Raised in New England, much of the southern United States is still uncharted territory for me. Since moving to Nashville, Tennessee for school, I have been trying to pack in as many adventures as possible. So, I packed my backpack and joined one of my friends on a spontaneous weekend road trip to Huntsville, Alabama. Fun fact: this was my first time ever touching this state!
WEEKEND ROAD TRIP: DRIVE FROM NASHVILLE TO HUNTSVILLE
The drive from Nashville to the border of Alabama is really quick. At just an hour and 15 minutes, I-65 takes you straight south from Nashville to the state line. Huntsville, Alabama is just under 40 minutes from the TN-AL border. Of course, highways are super boring so rather than stick to I-65, we opted for winding back roads whenever possible.
It was early November so the trees were still changing color. The temperatures were a favorable mid to upper 70s (yay for winters in the South!).
WHERE TO STOP ON A WEEKEND ROAD TRIP TO HUNTSVILLE
One of the fun parts of road trips is checking out small towns that are slightly off the main route. Although nothing was open when we arrived early in the rural town of Christiana, TN, it was nice to momentarily stretch our legs and see what the little town had to offer. Although tiny, with just a few buildings in the main street area, Christiana is worth a stop to check out Miller’s Grocery, an adorable country store/southern restaurant, and Big Creek Winery Tasting Room located just across the street.
BELL BUCKLE, TN
Next stop: Bell Buckle, TN. We didn’t know what to expect when we typed in Bell Buckle as our next destination, but the quintessential southern town did not disappoint. We pulled up to find antique stores, gift shops, and other small shops. My favorite part, of course, was the Bell Buckle Cafe that served some delicious coffee.
Also in the town, you can find an abandoned train car that is sitting adjacent to the railroad tracks in the center of Bell Buckle. It wasn’t clear if it was forbidden to enter…so armed with coffee, we went in to check out the creepy find.
LUNCH AT SWISS PANTRY
For lunch, we decided to check out Swiss Pantry, a local bakery and food store in the beautiful farming community of Belvedere, TN. With rich Mennonite heritage, the Swiss Pantry offers fresh handmade sandwiches that are a true specialty. We enjoyed our lunch at the store’s picnic tables located outside (in the warm November sun!).
BURRITT ON THE MOUNTAIN
After lunch, we made our way to Huntsville, Alabama. Once we crossed the border, marked by a very small sign, we played Sweet Home Alabama in the car. We drove straight to Burritt on the Mountain, a historic museum and park located in the heart of Huntsville.
A 167-acre site overlooking the city of Huntsville, we purchased tickets to explore an important piece of Alabama’s history. The attraction features a beautiful mansion turned museum, a historic park and barnyard (cute animals!), an old schoolhouse and church, and peaceful nature trails.
When we visited, the main exhibit in the museum centered on women’s voting rights in the United States. Women’s suffrage was especially fascinating to learn about as we were in the South, an area of the country that is traditionally slow when it comes to progressive action.
Case in point, Alabama did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until 1953, over three decades after the amendment was first adopted in the United States. The other states lagging in ratification included Florida (1969), Georgia (1970), Louisiana (1970), North Carolina (1971), South Carolina (1973), and Mississippi (1984).
FRACTAL BREWING PROJECT
To celebrate our right to vote in 2020, we followed our visit to Burritt on the Mountain with a stop at Fractal Brewing Project. Picnic tables, string lights, a food truck, and awesome craft beers on tap provided a welcoming and fun brewery atmosphere.
We also tried beers at Yellowhammer Brewing, another fantastic Huntsville brewery located just down the street. Eyeing pizzas ordered by other patrons, we were tempted to also have dinner at Yellowhammer. We only held off because we had to see if New Market, AL really did have the best BBQ in North Alabama.
THE BEST BBQ IN NORTH ALABAMA
Located in the historic community of New Market, New Market BBQ claims to still cook BBQ the old fashioned way (edit: thanks to J MC for commenting on this post and sharing that “BBQ the old fashioned way means that it’s smoked using wood burning in a fire, rather than using an electric smoker.” So interesting!). We ordered ahead online, drove 20 minutes, and picked up takeout to eat at our Airbnb located around the block. The restaurant has indoor seating in non-COVID times, as well as a covered outdoor patio with picnic tables. The setting sun brought cool temperatures that pushed us to eat more comfortably at our accommodation.
Let me tell you: this BBQ was amazing. And paired with some to-go beer cans we took from Yellowhammer Brewing, dinner was perfect.
WEEKEND ROAD TRIP: WHERE TO STAY IN HUNTSVILLE, AL
Rather than a traditional hotel experience downtown, we stayed on the outskirts of Huntsville in New Market. Coming from Nashville, we wanted to escape the craziness of city life. New Market is only 15-20 minutes away (and with the best BBQ, of course!). The Airbnb we stayed in was super cute, beautifully decorated, and perfect for a weekend road trip to Huntsville, Alabama.
If you have never used Airbnb before, here is a link so you can save $50 off your first booking (which will save you even more money!). My link will also provide you with a $15 credit to try out Airbnb experiences.
WEEKEND ROAD TRIP: THINGS TO DO IN HUNTSVILLE, AL
The next day, we didn’t have much time to spend in the city of Huntsville. If we had more time, we would have wanted to see some of the top sights in Huntsville such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Nevertheless, on a mission to fit in as much as we could, we grabbed an early morning coffee from Honest Coffee Roasters downtown and took a short hike (walk) on the Madison County Nature Trail. The mostly flat 1.5-mile trail circled the gorgeous Sky Lake and featured a covered wooden bridge.
DEAD CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND
Afterward, we drove to Maple Hill Cemetary. Probably not the activity you were expecting…BUT, we were too curious about the legend of Alabama’s Dead Children’s Playground to not at least check it out. There is a playground adjoining Alabama’s Maple Hill Cemetary, the largest and oldest cemetery in the state.
The Dead Children’s Playground is also, according to the internet, the world’s scariest playground. The playground got its name from a legend that says the spirits of the many children who died during the 1918 Spanish flu come out after dark to play.
We sat in the parking lot for an embarrassingly long time hoping that we would catch a glimpse of the children’s’ spirits pushing swings, as previously reported by other park visitors. Alas, the swings only moved when the trees moved, revealing wind instead of ghosts.
TICKENHAM HISTORIC DISTRICT
Tickenham Historic District, located within Hunstville near Maple Hill Cemetery, is abundant with historic homes that mostly date from 1814 onward. After we parked on a side street, we walked around the area and admired the various architectural styles. We also walked by several beautiful churches.
DALLAS MILL DELI
Before heading north, we grabbed lunch at “Huntsville’s Hometown Deli,” Dallas Mill Deli. A solid lunch stop, we devoured our sandwiches on the picnic tables outside (the theme of the trip = picnic tables) then hit the road again towards Nashville.
WEEKEND ROAD TRIP: RETURN TO NASHVILLE
BAD IDEa BREWING COMPANY
Our last stop before arriving in Nashville was a brewery (another theme of the trip). Located in Columbia, Tennessee, Bad Idea Brewing Company serves unique, high-quality beer. Staying true to an authentic brewery vibe, string lights and picnic tables adorn the outside patio where we relaxed and enjoyed a sampler flight.
Finally, once back in Nashville, stop for coffee!