The Magnolia League Guide to Birmingham

The Magnolia League Guide to Birmingham

“I wish every state had a Birmingham.” - Riley Green 

We love a comeback story, and Birmingham has a story to tell. Going from punchline to “hidden gem,” the city has finally arrived as a bonafide destination. People are welcoming—of you, outside cultures, and of change—resulting in a city that feels comfortably intimate while still delivering big-city amenities. 

There’s never been a better time to get your first visit under your belt. Here’s why you should visit Birmingham now: 

  • The Sweet Spot: Birmingham offers the rare combination of quintessential Southern small town comfort with modern cosmopolitan offerings. This mix of ease and experience make it an ideal weekend trip destination. 
  • Creativity Energy: Since reinventing itself in the mid-aughts, Birmingham is full of creative makers—leading chefs (see below), designers (Billy Reid), and musicians (St. Paul & the Broken Bones).  
  • Leading Food Capital: With seven James Beard winners, and outstanding eats for all tastes and budgets, you can enjoy some of the nation’s best at a fraction the cost (and stuffiness) of comparable big city restaurants.  
  • Southern Hospitality, Changing Perceptions: The city honors the heroism of the Civil Rights Era, while acknowledging the injustices that made it necessary. The state wants to change how people think about Alabama. Replacing images of Bull Connor, for instance, with something inspiring (such as the U.S. Civil Rights Trail). The warm populace embodies Southern hospitality and wants you to know how much their city has changed—making it all the more compelling to see that progress for yourself. 

Birmingham, AL Skyline 

In This Guide: 

  • History: important context to better understand the city and enhance your trip. 
  • Best Neighborhoods: Avondale, Lakeview, Downtown, Forest Park, The Villages, and Homewood.  
  • Where to Eat: How to maximize the exceptional dining options for all tastes and budgets—James Beard winners, Southern BBQ, breakfast, and more.  
  • Where to Drink: the best breweries, cocktail bars, and roof tops that put the “magic” in Magic City. 
  • What to Do—Museums, Music, Shops: From museums and Civil Rights historical sites to the world’s largest motorcycle collection. Plus some of the best shops in the South, like the Tom Beckbe flagship store. 
  • Golf & Sporting: Renowned Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has two courses in the metro. Baseball’s Barons and USFL’s Stallions. Esteemed sporting resort Pursell Farms is within an hour’s drive. 
  • Outdoors: Fantastic state parks with waterfalls and mountain views, plus iconic sites like Vulcan Trail and Railroad Park at Regions Field. 
  • Where to Stay: For the best hotels, we’ve got you covered—plus what to look for in your Airbnb.   
Regions Field - Birmingham, AL


Start your journey with some essential Birmingham history, then keep reading for the ultimate list of the city’s best. Let’s jump in…

A Primer on Birmingham History 

This is a separate topic and complex issue, but it’s essential to have some historic and recent context for Birmingham. 

Birmingham is a fairly new city, founded in 1871. Its early iron and steel industries changed the raw red-clay landscape so quickly that Birmingham earned the nicknames Magic City and Pittsburgh of the South.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many would be surprised to learn that Birmingham and Atlanta held roughly the same population and economic position. Serious debates were held on which city would ultimately become the business and power center of the “New South.” But the Civil Rights Ear set the cities down starkly different paths. Birmingham became known for its harsh Jim Crow laws, Bull Connor’s dogs, and the villainous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. To differentiate itself from its border-state rival, Atlanta adopted the motto, “The City too Busy to Hate.” The rest is history. 

In 2011, Jefferson County declared Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy—the biggest in U.S. history until Detroit did the same two years later. After that nadir, Birmingham committed to reinvention. Fueled in no small part by the Free the Hops movement that reversed Alabama’s draconian beer laws, Downtown went from abandoned buildings to breweries, hip lofts, James Beard restaurants, and a modern ballpark (where Michael Jordan once played). These revitalization efforts spurred locals to consider coming home instead of fleeing for better opportunities in Atlanta or New York.  

Fueled by this newfound creative energy, Birmingham’s food scene, while always punching above its weight, burst onto the national stage. Highlands Bar & Grill (now closed unfortunately) basically founded Alabama's progressive food scene with the revolutionary idea that Southern cuisine could be elevated with superior ingredients, deft technique, and unstuffy service. Generations of chefs have emerged from the kitchen as disciples of that gospel which became signature Birmingham—more on this later!

