As the kids start to trickle back to school and cities are less packed than they were mere weeks ago, we’re finally taking some of our own summer trips. I’m a big fan of traveling in shoulder seasons, and visiting Huntsville in summer just happens to be a tradition SVV and I adopted long ago—and one we repeat year after year as more art attractions open and initiatives like the craft cocktail trail launch.
Getting to Huntsville
I grew up just 50 miles north of Huntsville, so it’s always been an easy day trip for me to just bop down over the Tennessee-Alabama border. From our home base now, it’s about 80 minutes by car, and if you’re driving from Nashville, it’s a two-hour shot straight down I-65—and an easy drive from other tourist hubs like the Shoals and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
You can fly directly into Huntsville International Airport (HSV) if you’re coming from outside of the region. Huntsville is also just 90 minutes from Birmingham, two hours from both Nashville and Chattanooga, three hours and change from Atlanta. What I’m saying is that you have plenty of ways to add Huntsville on to an existing trip—and even better if you can make it a road trip to see more of Madison County and North Alabama as a region.
Why you should visit Huntsville in summer
Alabama is one of those year-round destinations that you can visit 12 months out of the year thanks to the mild climate, but summer in Huntsville just hits differently—and every attraction, it seems, finds some excuse to hold an outdoor event or special exhibition. But there’s one real reason we wanted to go to Huntsville in summer this year (and all subsequent years, too)…
Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball
As a Tennessean, I feel it’s ingrained in me to love those pesky raccoons, our official state wild animal, but when they were rebranded by the Internet as “trash pandas” a decade or so ago, my fondness for them hit critical mass. So when we were visiting Huntsville a couple summers ago on the night of the big announcement of Madison County’s Double A team’s mascot, it was kismet that the people chose the Trash Panda (though let’s be honest, the Thunder Shark, Space Chimp and Moon Possum were solid competition).
I happen to think that Sprocket is the cutest mascot in the history of sports—wouldn’t you agree?—and had zero shame running him down to take a selfie.
The Rocket City Trash Pandas were set to have their opening season last year when … well, you know what happened. So they bumped it back to this year, taking the field for the first time in May at their brand new home, Toyota Field. And what a beauty she is, too.
The $46 million Toyota Field is equipped with 7,000 seats, a 5,000-square-foot climate-controlled clubhouse, batting cages, a party deck and many other features for private events both at the baseball games and on other occasions. There are already myriad events like a painting party and a fun run schedule, and I can’t wait to see what else they use this state-of-the-art stadium for in the future.
This is one of those fields where there’s truly no bad seat in the house. We opted for seats right over the 1st base dugout that offered stellar views, but we also wandered around the stadium to check out the vantage point from everywhere else, and let me just tell you: You can’t go wrong.
If you have kids, you might opt to watch the Trash Pandas game from the berm where the kiddos can run around and play while you watch the game.
The Trash Pandas’ season runs from May through late September each year with many chances to catch a home game. Make a visit to Toyota Fields a travel priority, and if you don’t listen to me, well, listen to the New York Times.
The sculptures and murals of Huntsville
With a deep and multifaceted art community that comprises such concepts as Lowe Mill Arts, it’s no surprise that Huntsville has its share of public art.
One of my favorites is this three-story “This Girl Can” piece by Kim Radford, the very muralist we’ve worked with on three murals in the past year, that celebrated the centennial of women’s suffrage.
If you start at Kim’s mural on the Clinton Avenue parking garage, you can also hit up this alley of small pieces (and a giant, inflatable parrot!) from artists throughout Huntsville dubbed Clinton Row Colorwalk.
Continue your stroll, and you’ll eventually find Jessie Andrews’ out-of-this-world Galactic piece on Holmes Avenue. See if you can levitate like SVV.
There are some other great pieces around town that we’ve documented in the past and that you’ll find in my Huntsville weekend post. Pay close attention to the various 3D art and sculptures that adorn the square.
There’s also this new tribute to Little Richard by Logan Tanner on the side of Wahlburgers in MidCity.
Huntsville Botanical Garden
On past trips, I’ve spoken at events inside the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s atrium, but I’d never actually explored the grounds until this summer. So it’s only fitting that we visited Huntsville Botanical Garden not once but twice in the same day. After all, the garden under the bright sunlight is a very different scene than it is all lit up at night.
In addition to its permanent gardens and exhibits, HBG currently features Uncaged, a collection of interactive pieces exploring the lives and habitats of birds. The seven unique structures are scattered throughout the gardens, and all are made for visitors to climb in (and on) them. Talk about an Instagram-worthy photo opp!
Even better is that they were all created by local artists and architects, and each features an informative guide that explores what makes birds so special and essential in our ecosystem. These artsy installations are part of the garden, so no special ticket is required to see them.
Through Sept. 26, you can visit under the cloak of darkness to check out Night Blooms, a botanical dreamscape of illuminated flowers, birds and insects with several interactive pieces, too.
Night Blooms follows a one-way, one-mile, well-lit path through the garden’s many vignettes and is open every Wednesday through Sunday night. Entrance is staggered in 15-minute blocks for safety and to make the experience a pleasant one for all. Buy tickets here.
