Spring Outside


Mother Nature awaits at Ruffner Mountain

In the words of funny man Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!’” Cheers to that.


Each night at bedtime, I ask my two year old son what he’s thankful for.  Lately, his response is “I’m thankful for foie gras, Mommy.”  (He says that.  Every night.  I kid not.)  Either I’m not understanding toddler-speak or my last post has had an immediate and direct affect on my offspring.

Looking inward (or really, outward), it’s being able to spend time outside lately that’s gotten me pretty *thankful*. And it’s taken me over three decades to finally realize that I am not a winter person.  I do not like the cold.  I do not like being inside.  I do not like ice storms and, honestly, I’m really not that big on snow.  Spring has arrived, so with all due respect, hallelujah.  Amen.

Birmingham is beautiful in the spring.  Sure, autumn looks nice on Jones Valley and her topographical curves, but who can deny the essence of pear trees bursting in bloom, wild daffodil blossoms popping up in every yard, warmer sun and the lengthening of days?  Spring is a feel-good season.  If you have the opportunity to spend time outside each day, no doubt you’ll be picking up on each new scent and the abundance of renewal found on every corner.  Rebirth, if you will.  I’m thankful for time spent outside.  I get a lot of it.  And I’m compelled to take full advantage of it.

So now that being outside is once again more of a privilege and less of a (do I have to?) chore, I’ve been making my list of great outdoor venues, all right here in the Magic City, that require some attention.  See you out there in the warm sun…

For a nice walk

Trail at Vulcan Park – Yielding city views and providing a shady canopy from the heat of afternoon sun, this mile-long trail scales the ridge of 1,025-foot Red Mountain and is always under the watchful eye of Mr. Birmingham himself, the beloved Vulcan.

The Robert Jemison TrailLocated along Mountain Brook Parkway, this trail puts you right along Shades Creek.  It’s a great place for people watching, bird watching, a nice jog or exploring nature.  (Interpretive signs along the trail offer info on wildlife, plants and trees found throughout the half-mile path.)

For some peace and quiet and maybe even a little picnic

Railroad ParkOpened last fall to widespread praise and a regular meeting place for me and my sanity, Railroad Park should be a weekly habit for any and all in the metro area.  If you haven’t been yet your visit is long overdue.

Ruffner Mountain – This urban oasis includes over 1,000 acres of undeveloped sanctuary along Red Mountain and is just minutes from downtown.  A recently built Nature Center adds to the adventure, though all you really need is a good pair of walking shoes, your Nalgene bottle and time to let yourself wander.

Oak Mountain State Park – This is Alabama’s largest park and is also the state’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center.  Swimming, boating, golf, mountain bike trails, hiking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, hiking (gasp) – if what you want to do is outside, you’re certain to find it here.

Cahaba River – She flows through eight Alabama counties and is the longest free-flowing river in the state, providing a home for a great multitude of fish species.  She’s also the primary source for one fifth of the state’s drinking water.   She’s a local treasure.  Be sure to catch the beautiful and rare Cahaba lilies in bloom late May through early June.

Moss Rock PreserveLocated in Hoover and spanning over 250 acres, the preserve has five miles of walking trails and two waterfalls.  Traces of Native Americans can also be found at the impressive boulder field.

For some in-your-face history

Kelly Ingram ParkThis four-acre park located in downtown Birmingham is at the heart of the Civil Rights District and is a must-see spot for anyone living in or visiting Birmingham as it just steps away from the Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, and an audio-guided walking tour of the area.  Visitors can also enjoy weekly live music during the summer.

Rickwood FieldThis is America’s oldest baseball park and wildly important to the history of Birmingham.  Catch the 16th Annual Magic City Classic on June 1 as the Birmingham Barons take on the Chattanooga lookouts.  Boater hats welcome (and encouraged).

Sloss FurnacesIf you haven’t noticed her furnace towers marking the city skyline then you’re (in the words of those peg-hole games at Cracker Barrel) “just plain dumb”.  Sloss is currently the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the U.S. being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site.  She’s magical and haunting and stunning and, to hold any kind of respect in this town, you have to be able to say you’ve seen her up close.

For the afternoon

Birmingham Botanical Gardens – Touted as “Alabama’s largest living museum”, this attraction is free and bursting with beauty right now.  Jump to the website to find out more or just get in your car and go!  Take my word for it.  Any day spent at the Gardens is a good day.

