From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Long known as the “Druid City” — not for a superfluity of celtic magicians, but for the stately water oak trees that line its quaint downtown streets — Tuscaloosa is truly filled with southern charm and not to be missed. Here are our favorite things to see, do, and experience in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
They call it “sweet home, Alabama” for many reasons, not the least of which is the plethora of incredible outdoor spaces this unique southern state hosts. Here are just a few of the coolest state and national parks in the Tuscaloosa, AL area.
It may technically be over state borders, but Lake Lowndes State Park is only an hour away from Tuscaloosa — and its 150-acre namesake lake, along with the beautiful countryside that surrounds it, make it well worth the drive. Along with fishing, boating, and camping, this park is developed with a full range of amenities and facilities for visitors to enjoy, including spaces for football, soccer, softball, tennis, basketball, volleyball, disc golf and more.
Just a few miles away from Tuscaloosa, Lake Lurleen State Park beckons with promises of pristine natural beauty and plenty of space to kick back and relax. Encompassing over 1,600 acres of breathtaking Alabama countryside, this park also offers boat rentals, picnic and play areas, pavilions, fishing piers, a beach and bathhouse, and more.
Covering just shy of 10,000 acres, Oak Mountain State Park bears the distinction of being Alabama’s largest state park, and it features a wide range of attractions. Along with the wilderness itself, which is great for many different types of outdoor pursuits, this park is also home to the Alabama Wildlife Center, the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center, and the Oak Mountain BMX Track. Its 50 miles of trails are popular amongst equestrians as well as hikers.
Located north of Birmingham just an hour away from Tuscaloosa, Rickwood Caverns State Park is home to some of the most incredible subterranean spaces this side of the Mississippi — and that includes world-famous spots like Mammoth Cave. However, even if you prefer to stay above ground, there are many attractions, including an Olympic-sized pool fed by the cave’s cool waters as well as a gift shop, picnicking areas, gemstone mining, camping, a playground, and the Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail.
A preserve of more than 1,500 acres straddling three separate counties, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park offers visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to step back in time. Artisans, millers, and blacksmiths demonstrate their trades, and artifacts from Alabama’s bustling 19th century iron industry are on display, not to mention the beautiful outdoor scenery and onsite campground. Worthy of a weekend getaway, to be sure!
It may not be the mountain west, but make no mistake about it: there are plenty of great hiking opportunities in and around Tuscaloosa. Here are some of the best trails to tackle, no matter your fitness or interest level.
A short but sweet trail, running just over a mile altogether, Lake Nicol Outer Cliff Trail is relatively flat and endlessly scenic, making it a perfect beginner-friendly hiking option. Meander along the waterside or take a closer look at the lush, green beauty around you, but do watch your step: those cliffs are quite high and a tumble into the waters below wouldn’t be pleasant!
Lengthier than some of these other trails, but relatively flat, the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk is an easy-to-moderate venture that’s popular amongst runners and cyclists as well as hikers and walkers. Because much of its length is paved, it’s a great option for those pushing strollers and wheelchairs along with road bikers and those looking for a simple walk along the water in the morning or afternoon.
At about a mile and a half in total length seeing about 160 feet in elevation change along the way, the Lake Harris Dam Trail isn’t easy — but it isn’t a rigorously strenuous trai either. The gently undulating hills are worth tackling thanks to the beautiful views of the namesake lake and dam, and this trail is also a great place to potentially spot wildlife.
A 2.5-mile loop seeing just over 200 feet in elevation gain, the Harry Pritchett Running Park Outside Loop is a popular spot, as its name suggests, for runners… but make no mistake, it’s also a great place to take at a slow pace. Featuring a beautiful, dense forest setting as well as lakeside views, this trail is one that will get your blood pumping and your oxygen flowing, all while keeping a smile on your face.
