By Lynn Grisard Fullman
Your friends may have left town for spring break – and poor you, you’re stuck at home.
For you, it has meant no packing. No airline delays. No pat-downs by airport security. No gasoline expense. No buying new clothes. No paying a pet sitter. No imposing on a neighbor to get your mail. No timing lights inside your house.
You’re home. Lucky you! You have time to discover the magic in the Magic City and to look around at surrounding areas.
No kidding, some of the best times are right here at home – museums, parks, playgrounds, hiking trails, nature centers, historic sites. Tributes to sports legends and aviation greats. Salutes to civil rights heroes. Restaurants that serve some of the best food you’ll find anywhere.
Once you finish licking your wounds and realizing that staying home is better than you’d thought, then consider all that you can do during these days set aside to welcome springtime.
To help you outline your explorations, here are several suggestions for how you and your family might spend the remainder of spring break. Clip the list, post it on your refrigerator door and you’ll be ready when someone bellows, “What can we do?”
Go bowling. The smoke-free Vestavia Bowl (www.vestaviabowl.com or 979-4420) has a special Monday through Friday until 5 p.m. Cost of one game per person is $1.65. (Shoe rental is $3). A snack bar sells pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and nachos with cheese – so stay through lunch and keep playing. And, btw, there’s also a large game room.
Enjoy Beach Blanket Bingo March 22 at Wee Flip ( www.weeflipgym.com or 824-8282) in Vestavia City Center. The colorful gym has bars, a balance beam, trampoline and plenty of places to jump and play. Planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the spring break event ($45; ages 2 to 5) offers games, arts and crafts and a place to practice gymnastics. A snack is provided; campers should pack a lunch. You’ll need reservations. Near several restaurants and Rave Motion Pictures, the gym also offers Parents Night Out on Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m.
With renewed interest in the Tuskegee Airmen, thanks to the recently released Anthony Hemingway-directed movie Red Tails, venture to the Southern Museum of Flight (www.southernmuseumofflight.org or 833-8226) to learn more about the airmen – and about planes, pilots and piloting. There’s also an inflatable and a large play area with a gigantic wall mural of a balloon festival. Before paying admission ($7 for adults; $6 for ages 4 to 17), ask about an annual membership ($35 per family,) which may be a better deal, especially when you consider all the additional science museums where the membership is accepted.
If the Southern Museum of Flight prompts interest in aviation, head to the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest (vestavialibrary.org/ or 978-0155) to check out books on the subject. The library plans Story Time March 23 at 10:30 a.m. for ages 18 months through kindergarten. A Tween Zone splatter-paint event is slated for March 22 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. You can even play Wii while you’re at the library.
On a sunny day, head to Oak Mountain State Park (www.alapark.com/OakMountain/ or 620-2520), where you will find more than 50 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails woven into the 9,940-acre park, the state’s largest. Plan a picnic, rent a canoe or pedal boat, dash through an expansive playing field, try bank fishing or go boating. (Gas operated motors are not allowed; electric trolling motors are OK.) The park also has an 18-hole golf course with pro shop and driving range and horseback riding facilities. Best of all, at a demonstration farm you can see the likes of pigs, horses and peacocks up close – even snuggle with goats. Cabins and camping facilities are available inside the park.
Find hawks, owls and other critters at the Alabama Wildlife Refuge (www.awrc.org/ or 663-7930), inside Oak Mountain State Park. The state’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center annually cares for more than 2,000 injured and orphaned wild creatures. You can view the rehab process through one-way glass and learn about native species. From an elevated walkway in the woods, a treetop nature trail affords close-up views of unreleasable hawks and owls in natural habitat enclosures. Admission is free once you’ve paid park admission.
DeSoto Caverns Family Fun Park (www.desotocavernspark.com or 800-933-2283) has a cave as its centerpiece and a mini-theme park with loads of attractions — a maze, gemstone panning, a 10-hoop basketball challenge, bow and arrow shooting range, wall climb, moon walk, spin-and-tilt ride, mini-train, spinning tubs and more. Dozens of picnic tables, many under cover, are scattered throughout the park, 36 miles southeast of Birmingham in Childersburg.
