10 places you need to visit in historic Bessemer

The city of Bessemer was founded in 1887. (Jacob Blankenship/ Bham Now)

Located about 15 miles from Birmingham lies the city of Bessemer, a former iron and steel making city with as much soul as it has history. Come with us on a tour of some of the most iconic and beloved spots in Bessemer and learn the history surrounding them.

“The Marvel City”

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Since the end of the steelmaking days, Bessemer has diversified its economy to include shops, restaurants and more. (Grace Howard/ Bham Now)

Founded in 1887, the city of Bessemer was intended to surpass the still young city of Birmingham in the steel and iron industry. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, the city was named in honor of Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of the “Bessemer process” for smelting iron.

The city, which grew more rapidly than expected, earning itself the nickname “The Marvel City.” Birthplace of famous Alabamians like Sun Ra, Bo Jackson and Gucci Mane– today, Bessemer is known as a city full of culture, art and history.

The Art of Jazz

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The Art of Jazz in Bessemer is the perfect spot to wind down with some art and music. (Grace Howard/ Bham Now)

Start the day off right with some music and art. Located in the heart of Downtown Bessemer, The Art of Jazz offers a unique, relaxed approach to art– you show up, listen to jazz and paint away on the canvas provided. Whether you come alone or with friends, this is a great place to get in touch with your artistic side, eat, drink and enjoy the music.

They also offer classes and events, so don’t forget to check their Facebook for updates.

Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge

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The endangered watercress darter now enjoy a safe, controlled habitat in Bessemer’s wildlife refuge. (Alabama Ecological Services Field Office on Facebook)

The smallest national wildlife refuge in the U.S. is located in Bessemer at only 23 acres. The refuge was created to protect the endangered watercress darter, a small fish that is only known to exist in four bodies of water– all located in the Birmingham area.

Beyond providing a protected habitat for the endangered fish, the wildlife refuge is also a great spot to enjoy nature and get away from the city. While fishing is obviously prohibited, hiking and wildlife photography are activities visitors are free to enjoy in the area.

Bessemer Farmer’s Market

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What’s Saturday without a farmers market? (Bham Now)

Fresh eggs, plants, produce, homemade chow chow– that’s just some of what you’ll find at this local market. Visit them Saturday mornings and find everything you need to create the freshest meals.

(See 9 hidden gem farmers markets in Birmingham you need to visit this summer)

The Bright Star

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Alabama’s oldest continuously-operated restaurant, The Bright Star, is sort of the centerpiece of Downtown Bessemer. (Grace Howard/ Bham Now)

Stop for a hearty meal at one of Alabama’s most beloved landmarks. Named an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation, The Bright Star was opened 116 years ago by Greek immigrant Tom Bonduris. Some of the menu highlights include snapper almondine (my favorite), fried green tomatoes, snapper throats and various flavors of award-winning pies.

Its dining room features hand-painted murals, mirrored walls, curtained booths and stunning white marble everywhere. While the restaurant has undergone several facelifts since opening in 1907, including the restoration of its murals in 2019, it still has a classic, timeless feel. Whenever I eat at The Bright Star with my dad, he always tells me that it looks just like it did when he ate there as a kid in the 1960s.

Good Health to be Hail

Vegetarians, vegans and health nuts of all varieties– have no fear, Good Health to be Hail is here. This Bessemer gem is a holistic health wellness company specializing in making unique plant-based food that tastes and feels good. Visit the restaurant for lunch, order online or even order meal prep for the whole week. Here’s a peek at some of their menu options:

  • Carribbean hibiscus tea
  • Walnut taco wrap
  • Jamaican-inspired platter
  • Eggplant or zucchini lasagna

P.S.– Don’t miss vegan soul food Sunday, 12PM-4PM or until they sell out.

Alabama Adventure

Alabama Splash Adventure
Alabama Splash Adventure. (Jacob Blankenship/ Bham Now)

Bessemer’s Alabama Adventure is the perfect place for the family to cool off this summer. Whether you’d rather cruise through the Lazy River or plunge down the Rocket Racer, this amusement and water park has something for everyone. With over 26 attractions, this is a park you can enjoy for the whole day.

Want to make it your go-to summer spot? Find out more about the park’s season passes here.

Bessemer Hall of History Museum

Take in some local history at the Bessemer Hall of History Museum housed in the former Alabama Great Southern Railroad depot in Downtown Bessemer. As you tour the museum, you’ll find all sorts of eclectic pieces of Bessemer, Birmingham and Alabama history in the form of photographs, machinery, books and other trinkets.

The museum features a revolving door of exhibitions, such as an array of vintage Valentine’s Day postcards or 1920’s fashion accessories. One of their past exhibitions featured Martin Luther King Jr.’s cell block door.

The Good Art Company

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Parties, drawing, painting, pouring. (Grace Howard/ Bham Now)

Located across the street from The Bright Star, take a stroll through The Good Art Company and check out tons of drawings, paintings and more created by artists in the community. Owned by Amy Mims or “Mimsy”, The Good Art Company’s mission is to be a place where local artists can display and sell their work.

In addition to shopping local art, they also offer various classes taught by artists including gourd painting, acrylic paint pouring, jewelry making with resin and much more. Perfect for kids, teens or adults– check out their website to book a class now.

Autobahn Axe Throwing

You may have heard of Autobahn’s go-kart racing track, but did you know they also have axe throwing? Great for friends, family or company events, this is a fun, competitive and safe way to spend time together. You can even BYOB– beer or wine only. While they do take walk-ins, reserving your spot here is the best way to guarantee a good time.

Bistro on 19th

Get a group together and end the night at Bistro on 19. Featuring high-quality buffet-style dining, full bar, pool tables and outdoor patio, this is the ideal spot to go with a big group or family.

Don’t miss their brunch, where they’re serving up favorites like shrimp and grits, bourbon grilled salmon, cajun fried shrimp and more. Do you have a party, work event, birthday or family get-together that you need catered? Bistro on 19 is the best in the game. Make a reservation or book catering on their website and stay up-to-date on Facebook.

  • Location: 109 19th St N, Bessemer, AL 35020
  • Hours: Open at 5PM. Make a reservation or call (205) 800-7310 for information about booking.

What’s your favorite place in Bessemer? Let us know @bhamnow on Instagram and Facebook.

Grace Howard
Grace Howard
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