The City of Tuscaloosa has a plethora of activities to do and places to enjoy, but there are a few incredible local gems that are just waiting to be discovered! So, what hidden treasures are the locals not telling you about? We pulled together a list of spots around Tuscaloosa that you may not have heard of and could potentially become a regular part of your rotation! These suggestions range from delicious food and drink destinations to quiet spaces to relax and unwind for a bit.
1. Kentuck Art Center
For those who are looking to explore the fine arts side of Tuscaloosa, the Kentuck Arts Center is a local spot that more people ought to be aware of! Located off-campus in Northport, the Kentuck Art Center is a collection of many different artists and creators exhibiting their work for anyone to see and learn about. Kentuck’s mission is “to perpetuate the arts, engage the community, and empower the artist” and is open all year long for anyone!
2. Catfish Heaven
Named for their delectable catfish offerings, Catfish Heaven is a fish lover’s dream! Fried and prepared fresh daily, Catfish Heaven is a local restaurant that has been serving up savory catfish and irresistible hot wings since 1993. For over 25 years, the brothers that opened Catfish Heaven have been making this delightful and delicious destination in the Historic West End of Tuscaloosa a local favorite! Catfish Heaven’s dining room is currently closed for safety due to COVID-19, but they are still offering take-out orders for anyone looking to expand their list of go-to restaurants in Tuscaloosa!
As a spot filled to the brim with a diverse collection of drinks, beers, wines, and more, Cravings is a must for anyone looking to expand their drink repertoire. In addition to drinks, Cravings is also a good place for a bite to eat! There is an offering of snack foods, deli favorites, and an incredible breakfast offering for everyone to enjoy. Not to mention they serve unbelievable Detroit and Sicilian style pizza that will turn you into a regular customer in no time. Visit Cravings to discover new drink favorites and see if it becomes one of your new go-to spots in Tuscaloosa!
4. Ernest & Hadley’s
Ernest & Hadley’s is a charming local bookstore located a few blocks away from Downtown Tuscaloosa just waiting to be discovered. This bookstore is filled with popular picks, classical favorites, and even highlighted works from local Alabama writers! In addition to being a store, Ernest & Hadley’s regularly hosts events that are open to any and all visitors, so be sure to check online ahead of time for more information. Currently, Ernest & Hadley’s is operating with safety in mind and is allowing only five (5) patrons at a time and even has a curbside pick-up option available for anyone who would prefer not to enter the store!
5. Ruan Thai
Since 1991, Ruan Thai has been serving up fresh and savory authentic Thai food to students and locals alike with their extensive menu of delectable offerings. Ruan Thai offers both a lunch and dinner menu and even has dedicated portions of its menu for its sushi dishes and curry specials. Due to COVID-19, Ruan Thai is currently available through curbside pickup and through the delivery service, Crimson 2 Go. This locally-owned, authentic Thai restaurant is located on the Western end of the Strip and is the perfect local option for authentic Thai food in Tuscaloosa!
6. Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center
The Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center is a place for fans of fine arts and culture to explore and for everyday adventurers to discover! It is home to a rotating lineup of galleries that exhibit the thought-provoking and insightful power of the mediums of the fine arts. Not only is the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center a delightful spot to immerse yourself in fine arts and culture, but it is also a stop on the Civil Rights Trail of Tuscaloosa! In addition to visiting the resident exhibit, this center is an important site to learn the history behind it as it pertains to the City of Tuscaloosa as a whole.
7. Catch 22
If you are looking for a bar to hang out and enjoy outstanding cocktails at the end of a long day, Catch 22 is the place for you. As the home of house drink specialties galore, including pickle-, cucumber-, and even pepperoncini-infused vodka, this bar is known for creating a unique flavor in each creation. Located in Downtown Tuscaloosa on 6th Street, this is a great place for anyone looking to unwind with some boutique cocktails and refreshing favorites! Additionally, Catch 22 has recently extended their outdoor patio to accommodate social distancing requirements and create a safe environment for customers!
8. The Oasis
Located in Cottondale is a restaurant named The Oasis, offering a welcoming and Southern environment with the delicious food to back it up! The Oasis is famously known for its savory burgers and their incredible appetizers, including jalapeńo poppers, fried pickle spears, and fried mushrooms. The Oasis is truly a hidden gem for eating and may soon become one of your regular food spots in town! In order to accommodate the COVID-19 situation, The Oasis is currently only able to offer pick-up orders that can be placed at the restaurant.
