Growing up less than a two-hour drive from Huntsville, Alabama, I went on a number of field trips to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which is located in Huntsville, in my early school years. Those were some of my favorite field trips and memories of elementary school, but that’s the only attraction that I’ve ever visited in Huntsville… until recently, that is.
I was able to visit Huntsville, also known as the Rocket City, in early December 2020 for a fun-filled weekend. I was on a mission to discover Huntsville’s wheelchair accessible offerings and I definitely learned that there is a LOT more to the city than just the famous Space and Rocket Center, although it is a must-do. From unique shopping venues to museums and more, I had a busy weekend checking out many of the accessible sights.
Since I visited in early December, I was also able to enjoy some of the Christmas festivities in Huntsville, which I’ve detailed in a special section below. As a Christmasholic, I was tremendously impressed with the huge amount of Christmas cheer that Huntsville had.
This wheelchair accessible Huntsville travel guide is broken up into several sections, starting with “Accessible Things to Do” and then going to “Huntsville Christmas Activities”, “Where to Eat”, and “Where to Stay”. I hope that this in-depth guide is helpful for you, as you plan your own accessible getaway to the spectacular city of Huntsville, Alabama.
Wheelchair Accessible Huntsville Alabama Attractions and Things to Do
H.C. Blake Art & History Center
One of Huntsville’s newest attractions is the H.C. Blake Art & History Center and it was the first place that I visited during my weekend getaway. It was the perfect first stop because I was able to learn about some of Huntsville’s history before diving into the city’s current offerings first-hand.
The H.C. Blake Art & History Center might be on the small side, but it had plenty to keep me busy and engaged for an hour, thanks to its curator William Hampton. He guided me through the museum and art center, showing me many artifacts from Huntsville’s past and telling fun stories. I’m not exaggerating when I say that William may be the most passionate person that I’ve ever met. It was incredible to see how passionate he is about sharing the history of the city and he made me have a whole new appreciation for the Rocket City.
In addition to the museum with artifacts and even some souvenirs, there are also art galleries. Two artists, Sara Beth Fair and Carole Forêt, have studios inside the H.C. Blake Art & History Center and their art is on display. You may end up purchasing a piece, as they both are phenomenal artists, but it’s also fun to just browse and admire their work.
The entire facility is wheelchair accessible, as everything is on one level, and accessible parking places are located right in front. The H.C. Blake Art & History Center is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-2pm and should undoubtedly be your first stop on any visit to Huntsville.
Harrison Brothers Hardware
Located in downtown Huntsville is Alabama’s oldest continuously operating hardware store, Harrison Brothers Hardware. As I rolled into the store, I felt like I went back in time to the 1800s. The store has been located in downtown Huntsville since 1897 and still has the original wooden floors, counters, and sales are even still rung up on the original 1907 National Cash Register machine. What a throwback this place is!
While it’s still named Harrison Brothers Hardware, you funnily enough will not find any hardware for sale. Instead, you’ll find a variety of unique items such as art, old-fashioned toys, books, and local foods. I especially liked the plethora of jams, honey, and candy to choose from. Of course, I left with some candy, which was delicious.
Harrison Brothers Hardware is wheelchair accessible, but parts of the floor can be a bit bumpy, due to it being the original wooden floors. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit though and loved the fact that I was able to see a bit of what Huntsville was like more than a century ago.
Purple Cup Secret Art Trail
There are so many talented artists in Huntsville and there are quite a view places to view their art, but one of the best ways to enjoy the art is by rolling/walking downtown. Thirteen murals, sculptures, and more are spread across the Purple Cup Secret Art Trail in downtown Huntsville.
All thirteen artworks are within a few city blocks, so you can easily roll or walk to them all on a nice day. Downtown had smooth curb cuts and sidewalks, minus a bit of construction, so I had no problem getting around in my powered wheelchair.
Some of the art is not the easiest to find without a map, hence the “secret art trail” name, but with the map below you shouldn’t have a problem.
Bridge Street Town Centre
If you like to shop or even just want to find a nice place to enjoy some dinner, Bridge Street Town Centre is a must. This outdoor shopping complex has more than 70 shops and restaurants to choose from and is one of the most chic places in Huntsville.
As previously mentioned, it is an outdoor shopping complex, so dress for the weather during your outing. There are plenty of stores and restaurants to pop in for a bit to warm up in the winter or cool down in the summer though. You can find everything from Bath & Body Works to Apple and even a Trash Pandas store for any fans of Huntsville’s baseball team. When it comes to restaurants at Bridge City Town Centre, some of the options include P.F. Chang’s, Red Robin, Bravo Italian Restaurant, and many more. See everything that the shopping complex has to offer here.
