Where You Should Travel With Your Family :: Three Weekend Trips from Birmingham


On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .  A couple of months ago, I posted some ideas of DAY trips from Birmingham — all within 1.5 hours of Birmingham. Now summer break is upon us and it’s time for WEEKEND trips from Birmingham. The following destination ideas exist beyond a 1.5 hour radius but are under three hours away.

Weekend trips from Birmingham - time to hit the road!

Mentone, AL {or Bust}

I feel fortunate to have called quirky, beautiful, tiny Mentone home for 2.5 years while I worked full-time for a camp — my dream job — and I sure did enjoy exploring the area during the off-season. If you know Mentone at all, you know it is rooted by two main things: summer camps and DeSoto State Park. Situated atop Lookout Mountain, Mentone provides a more convenient mountain escape than some of the bigger mountain destinations in North Carolina and Tennessee, making it an attractive option for Birmingham families to own a second home or get a rental for a weekend.

STAY: Rent a cabin at the State Park or find some great options on VRBO (I suggest one with a hot tub and a view of “The Brow”!). Or, for the bed and breakfast route, I suggest Winston Place.

EAT: Apart from the many chains and authentic Mexican restaurants down in Fort Payne (La Fonda is my favorite), there aren’t many options up on the mountain. Therefore, you cannot (and should not!) miss The Wildflower Cafe. Another awesome option, worth the drive along the mountain ridge, is Canyon Grill in Rising Fawn, GA; customers drive from all over to eat here! Your {only} other options are Plowshares Bistro and Green Leaf Grill, though I have not yet tried either of those.

DO: First and foremost, hunker down with a book, puzzle, and board game, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. When your cabin fever sets in, head to DeSoto State Park or *gorgeous* Little River Canyon nearby. Here is a list of local waterfalls, with Desoto Falls being the most well known. I also recommend True Adventure Sports to take your trip to the next level with a caving adventure.

weekend trips from Birmingham - Mentone
Look at the “Little Round House” where I lived during my Mentone days. How precious is that?!?

Chattanooga, TN {or Bust}

Fortunately, my time living in Mentone meant many trips to “the big city” of Chattanooga. What a gem of a city! There is no possible way I could hit on all the great places, as more are opening up by the day, but here are some of my family-friendly favorites for your road trip.

Weekend trips from Birmingham - walnut street pedestrian bridge
Atop Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge on a Chattanooga date.

STAY: Though not incredibly luxurious, your young children will love the opportunity to stay in a train car at the Chattanooga ChooChoo. The Delta Queen Hotel, a docked riverboat, also provides unique accommodations. The Bluff View Inn Bed & Breakfast is just dreamy. In recent years The Crash Pad, a character-filled hostel, has opened. Or check out an awesome VRBO or Airbnb rental. Unless you are staying in the surrounding mountains and commuting in, my main recommendation is to find a place within walking distance of all the activity downtown.

EAT: Urban Stack or its sister restaurants Taco Mamacita or Community Pie are staples along with Lupi’s Pizza Pies and Terminal BrewHouse. The Yellow Deli has awesome sandwiches and an even more awesome/intriguing atmosphere and story . . . go here! Aretha Frankenstiens will serve you some mighty yummy breakfast. And last but certainly not least, for a nicer dinner but still fair game with kiddos in tow, try Tony’s Pasta Shop in the beautiful Bluff View Arts District and Rembrandt’s Coffee House next door for dessert.

DO: Thanks to all the bird houses and bill boards plastering the countryside as you near Chattanooga, everyone knows that Chattanooga = See Rock City, an overlook where you can see seven states on a clear day. And next door you will find Ruby Falls, “the tallest underground waterfall in America”. Other top tourist stops include the Incline Railroad (I never really got why this was so popular?), the Tennessee Aquarium, and the Creative Discovery Museum (children’s museum). While those stops won’t necessarily lead you astray, they will drain your wallet, and I would hate for you to miss out on time to “just be” in this wonderful city. Leave time to meander downtown and over the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge (Clumpie’s Ice Cream or The Ice Cream Show make terrific destinations on their respective bridge sides), hang out in Coolidge Park and ride the carousel, hit up the Chattanooga Market, and for a really special treat, visit the Mountain Opry in Signal Mountain. This is random, but I love loading up at the huge McKays used book store before I head home.

Weekend trips from Birmingham - Chattanooga is charming!
Enjoying a drink on the Delta Queen Riverboat after a chili walk around “Chattaboogie”.

Nashville, TN {or Bust}

Nashville, like Chattanooga, is on fire right now so again, these are just some of my favorite destinations in Music City, U.S.A. I would love to hear yours too!

STAY: If you want to go the Airbnb route, this article does a good job of explaining the various neighborhood vibes. While the Opryland Hotel is a little jaunt from downtown, it is an attraction in and of itself. The Loews, The Omni, and The Hermitage, provide luxury stays in a great location, and the Holiday Inn – Vanderbilt is a more budget-friendly and still a convenient location.

EAT: I hearby solemnly swear to never go to Nashville without stocking up at Bread & Company. I will also do my best to drink coffee/breakfast at Frothy Monkey on all future trips. Loveless Cafe will make for happy taste buds and happy memories. Don’t forget popsicle snacks at Las Paletas and of course a pancake stop at Pancake Pantry. Oh, I’ll be making my way to Biscuit Love and Elliston Place Soda Shop on one of our future trips. 

DO: I love love love the parks in Nashville! Percy Warner Park, Radnor Lake, and Centennial Park near Vanderbilt University all make for awesome exercise, picnicking, and outdoor play. Nashville also has a zoo, botanical gardens, and science center, which always make for fun outings. I have not yet been to Lane Motor Museum, Nashville Children’s Theatre, or Bell Meade Plantation (this neighborhood is beautiful for house gawking!), but they are all on my hit list as well. And of course Nashville is best known for its music scene so the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Bluebird Cafe (for older children), and Grand Ole Opry (especially at Christmas time for the beautiful decorations!) offer family-friendly ways to experience that side of things. Off the beaten path, I fell in love with the live music nights at Arrington Vineyards; you will find plenty of families picnicking there in a very casual atmosphere, and I love detouring to the adorable suburb of Franklin when I can.

Weekend road trips from Birmingham - visit the Grand Ole Opry!
Even if you don’t catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry, it is worth exploring – especially at Christmas!

So what are your favorite to-dos in these areas? And where will you be tearing the road up this summer?

May this summer bring sweet time with your family and some fun road trips along the way! 

Previous articleLearning to Read, Learning to Let Go :: Parenting My School-Aged Kid
Next articleSurviving the Summer as a Work-at-Home Mom
Molly grew up in Montgomery and then ventured to Furman University for a degree in Communication Studies. After a year of AmeriCorps service in Denver, working as a camp director in Mentone, and then working for a non-profit in Macon, Molly moved to Birmingham for her husband's pediatric residency at UAB. After moving states, buying their first home, and having a baby within 4 weeks, Molly spent a year at home adjusting to their "new normal”, and she now works full time as the Project Manager for the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce. Molly and Carter live in Homewood with their daughter, and they are members of Trinity UMC. On nearly any given night, you will find Molly lying on the couch watching HGTV while scouring the internet for the next local festival/story time/restaurant/bargain in the area. Then she will get veryyyy excited to go to bed.