Family Fun Abounds, Right Here in Our Own Backyard
Published: December 29, 2015
By: Becky J. Beall
Birmingham residents looking for family adventure can experience everything from beautiful beaches to scenic mountains without ever leaving the borders of this southern state. In addition, keeping vacation dollars within the state supports economic development across Alabama, promotes tourism and offers employment opportunities to many. Consider all the diversity of sweet home Alabama when planning your next getaway.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville’s tech-savvy climate is the perfect home for the U. S. Space & Rocket Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, offering exhibits and attractions with an educational premise. Since its opening in 1970, more than 16 million visitors have toured the Center that beckons all to become an astronaut for a day!
The USSRC is home to Space Camp®, Aviation Challenge® Camp and Robotics Camp and is the largest museum of its kind (spaceflight) in the world! The museum houses and showcases a large rocket and space hardware collection, space vehicles like Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser and serves as the Official NASA Visitor Center for Marshall Space Flight Center.
Spend the day taking a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center, being adventurous with museum simulators (Mars Climbing Wall, Mission to Mars, G-Force Accelerator and the Space Shot) or watching an IMAX production. This is perfect for families and field trips!
Point Mallard Park
Just south of Huntsville in the city of Decatur, Point Mallard Park sits on 750 acres of wooded pines. Carved out among this massive area is an 18-hole golf course, a 25-acre campground, America’s first wave pool (operating seasonally in the Waterpark), an ice skating rink (operating in winter seasonally), tennis courts, batting cages, a driving range and trails for hiking/biking/jogging.
Point Mallard Park is well known for annual events such as Memorial Day Weekend’s Alabama Jubilee, the Fourth of July Spirit of America Festival and the Greater Tennessee Valley Antique Car Show just to name a few. This venue provides ultimate fun for multi-generational travel, families, and outdoor enthusiasts.
The Shoals Area
The northwestern area of the state is collectively known as The Shoals and is home to some fun family attractions that you might overlook unknowingly. Plan a long weekend touring Helen Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia and then hop on over to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield. Enjoy time wandering in Florence, a beautiful river city with a rich history and consider tons of outdoor recreation available on Pickwick Lake, Wheeler Lake, Wilson Lake and Coldwater Falls. (For web sites to assist with The Shoals travel, visit http://alabama.travel/places-to-go/the-shoals#what-to-do.)
If you are a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, then don’t miss America’s architectural gem, the Rosenbaum House Museum built in Florence in 1939 for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum. The only Wright-designed structure in the state of Alabama, the Rosenbaum House offered fulfillment of the American dream to middle-income families through low-cost home ownership. This treasure has been carefully preserved and operates today as a museum open to the public. When in Florence, take some time to appreciate this entity.
Another Shoals area must-see is FAME Recording Studios. FAME is the world-famous studio established in 1959 responsible for creating the Muscle Shoals Sound. Artists who have recorded here include the likes of Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Etta James and Otis Redding. Music lovers will delight in this tourist destination.
Montgomery Zoo & Mann Wildlife Learning Museum
Take a tour of the continents by way of the animals at the Montgomery Zoo & Mann Wildlife Learning Museum! From the cheetahs of Africa to the red kangaroos of Australia, the Montgomery Zoo offers tons of animals in their natural setting with opportunities for zookeeper chats, learning about endangered species and the conservation of wildlife. Major animal exhibits, picnic facilities, and special events all make this a family attraction you’ll come back to over and over. A complete calendar of events is available at http://www.montgomeryzoo.com/families.html and is very helpful in planning a visit.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
Thirty minutes southeast of Mobile in Theodore, Walter and Bessie Bellingrath share their grand estate home on 65 acres complete with stunning floral gardens and seasonal events (Magic Christmas in Lights and Winter Wednesdays). The expansive nature of this estate is a beauty to behold with not only the museum home tour, but with the wonder of nature itself. The conservatory houses tropical flowers and plants while the great lawn is reminiscent of pastoral English landscapes. (Note: the great lawn is where the Easter Egg Hunt is held each year.)
