Local Highlights

Downtown Birmingham, AL: A Complete Guide

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Downtown Birmingham—or “Bham,” if you’re a true local—is where the action happens. What was once an area that would turn into a ghost town after 5pm, downtown Birmingham has seen a major revitalization over the last decade.1 

These days, downtown Birmingham, Alabama is packed with superb dining, bumping nightlife, and countless Instagram-worthy attractions. The boundaries of “downtown” are Druid Hill in the north, Fountain Heights in the west, University of Alabama in the south, and Central City in the east.

Below, we’ve picked out some our favorite sights and spots of downtown Birmingham. 

Outdoor Spots in Downtown Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham AL is home to a wide variety of attractions. From historically significant landmarks to lush urban green spaces, all sight-seeing opportunities are within walking distance of each other. 

Some of our favorite outdoor landmarks include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Historic Marker In the 1960’s, Birmingham was a hotbed for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This is the spot where Dr. King penned his pivotal letter to Alabama’s leadership, located along downtown’s Civil Rights Heritage Trail.2 From there, follow the byway for an unguided tour through Birmingham’s rich Civil Rights history.
  • Kelly Ingram Park – This park was a major gathering point for the Civil Rights Movement. Today, it hosts a sculpture garden that depicts scenes from that tumultuous era. Still, the Kelly Ingram Park located next to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a great way of learning about the historic city.
  • Railroad Park – If you’re keen to enjoy some nature in the middle of the city, head over to Railroad Park. This greenspace, known as “Birmingham’s living room” by locals, hosts a variety of events, concerts, and even exercise classes throughout the year.3 

Downtown Birmingham Museums & Culture

Besides the Civil Rights District, there are other ways to learn about the culture and history of Birmingham, AL. If you’re new to Birmingham, an excellent way to get acquainted with the southern city’s significance in American history is to visit the downtown area’s many museums. With so many things to do in Birmingham, Alabama in relation to this, our go-to cultural hubs include:

  • Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame For fans of prolific musicians like Duke Ellington or Nat King Cole, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is a must-see attraction on any visit to downtown Birmingham. Jazz is part of Birmingham’s DNA, and the museum even hosts free concerts and festivals to honor its prominence in American history.4
  • Alabama Historical Radio Museum If you’re looking to put down your cell phone and return to a simpler time, check out downtown Birmingham’s Radio Museum. This site features artifacts from Radio’s Golden Age that will make your vintage Walkman seem advanced. 
  • The Negro Southern League Museum At the intersection of sports culture and racial history, the Negro Southern League Museum chronicles the legacy of African-American baseball. Birmingham has always been a baseball town and is currently home to one of the oldest baseball fields in the country, Rickwood Field.5
  • Birmingham Museum of Art With one of the largest art collections in the Southeast US, there’s bound to be something here to inspire or ignite your imagination. This museum also hosts year-round discussions and events, including the ultra-popular Magic City Fashion Week.

What to Eat in Downtown Birmingham

Exploring downtown Birmingham could make any urban explorer work up an appetite. 

Good news: there’s a smorgasbord of tasty options for every palate.

In fact, Fodor’s Travel recently ranked Birmingham on its list of America’s most surprising and outstanding foodie destinations.6 So yes, downtown is the perfect destination for a rumbling belly. 

Our top places to grab a table and refuel include:

  • Helen – Run by husband-and-wife team Chef Rob and Emily McDaniel, Helen is a contemporary southern grill that serves up shareable, family-style portions. Some locals declare this local haunt to be Birmingham’s best restaurant—not just downtown, but city-wide.
  • The Yard – This chic spot boasts progressive Southern cuisine and an outdoor dining area with an exquisite view of downtown. With all the ingredients sourced from local vendors, there’s not a bad meal on the menu. That said, there is one house standout that’s stolen our attention: The Yard Burger with hand-pattied bison and paprika aioli. 
  • Bocca – Southern fare isn’t the only cuisine you’ll find downtown. If you’re in the mood for Italian, Bocca is sure to hit the spot. The restaurant is arranged for semi-private dining, though, so make sure you snag a reservation in advance. 

Breakfast & Brunch

If you’re getting an early start or looking to indulge in an early weekend food coma, these are the best breakfast and brunch spots downtown:

  • Hero Doughnuts & Buns If you’re dying for a doughnut and a latte, Hero will come to your rescue. The pastries here are impeccable, but Hero’s best-kept secret may be its signature loaded hash browns breakfast plate. 
  • The Essential Brunch at the Essential is one of the most popular weekend destinations in downtown Bham. You may have to queue up to taste them, but the fried chicken and grits are absolutely worth the wait. 

