The Best Things To Do in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Experience the city known for football, but that has so much more to offer.

Bama Theatre, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Photo: Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is best-known for one thing: It's the home of The University of Alabama and its football team. Anyone who's visited or lived in Tuscaloosa knows there is much more to do in the city than attending a game at Bryant–Denny Stadium. Whether you're visiting Tuscaloosa to tailgate and watch the famed Crimson Tide play, passing through on a road trip, or experiencing what the city is like on a non-football weekend, there's plenty to see, do, eat, and drink while you're there.

Places to Eat

For a Caffeine Break

When you're traveling, you'll undoubtedly need a pick-me-up. These local spots will do just the trick—and then some.

Heritage House Coffee & Tea

This comfy find is beloved by college students and locals. You can find cute trinkets and gifts, an impressive coffee menu, and a more extensive breakfast and lunch menu than your average coffee joint. Antique pieces and mismatched wooden chairs fill the Heritage House, making it feel like home. Treat yourself to something sweet or pick from plenty of healthy options on the menu.

Monarch Espresso Bar

University of Alabama alumni and husband-and-wife duo Paul and Audrey Vermilyea returned to Tuscaloosa a few years after graduating to open Monarch Espresso Bar. At this cool coffeehouse, you best believe you'll want to Instagram something. The specialty drinks, named after their friends, are just one of the personal touches showing the love that goes into this place. A unique thing about Monarch is that it also has a bed & breakfast loft space. Its location is ideal for walking around downtown.

Brunch and Beyond

Whether you're craving homestyle grits and biscuits or a Bloody Mary, Tuscaloosa is a delicious place to start prioritizing the day's most important meal.

Avenue Pub

The Avenue Pub is the perfect blend of upscale and laidback as a local favorite for brunch, lunch, or dinner. The cocktails are creative, the recipes are fun iterations of comfort food classics, and the atmosphere is casual enough for a group of friends and easygoing for a first date.

Arrive hungry whenever you arrive because there is something excellent for every time of the day. The Chicken Biscuit & Gravy and Huevos Rancheros are divine at brunch, and you're practically required to order the Thai Nachos at lunch or dinner. When in doubt, Avenue Pub's Bacon Burger will never disappoint. At Avenue Pub, forget your go-to drink order and try one of the signatures. Favorites include The Gin Mill and Blackberry Smash.

The Historic Waysider Restaurant

A well-loved breakfast spot nestled in a crimson cottage, The Waysider was frequented by legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. You can sit at his preferred table and order his regular, the country ham. If you want a Southern-style breakfast, here's your destination.

FIVE

Although FIVE, appropriately named for the number of main items on its selective but delectable menu, is popular at dinnertime, its Sunday jazzy brunch is the way to go. Live music, artistic décor, and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar make for a groovy Sunday fun day. In the mood for a mocha instead of a mimosa? Pop next door to FIVE Java, the restaurant's cozy coffeehouse.

Rama Jama's

If you've ever attended an Alabama football game, you've seen Rama Jama's. Located a few feet from Bryant Denny Stadium, this memorabilia-covered restaurant serves comfort food like biscuits, burgers, fries, hot dogs, and milkshakes. The chalkboard menu includes affectionately named items like the "Touchdown Alabama" or "National Champ Burger." If you like to sleep in, don't worry: They'll be serving breakfast all day.

Casual Fare

Grab a quick bite or stay a while at these local favorites, where you'll instantly feel like you belong.

Heat Pizza Bar

It didn't take Heat Pizza Bar long to become a household name in Tuscaloosa after opening in 2015. With an outdoor patio that backs up to downtown's Government Plaza, Heat is in a prime location. Pizzas are a perfect size for sharing with a friend, but sharing several allows you to sample a few options.

If you are not one to order a salad at a pizza joint, think again because overlooking this at Heat might be a mistake. Signature cocktails are stellar, including the Cucumber Smash, Strawberry & Peach Runner, or Wall Street.

Innisfree Irish Pub

You'll want to stay forever after one bite of a chicken finger, French fry, or wrap dipped in the Irish Gold sauce. The Innisfree Irish Pub is at its best in the spring and summer, when you can sit on its spacious patio and take your time eating, drinking, and watching sports. Any item on this menu can become your new favorite, from the Pub Fries to the Irish Mary.

