Those looking to get away for the summer should look no further than Birmingham, Alabama. Located in Central Alabama, Birmingham’s climate is characterized by hot summers, mild winters and abundant rainfall. The warm weather and rich history of this city are sure to keep any family entertained as there are numerous outdoor activities to indulge in.
Birmingham has forever cemented its legacy as one of the foremost cities of the Civil Rights movement. The Alabama capitol was at one time the most segregated city in the United States, but is now home to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which gives visitors a chance to see what life was like in the South during segregation. Guests begin their journey with an 8-minute video which highlights the foundations of the movement. At the end of the video, the screen rises into the ceiling and visitors are transported back in time.
Replicas of “Black Only” water fountains, school desks and other everyday items are compared next to “White Only” items, showing the drastic dichotomy between the races. The institute is truly a multimedia experience, giving patrons the opportunity to see, feel, touch and hear what it felt like to live as an African American during slavery. The institute even boasts a replica of the bus which Rosa Parks rode on when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
Just a few minutes away from the institute is the historic Five Points neighborhood, a wonderful collection of retail shops, restaurants, art deco buildings and nightlife venues. This part of town has become popular amongst LGBT locals.
One of my favorite restaurants in Birmingham is Bottega. A hotspot for business professionals, Bottega would best be categorized as Mediterranean-inspired Southern cuisine. Start with Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves with lamb, rice, currants and a touch of mint. Also worth sampling are the Fried Green Tomatoes with mozzarella and marinara sauce. For a lighter selection, try the Prosciutto di Parma with mozzarella and fresh peaches.
Bottega also offers a wonderful selection of homemade wood-fire pizza’s and piadini’s. From a more traditional White Pizza with fennel sausage, onion, ricotta, provolone to the Smoked Salmon Pizza with red onions, capers and mascarpone, there is something for every palate.
To view one of Birmingham’s iconic monuments, head to Vulcan Park & Museum, where the centerpiece is Vulcan himself, the world’s largest cast iron statue made from 100,000 pounds of iron and standing nearly 56-feet tall. Constructed in 1904 for the St. Louis World’s Fair, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and forge. Being that Birmingham was known for its vast supply of raw materials, renowned sculptor Giuseppe Moretti thought Vulcan would be the perfect figure for the city.
Vulcan Park sits high atop Red Mountain. Sweeping 360˚ views of Birmingham are highlights of the park which is also home to a history museum and the Vulcan AfterTunes concert series, which takes place each fall and features a variety of local and national talent.
Those looking for a comfortable, yet luxurious night’s stay should check into Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. The plush guest rooms include balconies overlooking the property’s stunning grounds and a signature pool with enchanting waterfalls and fountains. Renaissance Ross Bridge also boasts the third-longest golf course in the world.
Birmingham doesn’t have a gay district, but is home to a handful of neighborhood bars and clubs mostly concentrated in the downtown area. Those looking to dance should head to Quest, Alabama’s only 24/7 club, which hosts weekly drag events and karaoke.
Animal lovers should spend the following morning visiting the Birmingham Zoo. Exhibits of interest include: Rhino Encounter, Lorikeet Aviary, Predator Zone and the Sea Lion Splash Show. The zoo recently celebrated the opening of its latest elephant exhibit, Trails of Africa. The initiative designates the Birmingham Zoo as a national leader in the care and conservation of threatened elephants. Trails of Africa is a mixed-species exhibit that includes a bull elephant herd, red river hogs, giraffes, wildebeest, and zebras.
Fans of the zoo will also enjoy the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a sprawling 67-acre living museum featuring more than 10,000 different plants. The gardens also have more than 30 works of original outdoor sculptures as well as the largest public horticulture library in the United States and their renowned Japanese Gardens has a traditionally crafted tea house.
Art enthusiasts should visit The Birmingham Museum of Art which houses more than 24,000 pieces of art, making the museum one of the largest collections in the South. The artwork from around the world highlights artists from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the America’s and its collection of Vietnamese ceramics is considered one of the finest. The museum also possesses a remarkable collection of Renaissance and Baroque art as well as a world-renowned collection of Wedgwood china, the largest outside of England.
With an abundance of great art, history, food and culture, there is much to see and do in The Magic City. For more information, go to www.VisitBirmingham.com
By Joey Amato