Summer Fun on a Budget in Birmingham

The Museum of Art is a cool escape on a hot or rainy day

Of course you will take the family on some sort of summer vacation, but what about the rest of the summer season? Extend the sense of “vacation” by taking advantage of what Birmingham has to offer during the hot months. Here’s how a family of four can stretch a summer budget:

Alabama’s Splash Adventure Water Park – $49.95 memberships through 6/1, then $59.95

The former Alabama Adventure gave up on the amusement park section and decided to go all-out on the water park feature. While we miss the old fashioned rides, it was probably a wise idea given that it is burning hot here in the summer and all anyone wants to do is cool off. Be warned that the parking fees are steep – $10 – so purchase a parking pass if you will go frequently ($29.99). Also, you are not allowed to bring food into the park, so to cut costs plan to eat before you arrive. Stock a cooler for your car so everyone can dive into snacks on the ride home. You can go to your car during the day to snack or eat, but it’s in a black asphalt parking lot with no shade, and you could fry an egg on the pavement in July.

McWane Science Center Family Membership – $95

The McWane Science Center is a perfect place to play indoors and burn off some energy, especially on rainy days.(Be warned that everyone else has this plan, too.) McWane appeals most to the younger children up through elementary school, although every age can appreciate touching a horseshoe crab or watching an IMAX film (not included in the family membership).  Special exhibits keep the content fresh and leave you with a reason to return. As a bonus, your membership is annual so you can enjoy the Center as a respite in the winter months as well.

Oak Mountain State Park – $3/person

If Oak Mountain were a private compound with exclusive admission privileges, we’d all be jonesing to get in for a peek. Since it’s a state park with little to no budget for promotion, we don’t always think to consider it alongside other summer diversions. Imagine leafy bicycle trails, canoe rides on a glass-smooth lake, and a wildlife center for viewing raptors up close.  A Birmingham mom shouldn’t need a slick brochure to remind her what is available in her back yard, and a family of four is admitted for a whopping $12 (less if the kids are under 11 years old).

Don’t miss the paddle boats, the petting zoo, or the chance for a horseback ride, which are available at a nominal additional fee. The facilities themselves are sadly dated, but think of it is a vintage adventure and remember that summer is best experienced out of doors anyway.

Summer Club Memberships ($400+)

Speaking of private clubs, you can often find an inexpensive summer-only membership that give you access to swimming pools (professionally maintained by someone else), tennis courts, and even golf courses. As an example, Altadena Valley Country Club off of 459 offers a summer membership with $175 initiation fee and $152/month minimum fees for June, July and August. The arrangement would give you an entire summer of poolside lounging, tennis and access to golf for little more than $200 per month. That’s 90 days of fun for less than you would spend on a four-day vacation.

The Levite Jewish Community Center near Mountain Brook has a limited-availability summer trial membership for new members. A summer family membership is $150/month or less.The JCC has an 8,000 square foot pool so you can have a little space to actually swim. (This offer is limited and must be purchased by June 16th). To answer your silent question, the JCC is open to anyone, Jewish or not, and is a premiere facility that is easily accessed off Montclair Road.

Pepper Place/Farmer’s Markets

Moms, you need to add Saturday markets to your summer repertoire if you haven’t already. Markets aren’t just about purchasing fresh produce. Farmer’s markets are great entertainment, not only among the vendors and shoppers but for all the dogs (see all sorts of breeds at these events). They offer a real sense of community along with engaging exhibits such as locally made honey, pea shelling machines, and craftspeople eager to demonstrate their techniques. There is often live music and open air markets are always stroller friendly.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens, free admission – a must-see during May and June when the rose garden is in bloom. There’s plenty of cool shade in the fern garden, and the Japanese garden offers a sense of feng shui to soothe your frazzled soul (no doubt the Thomas the Train pieces and the American Girl accessories are blocking your chi at home). BONUS: Did you know there is a library at the Garden? Return your books while you are there and avoid a late fine. The gift shop is full of fun kid stuff, too.

Birmingham Art Museum, free admission – what a glorious refuge of glass and marble coolness. Savor the moment when the air conditioning hits you and then head to the Sunday afternoon kid-friendly art projects. No, the kids aren’t likely to appreciate the world’s largest Wedgewood exhibit yet, but you can certainly appreciate the cavernous spaces of conditioned air. There is a section just for kids, so add the Museum to your rainy day plan and dine in the wonderful cafe overlooking water features and an enclosed park.