Check Out My Hometown

School’s out for summer, and that means people are hitting the road in search of some FUN! I have seen various posts this week showcasing the many fun things to do in different cities across our country. First there was Melanie’s post about San Antonio. Then there was James Spann’s Best Way to the Bama Beaches“, which encourages Birminghamians to get off the interstate and onto the back roads to enjoy the scenery and sites in small town Alabama. I enjoyed Jamie’s post “staycation in Atlanta.” My hometown of Birmingham has so much to offer, I didn’t want us to be left out! So here is my list of interesting, fun, must-see family-friendly spots…

1. Birmingham Zoo: The zoo recently opened their new “Trails of Africa” exhibit with elephants, giraffes, rhinos, ostriches, zebras, and so muchmore. There are two fabulous playgrounds and a splash pad. Enjoy a ride on the carousel or take a tour of the zoo by train.

2. McWane Science Center: The premier hands-on chlidren’s science center in Alabama! McWane features four floors of interactive exhibits, along with an IMAX theater. Currently showing at the IMAX are Born to be Wild and Tornado Alley. McWane also has a preschool-only play area called “Just Mice Size”. Step across the street to Pete’s Famous Hotdogs for lunch. The atmosphere of the closet-sized hotdog stand will never be the same since it’s beloved owner Gus Koutroulakis passed away in April, but the hotdogs are still the same good food Famous Pete’s has been serving up since 1948.

3. Alabama Theater: According to their website, “The Alabama Theatre was built in 1927 by Paramount Studios as an Alabama showcase for Paramount films. It was used primarily as a movie palace for 55 years, with the exception of the annual Miss Alabama pagent and the weekly Mickey Mouse Club. The new Alabama Theatre for the Performing Arts hosts many live events, as well as films. Each year the Theatre hosts over 300 events attended by a half million Birmingham area citizens.”

Summer film series includes Ramona and Beezus, Gone With the Wind, Key Largo, The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, E.T., The Sound of Music, Roman Holiday, Viva Las Vegas, and Rebel Without a Cause.

4. Ice Skating at the Pelham Ice Arena: The ice skating rink is one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets. The Pelham Civic Complex boasts two National Hockey League-sized ice rinks. They offer figure-skating lessons and a hockey league as well. Private lessons are available. We had MA’s birthday party there last year, and it was one of the best parties she’s had!

5. Birmingham Botanical Gardens: The larger of the two botanical gardens in the greater Birmingham area, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens covers over 67 acres. Features include the rose gardens, the Southern Living Garden, the butterfly house, and our favorite – the Japanese Garden. Admission to the BBG is free, and it is well-worth the visit. Don’t forget your camera, as there are many picture-perfect spots around the gardens.

6. Aldridge Gardens: Located in Hoover, Aldridge Gardens is the smaller, and usually the least crowded, of the two botanical gardens in the area. Covering 30 acres, the former estate of Eddie and Kay Aldridge features some of the most beautiful hydrangeas in Birmingham. Take a picnic to eat in the boathouse and a loaf of bread to feed the fish and turtles. Take a half-mile walk around the serene lake. Again, don’t forget your camera. The lake makes a lovely backdrop for photos.

7. Shades Mountain Baptist Church: Is it a shameless plug for my favorite church in Birmingham, or is it worth a mention? You be the judge. While in Birmingham, check out Shades for our weekly service on Sunday at 9:30. You will not be disappointed in our spirit-filled worship time or pastor’s message straight from the Word of God. We offer fantastic children’s Sunday school and worship time, and our nursery staff is remarkable. You will leave refreshed and renewed after being in the presence of God. If you happen to be here the week of June 6-10, join us for VBS.

8. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and 16th Street Baptist Church: Unfortunately, Birmingham has been known throughout history for it’s role in the civil rights movement. I won’t try to sugar coat it – it was a horrible situation back in the day. You can visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the bombing that killed four young girls in 1963. I love that on their website they say, “This history is very important to us and we embrace it proudly; however, we want you to know that our history is only a portion of who we are!” They are still operating as a church, and the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is THE most important thing about this place. After visiting the church, you can cross the street to the Civil Rights Institute. Not only will you see in graphic detail the istory of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, but you can learn how the BCRI is active in promoting civil and human rights worldwide.

9. Vulcan Park: Birmingham was built on it’s iron and steel industry. The area has rich deposits of iron ore, limestone, and coal, which are the necessary ingredients to mine and forge iron and steel. This industry was the backbone of Birmingham, hence our nod to Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge. The statue of Vulcan was comissioned for the 1904-1905 World’s Fair in St. Louis to advertise the thriving and growing city of Birmingham. Eventually, it was moved to it’s current home atop Red Mountain, in a park built especially to house it. He’s been shining his hiney all over downtown Birmingham since then. You can tour the Vulcan exhibit to learn about its history, and then climb Vulcan for a spectacular view of downtown Birmingham.

10. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum: Home to over 1200 vintage-to-modern motorcycles. While you’re there, check out the Barber Motorsports Park, home to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. They feature they Porsche Sport Driving School and the Schwantz Motorcycle School. The Barber Superbike Classic is coming up on June 17-19.

11. American Village: This fantastic historical site is just a short drive south of Birmingham to the quaint little town of Montevallo. I’ve written about American Village before, so I won’t cover it again. But suffice it to say that it is a fun, educational spot.

12. Alabama National Cemetery: While you are at American Village, hop down the road a tenth of a mile or so and pay your respects at the Alabama National Cemetery.

13. Morgan Creek Vineyard: June and July are blueberry season at Morgan Creek Vineyards. Picking blueberries has become a tradition in our family, and we freeze and enjoy them all year. Morgan Creek is our favorite spot for blueberries.

1. Jefferson County Library System Children’s Programs: The JCLC hosts fabulous children’s programs all year, but in the summertime they offer them every week. These are professional-quality programs that the kiddos LOVE! See Safari Greg at the Hoover Library on Tuesday, June 14 at 10:30, 1:30 and 6:30 or on Wednesday, June 15 at 10:30 or 1:30. The Atlantic Coast Theater presents The Fairy Tales of Grimm at the Hoover Library on Tuesday, June 21 at 10:30, 1:30 and 6:30 or on Wednesday, June 22 at 10:30 and 1:30. Between the Lions’ Aaron Nigel Smith will be at the Hoover Library sharing his love for music and movement. Show times are Tuesday, June 28 at 10:30, 1:30 and 6:30 and Wednesday, June 29 at 10:30 and 1:30. We love That Puppet Guy (Lee Bryan) and paid lots of money to see him at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. Shortly after that, we saw him for free at the library. He’ll be doing his Travelin’ Tales show at the Hoover Library on Tuesday, July 5 at 10:30, 1:30 and 6:30 and Wednesday, July 6 at 10:30 and 1:30.

2. Miss Alabama Pageant: We in Alabama love a good beauty pageant, and the Miss Alabama Pageant is the crown jewel! It is at the Leslie Stephen Wright Center on the beautiful campus of Samford University the week of June 8-11.

3. Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center: Downtown on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingha, you will find the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. Concerts in the summer concert series include Herbie Hancock (Wednesday, June 1), Chris Isaak (Thursday, June 23), and Ben Folds (Saturday, August 20).

4. I Love America celebration at Wald Park: This is the 30th anniversary of this fun family event celebrating life in America. We have attended this event for the last several years, and it is always a ton of fun. There is a Pops in the Park concert by the Shades Mountain orchestra featuring all of your favorite patriotic songs and a recognition of armed forces. There are inflatables and face painting and games for the kiddos. Bring lawn chairs or a picnic blanket, along with your favorite dinner and enjoy this time on the grass at Wald Park. Stay late for the kid-friendly family movie on the big screen.

5. Rickwood Classic: Rickwood Field, America’s oldest ballpark, hosts the annual Rickwood Classic. The Birmingham Barons will play the Chattanooga Lookouts on Wednesday, June 1 at 12:30.

6. Who Shot Rock & Roll: June 24-September 18, the Birmingham Museum of Art will host this special exhibit featuring the work of photographers covering rock and roll legends. It shows photos from 1955 through the present day.

1. The Summit: The Summit is our go-to location for shopping. Home of Anthropologie, J. Crew, Saks, Gus Mayer, Francesca’s, Private Gallery, Pottery Barn, and so much more. If the shopping makes you hungry, stop in at Flip Burger, Chuy’s, Panera Bread, or one of many other choices. When you need to cool off, drop by the movie theater for a matinee.

2. Downtown Homewood: We love the specialty shops found in downtown Homewood. At Home and Seibel’s are two favorite home furnishings stores. The Jack and Jill Shop and Sikes are our mainstays for children’s clothing and shoes. Pop into Savage’s Bakery for a piece of white cake with chocolate icing. Walk along 18th Street and stop by any of the fabulous, locally-owned boutiques.

3. Mountain Brook Villages: Much like the downtown Homewood area, Mountain Brook is chock-full of unique locally-owned boutiques and restaurants. Take your choice of any of the five Mountain Brook villages – you can’t go wrong with any of them!

4. Patton Creek: If it’s chain stores you like, check out Patton Creek behind the Galleria in Hoover. You will have your choice of national chain stores and restaurants.

5. Shops of Grand River: This is a brand new outlet shopping district just outside the Birmingham city limits in Leeds. They feature a Nike store, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and more.

Dining: In this town, we love to eat! Good food is part of the fabric of Birmingham, and we have no shortage of fantastic spots to choose from.
1. Dreamland BBQ: While the original location is in Tuscaloosa, the Birmingham location of Dreamland is fantastic. Dreamland is a BBQ joint known far and wide for its ribs. Served with white bread on a paper plate, this place is a Birmingham landmark.