Downtown Craft Cocktail Trail
If there’s one way to lure me in as a traveler, it’s give me a trail to complete—and a huge bonus if it involves booze. So when I caught wind of the new Downtown Huntsville Craft Cocktail Trail, I knew what much of our weekend would be devoted to. And while we did not get to all the stops (but hey, we’ll always be back!), there were a couple standouts.
Rhythm on Monroe is Von Braun Center’s new rooftop bar, and while I totally thought we were going here for the ambiance and not necessarily quality of cocktails, I could not have been more wrong. The space was lovely, but the drinks were lovelier and the bartenders sure knew their stuff. We also ordered a charcuterie board that could have doubled as our dinner. Rhythm is a great place to start your evening cocktail crawl, then venture a couple blocks into the heart of downtown.
Stella’s Elixir Lounge is like stepping foot into my design dreams; it’s what I hope my house will look like eventually. And it whips up a menu of classic cocktails—like a potent Sazerac, a fizzy French 75 or a refreshing Moscow Mule—in the most pleasing of spaces. We were there early in the day, but there’s also a back patio and a front rooftop with fire pits that’s open during certain hours.
Phat Sammy’s may be my favorite bar in Huntsville, which is a tall order. It’s not only fun in its tiki-style nature, but the cocktails each comprise a dozen or so ingredients and are served in the cutest barware you ever did see. The food, too, is unique with slow-cooked octopus, specialty poke bowls, kimchi pizza, steamed oyster buns and plenty of sharable snacks on the menu (because why can’t bar food also be gourmet?). We’ve been here twice now, and it will be my first stop on all subsequent trips to Huntsville.
The most inventive cocktails we tasted all weekend in Huntsville were not on the trail (at least not yet), but found at a subterranean speakeasy that requires a reservation to get in. Catacomb 435 is new to the cocktail scene since our last summer in Huntsville, and the secret nature of it and the fact that there’s no menu was a huge draw for both of us.
We could not get a reservation until 10:15pm on a Saturday night, which is normally when I’m in bed (tell me you’re 38 without telling me you’re 38), but it was worth staying up past midnight to try out the dealer’s choice nature of this lovely cocktail spot where you’re given a checklist and pick your spirit and your flavors. We each had three (for research!), and every one was mind-blowing in its complexity and originality. Make a reservation for your next trip by calling 256-414-8248 x435.
And though not cocktails, we did visit two new-to-us breweries: Fractal Brewing Project and BeeZr. Every time I’m in Huntsville, I’m overwhelmed by the beer options—other favorites include Yellowhammer, Straight to Ale and InnerSpace—and also impressed that the brewery scenes continues to expand year after year.
Art and shopping at Harrison Brothers Hardware
This downtown Huntsville staple has been the town general store since 1894 and is chock full of treasures, from wooden kids toys to vintage maps and globes, cookbooks to American art and fine crafts. I stocked up on scented candles while SVV bought a bag of marbles, prompting me to ask him 10 times a day if he’s lost his marbles.
There are also rotating art exhibits inside the store, so you’re always bound to see something new no matter when you visit.
Food trucks at MidCity’s The Camp
Since we were staying just five minutes away, we stopped by the Camp in MidCity for lunch and to check out the many offerings, many of which are seasonal and rotate in and out. A few spots are fully open right now, including the Greenroom coffee bar (made out of shipping containers!) and the central Camp which also doubles as the bar, with many more food trucks on the way. This outdoor destination is going to be such a killer place to hang when everything is fully open!
Sundays from mid-March through mid-November also feature Market at MidCity where farmers, artisans, makers and growers set up booths from 1 to 5pm as musicians entertain and patrons dine and shop.
Where to stay in Huntsville this summer
There are a few different areas you can consider staying in while visiting Huntsville in the summer, depending on what you plan to do with the bulk of your time.
In the past, we’ve stayed downtown at AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, a boutique brand under the Marriott umbrella that connects directly to Big Spring Park. This is a prime locale for visitors who intend to explore downtown Huntsville by foot and stay in the general vicinity.
On this stay, however, we made our base at the Homewood Suites By Hilton in the Village of Providence, which is about 15 minutes from Toyota Field and not far from the university campus. This allowed us to explore more of Huntsville outside of the downtown corridor like the University of Alabama at Huntsville campus and all the green space that engulfs it. Plus, it’s surrounded by restaurants like James Boyce’s new Grille on Main, where we had the most delicious brunch, and after living in the suburbs for so many years, I love an urban getaway where I can walk to meals.
If you’re going to visit Huntsville in summer just to go to a Trash Pandas game, there are more and more hotels popping up along I-565 within two miles of Toyota Field, as well as several accommodations options alongside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
Traveling safely right now
I shouldn’t have to tell you at this point to mask up no matter your vax status and travel safely wherever you’re going this summer. Also, please get the shot if you haven’t already! Even having had it for six months, we are masking up and being extra safe everywhere we go. Since things are changing daily, please reference Visit Huntsville’s safety portal for up-to-date information as you plan your trip.
Can’t make it for summer in Huntsville this year? That’s OK. Fall is gorgeous, too! You should save this itinerary for Fall or Spring Break vacation planning!
For more Huntsville travel tips, check out these posts:
- Huntsville’s Food and Wine Scene Is On Fire
- To the Moon and Back: A Visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Your Guide to a Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama