Now that summer’s coming to a close and school is officially back in session, colleges and universities across the state are welcoming freshmen onto their campuses for the first time. As students explore their new homes and find their place on campus, they’ll also want to start getting to know their new community apart from their college colors.
Outside of spending time on the Quad and attending Crimson Tide football games, Tuscaloosa offers plenty to do for University of Alabama students off campus. Here are eight things that students absolutely must cross off their Bama Bucket List before graduating.
Wander along the Riverwalk
The Tuscaloosa Riverwalk is a 4.5-mile paved trail that runs along the southern bank of the Black Warrior River. Stop at both its end points: Capitol Park, where you can see ruins of the former state capitol, and Manderson Landing, where there are plenty of benches and picnic tables. On Saturdays, be sure to stop at the Tuscaloosa River Market between 7 a.m. and noon for fresh produce and local wares from more than 70 vendors.
Attend the Kentuck Festival of the Arts
After 50 years, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is as much a tradition in Tuscaloosa as winning national championships. Each fall, thousands of visitors travel from all over the South and the entire country to see and buy the work of more than 270 folk and contemporary artists. In addition to the exhibitors, the festival features live music, kids’ art projects, food trucks, craft brews and maker demonstrations. This year’s festival will be Oct. 16-17 in Kentuck Park.
See a show at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
There’s nothing like taking in a concert at the largest outdoor theater in west Alabama, situated on the banks of the Black Warrior River just minutes from downtown. This fall’s calendar of bands includes Lady A, Rod Wave, Chris Tomlin, Riley Green, Santana, The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett and more.
Explore Moundville Archaeological Park
Honor Tuscaloosa history by visiting one of the nation’s premier Native American heritage sites. Moundville preserves 326 acres where, 800 years ago, Mississippian people constructed 29 massive flat-top earthen mounds arranged around a central plaza. Take in panoramic views of the monuments, then stop into the museum to learn more and see artifacts unearthed from the site.
Explore the area’s lakes
They’re not quite at Great Lake status, but Tuscaloosa’s lakes offer plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation. They’re great places to fish, swim, canoe, kayak, paddleboard or just go exploring for a day. Popular spots include Lake Tuscaloosa, Lake Nicol (rumor has it there are some secret spots to go cliff jumping there) and Lake Lurleen.
Take a BBQ tour
The latter part of our Bama Bucket List is all about getting your grub on. Alabama is known for its legendary barbecue joints, and Tuscaloosa is part of that tradition. Head to Archibald’s in Northport, where three generations have been carrying on a tradition of out-of-this-world hickory-smoked ribs since 1962. Next, head to Dreamland Bar-B-Que in the city, where the famous Southeast chain got its start as Dreamland Café, opened by John “Big Daddy” Bishop in 1958. A good way to complete your Tuscaloosa barbecue tour is with one of the town’s best-kept secrets: Big Bad Wolves’ BBQ Nachos. Served only on gamedays on the patio of The Strip’s Houndstooth Bar, they’re the real-deal Tuscaloosa experience.
Get dinner at Nick’s in the Sticks
A little off the beaten path you’ll find Nick’s Original Filet House, known affectionately as Nick’s in the Sticks to most. Though it’s only 5 miles outside of town, the one-room, red cinderblock building really is in the middle of nowhere. In this building, you’ll find one of the best meals in town – for one of the best prices. For $11.50, you can get a small filet (wrapped in bacon and perfectly seasoned), a salad and the choice of crisp, sweet onion rings, fries or a baked potato. If you’re visiting with anyone of legal drinking age, the restaurant’s signature drink, The Nicodemus, is a must.
Get your Southern food fix at Rama Jama’s and City Café
Just steps from Bryant-Denny Stadium, Rama Jama’s is known for its massive, stick-to-your-ribs Southern breakfasts featuring everything from buttery biscuits and gravy to creamy grits and center-cut ham. If you’re brave or feeling especially spirited, order the National Championship BLT. It stacks a slice of bacon for every football national championship the Tide has brought home. For the record, that’s 18 and counting. Find more Southern comfort at Northport establishment City Café, a near-century-old meat-and-three that’s best known for its late hours (open until 4 a.m.) and back-in-time prices.
This story originally was published on the SoulGrown website.