You might not think of northern Alabama as essential to the U.S. space program, but the former textile mill town of Huntsville earned its “Rocket City” nickname fair and square. Huntsville was one of the major aerospace centers during the early days of the space program, and the city’s space center launched the first U.S. satellite into orbit in 1958. The space center is gone, but its heritage remains in the form of a top-notch space and rocket museum that attracts visitors from around the world. The museum is a must-see, but it’s far from the only entertainment for kids in this city.
When You’re Looking for a Learning Experience
The big family attraction in Huntsville is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (rocketcenter.com). The collection of space artifacts is fascinating, but kids will love the simulators, where they can experience what it’s like to take off in a rocket and fly an Apache helicopter. At Alabama Constitution Village (earlyworks.com), it’s always 1819 -- the year Alabama delegates met to write the constitution that would make Alabama the 22nd state. Kids can learn about life in the early 19th century through the museum’s living history exhibits and demonstrations. Younger kids will appreciate the interactive approach to Alabama history at the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum (earlyworks.com). Snap a few photos as they dress up in 1800s costumes in the museum’s federal house.
When They’ve Got Energy to Burn
When your child gets the wiggles, take him where he can burn that excess energy. Kids who travel with their skateboards will want to head to the Insanity Skate Park (insanityskate.com) for its open skate hours. The attached miniature golf course offers a few hours of family entertainment, too. The Benton H. Wilcoxon Ice Complex (iceskate.org) is open for public skating on weekends. The indoor rink is a good place to cool off if you’re visiting during the steamy Huntsville summer. The 10,000-square-foot indoor playground at KidVenture (kidventure.biz) gives parents a cool, comfortable spot to regroup while kids play.
When You Need Some Fresh Air
Visit the Huntsville Botanical Garden (hsvbg.org) on one of the scheduled Discovery Days, and kids can participate in nature activities. Any time you visit, visit the Children’s Garden, where kids can walk through a dinosaur’s ribcage, splash in Polliwog Pond or just dig for worms and bugs in the Half-Acre Wood. Join the locals for playtime at Big Spring Park (huntsville.org) on Church Street. The Kid Space playground has plenty of room for kids to climb, slide, swing and play. Rent a kayak from an outfitter such as North Alabama Canoe and Kayak (nacktrips.com), and take kids on a paddle down the Tennessee River. With more than 23 miles of trails to explore winding though forests and beside creeks, Monte Sano Nature Preserve (landtrustnal.org) is a kid magnet. The Old Railroad Bed Trail is especially family friendly.
When the Weather Won’t Cooperate
Take advantage of the open Art Lab at the Huntsville Museum of Art (hsvmuseum.org). Every Saturday morning, families are invited to put their artistic skills to work with art projects and activities. Catch a kid-friendly flick at Monaco Pictures (monacopicturesusa.com). A movie just seems a little more special when you can sit in a fancy lounge and have dinner while you watch it. Kids can make art, build Lego cities, learn Spanish or just enjoy story time at the Huntsville-Madison County Library (hmcpl.org), which has activities for children almost every day of the week. Check the online calendar for current activities.
- U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Alabama Constitution Village
- EarlyWorks Children’s History Museum
- Benton H. Wilcoxon Ice Complex
- Insanity Skate Park
- North Alabama Canoe and Kayak
- Land Trust of North Alabama: Monte Sano Nature Preserve
- Hunstville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau: Big Spring Park
- Monaco Pictures
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images