Behind the Scenes Huntsville: Places You Might Not Know We Can Totally Go!

Sure, most of our neighbors might have a security clearance of some level or another. AND, there may be running jokes about the “Stranger Things” level of “we could tell you, but then we’d have to kill you” type research being done here. BUT, none of that means you and I can’t be privy to a little inside information about some, not as secret as you thought, Rocket City goings on. Here’s a handy dandy list of some of those off limits locations where you can occasionally push the limit.

Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology

HudsonAlpha, the folks who put the DNA in Huntsville’s…well…DNA, may seem like a smart people hub in the middle of Cummings Research Park doing mysterious, magical, science-y things (and they are) but they’re not afraid to “drop some knowledge” with you and me. In this spirit, they host quarterly public tours; those scheduled for the remainder of 2019 are September 12th and December 12th. Tours begin at 10:00 a.m. in the HudsonAlpha atrium, are usually an hour to 90 minutes long and require quite a bit of standing and walking. The recommended ages for tours is 12 years old and up.  After the tour, participants can even grab a bite to eat at the cafe in the atrium which is open to the public. To register, visit:

Harrison Brothers Hardware

Our beloved Harrison Brothers Hardware started as a family-owned business and their store has operated on the downtown Huntsville courthouse square since 1897. These days, they’re less about hammer and nails and more about local goodies, art, Huntsville-centric souvenirs and so much more. Fear not though, the inside still holds every bit of the charm and nostalgia of days gone by, proudly displaying lots of nods to their storied past like the Harrison Brothers’ business desk, the old safe and even the 1907 cash register.

But, did you know that every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, Harrison Brothers Hardware open up the basement for a warehouse sale. You can find anything from gorgeous old doors to fireplaces mantels to window panes ready for your next Pinterest project. They’re open 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Go check it out and then let me know what kind of repurposed masterpiece you create!

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Perhaps the granddaddy of all “behind the scenes” is Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center. Believe it or not, I’ve got not one but TWO ways for you to see some of the historic and world-changing stuff they’re doing out there.

First up, the Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour! Did you know, you can take a bus from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center for a tour of the MSFC facilities and it includes stops at the Historic Test Stands and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory. Here’s the scoop:

“The MSFC Bus Tour ticket is $20 for guests ages five and up and children ages four and under are permitted to ride free. The tour bus departs every day at 12:30 p.m. CST from the blue awning located in front of the main entrance to the USSRC. The tour is led by a trained Museum Presenter, allowing guests to sit back and relax as the presenter explains the past, present and future of Marshall Space Flight Center. Tickets must be purchased at the main ticket desk or call 256-721-7114 for pre-paid reservations. Please note that bus tour ticket sales close each day at 12 p.m. CST.”

NASA Bus Tour Rules:

  • All participants must be U.S. citizens
  • Picture I.D. (state issued driver’s license or Passport) required for anyone 16 years of age or older.
  • No large bags or backpacks
  • Bags may be subject to inspection
  • No food or drinks
  • Bathrooms are not readily available
  • No weapons allowed
  • No outstanding warrants”

A perfect way to “WOW” your friends, family and out of town guests with all your fancy insider knowledge.

This next one is for your true space aficionado, professional science nerd or just plain curious civilian; it’s a NASA Social. “What’s a NASA Social?”, you ask. Well, I am here to tell you! (No seriously, that’s why we’re here, me telling you what stuff is…I digress) A NASA Social is when NASA centers throughout the country including our own NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, put out a call to anyone interested in learning more about their current missions to apply for upcoming hosted day events. These events occur multiple times a year and you can even set an alert to be informed when a new opportunity posts. Participants are escorted by NASA staff, given briefings by leaders or project teams and there’s usually some pretty cool NASA swag involved too. It is an application process, there are a few exclusions, rules and regulations, but not many, so go check it out: NASA Social

The Historic Homes in the Twickenham District

If you’ve found yourself driving through downtown Huntsville, passed the gorgeous historic homes in the Twickenham District, and are anything like me, you’ve thought, “I wonder what these look like inside?” Guess what? You have the opportunity to find out.

Each December, you can join in for the Annual Spirit of Christmas Past Homes and Luminary Tour.

And though a date in the new year has yet to be released, ArtsHuntsville is known for hosting their Art Tour of Homes event in January, which generally has a house or two in Twickenham featured.

Can’t wait for one of these events? Well then, good news for you! The Weeden House Museum is the only home in the district that is open as a museum and they would love to give you a tour. Guided tours are offered Wednesday-Saturday at 10:30 AM or by appointment and admission is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children 12 and under (cash only).

They say, curiosity killed the cat, but it doesn’t have to be any skin off your nose. So, get out there! There’s lots to see and do in the Rocket City; some of it’s just a little less obvious.

Originally published at Our Valley Events.

Donuts to Dumplings: A Non-Seafood Eater’s Weekend in Portland, Maine

What I long ago discovered about my personal travel style is that, as long as it’s new to me, it’s new and therefore interesting. So when I, a non-seafood eater, set off to the ultimate destination for “Lobstah Rolls”, I knew I would enjoy the visit even if only on a diet of fast food and hotel breakfasts. Had I bothered to do a little research (more like, if my busy schedule allowed), I would have known Bon Appetite named Portland, Maine 2018 Restaurant City of the Year and, I’m here to tell you, they were on to something.

