Huntsvillians really, really want you to visit Huntsville, Alabama.
In a city where the old line, “it’s not rocket science,” often just isn’t true, it’s not surprising local residents would take a high-tech approach to all aspects of life, including tourism. In a recent competition to host a Social Media Tourism Symposium in November, Huntsville brought out the online vote in the thousands to beat a dozen other cities. So, for a travel feature on the city, it seemed appropriate to ask local Twitterers what they like about their home:
Huntsville native @ElectronJon: Big rockets, friendly folks, beautiful landscape. Big city attractions with small town traffic. Also, rockets. Again.
Driving into Huntsville from the west, one fact becomes immediately clear: With apologies to the band Starship, they built this city on a rocket role.
From miles away, one can see a 363-foot-tall mock-up of the Saturn V rocket that launched the first men to land on the moon during the Apollo program and that was developed in Huntsville.
Huntsville, the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and cutting-edge missile defense work at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, came to fame as the “Rocket City” during the 1950s and ’60s, and the image of the rockets’ red glare remains the city’s biggest draw.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home of that iconic Saturn V and of Space Camp, is the state’s top paid tourist attraction. The center also features the world’s largest collection of rockets, including one of three remaining Apollo moon rockets; an actual spacecraft that carried men around the moon; a collection of rides; and bus tours of the adjacent NASA center.
Blogger collective @RCBloggers: The bloggers! And the big city feel with small town comfort.
Before Huntsville was the Rocket City, it was the Watercress Capital of the World, and some of that small-town Southern charm still pervades the town. Two local museums offer living-history recreations of those bygone days: Burritt on the Mountain and Alabama Constitution Village. The city’s history can also be seen at the Historic Huntsville Depot museum, one of the nation’s oldest remaining railroad buildings, which features graffiti dating back to the Civil War.
Local blogger @AKAJaneRandom: The greenways, the hiking trails on the mountain, and Bridgestreet
Located in a valley in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Huntsville maintains natural beauty in the midst of its rapid growth. City parks include Big Spring International Park downtown, and the Land Trust of North Alabama preserves undeveloped areas as greenspaces, including more than 45 miles of hiking trails.
Television marketing specialist @LoriMillerWHNT; Small town friendly, bigger city frilly. Smart people keeper. Good schools, food, art scene. “Home” #rocketscientistsrule
“Bigger city frilly” includes local shopping, including outdoor mall Bridge Street Town Center, which has become such a popular destination since opening five years ago that its leather-seated movie theater ranks as the city’s number two attraction. Local dining ranges from upscale chains like The Melting Pot and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to decades-old barbecue joints still using classic secret recipes.
Stand-up comedian @jdsteinhauser: While you can always find something interesting to do/see, you can also find some place serene just as easily.
While Huntsville can struggle to compete with the Music City of Nashville to the north for big-name concerts, it offers a thriving local entertainment scene. Concerts range from the well-known to the unknown. The Broadway Theater League brings popular musicals to town, and there’s almost always something being performed by one of the several community theater organizations. In the past couple of years, a stand-up comedy scene has taken root, joining an active improv comedy troupe. For the traditional art aficionado, there’s the Huntsville Art Museum at Big Spring Park; for the collector, there are several local galleries; and for the independently minded, there’s Lowe Mill, an abandoned cotton mill refurbished into new life as studios.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center social media guru @charitys: Huntsville is full of southern charm, local community pride, natural beauty and something for everyone to do.
And “everyone,” of course, includes families. Huntsville has a variety of sports teams, including hockey and minor-league baseball and football. For the rocket-scientist-in-training, there’s the SciQuest children’s science museum in neighboring Madison, and in downtown Huntsville, there’s EarlyWorks, the largest hands-on chldren’s history museum in the South.
Still doubt Huntsville is a wonderful place? Then just pick up a copy of the book “Rocket Boys,” by best-selling author Homer Hickam, or its movie adaptation, “October Sky.” It’s the story of a young man who, as a result of hard work and perseverance, gets to move to Huntsville. (OK, that’s a huge oversimplification, but it’s still a great happy ending.)
@HomerHickam: Huntsville is a dynamic, growing city with great schools, beautiful parks and friendly people.
Story by David Hitt // Photos by Caleb McPherson