Lunch & Quick Bites

Finally, if you’re on-the-go or working in downtown Birmingham, sink your teeth into these quick and quality lunch favorites:

  • Sarris Cafe – If you’re new to Birmingham (or the South in general) you might be unfamiliar with what’s called a “Meat and Two.” For the uninitiated, Meat and Twos are food joints that serve a meat entrée with two sides, cafeteria-style. Sarris Cafe is one of them, dishing up southern favorites with Mediterranean twist. 
  • The Pizitz Food Hall – If you have a hard time making decisions, you may not be up for all The Pizitz has to offer. From tacos to pho, this Food Hall boasts twelve food stalls with something for every palette, plus a wide-open communal space for dining in.

Places to Shop Downtown

Downtown and the various neighborhoods in Birmingham, AL have you covered with the grocery stores and chain stores to get your routine shopping done. But if you’re looking to shop for something a little more unique, be sure to visit these hidden gems on your next tour of downtown:

  • Alabama Peanut Company – You may have had enough to eat after our exhaustive food tour, but just in case you’re still in the mood for snacking, mosey on over to the Alabama Peanut Company. Roasted nuts are a Birmingham tradition that every local needs to sample. 
  • Jim Reed Books – Also known as The Museum of Fond Memories, this book loft has more than 50,000 spines to peruse, plus a vast selection of magazines, movie posters, and other niche miscellany. The store is owned and operated by Jim Reed, a prolific columnist, humorist, and Bham resident. 
  • What’s On Second – Sneakily located on 20th Street (instead of its original home on 2nd), What’s On Second is packed with vintage items you didn’t even know you needed. From vinyl to action figures to cheesy political buttons, you could spend a whole day browsing the oddities here. 

Downtown Events and Activities

There’s always something going on in downtown Birmingham. Maybe you’re looking for date night ideas in Birmingham, AL or just searching for a spontaneous adventure with a new buddy you met through the Connect by Common app. If you’re looking for entertainment, here are two ways to find it downtown:

  • Birmingham Barons Game Nothing says summer quite like AA baseball and cold beer on a warm night. The Barons are the farm team for the Chicago White Sox, so here’s your chance to catch some young talent before they hit the Majors.
  • The Alabama Theatre – Located in the heart of downtown, the Alabama Theatre is more than just a movie house—it’s an actual movie palace. As one of the last authentic movie palaces left in the country, the ambiance here can be even more dramatic than the movies they screen. Unfortunately, the folks who run the place won’t let you play on their heritage Wurlitzer organ (no matter how many times you ask). 

Nightlife Downtown

Once you’ve explored all that downtown Birmingham has to offer, you may be in the mood to kick back with a cold adult beverage. The following spots, all within safe walking distance of one another, could soon become your choice neighborhood haunt:

  • Back Forty Beer Company – If you’re a beer drinker, this popular microbrewery is the spot for you. Back Forty is a great place to savor an IPA while listening to some live music—and it’s also perfectly positioned for some train-watching as you imbibe. 
  • The Wine Loft – For those more inclined toward wine than beer, check out the upscale Wine Loft. The bar is located in a former dry goods store, making it a fine example of classic Birmingham architecture. 
  • Neon Moon – This downtown favorite refers to itself as “your favorite five-star dive bar”—and we couldn’t agree more. Neon Moon offers a dazzling list of cocktails, plus plenty of local brews on tap. 

Round up your crew, crowd the table with libations, and by dint of Bham’s signature warmth you can be sure the bartenders will know your name in no time.

Birmingham AL is a city worth discovering every part of. From Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Birmingham Zoo to the Alabama Theatre and many more attractions, you might need quite a lot of time to explore. 

Make Bham Your Home Base with Common

Whether you’re in the mood for a long brunch and a little sight-seeing or some fine dining and a night on the town, downtown Birmingham is brimming with treasures waiting to be explored. 

And at the end of a long day of urban expeditions, there’s no better spot to come home to than Common at The Frank. Common coliving provides a welcoming living space and sense of community, with curated events ranging from cooking lessons to exercise classes organized through Common’s easy-to-use app. 

With Common at The Frank to call home, you’ll stay rested, restored, and connected to the people who make downtown Birmingham feel like home. What better way of discovering this southern city of the United States than living in it? Learn more about what life looks like in Birmingham by exploring Common at The Frank today.

 

Sources: 

  1. Bham Now. Birmingham Green, downtown’s signature street is about to get a makeover. https://bhamnow.com/2021/10/08/birmingham-green-downtowns-signature-street-is-about-to-get-a-makeover/
  2. United States Civil Rights Trail. Sites of Violence, Sites of Healing. https://civilrightstrail.com/destination/birmingham
  3. Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. Neighborhoods: Downtown Birmingham. https://www.birminghamal.org/neighborhood/downtown/
  4. Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Events. https://jazzhall.com/events/
  5. Rickwood. History. https://rickwood.com/
  6. Fodor’s Travel. 10 Unexpected U.S. Cities With a Surprisingly Good Food Scene. https://www.fodors.com/world/north-america/experiences/news/10-unexpected-u-s-cities-with-a-surprisingly-good-food-scene

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