I can’t believe it’s been a month since our road trip through the south—we seriously had the best time, and I love that so many people in my life have given me the opportunity to talk about our experience! After the two great days we spent in Mississippi, we hopped back into our red hatchback rental car and headed to our afternoon destination, Tuscaloosa. Prior to this trip, I had never been to Mississippi or Alabama, so it was fun to check of my 31st and 32nd states back to back! Of course, as we crossed the state line into Alabama, we had Sweet Home Alabama playing and pulled over to take a picture of the sign.
As a reminder, I’m breaking up our road trip into different posts so it’s not information overload:
- Natchez by way of Jackson, Mississippi
- Oxford, Mississippi
- Birmingham by way of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (this post!)
- Atlanta, Georgia
I really enjoyed our time in Alabama, but this post definitely just skims the surface of the state. We spent considerably less time here than we did in Mississippi (a little under 24 hours when all was said and done!), and so I’d love to get back one day to explore Birmingham more, and visit Selma, Montgomery, Mobile, and Auburn.
But without further ado, let’s hop to our time in Sweet Home Alabama!
TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA /
We wanted to go through Tuscaloosa and spend a few hours exploring The University of Alabama. We went on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, and the day before, the Crimson Tide had an away game in Atlanta, so the campus was admittedly a little dead. We enjoyed our time walking around the fraternity and sorority houses, seeing one of the school’s major landmarks, the football stadium, Denny Chimes, The President’s Mansion, and seeing the Gorgas House, which is the oldest structure on campus—built in 1829, the building served as a dining hall, hotel, and residence for the University’s Steward. It was one of four buildings to survive the campus Civil War burning in 1865—another of which was the President’s Mansion.
After we walked around campus, we headed over to Archibald & Woodrow’s BBQ, which is hands-down, some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had! I got mine with coleslaw and mac and cheese. This place looks like a hole-in-the-wall and is very simple inside—there are pictures of Bear Bryant, the TVs were going, and we sat right down at the counter. But, if you’re looking for some of the best BBQ on the planet, go to this place—and bring cash!
HOW TO GET THERE /
We drove to Birmingham from Tuscaloosa, which was about an hour. When we arrived in Tuscaloosa, we were coming from Oxford, which was about a three hour drive—making the total trek from Oxford to Birmingham about four hours.
If you’re not on a road trip like we were though, I’d recommend flying directly into Birmingham, which is where the largest airport in the state is: Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. There are just a few direct flights to BHM from the DC area, and like flights to other mid-sized airports, they are on the more expensive side. If you’re looking to fly into a larger airport, we flew home from our road trip out of Atlanta, which was an easy two hour drive from Birmingham.
WHERE TO STAY /
Unlike when we were in Natchez or Oxford, we didn’t have a strong desire to stay at any particular hotel when we were in Birmingham. We decided to stay at the Hilton Birmingham UAB since it was close to the restaurants and bars we wanted to check out and only ran us about $100/night. Plus, being less familiar with Birmingham from other places, we knew that the University of Alabama at Birmingham was a safe neighborhood. This was a great, modern, clean hotel—and I would totally stay here again and recommend it to anyone traveling to Birmingham!
That being said, there could definitely be cuter hotels out there or ones in neighborhoods we didn’t have the chance to explore—so when I go back to Birmingham, I would probably look around a little bit and see if there was a more boutique or fun place I’d want to stay than just your run-of-the-mill chain hotel.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK /
We were so full from our delicious BBQ meal, we didn’t actually make it to Bottega Cafe, where we had planned to do dinner at the recommendation of several of our friends who have spent significant amount of time in Birmingham. Bottega Cafe actually has two restaurants side-by-side, a nicer, white-table restaurant and a more casual, but still really nice cafe. We had planned to go to the cafe, which serves up Italian food and curates a great wine selection, but we were just too full!
Instead, we decided to get a drink at The Collins Bar, which was such a fun choice! We got there on the earlier side, so we had the place to ourselves—it was one of those bars where you tell the bartender what you like, and they concoct you a cocktail based on your preferences. My answer in those situations is always I like tropical fruity drinks with vodka, but don’t like coconut. Whatever our bartender whipped up, I loved—and ordered again! I also got some loaded tater tots to snack on, because #vacation, and those didn’t disappoint either. As the night wore on, more and more people trickled in. Behind the bar was a fun Periodic Table of Elements, only instead of the elements, it was all things relating to Birmingham, which was fun. They only had one bartender working—it was a Sunday night after all—but it became increasingly harder to get the service we had at the beginning, so we eventually retired. Overall, we loved our experience here though!
While we were sitting at the bar, our bartender dropped us a note with all his favorite places in Birmingham, and my friends Ashlee, Becca, and Gia were kind enough to give us recommendations ahead of our trip, so I wanted to share all their great recs here, too, in case you’re spending more time in Birmingham than we did! Here’s what they said:
- Tratoria Downtown, Octane, or Hero Donuts for breakfast/weekend brunch
- Brick & Tin for lunch
- El Barrio, Saws BBQ, Oven Bird, John’s City Diner, The Essential, Highlands Bar and Grill, Blueprint, Chez Fon Fon, and Cayo Coco for dinner
- Carrigan’s, Brat Brot, The Atomic Lounge, Marble Ring, Nana Funks, Queen’s Park, and Pilcrow Cocktail Cellar for drinks
- Eltyon Hotel and The Redmont Hotel for rooftop bars
- Good People and Avondale Brewing for breweries
We took our bartender up on one of his recommendations and went to Holler & Dash for biscuits. It was bustling—so many young families, millennials, and empty nesters alike enjoying delicious biscuits. I got the hot chicken one with tater tots, and it was delicious. We also split a beignets, because again #vacation, and while they weren’t as good as the ones in New Orleans, they were good.
WHAT TO DO /
We had to return our rental car in Atlanta by a certain time, so we didn’t spend much of our morning in Birmingham. However, we did make a point to go by the 16th Street Baptist Church. Unfortunately, we were there on a Monday and it is closed for tours that day, but we took a few minutes to appreciate its beautiful exterior. Because of 16th Street’s prominence in the black community, and its central location to downtown Birmingham, the church served as headquarters for the civil rights mass meetings and rallies in the early 1960’s. On September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded in the basement, killing four young girls attending Sunday School and injuring more than 20 other members of the congregation. The bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights Movement and many believe it helped push Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Right across from 16th Street Baptist Church are Kelly Ingram Park, which served as a large-scale staging grounds during the Civil Rights Movement, and the Civil Rights Institute, which is a museum that depicts the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s.
On our way to Holler & Dash for breakfast, we drove by Vulcan Park, which offers great views of Birmingham and has a statue of Vulcan, who represents the iron mining industry around Birmingham.
And y’all know me—I never pass up the opportunity to see a great mural, so we swung by the It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham mural located at 112 Richard Arrington Jr Boulevard North before heading out of town.
It was on my trip to Alabama that I realized why the dogs in Sweet Home Alabama are named Bear and Bryant—after the legendary University of Alabama football coach. I’m sure this was obvious to everyone else, but it blew my mind!
Anyway—I can tell why people consider Alabama Sweet Home. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about our road trip or our stop in Alabama! You can leave me a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love that you enjoyed your time in Birmingham! IMO, it’s a hidden gem of a city in the South. The food scene is insane there for the size of the city. I loved my time living there! Need to add a few of the new places you listed to my list to visit this fall – heading there for a wedding!
It really is a hidden gem — I would have loved to stay longer to eat my way through town. So jealous you’ll be back in the fall!
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