Written by Becky Beall-

Most Southerners would recognize Tuscaloosa as home to The University of Alabama, the calling card of West Alabama. In fact, there are likely many folks outside of the South that would know that little tidbit thanks to an SEC football dynasty associated with UA. What may be lesser known is that Tuscaloosa was a former capital city with historical significance surrounding Civil Rights. I just wrote a book on Tuscaloosa, so hang with me while I spill the (sweet) tea on some of the area’s best gems.

Tuscaloosa is for Families

Most visitors don’t think of Tuscaloosa in terms of a family-friendly destination. But one trip and you’ll be smitten. From restaurants to attractions and even museums, T-Town pours out all the Southern hospitality to families in search of an affordable weekend getaway.

If you are looking for laid back days spent on the water, check out Lake Lurleen State Park in nearby Coker. There’s fishing, hiking, biking, areas to picnic, campgrounds, and places to rent paddleboards or boats. Need more? Take the fam jam to Tuscaloosa Barnyard for a lesson in milking cows, a chance to hold a baby chick, or maybe a run through the splashpad (depending on the season).

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, head indoors at the Art Garage (call ahead for studio times, open sessions, and so forth) and allow your child to unleash their artistic side. Children’s Hands-On Museum is also a must for rainy days! Enjoy a fun-filled visit that inspires children through the power of PLAY. There are lots of exhibits and S.T.E.A.M. experiences for children ages newborn to 13 years old. Wrap it up with an evening at Bowlero Tuscaloosa for food and fun with arcade games and bowling.

Tuscaloosa is for History Lovers

I did not begin this journey of uncovering the layers of Tuscaloosa thinking there would be so much for history buffs, but boy was I wrong! Explore the Heritage Site at Moundville Archaeological Park, take a self-guided tour of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail, eat at the Historic Waysider Restaurant, and visit a string of other museums and such that will tell the story of the Tuscaloosa of yesteryear.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the Alabama Museum of Natural History on The University of Alabama’s campus in Smith Hall in this listing of historical must-sees. Founded in 1831, it is the state’s oldest museum and is home to an impressive collection of exhibits, collections, fossils, and the like. The building itself is Classical Revival style with an Atrium Gallery that features a sweeping staircase leading to the Grand Gallery Exhibition Hall. A visit here is both educational and stunning.

Tuscaloosa is for Foodies

Again, who knew? It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for the South’s best BBQ, a classic meat-and-three, game day wings and things, or an extra special upscale restaurant, you’ll find it in Tuscaloosa.

Meet your friends at Brown’s Corner for a charming experience at an unexpected speakeasy of sorts. Enjoy classic cocktails and a wonderful dinner filled with choices such as lobster rolls, steak, chicken, or pasta and don’t forget the 3 Cheese Mac. The name gives a nod to Brown’s corner store from days gone by, but the present day experience is stellar.

Dreamland BBQ is as iconic in Tuscaloosa as National Championships. A meal at this barbecue joint is a MUST for the best hickory-fired ribs you’ll ever put in your mouth, and don’t skip on the banana pudding. If you want a souvenir from Dreamland, a good choice is a bottle of their sauce.

Tuscaloosa is for Festivals

Tuscaloosa offers plenty to attract the crowds in the way of festivals and one of the largest is Kentuck Festival of the Arts which supports opportunities for emerging artists. There’s also Oktoberfest in September, and Fiddle Fest each year in February. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz Amphitheater offers many concerts throughout the year as well as playing host to Celebration on the River—a Fourth of July celebration that includes the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra.

Tuscaloosa is for Game Day Getaways

This book—100 Things to Do in Tuscaloosa Before You Die—offers tons of help for planning for your game day getaway! It’s got you covered with where to shop for game day apparel, a pre-game itinerary of places to visit (like the Paul W. Bryant Museum, Denny Chimes, etc.) and events to keep you hyped up (Walk of Champions and Elephant Stomp are two big ones). Plus, you’ll easily find the best bars only a walk from the stadium (Houndstooth Sports Bar and Gallettes—home of the Yellow Hammer drink), as well as perfect eateries for post-game celebrations. Tried and true, you’ll want this information.

About the Book

Tuscaloosa is just such a special place. A college town with a whole new group of folks moving in and out each year. Countless visitors continually pass through for sporting events. What I hope to do with the writing of this book is introduce traditions and opportunities for visitors to find value past their original travel purpose (likely an athletic event or a visit with their son or daughter studying at UA). Most people do not think of art galleries and museums when they hear “Tuscaloosa.” And, that’s okay, but there’s so much more to see and do when you have a plan. That plan is this guidebook.

Follow along with the fun and frolic as I continue to peel back the layers of Tuscaloosa and find out more about this Alabama jewel of a city.  I invite you to be a part of this journey tagging along at facebook.com/100ThingsTuscaloosa. And, when participating in Tuscaloosa events and fun, use the hashtag #100ThingsTuscaloosa. I can’t wait for you to see all 100 things within the pages of this book, and I am also excited to see the things you’re doing in Tuscaloosa.

