Long a mecca seven Saturdays each fall, Tuscaloosa should be high on your destination list regardless of the time of year or your football affiliations. Visit the areas around campus and you’ll think you are in the best college town in the nation. But spend time in the larger community and you will find an area with global diversity because of both the University and industries like Mercedes-Benz.
The citizens of “T-Town” don’t rest on their laurels—they are continuously pushing their city to new heights. From making sure Downtown is constantly a destination for the best locally-owned-and-operated businesses, restaurants, and entertainment, to attracting economic development investment and encouraging entrepreneurship incubators, Tuscaloosa is a city on the move.
The energy that undergraduate and graduate students bring as they attend this student-centered research university is second-to-none. Students and citizens work together to constantly bring new ideas and inspirational creativity to the table as they strive to make the best even better.
While the fluidity that the University brings to Tuscaloosa means that it is a city that is constantly changing, it is also a community that strives to maintain its authenticity and charm. So you’ll see innovation next to preservation, and respect and inclusivity practiced all around.
Tuscaloosa is located along the Black Warrior River in West Alabama. Conveniently situated along the Interstate 20/59 corridor about an hour drive southwest of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa is within a few hours driving distance of such Southern business and cultural centers as Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, Mobile, Montgomery, Jackson, Chattanooga, and New Orleans.
With a county population of around 200,000, a city population just shy of 100,000, and a vibrant university community of nearly 40,000, Tuscaloosa is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the State of Alabama behind Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery.
Tuscaloosa became an incorporated town on December 13, 1819, two years after Alabama achieved its status as an American territory and just one day before Alabama was admitted to the Union. But the area’s heritage goes back much further than that. In 1540, Hernando DeSoto of Spain was the first European to explore the area, where he had a fateful encounter with the famed Creek Chief Tuskaloosa (whose name means “Black Warrior” in Choctaw).
Tuscaloosa was the capital of the state of Alabama from 1826 to 1846, a period that saw the establishment of The University of Alabama. In 1831, the University enrolled 52 students. Because of the large water oaks that lined the streets during this time, Tuscaloosa was nicknamed “The Druid City.”
In addition to the area’s heritage of river commerce and gravel and coal mining operations, Tuscaloosa and its quickly growing cross-river neighbor Northport (population approximately 24,000) have in recent years entered the realm of manufacturing centers. Most notably Mercedes-Benz has its first and only U.S. production center in North America right here in Tuscaloosa County.
Whether you are interested in the history of the area, local festivals, concerts, plays, art exhibits, movies, or just good food, Tuscaloosa has a lot to offer for any interest.
Historical Tours and Events
The Alabama Museum of Natural History on campus showcases Alabama’s unique natural history and includes fossils, rocks, and minerals from the Age of Dinosaurs, Ice Age, and Coal Age. almnh.ua.edu
The Bama Belle is a replica of the grand paddlewheel riverboats, which traveled the Black Warrior River in the 1900’s. The Bama Belle provides an exquisite setting for sightseeing & dinner cruises. 205-339-1108
Most of the historic homes in Tuscaloosa as well as Capitol Park are operated by the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society. Visit www.historictuscaloosa.com for a listing of homes and tour times.
The Gorgas House, located on campus is the oldest building on the University of Alabama campus and is open for tours during the week. http://gorgashouse.ua.edu
Moundville Archaeological Park was occupied by Native Americans from approximately 1000 A.D. to 1450 A.D. Eight hundred years ago, it was the largest city in North America. www.museums.ua.edu/moundville
Athletics and Outdoor Recreation
Of all the athletic stadiums on The University of Alabama’s campus, the most famous is definitely Bryant Denny Stadium. Home of the 13-time National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide football team, Bryant Denny Stadium is open for tours. Just visit www.rolltide.com and click on Inside Athletics then Facilities.
The Paul W. Bryant Museum on campus celebrates more than 100 years of Crimson Tide football from the 1892 team to the current roster. Don’t miss the re-creation of Coach “Bear” Bryant’s office. http://bryant.ua.edu
At the base of Denny Chimes on the quad is the Football Captains Walk of Fame, which is marked with hand and footprints of Alabama greats. http://tour.ua.edu/tourstops/dennychimes.html
Law students can attend all University athletic events with the presentation of their student ID card. Student football tickets are about $10 per game and all other athletic events are free for students.
The Student Recreation Center, or “Rec” as the students call it, is free for students to use. The facility contains cardio and weight equipment, hosts exercise classes, and is home to numerous athletic courts and aquatic facilities. http://urec.sa.ua.edu
Also housed in the Rec are the offices of the Outdoor Rec, which sponsors student excursions such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping and mountain biking trips, and the intramural offices. Law students regularly create teams for several intramural sports.
