Huntsville leaves endearing impression

Huntsville, Alabama may not be the first destination on the top of your mind, or even on your bucket list at all, but after reading this post it will likely move up more than a few notches.

Downtown Huntsville Alabama by MikesRoadTrip.com

We all conjure impressions of various destinations around the world based on the information we’ve gathered and absorbed over time. Some destinations are easier than others to form an impression as there is much more information and history to draw from. It’s important to note that impressions are not only often wrong, but often skewed based on the information we’ve absorbed.

Take Paris for example, most people think of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, street-side cafés, fine French cuisine, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and perhaps, Moulin Rouge. For the most part, what you expect is what you get.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart by Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip.com

However, that’s not always the case. I’ll never forget my first trip to New Orleans; I had little to no interest in the city because my ignorant impression was that of a party scene wrapped around Mardi Gras. Boy, was I wrong! When I visited a couple years ago I discovered a world-class destination not only rich in history, but culinary, music and hospitality mastery.

I mention the above to illustrate a point, that all too often our impressions of a destination are wrong due to our own individual level of ignorance.

I recently visited Huntsville, Alabama for a travel conference and got but a glimpse of what I believe is an up-and-coming travel destination. While my knowledge and expectations of Huntsville were limited, those expectations were far exceeded. I truly hope to visit Huntsville again one day to further explore the city that could be compared to an onion as it has many layers to discover.

While I was in Huntsville, this is what I learned. For starters, southern hospitality is alive and well. I remember one day standing at the front desk of my hotel when a local standing nearby asked if I was in town for the travel conference? When I replied, “Yes,” he extended his hand and said, “Welcome! This is my hometown and I’ve very proud of Huntsville and sure hope you’ve enjoyed your stay so far.” I thought that was so incredibly kind. Everyone I ran across was gracious and welcoming.

While I was quite busy participating in activities at the travel conference, I did have a couple of days on my own to explore. Here is a snapshot of what I saw and experienced.

Big Spring Park – Located right in the heart of downtown Huntsville is an urban oasis, a large green space with an expansive fish/koi pond, waterways, paths and pedestrian access points (to cross the water). The park is flanked by hotels, restaurants and other venues.

Downtown Huntsville aerial image by Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip.com

Historic District – One day I went on a two-mile historic walking tour through Huntsville’s beautiful Twickenham District, an area with stunning antebellum homes, where tales of scandalous intrigue could make a good southern belle clutch her pearls. Along the tour we even met a few fine friends dressed in period attire playing historic roles. It was like stepping back in time, if only for a moment.

Historic walking tour in Huntsville AL by MikesRoadTrip.com

Huntsville Botanical Garden – Situated on a 120-acre site, this botanical garden has stunning floral collections, grassy meadows, inviting woodland paths, an aquatic area, herb and vegetable gardens, a children’s center and a whole lot more. During my visit, I ate at the on-site restaurant and dined on the patio overlooking the gardens. It was a delightful experience on a glorious spring day.

Huntsville Botantical Garden aerial photo by MikesRoadTrip.com

Huntsville Entertainment Venues – Each evening during the travel conference, we experienced a different venue. Each completely different from the next, and each a destination unto itself.

  • Lowe Mill Arts Center – This place is a former textile mill providing a backdrop for a cultural complex with myriad artists and performers. With over 200 artists, art galleries and restaurants, this venue is the largest privately owned studio in the country. Since this was a private event, we basically had the place to ourselves and only scratched the surface of the number of nooks and crannies. One of many highlights was the guitar-making studio with intimate musical venue.

Music venue at Lowe Mill Arts Center by MikesRoadtrip.com

  • AM Booth’s Lumberyard – This is a large indoor/outdoor social eatery with Southern-inspired fare, cocktails and live music. The 120-year-old site has an expansive and eclectic layout with a relaxed vibe rooted in southern hospitality. There are four stages, large patios and beautiful plant life.  One of the many attractions is the 1920s Pullman train car resting in the central courtyard, surrounded by a fanciful collection of unique treasures.  This was a really memorable place to spend the evening eating, socializing and being entertained.

AM Booth’s Lumberyard in Huntsville AL

  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center – Just when we didn’t think organizers could top the previous two venue events, they shuttled us to the impressive U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We arrived to a large brass band playing 30s and 40s style music while we stood under the engineering marvel of a Saturn 5 rocket that spans 363 feet. The facility is absolutely an inspiring look at what mankind has been able to achieve.

Rocket and Space Center aerial photo by MikesRoadTrip.com

  • Campus No. 805 – For our last evening in town we visited Campus No. 805, an old school repurposed into an entertainment campus, complete with breweries, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues nestled around a park. From its landmark location in the heart of the city, Campus No. 805 has become the connecting point for the resurging West Huntsville neighborhoods and treasured historic districts.

Restaurants – While most of my food was provided at the conference, I did get to try a few restaurants during my free time. The highlight was without question Cotton Row Restaurant. The elegant open-air space in a beautiful 1820s brick building blends harmoniously with its downtown location, which is surpassed only by the exceptional food coming out of Chef James Boyce’s kitchen. The cuisine is refined American influenced by its southern heritage.