Birmingham Zoo – Whether you’re young or old, you’ll have fun at the Zoo.  The long-awaited, highly-anticipated Trails of Africa exhibit is soon to open, so pack the kiddos and make a day out of it!

For shopping and eating

Pepper Place Farmers MarketMy husband goes for the homemade vanilla ice cream truck.  Sweet Pea goes for the people-watching.  I go to stock up on locally harvested veggies, hand-crafted cheeses and anything else yummy (or handmade) I can fit in the Radio Flyer.  Opens April 16 and runs every Saturday through December.

Taqueria Guzman If you haven’t experienced the simple beauty that is a Taco Truck, now’s your time to live life to its fullest.  Located on West Valley Avenue, this walk-up eatery is delicious, quick, and easy on the wallet.  Fresh  ceviche for $2?  I’ll have two, please.

The GarageWhat can I say?  It’s a Birmingham institution.  The first time I ever came to Birmingham I was taken straight to this local-favorite watering hole.  You can’t be in a bad mood at The Garage, especially if you’re hanging with friends (or a really good book) in the courtyard.

For fun with friends

Paint the Town RedFor one night in April (the 16th, to be exact), the Loft district downtown will become the canvas for a digital art show.  Live music, street vendors , roaming performers, and all kinds of visual feasting awaits.  It’s fun for everybody and one of the coolest events in town.  Also benefits the American Red Cross.

ABOVE at Redmont HotelPanoramic city views and a Magic City sunset are the reason to share a few cocktails with friends at this downtown (rooftop) meeting place, formerly the penthouse at the historic Redmont Hotel.

Do Dah Day – Thirty-two years of dog and animal-loving celebration, this event takes place each May and I understand it’s a local favorite and not to be missed.  For 2011, mark your calendar for May 21 and absolutely do not leave the four-legged friends at home.

Magic City Art ConnectionFor 28 years locals and visitors alike have looked forward to spring as it always promises a full weekend of art and activities, located in the heart of downtown Birmingham at Linn Park.  Score a new masterpiece from a favorite local artist during this weekend-long festival that is truly magical.  (April 29 – May 1).

Small Stages Launching this year (May 13-14), this walking music festival will highlight over 60 up-and-coming musical acts.  Existing bars, restaurants, meeting spaces, art galleries and empty offices, all in walking distance of each other, will be transformed into venues bursting with new sights and sounds.   Get ready to see ‘em perform, “before they hit it big”.

Crawfish BoilWhat started two decades ago as a backyard gathering has evolved in to an epic regional event, drawing nationally-acclaimed musical acts and drawing crowds of over 50,000.  This year (April 29-30), catch acts like Stone Temple Pilots, Weezer, Cee Lo Green, Nelly, Drivin N Cryin, and many more… Oh yeah, there’s plenty of crawfish, too.

Worth a little drive

Alabama Wine Trial – A total of ten wineries make up a variety of “trails” (conveniently located just off the interstates and highways) that span the entire state and offer a taste of Alabama wine country.  This create-your-own excursion is calling my name.  I propose a toast… and a road-trip!

Ava Maria Grotto – I remember visiting this Cullman attraction when I was a little girl and have been dying to go back.  What started as one man’s hobby has turned in to what’s known around the globe as “Jerusalem in Miniature”, a four-acre park with 125 miniature reproductions of some of the world’s most famous historic buildings and shrines.

Tannehill Ironworks Historical  State Park – This 1500-acre state park spans three counties and includes camping, hiking, nature trails and over 45 historical buildings to explore.  Park officials warn that one visit is just not enough, so plan to keep coming back to enjoy all that Tannehill has to offer.

…And, last but not least…

Personal Favorite Spot To Enjoy Spring in Birmingham

My front porch – There’s nothing more glorious than enjoying springtime in Birmingham from my very own front porch.  If you don’t see me out and about, you can find me here, sipping sweet tea from a mason jar and watching the squirrels fight over our homemade pinecone and peanut butter bird  feeders.  Sometimes it just feels good to enjoy being at home, actively thankful for all there is yet to enjoy, whether that be foie gras for my toddler or the return of yellow blooms on the forsythia bush I planted last year.  It’s all delicious, really, and worthy of our gratitude.  In the words of funny man Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!’”  Cheers to that.

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