City Café

Located in charming downtown Northport, City Café has been a go-to destination since it opened in 1931. Anticipate a line if you arrive during peak lunch hours. City Café serves a great breakfast, but lunch is the headliner. You won't believe the amount of food you'll get for less than $10, so your wallet won't mind finishing your Southern-style meal with a slice of pie that tastes like Grandma's.

Hooligans

The Hooligans restaurant serves some of the best comfort food in an unsuspecting white building with a red awning. The little restaurant makes Alabama alumni nostalgic for random cravings for the seasoned crinkle fries, burgers, and tasty Mediterranean food that you wouldn't guess could be hiding in Tuscaloosa. Although they have salads on the menu, for the complete Hooligans experience, don't think about calories once you get there and enjoy the food.

Enjoy Some BBQ

Tuscaloosa, like many Southern cities, has a famous barbecue scene.

Archibald & Woodrow's B-B-Q

Anyone who knows barbecue knows that Archibald's does it right. Located in a cinderblock building in Northport, Archibald's has been serving their famous hickory-smoked ribs since 1962 while keeping the business in the family. Archibald's is nationally recognized, and you'll understand why with one bite of those ribs.

Dreamland Bar-B-Q

If you're from Alabama, you've probably been to a Dreamland location before, but did you know the original is just south of Tuscaloosa? Locals swear the barbecue tastes better when served from this small restaurant that John "Big Daddy" Bishop opened in 1958, the same year a guy they called "Bear" began coaching football. To get an authentic Dreamland experience, dunk the plain white bread brought to your table in Dreamland's famed sauce, order a slab of ribs, and finish with banana pudding.

Fine Dining

Tuscaloosa is a relaxed city, but that doesn't mean it can't get fancied up from time to time. These restaurants are prime for date night or a family celebration.

Evangeline's

Dim the lights for a romantic dinner at this secluded restaurant tucked away from all reminders you're actually in a college town. With a menu featuring local produce and decadent seafood options like crab cakes, scallops, and shrimp and grits, Evangeline's always delivers on elegance. Equally snug and chic, Evangeline's should be your white-tablecloth destination in Tuscaloosa.

River

Located unsurprisingly on the Black Warrior River, River takes advantage of its view with abundant outdoor seating. Drop by for a happy hour on the water, sample appetizers like flatbreads from the wood oven, or make a dinner reservation and choose between land and sea options sourced from local farms. Yet another place to add to your Tuscaloosa brunch bucket list, River serves must-try Southern offerings like beignets with espresso cream and butter pecan pancakes.

Chuck's Fish

Though Chuck's now has several locations, Tuscaloosa is the original. Coastal Southerners are often wary of ordering seafood in landlocked cities, but all the seafood at Chuck's is fresh from the Harbor Docks market in Destin, Florida, which shares an owner. You can't go wrong ordering the fresh fish of the day or panéed chicken, but it's almost impossible to go to Chuck's and order anything but sushi. After you sample an appetizer of Uptown Shrimp, head straight to the sushi menu. Even if you close your eyes, point to a random roll, and order it, you'll never be disappointed.

The Side by Side Restaurant

This modern restaurant, connected to the Embassy Suites hotel, is anything but a cheesy chain. With a great bar, outdoor seating, and tons of natural light from expansive windows, The Side by Side, much like its menu, just feels fresh. The menu changes with the seasons, using local produce from surrounding farms, so you'll never get bored with monotonous options.

Lively Libations

It's no secret that a college town will have an array of dive bars, but Tuscaloosa has a few treasures where the grown-ups can enjoy a drink.

Catch 22

When it comes to cocktails, Catch 22 is Tuscaloosa's authority. It's the kind of bar where you can give the bartender a faint idea of what kind of drink you're in the mood for, and he'll bring you something you'll love. Catch's unique draw is the line of gallon jars behind the bar, each filled with vodka distilled with various fruits and vegetables. Fruity, refreshing, and even slightly bizarre (pickle vodka is a favorite), these distilled liquors take every cocktail to a level your local bar can't match.

Loosa Brews

We weren't going to leave out our friends who prefer pints. The designator "craft beer emporium" might be enough to convince you to hop over to Loosa Brews, but it also has an arcade, pinball parlor, and ping pong. Choose from 63 beers on tap to enjoy while you're there and fill up a growler to take home. If you have someone in your crew who isn't a beer fanatic, Loosa has a package store with wine. Since opening in 2014, Loosa has quickly become a Tuscaloosa essential.