Cotton Row Restaurant Huntsville

Salad at Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville

Lodging – I stayed at the SpringHill Suits by Marriott for the duration of my stay, which was quite nice. My room was spacious with a separate seating area and desk, which made it very comfortable to work at night. Some of the TBEX conference attendees stayed at the Embassy Suites, which is a half star higher-class hotel and closer to downtown venues. Both are great choices if you wish to stay near the downtown convention center.

SpringHill Suits by Marriott in Huntsville Alabama

After five whirlwind days in Huntsville, my only disappointment was that my time had come to an end. I felt like I had just begun to scratch the surface of this exceptional city to the north in Sweet Home Alabama.

If you’ve ever been to Huntsville, or a city that exceeded your expectations, please leave a comment below and share your experience.

Huntsville Pin for Pinterest by MikesRoadTrip.comWhat I found exploring Huntsville Alabama - Pin for Pinterest by MikesRoadtrip.comHuntsville, Alabama leaves endearing impression - Pinterest Pin by MikesRoadTrip.com

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20 Comments

  1. Paula Schuck
    May 15, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    GREAT post. I sat in on your session during TBEX and found it informative so thanks. Agree fully that southern hospitality is alive and well and amazing! LOVED how friendly everyone was in Huntsville. I was able to do space camp the first day there and loved it!

  2. Mike Shubic
    May 15, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Paula! So glad you found my session informative and that you too enjoyed Huntsville. Thanks for reading and taking the time to post a comment. All the best, Mike

  3. Andrew
    May 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Really glad you enjoyed your stay in Huntsville, Mike! Being a native, having moved away and then moving back, I could not imagine living anywhere else and I love sharing my city with visitors. Come back again sometime, Huntsville is on the move and there will be much more to see and do in the future.

  4. Mike Shubic
    May 16, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Andrew, thank you for stopping. I will be back for sure. Cheers, Mike

  5. Sherri
    May 16, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you for the flattering portrayal of my hometown! We gave a tour to a number of bloggers of Marshall Space Center, hope you can return soon!

  6. Mike Shubic
    May 17, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Hey Sherri, thanks for stopping by. I hope I can return soon as well, I know I have a lot more to explore. All the best, Mike

  7. Elizabeth Enright
    May 17, 2017 at 11:44 am

    So glad you loved Huntsville! It’s a great town.

  8. Mike Shubic
    May 17, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Oh, it really is Elizabeth. Thanks for stopping by and reading. 😉

  9. Jimmy Hill
    May 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you for your kind words that so vividly describe our hometown, Huntsville. And, yes…there is much, much more to learn, see and do. My family roots go back to the early 1800s. I am very proud to be called a native son of the Rocket City.

  10. Mike Shubic
    May 17, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    My pleasure Jimmy! Wow, that’s impressive, the early 1800s! Hope to be back again soon. Cheers, Mike

  11. Caroline Buncick
    May 17, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for a great article about my hometown! Next time you are here come see us at Burritt on the Mountain! We would love to share our Historic Park with you where interpreters are demonstrating life as it was in the 1800’s. And being on the Mountain we have the best view in town!

  12. Mike Shubic
    May 17, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Caroline! My pleasure, I had such a great time! Will do, I appreciate the offer. All the best!

  13. Kathy Tucker
    May 18, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you for the article on my hometown, Huntsville Alabama. It’s a very special place and it was fun growing up during the 60s and 70s with the rocket team in full force. It was exciting to watch all of the launches spacecraft that were mostly developed here. The next time you come, you might want to try the old greenbrier restaurant. Locals can give you directions. The building isn’t much to look at but the barbecue is great and it’s not a chain restaurant.

  14. MeLisa Gingrich
    May 18, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Your article about the city where I grew up makes me miss it all the more. I moved away 29 years ago and have lived in 5 different states since and I still say Huntsville is THE BEST! I live in Dallas now but would move back if given the chance.

  15. Mike Shubic
    May 20, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Hi Kim, thank you so much for stopping by and reading my article on Huntsville, I really appreciate all the suggestions as I do plan to return one day soon. All the best, Mike

  16. Deborah Paulukaitis
    May 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

    We love staying at the Embassy Suites and other close to downtown venues in Huntsville near the fabulous Big Spring Park. Though I was born and raised there, I moved away many years ago but still go back to visit. Now I want to go to Cotton Row (never been) and the Botanical Garden (I didn’t know they had a restaurant). Thanks for the info!

  17. Mike Shubic
    May 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Hi Deborah, thank so much for stopping by and sharing. Yes, you need to go back to visit Cotton Row and the Botanical Garden, both great attractions. Cheers!

  18. Kim
    May 20, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Mike,
    I grew up in Huntsville and the out skirts. I am glad you enjoyed your time. It truly is a wonderful place. I do miss it since I moved away. The people are unique and the history rich. When you return try some hide local places, such as mullians restaurant. Monsanto mountain with trails and burrett museum. Also green mountain walking trail. Also dido landing.These are places to explore and most do not know about. By the time you leave, you won’t feel as a tourist anymore. It will feel like home. You will always want to come back.

  19. Mike Shubic
    May 22, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your experience growing up in Huntsville, and, for the restaurant suggestion. I do hope to make it back to Huntsville one of these days soon. Cheers!

  20. Mike Shubic
    May 22, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Hi MeLisa, thanks for sharing. Huntsville is indeed a wonderful place. I lived in Dallas once, I would take Huntsville all day long. 😉

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