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Birmingham was just named one of America’s ‘most misunderstood’ cities; here’s why

Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline

National travel website Thrillist has named Birmingham, Alabama, one of the country’s “most misunderstood” metro areas, ranking The Magic City among other would-be travel destinations that tourists spurn because of the cities’ inaccurate or unwarranted reputations.

The reasons vary greatly for why these cities have been “misunderstood,” but for Birmingham it is really quite simple, according to Thrillist: The city maintains a reputation among outsiders as having been “dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” and many people still don’t believe it has gotten there yet, particularly on civil rights issues.

“Most people I’ve encountered from outside the Southeast can’t even fathom the idea of the state of Alabama having actual ‘cities,'” wrote Thrillist contributor Jeff Zanotti. “They assume Alabama is more or less some mix of Forrest Gump and My Cousin Vinny, with a beach at the end. And those that actually have heard of the state’s largest city typically as the contentious epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mass media and Hollywood have perpetuated this reputation, and even though city leaders have rightly sought to honor the leaders and martyrs of the civil rights movement, the city’s choice to singularly brand itself as “the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement” may have the unintended effect of giving outsiders the impression that racial strife continues to define daily life for the city’s residents.

This is unfortunate, according to Thrillist, because the city has so much to offer residents and travelers alike.

Thrillist’s Jeff Zanotti explains:

Birmingham has a metro population of over 1.1 million which is roughly equivalent to pro sports towns like Salt Lake City, Buffalo, and New Orleans… Though “clubbing” will never be synonymous with Birmingham, it does have incredibly sneaky great options for restaurants, bars, and outdoor activities.

Yeah, we’ve got great barbecue, namely Dreamland and Saw’s. But we also have nationally recognized chefs: Frank Stitt’s restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill has been a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Most Outstanding Restaurant in the Country for eight years in a row. Hot & Hot Fish Club’s Chris Hastings also won the 2012 James Beard’s “Best Chef in the South” and beat Bobby Flay on an episode of Iron Chef.


(W)e passed legislation relaxing permissible alcohol content, which has opened the way for craft beer to take hold, with local favorites Good People Brewing, TrimTab, and Avondale.

But Birmingham is still a Southern city, so you may as well take advantage of warm weather and beautiful country. Without even leaving town you can canoe, kayak, or tube down the Cahaba River, which flows through the city. The Cahaba, believe it or not, contains more species of fish than all freshwater bodies of water in California… COMBINED. On land, you can hike the rails at Oak Mountain State Park, hop on a zip line at Red Mountain Park, or even stick around Downtown and take a jog along the green space of Railroad Park.

Other cities included on Thrillist’s “misunderstood” list are Albuquerque, NM, Baltimore, MD, Cleveland, OH, Detroit, MI, Houston, TX, Jacksonville, FL, Jersey City, NJ, Orlando, FL, Reno, NV, Sacramento, CA, Tacoma WA, and Worcester, MA.

“Most of these cities also have an intense civic pride, and for good reason,” Thrillist says. “Sure, they may have their flaws, but spend some time in the cities and you’ll see you’ve probably got them all wrong.”

Those of us who call Birmingham home can attest to that being the case.

Check out the reasons why the other twelve cities are misunderstood on Thrillist.