I moved to Alabama right around this time and the excitement surrounding this revitalization was contagious. People were optimistic, trying new things, and the city kept improving. Though I’d lived in neighboring states, it felt like I was on the ground floor a hidden gem. Today, Birmingham has “arrived” (as much as any city ever can) but continues to evolve. It’s time for you to discover, or revisit, one of America’s most underrated cities

Alabama Theater 1970s | Birmingham, AL


Read on for our complete guide to the best in Birmingham…

Ultimate Guide to Birmingham

Restaurants for all meals and tastes. Dive bars, breweries, and swanky cocktail lounges. Where to go and what to do: outdoors, culture, golf, shops, and sites. Here’s a comprehensive guide, so you can make the most of your time in the Magic City. 

Getting There

  • When to Go: The best times to visit Birmingham are spring and fall, from March-May or September-November (be aware of the Alabama and Auburn football schedules if you travel in the fall). 
  • Drive from Atlanta: ~2 hours 
  • Drive from Nashville: ~3 hours 
  • BHM Airport: daily direct flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, New York, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Denver, and more.  

Where to Eat and Drink in Birmingham 

When it comes to food and drink, this small city punches well above its weight. With an outsized number of James Beard recognitions at all price points, famous Alabama BBQ (with white sauce of course), neighborhood dive bars and chic cocktails. Here are our favorites. 

Breakfast & Coffee


Coffee/Café/General Store (Forest Park/Avondale)

Good coffee, warm scones, and cold kombuchas as well as plenty to peruse. 

Ladybird Taco

Breakfast Tacos (Downtown) 

This fast-casual spot brings the beloved Austin-style breakfast taco to Birmingham. 

Crestline Bagel

Bagels (The Villages) 

The best bagel in Alabama has had locals lining up in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village for over 20 years. 


Saw’s BBQ 

(Multiple Locations)

Our favorite BBQ in Alabama if not the entire South. This beloved institution now has multiple locations with slight variations to the menu at each. For an added bonus, get it to-go at the Avondale location and enjoy outside at Avondale Brewery.  

Miss Myra’s Pit BBQ

(Cahaba Heights) 

Phenomenal smoked chicken pairs perfectly with iconic, vinegar-based Alabama white BBQ sauce. 



Serving the community for over 50 years, Demetri’s has cult-status cheese grits, great ‘cue, and hearty breakfasts. 

Saw's BBQ | Birmingham, AL


Lunch & Dinner—Casual


Chez Fon Fon

French Bistro (Five Points South) 

Bustling bistro with authentic decor has full-flavor dishes (many locals consider the burger the best in Bham)—plus a lengthy list of lighter options for a satisfying meal that won’t weigh down your afternoon.

El Barrio

Modern Mexican (Downtown)

Inventive, sophisticated setting for modern Mexican with seasonal produce and mezcal cocktails. Cannot go wrong with dinner or brunch here. Doubles as a great date spot. 


Mediterranean/Southern (Homewood)

Something for everyone with Greek, Southern, and barbeque—all of which are delicious. 

Slim’s Pizzeria

Pizza/Italian (The Villages) 

Great pizza, Italian dishes, and full wine list. Comfortable elegance evokes old-school New York Italian joints. 

Dinner—Haute Cuisine



Modern Southern (Downtown)

Five-time James Beard Best Chef South semifinalist, Chef Rob McDaniel, leads this elegant grill offering a refreshed take on upscale dining and Southern cuisine—inspired by his grandmother, Helen. Do not leave without trying the Angel Biscuits appetizer. 

Hot & Hot Fish Club

Seafood/American (Lakeview)

Another James Beard winner that helped put Bham on the culinary map. Gulf fish and farm-to-table regional fare in a refined, yet unstuffy, setting. If the weather allows, definitely sit outside on the relaxing patio. 

Bar La Fête

French (Downtown) 

An ode to fine wine, delicious food, and the Parisian lifestyle—La Fête serves major league pours along with gourmet snacks and mains within Euro-chic digs that evoke a whimsy Wes Anderson film.

Lé Fresca

Italian (Downtown)

Visited with a local friend who introduced me to chef and co-owner Marco Butturini, a Northern Italy native who previously worked magic at city icons like Highlands Bar & Grill. The wonderful staff, modern brick facade, and authentic Northern Italy cuisine (many ingredients sourced right from Italy) make this a slam dunk pick. 


Spanish/Southern (Lakeview)

Another hit from JB winning chef, Chris Hastings. Elevated cuisine with influences (and ingredients) from Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, and the American South. 

Restaurant Server


Cocktails, Dive Bars, & Breweries

TrimTab Brewing


The undisputed best beer in Alabama, TrimTab delivers award-winning suds in the bustling Lakeview district. With new releases almost every week as well as old stalwarts (Classic IPA, 205, and 006 to name a few), you’re bound to find something to fit your mood.  

