Places to Love: Huntsville
Huntsville, Alabama remains one of the most unassuming cities in the USA. It doesn’t take long to see why Rocket City is something very special. A leafy green city near the Tennessee border, it’s earned the moniker Rocket City—fitting, considering it’s one of the homes of the US Space Program. However, Huntsville is more than just a hub for scientists. You’ll find incredible artists, delicious soul food, live music, and tons of rich culture. These are just a few reasons why Huntsville is a place to love.
For more information about Huntsville, visit huntsville.org.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
The story behind Rocket City
Houston is probably the city you most associate with NASA, but it’s actually Huntsville that’s home to many of the brains that put man on the moon. Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of rocket scientists transformed Huntsville into a technology center. Today, it’s home to the second largest research park in the United States and to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. It is here they developed the rockets that put the first U.S. satellite into orbit and sent men to the moon. You can learn all about this and much more at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a permanent exhibition to showcase the hardware of the space program.
On my visit, I had the great pleasure of experiencing Space Camp. No, it’s not just for kids! (But mostly, yes, it is for 7-18-year-olds.) Founded in 1982, this experience cultivates teamwork, leadership and decision-making skills through simulated missions. It’s a lot more serious than the camps I attended as a kid, but so interesting to get a taste of what it takes to be an astronaut. Fun fact: eight attendees of Space Camp ended up working as astronauts!
IF YOU GO
Talk to the docents! They’re mainly NASA Marshall Space Flight and military retirees. These individuals share their passion and knowledge with camp trainees, staff and museum guests. Alex McCool served as my guide. This American hero was instrumental in the design of the Saturn launch vehicles that propelled Project Apollo to the Moon and directed project engineering for Skylab, the first space science laboratory. Amazing, right?
US Space and Rocket Center
One Tranquility Base
Food with soul, from a strip mall
I spend a lot of time on the road. One of the best things I’ve learned? If you want great local food, head to a strip mall. It’s there you’ll typically find unique restaurants that specialize in home cooking. It’s exactly what I crave on the road. In Huntsville, it’s G’s Country Kitchen that hits the spot. Founded in 1996, Greta Russell ignites the stove at 6am in order to perfectly prepare her family’s heirloom soul food recipes. Try the black eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken that’s made with love. At G’s, it’s not just about the food. G’s is the kind of place where you walk in a stranger, but leave feeling like family.
IF YOU GO
This isn’t a fast food joint. Burgers and fried chicken are made to order, and it’s worth the wait.
G’s Country Kitchen
2501 Oakwood Ave NW #5
Huntsville, AL 35810
Gym class finally gets fun
I still have nightmares about gym class. However, that’s all changed at the former R.L. Stone Middle School. Today, it houses a variety of businesses, including Straight to Ale Craft Brewery. Located in the former gymnasium, it still boasts a basketball hoop, lockers and other gym mainstays. But this time, you can wash your fears away with a delicious cold one. Try the Lily Flagg Milk Stout, named after a prize cow honored as one of the world’s best butterfat producers in 1892 at an exposition in Chicago.
This passion project, started by local home brewers, required a lot of legwork. Alabama had quite a few prohibition-era laws still in place until just a few years ago. Today, you can thank the local beer lovers who founded Free the Hops for making brews over 6 percent ABV, growlers, and brewpubs legal.
IF YOU GO
There’s more brewing than beer at this former middle school. Now called Campus 805, the building houses a thriving community of breweries, bars, restaurants, and local shops. More info here.
Straight to Ale
2610 Clinton Avenue NW
Huntsville, Alabama 35805
Step back in time at the “Jewel on the Mountain”
Situated on a magnificent 167-acre site overlooking the city, Burritt on the Mountain allows visitors revisit the lives of farmers from the 1800s. For over 60 years Burritt has been an attraction for all ages. This non-profit Historic Park consists of 6 authentic 19th century homes typical of life in the olden days. Guides in authentic period dress answer questions, give tours, and demonstrate life as it was on a farm during the 1800s. If you’re traveling with the kiddos, they’ll love churning butter and visiting the McCurdy Barnyard, home to a variety of farm animals.
It’s also worth mentioning Dr. William Henry Burritt’s unique 1938 mansion. Though married three times, the eccentric Dr. Burritt had no heirs and left his estate to the city of Huntsville. Learn about his penchant for goat’s milk, and how his vocation of homeopathic medicine led him to build one of the city’s most unique and eccentric homes.
IF YOU GO
Bring your hiking shoes! The nature trails at Burritt are perfect enjoying the wide variety of wildflowers in spring or the colorful mountain foliage in fall. Burritt’s trails circle around Round Top Mountain and connect to the LandTrust of Madison County and Monte Sano State Park.
3101 Burritt Drive SE
Huntsville, AL 35801
Get up close and personal with the local art scene
Huntsville isn’t only for left-brained scientists. It’s full of creative types, too. Visit Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States. This huge historic factory building has been redeveloped into 148 working studios for over 200 artists and makers, 6 galleries, a theatre, and performance venues. Studio spaces line the hallways, granting visitors the opportunity to openly explore the Mill and artist spaces.
A few artists I head the great pleasure of meeting include David Nuttall, the man behind Artimaps. Nuttall draws intricate maps of fictitious places. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around until you look at his creations—you could get lost visually exploring the worlds he creates.
Have a sweet tooth? Check out Pizzelle’s Confections. Owned and operated by sisters Caitlin Lyon and Michelle Novosel, Pizzelle’s handcrafted chocolates, tortes, cookies and ice creams are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Another favorite? Piper & Leaf Tea Company. This family-owned company grows or forages the ingredients in their teas, making them truly a taste of Alabama. Check out their great little café, known for serving tea in huge mason jars.
Danny Davis, a former mechanical engineer for NASA, crafts guitars at Tangled Strings Studio. Davis uses knowledge from building rockets to now build guitars. Every single guitar he makes is completely unique.
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IF YOU GO
Want to see one of Danny Davis’s guitars in action? Check out a live show at his Tangled Strings Studio. Check the calendar here.
Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment
2211 Seminole Dr.
Huntsville, Alabama 35805