When you think about things to do in Huntsville, AL, you think about the Space Museum, right?? In sixth grade our whole class was supposed to go the Space and Rocket Center for a long weekend as part of our Science studies that year. Unfortunately, it was the same weekend my father had to have knee surgery. My mom was working so it fell to me to stay home and play nurse instead of going on the field trip. Ever since I’ve been dying to go and see the museum.
All photos courtesy of Huntsville, AL
Now I’m a mom with a little girl that is math- and science-wired like her dad, and I’ve been considering ticking one off my own childhood to-do list and seeing if space and rocket ships will fire her imagination. Huntsville, however, offers so much more and has something for every type at every age. It is definitely a destination that whole family can enjoy; science nerds, outdoorsy types and even artsy folks like me! Here are 44 ways to have fun…and it’s all just one state away!
Obviously no trip to Huntsville is complete without a visit to space! The Center chronicles the space race and takes visitors on an exploration of what we can expect to see in the next stages of space travel. It is also home to Rocket Park, the largest collection of rockets in the world, and Shuttle Park, the complete chronological collection of launch vehicles in the country. After exploring the many permanent and visiting exhibits on display, be sure to catch the bus tour of the Redstone Arsenal, Army Material Command and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. If you have 6-9 year olds, try to arrange your visit for the second Saturday of the month at 11:30 and catch the Children’s Workshop which features different STEM activities.
Besides offering a great museum, the United States Space and Rocket Center offers tons of opportunities for kids to delve deeper into a hands-on space odyssey of their own with the experts. There are also camps for aviation, taught by former pilots, and robotics, utilizing the latest innovations. Camps are running throughout the year for various ages.
Tickets for a Space themed documentary on the 67 foot dome screen can be purchased separately from museum admission.
An eclectic estate willed to the city of Huntsville after the death of Dr. William Henry Burritt, Buritt On The Mountain is features the original mansion, restored 19th century homes, a barnyard with a variety of animals, nature trails, exhibits, concerts and festivals. Equal parts education and recreation, Buritt On The Mountain offers a wide range of camps, classes, tours and special events covering art, music, theater, architecture, history and more.
Kid’s Kingdom Playground is the perfect place for some free outdoor fun. The spacious, meticulously maintained park and playground is a shaded, safe kids’ zone. Parents love the cleanliness, lots of seating, pavilion and the fact that playground is gated. Kids love the layout of the well-designed park and all the great equipment. It’s a great place for a birthday party, family get-together or play date.
Point Mallard Park literally has something for EVERYONE! This is one-stop shopping for any family. The water park has a lazy river, wave pool, double drop speed slides, splash pad, towering sky pond, three flume slides, Olympic pool with loungers, scenic lagoon, sandy beach with loungers, kiddie pool and picnic pavilions. The T.C. Almon Center offers tennis courts, racquetball courts, locker room and shower facility, weight room, craft room and kitchen. The Strike Zone features batting cages and golf driving range. The Jimmy Johns Tennis has 12 championship hardcourts, four championship clay courts and two indoor hard courts. There is also a 200 acre scenic golf course along the Tennessee River and Flint Creek offering 18 holes, golf cart rentals, driving range, practice facility, clubhouse and pro shop. The campground has over 200 full hook-up sites with free wifi and six primitive sites on 25 wooded acres and is within walking distance to many of the parks attractions. Labor Day weekend you can catch a four day long reenactment of the Battle for Decatur complete with camps, demonstrations, crafts and live battles. Additionally there are bike and walking trails, soccer fields, basketball courts, baseball fields, pavilions and an amphitheater. Every member of the family will find something to love here.
As if Point Mallard wasn’t epic enough, on Memorial Day weekend they’ll be hosting the 40th annual Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival and just like Point Mallard isn’t just a park, this isn’t just any hot air balloon show. Saturday morning features the Hare and Hound Race with over 60 balloons. Come back in the evening to see those 60 balloons light up the night sky in the Balloon Glow. Sunday the balloons with fly onto the field and offer teether rides. Saturday afternoon also features an antique auto expo and a tractor show featuring restored antique tractors, a tractor parade and tractor games.
