhibits and displays about life in the White House. You can see a 15 minute film about life in the White House. It holds lots of artifacts and memorablila that we enjoyed seeing as much as we enjoyed the Smithsonians. They also have a shop that sells the official White House Christmas ornaments and lots of other fun souvenirs. Don’t miss it, even if you don’t go to the White House. Note that the hours are 7:30am-4:00pm, so this one closes a little earlier than other sites.

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The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is tops on our list. It holds a historic collection of aircraft and spacecraft. My girls have always enjoyed studying about the solar system and space travel, so this was a fun tour for them. We spent about 3 hours in this museum, which was plenty of time for us to see it all.

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If you are an art lover, you will not want to miss out on the National Portrait Gallery. Honestly, this was one of my favorite of the Smithsonian museums. The NPG is home to portraits of our nation’s presidents, historical figures, and many notable Americans of modern times. You will see such famous and notable pieces as Alexander Gardner’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln, John Trumbell’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton, John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Henry Cabot Lodge, self-portraits of Mary Cassatt and Paul Cezanne, and the Gilbert Stewart portraits of George and Martha Washington. If you are touring with kiddos ages 4-14, stop by the info desk and ask for a portrait discovery kit to make their trip more interactive. The NPG stays open the latest of all the Smithsonians, closing at 7:30 pm.

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We were pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had at the National Postal Museum. If you, like us, might be thinking, “How much fun can a museum dedicated to mail be?” you are in for a treat. It really is intriguing to see the history and development of our nation’s postal service. We were especially enthralled with the stamp collections and postal delivery vehicles. Until March 2018, they have a special exhibit entitled “Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks.”

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By far the most beautiful interior we saw in DC was at the Library of Congress. As a homeschooling family, we have long been fans of any library, but this one tops them all. I really wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking the architecture was.

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And of you don’t see anything else in the Library, you can’t miss the Thomas Jefferson collection of books. President Jefferson is said to have had one of the largest personal libraries in the entire country, and much of it is on display at the Library of Congress. It really is something to see!

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The one place I wish we’d planned on spending more time was Arlington National Cemetery. To let the heaviness of the experience fall on you, you really need to spend several hours there. You will want to talk around and look at the grave sites, but also plan to do the tour at Arlington House. My only regret about Arlington is that we didn’t make time to attend a changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That is tops on our list when we return to DC.

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No visit to our nation’s capital would be complete without seeing where our laws are made. If you want to see the US Capitol, I highly recommend booking a tour through your senator’s or representative’s office. These tours book up early, so you are really taking a risk by not booking ahead of time.

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The National Archives houses an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the US Constitution, as well as many other documents with national significance. While it is all interesting to see, you don’t want to miss the Rotundas for the Charters of Freedom.

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The monuments are among the most iconic sites in DC. Most of these are view-it-yourself type experiences, except for the Washington Monument, which is a guided tour. They are bigger and more grandiose than you can imagine. And though they look like they are really close together, it takes time to walk around to all of them. Like, half a day.

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I saved the best for last… The National Museum of American History. This is where you will see Dorothy’s red ruby slippers, Julia Child’s kitchen, a fragment of Plymouth Rock, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, Archie Bunker’s chair, Kermit the Frog, Alexander Graham Bell’s big box telephone, and Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick. Plan to spend the better part of a day in this museum, as you will want plenty of time to see all of the fun artifacts.

If you are traveling to Washington DC soon, take a look at our list of Best Washington DC Restaurants for Foodies.

Best Washington DC Restaurants for Foodies

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A couple of years ago, our family had the time of our lives in our nation’s capital. Seriously, it was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken, and we cannot wait to go back. Not only are the historical sites amazing (not to mention FREE), but the food scene was incredible. We thought you might enjoy a post about the best Washington DC Restaurants for foodies. It was super fun to eat our way through the district, and if you travel to DC you’ll see what we mean!

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We would be remiss if started a post about the best Washington DC restaurants for foodies at any place other than our family’s favorite – Founding Farmers. Founding Farmers is a restaurant owned by more than 40,000 of our nation’s farmers, and they do a beautiful job of farm-to-table dining. In fact, we loved Founding Farmers so much that we went twice while we were in DC. Everything was so fresh, and each dish was creative and yet classic.

