Many people have pleasant childhood memories of visiting Huntsville, AL, perhaps on a school field trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center or for a more extended stay at Space Camp. While “The Rocket City” still revels in its history of helping to literally launch the U.S. space program for NASA and is still working to create the next generation of rockets that may someday propel us to Mars, the city has grown up like you did. It offers so much more than just buttons to push and levers to flip in space simulation exhibits. Now Huntsville is worth a visit for food, drink, music and fun! A new focus on arts and culture have also made it a destination for the whole family. Here’s a weekend’s worth of activities for you to consider.
48 Hours in Huntsville, Alabama
Check in at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa, a newly renovated property right next to the Von Braun Center (VBC), home to conventions and concerts and the virtual hub of downtown. This attractive hotel is connected to the VBC by a sky bridge and offers complimentary breakfast and a manager’s reception every afternoon with free glasses of wine.
Stretch your legs with a stroll around Big Spring International Park, an urban oasis surrounding a lovely bubbling spring that served as a gathering spot and source of valuable freshwater for settlers two centuries ago. It is also the locale for several gifts to the city from international destinations across the globe including a lighthouse from Norway and a red bridge from Japan.
Chef James Boyce has been an important part of the Huntsville culinary scene for years with restaurants like Cotton Row, Pane e Vino and Commerce Kitchen. The latter is an ideal spot for your first big meal in Huntsville thanks to a menu of elevated Southern and classic American fare ranging from exemplary buttermilk fried chicken to smoked Colorado lamb ribs. It’s all served in a comfortable dining room with a classy bistro vibe.
If you’re looking for a little entertainment after dinner, get back to school at the Campus No. 805 complex, known as “the coolest middle school in the country.” This repurposed education building houses a sprawling series of food and drink venues including craft breweries, restaurants, grassy fields for kids to play in while adults dine from visiting food trucks, and a pizzeria with gorgeous brick ovens serving perfectly baked pies.
There’s even a speakeasy hidden away somewhere inside the building that is only accessible if you know to slide back a row of lockers to reveal the hidden door. (Don’t worry. If you ask anybody they’ll let you in on the secret.)
Greet the day with a bracing cup of coffee and a pastry or two from Honest Coffee, a cozy roastery just on the other side of Big Springs Park from the Embassy Suites. Honest Coffee only sources beans from sustainable farming operations, because ethically sourced coffee just tastes better!
Huntsville has invested a lot in its downtown, renovating historic buildings and encouraging investment in older neighborhood. The Clinton Row shops in Downtown Huntsville are referred to as “an adaptive reuse development,” which features small incubator pop-up shops and old time-y mercantile stores that remind you of where your grandfather might have purchased his aromatic pipe tobacco.
Another nearby neighborhood that’s worth the walk is the Twickenham Historic District. One of the largest antebellum neighborhoods in Alabama, Twickenham still showcases lovely historic homes that survived the Civil War. Huntsville’s first Historic Preservation District was designated by the city in 1972 and is a living museum of architecture, with styles ranging from Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Bungalow to post-war homes. Be sure to drop by the impressive Weeden House Museum, and if you happen to be there during one of the few hours a week that it is open to the public, take a tour of the mansion.
Soak in a little more culture with the SPACES Sculpture Trail. Featuring the works of 22 artists from 12 states, the SPACES trail is an exhibit of 39 sculptures spread across Huntsville and nearby Madison. On display until early 2019, you can download a guide app for your phone to point you in the direction of the next work of art.
No trip to Huntsville is complete without a visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and even if you still remember it from your youth, the center has been updated constantly through the years to add new exhibits and highlight more recent accomplishments of man’s exploration of the heavens. If you don’t have time to do the full tour, at least drop by to see the massive rockets displayed in the outer courtyard. You can’t miss ’em!
For lunch, try out the Big Spring Café, the oldest restaurant in the city in operation since 1922. They are known for their tongue-tickling breakfast platters and their greasy burgers, but you’ve already been walking it off during your tour of Huntsville, right?
Don’t get too full though, because delectable dinner options abound around town. 1892 East offers upscale, locally sourced cuisine in a casual environment. They care about their farmers at 1892 East and try especially hard to highlight these relationships as they prepare dishes from the fruits of the farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts. This also means that the restaurant offers some of the best vegetarian fare in town in addition to great steaks and seafood.
Even more casual is another local hot spot, Bandito Burrito, the destination for budget-friendly but still exceptional Mexican food. Their plates are huge, so come hungry or ready to share.
By this point in your weekend sojourn, you’re probably seeking out a nice brunch spot, and Grille 29 has got you covered. Their Sunday brunch is (in)famous for their 29-cent mimosas from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (And they only go up to $3 after that, so don’t feel the need to rush.) Soak up that champagne and OJ with a plate of chicken and waffles with pecan butter sauce, and your day will get off to a proper beginning.
One more stop before you go should be a visit to the Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, the nation’s largest privately owned arts facility where you can shop from local artists displaying their work in their stores, see a show or just watch creativity and inspiration in action as you tour working arts studios. Once a huge factory building, Lowes Mill now houses 148 working studios for more than 200 artists and makers, six galleries, a theater and additional performance venues. There’s no need to rush out of town when you’ve got something as fascinating as this to see.
Plan an upcoming weekend and explore this thriving city with a wide menu of things to explore! Visit huntsville.org to start planning your trip.
Find more great quick trip ideas in our “Weekend Getaways” section!