It’s time for another Live Like A Local destination!
Live Like A Local is a series I wanted to create in an effort to expand the travel section of my blog beyond where I live and have personally been. I wanted to create a resource for anyone reading who might be 1. traveling to other areas, 2. live in other areas or 3. moving somewhere new! I’ve been to some cool places, but I haven’t lived everywhere and what is better than some insider knowledge, eh?!
View all my Live Like A Local posts here.
Now, on with the show…Today we are visiting Huntsville, Alabama!
Name: Katie Skelley
City: Huntsville, Alabama
What is it about Huntsville that makes it different from other cities?
I can probably just say these two words and sum it up: Space Camp. Huntsville, also known as the Rocket City, is the home to Space Camp but it offers so much more.
When you think of Alabama, the first words to pop up are usually not “technology giant” but we are a leading city in tech. Our mayor likes to call us the little, big city. We are the home to Redstone Arsenal, which is a federal Dept. of Defense center of excellence and home to several Army commands, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Missile Defense Agency, FBI, ATF, and other organizations totaling 41,000 workers (my husband and I being two of them). I work for an Army publication and have had the opportunity to write about the history of Huntsville and current events happening today.
We are also the home to Cummings Research Park, which is the second largest research park in the United States and fourth in the world. The University of Alabama in Huntsville resides in the park. Huntsville actually has the highest concentration of rocket scientists in the world. We joke that every baseball coach my son ever had worked for NASA, and it’s not really an exaggeration!
Huntsville is an intensely patriotic community. When a large part of the workforce works in some area of national defense, that is probably understandable. We also have a large and vibrant veteran community. Each year, we don’t celebrate Veterans Day, we celebrate Veterans Week with one of the largest parades in the nation and many events focusing on celebrating our veterans.
What is the best time of year to visit?
Not summer. I kid (not really). It is very hot and humid in the summer. I am a lifelong Southerner and even I am over the heat. With Monte Sano Mountain weaving through our area, fall and the turning of the leaves is a beautiful time of year. We also know how to do up the holidays in style. The Huntsville Botanical Garden (which is definitely a must see any time) hosts the Galaxy of Lights which is the Southeast’s largest holiday light display. You can drive it, walk it, or even run it, which my kids and I did last year. Running through the Christmas lights was a definite treat! Speaking of the holidays, our Tinsel Trail downtown is also a family tradition. Last year, community organizations and businesses decorated more than 250 trees! We have ice skating at the Huntsville Museum of Art, Santa’s Village downtown for the little ones … the holidays in Huntsville are always special.
Are there any cool festivals or annual events that are not to be missed here?
Yes! At the end of April each year, we have Panoply, one of the largest art festivals in the South. If you like BBQ, the Whistle Stop barbeque festival is popular. And each fall Redstone Arsenal sponsors our own Oktoberfest celebrating our roots. Huntsville was a small cotton farming town until post-World War II when Wernher von Braun and his missile team were moved here by the U.S. Army. The Germans transformed Huntsville and not just with the creation of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, of which von Braun was the first director. The German contingent were instrumental in the creation of our symphony, ballet, and the German-themed events and restaurants still popular today.
Places to eat?
Ah, I could write an entire essay on where to eat! When we moved here eight years ago, my husband and I decided to try as many new restaurants as possible and we are still working our way through the list. Downtown offers: The Bottle, Commerce Kitchen (for more casual fare) and Cotton Row, which is more expensive but worth every penny. My family loves Pints and Pixels, which features old-school video games like Galaga, Pac-Man, and my own personal nemesis: Duck Hunt. tIf you are willing to drive 30 minutes to neighboring Decatur, Big Bob Gibson’s is a nationally-known BBQ joint and one of my husband and son’s favorites.
Places to shop and what to buy?
So I have a confession: part of the reason we chose our home is its proximity to Bridge Street Town Centre. It offers everything from Kate Spade to H&M to Anthropologie to Kendra Scott. But it is not just a shopping mall. It is an entertainment hub with fabulous restaurants and an upscale movie theater. And it really does the holidays up right with a huge Christmas tree and supersized reindeer throughout the grounds.
Construction has also begun on the new Mid-City project, which is a new mini-community in the heart of town that will offer upscale housing, shops, restaurants, hotels, walking and running trails and even an amphitheater – all within walking distance. It is similar to the Village of Providence, which features beautiful traditional craftsman homes and a variety of restaurants including my favorite bakery, Edgar’s, which makes the best macarons in town.
What do you do on a Friday night?
Well, it is the South so the Friday Night Lights are bright here and football is big business. But our downtown area is also a hot spot with restaurants, bars and the beautiful Big Spring Park for an evening stroll. We are also home to professional ice hockey team, the Huntsville Havoc. While all the games are fun, a must-see is Wiener Dog Night when fans bring their dachshunds to race on the ice. The Havoc calls the Von Braun Center (which is adjacent to Big Spring Park) home and it is what I would call the main entertainment mecca in town. We have seen Harry Connick, Jr., David Sedaris, Disney on Ice, and have tickets this fall to St. Paul in the Broken Bones at the VBC. It is also where the touring shows perform and I am super excited about the Book of Mormon scheduled for next year.
Cool places to stay?
The Westin, located at Bridge Street, is a lovely hotel within a close proximity to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (home of Space Camp).
If there isn’t a major airport nearby what is the best way to get there? We do have an international airport. With the nature of the industry here, it runs continuous shuttles to Washington D.C. but also other direct flights to many locations. And if it doesn’t offer a flight to a particular place, the shuttle to Atlanta is only 45 minutes and from there, travelers can go anywhere.
I don’t think I can say enough good things about Huntsville. Yes, state-wide our politics are a bit of a hot mess and regularly land us in the national news, usually not in a good light. But North Alabama is not representative of that. Even with our growth and our cutting-edge industry, Huntsville and its surrounding area has never lost that Southern hospitality that we are famous for. It is truly a wonderful place to live.
Special thanks to Katie for showing us all around Hunstville! I’m already over here prepping for some Friday Night Lights 😉
If you’re planning a trip or want to learn more, be sure to follow Katie on Instagram 🙂