While all of the shops and restaurants are great, my favorite thing about Bridge Street Town Centre was its design. It has European architecture, bridges, and cobblestone walkways (very smooth cobblestone though, thankfully!), and I felt like I was somewhere in Europe during my visit. Whether you’re a shopaholic or not, it’s worth rolling around the complex and taking it in.
Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment
Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is the largest privately owned arts facility in the southern U.S. There are 152 working studios for 200+ artists at Lowe Mill, making this old cotton mill now a must-see for every Huntsville visitor.
I loved rolling around inside and seeing all of the different art and items on display, and of course I managed to snag a few things to take back home. Some of my favorite stores were the Cigar Box Guitar Store (it’s exactly what it sounds like – guitars made from cigar boxes!!), Green Pea Press (they had some great t-shirts!), and a store that makes signs from old car tags (I don’t know the name of it, but it’s on the first floor). There is an eclectic mix of things to see and purchase at Lowe Mill.
In addition to all of the shops, there are also a variety of eateries at Lowe Mill. You can indulge in pizza at Mountain Valley Pizzeria, drink tea at Piper & Leaf, or enjoy some sweets at Pizzelle’s Confections… just to name a few.
As the name suggests, Lowe Mill is an older mill that has now turned into a space for creatives, but it’s mostly wheelchair accessible. At some of the entrances, there are steps, but if you enter via doors 4, 13, 15, 17, or 21, they are accessible. A freight elevator is also available to visit the different floors, but you will need to call the elevator attendant to use it. The phone number is on a sign on the elevator near door 13.
Some people, including my friend Taylor Burton who wrote this Accessible Guide to Lowe Mill, consider this place to be the embodiment of the Rocket City and after visiting, I can see why. Lowe Mill is the perfect mix of the creativity that Huntsville has to offer.
Huntsville Museum of Art
To be honest, I used to dread going to art museums. They just always seemed kind of boring to me, but in the past few years I’ve gained a huge appreciation for art museums and visiting local art museums is one of my favorite things to do now in every destination that I visit. The Huntsville Museum of Art was entirely wheelchair accessible and I really enjoyed several of the exhibits. In fact, the museum became one of my favorite Huntsville attractions.
Two of my favorite exhibits were temporary. I loved the “Jonathan Becker: Social Work” exhibit, which highlights some of the greatest photos by celebrity photographer Jonathan Becker, and the “Gloria Vanderbilt: An Artful Life” exhibit. I previously had no idea of how much of an artist Gloria Vanderbilt was, but her artwork is beautiful. Both of these exhibits are at the museum until January 24th, 2021, so hurry & plan your trip to Huntsville if you want to see them. However, there are constantly new exhibits at the museum, so you’re sure to see some spectacular works no matter when you visit. Check the upcoming exhibits schedule here.
In addition to the temporary/traveling exhibits, there are a variety of permanent exhibits at the Huntsville Museum of Art as well. The permanent collection has over 3,200 objects with a focus on art from the southeastern U.S.
The museum is located in downtown Huntsville by Big Spring Park, so it’s easy to reach with its central location. Plan for at least an hour to tour the museum, but you could definitely stay longer. And if you get hungry during your visit, Pane e Vino, a pizzeria, is located on the lower level of the Huntsville Museum of Art.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville, Alabama is known as the “Rocket City”, so of course its most known attraction, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, is one of the top things to do in Huntsville for everyone! I have visited the rocket center a few times, mostly on field trips in elementary school, but I will never ever get tired of it. Space has always fascinated me. Just thinking about what all is out in the universe gets me excited, so being able to see rockets and learn about space at the rocket center is amazing.
During my recent roll around the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, I learned about how Americans actually got to the moon, what a spaceship/rocket consists of, and I got to see some rockets up-close and personal, including the Saturn V. This place is truly fascinating and has great information on display, so you’ll learn a lot in any visit!
Most of the rocket center is indoors, but there are some rockets and even a couple thrill rides outside (some attractions are temporarily not operating, due to Covid restrictions, but there’s plenty to still explore!). The entire facility is wheelchair accessible and there were ramps to various displays. The center was also extremely spacious. For the rides (such as the G-Force Accelerator), depending on the level of accessibility that you need, they may or may not be possible.
In addition to the exhibits, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center also has the National Geographic Theater, showing space-related films multiple times daily, and the Mars Grill if you would like some food during your visit. For those that want a virtual adventure, you can also try out virtual reality for a small fee. As you can see, the center offers a variety of attractions for all visitors, regardless of one’s abilities.
I cannot recommend visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center enough if you’re going to be in the Rocket City. It’s a fascinating place and undoubtedly one of the greatest attractions in the southeastern U.S.
