The newcomers’ guide to Birmingham: 28 tips for becoming a local

Birmingham, Railroad Park

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Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Rotaract Club, Railroad Park
Rotaract Club of Birmingham knows Railroad Park is a fun place to hang. Photo via Railroad Park (@railroadpark)

It’s nice to have you in Birmingham, and we mean it. We even put it on murals. To ease your transition from newcomer to local, reference this guide as often as necessary.

Vocabulary

First things first. To be a local, you need to know the local vocabulary. Since no one knows local like our friends at RealtySouth, Bham Now asked them to share the terms that most often trip up newcomers.

1. Bham (also B’ham or the ’Ham): use these abbreviations for Birmingham interchangeably in conversation and in written form. Synonyms: Steel City, Iron City, Magic City

You: “B-ham, like ham?”
Me: “Yes. Ham. See illustration.”

Birmingham, Alabama, Original B'ham Apparel Co., Newcomers' Guide to Birmingham, Birmingham nicknames
Original B’ham Apparel Co.’s trademark is a fun illustration our city’s nickname.

2. James Beard Award: something our local chefs, restaurants and bars win and/or receive nominations for.

Example: “I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming, but our little bar, one year old last week, in Birmingham, Alabama, was just nominated for outstanding bar program by The James Beard Foundation.”  

The Atomic Lounge (@theatomiclounge), February 15, 2018.

3. Magic City: founded in 1871, Birmingham grew so mind-bendingly fast with the iron and steel boom that it seemed magical. Hence the nickname.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Rotary Trail, Magic City Sign
Rotary Trail, downtown Birmingham. Photo via Ryan Nelson (@iryannelson) on Instagram

4. Over the Mountain: this refers to which side of Red Mountain you live on, specifically the south side, away from the big city. It refers to Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood and Hoover. PS—it’s iron ore that puts the red in Red Mountain.

5. Sidewalk: shorthand for Sidewalk Film Festival, 20 years and counting.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Alabama Theatre, Sidewalk Film Festival
The historic Alabama Theatre is one of many Sidewalk Film Festival venues. Photo by Bham Now

6. The Pig:  It’s the grocery store, not the animal. Of course we have lots of great grocery shopping options, including Publix, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Organic Harvest and others. But when your friend is running by “The Pig,” you’ll know they’re going to Piggly Wiggly.

7. Vulcan (aka, Birmingham’s big man in the sky): the Roman god of forge and fire, this colossal iron statue stands atop Red Mountain. And you better get used to the fact that he doesn’t wear pants.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Vulcan
Photo via Vulcan Park and Museum (@visitvulcan) on Instagram

Words to the Wise

8. If you know how to drive in the snow…  Be advised, we don’t.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, snow day, South Crestwood
Guess where I went on this rare snow day in 2017? That’s right, nowhere. Photo by Bham Now

9. If someone says they’re going to SOHO or Hollywood… That’s not referring to New York or California. They mean Homewood.

10. Locals tell you that you have to choose when it comes to the Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers. And, that’s true. However, to be a sports fan in Birmingham, there are a few other things you need to know. Let’s take a deeper dive on that subject.

Sports

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, football, UAB Blazers
Blazers posing with their hard earned Boca Raton Bowl trophy. Photo via UAB Football’s Twitter

11. We love our UAB Blazers football team fiercely. Fighting back from the brink of extinction two years ago, the Blazers took home their first Conference USA Championship in December 2018. To celebrate, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin declared January 18 UAB Blazers Football Day.

12. The Magic City Classic is an annual throw down between the football teams of Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University. The rivalry is more than 75 years old and draws a crowd of 100,000 to Birmingham.

13. Not moving here from football country? That’s okay. We’ve got hockey, baseball and (coming soon!) soccer.

People

14. After football, we’re passionate about two things: murals and dogs. Our pets are even invited to Birmingham’s oldest festival, Doo Dah Day, which raises money for animal charities.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, mural, dog, Wings of Avondale
Can’t leave our pups out of the mural fun. Find this one on the side of the restaurant MELT in Avondale. Photo via Cal & Caddie (@callawayandhiscaddie) on Instagram

15. There are two types of people in Birmingham: those who grew up here and love it, and those who move here not quite knowing what to expect … and never look back.

“I love that Birmingham has so many great people, that it has so many cultural opportunities and that it’s not as crowded as Atlanta. And I love OHenry’s Coffee.”