Breakfast: You know a place is famous and most likely a do not miss when the locals tell you the operating hours quickly followed by the phrase, “but go early so they don’t run out of what you want.” Note taken and the only thing preventing me from getting everything I wanted at The Holy Donut was an inability to carry much less eat it all.

Lunch: While my friends set out to eat their way through every Lobster Roll joint in sight, I stumbled upon remarkable food finds while simply tagging along. Like this, the Frankfurter from The Highroller Lobster Co. A Maine’s own Shields Meats’ frank, toasted brioche bun and your choice of sauce (curried ketchup in my case) conspire to create a “not your average hot dog” delight! Make sure to give the Old Bay Seasoning fries a try and save your diet busting for one of “Andy’s Mom’s” Highroller Whoopie Pies. Incredible!

Dinner: The benefit to traveling with super-organized and curious friends is, they will totally pick up your slack and do the research for you, finding little gems like Mash Tun. Don’t let the small floor plan fool you; their food packs great big flavors! On top of that, they’re rockin’ a really inviting vibe and super service. I paired my burger and Parmesan Ranch fries with an Allagash Brewing Company I Believe in Love beer and my foodie heart skipped a beat.

Cocktails: After dinner, we decided to grab a quick cocktail. We’d heard a little buzz about Taco Escobarr and decided to give it a go. With a festive and casual atmosphere, it was easy to feel at home instantly. Plus, what they’re doing with specialty cocktails and infusions, is anything but boring. I was intrigued by the Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita and was not disappointed. The ideal balance of sweet and heat, it’s perfect for warming you up on a cold Portland night.

Morning, Noon, Night & Twice on Weekends: Please excuse me while I gush for a minute…my poor friends and family have heard more about these dumplings than the beautiful landscapes, historic lighthouses and fantastic public art I saw during my visit. Truthfully, my main regret about my Portland, Maine visit, is not having visited Bao Bao Dumpling House a second time. These Kung Pao Chicken & Peanut Dumplings were tender but crispy but crunchy and all things absolutely astoundingly delicious.

Next time you’re off on an adventure and not sure it’s gonna be exactly right up your alley…remember, if it’s new to you it’s still new.

Don’t psych yourself out worried about what you might not find; get excited for what you might!

Finger Lakes Surprise: A Day in Owego, New York

This past fall, I somewhat unexpectedly had the opportunity to visit the small town of Owego, New York, located in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. Since that time, I’ve rolled around those experiences in my mind and shared them repeatedly with many friends. From the beginning, I knew I should shine a light on this jewel with all of you but, as time has gone on, I now realize I MUST share this special little corner of the world. Truth is, some places just stay with you. Here’s a few of the reason why this one sticks with me.

Passion to make a change and preserve history. My first stop in Owego brought me to the, still under restoration, Belva Lockwood Inn. I was greeted and given the fascinating grand tour by owners Julie and Ike Lovelass, who also own local eatery, The Owego Kitchen. As Julie began to describe the importance of this historic building and the female trailblazer for whom it is named, she actually became a little choked up. It’s my experience, any venture entered into with this level of passion is bound to deliver a care and experience beyond compare. It so touched me, I’ve watched in delight from afar as they’ve opened their doors for business, hosted special events and created one of a kind moments for locals and visitors alike. I simply cannot wait to return and see, in person, all that’s been accomplished!


Excitement to build something meaningful and new! Next stop, what do you get when a couple of restaurant industry pros have the opportunity to purchase a basement level eatery that then proceeds to flood three times in three years causing them to purchase the historic building in which it’s located, renovate and move to higher ground? Flexibility! And…some pretty delicious food. Whether it’s adapting their location or their menu to accommodate a gluten-free awakening, the family-owned The Cellar Restaurant & Bar is up for the challenge. I loved their welcoming atmosphere, obvious care and, certainly not to be overlooked by all the charm, THE FOOD!


All the doggone adorable! One of my favorite things to do in any town I’ve never visited before is to just walk around and look at it. I know the words “quaint” and “charming” can sometimes have a negative, belittling connotation, but not in this case. Owego is just downright beautiful to look at!

John's Fine Foods

In addition to the finds I’ve mentioned here, there’s so much more to see and do in Owego! I was fascinated by the Tioga County Historical Society Museum and the treasures within.

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I was drawn in by the street-piped live music and perfect for mid-September pumpkin bar at Carol’s Coffee & Art Bar.


I was deliciously tempted by local craft beer from The Farmhouse Brewery.


So here’s my little reminder/small message for today. There are so many undiscovered and incredible places in our vast world. When you have the opportunity to explore somewhere new, whether big or small, sometimes it’s fun to stay with the road less-traveled because often times it will stay with you too.

This article was written in partnership with Experience Tioga. The views and opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s, based on personal experiences when travelling, and are honest and factual without any bias.