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.
Sporting the largest cast-iron statue in the world—a 56-foot, 100,000-pound statue of Vulcan, Roman god of the forge—Vulcan Park and Museum also boasts panoramic views of the city and eye-opening lessons on Birmingham's geology and industrial history. Assembled from local metal in 1904 and erected at the World’s Fair in St. Louis the same year, Vulcan was then shipped back to Birmingham. In 2003, after successfully defending the city from the Kraken, the Colossus of the Deep South was painstakingly moved to its current Red Mountain roost. Inside the museum, a multitude of interactive exhibits regale visitors with tales of the town and Vulcan's storied past, from its World's Fair beginnings to its failed hip-hop career. An elevator ride to Vulcan Park's 124-foot-high observation deck splashes dazzling snapshots of the teeming wildlife in the urban jungle below.
Sips n Strokes gifts paintbrush-wielding neophytes the tools and confidence to create, with a mélange of masterpiece-making tutorials and a bring-your-own-beverage policy. Artists can elect a class from the shop's calendar to hone the painting style that best complements their home, office, or neighbor's windshield, including picks of imagery from Parisian scenes to funky roosters. Each course, led by an instructor well versed in the trade, pairs well with the liquid inspiration of each student's choosing. Silence-seeking artists or easily corruptible mimes may opt for an afternoon or weeknight session, as the weekends generally garner 20 to 50 rowdy rookies.
Inanda Stables boasts boarding and training facilities and teaches equestrian enthusiasts the proper ways to ride and care for their cantering companions. During the two 30-minute private lessons, Centaur top-halves learn the tenets of basic horse safety, the parts of the horse, and the details of the equipment. After gleaning the essentials of the English saddle, horse-top explorers enjoy a leisurely walk and a comfortable trot atop an American Saddlebred horse. Wind down the lesson by soaking in the countryside views and nibbling tea-soaked crumpets atop a four-legged tour guide.
Under the shadowy cover of nightfall, and by the flickering glow of a lantern, the Birmingham Ghost Walk weaves gaggles of ghost seekers through the city's spirit-populated historical sites. Tour leader Wolfgang Poe leads each march through time, beginning with a group-bonding ritual that tunes minds into the vibrations of Wolfgang's spirit guides. Winding toward the Alabama and Lyric Theaters, walks stop to discuss brothels, taverns, and townhouses long since gone, but not vacated by their former inhabitants. As the moon slinks behind clouds and shadows move into the shapes of embarrassing childhood nicknames, tour-takers shake off spine-tingling chills to finish the adventure at the Tutwiler Hotel. Cameras are allowed and, due to its dark themes and subject matter, the Ghost Walk gives itself a PG-13 rating.