Alcove International Tavern

You could drive by this small bar and never realize it. But once you discover Alcove International Tavern, you'll keep coming back. Alcove opened in 2009 as the city's first smoke-free bar, and the sentiment resonated with loyal customers. We've talked spirits, wine, and beer, but if you're looking for a laidback, comfortable scene to grab any of three post-dinner, you've managed to find a true hidden gem in Alcove.

Session Bar

Locals love Session Bar, as it fills a gap the city needs. A cocktail bar that prides itself on great options for the wine drinkers in your crew, Session has an upscale feel with a casual atmosphere. The menu rotates every few weeks, so you can look forward to tasting seasonal options and new creations each time you go. Sit on the patio, view downtown's busiest street, or snag a seat at the beautiful marble bar.

Tuscaloosa, AL
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Enjoy Recreation and Sight-Seeing

There's more to do than eat and drink in Tuscaloosa.

Shop Around Town

Check out Effie's and Duke's for ladies' fashion. Guys can't miss Christopher Mobley or The Shirt Shop. The whole family will enjoy a trip to The Pants Store, and if you need some UA gear, The Supe Store has you covered. Antique fanatics, make a pitstop at Adam's Antiques & the Potager in adorable downtown Northport, and if you need a cute gift, Kyle Fine Stationery has so much more than thank-you cards.

Get Outside

The Tuscaloosa Riverwalk is a must-see for anyone visiting the city. About 4.5 miles long, you can walk, run, or bike the gorgeous trail along the Black Warrior River. Stop to observe the scenery, and kids will enjoy the playground. You can even rent paddleboards at one of the docks to see the river from a different perspective. On the Riverwalk, you'll find the Tuscaloosa River Market, which hosts weekly farmers' market.

Appreciate the Arts

The University of Alabama isn't the only campus worth seeing in Tuscaloosa. Up the road in downtown Northport, you'll find the Kentuck Campus, where anyone (not just art lovers) will be amazed by what's happening. With five buildings that inhabit artists' studios, galleries, a classroom, a store, the Courtyard of Wonders, and a Big Red Dog—his name is Rusty, not Clifford—there are endless things to do and see at Kentuck. There are free Art Nights on the first Thursday of each month and consistent exhibitions to see throughout the year. The Kentuck Festival of the Arts has more than 10,000 visitors from across the country each year, hundreds of artists and shows, live music, kids' activities, food trucks, and local craft beer.

If you want to see a live show during your time in Tuscaloosa, check out who's playing at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. The theater is ideal in the spring and fall on the Black Warrior River banks and just blocks from the downtown nightlife. Speaking of downtown, those who love the arts should catch a show, ballet, play, or movie screening at the historic Bama Theatre.

Learn Something New

A bit south of Tuscaloosa, Moundville Archaeological Park is a fascinating historical treasure. One of the nation's most revered Native American heritage sites, Moundville Park, is 326 acres covered in flat-topped mounds built by the Mississippian people centuries ago. A mound might not sound all that intriguing, but these colossal natural structures are a sight to behold. Visit the park's museum to learn more about the site's history, take a walk on the nature trail, or plan your trip around the Moundville Native American Festival in October.

The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation's Civil Rights Trail is a compelling experience. See historical sites and share awareness of the Civil Rights milestones in Tuscaloosa. Learn more along the trail, which includes a detailed history of each of the 18 stop's stories and people.

Visit Capitol Park, where ruins of the 1800s building sit from its brief stint as Alabama's Capitol. The Paul R. Jones Museum, the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, and locations where boycotts, marches, and both triumphant and heartbreaking events occurred. This trail is truly the most important thing you can do with your time while in Tuscaloosa.

Activities For the Kids

Children's Hands-On Museum

Don't take the term "hands-on" lightly. Your kids will get an immersive and interactive experience at the Children's Hands-On Museum in downtown Tuscaloosa. With three floors, 25 exhibits, and special events, every family member, from newborns to great-grandparents, will learn something new at this colorful museum. Stop by anytime for an educational, fun experience.

Mercedes-Benz Visitor's Center and Plant Tour

If you have a car-obsessed kid (or, let's be honest, spouse), you should see the only Mercedes-Benz Museum outside of Germany, which happens to be in Tuscaloosa County. Not only do you get a look at the iconic brand's history, but you can take a tour of the on-site manufacturing plant.