9. Innisfree’s Lucky Lunch
I know what you’re thinking. “Everyone knows about Innisfree…”. Although that may be true, many regulars and first-time visitors alike don’t know about the spectacular meat and three meals available from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. With classic options like chicken parmesan, chicken tenders, or country fried steak you can experience irreplaceable southern cooking right in Downtown Tuscaloosa! The meat + three meal also falls under $10, so Innisfree is easy on your bank account, too.
10. Van de Graaff Park
Whether you’re looking for your next nature adventure, picnic spot, or photoshoot set this local treasure has it all. Fish, hike, or camp on the gorgeous acres of Van de Graff with its breathtaking parks and large ponds stocked with freshwater fish! Along the way, you can also find a section of Alabama’s oldest iron bridge crossing over Mill Creek. This local’s secret is nestled in Northport. Revel in nature’s beauty and enjoy some fresh air at Van de Graaff Park.
Written By: Will Baggett
Edited By: Jamie Hoven
Although Tuscaloosa is a predominately southern town with southern food, you have to stop by and try the toasted pork roll and ham New York-style bagels from Cravings! If you have more a sweet tooth, Cravings also has a variety of specialty candies and chocolates! Stock up on some traditional licorice chews or try something unique like the Turkish Taffy or Kinder Bueno Bar.
Pick up some of Tuscaloosa’s best comfort food from King’s Kitchen for a picnic that feels like homemade cooking. Located on Hargrove Rd, King’s Kitchen has it all; from burgers and sandwiches to fried chicken plates with every side dish you could imagine!
Catch A Taste
For a quirky and unique picnic, stop by the Catch A Taste food truck for all things wings and hot dogs. Many customers recommend the polish dog or one of the many wing flavor combinations ranging from sweet and spicy to bring the heat temperatures!
Wilson 5 Café
Visit the Wilson 5 Café food truck to enjoy some loaded appetizers for the whole family! If you’re in the mood for some festival food, try the funnel cake smothered in strawberries, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. Regulars also insist you try the covered nachos with meat options consisting of pulled pork, sausage, or ground beef. The café’s food truck locations and hours can be found here with other menu items and prices.
Flavaz Soul Food & Seafood Restaurant
Flavaz Soul Food & Seafood Restaurant brings the sea to you with fresh homemade shrimp, lobster, and an array of fish with multiple plate combinations! With multiple takeout options available, this restaurant is the perfect way to picnic by the water with high-quality food for a low price.
Sit and stay awhile at one of the picnic tables at Monnish Park one summer evening to enjoy both your food and company! No need to worry, the park also has electricity, restrooms, and even a grill if you want to do your own cooking for a homemade picnic. The park includes rentable facilities, covered sitting areas, and a playground for the kids to create the perfect picnic ambiance.
Annette M. Shelby Park Trail
Break out that picnic blanket and settle down along the Annette M. Shelby Park Trail for a serene and unpopulated picnic. Located on 15th street, the trail stretches for a mile with paved roads and lush grass throughout the area. The park also houses a giant water fountain adored by children and animals alike.
Black Warrior River
Park and enjoy the scenery of the Black Warrior River that stretches along Jack Warner Parkway near the University of Alabama campus. With many views available, one can enjoy their food on a park bench at Manderson Landing or on the lawn bordering the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. Enjoying a delicious meal and viewing the sunset on the Black Warrior is what Tuscaloosa is all about, and there’s no better place to appreciate the breathtaking views of a southern summer sunset.
Van de Graaf Park
Located only a short drive from Tuscaloosa in Northport, Van de Graaf Park is the perfect place to have a picnic and enjoy the great outdoors! The park has a covered area to enjoy your meal, or feel free to walk along the park’s trails to discover your own perfect spot! Van de Graaf Park also offers a variety of other amenities to make the most of your day, including overnight camping, fishing, boating, and hiking. No matter the activity, make sure you take in the park’s natural beauty and its famous King Bowstring Bridge!
Lake Lurleen is one of Tuscaloosa’s best destinations to combine recreation with relaxation. If you’re looking to have a picnic, the park offers designated picnic areas and pavilions for you to enjoy your food! If you’re in the mood to be adventurous, try fishing, camping, hiking, or boating with one of the park’s on-site boat rentals. Whether you’re looking to be leisurely or get active, Lake Lurleen has it all!
Besides these restaurants and locations, Tuscaloosa has so much more to offer when finding your perfect picnic adventure. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll always find a relaxing and enjoyable summer evening when shopping and exploring around local Tuscaloosa!