The sleek, dark body of the A-12 Blackbird is invisible to radar detection, but that doesn’t stop it from attracting the attention of every visitor to the Southern Museum of Flight in sight. The retired bomber is just one of the aircrafts in the Southern Museum of Flight’s outdoor collection, and it gives visitors a glimpse of what’s to come. Stepping inside, you can almost hear the purring engines from the Korean War jet or 1920s Huff-Daland crop duster.
Not only does the museum bring high-flown feats of engineering artistry down to earth, it sets its impressive collection of airplanes into realistic dioramas. The exhibits, designed to give life to the history of southern aviation, sprawl across 75,000 square feet and includes photographs, models, original engines, and the tiny gnomes that power them. The Korean War Jets exhibit, for example, uses mannequins and a surprisingly realistic mock-up of Kimpo Air Force Base to tell the story of No Kum Sok, a North Korean lieutenant in the Air Force who defected.
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.
The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is a stately 33,000-square-foot museum, where more than 5,000 sports artifacts are displayed in glass cases and frames. Memorabilia, jerseys, and photographs commemorate the great baseball players, football stars, and basketball players from across the ages, including Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. The museum gift shop features an eclectic array of souvenir T-shirts, stuffed animals, and local college team regalia.
Oscar's treats locals to seasonal fare from a calm spot at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The restaurant's produce hails from nearby local vendors, including the Jones Valley Urban Farm, and emerges from the kitchen in various, artfully appetizing ways. Seasonal starters include warm butternut-and-leek gratin with dipping croutons ($6) and the Remington salad, a gathering of mixed greens, roasted beets, grilled red onions, and sliced beef tenderloin ($12). Sandwiches also beef up the menu, including grainy stars such as the smoked turkey reubenesque, which ties together turkey, fontina cheese, and creamy jalapeno slaw inside an unknotted tandem of freshly baked rye ($10.50).
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was designed as a living institution, ensuring that Birmingham's contribution to the civil rights movement translates to present generations. At BCRI, guests learn about the courageous men and women who dared confront centuries of bigotry to transform the American landscape. The dream of former Birmingham mayor David Vann, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opened to the public in November of 1992. Ever since, the BCRI has done everything in its powers to do justice to the heroes portrayed within the institute's halls.
Since the 1930s, a colossal figure has stood watch high above Birmingham. Vulcan—with his 100,000 pounds of iron—guards the slopes of Red Mountain, his mighty arm extended 56 feet into the air. It's hard to imagine that the statue, the largest of its kind in the world, would ever show weakness, but by 1999 it was in dire need of repair and a few routine vaccinations. So the community rallied, forming a non-profit and restoring the statue to the way it looked when Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti first cast its features in 1904. Additionally, the restoration effort led to the creation of a museum, which visitors can explore during group or self-guided tours.
The museum's interactive exhibits and activities profile different events that influenced Birmingham and the country as a whole, but perhaps the most thrilling exhibit is the city itself. An observation balcony towers nearly 12 stories high, looking out over Birmingham and the surrounding mountains. Back at ground level, the park serves as the ideal setting for public concerts, picnics, or uploading snapshots via free WiFi. Combined, all the educational and community features make Vulcan Park and Museum one of the city's premier destinations; AL.com even awarded it the "Best Must-See Spot for Visitors" in their "Birmingham's Best 2013" competition.