Photo Credit: Becky Beall

Celebrating Black History Month can look different for everyone, but one of our favorite ways to recognize and honor this special time is to prioritize supporting Black business owners. We’ve created a weekend itinerary highlighting just some of the amazing Black-owned businesses right here in Tuscaloosa County.

Let’s just say you come into town on a Friday and get settled in to where you’re staying between mid and late afternoon. If you want to check out a few downtown spots before dinner, we know just where to send you.

Walking around Tuscaloosa’s Downtown area is a wonderful experience on any day, but if you can make your stroll while drinking a fresh-made smoothie from The Veganish Market, that’s a real treat. The Veganish menu caters not only to the vegan community but also to vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians, and those transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle.

On your walk downtown, it’s worth your while to pop in the Paul R. Jones Museum. Paul Raymond Jones (1928-2010) was considered by many to be one of the top 100 art collectors in the country. Jones donated thousands of pieces to the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Alabama to preserve the legacy of African American artists. The Paul R. Jones Museum is also a classroom for the arts, where students from kindergarten to college experience learning in a new and exciting environment. 

From there, you’re only blocks away from one of Tuscaloosa’s newest Black-owned businesses. Only Ones is retail store backed by Chicago White Sox star and Tuscaloosa native Tim Anderson. The shop is a great place to find unique and stylish casual wear.

Now it’s dinner time, and boy do we have a treat for you. One of Tuscaloosa’s most popular restaurants is Urban Bar and Kitchen. USA Today named UBK one of the 47 best restaurants in the entire country for 2024! Their motto is, “This must be the place,” and it is! This is one of those places where everything is good: seafood, pasta, salads, handhelds…all of it! We recommend you start with the Bacon Bombs for an appetizer, the UBK Pasta and / or the salmon for entrees, and end your meal on a sweet note with their White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

If you’re not ready for bed just yet, Cutter’s Cigars in Northport offers an upscale lounge experience. Enjoy a delicious cocktail along a fine cigar from the extensive Cutter’s collection.

If you’re an early riser, we suggest hitting the Tuscaloosa Farmers Market first thing Saturday morning. Visit locally Black-owned businesses such as Poppin’ Sisters, Araya Sunshine Candle Company, Blessed Bites, and more. You can even grab some breakfast while you’re there!

Now it’s time to explore! The state of Alabama has a rich Civil Rights history, with some of those chapters coming from here in the Druid City. The downtown portion of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail is walkable. It focuses on events surrounding “Bloody Tuesday” and much more. On Tuesday, June 9, 1964, one year after Gov. George C. Wallace, Jr.’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at the University of Alabama failed to block the arrival of two Black students, a group of peaceful citizens gathered at the First African Baptist Church to march to the new courthouse in protest of its segregated features. Ignoring warnings not to march by local law enforcement, hundreds followed the leader of the movement in Tuscaloosa and pastor of First African, Rev. T. Y Rogers, Jr., and hit the streets. They didn’t get very far. Police and members of the Ku Klux Klan attacked the marchers as they spilled out of the church, swinging night clubs and cattle prods and firing tear gas into the church itself. Many of the wounded were treated at the nearby Howard-Linton Barbershop. Thirty-three were sent to Druid City Hospital; ninety-four were arrested and jailed. All charges were subsequently dismissed, but no formal apologies were ever issued. You can find out more information about the trail by visiting their website here.

After taking in the history Downtown Tuscaloosa has, you’ve probably worked up an appetite.

Here’s where you have the hard choice between Archibald’s and Catfish Heaven.

The staff at Archibald’s serves their primary fare with bread and a choice of two sides—fried green tomatoes offer a tangy counterpoint to fried catfish, and slaw adds a creamy balance to the spicy flavors of half-chickens and hot wings.

Located in Tuscaloosa’s historic West End only a few minutes from the University of Alabama, sits Catfish Heaven. You can’t miss their bright yellow building! Staying true to its name, the restaurant is famous for its catfish, but also their wings!

A pro-tip from us would be to choose one of these staples for lunch and the other for dinner! Keep in mind, Catfish Heaven closes at 7:00 pm central.

Ladies, if you’re looking to a little more shopping, step inside Thrifty Charm Boutique. With a love for unique fashion, this boutique offers a range of beautiful and quality pieces at affordable prices. Whether you’re looking for a stylish outfit for a night, out or a comfortable yet chic look for everyday wear, Thrifty Charm Boutique has you covered!

Tuscaloosa is home to two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College. You can schedule tours on their campuses through their linked websites.

After all this walking and touring, you are likely ready to sink into some relaxation.  A Gray”ceful Touch Massage & Yoga offers a variety of therapeutic massages and yoga classes that will have you thanking yourself for booking them!

On your way out of town, we highly recommend taking a little piece of Tuscaloosa with you. Whether it’s savory or sweet, you’ll find just that at Bobbie’s Bakery. They’re are a family-owned bakery and catering service. The motto there is, “Nothing fancy, just good Southern cooking!” 

Supporting Black-owned businesses like these all year promotes diversity, uplifts representation, increases visibility, and stimulates economic development.

More Black-Owned Businesses in our area can be found here.

Thank you to our partners at the Bryant Conference Center for sponsoring this content!

