Two hours south x southeast of The Shoals lies the metropolis of Birmingham—that’s how I have it in my childhood memory. It was the 1960s and 70s and we rarely made the trip. At that time, it was a place of strife, and violence, and steel, and, for a small child, the great unknown. It wasn’t until I returned to Alabama in the year 2000 to settle back into my home state that I came to know—and began to understand—this city that lies in the heart of Alabama.
One of the three closest airports to The Shoals is here, in what is called the “Magic City”; many guests who visit our studio choose to fly or take the train to Birmingham and make the two-hour drive through the Southwestern Appalachians to Northwest Alabama.
Officially founded in 1871, Birmingham built itself around railroad transportation and the railroading industry—which is still in operation today, but the major industry that spurred economy and growth was iron and steel production—hard work for strong people. While the manufacturing industry is still recognized as a large presence, other businesses and industries, like medical technology and banking, have strengthened and added growth to the area in the past 50 years.
Birmingham was and is a cornerstone of the Civil Rights struggle in America. Some of our country’s most painful and shameful events took place in Birmingham, for the whole world to see. Today, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum dedicated to exploring civil and human rights issues, documents our history and creates cultural awareness programs that encourage dialogue and growth.
Today, Alabama’s largest city has also become home to some of the South’s best restaurants (and chefs). It is nearly impossible to provide a list of all the best eateries in Birmingham, but here are a few of our must-try recommendations: Frank and Pardis Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fon Fon, Nick Pihakis’ Little Donkey, Trattoria Centrale, Chris Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club, and The Fish Market Restaurant. And after you’re done with dinner, relax and imbibe at The Garage.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is located at the 830 acre Barber Motorsports Park and includes a world class racetrack which includes the Porsche Driving School. The beautiful museum has over 1200 vintage and modern motorcycles and racecars over several stories of the modern, light building. The collection is the largest of its kind in the world and an afternoon well spent.
To learn more about the city’s iron and steel origins, we recommend visiting The Vulcan Park and Museum (including a 56-foot cast iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge that overlooks downtown Birmingham) and Sloss Furnace (make reservations two weeks in advance), a preserved historic blast furnace repurposed as a metalworking and event space. Pay a visit to Vulcan around dusk and watch the city below light up from the observation deck. You can find more information about The Vulcan Park and Museum here.
P.S.: When guests sign up for workshops or events here at The Factory, our team sends along a Community Guide to The Shoals to help make their trip a bit easier. We encourage visitors to fly in to one of the nearby metropolitan areas before venturing to The Factory in Florence.
Stay tuned for more in-depth travel posts highlighting some of our favorite spots in Birmingham, Nashville, and Memphis. And read more about things to do in and around The Shoals community here.