Discover out-of-this-world attractions and small-town charm in this often-overlooked Southern city.Huntsville, Ala., is home to NASA’s marshall Space flight Center, but it’s much more than a hub for scientists. The family-oriented city has a thriving downtown square, pubs that serve local microbrews and restaurants that offer everything from upscale Southern cuisine to down-home barbecue. And if you’re a sucker for scenery, Huntsville’s got it, bordered as it is by the Tennessee River and nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Check out these can’t-miss stops while you’re there.
Huntsville’s most charming feature is its historic Courthouse Square, which hosted cotton brokers in the 19th century and is now home to an assortment of shops and eateries. The aptly named Cotton Row Restaurant serves modern American food made with seasonal — and local, when possible — ingredients. For classic Southern biscuits and deviled eggs, visit Mullins Restaurant, near Five Points, one of Huntsville’s most eclectic neighborhoods. Try the restaurant’s best-selling “red slaw dogs” — hot dogs topped with ketchup-based coleslaw.
Open since 1879, Harrison Brothers Hardware retains its old-world Victorian charm (as evidenced by the potbellied stove on display). But these days, it offers much more than just tools. Drool over gourmet jellies and cheese straws or browse the store’s signature antique silver-plated flatware, which buyer and manager Ginger Cobl snaps up at local flea markets and estate sales. Lawren’s has graced the registry of many a Huntsville bride; the local spot for linens, upscale housewares and fine dinnerware, Lawren’s carries more than 600 china patterns. Locally made candles and regional cookbooks are also available.
When the Alabama legislature approved the sale of beers with greater than 6 percent alcohol in 2009, it unleashed a local beer renaissance. The Nook tavern carries more than 300 brews, including varieties from Huntsville’s four breweries: Blue Pants, Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer and Olde Towne. For a swankier experience, there’s Amendment XXI on the square, which offers handcrafted cocktails made with fresh fruit purees.
Work off the slaw dog and cocktail calories with a hike at Monte Sano State Park, located about a 15-minute drive from Huntsville’s city center. The park offers gorgeous views of the Tennessee Valley, perfect picnic spots, and more than 14 miles of hiking and biking trails. For a taste of the local grassroots arts scene, head to the Flying Monkey Arts Center, which hosts spoken-word poetry nights, theater, live music and swing-dancing classes, among other activities.
The Embassy Suites Huntsville Hotel & Spa is attached to the Von Braun Center, home to business conventions, symphony concerts and sporting events.