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