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The best appetizer we had was the farm bread topped with brie, crisp apple, and onion jam. It was culinary perfection!

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The tomato soup with house made chips and grilled cheese were some of the best we’ve ever eaten (and we’ve eaten this meal a LOT!). Even our picky eater LOVED it. We also enjoyed the slow-braised beef short ribs and the meatloaf and gravy. When we went back a second time, it was for brunch. We enjoyed the breakfast chicken and waffles, Uncle Buck’s beignets, and the eggs benedict with crab. It was even better than it sounds!

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We are a sucker for a local place like one you’d see on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. That’s where we found Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s the kind of place you have be all in on – no timidity here. Burgers, dogs, and chili is all they do, so dive right in with a chili dog. Take your Tums and enjoy having taken part of the local DC food scene.

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Probably one of the most historical DC restaurants is Old Ebbitt Grill. From their site, “The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest saloon, was founded in 1856 when, according to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house. As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who’s Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress, and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.” In fact, many of the animal heads hanging above the bar were killed by Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a fascinating place.

Old Ebbitt serves a variety of classic American dishes. We stuck to steaks – the filet for me and the dry aged ribeye for Jonathan. The girls had burgers, and we all enjoyed oysters (which are a specialty for them). They also have a selection of seafood, duck, pastas, and salads. It’s a bit pricy, but a very special place that’s definitely worth the treat.

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If you’re a fan of cooking shows, you might be familiar with DC Cupcakes on TLC. The actual cupcake bakery featured on the show is Georgetown Cupcakes. Of course, no trip to DC is complete without seeing it and having a few treats. I advise you to go early in the day, as we waited until just before closing time and there weren’t many cupcakes left. Duh! We should have thought about that. However, you can’t go wrong with any of the flavors. These are fantastic cupcakes! Georgetown Cupcakes is located in the Georgetown section of DC, which is full of shops and restaurants. It’s a terrific place to walk for dinner, and then hop over to Georgetown Cupcakes for dessert.

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We stayed in the Foggy Bottom section of DC, and everyday we walked past the coolest burger joint. We finally stopped in one day for lunch, and it was incredible. If you like a good burger, check out Burger Tap and Shake. It’s an orderr at the counter kind of place, and they have a terrific selection of specialty burgers. And as DC joints go, this one won’t break the bank.

Best DC Restaurants for Foodies from TheHillHangout.com

After a day of walking around and seeing sites, we found ourselves around the monuments at lunch time. We had a heck of a time finding something to eat around that area, so we made a long walk to District Taco. It’s a build-your-own taco place, and it was a crowd pleaser. We all liked the food, which was fresh and delicious. Now, don’t be from Texas thinking you’re going to get an authentic Mexican taco in DC. It ain’t gonna happen. But if you like a good, solid Tex-Mex, District Tacos is a fun place.

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The last time we were in NYC, Carmine’s was one of our favorite eateries. We were excited to see that DC has a Carmine’s as well. Carmine’s is a family-style Italian restaurant, and the food is comfy and superb. The one dish we wanted to be sure to eat again was the chicken scaloppine with lemon and butter. It was just as good as I remembered. The girls ordered spagheti ad meatballs, and everyone was happy for the long walk back to our hotel.

Best DC Restaurants for Foodies from TheHillHangout.com

Shake Shack breaks our rule of eating at local places when we travel, but we don’t have one in our area so we made an exception. We walked over to Union Station to check it out, and took a mid-day break at Shake Shack. The burgers were awesome, but the thing we loved most was playing foosball while we waited for our food. It was a fun break in our day of site seeing and history learning.

I’d love to hear if you have favorite DC restaurants and consider yourself a foodie. I’d love to start making my list for the next time we are there!

Best DC Restaurants for Foodies from TheHillHangout.com

100 Dishes in Alabama: Felix’s Fish Camp

Felix Fish Camp

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our adventures through the list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. We spent a little time in south Alabama this weekend, so we were able to hit a few spots on the list. I must say, I have missed working my way through the list, and I’ve certainly missed sharing with you all the dishes that have given my homeland quite a name in the culinary world.

