As a kid, I’d make the pilgrimage down to Huntsville once a year, usually for our annual field trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and then for various sports tournaments sprinkled here and there. So to get to spend a full weekend in Huntsville earlier this summer as an adult was both nostalgic but also eye-opening.
My how Huntsville has blossomed since I was a girl.
Huntsville’s transformation in the last few years alone is something to behold; anchored by Redstone Arsenal—not to mention, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and a 3,800-acre research park filled with defense, space and technological pioneers—the city is a major player and hub for innovation and science in the deep South and has created a vibrant, urban ecosystem that matches up well with the mid-sized cities we’ve come to know and love.
This post was last updated in August 2021.
But whether you’re traveling there for work or just looking to explore somewhere new, a weekend in Huntsville is the perfect way to close out your summer; it’s got great restaurants and cool breweries in spades, not to mention other fun concepts like Campus 805 and Stovehouse to keep you occupied for three days or more. SVV and I ate and drank our way through Alabama’s most diverse city (again) so we could put together this weekend guide just for you.
Where to stay in Huntsville
Huntsville is growing at a rapid pace, meaning several new hotels have joined the fray in recent years, with more on the docket. We lucked out and arrived just weeks following the opening of the AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, my first time staying at this boutique brand under the Marriott umbrella.
The AC brand intentionally emulates a European hotel, meaning minimalist in design, and the Huntsville outpost occupies a prime locale overlooking Big Spring Park and is walkable to the downtown square, Huntsville Museum of Art and the Japanese Bridge. Rooms are sleek and contemporary in style, and the downstairs lobby has a gift shop selling basic amenities in addition to pieces from local artists, as well as The Gemini Kitchen + Cocktails restaurant, which will be opening soon, and the AC Lounge.
Your first stop upon checking in should be the AC Lounge, where you can get space-themed drinks and small plates like prosciutto/tomato toast while admiring the expansive, open lounge.
Day 1 of your weekend in Huntsville
It’s only an hour drive for us to Huntsville, so we left mid-morning on a Friday and arrived just in time for lunch at Domaine South. This wine bar, with wall-to-wall racks of retail bottles for sale, is a cozy spot for conversation and has an outdoor seating area for when the afternoons aren’t too hot. The menu leans heavily into locally curated cheese, meat and bread selections, but there are also main dishes like salads, tacos and sandwiches on tap, too.
From Domaine South, it was just a few blocks to our first attraction of our weekend in Huntsville. The delightfully preserved antebellum Weeden House Museum & Garden, built in 1816, is a fascinating glimpse into the era before and after the Civil War. The majority of the furniture is period specific and original to the home. Notably, paintings and poems created by Maria Howard Weeden are on display across the building and feature some of the most accurate depictions of freed slaves who were living in Huntsville at the time.
There are multiple neighborhoods in Huntsville and Madison County containing historic homes, some dating prior to statehood, that are worth driving or walking through. The Leroy Pope Walker home built in 1814, for example, is the oldest documented mansion in the entire state of Alabama, and the Twickenham district is full of Federal, Queen Anne, Gothic, Greek and Italianate styles of architecture. The Huntsville/Madison County CVB has a nice breakdown of the districts with maps here, and the website Alabama Pioneers has healthy resources for those with an eye for the history of this region.
Huntsville’s downtown is also steadily being populated with murals, sculptures and interactive art installations by Arts Huntsville, and you know we love that! The organization offers occasional tours to visitors who want to see them as well as a self-guided option via the Purple Cup Secret Art Walk, which because it’s within the Quigley Arts & Entertainment District, allows you to purchase and carry an adult beverage while cruising the neighborhood (hence the name). You can download a printable map of the art walk here.
Keeping to the theme of exploring historical preservation and revitalization efforts in the city, we dined at Cotton Row Restaurant inside a brick building built in 1821 as part of the cotton exchange. Stripped back to the core of its architectural identity, this elevated and fancy establishment was opened in 2008 by Chef James Boyce, a leader in the food scene of Huntsville who also runs Pane e Vino Pizzeria and Commerce Kitchen.
Featuring a menu that can be classified as Southern-influenced French cuisine, Cotton Row’s food is guided by seasonally available ingredients and a fine dining experience. The wine cellar doubles as an overflow room for lucky patrons while the upstairs, accessible from a separate entrance and kitted out with a full kitchen and several intimate conference rooms, is a nouveau space that just breathes luxury.
After dinner, we headed up Burritt on the Mountain for sunset. During our last visit to Huntsville, we had happy hour at the View, Burritt’s 3,000-square-foot elevated patio that overlooks all of Huntsville, and you can even spy the Saturn V in the distance. The View hosts regular events, dinners and happy hours, but in summer months, Burritt on the Mountain also hosts City Lights & Stars Concert Series, which is totally worth the $15 ticket price. The atmosphere is pure magic.
Before we turned in for the evening, we swung by the square one last time and grabbed a beer at the darling new British pub, the Poppy, which has a roster of craft beers on tap, a quartet of beer engines and a full bar. In true English fashion, the Poppy also offers two different seatings of a proper high tea each Friday afternoon for $20 a pop, and you need reservations. This is definitely on my list for our next return!
Day 2 of your weekend in Huntsville
Downtown Huntsville is bustling on a Saturday morning, and the line at Honest Coffee Co. spilled out onto the sidewalk and snaked its way down the block. Despite the crowds, the service was efficient, and I very quickly had an acai bowl and latte in front of me.
