What do you do when you want to take a mini road trip, but the places you want to explore are more than a “mini” distance from where you live? My boyfriend and I recently attempted to get the best of both worlds by flying into Atlanta, Georgia and then road-tripping from there to Birmingham, Alabama and back. The metro areas are about two hours apart, allowing us to make the most of our time in the car but not feel overwhelmed and exhausted from driving. We spent a total of six days in the land of the SEC, and I’ve outlined our complete travel itinerary below to help you plan your own southeastern adventure!
In & Around Atlanta
Our first meal after arriving in Atlanta was thanks to the recommendation of a friend of mine from high school who now lives in the area and was available to meet up for lunch! True Food Kitchen, located in Lenox Square, is a self-described “health-driven” restaurant with tons of options for vegetarians and others following specific diets. I ordered Kombucha for the first time ever (not bad) and the Ancient Grains bowl. The portions they provide are just enough to satisfy without making you feel too full!
After our drive back into Georgia from Alabama, we made the most of our last evening on vacation by going out for dinner at Ted’s Montana Grill. While we later learned that this place is actually a franchise, it was brand new to us, as there isn’t a location in Wisconsin. Everything about this place was good, especially after a long day road-tripping and hiking! I ordered their House-Made Veggie Burger with a side of Parmesan Roasted Broccoli that was amazing, but stole a few of Tyler’s fries along the way.
Wow. What a place! The world’s largest aquarium is something else. Other than its incredible size, Georgia Aquarium is best known for its Ocean Voyager exhibit, which features three whale sharks! Their tank-mates include the likes of manta rays, black-tip sharks, groupers, and more, but other exhibits throughout the aquarium showcase fauna from the Arctic all the way to the Amazon. While this is an iconic Atlanta landmark worthy of at least one visit for most visitors, I highly encourage you to research some of the legal battles the aquarium has fought in recent years as well as how they obtained their whale sharks to determine beforehand if providing financial support to this organization is worth it to you.
Conveniently located just off of I-20, Sweetwater Creek State Park is the perfect place to stop for a hike on your way from Birmingham to Atlanta. With over fifteen miles of trails, there’s a route out there for everyone. Tyler and I opted for the White Trail, the longest in the park, since we were in no rush to get to our hotel. This 5.2-mile loop, ranked moderate to difficult, took us over rolling hills, down to the creek, and past the iconic abandoned mill along its shore. On our way back, we walked by a pond FILLED with turtles – there must have more than twenty just swimming around! This place is definitely a must-visit for any hiker in the Atlanta area.
In & Around Birmingham
This place was a recommendation from a fellow blogger, Lauren, who lives about an hour away in Huntsville. It ended up being really close to our Airbnb and was in a super cute neighborhood called Avondale! Tyler and I each ordered a pizza that was marketed to be split between multiple people, but finished them easily on our own. I got the Magherita Pizza and it was so good! There were TVs everywhere; most were showing March Madness, though we had our eyes on the one in the corner with the Milwaukee Bucks game!
As the location we centered our entire trip around, Barber Motorsports Park did not disappoint. This 880-acre property located on Birmingham’s eastern edge is completely surrounded by a forest with picturesque views, but the park does have its quirks; its creator, the late George Barber, is to thank for the monstrous spiders lining the track as well as the unique array of sculptures on the premises. Also located here is the world’s largest motorcycle collection, housed at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
Located in the heart of the Deep South, events that transpired in Birmingham helped define the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute depicts a brutally honest retelling of each one. This incredible facility walks you through some of the nation’s most horrible tragedies, as well as the victories later made by the civil rights activists who fought ruthlessly through those struggles in the name of justice. Walk out of the Institute after your visit and you’ll be face-to-face with Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church, among other landmarks, bringing all the frustration and hope of a time you may not have lived through back to life.
Completely surrounded by the Talladega National Forest, Cheaha State Park offers more than a scenic outlook. The park sits atop Cheaha Mountain and houses Alabama’s highest peak at 2,407 feet above sea level! Many short trails jut off from the main road for some quick hikes, but I definitely recommend you at least follow the .3-mile boardwalk to Bald Rock for a breathtaking view. While we didn’t arrive in time to visit, the Vista Cliffside Restaurant is located on the grounds and might make for a memorable dinner experience!
Spanning 8 blocks across the middle of downtown Birmingham, Railroad Park is the exact opposite of an eye sore. This 19-acre green space has absolutely everything, from a beautiful lake to over 600 trees to open lawn for dogs to run around in, and was designed with sustainability in mind. Old construction materials littering the site where the park now stands were repurposed into some of its walls and seating areas, while the lake has a bio-filtration wetlands area. This space is laid out perfectly to host a variety of events, and many take place throughout the year! We stopped by while a cook-off of some kind was going on, but it seemed to be a private event.
If you ever get the chance to explore Alabama and Georgia, I hope you have a blast! I had such a positive experience visiting both and would definitely come back in the future. Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite stop in Atlanta, Birmingham, or along the road between them!