The Bellingrath Rose Garden was designed in the shape of a Rotary Club emblem, a club in which Mr. Bellingrath was a founding member for the city of Mobile’s chapter. The rose garden puts on quite the floral show with some 2,000 plants representing 75 varieties. Additionally, pieces of historic cast ironwork may be seen throughout the rose garden. Children’s workshops and other events are held periodically at Bellingrath Gardens so there is something for every age.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast
Folks come from all over the country to enjoy the sugar-white sandy beaches and gorgeous blue-green waters that make up Alabama’s coastal community. Alabama families spend countless summer vacations on the sands of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, but many forget that shoulder seasons (spring and fall) offer amazing weather, reduced lodging rates and shorter lines for attractions and restaurants.
Alabama beaches are arguably some of the best in the world, but this coastal community also offers a zoo, a state park and award-winning golf! Take a charter boat out to catch your dinner (www.gulfshores.com/fishing/), visit a relaxing spa (Fusion at The Wharf is a good one, as is The Beach Club Spa) or take a sunset sail on Wild Heart (www.sailwildhearts.com).
Shopping is plentiful with unique, one-of-a-kind shops lining the streets of The Wharf, where you can also rent accommodations, enjoy a Ferris wheel ride, take in an amphitheater concert, play golf and dine at fabulous eateries all without moving your vehicle.
Is your family into volunteering? The Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is a great place to vacation and give back to the community in the form of volunteer work. Families can partner with organizations and programs to clean up beaches, learn about prevention of pollution and wildlife preservation. A great way for families to spend time together is in service to others – and “voluntourism” is really catching on across the country. Check out the opportunities at www.gulfshores.com/voluntourism/.
If you’re a camping-style family, there are very inexpensive campsites available at the state park, as well as RV hookups. Condos and hotels abound in addition to beach houses and bed & breakfasts. The Gulf Shores website offers a plethora of information from lodging to recreation to dining. Check it out at www.gulfshores.com.
Follow Becky’s travel fun and frolic at www.thetravelvoicebybecky.com and on her iHeart radio show – The Travel Voice by Becky!
Alabama’s State Parks offer family-friendly accommodations for RVs, camping and outdoor recreation. Here are some favorites:
Cheaha State Park – 2,799-acre state park in Clay and Cleburne counties encompassing the state’s highest point Cheaha Mountain. Park offers lodge, restaurant, general store, campsites, trails and scenic overlooks.
Gulf State Park – located in Gulf Shores, the park offers over two miles of sandy beaches along the Gulf, a modern campground for RVs and tents, rental cottages, trails, fresh and saltwater fishing and swimming. The park has its own golf course with pro shop and snack bar.
Lake Guntersville State Park – located in north Alabama, the park overlooks the 69,000-acre Guntersville Lake and contains 6,000 acres of natural woodlands. The park offers a resort inn, restaurant and convention complex, lake view cottages and a campground on the lake. Other amenities include an 18-hole championship golf course, hiking trails, fishing center, beach complex and a day-use area.
Rickwood Caverns State Park – located in Warrior, the park offers cavern tours featuring illuminated limestone formations, blind cave fish, and an underground pool. The park area features 380 acres of wilderness, swimming pool, picnic area, hiking trails, playground, campground, panning for gemstones and gift shop.
If you go…
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
One Tranquility Base
Huntsville, AL 35805
Point Mallard Park
2901 Point Mallard Drive
Decatur, AL 35602
Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House Museum
601 Riverview Drive
Florence, AL 35630
FAME Recording Studio
603 East Avalon Avenue
Muscle Shoals, AL 35661
2301 Coliseum Parkway
Montgomery, AL 36110
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road
Theodore, AL 36582
4830 Main Street
Orange Beach, AL 36561