Birmingham is composed of many neighborhoods and outlying areas, several of which are separate cities with their own governments and school systems. The main geographical feature of Birmingham is Red Mountain, whose iron, coal, and limestone deposits were the city's original sources of wealth and its reasons for being. Many spectacular views of the city can be enjoyed from Vulcan Park at the top of Red Mountain.
Much of the early 20th-century architecture remains from Birmingham's heyday. One of the most impressive is the Alabama Theatre , which was refurbished to its original opulence in 1998 and is now home to concerts, Broadway shows, and the annual fall Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival . Nearby attractions within walking distance include the Carver Theatre (home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame ) and the McWane Science Center , which includes an IMAX movie theater. Also within walking distance are Linn Park (home of the historic Tutwiler Hotel ), the Birmingham Museum of Art and the annual music festival, City Stages .
Downtown Birmingham witnessed many of the most important and tragic events of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Places of significance such as Kelly Ingram Park are marked by historical plaques, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tells the whole story of Birmingham's role in those turbulent times.
As you head south from downtown, the first significant change begins at about Sixth Avenue South, which is where the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) begins. UAB has one of the most impressive and famous medical centers in the country and regularly attracts some of the world's most renowned surgeons, educators and researchers (as well as many famous patients). Locally, though, the Southside is known as the destination for entertainment, nightlife and fine dining.
At the intersection of 20th Street, 11th Avenue South and Magnolia Avenue is Five Points South, the epicenter of the Southside and home to the most exciting nightclubs, finest restaurants and hippest retail boutiques in Birmingham. Restaurants such as Highlands Bar and Grill , Cosmo's Pizza and the Original Pancake House are all within walking distance, as are several excellent bars and nightclubs. Here you'll also find many small, locally-owned shops and boutiques that cater to a generally young Bohemian clientèle.
Just east of Highland Park Golf Course, the neighborhood of Forest Park stretches along Clairmont Avenue and hosts a small enclave of shops and restaurants like the Silvertron Cafe . Just west of the Highland Park Golf Course on 29th Street South is the Lakeview Historic District, where you'll find several fine restaurants like Sol Y Luna , as well as a number of informal establishments like O.T.'s Neighborhood Sports Grill .
To the west of Downtown and the Southside is the community of Ensley. This is an old, working-class neighborhood that is noted for music, sports and education. Ensley is the area of town that boasts Legion Field and Rickwood Field . The latter is the oldest standing baseball stadium in the United States, and was home to the Birmingham Barons baseball team from 1910-1980. It is quite fitting that the home of Rickwood Field is also the birthplace and childhood home of the great Willie Mays.
Starting at the top of Red Mountain and going down its southern slope is the community of Homewood. This was Birmingham's first "over the mountain" community and is largely residential. Homewood, however, has some of the Birmingham area's finest restaurants and shops. People drive from all directions to eat at De Vinci's Pizza and Nabeel's Cafe and Taverna .
Another of Birmingham's outlying "bedroom" communities is Hoover. Though largely residential, Hoover is also notable for the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (aka "The Hoover Met", the new home of the Birmingham Barons baseball team) and for Birmingham's most popular shopping mall, Riverchase Galleria .
The home of the great Bessemer blast furnaces, Bessemer fell on hard times when the influence of the steel industry waned. Bessemer has since made a comeback, largely due to the presence of the family theme park Alabama Adventure . Old Bessemer has its attractions too. People have been coming here since 1907 from all points in Birmingham to have dinner at the Bright Star restaurant.
Birmingham and its surrounding areas offer a wide array of places to dine, with restaurants for every taste and budget. The variety is partly due to the waves of immigrants who flocked to the city in the early 20th Century for its booming steel mills. As a result, Birmingham has an especially large number of Greek and Lebanese restaurants. Thanks to recent immigration, the city has also seen an influx of Mexican and South American restaurants. At the same time, the traditional Southern standbys of "meat and three" diners and barbecue stands hold strong to their turf here.
As is the case with many downtown areas in the United States, most of the dining options in downtown Birmingham cater to the commuter and business crowd, serving only breakfast and lunch. There are a few excellent dinner options, however. Dinner at the Century Restaurant and Bar at The Tutwiler is an elegant experience, indeed. If you want something a little less formal, the Fish Market is an ever-popular choice.
Southside is associated with fine dining. The Five Points South area alone boasts three of the best restaurants in the city: Highlands Bar and Grill , Hot and Hot Fish Club and The Veranda .