Snow Hinton Park

You might not think an average park is worth a visit on vacation, but if you have thrill-seeking little ones, Snow Hinton Park has a structure they'll squeal over. Snow Hinton is home to a towering 38-foot slide designated as the Southeast's tallest slide. The slide is even more fun because you reach the top by climbing a massive ropes course.

Visit the Campus

Tuscaloosa has so much to offer, but visiting the city isn't complete without stopping at The University of Alabama campus.

The Historic Spots

The University of Alabama is the oldest public university in the state, with inaugural ceremonies dating back to April 12, 1831. One building still there today, Gorgas House, was part of the original campus. Other buildings, including The President's Mansion in the 1860s and The Little Round House, were constructed shortly after. These three original buildings are all must-sees if you're a history buff in Tuscaloosa.

These buildings border the University's Quad, a beautiful green space worth walking. You can't miss Denny Chimes, the 115-foot bell tower on the quad. Dedicated in 1929 to then-University president Dr. George H. Denny, the stunning structure is surrounded by The Walk of Fame. Since the late 1940s, football team captains have stamped the cement at the foot of Denny Chimes with their hands and footprints. Fans can see legendary names like Ken Stabler and Joe Namath and more recent famed players like Derrick Henry and Reggie Ragland. Across the Quad, you'll find the Alabama Museum of Natural History inside an unassuming historic school building. A giant dinosaur skeleton, along with thousands of other specimens, hangs from the ceiling.

For the Football Fans

The Walk of Fame mentioned above is just the beginning of the football-related history on campus. If you can attend a football game in Bryant Denny Stadium, get a Denny Dog, sing "Rammer Jammer" at the end of the game, and have a blast with a close-knit group of 101,821 buddies. The enormous stadium is still a sight if you visit on an off-weekend or out of football season. See the Walk of Champions, where giant bronze statues of the national championship-winning coaches watch over a walkway paved with their titles and the years they won. The team and coaches enter the stadium via the Walk of Champions every home game, reminding everyone how Title-Town earned its nickname. Football fans have to pay a visit to the Paul W. Bryant Museum, filled with artifacts, memorabilia, videos, archives, and more devoted to the history of the University of Alabama's iconic football program.

Woods Quad Sculpture Garden

Just off the University's main quad is another smaller, quirkier one. Surrounded by school buildings for the College of Arts & Sciences, Woods Quad isn't just a pretty green space: It's an art exhibition. The most famous of its sculptures is "Goldie 1971," a giant, rusted, fallen robot created as a tribute to Alabama's iron industry. Goldie is the most-Instagrammed guy in the garden, but art lovers will be amazed by the range of sculptures they find in this tucked-away spot on campus.

University of Alabama Arboretum

This University-sponsored space isn't on campus, but if it's a nice day outside, you should plan an outing here. Not only does the arboretum have walking trails with different sections like a wildflower garden, an experimental garden, and a children's garden, but it also has an inspiring mission. Focusing on biodiversity in Alabama, the arboretum is a scientific institution involved in research, teaching, and conservation.

One-of-a-Kind Tuscaloosa Experiences

If you want an authentic Tuscaloosa experience, write these on your to-do list for your next trip.

Quick Grill

The line is worth waiting in at this tiny cinderblock building right off-campus because when it comes to late-night eats in Tuscaloosa, Quick Grill is king. You can order burgers, kabobs, and falafel, but the main attraction is the Messy Fries.

Nick's in the Sticks

The name isn't a joke. Open since 1953, Nick's in the Sticks is off the beaten path. You'll feel like an actual local at this establishment. A basket of warm biscuits greats you as soon as you sit at your table. Order the signature Nicodemus to drink and enjoy the menu full of classic comfort food items. Share onion rings, fries, and loaded baked potatoes with your friends, and bask in the warm glow of neon beer signs and Southern hospitality.

Have a Yellowhammer at Gallettes

You might have heard that the yellowhammer is the official state bird of Alabama. You've more likely heard that The Yellowhammer is the official drink of The University of Alabama. Sure, you can try to recreate the magic recipe at home, but nothing will ever top a Yellowhammer from Gallettes on The Strip, right off-campus. They've been making them since 1976 and go down easy.

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