Felix Fish Camp

Friday night took us to Felix’s Fish Camp on the Causeway in Spanish Fort, where they are known for their crab soup. And let me tell you, that crab soup did not disappoint. Jonathan ordered it as soon as the waitress told him it was their specialty, and he was sweet enough to share it with the rest of us. It was thick enough to eat it from a plate (which MA did), and it was full of fresh, lump crab meat. He declared it the best crab soup he’d ever eaten, and I’m inclined to agree. It was some delicious stuff. It’s definitely not a low-calorie dish, but it’s worth every bite.

Not only was the crab soup delicious, but we each really enjoyed the seafood we ordered. Felix’s sits right on the Mobile Bay, and their seafood is all freshly caught. J and I both ordered the grouper, grilled and lightly seasoned. MA ordered the fried fish, and it was crispy with a hint of spiciness. The wait staff really goes to great lengths to serve the food well and make customers feel like it is a special event to dine at Felix’s. All in all, it was a fabulous meal.

The next time we are passing through Mobile, we will definitely stop by Felix’s again for a bowl of their famous crab soup. I would suggest taking advantage of their reservations or call-ahead seating options, as we had to wait for an hour. Not bad for a Friday night, but we will call ahead next time. They also suggest dining around sunset to take advantage of their spectacular view. The back wall of the restaurant is complete windows and it overlooks the bay. I’m sure that dining with that view would be a special treat.

Alabama’s BBQ Scene

Alabama BBQ Trail

When you grow up in Sweet Home Alabama, a good plate of BBQ is not just dinner, it’s a way of life. You cut your teeth on rib bones, and you learn early how to look for the best bark on a brisket. Alabama has an existing and solid reputation as a food destination, but Alabama’s BBQ scene has exploded in the last few years. Our state’s BBQ restaurants and traditions are consistently featured as some of the best in the US and in national media publications. Our state’s tourism department has even declared 2015 as “The Year of Alabama BBQ.” If you’ve ever thought about a trip to the historical civil rights landmarks, the Space and Rocket Museum, or a visit to our beautiful beaches, plan to make several stops along the BBQ trail. You can find a fun list of road trips to Alabama here.

While the best BBQ joints in Alabama are rarely fancy, you will no doubt experience the friendliness and hospitality for which Alabama is widely known. We are a laid-back bunch who knows how to relax and enjoy good food and good company. Life, as they say, moves slower in Alabama, and enjoying a slab of ribs or a BBQ sandwich with friends is definitely a favorite pastime. Every Alabamian has their own personal favorites when it comes to our long list of BBQ restaurants, and I certainly have my favorite spots to meet up with friends and family for dinner.

I live in Birmingham, so the BBQ spots in our area are near and dear to me. First fave: Full Moon.

Full Moon

At Full Moon, you really can’t go wrong with the pork plate, the black angus beef brisket, or the hickory smoked turkey. But whatever you meat you choose, be sure to pair it with their famous vinegar-based slaw, top it with their chow-chow, and round it out with a half-moon cookie for dessert.

Jim ‘N Nicks is a Birmingham landmark, and it is always a crowd-pleaser. I’m a fan of the pulled pork sandwich and fries, but don’t miss their cheddar biscuits. Yeah, you’re gonna ask for another round of those!

Jim Nicks Biscuits

The newest BBQ joint in town is Saw’s, and it has quickly made a name for itself on Alabama’s BBQ scene. Saw’s serves a delicious pork sandwich, served with fried pickles. But if you aren’t in the mood for BBQ, be sure to try the pork on cheese grits, piled with greens and topped with curls of light onion rings.

Saws sandwich and fried pickles

We frequently head north to visit the US Space and Rocket Center or various other north Alabama attractions. When we are in Decatur, we never miss Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, home of the original Alabama white sauce.

Big Bob White Sauce

They have other great sauces as well, but my preference is the white sauce on smoked chicken.

Big Bob White Chicken

Football is king in Alabama, and in the fall we are a state divided right down the middle. Half of us are yelling “Roll Tide” for the University of Alabama, and the rest of us are yelling “War Eagle,” the battle cry of Auburn University.

If Tuscaloosa is your destination, Dreamland is a must-do. I’ve been going to Dreamland since the original location was the only location.