Philip Copeland, choir director, Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Samford University
Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Good People Brewing
The sign says it all, y’all. Photo via Good People Brewing Company (@gpbrewing) on Instagram

16. We’re “good people.” Good People Brewing Company is even based here for Pete’s sake, along with many other local breweries. Hey, while we’re on the subject …

Eats and Drinks

“Put Irondale Cafe on your list. It’s the real-life inspiration behind the Whistlestop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s novel-turned-movie ‘Fried Green Tomatoes.’ The fried okra is perfection.”

Carrie Hill Smith, Agent, RealtySouth
Birmingham, Alabama, Meat and Three Guide
This little café is famous! Photo via Irondale Cafe on Facebook

17. Milo’s Tea might be our biggest export. True story. Before it became more widely distributed, I filled my trunk with jugs of Milo’s Tea to supply a friend’s wedding in Kentucky. My family in Georgia? They. love. it.

18. Our culinary scene has got game. Renowned chefs include Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings, among others. Travel Channel host/chef Andrew Zimmern loves us so much he came back for seconds. Meanwhile, the Cooking Channel’s Ali Khan digs our “Cheap Eats.”

19. Even if you don’t like coconut, try Dolester Miles’ coconut cake. Named James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef of 2018, she’s been pastry chef at Highlands Bar and Grill for more than three decades.

20. When it comes to new restaurants, the more the merrier. Check out 18 favorite new bars and restaurants of 2018 and what’s coming in 2019.

21. “Food snob” is not in our vocabulary. Give us our meat and threes, wings and pizza, please, and don’t forget the barbecue. A ‘must try’ is the local white sauce on barbecue chicken. PS—we never met a food festival we didn’t love.

Middle Eastern Food Festival
Coming up on 38 years, the Middle Eastern Food Festival at Saint George’s Melkite Greek-Catholic Church is one of Birmingham’s many annual food festivals. Photo by Bham Now

Things to Do

22. Ya know, I hear there’s a great newsletter for that. Sign up for the Bham Now newsletter, and we won’t steer you wrong. Meanwhile, here are a few staples to get you started.

23. Spend a day at the museum. We have a whopping 21, including the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Civil Rights Institute and McWane Science Center.

24. Be artsy. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, the Alabama Ballet, Opera Birmingham and the Red Mountain Theatre Company thrive in our fair city.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Red Mountain Park
Red Mountain Park. Photo via Beau Taylor (@wkeeper1117) on Instagram

25. Be outdoorsy. Check out Railroad Park, Vulcan Park, Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain Park. If you visit the Birmingham Zoo or the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Mountain Brook, take advantage of the pedestrian crosswalk that connects the two at the Cahaba Road roundabout. A roundabout? How very English of us.

“Don’t miss the Hoover Met. They recently added 15 indoor climbing features—perfect for a rainy day Saturday with the kids or a team-building day with your co-workers.”

Richard Grimes, CEO, RealtySouth
Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Hoover Met, Hoover Metropolitan Complex, climbing attractions
Climbing adventures await at the Hoover Met. Photo via Hoover Metropolitan Complex

Places to Live

26. Sooooo many neighborhoods. There are just under a hundred neighborhoods in Birmingham proper. For example, my first Birmingham home was in Highland Park, with 1920s architecture, a series of parks and quick downtown access. Now I’m in Crestwood South, a mid-century suburban feel 10 minutes from everywhere. Check out over 20,000 listings here!

27. It’s easy to stand in two cities at once. Birmingham metro includes the cities of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Hoover (those are “Over the Mountain,” as we say) as well as Trussville. Each has its own distinct character. In some cases, they’re nestled so close together it’s hard to tell where one city ends and the other begins.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' guide to Birmingham, Mountain Brook
One residential street, two cities: Birmingham and Mountain Brook. Photo by Bham Now

28. How to answer the question, where are you from? It depends. Even if you live in Homewood or Hoover, you might answer Birmingham when you’re out of state. Inside Birmingham metro, definitely name your city or Birmingham neighborhood.

So which neighborhood or city is right for you in Birmingham metro? If you’re brand-new to the ’Ham, contact your local agent at RealtySouth. They can help you sort out which neighborhood is the right fit.

Welcome! It sure is nice to have you in Birmingham.

Birmingham, Alabama, Newcomers' Guide to Birmingham
John’s City Diner mural, downtown Birmingham. Photo by Bham Now

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