An Insider's Guide to Birmingham

Rian Castillo
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Every year, the Earth tilts its axis so that we're all a bit closer to the sun. Of all the "Southern traditions," enduring the brutal rays of the summer sun and the thickness of the muggy gulf air has to be one of the most persisting and communal. Once again, the Birmingham air is heating up, but thankfully, there are many great ways to make it a little more tolerable. Here's a local insider's guide to venturing out from the comfort of your air-conditioned home to enjoy some of the great places Birmingham has to offer, with things for the outdoor enthusiast, casual traveler, or the whole family.

An easy place to start is to take a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard—something that floats—to one of the many bodies of water near Birmingham. Oak Mountain State Park has multiple lakes to leisurely paddle around in. The park offers on-site kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, making it easy and convenient to get out on the water. Boats can be rented from UAB Outdoor Pursuits, and Mountain High Outfitters offers high-quality stand-up paddleboards for $65 a day. For the more adventurous, pick a spot to put in along the unique Cahaba River that runs southwest through town. Scenic trips ranging from a few hours to a few days can be had along this unique river. Check waters levels before you set out to avoid dragging your boat in shallow areas.

Garry Tucker, USFWS (US Fish & Wildlife Services Southwest Region)

Another option is to take about a forty-five minute drive south to Limestone Park, near Montevallo, where $10 buys you an inner tube and a relaxing (or raucous if you rent another tube for your cooler) float down a section of the Cahaba River. The folks at the parking lot will drive you a few miles upstream and the current will take you back to your car. The trip takes about 3 hours, but take some time to swim and look for rope swings while you drift, and the daring will jump off of the rickety platforms the park is known for at the end of your journey. The float is popular among college kids and adventurers, but would probably be okay for families on a slower day. Call ahead to check on rental availability and water levels: 1531 Limestone Pkwy., Brierfield, Al 35035; (205) 926-9672. The last time I was there, they only accepted cash, so heads up.

Another favorite local option is the Turkey Creek Preserve, about a 20 minute drive from downtown. With a few miles of trails, plenty of creek to float around in, and one of Alabama's best swimming holes, the preserve is a great way to spend a few hours outside, even in the hottest part of the day. Work up a sweat on one of the short, but worthwhile, trails then head straight for the cool flowing water for a refreshing swim. Catch-and-release fishing is permitted, so the clear and shallow creek makes it a popular one for fly fishing.

After a long day of adventure, head to one of the four breweries in Birmingham's downtown area. The city's largest, Good People Brewing Co. , is a local favorite. Located next to the inviting Railroad Park and across the street from Regions Field, home of the city's minor-league baseball team, Good People's taproom is a great place to kick up your tired feet. I recommend trying their refreshing IPA or pale ale, and the wildly popular double-IPA, Snakehandler, if available. The taproom has corn-hole, super-sized Jenga blocks, live music, and a projector screen for sports.

Just a short drive away, Avondale Brewing is another great place to have cold one. Avondale has ample outdoor seating and a long list of beers to choose from on any given day, and just down the road from here, the city's newest brewery, Trim Tab Brewing, is quickly becoming a favorite venue for beer-sippin'. This modern taproom has lots of seating and a great patio area that allows a great view of the sunset over the downtown skyline. The Rye Brown Ale is popular around town and the Cucumber Saison, the pinnacle of fermented refreshment, is a must-try. Finally, just around the corner from Trimtab, Cahaba Brewing Company is a small, laid-back brewery with some of the tastiest tiny batch brews -- a true microbrewery. The vintage skee ball machine, ping-pong table and live music also make this brewery a great place to hang out for drinkers and non-drinkers alike.

Simon Cocks

For the kids, and the kids in all of us, Birmingham has its own craft popsicle joint, Steel City Pops . These popsicles are made using all-natural, organic, and locally harvested ingredients and are vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and sure to cool you off from the inside out. Pick from either the creamy, rich flavors like coffee, avocado, and buttermilk, or citrusy flavors like watermelon, cucumber lime, and blueberry basil -- all made in-house. Or, hey, get one of each. Located in a vibrant area in Homewood, Steel City Pops is within walking distance of many shops and restaurants, and is right next door to the popular Little Donkey and Octane Coffee .

These are just a few of the many ways to get outside while keeping cool in the Birmingham. Embrace the fact that you will be sweaty and hot this summer, but take comfort in knowing that there are still ways to make the most of a sunny day in the outdoors.

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