Dreamland

To get the true Dreamland experience, order ribs and white bread. You’ll get a rack of ribs and several pieces of white sandwich bread. That’s it. And you’ll be in heaven.

If you’re headed to the Plains for a ballgame, be sure to stop in at Mike &Ed’s. Like I said, we don’t make things fancy in Alabama. We serve our sweet tea nice and cold, but at Mike & Ed’s you’ll have to get it right out of a trash can. DOn’t worry… it’s clean.

Mike Ed Tea

One of the most notable attractions in Alabama is our coastline. Alabama beaches are the most beautiful anywhere around, as far as I’m concerned. They are sugar white and surrounded by the most quaint and charming small towns. They are definitely worth staying a few days! When in south Alabama, don’t miss the small town of Fairhope, home of lovely shops and fun restaurants like Ben’s BBQ. While I’ve never been to Ben’s, I have it on good authority that it’s the best BBQ in town.

Bens BBQ Fairhope

Fairhope isn’t the only coastal town with good BBQ. Mobile is home to two notable joints. The Brick Pit was featured on an episode of “Man vs. Food.”

Brick Pit Mobile

And I have it on good authority from friends who KNOW good BBQ that Saucy Q is the place to be. With a menu like this, I know the food is the real deal!

Saucy Q Menu

Planning a foodie trip to Alabama is made simple with the new Alabama Travel app, available for Android and iPhone. I’ve downloaded it, and it will notify me when I’m close to one of the BBQ restaurants that I want to try. So fun. You can follow the Alabama Tourism Department on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Y’all leave me a comment and let me know your favorite Alabama BBQ spot.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Alabama Tourism. The opinions and text are all mine.

Most Popular Posts of 2014

Best of 2014 collage

2014 has been a terrific year around the Hill Hangout! We have had more readers this year than in any other previous year since 2007, when we started posting a few pictures for our out-of-town family to see. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for hanging out with us. I feel that I have found MY people – the ones who love the Lord, love their families, love good food, love to fix things that are broken down, and love to explore new places. My top ten posts from 2014 reflect just that! I hope you’ll stick around for 2015.

10. Yum Yum Sauce

Yum Yum Sauce

9. The Best Homemade And Killer

Ant Killer

8. The Magic of Chalk Paint

Green Caneback Chairs

7. Mudslide Pie

Mudslide Pie

6. Summer Art Projects

Art

5. Back to School Prayers

Back to school

4. Greek Seasoning

Greek Seasoning

3. Creamy Sriracha Dipping Sauce

Sriracha

2. Loaded Cornbread

Loaded Cornbread

1. Miracle Treatment for Eczema

alt="home remedy for eczema"

Small Town America

Whenever we travel, I always enjoy getting off the interstate and taking the highways. You can see so much of small town America on the back roads that you miss when you take the quick and easy routes. It’s usually worth the time and effort it takes to travel lesser known roads because you get to see and experience the culture and flavor of the regions that make up our great country. God has made each part of our country to have its own unique personality, and we see so much of Him when we take time to enjoy other cultures.

We came home from Orlando through south Georgia, and its was all back roads for us! Here are a few of the local sights we would have missed if we hadn’t ventured off:

Small Town America

Magnolia Plantation has everything you need to feel like you’ve been through south Georgia! They are known for Vidalia onions, so the pepper sauce is abundant.

Small Town America

I don’t know Pappy, but I bet he makes a good White Lightnin’ sauce!

Small Town America

And who doesn’t need a pair of hot oink baby Minnetonka moccasins!?! Aren’t these the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Too bad my girls are too big for these!

Small Town America

Whether you’re a fan of GooGoo Clusters, salt water taffy, peanut brittle, or divinity, you can find it in south Georgia!

Small Town America

Sure, there’s the obligatory kitch like flamingo oil paintings and I heart Georgia shot glasses…

Small Town America

And you haven’t lived until you’ve had a cold Coke from the little green bottle!

Small Town America

After a few minutes at Magnolia Plantation, we scurried up the road to Carroll’s Sausage and Meats.

Small Town America

Not only do they sell the best hand crafted rockers (which I’m regretting my decision to leave behind!)…

Small Town America

But the meat selection is our kind of deal. We left $49 poorer, but with next week’s breakfasts planned.

