This story was originally published in the 2012 June/July issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
Most of us know the Huntsville of space technology and Wernher von Braun, builder of the Saturn V rocket. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Redstone Arsenal have hosted countless school tours and space camp adventures. Yet only two miles further west, within the Cummings Research Park, there lies one of the newest and most comfortable open-air shopping villages anyone would care to peruse.
Bridge Street Town Centre is a destination shopping adventure that caters to the business traveler, yet it is a great place to spend time between meetings or while you’re waiting on someone who is stuck in a meeting. Maybe nobody is in a meeting. Your child has simply been on a mission at Space Camp and you need to relax a bit before she re-enters the atmosphere. An overnight stay at the adjacent Westin Huntsville the night before is probably the prescribed treatment. The hotel has wonderful amenities, including a spa, a restaurant and it is located next door to Bridge Street’s Monaco Pictures theater complex.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but the Bridge Street Town Centre has been built to be somewhat reminiscent of Venice, Italy, with Venetian-style streetlights and architecture replete with turrets, arches and cupolas. Waterways on either side of the main walking street are crossed by way of a delightful pedestrian bridge. In fact, there are no vehicles of any kind inside the Town Centre and except for a few pedal boats, walking is the best way to see the boutique shops along Bridge Street. Stroller and wheelchair rentals are also available.
Along the waterfront there is reproduction of a vintage carousel and an ice cream shop. The shopping district is sprinkled with restaurants. Some are familiar chains while others are more unusual.
It took less than two hours to drive over on a Friday afternoon from Chattanooga. After checking in at the hotel we strolled along the waterfront and onto the main walking street, ducking into shops as we went along. There were names like White House/Black Market, Anthropologie, Ann Taylor Loft and Coldwater Creek to name a few of the usual vendors in upscale shopping developments. Buying a blouse in Papaya, a cheery shop I was not familiar with, was fun and then we headed for Conner’s Steak & Seafood for dinner. The only other Conner’s Restaurants are in Fort Myers, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee. The restaurant’s rich wood-paneled interior was pleasant and the special cuts of premium steaks and fresh seafood, paired with a nice wine provided a culinary focal point that would set the tone for the weekend.
After dinner we headed over to Monaco Pictures, which was to be a revolutionary experience for us as moviegoers. I may never be satisfied with a neighborhood cinema again. The upscale entertainment experience included state-of-the-art technology, reserved theater seating and a VIP Experience–meaning more space and better snacks. The double-tiered lobby provided drama with its low lighting, gleaming polished floors and matching staircases on each side. These amenities made for a memorable experience and fortunately the movie lived up to the tactile pleasures of the enhanced facility.
Integrated into Monaco’s expansive lobby is Scene Lounge, a place to meet friends and enjoy a variety of opportunities indulging the palate. The décor is visually stimulating, as well. Scene’s Sushi Bar and distinctive menu of small plates and sharable entrees, along with signature cocktails, offer a unique experience for a night out in Huntsville.
Our goal for the next day was to visit the 120-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden, particularly since it is a reciprocal Garden with the Chattanooga Nature Center & Arboretum. Members here gain free admission there, and their members get admission privileges at the CNCA here. Reciprocal relationships like these deepen the value of garden and museum memberships all over the world and have become quite common.
Community members began organizing the Huntsville Botanical Garden in 1981 and by 1988 the property and the infrastructure were ready for certification by the American Horticulture Society. Operated and managed through the help of scores of volunteers, over 300,000 visitors tour the Garden annually. Events like the Spring Festival of Flowers, summer children’s exhibits, a Fall Scarecrow Trail and the nationally recognized Galaxy of Lights help complete annual traditions for city residents and visitors.
One of the highlights visitors enjoy is the aquatic garden pavilion and water feature with its enormous Victoria water lilies and Lotus. Pleasant walking trails are enhanced by indigenous wildflowers and the facility has designed a special children’s garden that pops with color during the summer months. The renowned Nature Center & Butterfly House is said to be the nation’s largest seasonal butterfly house. Vegetable gardening demonstrations also take place throughout the summer.
The Boeing-Toyota Amphitheater is situated on the grounds and it seats up to 300 people for concerts, plays and special events. Chattanooga nature photographers, Tom and Pat Cory, recently gave a wildflower photography workshop at the Boeing education classroom. Garden admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-18 and the hours from April through September are Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Other Things to See and Do in Huntsville
Take in a performance of the Huntsville Ballet at the Von Braun Center
Experience the passion and precision of the Huntsville Ballet Company up close and personal at the Von Braun Playhouse and watch for seasonal performances in the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall.
Tour the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Open seven days a week. 9:00 am-5:00 pm
General Museum Admission Prices: Adult: $20.00 Child: $15.00 Child 3 and under: free
Movies: Digital 3D Theater: Adult: $8.00 Child: $7.00
IMAX Theater: Adult: $8.00 Child: $7.00
Feature Length Movies: Adult $10.00 Children (4-12) $9.00
Combo Packages: Stars Combo Adult (Admission + 1 movie): $25.00 Child (Admission + 1 movie): $20.00 Cosmic Combo Adult (Admission + 2 movies) $30.00 Child (Admission + 2 movies) $25.00
Discounts available to seniors 55 and over, and to active or retired duty military and their dependents.
See Huntsville Botanical Garden
If you are planning a trip to Huntsville, visit huntsville.org for information about special promotions for Bridge Street Town Centre and other attractions in the area.
Photography Courtesy of Westin Huntsville, Huntsville Botanical Garden, U.S. Space and Rocket Center and by Deborah Petticord