Huntsville Christmas Activities
Since I visited Huntsville in December 2020, I was able to partake in quite a few of the Christmas activities in Huntsville. From driving through thousands of lights to seeing hundreds of decorated Christmas trees, here are five Huntsville Christmas activities that you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re spending time in the Rocket City during the holiday season:
Downtown Huntsville Tinsel Trail
Every holiday season, hundreds of Christmas trees are on display in Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. Each tree is sponsored and decorated by a different company or family, and most of them get extremely creative with their decorations.
For the 2020 holiday season, 300 Christmas trees are on display. The path that goes along beside them all is paved, so it was easy to view all 300 trees in my wheelchair.
I was fascinated by quite a few of the trees because of their ingenuity. Some of my favorites included a tree that looked like the Grinch, a “Flush 2020” tree, and a Baby Yoda tree.
It was so much fun to wander around Big Spring Park and see all of the trees. It’s completely free to view the Tinsel Trail and you may even see Santa along the way.
Candlelight Christmas at Burritt on the Mountain
While in Huntsville, I attended Burritt on the Mountain’s Candlelight Christmas event, which happens annually. This fun holiday event has multiple activities to enjoy, no matter your age or abilities. I fully believe that after attending Candlelight Christmas, even Scrooge himself would be ready for Christmas.
Burritt on the Mountain is a historic mansion & park, with stunning views of Huntsville from the top of a mountain, and it is open year-round. Throughout the year, they have different themed events and during the holiday season, they have Candlelight Christmas! If you won’t be in Huntsville during the holidays, it’s still worth checking into what Burritt on the Mountain is doing, as it’s a cool attraction any time of year.
For Candlelight Christmas, there were all kinds of different events and things to do in the various buildings. Each building had a different activity, ranging from musicians to ornament making, figgy pudding-tasting, and much more. And despite being historic, everything was wheelchair accessible! Some of the entrances into buildings were a bit steep, but nothing that my powered wheelchair couldn’t handle.
Candlelight Christmas only lasts a few nights each holiday season, but it’s never too early to start thinking about and planning next year’s Christmas festivities!
Yule Y’all at Lowe Mill
Remember Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment that I talked about earlier? Well, Yule Y’all is Lowe Mill’s annual Christmas event! If you’re looking for a unique gift for Christmas, Yule Y’all is the perfect place to find it.
Inside Lowe Mill are all of the permanent shops and vendors, but on this one day every December, dozens of other vendors pack the grounds of Lowe Mill. Since the vendors for Yule Y’all are outside and in the grass, it was a little difficult to get to some of them, but there were still a lot that I could easily roll up to.
Local spirit sampling is available and toward the end of the event, the giant Lowe Mill water tower is lit as the kickoff to the Christmas season. Yule Y’all only lasts one day every year, so be sure to plan your Huntsville Christmas getaway well in advance.
NEACA Craft Fair and Holiday Art Marketplace
Similar to Yule Y’all at Lowe Mill, the NEACA Craft Fair and the Holiday Art Marketplace are great places to find unique Christmas gifts from local vendors. The NEACA Craft Fair was in the South Hall of the Von Braun Center and the Holiday Art Marketplace was outdoors, directly in front of the Von Braun Center.
The NEACA Craft Fair is an annual event and has over 100 vendors, selling everything that you can imagine. From toys to Christmasy ornaments and wreaths, I’d be willing to bet that you won’t leave empty handed. The craft fair lasts an entire weekend (Friday-Sunday) every December.
Holiday Art Marketplace is a brand new event that will hopefully become an annual one. This year, 50 artists from the Huntsville area featured their work. There were paintings, Christmas goodies, and even tie-dyed shirts for sale, making this a one-stop shop for unique Christmas gifts made by Huntsville locals.
Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden
Galaxy of Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Garden is hands-down the best drive-thru Christmas lights display I’ve ever seen! For 2.5 miles, we drove along the paved road and saw hundreds of light displays. In 2020, this is a perfect Covid-safe activity, as you remain in your own vehicle the entire time. Some of the beautiful displays are pictured below.
Galaxy of Lights is running until January 2nd this year, so if you’re in the Huntsville, Alabama area, definitely check it out! If you do, I can assure you that you’ll be in the Christmas spirit afterwards.
Where to Eat in Huntsville
The first restaurant that I tried in Huntsville was Phat Sammy’s and wow, it was the perfect introduction to the city’s awesomeness! This tiki bar themed restaurant has killer drinks, Asian fusion inspired eats, and it’s located in the heart of downtown Huntsville.
Phat Sammy’s is located down a flight of stairs, but an elevator is available for wheelchair users. Just call the restaurant upon arrival and let them know you’re there and need to use the elevator. When I called, the hostess came up to lead me to the elevator within 30 seconds. Easy breezy!
