48 Hours in Birmingham
I moved to Birmingham right after I graduated college in 2008. I grew up visiting my grandparents and extended family here so it’s always been a familiar place. In the past seven years I have explored the city and found some of my favorite places.
One wouldn’t normally think of Birmingham as being a tourist destination but it is a great stop if you’re passing through or here for a weekend trip. Recently Greg’s brother and sister-in-law came down from Brooklyn, NY and we had to give our best to show them the city away from The City. We’re cool too, Brooklyn! Here are two days packed with fun places and good eats:
Vulcan and Vulcan Park
We figured if we were going to show them the city we would literally show them the city from our iconic landmark, Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world. If you were to only go one place in Birmingham this would have to be it. You can see ALL of the city. For about six dollars you can actually go up to the top of Vulcan to get a better view but the view from the park is awesome too. Your admission to to the top of Vulcan also gets you into the museum which is full of Birmingham facts and a life size replica of Vulcan’s foot. If you go, tell Marie (my grandmother’s best friend who works at the park) I sent you.
After our visit to Vulcan, it was time for some lunch. Our city folks don’t get good smoked meat in NYC so we decided to take them to eat at The Little Donkey near by.
The Little Donkey
Little Donkey is a blend of traditional Mexican food with a touch of soul. They make their own taco shells from scratch. The owner of Jim n’ Nick’s also owns LD so they use the same meat… I believe that’s the relationship. Anyway, Little Donkey is a fantastic spot for lunch. I recommend getting the gauc, queso, salsa trio for starters. The queso is exceptional to me. I LOVE the picado salad with pork for lunch but all the tacos are delicious. Greg’s sister is REALLY into the catfish tacos.
After lunch it’s time for the best coffee you can find in basically anywhere in the nation.
Octane is seriously the best coffee you can find. Don’t take that lightly. Octane (formally Primavera) meticulously roasts their own coffee. The master roaster and founder, Brett, spent months working on a coffee bean farm in South America. He has won numerous awards and it shows in the quality. I suggest a pour over of any of their rotating roasts. I prefer the Homewood location but there is another in Uptown (near the civic center in Bham) as well as locations in Atlanta.
Since we were already here we couldn’t NOT get a popsicle.
Steel City Pops
Probably the perfect guilt free treat ever. It’s guilt free because it’s so good you don’t care. These are homemade popsicles. The menus is always changing. In the winter they do chocolate dipped pops. I prefer the creamy ones over the fruity ones but they are seriously all good. They have a few locations all over town and now in Huntsville. I like the flagship in Homewood. I suggest the strawberries and cream or a dipped caramel.
We’ve had the view from the top, now it’s time to explore it on ground level.
Birmingham Museum of Art
I first moved to Birmingham as a graphic design intern at the museum. It has been one of my favorite spots in town since I was a kid so I hold it close to my heart. Greg’s brother and sister-in-law are both artists and have some of the world’s greatest art just a subway ride away from them. I was a tad nervous they wouldn’t think the museum is as awesome as I do. I’m proud to say they were so impressed they came by a second time without us! My favorite part of the museum is the newly renovated African art gallery. It’s a must see.
After all of that it’s time for dinner and drinks.
Parkside Cafe & Hot Box
Parkside is the bar and Hot Box is the air stream trailer behind it that serves food. Located in Avondale, Parkside is a charming little joint serving many of the local brews. It feels like a hole in the wall place you would find in NYC. Out back they have another bar area, outdoor seating, and Hot Box. Hot Box’s menu is always changing but it has somewhat of an Asian flair and always interesting. This is a nice chill place to have drinks after work or catch up with friends.
Saw’s Soul Kitchen
Because the Brooklynites can’t get enough smoked meat we took them to the best smoked meat in Birmingham, Saw’s. I prefer the Avondale location because it’s closest to our house and we usually do pick up. It is in an old barber shop with about six tables. The first time I ate here I made the mistake of coming at 7 on a Friday night. The line was out the door and they ran out of pork. The burgers are good but I recommend getting the pork and greens plate with a side of wings. (image)
After all that deliciousness we needed to burn a few calories.
This is a sort of a flea market, sort of an antiques store. It is located in my official neighborhood of Crestwood. Just a hop and skip from Saw’s. I love a good browse and peruse the aisles of this one often. I have bought many a Christmas present here as well as a few things for my house. The prices are pretty fair. Some things are overpriced but it depends on the seller. On this particular day one of the vendors was in the store and was so excited that we brought Scott and Meredith in that he gifted them with a fish fossil and enamel bird earrings. Southern hospitality, y’all.
When we got done shopping it was time for more coffee of course.
Satellite is part of the new venue in Avondale called Saturn. They serve awesome coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters during the day and then it’s a full bar at night. If you didn’t get it from the name it’s space themed. They play old episodes of Star Trek on the TVs and the drinks all have “far out” names (see what I did there?). My favorite touch is the rocket shaped air duct. As an added bonus they sell pastries from a local bakery, Baking Bandits. If they have the cheese danish, get it!
We have our caffeine buzz now to get a real buzz. Time for a tour of some of our local breweries.
Avondale Brewing Co.
ABC is Conveniently located across the street from Satellite. ABC is what I consider to be the “cool” brewery. It’s kind of like a grown up frat party. It’s in a historic Avondale building and they really embrace the area’s roots. Avondale was the original site for the Birmingham zoo and the star was an elephant named Miss Fancy. Miss Fancy can be found in ABC’s logo and is also the name of one of their beers. Get a flight to sample six or more of their beer. It is a generous amount and only about $12. If you want only one beer you can’t go wrong with Vanillaphant Porter Ale. P.S. everyone brings their dog.
Next we moved towards downtown for stop number two.
Trim Tab Brewing Co.
Trim Tab is relatively new (opened in the last few years). They are located between Avondale and downtown. They are becoming one of my favorite spots for a drink in town. I like that they display local artists’ work in the tap room. It’s somewhat of a mixed crowd that comes here. It gets busy with the after work crew. Again, if you’re into tasting beer I would definitely order a flight. If that’s not your jam I would suggest the Raspberry Berliner Weisse or if you want to be semi adventurous go with the Cucumber (if they have it).
On to stop number three of the brew tour and also my favorite.
Good People Brewing Co.
Don’t quote me but I believe Good People was the first brewery in town. They are serious about beer. I’m not the biggest beer fan (I’m more of red wine girl) but they really turned me on to craft beer. Long gone are my days of Mich Ultra or Corona Light. They recently renovated but it still has it’s signature laid back charm. If you want to indulge in a delicious complex beer grab a Coffee Oatmeal Stout. If you want to get knocked off your feet try the acclaimed Snake Handler. In the summer though I’m all about the Bearded Lady and cornhole in the side yard. This is a prime spot to take a picture in front of Regions Field at night. (image)
Now it’s time to go home and eat some junk food.
No trip to Birmingham these days would be complete without a ride through the colorfully lit underpass. It’s the little things sometimes that make trips fun and memorable. In the past few years Birmingham has really stepped it up to make our city a nice place to live and visit. This is one of the many efforts; moving from our darker past to a light and positive future.
And as the locals say, “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham!” (image)
Ps. You can find Scott’s paintings here and Meredith’s here. Scott also started a really cool website called Painting Is Dead that publishes articles, essays, and reviews on emerging artists and more established artists as well. Check them out!