Travel back to 1819 and experience a bygone way of life. Actors portray daily life in a village just as it was the day forty-four delegates gathered in the cabinetmaker’s shop to make Alabama the twenty-second state of the Union. Watch and interact with villagers as they go about traditional crafts, trades, gardening and baking in an open air museum set-up. Stroll through the post office, law office, cabinetmaker’s shop, print shop, land surveyor’s shop and traditional residence. Christmas time will bring the very popular Santa’s Village.
Families will love spending a day in these sprawling gardens. Besides meandering trails among ferns, azaleas, an herb garden, a vegetable garden, lilies, a peaceful water garden and more traditional botanical garden fare, the kids will find an engaging Children’s Garden. The garden features a dino dig site, rainbow garden complete with a pot of gold, a pollywog bog splash pool to cool off in on hot days, a whimsical Storybook Garden, a child’s size labyrinth, a space station node with water rocket clock that has real missiles (donated by the Marshall Flight Center) and the Half Acre Wood where kids can dive in and get their hands into the dirt to look for bugs and worms! Not to be missed is the Garden Railway. Set-up by two boy scouts and a bonsai society, this G-scale railway runs through a tiny European village surrounded by a forest, waterfall, ponds (with fish!), a bog and a farm. The bonsai landscaping is even to scale! Children and adults alike will enjoy a trip into the Purdy Butterfly House where thousands of native butterflies cohabitate with turtles, tiny quails, tadpoles and turtles. There are acres of family fun at the botanical gardens.
Completed in 1860 and operating through to 1968, this train depot is one of the oldest surviving stations in the United States. The depot witnessed many pivotal events in the Civil War and visitors can still see today graffiti left by the soldiers.
Situated on twenty-eight acres, the Insanity Complex has an indoor skating rink, a 38,000 square foot outdoor extreme skate park for inline skating and skateboarding, a mini golf course, rocking climbing, batting cages and an arcade. There are all sorts of events for various ages running throughout the year so be sure to check the website.
Shakalaka Extreme Air Sports is perfect for a rainy day or if you just need to let the kiddos bounce out some excess energy! Shakalaka is a 15,000 square foot grid of sixty connected trampolines, but there’s SO much more! The facility features a ninja obstacle course, foam pits, extreme dodgeball, airdunk (think basketball on a trampoline court), a slackline, trapeze and aerial silks. Thursday nights are theme nights so stop in for dubstep, 80’s, hip hop, etc. Check the calendar on the website for all their special events and theme nights.
Up A Creek is an indoor family adventure center that brings the outdoors inside. If your family isn’t into the bugs and creepy crawlies that come with great outdoors, then this is the spot for you. There’s a rock climbing wall, tree house and even synthetic grass to give the whole space an outdoorsy feel. There’s also a surf machine, air hockey, bouncies and plenty of slides.
Huntsville’s own women’s roller derby league hits the rink March through September for fast, hard-hitting fun. This is an action-packed, cheap family night that is sure to entertain everyone. The Dixie Roller Girls is a well-established league and puts on a great show for the crowd. Check their website for dates, coupons and tickets.
Many parents get hives just thinking about taking young children to an art museum. No running,stay quiet, don’t touch anything, just stare quietly at something on the wall! No such fear here parents. The Huntsville Museum of Art welcomes and caters to children. The Stender Family Interactive Education Galleries offers a hands-on visual arts experience for the whole family. The Art lab teaches the visual art basics of color, shape, line and texture with loads of engaging hand-on activities that kids will love. The Walk Through Time gallery leads visitors through the evolution of art around the world. You begin in Paleolithic cave drawings, Mesopotamian, Egypt, Greece, the Italian Renaissance, French Impressionism and end in New York City with Abstract Expressionism.
Definitely try to hit this museum on a Saturday to get the most out your experience. The museum hosts a variety of classes and workshops for kids and parents on Saturday and you will all feel more comfortable with other families exploring the museum with you. Check the website for museum hours, special events, classes, workshops and special exhibits.
Situated in downtown Huntsville, Big Spring Park offers a relaxing oasis in the middle of a bustling metropolis. Famous for its friendly geese, ducks and beautiful koi, children in particular will love this park. Be sure to check out the lighthouse, a gift from the country of Norway, the red bridge and gorgeous cherry trees, gifts from Japan.