Are you looking for things to do when it’s raining in Tuscaloosa? You’ve come to the right spot!     

1. Tuscaloosa’s Museums

Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum is one of the great museum options that we have in T-Town. Located at Tuscaloosa’s historic Queen City Park along the Black Warrior River, this museum is filled with knowledge and appreciation of our local and regional history and natural resources through exhibits, museum educational programs, and educational outreach efforts. For those interested in extinct animals, the Alabama Museum of Natural History is a perfect place to visit with its ancient fossils and many other exciting things to discover!  

Did You Know:  The University of Alabama actually oversees five museums in total, including the two mentioned above as well as the Moundville Archeological Park, the Gorgas House Museum, and the Paul W. Bryant Museum.

2.  Art Galleries

We have some incredible and diverse art galleries in town that are definitely worth a visit. The Kentuck Art Center in Northport is an all-in-one museum, gallery, and event location. In the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa lies the Paul R. Jones Gallery, the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, Harrison Galleries, and the Tuscaloosa Art Garage (great for the kiddos) – all great spots to explore on a rainy day.  If you happen to be in town the first Friday of the month, be sure the check out the First Friday Art Walk, featuring these galleries and more!

3. Coffee Shops

What cozier place could there be to hide from a rainy day than a traditional coffee shop? The smell of coffee and pastries in the air, people reading the newspaper, studying or chatting steadily alongside a laid-back playlist…. sounds perfect to us! Tuscaloosa offers many such magical places. There’s so many to select from, you can’t go wrong.  Just to get you started, check Turbo Coffee,  Monarch Espresso Bar, Just Love Coffee, Heritage House Coffee & Tea, or Strange Brew Coffeehouse.

4. Brewery

Local breweries in Tuscaloosa are the perfect place to spend a gray afternoon among friends and one of America’s favorite drinks: Beer. Druid City Brewing Company, Black Warrior Brewing Company, and Loosa offer great brews and relaxed space to lean back and enjoy an ice-cold one on this dreary day. Looking for a glass of wine?  Check out The Wine Market.  How about a cocktail?  Visit Session Cocktails.

5. Putt Putt Golf, Bowling, Arcade and more

Shindig Family Entertainment Center, Bowlero, and Crux Climbing are all excellent options for rainy days. This venues offer activities such as bowling, laser tag, arcade games, mini-golf, climbing, and a restaurant with a lounge! Forget about your worries and completely immerse yourself in all of the fun that these awesome places have to offer! Coming late 2023 – PopStroke! Soon you’ll be able to eat, drink, and putt next door to The University of Alabama Campus.

6. Tour Historic Homes

Historic Tuscaloosa works hard to preserve several historic homes located around Downtown Tuscaloosa.  Tuesday through Saturday, guests can enjoy free tours of The Old Tavern, the Battle-Friedman House, and the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion.  Additionally, people can tour the Murphy-Collins House and the McGuire-Strickland House by appointment and for special occasions.

There is hardly any southern town without some spectacular artifacts of the antebellum era that saw a rise in highbrow architecture. Tuscaloosa is home to several great examples of these palatial townhomes to showcase the beauty of the historic homes in Alabama. The Battle-Friedman house along Greensboro Avenue started as a townhouse for the wealthy plantation family, the Battles. After a devastating loss of finances from the civil war, the family sold the house and it became the family estate for the Friedman’s. The Hungarian family brought a great deal of success and growth to the city. In the 60s, the patriarch Hugo Friedman exchanged his home for the Jemison to be donated to the city’s library, while the Battle-Friedman would be gifted to the city. The land behind the mansion would be given to the YMCA to construct their new campus, and the house became a museum with Historic Tuscaloosa. Tours are given Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 4 pm. Admission is $5 per person while children under 12 are free.

Five Interesting Facts about The Battle-Friedman House

1. According to legend, the house was saved from being burned by union soldiers when Mrs. Battle stayed behind at the house during the war and with her slaves used her southern hospitality to welcome both union and confederate soldiers. The union men were so pleased they spared the home in return for some R&R.

2. The gardens along the grounds can trace their roots back to England. A British landscape architect who had drawn up plans for several manors in the countryside was brought to Tuscaloosa to plan the gardens of the Battle House. The gardens over time were lost but in the 90s they rediscovered the original layout a rebuilt them.

3. Currently, when you drive past you’ll notice the bright pastel pinkish orange façade. While from a distance it resembles pink marble, its actually an old technique is done to paint the front so it has the appearance of marble but is simply just an illusion done to cut costs of using more expensive materials.

4. Like many historic homes, the mansion went through a massive renovation from its more simplistic Federal style, to its current Greek revival. The temple front and a major addition to the back of the house expanded its size and style to reflect the growth of wealth, and you can see the change when you look at the sides where there’s a clear line from the construction.

5. Inside, you will notice the ornate and heavily detailed ceiling molds; they were handcrafted by one of the slaves. The work was so impressive that legend has it he was brought down to Montgomery to work on molds for the Capitol building.

If you want to learn more about The Battle-Friedman House or set up a tour of the beautiful house and gardens, you can contact Historic Tuscaloosa by clicking HERE!