Arts and Entertainment
Throughout the year, the Department of Theatre and Dance has numerous plays and performances. For a schedule, visit http://theatre.ua.edu
Also, the School of Music students and faculty host concerts and recitals frequently. Look at their calendar of events on http://music.ua.edu
The Tuscaloosa Symphony usually performs 5-6 times per year. For ticket information, visit http://tsoonline.org
The Bama Theatre hosts concerts and community events, as well as award-winning and artistic films that don’t make it to Tuscaloosa’s major theaters. www.tuscarts.org
The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at the Paul R. Jones Gallery honors the late Paul R. Jones who, during his lifetime, amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of twentieth-century African-American art in the world. http://art.ua.edu/site/galleries/paul-r-jones-collection
The gallery at the Kentuck Art Center features rotating monthly exhibits of some of the region’s finest arts and crafts. There is also a gift shop specializing in arts and crafts by local, regional, and national artists. www.kentuck.org
Open since 1967, the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art in Garland Hall on campus presents a year-round schedule of contemporary arts, including works from the permanent collection. http://art.ua.edu/site/galleries/sarah-moody-gallery-of-art
The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater is located right next to the Black Warrior River and hosts all of the biggest concerts in town. www.tuscaloosaamphitheater.com
There are several public and private golf courses in Tuscaloosa, including Ol’ Colony, Hidden Meadows, Mimosa Golf Course, Tannehill National Golf Course, the Capstone Club, NorthRiver Golf Club, Indian Hills, and Woodland Forest. Also, any of the seven courses of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama are only a short drive away.
Known as PARA, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority has enjoyed enormous success as one of Alabama’s unique countywide recreational programs. PARA operates over 30 parks throughout Tuscaloosa County totaling more than 2,000 acres of Public Park and recreational land. www.tcpara.org
From sailing to skiing to championship bass fishing, Tuscaloosa County is a popular location for water sports. Among the most popular lakes for recreation include Lake Tuscaloosa, Holt Lake, Lake Lurleen, Lake Nichol, and Oliver Lake, and, of course, the Black Warrior River provides additional water sports and riverfront recreational opportunities.
The Children’s Hands-On Museum is a fun and educational learning experience, featuring a planetarium, a re-created Choctaw Indian village, a hospital just right for play, and other hands-on exhibits. www.chomonline.org
Visit the only Mercedes-Benz assembly plant outside of Europe and see exactly how four vehicles are made right here in Tuscaloosa County. The Visitor Center and Museum traces the history of the company and showcases vintage automobiles. Plant tours available Tues. and Thurs. www.mbusi.com
The Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum offers opportunities for education about Tuscaloosa’s local and regional history and natural resources. The museum also assists in the preservation of the region’s historic artifacts. http://www.mwwtm.com
The University of Alabama Arboretum maintains plant collections for botanical education and appreciation. The Arboretum features walking trails through a native woodland section, a wildflower garden, a collection of ornamental plants, an experimental garden, and a children’s garden. www.arboretum.ua.edu
The Druid City Arts Festival has had rich success in introducing new music and visual artists to the Tuscaloosa community. The DCAF’s primary goal is to promote the appreciation of the arts, culture and community. http://dcaf.ua.edu
Held in late March or early April, Heritage Week features tours of historic sites and antebellum homes, lectures, children’s activities, and the Tuscaloosa Belles. www.historictuscaloosa.org
A true “don’t miss” event, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is held the third weekend in October in Northport. The Kentuck Festival is a two-day, outdoor juried arts festival with more than 300 booths filled with contemporary and folk art from across the United States and demonstrations by expert artists and craftsmen. www.kentuck.org
A celebration of Native American culture, the Native American Festival features Native Americans demonstrating the art, crafts, and music of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole Indians, as well as a living history camp. www.moundville.ua.edu/festival.html
The Outdoor Movie Series shows about 10 movies each summer outside under the stars near the old Queen City Pool (now called Queen City Lawn) next to the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum. Come to enjoy old favorites and new classics. Movies begin at sundown (usually around 8:00) and carpooling is encouraged. Admission is $5 per carload or group, up to seven people. http://www.mwwtm.com
Celebrating Tuscaloosa’s ties with its sister city of Narashino, Japan, the Sakura Festival is held throughout March, with various exhibits, art contests, performances, and educational opportunities all centered on Japanese culture. www.tuscaloosasistercities.org
Every year in December at Christmas Afloat, decorated boats take part in a merry parade down the Black Warrior River, culminating in a fireworks display.
Dickens Downtown is also held in December, and celebrates a Victorian Christmas with seasonal music and food on Main Avenue in Historic Downtown Northport.
“Hillaritas” translates loosely from the Greek into “live joyfully and be proud of what you are.” Since 1969, the Hillaritas has been Tuscaloosa holiday tradition, featuring University musicians and singers performing the music of the season.