By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 31 (Reuters) - Birmingham is honoring its turbulent past by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, and other historic events that were part of the civil rights movement in the Alabama city.
Today Birmingham is known for fried chicken and James Beard-nominated chefs, and a music scene ranging from blues and country to jazz and opera. It also has one of the finest art museums in the region, home to Old Masters and folk art.
Reuter correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most out of a short visit.
2:30 p.m. - Start with a visit to Sloss Furnaces, a towering monument to Birmingham's steel era. The 1902-1970 mill, now a national historic landmark, is the country's only preserved 20th century blast furnace. www.slossfurnaces.com
3:30 p.m. - Head to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has the largest collection of Wedgewood china outside England. The free museum is also home to more than 25,000 artworks, ranging from pre-Columbian to postmodern. www.artsbma.org
4:30 p.m. - Sports fans should not miss the Alabama Sports Hall of Fall. Few states have produced more athletic champions, from track and field star Jesse Owens, an African American who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, to football teams that have captured the last four national championships.
5:30 p.m. - Head to the Renaissance Ross Bridge, the city's only four-star hotel, and sip a cocktail while listening to the sounds of a bagpiper at sunset. www.rossbridgeresort.com.
7 p.m. - Visit the Hot and Hot Fish Club for dinner. Chef Chris Hastings won the Iron Chef America TV cooking contest with his grilled chorizo sausage. Also try his tomato salad, snapper and okra. www.hotandhotfishclub.com
8:30 p.m. - For some after dinner entertainment walk to Five Points South to listen to music. Try Zydeco, at 2001 15th Avenue South, which features Southern bands.
To hear a trio head to The Garages, at 2304 10th Terrace S., where chauffeurs once waited with Ford Model T cars. Underground Jazz (2012 Magnolia Ave. S.) features local favorite, Marian McKay and her Mood Swings. Dance on Bacchus's roomy floor. (1928 11th Ave. S.)
Midnight - The Nick, where rock star Bono of U2 has been spotted, claims to have the hottest music and coldest beer. www.thenickrocks.com
8 a.m. - Stop for breakfast at the Crestwood Coffee Shop at 5512 Crestwood Boulevard. It offers local coffee blends with quiche and is frequented by local artsy types.
9 a.m. - Begin your tour of the Civil Rights trail at Kelly Ingram Park, the site of famed marches. As you view the statues commemorating the protests call 205-307-5455 for a free audio tour.
9:30 a.m. - Cross the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which has original artifacts such as a bloodstained Ku Klux Klan costume. Volunteers are often "foot soldiers," who marched in 1963. www.bcri.org
11:00 a.m. - Lunch at Niki's West, where a 70-item steam table holds everything from country fried steak and collard greens to roast lamb with mint jelly. www.nikiswest.com
12:00 p.m. - Visit Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which displays one man's collection of more than 1,200 motorcycles, cars and racecars. www.barbermuseum.org. Check www.barbermotorsports.com for races or for the Porsche Sport Driving School.
1 p.m. - Take a hike on Ruffner Mountain, one of the country's largest urban parks with more than 1,000 acres. Climb to the overlook to see the city and Alabama's dense biodiversity. Red Mountain Park borders on the east side. www.ruffnermountain.org
2:30 p.m. - The Vulcan statue towers over the city as its symbol. The Roman god is the largest cast iron statue in the world and the symbol of the city. Climb or ride to the top for a view of downtown and the lush hills surrounding it. www.visitvulcan.com
3:30 p.m. - Feed giraffes, lorikeets and flamingoes at the Birmingham Zoo, and catch the Sea Lion Splash Show and Predator Zone for behind-the-scenes shows. www.birminghamzoo.com
5 p.m. - Cross the street and explore 25 gardens and 12,000 species of plants at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. www.bbgardens.org
6 p.m. - Visit the Avondale Brewing Company, a former house of ill repute, and try the Brothel Brown. www.avondalebrewing.com
7:30 p.m. - Have dinner at the legendary Highlands Bar & Grill, where an award-winning chef combines French style with Southern ingredients. Try the Beef Carpaccio, Mountain Trout and Crème Brulee. www.highlandsbarandgrill.com
9 p.m. - Blues lovers should head to Gip's Place at 3101 Ave. C in nearby Bessemer. Gravedigger by day, bluesman by night, Gip Gibson hosts hot bands in his backyard. www.facebook.com/GipsPlace
10:30 p.m. - Head to the Lakeshore District for live music at 8th Avenue S. and 29th Street S. Try Ona's Music Room for sexy soul, Bottletree for indie rock and Workplay for regional bands.
Midnight - Head to Marty's for rock 'n' roll. www.martysbar.com
10 a.m. - Dress properly for a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church where a bomb killed four girls in September 1963. Four women in white start the singing with a cappella gospel. www.16thstreetbaptist.org.
1 p.m. - Lunch at the Irondale Café, inspiration for the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes." Try the fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. www.irondalecafe.com (Editing by Patricia Reaney)
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