If you’re a space nerd at all, you know about Huntsville, Alabama.
If you’re not, maybe you heard about it on The New York Times’ 52 Places list this year. It was selected because of the rising interest in astrotourism and space. It’s also the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing this July, and they’re planning a massive party to mark the occasion.
I had the pleasure to spend a week in Huntsville, wearing a blue jumpsuit at Space Camp, geeking out with locals who’ve worked at NASA, and learning about the city beyond its space heritage. If you’re planning a trip to Huntsville, you probably want to soak in as much space as possible. This list pulls together some of the most interesting and conventional space experiences in Huntsville, as well as a few that might surprise you.
Now’s the perfect time to plan a trip to Rocket City, USA!
1. Enroll at Space Camp
Space Camp is Huntsville’s most famous space experience, and I experienced it first-hand during my trip. Space Camp is such a great experience that I wrote a whole post about what it’s really like. Whether you’re an adult who always wanted to go or have a child who’s space-obsessed and begging to attend, it’s well worth the investment in Space Camp to indulge those astronaut dreams.
After all, this is the era of space tourism. It’s entirely possible that you or your child may someday go to space!
2. Visit U.S. Space & Rocket Center
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the museum attached to Space Camp. There are exhibits and galleries where you can learn about the history of space in Huntsville, including the unmissable Saturn V hall. From the capsules and astronaut equipment lining the walls to the massive Saturn V rocket that towers overhead and runs the length of the hall, you could spend the whole afternoon in this one room alone. (Mind you, it’s a very big room, as it has a whole rocket in it!)
3. Tour NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
If you time your trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center correctly, you can also spend two hours of the day on a bus tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which is a short drive down the road onto Redstone Arsenal.
I went on an escorted tour of NASA Marshall and saw some of the work they’re doing here. Most notably, the SLS (Space Launch System) is being assembled and tested at NASA Marshall. You can also see historic test stands and bunkers where early rocket scientists in Huntsville helped build the rockets that took us to the moon.
4. Stargaze at Von Braun Astronomical Society
The last obvious space experience in Huntsville is the least visited: the Von Braun Astronomical Society. Named for Werner Von Braun and his contributions to the U.S. space program, the VBAS has a planetarium, observatories, and open field for stargazing in Monte Sano State Park.
Depending on the day (or night) you visit, there’s plenty to do! You can see a planetarium show, peer through the 21″ Newtonian telescope or other telescopes on the grounds, or just gaze up at the stars overhead through the cleared space in the trees. I visited VBAS for their Astronomy Day celebration in 2018, where they hosted community members and families to learn about space and the aerospace companies in Huntsville.
5. Explore Cathedral Caverns
Wait, you’re thinking, what does a cave have to do with space?
It’s entirely possible that human settlement on other planets may require us to live underground, and Cathedral Caverns would be a pretty beautiful cave to call home on Mars. This massive cave is home to towering stalactites, stalagmites, and even a few columns and other formations.
Cathedral Caverns was used by humans for centuries and opened to the public as a tourist attraction in the 1950s. It was temporarily closed and then was reopened in 2000 with a better route through the cave and safety features. Cathedral Caverns is a 35-minute drive from Huntsville to Cathedral Caverns State Park, but you’ll feel like you took a high-speed rocket to Mars once you get inside the cave!
6. Stroll Past Space Street Art in Downtown Huntsville
It’s probably not a surprise that you can find plenty of spacey street art in Huntsville. After all, many street artists use their art to comment on the state of the city where they produce their work!
Throughout Huntsville, you can spot murals and other street art with a distinctly extraterrestrial theme. Look for the massive “Huntsville” mural with its hallmark Saturn V rocket, or peer into alleyways and doorways for starry surprises.
If you want an organized way to experience Huntsville’s street art scene, grab a drink and map and participate in the Purple Cup Secret Art Walk!
7. Spot Bloomin’ Rockets at Huntsville Botanical Garden
As far as we can tell, plants are a pretty unique aspect of life on earth. If you love blooms and forest groves, the Huntsville Botanical Garden is a great spot to spend an afternoon. The gardens are also home to some space artifacts, including a few rockets and other space sculptures. Keep your eyes peeled for them while strolling the grounds.
8. Play Around at Pints & Pixels
Pints & Pixels is the kind of place it’s impossible to have a bad time. The walls of this restaurant are almost entirely lined with arcade and video games from every era. Between bites of delicious comfort food and sips of Huntsville craft beer, you can play games like Q*Bert and pinball. (Can you tell I love the classics?)
At times, there’s also a special set of pinball machines that commemorate chapters of NASA history including the Apollo and Shuttle programs. Even if they aren’t available due to maintenance when you visit (they weren’t when I was there), you’ll still have a great time.
9. Browse Cosmic Arts & Crafts at Lowe Mill
For culture vultures, Lowe Mill is a must-visit spot in Huntsville. This massive, old factory is now home to an artist market, where local crafts and arts-people can set up stalls to display their work.
Over three (or was it four? It’s a bit of a maze!) floors in two buildings, you’ll find whimsical and astonishingly accurate space art in almost every medium. There are also pop-culture artists and plenty of other souvenirs you’ll want to try and squeeze in your suitcase. I nearly purchased a cool Saturn V piece made by a local street artist.
There you have it! These are some of Huntsville’s best space experience – both the well-known ones and more off-beat opportunities. Add these to your itinerary and you’ll have a space-filled trip to Rocket City.