The Garage 


The ultimate Bham dive bar with some of the best soups and sandwiches in the city. Grab a beer, sandwich, and enjoy at the bar with the regulars or on the expansive back patio. 

Otey's Tavern

(The Villages) 

Classic Mountain Brook neighborhood bar that delivers the ‘ham’s best Masters party, live music, and other fun events throughout the year. 

Avondale Brewing Company 


Solid beer, premium outdoor space, and one of the best music venues in town—hosting artists like Koe Wetzel, Parker McCollum, and The Smashing Pumpkins. 

Golden Age Wine

(The Villages/Mountain Brook) 

One of the coolest wine bars and shops in the South. Tasteful, minimalist design meets carefully curated wine offerings—plus good food, beer, and merch. 

The Collins Bar 


What Highlands was for food, The Collins was for cocktails. They set the trend of high-quality cocktail craftsmanship in the city and remain the best Birmingham cocktail bar today. Tell the bartender your preferred flavor profile and they’ll whip up a bespoke cocktail just for you. 

The Collins Bar - Birmingham, AL


What to Do in Birmingham

Birmingham offers compelling museums, historical sites, and art that help you understand the city, the South, and America. No shortage of good golf, trails, parks, and live music. Here are our top picks. 

Art, Culture, & History

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute  


Reveals slices of Black (and white) life in Alabama from the late 1800s to the present. A series of galleries tells the individual stories of daily life for Black men, women, and children in the state and their struggle for equal treatment under the law.

Vulcan Park & Museum 

(Red Mountain) 

The Roman god of fire and forge pays homage to Birmingham's roots as an iron and steel town, while he watches over the city from atop Red Mountain—a quintessential experience for first timers. 

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark


A pig-iron-producing blast furnace site from 1882 all the way until 1971. After Sloss shut down, it became one of the first industrial sites in the US to be preserved for public use. Today, the site operates as a museum of industry and also serves as a festival and concert venue.

Sloss Furnaces - Birmingham, AL



Highland Park 

Public (Forest Park) 

An extensive million-dollar renovation in 2019 sets the scene for a memorable round on Alabama’s oldest golf course (originally the city’s country club) located in the gorgeous Forest Park neighborhood. 

Limestone Springs Golf Club

Semi-Private (Oneonta)  

I took the scenic 40-minute drive north to play Limestone and highly recommend it. Set in the beautiful Appalachian foothills with mountain views and serene waterfalls, this secluded (yet accessible) club reminds you what golf is about. 

Shoal Creek Club

Private (Shoal Creek) 

This Nicklaus-designed course, which hosted the PGA Championship in 1986 and 1990, is Alabama’s consensus #1 course.

RTJ Golf Trail - Oxmoor Valley

Public (Shannon/Hoover) 

Offering 54 holes of golf minutes from downtown, Oxmoor was built on former mining land sculpted in the Appalachians—delivering scenic forests, creeks, and challenging elevation changes.

RTJ Golf Trail - Ross Bridge

Public (Hoover)

Newly renovated Ross Bridge was one of 2019’s top golf resorts in America by GOLF Magazine and has been a favorite of Golf Digest. Posh resort accommodations make Ross Bridge a destination to plan your trip around.

RTJ Trail - Ross Bridge - Birmingham, AL


Sports & Outdoors


Regions Field/Railroad Park

The AA White Sox affiliate Barons are a historic franchise, famously hosting Michael Jordan during his first retirement. The ballpark fully modernized in 2013. With the newly adjacent Railroad Park and revitalized surroundings (including Good People Brewing), it became a symbol of the city’s downtown transformation.

Ruffner Mountain 

A somewhat hidden gem with 14 miles of trails minutes from downtown. The dramatic Pipeline Quarry Trail puts you above the thick canopy as you stand on jagged outcrops of natural limestone. 

Red Mountain Park

1,500 wooded acres make this urban oasis 78% larger than Central Park. Enjoy 15 miles of walking, hiking and mountain biking trails, and beautiful destination sites. 

Barber Motorsports Museum

A gearhead’s dream come true, Barber is the world’s largest collection of motorcycles and Lotus race cars (plus vintage Ferraris and much more). 

Pursell Farms 

A luxurious “outdoor leisure resort” with inspiring scenery, experiences, and only 45 minutes away in Sylacauga, AL. Award-winning golf, Orvis shooting grounds, and too many amenities to list. Here's a great review from Red Clay Soul to learn more. 