We spent a full morning at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, finally fulfilling my space-loving husband’s dream. He wrote an entire post dedicated to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and what the Apollo meant to him, and we even went back to Huntsville the following week to tour NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the historic test sites at Redstone Arsenal. Just call us honorary rocket scientists!
This year is also Alabama’s bicentennial and we happened upon the reenactment of President Monroe’s surprise visit to Alabama on his tour of the nation in 1819. The celebration was hosted at the Constitution Hall Park, a renovated indoor/outdoor area that was the meeting place for the drafters of the state’s constitution. Open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 7pm, Constitution Hall Park offers guided tours to adults for $12 and $10 for youth and seniors that are interested in exploring the history of Alabama’s entry into the United States as the 22nd state of the union.
During our visit, there were so many fun happenings throughout the weekend; among them, a cigar box guitar festival at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, a huge brew fest and so much more. But no matter the time of year you’re there, Lowe Mill is a wonder of creativity. The old textile mill, converted into the largest privately owned arts facility in the country in 2001 by a genetic scientist and businessman, is chock full of comic book illustrators, sculptors, clothing manufacturers and painters. With 148 booths and about 200 resident artists, the multi-floor complex transformed this disused building into a swarm of artistic synergy.
Get lost in the 171,000 square feet of space, as you eat, drink, shop and wander your way through the various floors.
Continuing our art theme, we stopped by the Huntsville Museum of Art for a quick glance at the Celebrating the 1960s exhibit, which runs through Sept. 29 and ties into the Apollo anniversary. I’m also quite looking forward to going back for the Peace, Love, Rock & Roll: Elliott Landy’s Woodstock Vision when it debuts later this month.
Late afternoon, we drove out to the Arsenal for the annual Rocket City Brewfest, which happens each spring, and enabled us to sample so many breweries like Innerspace we’d yet to discover. Von Brewski Beer Fest is another beloved local beer event we’ve attended—it’s held every winter in January and February—and even if you aren’t spending a weekend in Huntsville during either of these events, you can can take advantage of the dozen stops on the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail any time of year. This is something I definitely want to do on our next visit!
After a quick stop back at the AC Hotel to freshen up, we were out and about again and this time to one of our favorite spots in all of Huntsville: Campus No. 805. This former high school was turned into an entertainment venue about five years ago, but it’s constantly adding new tenants. New since our last visit? Civil Axe Throwing!
We had reserved two spots in a lane, and I fully planned to participate, but then I got in there and was more fascinated by people-watching and axe-dodging. What a perfect addition to a multi-purpose venue like Campus 805. It’s $20 for an hour of throwing in a group lane, and you can bring your own food, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Next time, I promise I’ll actually give it a throw!
We had planned on dinner at Pan e Vino Pizzeria, but since we were already at Campus 805, we decided to grab a table at the sprawling patio behind the decade-old brewery Straight to Ale and call up our friends Leila and Corey to join us. The food at Straight to Ale is gastropub like and so, so good. SVV had the crispy short ribs, while I got the burger topped with jalapenos and grilled pineapple.
After we were done eating, we headed over to Stovehouse, which at that point had just been open a matter of days. Yet another out-of-the-box, only-in-Huntsville idea, Stovehouse occupies a historic stove factory that has been reimagined into a multi-purpose facility that will house offices, retail space, restaurants, bars, art and every other idea the creatives behind it have conceptualized (and some they’ve probably yet to think up).
There’s live music every weekend, and even if you aren’t eating there, you can grab a spot on the lawn and enjoy the atmosphere. It’s family-friendly with lawn games like Bocce ball and human-sized pool. The restaurants aren’t all open yet, but once fully occupied, Stovehouse will have a selection of international dining establishments from which to choose. Pourhouse, Fresko Grille and Stovehouse Leisure Lawn currently open at 4pm Monday through Saturday.
Day 3 of your weekend in Huntsville
Sunday mornings are the best time for aimless wandering as most cities stay asleep until nearly noon, so we rose early and took a stroll around Big Spring Park, Huntsville’s most prized gem by way of green space. This downtown park, the original source of gushing spring water for the region, has been in existence for more than 200 years, but underwent millions of dollars in renovations a few years back that elevated the space, expanded the footprint and created an urban oasis.
We walked the circumference of the lake, cooed at the dogs prancing by with their owners and made friends with a gaggle of baby ducks looking for a handout. Big Spring Park has several fountains and pedestrian bridges, including the Friendship Bridge, donated to the city by a Japanese scientist at the arsenal in the 1970s.
If you think we were going to be in a city on a Sunday and not brunch, then you clearly don’t know us at all. We were simply killing time until 1892 East opened up for the day! Located in the Millennial-favored Five Points, 1892 East serves up a Southern menu populated with food sourced from local farms. I had the bananas Foster pancakes, while SVV opted for the huevos rancheros, and they brought us both out complimentary mimosas that come with any entree, which is a nice perk of 1892 East’s Sunday brunch, I’ll say!
After brunch, it was time to go home—well, after we filled the rest of our car with necessities from Costco, that is—and start planning what adventures awaited us on our next weekend in Huntsville.
Have you every spent a weekend in Huntsville? What would you add to our weekend itinerary?
For more Huntsville-related posts, check out:
- Huntsville’s Food and Wine Scene Is On Fire
- To the Moon and Back: A Visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center