Huntsville is one of the fastest growing cities in the South and has just become the largest city in Alabama. With booming industries, plenty of culture, and well-paying jobs, it’s no surprise why. The list of amazing things to do and see in Huntsville is impressive, and the town is sophisticated enough to appeal to all ages, demographics, and income levels.
Huntsville is in northern Alabama, 85 miles from Birmingham and 100 miles from Nashville. You can fly into Huntsville International Airport, but I prefer to drive as the city is spread out.
Note: I received free tickets to the Art Museum, Burritt on the Mountain, Weeden House, and US Space & Rocket Center on my familiarization tour. All opinions are mine.
1. Visit the US Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville is the birthplace of the space program, which you will discover after visiting the US Space & Rocket Center. Adult tickets are $30 to enter the treasury of buildings containing interactive exhibits, state-of-the-art exhibits, the Saturn V Hall, plus a huge selection of astronaut suits, space memorabilia, rockets, etc. Guests can try out a flight simulator experience, watch an INTUITIVE planetarium show, or even ride an old favorite – G-Force Accelerator (the ride where the bottom drops thanks to gravity).
Fun fact: The rocket center is a subsidiary of the Smithsonian and houses NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
2. Explore the Lowe’s Mill
I love Huntsville’s clever notions of reworking something old and making it relevant again. At Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment, a former textile factory is transformed into a cool space for shops, cafes, classes and concerts on the quayside. More than 200 active craftsmen share their expertise or their passion for ceramics, bookbinding, woodworking, mixed media, etc. I once watched a guy fix 1980s video games and was mesmerized. The vinyl store is fun too.
Pro Tip: Try the chocolates from Pizzelle’s Confections; they are fantastic.
3. Drink good beer
It’s not hard to find good beer in Huntsville, but my favorite is at the Straight to Ale bar inside campus #805. Straight to Ale has a beer production line that can be walked through, as well than killer food from Ale’s Kitchen. Want to try a new beer? I vote for the Blood Brother, a Belgian blood orange dubbel. It goes perfectly with beer cheese nachos.
4. Admire the gardens
If I had to list the best gardens I have visited, the Huntsville Botanical Garden would always be on the list. This sprawling property begins with a stroll through the Eloise McDonald Propst Guest Center. It continues outdoors through masterful themed gardens, such as Holmes Trillium, Four Seasons and Master Gardener’s Demonstration Gardens.
There’s nothing quite like the serene setting of the Damson Aquatic Garden, with beautiful pergolas reflecting in the pool. Victoria Lillies dances around the waters. I was also a fan of the Herb Garden and the Biblical Medicinal Garden, something I had never seen before visiting Huntsville. Admission is $15 for those over 55.
5. Eat to melt
Tomato soup and grilled cheese were the comfort foods we grew up on. Now, Melt Huntsville has made it a retro, upscale menu choice at its trendy restaurant, complete with retro lunchbox decor. Melt honey baked goat cheese with toasted sourdough is phenomenal.
6. Shop Downtown Bridge Street
Bridge Street Town Center is an easy place to stroll in a lovely setting. This neatly maintained outdoor mall has more than 70 high-end shops and a handful of restaurants. The mall’s landscape is eye-catching, with a 5-acre lake, 14-screen movie theaters with stadium seating, and a huge Belk store. There is even live music and various events.
7. Stroll Burritt on the Mountain
Burritt on the Mountain is a living historical experience – and a really good one. Step back in time to the 1800s and explore pioneer life that looks a lot like a childhood favorite, Little House on the Prairie. The property includes historic homes, beautiful log cabins, a barnyard (goats, chickens, sheep, horses) and an old school. You’ll see period-themed costumed performers feed animals, play music, and share what life was like in centuries past.
A second offer at Burritt on the Mountain is to visit the historic Dr. Burritt Mansion. The property has many hiking trails, so be prepared if you want to take a few extra steps. Or, come at sunset for incredible views of the bustling city.
8. Learn at Alabama Constitution Hall Historical Park and Museum
Alabama was the 22nd state admitted to the Union, and this downtown attraction commemorates the location of the 1819 Constitutional Convention. I had no idea a village like this existed in Huntsville, so I was beyond shocked when I stumbled upon it while walking downtown. There are eight buildings to explore, from a printing press and library to a blacksmith shop at the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park & Museum.
Pro Tip: Check online to make sure it’s open due to COVID-19 protocols.
9. Eat a classic southern breakfast
One of Huntsville’s most beloved restaurants, the Blue Plate Cafe is a restaurant that offers comfort food classics and southern regional specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love a good breakfast, so that’s where I went. Fill a full southern breakfast plate with eggs of your choice (poached, please!), cookie and sausage gravy, chicken sausages (thumbs up, Huntsville!) and bottomless coffee. You also have a choice of sides, of which I chose cheese browns, a crazy good dish they are known for.
Expect great service, reasonable prices and a great meal at Blue Plate Cafe.
10. See wildlife
It took me a while to realize that the famous Big Spring International Park is really in the heart of the city. I discovered it while walking around hunting for frescoes. This serene 12.5 acre public space is exceptional for viewing birds, ducks and fish, as well as admiring the scenic landscape and events. Here you’ll find the “Welcome to Huntsville” rocket mural and a place where many gather to socialize, hang out and relax. The limestone spring is a surprise and a good surprise.
11. Enjoy Tiki Drinks
Something original in Huntsville, with a capital O, is Phat Sammy’s tiki-themed restaurant. Located in the basement near the 106 Jefferson Hotel, the lively restaurant is bright, bold and super cool. Order from a wide range of tropical drinks served in tiki-style cups and containers, complete with crazy straws and ornate garnishes, or enjoy a delicious meal. Regardless of what you choose, you’ll enjoy the unique vibe and tropical flair right here in northern Alabama.
Pro Tip: If you haven’t purchased the Spam Gourmet Creations yet, try Phat Sammy’s Spam Bowl and see if you suddenly jump on the “all things Spam” bandwagon.
12. Have a luxury stay
Treat yourself to a good night’s sleep by staying at the fabulous 106 Jefferson Hotel. Huntsville’s newest boutique property (Curio Collection by Hilton) is ablaze with nods to the space industry and offers a great lodging option. It offers comfortable and elegant rooms, two delicious restaurants (one with a divine rooftop patio) and the prettiest lobby in town. While you’re there, read the historical information throughout the hotel to see what pieces of history they preserved when recreating this beautiful addition to downtown Huntsville.
Pro Tip: Tell Mary Beth Melody sent you.
13. Admire the art
I love a good art museum, and Huntsville has one that’s very easy to navigate and won’t take long to visit. The Huntsville Art Museum has seven galleries of impressive works (Warhol, Whistler, Rauschenberg), both temporary and permanent, and a host of art classes you can take part in. I was very impressed with the kids area – my granddaughter would love it.
Don’t miss the souvenir shop and the tasty Italian restaurant, Pane e Vino, where I recommend the chicken carbonara.
14. Visit the Weeden House Museum
The Twickenham district of Huntsville has wonderful historic pre-war homes and stunning architecture. One of the best known is the 1819 Weeden House and Garden, now a museum offering guided tours. Famous poet and painter Maria Weeden, who used her middle name “Howard” to fame, is the talented woman who grew up and lived here.
One of Howard’s gifts was his ability to draw portraits of African Americans in Huntsville and write poems that captured their spirits and lives. His watercolor images are often tiny and created using a three bristle brush, but obviously “drawn with love”. You can see the admiration she had for her friends through her work, and the house is beautiful too.
15. Drink refreshing tea
I’m from the south, so of course I love tea. I stepped out of my comfort zone to try the vibrant Piper and Leaf craft tea business in Huntsville, and what a find. There are several places in town – I chose Constitution Park. Let the tea pros suggest what to order, like I did. My Lemon Berry Blush was good and the Orchard Peach is a refreshing treat. Also grab a homemade pastry or scone.
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