Does your family have the need for speed? Look no further than the Veloce Indoor Speedway. Veloce takes go karting extremely seriously and so will you after experiencing their top notch facility. Imported from Vacil, Italy, the Veloce go karts are the safest, most technologically advanced on the market. These karts reach 50 MPH and are equipped with all sorts of accessories to make the driving experience epic. You’ll experience lower wait times if you can arrange to go Monday through Thursday. Check their website for pricing, rules and events.
Started in 1961 by a group of local parents who wanted to introduce children to live theater, the Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater is in their 56th season. Appropriate for children ages three and up, the theater offers a variety of exciting productions each season. Concessions are on offer, but not allowed in the theater during performances. Be sure to stick around after the performance and let the kids meet and pose for pictures with the actors. Check their website for pricing, FAQs and upcoming performances. Let the magic begin and begin a lifelong love of theater!
If you have a train fanatic in the family, this is a great stop for you! Chase Depot, the centerpiece of the museum, is the smallest union depot in the country. The museum has wonderful exhibits and preserved pieces of train history. You can even ride on a vintage train! The museum is run by a dedicated volunteer staff and has limited days and hours of operation so check the website. You can arrange in advance to make an appointment to tour the museum. Check the website for details and try to catch it on a day your little engineers could ride on a train.
Huntsville Escape Rooms are a perfect family live-action game night. Ever played the game clue? The escape rooms are similar, presenting a challenge for the whole group to solve. The rooms do not necessarily have a scary or haunted element, but may present themes that would be disturbing to younger children. You are never locked in and can leave at any point. The rooms are geared towards a fun family experience that requires your family to work together to solve the challenge. There are four rooms, each with a different challenge. The Hexadron features an alien race that is interested in the unique human genetic code and is preparing to transport humans to their home planet for further study. The Phantom requires your team to quickly find a crippling internet virus that is being sold by the world’s leading hacker. The Psych Ward will lead you on a frantic hunt for clues to a lethal toxin hidden the hospital by a deranged mental patient. The Informant involves your team in the hunt for the FBI’s compromised trove of evidence against a notorious mafia boss. Tickets are sold for children starting at age eight, but it is recommended for around 15 and up. You will need a minimum of four participants and a max of seven. If you show up with less than seven, then you might end up playing with another small group in your room.
The Earlyworks Children’s History Museum is a great spot for littles of various ages. Biscuit’s Backyard provides loads of entertainment for your youngest to get some hands-on playtime in a barn, garden, store, post office, tree house and water table (always a winner in my family). There’s even a Crawlers Corner for the littlest little to get in on the action. Be sure to stop by and listen to the talking clock for interesting facts about Alabama and the talking tree will delight children of all ages. Let the kids get a taste of life in the old days on board the 46 foot keel boat and in the post office. They can even sign the Alabama Constitution!
On the second Fridays of June, July and August, you can catch a family-friendly movie on a giant inflatable screen in Big Spring Park for FREE!! Be sure to get there early for the best seating. Once you snag your spot you can let the kids play in the Kid’s Corner entertainment zone or grab something yummy from one of the food trucks that will be lined up.
Here’s another great one for the art lovers in the family. Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment is a renovated factory warehouse that now serves as the largest privately owned arts facility. There are six fine art galleries, 148 studios for over 200 artists, a theater and performance spaces. Classes are offered and there are always tons of special events happening. Check the calendar on the website to see what’s on offer during your visit.
Hays Nature Preserve is a great place to spend a nice day outside with the family. There is a playground for the kids, a tree swing and a fortress to let them play. There is also wonderful fishing with a bait station set-up. Check out the miles of hiking and biking trails. There is even a golf course for your golfing enthusiasts.
I love drive-in movies! Who doesn’t?! Now that we have kids a drive-in movie is the easiest way to go to the movies for us. The tickets are less expensive, you can bring in chairs, drinks, snacks and the kids have the freedom to run around and play. Bring them in their jammies in case they fall asleep – easy-peasy! Cinemagic has five screens and lots of family-friendly options. Check out their website for pricing and schedule.
