On April 27, 2011, an EF-4 tornado ravaged Tuscaloosa, AL killing 52 people and destroying 12 % of the city in only 6 minutes. After the funerals and during the removal of the massive piles of rubble, Mayor Walt Maddox, along with government and school officials, vowed to build Tuscaloosa back “stronger, smarter and safer” than before the tornado.
The following fall the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team added another national championship to their trophy case. And again in 2012.Then again in 2015. With each one, 101,000 passionate fans packed Bryant-Denny Stadium on fall Saturdays for games, bought millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, ate in Tuscaloosa restaurants, pumped Tuscaloosa gas into the tanks of their vehicles, and stayed in Tuscaloosa hotels.
The economic impact of both the rebuilding from the tornado and the infusion of cash into area businesses and the coffers of the University of Alabama athletic department has the region vibrating with excitement, new construction and state-of-the-art facilities in every category you can name. As a result, even if you don’t know the difference between a first down or a field goal, there are at least 5 great reasons to visit this thriving, West Alabama city.
1. History and Museums
Named for Chief Tuskaloosa, the town was founded in 1819, on a site originally inhabited by the Creek tribe. Nearby Moundville Archeological Park educates its visitors on the Native American history of the area. The Alabama Museum of Natural History is located on the campus of the University of Alabama and is the oldest museum in the state. Prehistoric relics are among the many artifacts housed there.If you are fascinated by haunted houses, you might want to tour the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion, which has been open since 1862. Tour guides can describe some of the paranormal activities in the home. For more light-hearted tastes, you’ll find the Children’s Hands-On Museum on University Boulevard in Downtown Tuscaloosa with discovery activities for infants through age 13. And for sports fanatics, the Paul W. Bryant Museum is located on the University campus. Bryant coached 323 collegiate football wins, leading to 6 national championships.
2. Arts and Entertainment
The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra presents a full schedule of concerts at the Moody Music Hall on the university campus. The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater is an outdoor concert venue that has hosted such celebrities as the Beach Boys and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and for a few months in the winter it maintains a small ice skating rink. The Bama Theatre has served Tuscaloosa residents well since 1938, and The Tuscaloosa Museum of Art houses the collection of Jack Warner which is considered to be one of the finest exhibits of American Art in the country. For eclectic tastes and glimpses of craftsmen at work, the Kentuck Art Center is located across the river in downtown Northport.
3. Shopping for the expected and the unexpected
Tuscaloosa has hundreds of chain retailers in Midtown Village, University Town Center, University Mall and Shoppes at Legacy Park. But, if you want to find more unique clothing, jewelry, toys, gifts or decor items, head to Downtown Tuscaloosa or its adjacent town, Historic Downtown Northport. One shop popular with the locals is Olive Tree on University Boulevard. This store is crammed floor to ceiling with vintage pieces, antiques and shabby chic of all descriptions. Owner Chris Roycroft says, “I get my merchandise from the 4 D’s – Death, Divorce, Downsizing, and Drug Addicts.” That should make you curious enjoy to go inside. At Beyond Southern Furnishings on 20th Avenue, you will find wood and metal pieces, Adirondack chairs and the whimsical artworks of Emily G. A favorite store in Downtown Northport is Gracefully Done. The furniture and displays of housewares are elegant and tasteful.
4. Recreation revolves around the river
The Black Warrior River running through the city provides numerous opportunities for fishing, swimming, and paddle boats, as well as strolling or jogging on the paths of the Riverwalk along its banks. You can ski on Lake Tuscaloosa or picnic and camp by Holt Lake. If golf is your exercise of choice, the Ol’ Colony Golf Course is considered by many to be one of the finest public golf courses in the state. If those don’t offer enough options, then PARA (Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority) manages 38 parks in the area with a full schedule of activities and events.
5. Good Southern food
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
As with the wide shopping options, dozens of chain restaurants have locations in Tuscaloosa. But, if you prefer to sample regional cuisine, set your mind on barbecue, catfish, okra and fried green tomatoes. Dreamland Barbecue with its slogan “Ain’t Nothing Like ‘Em Nowhere” opened in Tuscaloosa in 1958. It was an immediate hit, and now there are locations throughout Alabama and Georgia. Rama Jama’s, situated within the shadow of Bryant-Denny Stadium, is wildly popular with the football fans, but Tuscaloosa residents often mention City Cafe in Downtown Northport,Sweet Home Food Bar in Downtown Tuscaloosa, Archibald’s and Woodrow’s Barbecue, and Catfish Heaven.
"The One and Only" Tuscaloosa
“The One and Only” is a phrase adopted by the Visitors Center. When officials realized their city was the only one in the US, even in the world, with the name Tuscaloosa, the campaign was launched. Many use the term “City of Champions.” Others have used “Druid City” because of the many water oaks planted along downtown city streets. Whatever you choose to call it, Tuscaloosa deserves a title of uniqueness. Come for a weekend or a week. Stay in one of the numerous chain hotels or in the historic Bama Bed and Breakfast. There will be plenty to see, to do, and to enjoy.
Get Trip101 in your inbox