Of course, in addition to the formal restaurants, Southside is the home of several wonderful cafes and bistros, such as Cafe Bottega . Meanwhile, ethnic restaurants like Taj India and Surin West offer more exotic choices. One of the finest and most famous traditional barbecue stands in the South, Dreamland , is located on the Southside as well. If you find yourself stuck with a late-night craving, 11th Avenue (near the UAB campus) has Al's Deli and Grill and The Purple Onion , both of which are open 24 hours a day.
The Lakeview Historic District at 29th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues South is home to several fine restaurants, including Sol Y Luna and Lakeview Oyster House . There are also several informal establishments, such as O.T.'s Neighborhood Sports Grill and Rocky's Pizza . Further along Clairmont Avenue, you can have a traditional (i.e., massive) breakfast at Bogue's , or enjoy dinner at the more contemporary Silvertron Cafe .
Homewood has seen much of the recent immigration from South America, the Middle East and Asia, so this is the area of town to find the best ethnic restaurants. Along Greensprings Highway alone, you can sample Lebanese ( George's Lebanese Restaurant ), Mexican ( Los Compadres ) and Japanese ( Renge ) cuisine, all at a very accomplished level. Downtown Homewood boasts Birmingham's best Greek restaurant, Nabeel's , and two of Birmingham's best pizzerias, De Vinci's and New York Pizza .
Mountain Brook and Hoover
Mountain Brook, though largely residential and very exclusive, is home to such fine restaurants as La Paz , Arman's and Chez Lulu . The two great shopping centers south of Birmingham, the Riverchase Galleria (in Hoover) and the Summit (on the border of Birmingham and Hoover) are each well-endowed with a multitude of national chain restaurants and fast food joints.
The outlying areas of Bessemer and Irondale are more working-class and traditional in their cuisine. Bessemer boasts the Bright Star , which has been serving steaks as well as fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico for almost 100 years. In the working-class community of Irondale, you'll find one of Birmingham's best barbecue restaurants, the Golden Rule . Irondale also is home to the locally famous Hamburger Heaven and the Irondale Cafe , the latter made famous when it was the setting of the book and film, Fried Green Tomatoes.
For visitors that have a little time to spend in Birmingham, there are a number of interesting and fun tours to take. For the most part, a car is the easiest means of transportation because parking in Birmingham isn't the hassle that it is elsewhere.
Around the area of Linn Park , start with a nice breakfast or brunch at the Cafe Dupont . From there, you could walk a short distance to the Birmingham Museum of Art and the BJCC Theatre . After that, you might want to make your way southwest to Kelly Ingram Park .
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
In the historic African American district, you can visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Carver Theatre , where you'll find the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame . Stop at Sarris Restaurant and try the steak. Also nearby are the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and the McWane Science Center , with its 360-degree IMAX theater.
The Stardome Theater always has a famous comedian or two on the schedule. The nearby Regions Park , home of the Birmingham Barons , hosts concerts and sports games throughout the year. Enjoy lunch at Ali Baba Persian Restaurant , then drive to neighboring Bessemer and have a thrill at the Alabama Adventure amusement park.
Homewood is a hub cultural attractions. The BJCC East Exhibition Hall , BJCC Arena and BJCC Concert Hall are all within walking distance of each other. Taste the Italian creations at Brio Tuscan Grill , then catch a show at the nearby Harrison Theater .
South of Downtown Birmingham is Oak Mountain State Park , where you can hike, bike on the trails, rough it at the campsites, and take a dip in one of its numerous lakes. Drive south to Montgomery, the state capital and site of the world-renowned Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The city of Talladega is located about an hour from Birmingham. NASCAR enthusiasts will know this city as the home of the Talladega Superspeedway . On the racetrack grounds, you'll find the International Motorsports Hall of Fame .
Many visitors opt to plan their trip with a professional tour company; here are some options to consider.
J & J Tours Inc. (+1 205 414 7560)
Landmark Tour and Travel (+1 205 326 6444/ http://www.travellandmark.com/) Brimingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (+1 205 458 8000/ http://www.birminghamal.org/)
L & E Tours (+1 205 781 2480) Connection Tours (+1 205 822 7323)
Excursions Unlimited (+1 205 324 9491)
Murry's Charter and Tours (+1 205 980 5994)
Victory Tours (+1 205 923 5900)
Camelot Bus Charter and Tours (+1 205 525 1721/ http://www.camelotcharters.com/)
Southeastern Motor Coach Inc (+1 205 791 1966/ http://www.southeasternmotorcoach.com/)
Magic Express Airlines Inc. (+1 205 956 8142/ http://www.magicexpressair.com/)
Lake Purdy Let's Go Fishing (+1 205 991 9107)