As soon as I entered Phat Sammy’s, I felt like I had been transported to a tropical beach location. Of course, I couldn’t mentally be on the beach without ordering a cocktail, so I decided to try the “Hey, Hot Stuff” drink (yes, all of their drinks have fun names). It had tequila, mango, grapefruit liqueur, and even chili syrup in it. I loved the mix of spicy and sweet, and would definitely recommend it. It was also served in a skull cup and all frozen drinks are served in cans of Spam. Luckily, there is no Spam in the drinks, but this made for some cool photos.
For food, my mom and I split two appetizers: the Phat Fries and the Kimchi Pizza. Both were delicious! The Kimchi Pizza was a crispy kimchi filled pancake topped with tofu, avocado, bean sprouts, and soy vinaigrette. I’m usually not a huge tofu fan, but it was so good on this.
While the Kimchi Pizza was fantastic, the Phat Fries were the real winner. They were handcut fries topped with a fried egg, gravy, cheese curds, fried chicken, and a kimchi hot sauce. Seriously, they were some of the best fries I’ve ever eaten.
Ale’s Kitchen at Campus No. 805
Huntsville has many unique places, but Campus No. 805 is easily the most unique destination in the Rocket City. Why? Because Campus No. 805 is a former middle school, which now serves as the home of a tattoo shop, multiple bars, an arcade, and much more.
After rolling the halls of Campus No. 805 for a while and reminiscing on my own middle school years, I went to Straight to Ale Brewery and was ready for some dinner. The brewery’s restaurant is called Ale’s Kitchen and you can order the food in their main dining area or the speakeasy. Since the main dining area was full, I headed toward the speakeasy.
The speakeasy is located down a hall and behind a set of lockers. That’s right, you have to push the lockers to the right to actually get in the speakeasy, so it is truly hidden. It was such a cool concept and even a lot of Huntsville locals don’t know about the speakeasy, so it was rather empty.
We ordered the B.A.M.F Pretzel, a huge Bavarian style pretzel served with mustard and beer cheese dip, and a pizza. The pretzel was fresh and soft and the pizza was delicious as well.
Whether you want to enjoy dinner, get a tattoo, or just wander the halls and have some fun, Campus No. 805 is a must-do when in Huntsville. It’s completely unlike any other place on earth and the fact that you can drink in a former middle school is reason enough to check it out!
Rhythm on Monroe
Rhythm on Monroe is in downtown Huntsville by the Von Braun Center, so a perfect location to enjoy a meal while wandering around downtown. It offers spacious indoor or outdoor seating and is completely wheelchair accessible.
I had the brussel sprouts as an appetizer (Yummmm!!!) and pecan crusted trout with parmesan truffle fries and green beans as my entree. The trout was some of the best fish I’ve eaten. My mom had the chicken with street corn & pinto beans, and she loved it as well. We both said that we can’t wait to return to Huntsville, so that we can try the other items on the menu.
If you’re going to be in Huntsville, I’m telling you… you have GOT to eat here! You’ll love it! I would go so far as to say that Rhythm on Monroe is my favorite restaurant in Huntsville.
Similar to Campus No. 805, Stovehouse is another entertainment/dining/shopping complex, but instead of being in a former middle school, Stovehouse has taken over an old stove factory. Could Huntsville use their resources any better?! I think not…
Stovehouse has great outdoor spaces, where you can dine or listen to musicians. I grabbed some lunch from Parm + Pepper, a specialty sandwich shop, and enjoyed sitting outside and listening to some music.
In addition to Parm + Pepper, there are a variety of other dining options. Taqueria El Cazador has tacos, Bark & Barrel has BBQ, and Fresko Grille has modern Mediterranean food to name a few. You’re sure to find something to suit your taste at Stovehouse.
Where to Stay: Westin Huntsville
During my weekend getaway to Huntsville, I stayed at the Westin. The location was terrific, as it’s located at Bridge Street Town Centre, the outdoor shopping complex that I mentioned earlier.
I stayed in an accessible suite, located on the sixth floor, and it had a living room, a kitchen area, a king sized bed (a hoyer lift could roll under the bed), and a bathroom with grab bars by the toilet and a pull-under sink. There was a small step (about two inches) to get in the shower, unfortunately.
Check out this video to see the room’s accessibility:
Aside from the small step to get in the shower, the accessible suite was great. I loved the location of the Westin and would absolutely recommend staying there, but be sure to ask about accessibility details when booking your stay.
As you can see, Huntsville has so much to offer for wheelchair users that want to visit the city. From drinking in an old middle school to viewing giant rockets at the Space & Rocket Center and even shopping in an old cotton mill, I had one of the best weekends ever. I now fully believe that the Rocket City is one of the most underrated destinations in the U.S. Now that you know what to do, where to eat, and where to stay, blast off on your own adventure and visit Huntsville, Alabama!
*Thank you to the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor’s Bureau for showing me the best things to do in Huntsville and working with me for this trip. While my experiences were covered, all opinions are authentic and my own.