One of the best-loved trails in the entire Tuscaloosa area, the Approach Trail and North Loop hike runs just over three miles in total length and sees about 220 feet in elevation gain along the way, putting it firmly into the moderately strenuous category. A beautiful and densely forested area, this trail is frequented by mountain bikers and trail runners as well as hikers, so be sure to leave some room for those who are apt to go zipping by!
Whether you’re looking for a classic southern treat (hello, barbecue) or hoping for something more exotic, like an Asian or Indian restaurant, Tuscaloosa doesn’t disappoint. Here are some of the best eateries in town, no matter what you’re hungry for.
This is the deep south, and that means one thing: barbecue. (Okay, it actually means lots of things, including beautiful countryside, friendly smiling faces, and the best accent in the U.S., but we digress.) If you’re looking for some authentic Alabama barbecue, along with classic sides like coleslaw and baked beans and some delicious sweet tea to wash it all down with, look no further than Dreamland BBQ. One thing’s for certain: you won’t leave hungry!
Considered by many to be the best Italian restaurant in Tuscaloosa and operating strictly on a first-come, first-served basis, DePalma’s Italian Cafe is renowned for its wide selection of antipasti, salads, pasta dishes, specialties, pizza and more. And whatever you do, be sure to leave room for dessert; the cannoli and tiramisu are to die for!
If you’re looking for the best Mexican food in Tuscaloosa, you’re doubtless looking for Los Tarascos, a local institution that has been serving up spicy and authentic favorites since 1999. Choose from fajita platters, burritos, enchiladas, or special combination plates, and enjoy a full bar stocked with your favorite tequilas and more.
Tuscaloosa may be a far cry from India, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some delicious and authentic Indian food while you’re in town. Along with serving up some of the very best from-scratch eastern delights — and yes, even the naan, yogurt, and cheeses are made in house — Sitar Indian Cuisine is also known for its range of plant-based options, making this spot a good choice for local vegetarians and vegans.
Sometimes, nothing satisfies the way a classic Chinese dish can, and Lai Lai Restaurant is the Tuscaloosa favorite for those in the mood for a rice dish. Offering all your favorites along with hot pots and boba tea, this spot is especially prized for its szechuan chicken and hot beef noodle soup.
Getting outside and getting a great meal are just the very beginning of the fun things to see, do, and experience in Tuscaloosa. Here are some of our favorite activities to try out.
Tuscaloosa has plenty of all-ages-friendly activities to consider and enjoy. Here are some of our top picks.
Even for kids who think history class is the most boring thing on earth, a trip to a living museum is a whole ‘nother ballpark. Moundville Archaeological Park is one of the premier Native American heritage sites in all of North America, and contains 29 platform mounds, a walkable nature trail, and a museum filled with artifacts and information that will keep the whole family interested and engaged.
From fearsome dinos to the evolution of human beings and all the natural wonder around us, the Alabama Museum of Natural History is an incredible resource for getting kids and adults alike excited about this magical world of ours. Along with its permanent exhibits, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and events on a regular basis.
Some kids will instantly roll their eyes at the whole idea of a museum… but not after they visit the Children’s Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa. As its name suggests, this museum is all about getting kids interacting and engaging with the world around them, learning through discoveries they make with their own two eyes and, yes, hands.
There’s never a shortage of things to do under the shining Alabama sun, but what about when night falls? Here are just a few of the coolest things to see and do in Tuscaloosa after hours.
Whether you’re looking for things for couples to do in Tuscaloosa or you’re taking a date night with yourself, one of the first things you should check is Bama Theatre’s roster. The local go-to for a wide slate of live entertainment, this theatre was originally established back in 1938, and has earned its reputation as the place to be when the sun goes down.
Hosting some of the best live music in the city, both local and from afar, Rhythm & Brews is a grooving place to spend a Friday or Saturday evening with your favorite songs in your ears and your favorite suds in your hand. Along with a variety of beers, this spot also offers a full bar so you can have the bartender concoct up whatever your heart desires.
