Day Tripping

Day trips tend to be the bread and butter of our summer adventures. We love going farther afield when the opportunity presents itself, but out after breakfast and home in time for dinner works really well for our family right now.

A well-calibrated day requires a few key pieces: learn something new + eat something local + play hard to keep the wiggles at bay. Some spots combine all three in one, but with those interchangeable components in mind we have also built all manner of multi-stop adventures. Here’s a small sampling of our favorites from this summer:

The Shoals
Stop 1: Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
When I was a kid, I was certain the line from “Sweet Home Alabama” was “Now Muscle Shoals has got the swamp bus…” which sounded like an intriguing, if not potentially risky, means of locomotion. I didn’t know that the Swampers were in no small way responsible for a whole lot of the music I grew up listening to on my dad’s record player. The tour of this little recording powerhouse is just the right length for my six-year-old, and our guide was a thoughtful and knowledgeable storyteller. Matt was especially thrilled to get to play a bit of a recital piece on a piano used by famous musicians.

Stop 2: Lunch in downtown Florence
Leaving the recording studio, we crossed the river and entered Florence, which has an adorable downtown area. On our first trip, we aimed for Trowbridge’s, but they get very crowded midday, so you might consider eating your meal elsewhere and stopping in for a treat after the rush. Try the orange pineapple ice cream, and make sure you breathe in the delicious diner grill smell that permeates the place. Odette is a delicious, more upscale option. Rosie’s Mexican Cantina is a kid-friendly spot serving Tex-Mex standards.

Stop 3: River Heritage Park
Before heading back home, we spent some time at River Heritage Park, which includes views of the Tennessee River, picnic pavilions, and more. We were most interested in the playground and interactive fountain, which was filled with little ones keeping cool and grownups enjoying a stream of 80s pop music. Nearby restrooms allow for a quick change into water gear.

Stop 1: Mooresville, Alabama
Mooresville was essentially the first town in Alabama, incorporated in 1818. It’s worth a stroll through this little village’s shaded streets to stretch your legs, soak in the history, and grab a coffee at Java.Mooresville or some treats at Lyla’s Little House.

Stop 2: Lunch in downtown Huntsville
On our first trip to Huntsville that didn’t focus on the Space and Rocket Center, we didn’t necessarily have a defined itinerary, and I let Matt take the reins in deciding what to do. We pointed ourselves toward downtown in search of lunch, and he requested pizza, so we ended up at Pane e Vino. This kid-friendly spot connected to the Huntsville Museum of Art turned out to be perfectly situated for our next two stops.

Stop 3: Big Spring Park
Walk out the door of Pane e Vino, and you’re in Big Spring Park with its ducks, geese, and fish for feeding, and its canals for strolling. This is a great place for kiddos to run off some energy, and it hosts events throughout the year like Panoply Arts Festival, movie nights, and concerts.

Stop 4: Huntsville Museum of Art
Our final stop downtown was the Huntsville Museum of Art. We spent the majority of our visit in the Stender Interactive Gallery. The gallery includes Art Lab, a hands-on area for kids to explore color, line, shape, and texture, and A Walk Through Time, which leads visitors through a timeline of art history from cave paintings to Abstract Expressionism. Each time I visit an art museum with Matt, we keep it simple and use it as an opportunity to talk about art and to practice museum etiquette. In each gallery we visit, we make a lap around to see each piece, then I ask him to pick one that makes him think or feel something. We return to that piece and talk about it in more detail, then we move on to the next room.

Stop 5: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment
This has become a favorite stop any time we’re in the Huntsville area. It’s a former textile mill that now houses a variety of artists’ studio spaces. We love to roam the halls and peek in on artists as they work, and we always pop in to Pizelle’s for some beautiful truffles to bring home and Piper & Leaf for some iced tea for the road. Don’t miss the indoor swings and the elevator - you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em.

Stop 1: Alabama Theatre
Attending the Throwback Thursday kids’ movies hosted by the Alabama Theatre each July has become a summer tradition. The sing-along with the Mighty Wurlitzer organ prior to the start of the show is a special treat, and sharing classic movies in a proper theatre with my little guy is one of my favorite things.

Stop 2: Pizitz Food Hall
Right around the corner from the theatre are a plethora of food options at the Pizitz Food Hall. My favorites are Ghion Cultural Hall and Ono Poke, and Matt loves The Standard, Alabama Biscuit Company, and Waffle Works. Everybody wins at a food hall!

Stop 3: McWane Center or Birmingham Zoo
Fueled up, we head out again, either to the McWane Center conveniently right across the street or to the Birmingham Zoo (kids get free zoo admission with a paying adult if they’re wearing their Throwback Thursday sticker from the Alabama Theatre movie). I love a good roam-and-learn to use up afternoon energy.

Stop 4: Big Spoon Creamery
If we’re in need of a treat before we head home, we make a stop at Big Spoon. If you’re a fan of Salt & Straw, Lick Honest, or Jeni’s, you’ll find yourself in a happy place at this shop on 3rd Avenue South. They’re scooping up interesting flavors, and the air smells of the waffle cones they make in-house each day. The staff here have always been incredibly kind to Matt, too, which earns big points from me.

It continues to be such a blast to build these day trips. I geek out poring over Google Maps to calculate a reasonable travel radius and searching for new stops. Where to next?