Driving through Birmingham at least a dozen times over the past few years, it never occurred to me that this little Alabama town would house so many amazing shops and eateries, including a speakeasy-inspired bar that can instantly transport you back to the days of Prohibition. And it certainly didn’t occur to me that there would be so many fun options for fun with the family, from a massive beanstalk to climb to a ropes course that will challenge every muscle in your body at Red Mountain Park. Birmingham is referred to as The Magic City, which makes perfect sense after spending a couple days poking around its unique shops, restaurants and neighborhoods.
During a visit to the city set up by the folks from Visit Alabama and Southern Living magazine (headquartered there) to tour the Southern Living Idea House, I got a chance to see Birmingham in a different light. On most trips before, it was just the town I drove through to get to Tuscaloosa, where my son attended the University of Alabama. This trip made me regret not stopping in before for my fill of great food and one-of-a-kind fun.
I’ll jump into the food first, since it’s what I enjoyed the most.
I highly recommend dinner at Chez FonFon (two words: coconut cake), breakfast at Feast & Forest, or head to the funky side of town in the revitalized Avondale neighborhood, where you can eat and drink for hours, starting with Fancy’s on 5th (oysters anyone?), then head over to the speakeasy, The Marble Ring, that lures you back in time.
First, you can’t just walk in the door—that is, if you can even find the door (here’s a hint–look for the Hot Diggity Dog). You’ll climb a flight of stairs and be directed to a phone booth (a TARDIS phone booth a’la Dr. Who, at that). You’ll pick up a phone and be told whether they’ll allow you in. Once permitted to pass, you’ll be greeted by flappers and bartenders who look like they just walked out of The Great Gatsby novel. Take in every detail, from the drink descriptions to the images on the wallpaper. You have to really look closely to spot every hidden secret in this fun and fabulous spot. The Marble Ring is worth a trip to Birmingham all on its own (but make reservations—it only seats 80 people at a time).
To work off all that food, plan a few hours at Red Mountain Park. If you want to try the Beanstalk Adventure, wear closed toe shoes and comfortable clothing—running or yoga pants, jeans or long shorts.
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If you want a view from above of the city, I have two suggestions: The Vulcan Park and Museum, or the rooftop at the Redmont hotel where I stayed. Open since the 1920’s, The Redmont is the oldest hotel in Birmingham, and has recently been renovated to embrace the glamour from its original decade! There’s a fabulous bar there that offers spectacular views of the city (as you can see in the video above).
Unfortunately, we saw the Southern Living Idea House late in the year, so it won’t still be open to the public now (they sell it each year), but you can still see some amazing design ideas from the video below. My favorite parts are the angled beveled doors and trim that’s wider than typical homes. It’s amazing how such little touches can make such an impact in a home.
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As sad as I am that you can’t see the Idea House on your own, you can still go have a drink at The Marble Ring or tackle the ropes at Red Mountain Park. Birmingham is definitely worth exploring for at least a weekend.