Fun in Huntsville Alabama
January 4, 2005 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Looks like I'll be in Huntsville, Alabama, for a few days next week, without much of anything to do. Besides signing up for Spacecamp, are there any interesting things to do or see there? Museums and suchlike are interesting to me, as are good bookstores, record stores, and restaurants. I will have a car.

I should add that I've poked around the standard chamber-of-commerce websites, so anything off the beaten track is welcome.

Oh - I'm especially interested in good barbecue joints!
posted by Dr. Wu to Travel & Transportation around Huntsville, AL (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Huntsville is my hometown, so I can tell you with great authority that there is nothing to do besides the Space and Rocket Center.

Well, perhaps take a trip to the state park atop Monte Sano mountain. Also, you should look into a visit to the Ave Maria Grotto in nearby Cullman, Alabama. It's a insprired, ad-hoc reconstruction of ancient Jerusalem using soda bottles, tin cans, and concrete. A great work of "outsider art" by a divinely inspired Benedictine monk.

Drink at the Coffee Klatch. That's about it.
posted by Pinwheel at 9:11 PM on January 4, 2005

Oh, and for records, Sunburst, northern Alabama's "only real record store."
posted by Pinwheel at 9:17 PM on January 4, 2005

Looks like you'll be about an hour from Fort Payne, but if it were me, I'd probably be willing to drive that far in order to see Joe's Truck Stop.

On a perhaps more practical note, I have a friend who grew up near H-ville. I've sent her an email and, if she has any suggestions, I'll pass them along.
posted by Clay201 at 9:34 PM on January 4, 2005

My only experience with Huntsville is going to Space Camp 16 years ago, but from what I remember, you don't have to be in camp to go to the Space & Rocket center, but there's only about a half-day's worth of stuff there to do. The rockets there were rusting when I was there, so I bet they're even rustier! Still worth going to see one of the just three complete Saturn V rockets on public display. I don't know if you can actually tour the real NASA facility, which is somewhat interesting if you're a nerd.
posted by zsazsa at 6:28 AM on January 5, 2005

Dreamland for your BBQ needs.
posted by mauriteb at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2005

Dr. Wu,

I grew up in a town about 45 minute south of Huntsville called "Guntersville" (everything is a ville there). Guntersville has a big lake, pretty land and a huge state park that *sometimes* has Bald Eagles flying over the lake grabbing fish (which is pretty damned cool to see).

Space n Rocket Center is....kinda lame.
posted by Hands of Manos at 7:07 AM on January 5, 2005

Response by poster: Oh my God: Dreamland has franchised?! I don't know whether to be thrilled (because I've always wanted to go there and now there's one in Huntsville) or appalled (because a venerable independent institution has become slightly less special). Hm. In any case, thanks for letting me know about it!

The sense I am getting is that, if you want to do something interesting in Huntsville, you need to leave Huntsville. I guess it's One of Those Places, huh? I can deal with that. The Grotto, record store, and truck stop are now officially on the list - thank you, everyone. (More suggestions are still welcome!)
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:01 AM on January 5, 2005

The franchises aren't the same as the original in Tuscaloosa, but the food is still good. You haven't truly eaten at Dreamland until you've been to the one in T-town.

If you feel like a drive to Birmingham (and a museum that is perhaps different than what you are used to) you can visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
posted by mauriteb at 9:04 AM on January 5, 2005

Well, I'm also from Huntsville AL -- "Rocket City" and/or "The Silicon Valley of the South".

Like anywhere else, it really depends on what you are interested in as far as "things to do". For example, visiting the nearby Unclaimed Baggage Center would be the shopping highlight of any vacation for some, so it's all relative. ;)
posted by jca at 12:15 PM on January 5, 2005

I still haven't gotten a response from my friend (see my previous post in this thread), but I just thought there would be more to do in Huntsville. Supposedly, owing to the influence of the people who showed up to work on the NASA operation, H-ville has long been (supposedly) more open minded and, in generally, friendly towards culture and the arts than, say, Montgomery or even Birmingham. About fifteen years ago, they had a high school literary magazine, possibly the only one in the state at that time. They're the only city in the state to host an annual fetish ball (although it got cancelled in 04) and are generally considered to be pretty tolerant towards non-vanilla, non-hetero forms of sexuality. I mean, even our college towns (Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Tuskeegee, Montevallo, etc.) and our one semi-big city (Birmingham) can't claim to be so progressive. [Sorry. Felt like I should put in a good word for 'em.]
posted by Clay201 at 12:18 PM on January 5, 2005

When I was in Huntsville for training, I enjoyed going up to Monte Sano every evening. It was gorgeous up there.

I wish I'd had more time at the Space Museum. It was an incredible mix of the incredibly boring and tacky and of the most amazing stuff. The rockets outside were not rusty when I was there 2 years ago. They were really neat.

Then again, I'm the kind of space nut who tears up when hearing any of the ST themes, up to and including DS9.

Accidentally found a great barbeque place west of town, but can't remember the name of it. Green-something, maybe? There was another branch near the expressway.

The locals were more than willing to try to find things I'd enjoy. They'd hear my very northern accent, ask if I were visiting, and start trying to send me places.
posted by QIbHom at 5:43 PM on January 5, 2005

QIbHom is thinking of Greenbrier Barbecue, the new one is right off I-565 at the Greenbrier Rd exit, the old one os down Greenbrier Road. The catfish is much better than the pulled pork, in my humble opinion.

My town (Decatur, about twenty miles west of Huntsville) has one respectable barbecue joint (Big Bob Gibson's) that wins many national awards.

I can second the Ave Maria Grotto recommendation, it is truly a unique experience. Have you been to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee? It's not that far and the tour is interesting, even if you don't get a sample (the distillery is in a dry county).
posted by kickerofelves at 6:30 PM on January 5, 2005

Thank you, kickerofelves. Yes, it is Greenbrier Barbecue I'm thinking of. Inexpensive, quick service, delicious food. Get off the Greenbrier Rd. exit, head north. It'll be on the right, up a few miles.

Then again, I'm a northerner. What do I know of barbecue?
posted by QIbHom at 8:42 PM on January 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, all! This is a far greater response than I expected to get.

Huntsville, here I come.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:16 AM on January 6, 2005

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