Looking for an enjoyable time about town that doesn’t require spending your entire paycheck? Good news: there are plenty of affordable things to do in Tuscaloosa!
Located on the University of Alabama campus and displaying sports memorabilia from throughout the school’s storied history, the Paul W. Bryant Museum is only $2 per adult to visit, and $1 for seniors and children. Students and active alumni can get in for free, and it’s open Thursday through Sunday, making it the perfect way to spend a rainy weekend afternoon.
Originally constructed back in 1835, the Battle-Friedman House & Gardens today stands as a living museum and offers visitors a unique look into the past lifestyle of this part of the country. With additions made to the home throughout the 19th century, and additional restorations done afterwards, the house is truly a piece of history you can visit for yourself.
Don’t want to spend a single cent to enjoy yourself in Tuscaloosa? You don’t have to! Here are our favorite free to-dos in town.
Comprised of 60 acres of preserved and well-manicured green space, the University of Alabama Arboretum makes for a wonderful place to take a stroll, and has been for the 50 years that have transpired since it was originally established. Better yet, it’s totally free to wander around in, and it’s open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Given how beautiful the Tuscaloosa area is, if you’re looking for something to do and in doubt, you can always go outside! This city is home to a variety of local and regional parks, each of which has its own unique benefits and attractions. For instance, Hurricane Creek Park preserves some of the wilderness surrounding its namesake Black Warrior River tributary, and Sokol Park is a local favorite that also offers an off-leash dog park within.
Everyone needs to kick back and relax sometimes — and sometimes, you do even better when you kick back and relax with professional help. Whether you’re after a massage or a new hairdo, here are the best day spas and salons in Tuscaloosa.
Great massage isn’t just about relaxation — sometimes, it’s literally about healing touch. Therapeutic Massage Tuscaloosa is the place to go if you’re looking for informed professionals who can help you feel your best through a wide range of massage modalities, such as deep tissue, prenatal, and sports massage.
Haircuts and color are just the start at Gilda’s Salon & Day Spa, which also offers a full range of services such as manicures, pedicures, waxing, tanning, and even spa treatments such as massage and facials. The common denominator for all of this? The comforting atmosphere and a built-for-you, individualized treatment experience. Enjoy — you deserve it!
Staying in shape can do more than make you feel better in your skin: it can make you feel better in your life. Here are the best spots for knocking out a quick sweat session in Tuscaloosa.
Sometimes, you need more than another big-box gym where you’re left to fend for yourself amongst an array of sometimes-intimidating machines and pieces of equipment. Sometimes, you need one-on-one coaching to ensure you’re making the most of every minute of your workout… and when that experience is what you’re after Iron Tribe Fitness has your back. A small chain originally founded in Birmingham, the Tuscaloosa location is known for its friendly and dedicated trainers and a motivated community who will help make your goals a reality.
Given all those strange positions you have to hold, many of us may consider yoga the least blissful thing… that is, until we find a nurturing environment that guides us with care and consideration. Yoga Bliss Studio is a beloved Tuscaloosa institution that will help you discover why yoga is so addicting, and help you find your own strength and center on the mat.
As much fun as can be had in Tuscaloosa, there are also some wonderful places nearby well worth day tripping to — or even turning into a weekend getaway!
Famous for its many moments in Civil Rights history and the most populous city in the state of Alabama, Birmingham is a big destination for anyone — but for those in Tuscaloosa, it’s all just an hour away. Enjoy the bright lights and big city feel, taking in a show or enjoying dinner at a fine restaurant, before turning around and making it home before bedtime.
Along with being the Alabama state capital, Montgomery is another history-rich southern city that offers plenty of cultural attractions along with the smiling faces and friendly demeanor you expect in the deep south. Home to destinations like the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the Montgomery Zoo and a famous Civil Rights Memorial, this town is well worth the two-hour drive from Tuscaloosa.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Tuscaloosa that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Tuscaloosa? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.