Alabama’s official railroad museum, Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum (www.hodrrm.org or 757-8383) in Calera will host Steam Days March 24 and 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with 40-minute rides aboard a train pulled behind a coal-burning, vintage steam engine. Cost is $15 for anyone older than 2 years. Reservations are suggested. Admission is free to the museum, signal garden and static display of dozens of train cars. (Look but do not enter.) To reach the museum, take I-65 to Calera Exit 228, go 0.6 miles south on Alabama 25.
On March 24, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park ( www.nps.gov/hobe or 256-234-7111) in Daviston (some two hours southeast of Birmingham) will host the 198th Anniversary of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. With demonstrations and interpretive programs, the free event, slated for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., focuses on frontier life in 1814. This is your chance to experience the life of the Creek and Cherokee Indians, see hunting camps and watch demonstrations of such skills as hide tanning, flint knapping and weaving. You can learn how to make Cherokee baskets, take part in an authentic Creek stomp dance, see what it was like to be part of Andrew Jackson’s frontier army, learn how soldiers cooked their meals and watch Tennessee militiamen and soldiers representing the 39th U.S. Infantry fire cannon and muskets.
Should you head to Huntsville to tour the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, itself a great daytrip, save time to drive through Harmony Park Safari (www.alabama.travel/things-to-do/attractions/harmony_park_safari or 256-723-3880; 877-726-4625). Ride in your own car on a 2-mile drive through the federally licensed nature preserve with free-ranging exotic and endangered animals — zebras, zebus, buffalo, camels, ostriches, pythons, rams, highlanders, alligators, waterfowl, waterfalls and more. Cost is $7 for everyone older than 2.
Just west of Birmingham at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park (http://www.tannehill.org/ or 477-5711), you can see preserved Civil War-era iron works; tour a pioneer farm, gristmill and cotton gin house; find goodies at the park’s Sweet Shoppe; stay overnight in a cabin; hike trails; check out the Iron and Steel Museum of Alabama; and ride aboard a miniature railway that runs along a mile-long track.
Just outside the park, The Trails at Tannehill (http://www.tannehillhorses.com/ or 999-7466) rents horses for both novices and pros who may ride for 45 minutes up to eight hours throughout 200 acres. There are spring break specials: a 45-minute ride for $25; a one-hour ride for $35. Riders must be at least 7 years old.
Romp, explore and learn about science in downtown Birmingham at McWane Science Center ( mcwane.org or 714-8300), where the John W. Woods IMAX Dome Theater projects images onto a five story-tall dome screen. Check the center’s website for show times for Tornado Alley, showcasing the power of tornadoes, and Rescue, focused on saving lives in the face of a natural disaster.
Learn about our nation’s beginning at the American Village (http://americanvillage.org/ or 665-3535), south of Birmingham in Montevallo. The 113-acre, hands-on village enlivens the nation’s early days, focusing on George Washington and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. There’s a replica of the Oval Office. Guided tours are weekdays at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Admission is $9.
Breeze by Aldridge Gardens (aldridgegardens.com or 682-8019) on the corner of Lorna Road and Rocky Ridge Ranch Road in Hoover. Filled with hydrangeas and native plants, the 30-acre woodland gardens were once home to Eddie and Kay Aldridge. Amble a half-mile around the six-acre lake and take along a picnic. Admission is free.
You’ll have the chance to see inside the historic Alabama Theatre (www.alabamatheatre.com or 251-0418) on March 22 at 8 p.m. when Trace Adkins performs and on March 23, 24 and 25 during the International Dance Challenge when admission is free. Built in 1927 by Paramount Studios, the building was mostly used as a movie palace for 55 years — with the exception of the annual Miss Alabama pageant and the weekly Mickey Mouse Club. After the building’s owners declared bankruptcy in 1987, the nonprofit Birmingham Landmarks bought and salvaged the structure, which annually hosts more than 300 events attended by a half million people.
To learn more about the civil rights struggles staged in Birmingham as the nation and the world looked on, plan a trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (www.bcri.org or 328-9696), where exhibits are captivating. Among those are a bombed-out bus and a replica of the jail cell where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was held while in Birmingham.
From the Institute, cross the street to Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters once gathered for marches and rallies. Several poignant statues recall the fire hoses-and-dog confrontations that many people associate with Birmingham in the 1960s.
Don’t forget the Birmingham Zoo ( www.birminghamzoo.com or 879-0409) and all the critters and creatures there.
For more ideas, contact the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.birminghamal.org or call 458-8000 or the Alabama Tourism Department (www.alabama.travel/ or 800-ALABAMA (252-2262).