Small Town America

The Big Guy was in his element choosing our smoked sausage, jerky, and hot breakfast sausage.

And we would have missed a real spectacle with these cotton fields, bursting with white. I so wish I’d had a pair of clippers to stop and snip a few branches. Do you think the farmer would have minded?

Small Town America

I’ve never regretted taking the long way home. We have had the opportunity to see so much more of what makes life have texture and purpose by taking the road less traveled. And you can take that as literally or as figuratively as you’d like.

Spring Valley Beach

**Congratulations to our two winners – Gina Martin and Donna Montgomery Reid!! Ladies, I have sent each of you an email, so be on the lookout for it.**

On Saturday Jonathan and I loaded up the girls and headed to Blountsville, AL, to check out Spring Valley Beach Water Park. We’d heard some friends talking about it, so we looked it up on the internet. Though the pictures looked like it would be a lot of fun, we really didn’t know what to expect. As soon as we pulled up, we discovered that we were in for a really fun day.

Spring Valley Beach promotes a family atmosphere, and I think they deliver that quite well. We were able to park easily and find a spot near the pool for our picnic blanket. The girls wanted to hit the pool right away, and who could blame them?

pool

The pool is HUGE – two acres, in fact! It was Patterson’s favorite spot in the whole park, as it has lots of shallower areas for little swimmers. In fact, it a beach entry pool, so people brought their beach chairs and pulled them right into the edge of the water.

One of the most attractive things about Spring Valley is how they really try to accommodate guests, while keeping the park very safe. While lifeguards are numerous and carefully watch the crowd and enforce the swimming rules, they allow guests to bring in coolers, grills, flotation devices, beach chairs, and almost anything else that wouldn’t interfere with the other guests (no alcohol or radios). They really try to make it fun for their customers! In fact, they have fabulous pavilioned areas that guests can reserve for the day.

Pavilions

How much fun would it be to bring a group and stay the day? We actually ran into some of our church friends there and discussed how much fun it would be to bring our Sunday school class here as a group. It would be really fun for an end of the year party for a soccer, baseball, or softball team. And birthday parties would be a blast at Spring Valley. There were lots of groups having family reunions as well.

Not only do they make it fun for big kids, but they have a fabulous splash park at one end of the pool just for smaller kids. The water around this section is only around 12″ deep, and the playground/splash area is so much fun!

Splash

And if you need a little more thrill than the pool has to offer, they have several rides to choose from. Our whole family rode several of the water slides. They were fast, but even my little girl loved them. My big girl and I were the only ones brave enough to ride the 360 Rush. Y’all, you climb the stairs to the top so that you are about 40 feet in the air. Then you lie down in a capsule, and in a few seconds the bottom drops out, shooting you down the enclosed slide. You go so fast that when you get to the bottom, you go around and around the circular part.

360

I’m glad to say we did it once, but I think once was enough for me. It is super fun but super fast!

We never did work up the courage to try the Sidewinder. We’ll save that one for another day!

Sidewinder

After the excitement of the mega rides, we ended the day by taking a few more turns on the pool slides. They had about 4 or 5 water slides that both of my girls rode over and over.

Slide

Spring Valley Beach is only about an hour north of Birmingham and about 50 miles from Huntsville. They are open 10:00-6:00 most summer days, but check the calendar on their website before you make the trip. We paid the extra $10 to park near the pool instead of the free parking area, and we thought it was well worth it. We went back to our car several times during the day and it was an easy trip. The pavilions are great ($25 fee), but many people brought their own tents and claimed a spot on the sidewalk or grass. We felt like our things were secure on our picnic blanket, but they do rent lockers if you want to store items. We wore flip flops that we didn’t mind getting wet so that we could have shoes to wear in the bathrooms and on the pavement while walking among the different slides.

The super nice folks at Spring Valley Beach have been gracious enough to give us TWO pairs of tickets to give away. You can enter several ways. The giveaway will stay open a week, and next Monday we will randomly select two winners, who will each receive a pair of day passes. Fun, right?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Spring Valley Beach sent our family passes so that we could visit the park to write this review. All opinions are, as always, my own. I really do think you’ll like Spring Valley Beach as much as we did.