ALABAMA FAMILY VACATIONS: Huntsville with Kids – Any self-respecting space travel enthusiast will tell you that a visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is compulsory when visiting Hunstville with kids, and after having so much fun on my own visit, I won’t argue with that (click here for my feature review with tips if you plan to go). But historic Huntsville, I quickly discovered, has much more than rockets to offer curious travelers.
Boasting the largest collection of pre-Civil War era homes in Alabama and a higher number of PhDs per capita than you’ll find in other major U.S. cities, you can be certain Huntsville has plenty of sights to stimulate the eyes and intellects of visiting parents and children alike.
So where would I recommend starting if you have the chance to visit Huntsville with kids? Here are 4 great activities to prioritize, with 1 great place to eat and 1 great place to stay during your family’s visit.
Activity 1: Explore the Earlyworks Children’s Museum
Huntsville’s Earlyworks Children’s Museum showcases many interesting details of life in early Alabama with much for students of history to sink their teeth into. Families can walk into a typical log cabin to get a taste of everyday life. Then visit a shop where you can calculate costs of goods by weighing them and see historical samples of the different early state’s currencies. Next, walk on to and through a trading keelboat, and learn all about how the local grist mills worked.
Should the mood strike you (or just your kids), there are 19th-century outfits they can try on during their visit. Just beware the talking tree! It can be a bit startling the first time you hear it! If you’re visiting with a toddler or preschooler, don’t miss the separate play area called “Biscuit’s Backyard,” with water table and other hands-on activities for tots. Earlyworks Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding the major winter holidays.
Tip: Save on admission when you buy a pass for this museum + the Huntsville Depot and Museum and/or the Alabama Constitution Village. Click here to find out more about Huntsville’s Earlyworks Children’s Museum.
Activity 2: Cross over to the Alabama Constitution Village
Just across the street from the Earlyworks Children’s Museum, you’ll find the Alabama Constitution Village, a sure bet for those visiting Hunstville with kids. The open-air museum includes the building where delegates gathered in 1819 to inaugurate Alabama as the 22nd state.
As you wander throughout the eight buildings here, where costumed interpreters go about their daily tasks, you’ll get a glimpse the lives and livelihoods of Hunstvillians of that era. Not to be missed: The cabinet maker/furniture maker/toy maker’s building, where everything from chairs and cradles to caskets and toys were built. You’ll hear entertaining stories, see how cabinet makers used their tools to create such solid work, and also learn how toys were used to teach kids important skills, such as the perfect rhythm for milking a cow.
Constitution Village is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but is closed the months of January and February. Click here to find out more about the Alabama Constitution Village.
Activity 3: Venture up to Burritt on the Mountain
When I first arrived at Burritt, with its sweeping view over Huntsville from the top of Monte Sano, I thought it was all about the quirky mansion built there in the 1930s by the physician & inventor Dr. William Burritt (look for his custom built-in wall speakers and furry trophy collection hanging in the kitchen during your tour). Was I ever wrong.
Since leaving his 167-acre estate to the city of Huntsville in 1955, it has sprouted six fully restored and furnished 19th century homes and log cabins brought in from the surrounding area, which you are free to stroll in and out of and explore at your leisure. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where most cabins of that vintage decayed in a blackberry bramble long ago, I enjoyed this part of my visit most of all.
There is also a fully functioning barnyard with animals to visit, “gold” to be weighed, and costumed interpreters waiting to teach you about life in the rural Huntsville of the 1800s. The park is open Tuesdays through Sundays with hours varying by season. Click here for more information about Burritt on the Mountain during your visit to Hunstville with kids.
Activity 4: Go visit the Huntsville Botanical Garden
As I entered the Huntsville Botanical Garden, I noticed a procession of stroller-pushers heading off in the same direction. I soon discovered why. Sure, the 112-acre garden is home to stunning collections of ferns, dogwoods, roses, herbal gardens, a daylily garden and then some. But it’s the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s “Children’s Garden” that draws its smallest guests for frequent visits throughout the year.
The Children’s Garden is actually eight different themed gardens created just for kids. There they can explore the Rainbow Garden with its prisms and kaleidoscopes, splash and play in the Pollywog Bog, or even launch an imaginary space mission in a real space node donated by the Marshall Space Flight Center.
The nation’s largest open-aired butterfly house is just at the edge of the Children’s Garden area. Step inside to discover thousands of butterflies, a waterfall to walk behind, turtles to watch for and quail crossing through (open May through September only, included with general admission). Click here for more information about the Huntsville Botanical Garden and Purdy Butterfly House.
1 Great Place to Eat: The Blue Plate Cafe
Looking for the best place to indulge in an Alabama-style breakfast in Hunstville? Locals will point you–as several different locals I asked pointed me–to the Blue Plate Cafe. They serve up what are arguably the best “Cheesy Browns” in town, along with the biscuits and gravy and other hearty southern fair you’d expect. But in case that’s not enough, they also have specialties for your sweet tooth like “Chocolate Chiquita Pancakes” (you can see why no children’s menu is needed!).
The Blue Plate Cafe is open for more than just breakfast, too. Visit them any time between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. You’ll find them online at: www.BluePlateCafe.com.
1 Great Place to Stay: Embassy Suites Huntsville
The Embassy Suites Huntsville is actually within walking distance of both the Earlyworks Children’s Museum and the Alabama Constitution Village. Not to mention, it’s convenient to the restaurants and other attractions downtown. The all-suite hotel gives families two rooms to spread out between with the conveniences of a microwave and small refrigerator. It also serves up hot complimentary breakfasts daily. And what’s more, you’ll find complimentary grownup and kid beverages with snacks every evening in the atrium.
Let the kids burn off any extra energy in the evenings in the indoor pool no matter the season.