In one corner, kids practice cracking a safe. In another, tiny hands sift through sand to find ancient fossils, with no archaeologists in sight. Toddlers, meanwhile, wander through a surreal dreamscape of 10-foot milk cartons and car-sized paper towel rolls. But these aren’t scenes from a zany summer movie about all the adults disappearing: they're snapshots of the McWane Science Center, whose dozens of fun, interactive exhibits enliven science.
Notable exhibits include a collection of Alabama dinosaur skeletons that help us understand what life was like in the state millions of years ago. An aquarium area boasts a Shark & Ray Touch Tank, delighting visitors with an aquatic petting zoo. Interactive contraptions such as the pulley chair lift—which lets kids learn about simple machines as they hoist themselves aloft—convey abstract concepts with fun activities.
280 feet per second. That's the speed limit at Central Alabama Paintball. Although some paintball guns are capable of catapulting pellets at much higher speeds, staff here check each gun's speed to ensure a safe, fun, and comfortable experience for every player. They also require that everyone use the field's own paintballs, specially formatted to splatter at lower impacts—without staining clothes, which is especially helpful at paintball weddings.
Refs at Central Alabama Paintball are paid professionals who brief every player on rules and equipment operation. To ensure fair play, they also group paintballers by skill level. The staging area's sound system announces whether each game is for beginner, intermediate, or advanced players, and solo players can join a team matched to their ability level.
With safety firmly in place, the fun can begin. The round starts, and paintballs soar over one of five outdoor fields with obstacles such as wooden spools and giant inflatables, or the full mock-town field. It's common to see birthday parties, family reunions, and other celebrations darting around the field. In addition to amenities such as a large covered deck, a grill and fire pit, and setups for cornhole and horseshoes, the field boasts lower-impact guns suitable for players as young as age 6.
The two-hour lesson begins by familiarizing divers with the essential scuba equipment with an experienced instructor demonstrating how to prepare the gear for diving. Strapped on and strapped into the tank and gear, human merpersons will practice water entry, breathing through a regulator, dealing with prehistoric trilobites, keeping the mask clear, and just flippering around the pool. Dives take place in an indoor pool in the winter and an outdoor pool in the summer. A PADI-certified dive school and member of the National Instructors Association for Divers with Disabilities, ScubaVentures caters to the needs and goals of all divers.
In an interview with the Birmingham News, concert promoter Brian Teasley explained the vision behind Bottletree Café: "We wanted to open a place that would serve food we wanted to eat, show films we liked to see, and play music we wanted to hear." It turns out Teasley, along with co-owners Merrilee and Brad Challiss, has pretty good taste: according to Esquire, which ranked the café as one of the country's best bars, "This place is already stealing thunder from every small music venue in the region." FlavorWire backed up this endorsement by ranking Bottletree Café as one of The 10 Greatest New Music Venues of the 21st Century. Since opening in 2006, the venue has hosted Rogue Wave, Band of Horses, and other indie-leaning rock groups.
But the accolades don't stop there. The venue also has attracted praise for its vegetarian-centric menu. Birmingham Weekly rated the café's brunch among the city's best and devoted a full-out love letter to the lunch menu, which was reintroduced in August 2012. The award-winning vegetarian chili ranks among house favorites and makes a repeat appearance in cheese-smothered nachos. Tofu plays a centric role in entrees and desserts, and black-bean patties made a fiber-rich substitute for beef in burgers, or a biodegradable substitute for frisbees in games of disc golf.
Run by master picturemaker Jennifer Harwell, a self-taught painter popular for her angel series, jenniferharwellart's weekly classes help sprouting artists' talents grow and blossom. In a laid-back, relaxed setting, students unleash their furor artisticus upon a 16"x20" canvas while the swaddling wraps of a smock-frock protect their soft innards. Students get to keep their magnum opus once their paint guns stop smoking. All artistic supplies are provided, but Groupon buyers may supplement skill-sets by bringing their own beer or wine to the class.
For the last three years, more than 2,000 people have congregated in DeBardeleben Park for one of the most anticipated events of the summer: the Bob Sykes BBQ & Blues Festival. There, guests can enjoy the summer sun while listening to local and national blues acts, grabbing a plate of Bob Sykes’s famous ribs, or watching kids play on the inflatable slides. Crafts and activities draw festivalgoers’ attention throughout the day, with the food booths attracting crowds all day, as well as the face-painting booth and cool picnicking spots under the trees. Blues music filters through the open air like frisbees who can’t find their owners, culminating with artist Nikki Hill as the sun sets over the park.
A portion of the festival's proceeds benefit Hands On Birmingham and the Bessemer Education Enhancement Foundation.