Brandan Stuckey was momentarily stumped when I asked him to recommend a good route for my cycling tour of Birmingham. As Community Engagement Coordinator at ZYP Bikeshare (the first electric pedal bike share program in North America), he knows Birmingham very well. But Stuckey’s other hats (stand-up comedian, published author, and one of the driving forces behind Black on Black Rhyme Poetry Troupe) means he’s keenly aware that there are many different ways to enjoy the city: “There’s just so much to see and do in my home city that it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin.”
Birmingham for the foodie
Highlands Bar & Grill
I came to Alabama intent on sampling southern food, primarily fried green tomatoes, which I ate on three occasions (the best were served at the Southern Kitchen and Bar), and gumbo, a huge helping of which I ordered at the James-Beard-award-winning eatery Todd English P.U.B. but couldn’t’ finish, possibly because I had stuffed myself on an appetizer of slow-roasted pork knuckles.
I found both of these eateries in the newish Uptown District off Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd., which surprised me after a cabbie insisted the best eateries were in the older Birmingham neighbourhood of Five Points South. The cabbie had a point – no pun intended – as that’s where a number of the long-established restaurants are indeed located, such as the iconic Highlands Bar and Grill, long known for its French-inspired, regional Southern dishes.
Highlands Bar & Grill
Two other eateries on my hit list: Saw’s Soul Food, which has gained a certain notoriety among foodies who can’t get enough of restaurateur Mike Wilson’s BBQ pulled pork, and its (more casual) sister eatery Post Office Pies, which specializes in wood-fired pizzas. These restos are in the hipster-friendly neighbourhood of Avondale.
Birmingham for the craft beer lover
Exploring Birmingham’s craft beer scene doubles as an excuse to check out some formerly run-down – but now pretty cool neighourhoods. Good People Brewing Company is located in a former warehouse in Birmingham's Railroad Park. The flagship brew is an IPA. My own preference? Snake Handler (a double IPA so you better like lots of hops). No edibles served on site, but a food truck occasionally swings by.
Avondale Brewing Company is in a building that has variously housed a fire station, pharmacy, bank, and brothel. Thirsty patrons can’t go wrong with the Spring Street Saison. This brewery is next door to the excellent Avondale eateries mentioned above.
Birmingham for the sports fan
The exhibits at the Negro Southern League Museum vividly chronicle the story of African-American baseball in America. Among the artifacts: the uniform of Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, an ANL and MLB pitcher who was considered one of the best in baseball history. Also on display: the McCallister Trophy, which is the oldest known Negro League trophy.
Birmingham for the book-lover
Book collector Jim Reed has amassed a collection of 250,000 books (new and rare), maps, biographies, movie posters and pop-culture memorabilia, about 50,000 of which are jammed into Reed Books Museum of Fond Memories. On display in the window: a 1970s LP of a youthful Michael Jackson resting atop on a portable baby blue turntable.
Birmingham for the student of history and civil rights
Birmingham played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, especially during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, a time marked by protests, police brutality, segregation, church-bombings, attacks by the KKK, and arrests (and often imprisonment) of civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Much of this black history can be explored in the Civil Rights District, which is bounded by 9th Avenue, Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd, 1st Avenue and 14th Street.
An ideal starting point is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which chronicles black history in Alabama (including segregation in schools and on buses) as well as across North America, from the late 1800s to the present.
Just opposite the Civil Rights Institute is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the infamous September 1963 church bombing killed four African-American schoolgirls. Included among the artifacts in the basement gallery is the church clock that stopped at the very moment the fatal bomb struck. Also noteworthy: Martin Luther King Jr. preached in this very church.
Across the street is Kelly Ingram Park, a four-acre park where many of the grand scale demonstrations of the American Civil Rights Movement took place in the 1960s. Sculptures and art installations throughout the park depict scenes from that period, including a gut-wrenching memorial to the four schoolgirls who were killed in the church bombing.
Birmingham for the adrenaline junkie
Anyone up for being strapped into a harness and zip-lining backwards 13 metres above ground?
The 600-hectare Red Mountain Park’s Adventure Area comprises 24 kilometres of scenic trails to explore on foot – but why stay down on the ground when you can zip, climb and rappel from one tree platform to another via a series of cables, zip lines and swinging bridges.
Zip-lining backwards on one section is optional. Be daring.
Birmingham for the star-watchers
Keep your head down as you walk along 3rd Avenue North between 18th Street and 19th Street – the Alabama Walk of Fame – so you don’t miss the stars for actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Nell Carter, Polly Holliday, Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), Kate Jackson (“Charlie’s Angels,”) Dean Jones, and George Lindsey share the street with authors Fannie Flagg (“Fried Green Tomatoes”), Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), and Truman Capote (“In Cold Blood,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”).
To catch celebrities live, check out the lineup at the Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex. Coming up: Janet Jackson. But check the schedule, you'll find there's something for everyone