“You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.” When Andre 3000 spoke that thoughtful line, he wasn’t only speaking to Ms. Jackson. He was speaking to all of us. I experienced this statement firsthand this weekend, as a camping trip that had been planned for weeks was suddenly in limbo as the weather sharply dropped across Alabama including our planned fun in the Talladega National Forest. I had friends coming in from Mississippi and Florida for the experience, but below below-freezing weather did not seem like the right opportunity for us Southern states residents to get back into sleeping in tents. Yes, our sleeping bags are meant for this moment. Yes, we have fire, hot food, and heated conversations to warm our spirits. But let’s not make ourselves hate camping forever now! Instead, we would explore the Alabama wilderness and watering holes that make our state known as “The Beautiful”. It let me feel like a tourist in my own city and allowed my Florida friend, Ofelia, who was still able to come down the opportunity to find things to love about town while meeting with environmental justice groups like GASP and The People’s Justice Council for her work with Climate Justice Alliance. Here are the 6 big takeaways. 

“Y’all have great burgers and pizza.” 

Yes, Birmingham is a foodie city - but don’t forget the basics. Burgers and pizzas come in abundance, but not every city has options that stand out. We chose to frequent Jack Brown’s for our burger adventure. Ofelia got the Dr. Gonzo with jalapenos while I enjoyed the daily special for Thursday - the When In Roam. For pizza, we split an Uncle G’s Detroit-style masterpiece - The Dal add pepperoni. It was my first time trying this combination and my taste buds sang their praises. We didn’t only stick to these burgers and pizza of course. Dreamland, Shu Shop, Saigon, and Hattie B’s were all enjoyed as well.

“Everybody is really friendly. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve engaged people in conversations and became their BFFs.” 

This is true - I’ve seen it firsthand. No two people in Birmingham are the same, which means that every conversation brings new enlightenment and laughs. The bartender at an Alabaster brunch spot is going to be having a different day than the woman selling fabric angels she made outside of the Roebuck gas station, and both bring important perspectives that make this city so special. 

“There are a lot of nifty spots that have surprised me.” 

You enter a bar for a nice little nightcap. You want a drink and a good time of course - but what much more than that can you ask for from a drinking establishment in Birmingham, Alabama? How about clouds floating overhead with bubble showers flowing down intermittently? Every table brings an opportunity to play cards or Dominos, every Cookie Monster outfit comes with the opportunity to eat some cookies, every Sex Panther drink order is a chance to get matching temporary neck tattoos, and every corner of The House of Found Objects is full of joyous wonders. 

“The beer is good.” 

If you live in Birmingham, you know we’ve been blessed with an ever-increasing number of quality breweries in recent years - but it really hits home when you are showing off our alcoholic beverages to someone around town. Places like Jack Brown’s and Hop City are great for trying a wide range of beers, but each of the many breweries (we visited Back Forty, Birmingham District, and Ghost Train) is fun to check out for a little personalized version of why to love the Magic City. The Shure Shot was playing at District, which was a wonderful experience. 

“Oak Mountain. That was cool. I like that it was really close to everything. You’re suddenly in the mountains when you just left Birmingham.” 

Oak Mountain State Park was a thrilling experience for a friend that comes from the flat marshes of Florida, and the amount of activities located in one park is tough to find anywhere else. We went to enjoy hiking (the Peavine Falls trail), the Alabama Wildlife Center, and the Interpretive Center. It was both of our first times visiting the centers, which were both a great time and very educational on Alabama outdoors. Shout out to Shelby the eagle and her great-horned owl friend. We almost did horseback riding, which I only recently learned about (as in this weekend), and enjoyed seeing different people enjoy the lakes, mountain biking, and other fun adventures. A truly great park and many cities can’t claim to have such a great center.

“St. Patrick’s Day was fun. I liked the giant blunt.” 

The 39th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was a great time, with thousands coming out to celebrate one of the most fun days of the year. The entire event was an extravagant affair full of celebratory moments like the Magic City Disco Groove Krewe, and ended with a giant Tullamore Dew bottle thanks to the BUZZD app and a joint complete with smoke made by Near to Me Dispensary

Cover image from Back 40 Birmingham