In Town or a Short Drive
Published: May 1, 2023
By: Paige Townley
School is out (or almost!), summer is officially here and there’s ample time to get outdoors, explore, and enjoy all the season has to offer. There’s no better place to do it than in and nearby the Magic City. From historic hotspots and picturesque landscapes to hands-on fun and animal adventures, we’ve got 13 destinations the whole family will want to experience this summer whether it is in town or a short drive.
Vulcan Park & Museum
It’s impossible to miss the giant iron man looking out over the city each day. A classic Birmingham symbol, Vulcan is the world’s largest cast iron statue (topping out at 100,000 pounds and standing 56 feet tall) and has sat atop Red Mountain since the 1930s. The statue serves as the centerpiece of Vulcan Park & Museum, a must visit destination for anyone who calls the city home or is just passing through. Throughout the property, visitors can learn all about Birmingham’s unique history with a tour through the museum, enjoy the beautiful grounds, and, of course, go up inside the Observation Tower to take in the best views the city has to offer. Tickets are required. To learn more, visit visitvulcan.com.
All sorts of animals and adventure are awaiting at the Birmingham Zoo. Approximately 550 animals of 180 species live at the Birmingham Zoo, which encompasses 122 total acres. Shows and animal adventures are also available, including the Giraffe Encounters, Goat walks, Sea Lion Chat, Lorikeet Feeding, and Elephant Chat. Visitors can go for a spin on the train and carousel, or partake in the splash pad fun. Admission is required. To learn more, visit birminghamzoo.com.
Barber Motorsports Park & Museum
Motor enthusiasts of all types will appreciate a day spent at the Barber Motorsports Park & Museum. The 880-acre park is home to 2.38-mile, 16-turn road course, the renowned museum, and the popular Porsche Track Experience, the only official Porsche driving school in North America. Inside the museum—which attracts more than a quarter million visitors every year—guests will find nearly 100 Harley-Davidsons and more than 900 total motorcycles, although the official collection is comprised of more than 1,600. Also on display are more than 50 Lotus racecars, the world’s largest Lotus collection. Admission is required. To learn more, visit barbermuseum.org.
McWane Science Center
A top destination for kids of any age, McWane offers all sorts of hands-on exhibits and activities that combine fun with learning. For the youngest of guests, ages six and below, there’s Itty Bitty Magic City, an early-learning exhibit full of multisensory experiences. Animal lovers will appreciate the facility’s four aquarium display tanks, including the opportunity to touch sharks and stingrays. The facility also features the IMAXÆ Dome Theater, which daily features a variety of movies. Tickets are required. To learn more, visit mcwane.org.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
There’s perhaps no better way to spend a warm summer day than with a stroll through the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Open to the public every day of the year, the gardens more than a dozen specific garden areas, including the Japanese Garden with the iconic red torii, the Formal Garden, Kaul Wildflower Garden (which has more than 200 different species of native plants), Dunn Formal Rose Garden, and the Conservatory, a beautiful glass house with a variety of tropical plants that give the feel of a faraway adventure. Admission and parking are free. To learn more, visit bbgardens.org.
Red Mountain Park
Outdoor adventure meets family fun at Red Mountain Park. The Park encompasses 1,500 forested acres and 16 miles of multi-use trails, and it’s all located just minutes from downtown Birmingham. Making a destination truly for the whole family, it even includes a six-acre off-leash dog park. Admission and parking are free. To learn more, visit redmountaipark.org.
Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure
Thrill seekers look no further than Alabama Adventure Amusement Park & Splash Adventure Water Park. In total, the parks boast more than 26 attractions, making it easy to please kids of all ages. For adrenaline junkies, there are rides like the Rampage, a wooden roller coaster with incredible turns and drops, and Drop Zone, which boasts a series of drops and bounces. The water park includes all sorts of unique rides and activities, including Aqua Maze, Kahuna Wave Pool and Twister. Admission is required. To learn more, visit alabamaadventure.com.
Birmingham Museum of Art
The Birmingham Museum of Art has had vibrant art and culture on display in the heart of Birmingham’s cultural district since 1951. The museum features a vast collection of more than 27,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and more, all ranging from ancient times to modern day. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum is frequently hosting a wide range of temporary exhibits. Admission is free. To learn more, visit artsbham.org.
JUST A SHORT DRIVE…
Noccalula Falls Park
Just a short drive north from Birmingham is Noccalula Falls, which cascades more than 90 feet into the Black Creek ravine. In addition to the ever-popular Falls, the park also features a variety of other must visit amenities, including a petting zoo, Pioneer Village, mini golf course and Black Creek Trail, a 1.7-mile path featuring stunning scenery along Black Creek Gorge. Admission is required. To learn more, visit noccalulafallspark.com.
Cook Museum of Natural Science
The Cook Museum of Natural Science is a state-of-the-art natural science museum in downtown Decatur, AL. It provides a hands-on, immersive experience where kids can explore, interact with and learn about nature. You’ll leave the Cook Museum feeling fulfilled by the memories made and amazed by the things you saw and learned. Enjoy numerous family-friendly, hands-on exhibits, climb through the cave and other interactive exhibits and there’s even an indoor playground to let off a little energy. All the while, you are learning about nature. The exhibits are divided into nine different galleries. “Discover” offers an introduction to the museum and such wildlife as bees, gators and more. “Looking Up” is all about the sky and earth’s relationship to it. Touch a real meteorite! A great alternative to a larger museum- worth the drive! www.cookmuseum.org.
OWA Parks & Resort, located just 15 minutes from the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast in Foley, has quickly become a must see for families. There is truly something for everyone in the family! The original Tropic Falls at OWA, the gated theme park with more than 23 rides/attractions, means everyone in the family has something to enjoy. They even have special ticketing for non-riders. The area features free parking, as well. And now OWA has added another “park” – a new water park featuring indoor and outdoor offerings, and the two parks together have become Tropic Falls at OWA, with the water features. Downtown OWA, just next to Tropic Falls, offers a wide array of fantastic restaurants and shops, even if you aren’t going into the theme park. Downtown OWA is free and open to the public daily, and it even includes the OWA Theater with great shows throughout the year, worth the trip alone. The park and downtown area feature numerous special events throughout the year, including the recent Balloon Festival in mid-May. www.visitowa.com.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham-based freelance writer.