Pursell Farms - luxury adventure resort in Alabama



The Nick


“Birmingham’s dirty little secret” has been a staple for 30+ years as the city’s ultimate dive bar and music venue. 

Iron City


An iconic music venue housed in a former car facility originally built in 1926. Iron City features 3 stages, 2 bars, and a restaurant at this 22,000 square foot entertainment venue in the heart of Downtown. 



Many say this is the coolest venue in the ‘ham and it’s hard to argue. A great vibe with genuine character, Saturn hosts all kinds of live shows. Stop by pre-show to grab a drink and play one of the many board games available. 

Iron City music venue - Birmingham, AL



Harrison Limited

(The Villages) 

The highly knowledgeable and personable staff make Harrison one of the best men’s stores in the South. You'll walk away with clothes that make you feel wonderful, and a warm conversation that feels like you're among friends. 

Billy Reid 


Billy Reid stores are vibrant, creative gathering places for community connection. In the words of Reid, a proud native son, “I’ve had my eye on Birmingham for a while and am proud to put roots down in Pepper Place...the district already houses some of the most well-respected creative minds in the region.”

Mobley & Sons

(The Villages)

Mobley stores have served as the go-to outfitter of Alabama gentlemen for generations. Their hospitality and classic men’s store feel are even more relevant today. 

Tom Beckbe Flagship Store

(The Villages) 

Quintessential American sporting brand Tom Beckbe was born in the Alabama red clay and delivers an elevated retail experience at their flagship. Includes a tastefully curated collection of rare sporting items, TB's full line of premium outdoor apparel, and an in-store workshop—plus indoor and outdoor events throughout the year. 

Tom Beckbe Flagship Store - Mountain Brook, AL


Best Birmingham Neighborhoods & Where to Stay


A historic district that’s a bustling and diverse area for entertainment, food, and design. Features the city’s best farmer’s market (Pepper Place), beer (TrimTab), and James Beard winner Hot & Hot.  

  • Eats: Ovenbird, Automatic Seafood, Betolla, Hot & Hot Fish Club 
  • Do: TrimTab, Pepper Place, Back Forty Beer Company
  • Shops: Billy Reid, Design Supply
  • Stay: Though technically limited on lodging options, Lakeview is 5-10 minutes from Downtown and The Villages (see lodging below). Rental houses are also an option. 

  • Downtown/Theater 

    Once a ghost town after 5pm, now a symbol of the city’s revival. Bustling with hip lofts, top restaurants, and pro sports—plus the iconic Alabama Theater.  

  • Eats: Helen, Bar La Fete, El Barrio 
  • Do: Lyric, Alabama Theater, Regions Field & Railroad Park, Paramount
  • Shops: Yellowhammer Creative, Jim Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories
  • Stay: John Hand Club, Elyton, Redmont, The Kelly

  • The Villages 

    The combined area of Mountain Brook, Crestline Village, and English Village make up Alabama’s poshest suburb. Tudor-style architecture and wooded estates set the tone with a superb lineup of restaurants, shops, and neighborhood bars. 

  • Eats: Saw’s Juke Joint, Porch, Crestline Bagel
  • Do: Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Crestline Village, Otley’s Tavern 
  • Shops: Tom Beckbe, Harrison Limited, Mobley & Sons
  • Stay: Grand Bohemian 

  • Homewood 

    Homewood skyrocketed in popularity during the last decade, and is now considered the state's best place to live. Handsome 1920s homes on leafy streets. Thriving entertainment, restaurants, and shops. A close, inviting community. Comfort of the suburbs and the excitement of the city (only 3 miles away). 

  • Eats: Little Donkey, Johnny’s Restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast, Jinsei 
  • Do: Vulcan Park, Downtown Homewood   
  • Shops: Seibels Cottages, Alabama Goods, Soho Retro   
  • Stay: Valley Hotel

    Forest Park & Avondale

    Forest Park housed the city’s elites in the 1920s, maintaining its gorgeous hillside homes and refined charm. Avondale has exploded. Becoming the ‘ham’s hippest haven with breweries, live music, and good times. 


  • Eats: The Rougaroux, Post Office Pies, Red or White 
  • Do: SaturnHighland Park Golf Course, Avondale Brewing
  • Shops: Seasick Records, Hoam Candle Co, Avondale Apothecary  
  • Stay: Stay at 42nd

    Forest Park neighborhood - Birmingham, AL


    Where to Stay 

    A complete list of our top stays. For Airbnbs, your best bet is likely a Downtown loft or house in Forest Park/Avondale. Both provide a unique, lively, walkable neighborhood with excellent dining, entertainment, and culture options. 


    Birmingham, AL - The Magic City - vintage postcard

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