2. The Pita Stop: The Pita stop is one of our new favorites. There are several locations around town, but a new one opened recently in Cahaba Heights. They serve Mediterranean food that it out of this world! We love the grilled grouper, served with rice pilaf on a bed of salad greens, with fresh fruit and hummus with pita bread. The kabobs are fantastic as well. So delicious!

3. Jim Davenport’s Pizza Palace: There is nothing like homemade pizza, and Davenport’s has been serving it up for over 40 years. Davenport’s is where the locals go to eat pizza.

4.Surin West or Surin 280: You can’t go wrong with either location of this fabulous Birmingham Thai restaurant. The sushi is perfection, and any of the entrees are delicious! The spicy shrimp coconut soup is a fantastic appetizer.

5. Jim ‘N Nick’s: Yes, I know I’ve already given you a BBQ option, but in Birmingham we adore our BBQ. Jim ‘N Nick’s is a different taste than Dreamland, so go to both and compare. There are several locations of Jim ‘N Nickss around Birmingham, and since all are good, you can take your pick. Be sure to try the cheese biscuits, and if you have had enough BBQ, try the fried catfish. So good!

6. Iguana Grill: Mexican food is also a staple in Birmingham. There is a Mexican restaurant on almost on every corner, as they say. However, Iguana Grill is a cut above the rest. You must try their roasted pepper salsa. To die for!

7. Niki’s West: The steam line at Niki’s West is possibly one of my favorite meals in Birmingham. There is not one thing on it that isn’t top-notch. The Hontzas brothers know what they’re doing when it comes to that steam line, and they’ve been doing it since 1957. While the restaurant is open for business everyday, and anything you order from the menu is delicious, the steam line is only available during weekday lunch hours. It’s worth the trip to Ensley!

8. Sumo Japanese Steakhouse: Japanese hibachi restaurants are becoming quite popular around this town, but Sumo is our choice of them all. The food is fresh and tasty, and the chefs are entertaining and personable. I recommend the chicken and filet dinner. It comes with rice, vegetables, noodles, salad, and soup. It’s enough to feed three people. I love to take home my leftovers and have them for lunch the next day.

9. Milo’s Hamburgers: A sit-down, full service restaurant meal just isn’t always feasible when out and about in Birmingham. Milo’s is our #1 fast food hamburger joint. Go for the double with cheese, and don’t leave off the fries. The sweet tea is so good that it is sold by the gallon in the local grocery stores. You can’t go wrong with a burger from Milo’s.

10. Taco Casa: Hamburgers aren’t the only yummy fast food in Birmingham. Taco Casa is a fast food Mexican restaurant that is far and away better than anything like Taco Bell. You can’t even compare the two! Go for a taco burger and beefy nachos with peppers.

11. Nabeels: As long as I’ve lived in Birmingham, I have never taken the time to eat in the restaurant at Nabeel’s. That’s probably a shame, because I’m sure the food is fantastic. I always go to the market and get hummus (the best you have EVER eaten), homemade pita chips, tabouli salad, and Nabeel’s famous chicken salad. We love to pull into the market and stock up, especially when we have family coming for the weekend. You can’t get food like it anywhere else in Birmingham.

12. Tip Top Grill: On a sunny day, you can’t beat a lunch at the Tip Top Grill. It sits on Shades Crest Road, overlooking Ozmoor Valley. A lunch at the Tip Top isn’t “real” unless you eat it on the patio and enjoy the view. While the food is yummy burgers, fries, and soft drinks, the experience of eating at the Tip Top is really about the view.

13. Bright Star: Alright, enough about burgers, fries and other fast food. Let’s get to one of the most fabulous restaurants in Birmingham. The Bright Star in Bessemer opened its doors in 1907. Its Greek fare has been enjoyed by generations of Birminghamians. The most spectacular dishes are the beef tenderloin, the gumbo, the red snapper, and the lobster and crabmeat au gratin. Do yourself a favor and go hungry!

14. Mudtown: Mudtown is a neighborhood joint that serves delicious food. My favorite is the fried green tomato sandwich. It is located in Cahaba Heights.

15. Ezell’s: If you want good fried catfish, you need to take a short drive to Trussville for Ezell’s Catfish Cabin. The fish is fried perfectly. The hush puppies are divine, and the cole slaw is straight from Heaven’s banquet table.

You know, I’m not sure I’m even qualified to give advice on lodging accommodations because I never, ever stay in a hotel in Birmingham. I do know that Ross Bridge Resort is fabulous, so it’s going to be my one and only mention. If you love golf, spas, and fine food, you will definitely love Ross Bridge.

Ok, kiddos. There you have it. There is so much to do, eat, and experience in Birmingham. I could have written two more posts just as lengthy about the wonderful attractions in my hometown.

Have you been to any of these attractions, restaurants or sites? Leave me a comment and let me know!


  1. Great info, Ashley! If you’re a state employee (including teachers at public schools!), you can stay at Ross Bridge for $89/night. The grounds are beautiful and the pool is amazing.

  2. – My post from The Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida

    Love your ideas! These look like great family fun-

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