Rain or shine, there is something to do at Southern Adventures. Besides a great water park, there are two adventure golf courses, bumper cars, a rock climbing wall, video games, a go-kart track, carnival games, a roller coaster simulator and batting cages. I was sold when I figured out I could play ski ball and go a water park all at the place! I love their pay as you play pricing as well. There is separate admission for the water park, the golf courses and you purchase tokens to play everything else. Just brilliant!
Within walking distance of shopping and eating in downtown Madison, Palmer Park is great place to let the kids run around, bring a Frisbee and maybe catch a game. There are soccer, baseball and football (and futbol too!) fields with games going on often so bring your chairs and picnic.
Fear not if you’re thinking DragonCon or the like. The Rocket City NerdCon is way more kid-friendly, but will be sure to please nerds of all ages in your family. It’s a weekend of gaming, LARPing, old school arcades, gaming tables, Disney sing-alongs, a teen masquerade ball, LEGO’s, costume contests and so much more! Whether it’s Harry Potter, Pokemon, Star Trek, Star Wars, My Little Pony, Disney, video games, Doctor Who (both hands up!) , Marvel, DC Comics, whatever makes your inner nerd giddy – it is welcome here! Bring the whole family in costume and if you don’t have costumes, just look around because there will be some available for photo ops. I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the dates for 2017 and looking forward to seeing the lineup of events!
This is literally the most epic splash pad I have ever heard of anywhere. With an active little water baby, splash pads are a lifesaver for us during the summer months. She’s still little enough to where most waterparks are not worth the money for the few attractions she can actually enjoy. Splash pads however are a super economical way for her to get a water park fix. The “Everyone Can Play” Splash Pad at Brahan Springs Park has 51 water features. There are water cannons, sprinklers, dump buckets, bubble geysers and roll arches that are wheelchair accessible (hence the everyone can play regardless of any physical limitations). There is no shade so bring an umbrella, small pop-up tent or be otherwise prepared. There are benches, a couple of picnic tables and a playground adjacent to the splash pad.
The Huntsville IcePlex is a great destination for ice skaters of all levels. Besides public skate hours, there are special events open to the public like opportunities to hit the ice with the Huntsville Havoc, the local ice hockey team, and themed skate parties like the last one that was superheroes – how cool is that?! No fear if you have inexperienced skaters in the family either. Their staff will get them all set-up with skates then show them the basics on the ice. There is always broomball too which is hockey in your tennis shoes with “brooms.” Just get your team together and call ahead to see about times for broomball. Be sure to dress appropriately and remember hats and gloves for your littlest skaters.
If you’re planning a trip to Huntsville in May, certainly try to arrange to be there for the God Day Kid’s Fest at Lowe Park. This annual event is a partnership between a local mom blogger, Rocket City Mom, and Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment. The theme changes yearly (such as eco-friendly or Blues music), but you can count on loads of quality, free kids entertainment. There will be crafts, music, dance, games, inflatables, food, scavenger hunts, puppet shows and much, much more.
The Little Gym provides entertainment for your little ones starting as early as four months old. There are early music and movement classes for parent and child, problem-solving events that utilize LEGO and Duplo toys and even parents’ night out. Either go to a class with your little one or take advantage of the parents’ night out to have a few hours out on the town without the kiddos.
We are a library family. Before the boxes are even unpacked, the first thing I do after moving to a new town is visit the public library to get my card and find out about all their events. I have had access to some great libraries, but the Huntsville Public Library goes above and beyond any I’ve seen before. Take advantage of the many free events they offer while you’re visiting Huntsville. There are family movie nights, story times for all ages including a sign & sing time for babies, children’s knitting classes, foreign language classes for all ages and levels of proficiency, a ukulele club (sign us up), science workshops, music classes, animation classes, puppet shows, special events around all the holidays, concerts, an arts & crafts expo, family fun nights, LEGO build days and contests, kids forums, hikes and so much more.
We usually bring our dog along on road trips with us so we’re always on the lookout for great outdoor hiking and dog parks to give her a chance to run and play too. Indian Creek Greenway offers both and plenty of shade, picnic tables and restrooms.
