Regardless of your age, it's completely normal (and expected) to be awestruck when gazing up at one of the three remaining Saturn V inside the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The space behemoth, which, let's be honest, makes an excellent photo op, was just one of the many ways Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team would forever transform the "Watercress Capital of the World" into the "Rocket City."
Von Braun was also instrumental in establishing the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home to 1,500 space artifacts from the spaceflight program and is one of the most comprehensive U.S. manned space flight museums globally; and Space Camp.
No doubt about it, the mystique of space and space exploration put Huntsville on the map and in the minds of travelers, but what keeps travelers interested and engaged (and coming back) is the destination's broad appeal. Whatever you want to experience - culture, history, etc. - more than likely, you can while visiting Huntsville.
While one could credibly argue the rockets are works of art themselves, don't overlook the INTUITIVE Planetarium at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The former IMAX theater was reconfigured into a state-of-the-art planetarium that now projects sharp and vibrant imagery of the cosmos onto the screen. As you focus on the 3-D version of a Crab Nebula supernova, you might wish you had brought a small sketch pad and pastels to capture the colors.
Immerse yourself further in the world of art as you explore the 14 galleries of the Huntsville Museum of Art. While the museum's primary focus is on 19th- and 20th- century American art, focusing on art from the Southeast, the over 3,200 pieces in its permanent collection also include the world's most extensive collection of Buccellati silver animals. The museum also hosts traveling exhibits and events, as well as classes and programs for all ages.
Among many unique aspects of Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, the former- textile- mill-turned- the-largest-privately-owned-arts-facility in the South, is the ability to interact with the artists. Meet and chat with them as you browse and eventually purchase pieces of their works.
And once you've completed your share of shopping, treat yourself to some local goodies like artisan chocolates from Pizzelle's Confections, mead from Ravenwood Meadery, or handcrafted teas from Piper and Leaf.
Art isn't just contained with four walls in Huntsville, either. Public art is kind of a big deal here. There are colorful murals and a Secret Art Trail to discover, and a SPACES Sculpture Trail to explore.
Downtown is home to three residential historic districts: Twickenham, Old Town and Five Points, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Twickenham has one of the largest concentrations of antebellum homes in the South, with over 65 structures. It is here that you'll find Alabama Constitution Village. The living history village highlights the years of 1805-1819, and Alabama's entry into the Union as the 22nd state during the 1819 Constitutional Convention.
Also within Twickenham District is Howard Weeden House Museum and Garden. Built around 1819, it was home to many distinguished Huntsvillians; however, the house museum focuses on the Weeden family, who purchased it in 1845 and artist Maria Howard Weeden (1847 - 1905), known as Howard Weeden.
Ms. Weeden was quite an artist. She became internationally known for her watercolor portraits of formerly enslaved people and poems she wrote about them, which accompanied their portraits. Weeden is credited as one of the first artists to paint African Americans true to life.
Other points of interest in this district include the I. Schiffman Building (birthplace of actress Tallulah Bankhead) and the Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, the oldest, continually operating hardware store in state.
For those who enjoy exploring historic cemeteries, in the Five Points Historic District is Maple Hill Cemetery, the city's largest and most historic cemetery. It is the final resting place for five former governors and soldiers from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Burritt on the Mountain offers some of the best views of the city. On a clear day, it is possible to see Rocket City at U.S. Space and Rocket Center in the distance. Perched atop Red Top Mountain, the "X-"shaped mansion was the home of Dr. William H. Burritt.
Burritt, despite three marriages, didn't produce any heirs. Therefore, he deeded the house and property to Huntsville, making it the city's first museum. You can tour the home and view his restored 1949 DeSoto on display in the garage below. Also on the 167-acre site is a historic park that features historic log structures depicting 19th-century farm life. At scheduled times, you can watch and chat with interpreters demonstrating specific skills related to the period.
And that's just a sample of Huntsville's history. There is plenty more to keep history lovers busy.
From Big Springs International Park to Ditto's Landing to neighborhood parks, Huntsville's green spaces provide ample opportunities for recreation or relaxation.
For those who need a more strenuous workout, head over to Monte Sano State Park to check out any of the park's 20 miles of hiking trails. While there, be sure to take time to enjoy the views.
At Huntsville Botanical Garden, it is easy to lose track of time as you leisurely explore its 112-acres. Enjoy the scenic Four Seasons Gardens or find inspiration at the Herb Garden or Vegetable Garden. No matter where you go, there is always something to see. Don't forget to visit the Purdy Butterfly House, the country's largest open-air butterfly house.
Foodies rejoice ~ the culinary scene in Huntsville is diverse, much like the city itself. Besides a wide range of restaurants guaranteed to satisfy every palate and wallet, you'll also find food trucks, and food and entertainment hall experiences like The Camp, Campus No. 805 and the Stovehouse. And Huntsville doesn't disappoint with its craft brewery scene, either.
For something a little different, "sip" your way through downtown with the craft coffee, craft beer or craft cocktail trails.
Experience for Children Only
While many of the attractions are kid-friendly, one is strictly geared for the younger crowd. The Earlyworks Children's Museum entertains and educates with hands-on activities and interactive exhibits, bringing broad smiles to the faces of both kids and parents.
And Finally, Experience Sleep
Accommodations range from full-service hotels, such as 106 Jefferson, to camping sites. There's a guest house for larger groups, too, and if you are traveling with your four-legged pal, pet-friendly options are available.
photos: personal collection from various trips to Huntsville over seven years.