A Local's Guide to Birmingham

Filled with diverse restaurants, intimate
shops, and fun finds, this Alabama destination makes a great three-day getaway.
Jennifer Mckenzie Frazier

"Home sweet home." That's a phrase Senior Photographer Art Meripol and I utter every time we step off an airplane in Birmingham. We spend most of our time visiting the most fascinating locations in the South. Still, when it comes time to pick our preferred haunts, many are in this city Southern Living calls home. Come with us as we show you some of the spots we like best.

Music Scene
Downtown Birmingham turns into a rambling street party during City Stages. This year's musical extravaganza, featuring Hank Williams, Jr., The Allman Brothers Band, Yellowcard, and many other acts, falls on the weekend of June 16-18. Tickets cost $40 and are good for the entire weekend. After rocking out at City Stages, swing by Garage Cafe. By day, the courtyard brims with yard art, sculpture, antique treasures, and a hungry lunch crowd. At night, the Garage turns into a pub packed with locals.

If you want some early-morning melodies, visit Pepper Place, where you'll find live music, a farmers market, and 9 a.m. cooking demonstrations each Saturday in the summer. Browse the antiques shops here too.

Shopping
Art and I prefer small, independently owned stores. One of our absolute favorites is A'Mano, a combination art gallery and gift store where you can find colorful furniture, pottery, glass, and artwork. From folk art paintings to locally made beaded jewelry, this shop makes gift-giving easy. For outdoor spaces, visit Sweet Peas Garden Shop. Located in a cottage in Homewood, this favorite of our Gardens editors boasts some of the best blooming plants and flowers in town, as well as statues, fountains, and handmade gift items.

When it comes to buying gifts for anniversaries or special holidays, my husband goes straight to Camany and Company, an intimate jewelry store featuring lots of handmade necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

If you want to explore the big chain stores, make the short drive to The Summit, the city's outdoor shopping center. Sure, the restaurants and stores here aren't independent, but they're some of the best.

 


Dining
Where to begin? From international fare to down-home cooking, people in Birmingham restaurants know their way around the kitchen.

Klingler's European Bakery & Cafe in Vestavia Hills serves decadent breakfast treats seven days a week. Try the cheese blintzes with blueberries, whipped cream, and powdered sugar.

For something a bit more formal, sample the Sunday brunch menu at Cobb Lane Restaurant, where you'll find the signature she-crab soup.

Art favors morning meals at The Continental Bakery in English Village, a small European cafe with traditional crusty breads and pastries. Stay for lunch at its neighboring sister restaurant, Chez Lulu, where Bohemian style and fresh salads and quiches make for a pleasant repast.

I spend lots of Saturdays feasting on the catfish sandwich at O.T.'s Neighborhood Sports Grill. If you're craving something more exotic, you can easily take a break to eat Thai noodle dishes or sushi at Surin West.

Still hungry? For an inexpensive seafood dinner, go for Fish Market Restaurant. If you want to splurge, eat at chef Frank Stitt's Highlands Bar and Grill. Order the stone-ground baked grits as an appetizer.

Also in the family of Frank Stitt restaurants, try Bottega or Bottega Café. These spots offer Italian and Mediterranean flavors in a hip atmosphere. Try the three-cheese macaroni or an oak-fired pizza topped with smoked salmon.

Another star in Birmingham dining is Hot and Hot Fish Club. Chef Chris Hastings creates the seasonal Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, combining tomatoes, fried okra, and bacon.

Lodging
For something simple, choose the new 122-room Courtyard Birmingham Downtown at UAB. The hotel is within walking distance to City Stages.

Another option is the Hampton Inn Lakeshore near Homewood. The inn's upscale touches create a comfy environment at a nice price.

If you want more luxury, drive 20 minutes from downtown to the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. The newest and best place in Birmingham, it's part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. (Note: June 16-18 is a busy weekend for local hotels. Visit www.sltravelplanner.com for more choices.)

Birmingham has all the excitement of a big metropolis with the sweetness of a small town. Get ready for a good time when you visit. You may enjoy yourself so much, you'll want to call it home too.

For more information: Contact the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau at (205) 458-8000, 1-800-458-8085, or www.thediversecity.org.

The Five Musts In Birmingham
There's no way you can see and do everything this magical city has to offer in three days. Here are the spots that Art and I think you should put at the top of your list. See Web Exclusive: Some of our favorite attractions.

  1. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
  2. Birmingham Botanical Gardens
  3. Highlands Bar and Grill
  4. Garage Cafe
  5. Pepper Place
 


WEB-EXCLUSIVE

Favorite Attractions in Birmingham
Your weekend will be filled with taking in tunes at City Stages, but if you can squeeze in some spare time, spend it at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum where you can take a self-guided tour through significant events of the Civil Rights Movement, many of which happened right here. For a free dose of outdoor color, try the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Spread over 67 acres, the gardens are some of the South's finest. Be sure to check out the Southern Living Garden, a brilliant show of color.

  • City Stages: Linn Park (Park Place and 20th Street); (205) 251-1272 or www.citystages.org.
  • Garage Cafe: 2304 10th Terrace South; (205) 322-3220.
  • Pepper Place: Second Avenue South between 28th and 29th Streets; (205) 802-2100 or www.pepperplace.net.
  • A'Mano: 2707 Culver Road; (205) 871-9093 or www.amanogifts.com.
  • Sweet Peas Garden Shop: 2829 Linden Avenue; (205) 879-3839.
  • Camany and Company: 1743 Reese Street; (205) 423-0975.
  • The Summit: 214 Summit Blvd. (I-459 at U.S. 280); (205) 967-0111 or www.thesummitonline.com.
  • Klingler's European Bakery & Cafe: 621 Montgomery Highway; (205) 823-4560 or www.klinglers.com.
  • Cobb Lane Restaurant: 1 Cobb Lane; (205) 933-0462 or www.cobblane.com.
  • The Continental Bakery in English Village: 1909 Cahaba Road; (205) 870-5584.
  • Chez Lulu: 1911 Cahaba Road; (205) 870-7011.
  • O.T.'s Neighborhood Sports Grill: 720 29th Street South; (205) 323-6727.
  • Surin West: 1918 11th Avenue South; (205) 324-1928 or www.surinwest.com.
  • Fish Market Restaurant: 612 22nd Street South; (205) 322-3330 or www.thefishmarket.net.
  • Highlands Bar and Grill: 2011 11th Avenue South; (205) 939-1400 or www.highlandsbarandgrill.com.
  • Bottega/Bottega Café: 2240 Highland Avenue South; (205) 939-1000 or www.bottegarestaurant.com.
  • Hot and Hot Fish Club: 2180 11th Court South; (205) 933-5474 or www.hotandhotfishclub.com.
  • Courtyard Birmingham Downtown at UAB: 1820 Fifth Avenue South; (205) 254-0004.
  • Hampton Inn Lakeshore: 30 State Farm Parkway; (205) 313-2060.
  • Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa: 4000 Grand Avenue; (205) 916-7677 or www.rossbridgeresort.com.
  • Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: 520 16th Street North; toll-free 1-866-328-9696 or www.bcri.org.
  • Birmingham Botanical Gardens: 2612 Lane Park Road; (205) 414-3900 or www.bbgardens.org.

 

"A Local's Guide to Birmingham" is from the June 2006 issue of Southern Living.