This year the Whistlestop BBQ Festival will be held May 5th & 6th at the Historic Huntsville Depot. There are BBQ competitions for the weekend BBQ’er, children, professional BBQ’ers, a chili cook-off and a chicken wing competition. This festival also features plenty of entertainment including a cornhold competition and live music. This year’s headliners are the Marshall Tucker Bank, The Gin Blossoms and The Rembrandts. Best of all the proceeds go to the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum and educational programs for area children.
The Harrison Brothers Hardware store is a Huntsville tradition since 1897. The store features tons of original architecture, shelving, displays and furniture that make your shopping trip feel like a stroll through days gone by. Don’t let the name fool you though, it is one of those old-fashioned hardware stores that doesn’t actually sell hardware anymore. It is, however, one of the best spots to shop for some amazing souvenirs from your Huntsville excursion. You can still purchase some of the original types of merchandise carried in the store like cast iron cookware, gardening tools and pottery. In addition, you can find for local arts, crafts, housewares and edibles. The kids will have a blast looking at all the vintage toys and games. You will be able to find a treasured souvenir for every member of the family to remember your trip.
This year’s Panoply Arts Festival will be held April 28th-30th at Big Spring Park. This massive arts festival features more than just a stroll through booths of local artists’ offerings. All throughout the festival there are tons of hands-on art-making, music and STEM activities to engage children of all ages. Plan on this event taking up most of your day and bring some outdoor seating, sunscreen, hats and snacks to make the most of your experience.
When traveling with special needs children, it can be difficult to find venues and events that cater to them. Merrimack Hall is a non-profit entertainment facility specifically serving children and teens with special needs. Check out their calendar for their upcoming events and programs to see what offerings will suit your special needs child.
I can remember the first time my daughter finally reached the right age and we did a scavenger hunt with her. It was so much fun and continues to be a favorite activity. Stop by the Madison Chamber of Commerce or City Hall to pick up a clue card to find the eight bronze trains located around historic downtown Madison.
If you have ice hockey fans in the family, be sure to catch a Huntsville Havocs game. The wildly popular team puts on a great show and periodically will have events where fans can meet the public. Kids can get into the action by following the team on Twitter and picking up some fan gear at the games.
Bring on the schnitzel! A couple of years ago, my husband and I ended up a German restaurant for our anniversary dinner and now I’m completely addicted to the rich cuisine. The Redstone Arsenal Oktoberfest celebrates all things German with food, music, dancing and lots of family fun like carnival games and a Ferris wheel. If you want to catch this festival though, don’t show up in October! The festival takes place during the European traditional time in September – who knew!
Another great park for some outdoor fun, Palmer Park features baseball, soccer, football and softball fields. There is also a nice playground, concessions and pavilions for an outdoor outing.
The Madison Street Festival has it all. Held in October, the festival features a parade with floats and marching bands, a children’s area with arts and crafts, exhibitions and demonstrations, artists walk, local crafts, food vendors, live music, a car show and more.
One of the many offerings from Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, the Concerts on the Dock are free, family-friendly live music events held under the water tower every Friday night in the Spring and Fall. Bring chairs or blankets and even a leashed pet for a great concert!
Examine the beauty and mystery of space by studying the stars. Atop beautiful Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, the Wernher von Braun Planetarium offers a true glimpse into the galaxy. The Von Braun Astronomical Society and guest speakers present a variety of astronomy related programs in our planetarium every Saturday at 7:30 pm and by special arrangements for groups at other times.
Explore the space around you with a free scavenger hunt in Downtown Huntsville. Clue cards can be found online or at the Huntsville CVB.
Huntsville has all kinds of space to enjoy. Whether it’s learning about outer space and simulations that make you think you’ve journeyed to the stars, beautiful green space, space to rest or space to play, the Rocket City is waiting for you to come explore.
Not Enough? No Worries!
Lesli here. I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Huntsville recently with a few hundred travel bloggers from around the world. I love how they see Huntsville with new and fresh eyes, so I’ve included their posts for you here. I hope you’ll read them…such refreshing perspectives, amazing writing, and gorgeous photos!
In and around Huntsville:
And all around Alabama:
About the Huntsville Conference:
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After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.
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