the 5 – Surprises in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama came on my travel radar when I learned it is nicknamed “Rocket City.” As a kid, I always loved the idea of space travel, moon missions, and space camp but never knew it could be explored and experienced in Alabama.

Huntsville Visitor Center

Huntsville Visitor Center

Well, did you know?

That alone essentially cemented my plans to visit this Alabama destination, but spending a weekend there was a great call.  I discovered Huntsville is not just one attraction town, nope, Rocket City held plenty of pleasant surprises.

Here are the five surprises and places to explore in Huntsville.

Spending Multiple Days at the US Space and Rocket Center

the Saturn V rocket outside on display at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabam

the impressive Saturn Rocket

At this point, I knew the US Space and Rocket Center was the top attraction in Huntsville (and also Alabama as I found out), but I never thought I’d return for multiple visits across multiple days.

Historically, politics played a role and the initial military rocket program began and developed in Huntsville. This division eventually became part of NASA with a focus on winning the space race and putting a man on the moon. The USA succeeded and Huntsville played a major role.

A visit to the center today offers the opportunity to walk by a massive Saturn V rocket and also under one, a rocket that created enough combustion to be the second loudest sound ever created by man. Also, visitors find plenty other specific space and moon related displays from the Apollo missions and more.  Plus, the current exhibit “When We Went to the Moon details the political climate during the space race along as a showcase to mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. This special exhibit remains open until December 2019

Also, a summertime visit overlaps with Space Camp, here is where children and adults from all over the world come to “experience” and learn about life in space. And yes, space camp graduates made it to space. The exhibits took a big part of my day to view, but what made me return the next day and then the next was the newly opened planetarium. With the center just a few miles from downtown, heading back to catch the planetarium experience about Apollo 11 or our show dedicated to Solar System simply for an hour was a “no-brainer.”

Getting Grounded at the Botanical Garden

one of the calming views inside the Huntsville Botanical Garden in Huntsville, Alabama

Serenity found inside the garden grounds

Just a few miles from the Rocket Center, the Huntsville Botanical Garden offers the chance to get once again get grounded reconnect to “earth.” Fourteen individuals planted the seeds in the 1970s for a community garden that grew to the word-class garden open today for the community and visitors.

Complete with multiple nature trails to meander, vegetable and herbs gardens to view, a tranquil garden of hope designed to promote healing, reflection pools to contemplate life, a playful children’s garden to enjoy, and the nation’s largest open air butterfly house to experience there is so much to appreciate inside the garden. The 112 acre space also holds a full calendar of event through the year.

Enjoying School Again at Campus 805

inside Campus 805 and the Stone Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Could Axe throwing really be at the end of the hallway?

Did you ever want return to grade school for fun? Well the answer to that question is a resounding “yes” on a visit to Huntsville. Here a visit to old Stone Middle School, or now just known as the Stone Center or Campus 805 created a space for fun.

The original school gym now serves as one of the many craft breweries in town and you’ll need to walk the hallways to explore the arcade and also locate the Civil Axe Throwing experience in this 13 acre campus.  I spent a Saturday afternoon here and then stopped back again after catching the sunset at Burritt on the Mountain for some X-Golf.

The Inspiration of the Lowe Mill Art and Entertainment Complex

locla artist describes his craft inside the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Complex

A local ink artist describes his craft

At first glance, the huge historic factory building doesn’t provide the visual wow one might expect from the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States.  Yet, once inside and walking through hallways filled with 148 working studios, visitors can witness and appreciate the creative process first hand.

The Lowe Mill Art and Entertainment’s offers plenty of public hours when visitors can browse through the facilities’ multiple floors to appreciate the intricate glass work, carved ink pressed art, cigar box guitars, and so, so much more on display (and for sale). Each studio essentially offers a door to a different world of visual art with many of the over 200 artists working on site and also available to discuss and demonstrate their genius. Plus with galleries, educational classes, performance venues and a theater it is a place for social gatherings and events through the entire year too.

Appreciating the Downtown

the view of down town Huntsville, Alabama

Enjoying a stroll in downtown Huntsville

With a growing metro area, one may wonder about Huntsville’s down town vibe?  To start it offers abundant antebellum architecture with many original mansions spared destruction during the civil war (they housed union officers) in the neighborhoods of Old Town and Five Points. But besides historic homes, visitors can take time to experience its plentiful parks; Big Spring Park and the Bicentennial Park (Alabama state constitution was drafted 200 years ago in 1819). Also, find the impressive curations on display at the Huntsville Art museum, along with evening special events are held at the 10,000 seat Von Braun Center.

Also, in the evenings, just a few blocks off town center resides A.M. Booths Lumberyard. The 1924 dining rail car may be the significant attraction, but the collection of restaurants and bars is filled with many unique treasures and also holds nightly live music performances and jam sessions.

Sweet Travel Alabama

Yes, Huntsville surprised in many ways. Its Rocket City nickname warranted exploration, but I discovered more than an impressive space and rocket center. I found a vibrant community, a place with a celebrated history and also a bright future, a place with plenty attractions for visitors and a place with an inviting social scene.

More than a decade ago, I can recall overhearing a conversation in the locker after a workout in a New York City where a gentleman said, “There are only two reasons to go to Alabama a wedding or a football game.” Since then I’ve actually done both, but I am happy to report what may or not be a surprise, but there are plenty more reasons to visit Alabama, and Huntsville and its surprises are certainly one of them.

Stay Adventurous, Craig

Special thanks to the Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville Hotel and Spa  for providing for my stay when in town.

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  • Maggie Mistal

    Wow! Huntsville offers a lot. Didn’t realize Rocket City was also a center for the Arts and breweries. :) Love Botanical gardens too. Thanks for opening us up to a new destination Craig!

    • craig zabransky

      Yes, Huntsville was certainly full of surprises… to learn more, make sure you listen in to the podcast on the destination too.
      Stay Appreciating Alabama (Huntsville), Craig

      • Maggie Mistal

        Already have – it’s a great one!

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