After four years of undergrad at the University of Alabama, and a decision to get my Master’s, I have finally entered into my last semester living in Tuscaloosa. Its been a great ride, but I’m definitely ready for the next phase of my life and to move to a (much) larger city!
To honor my time at UA, I’ve decided to make a Tuscaloosa bucket list. This list will combine some Bama student favorites, as well as some more off the beaten path adventures. I’ve noticed over the years that many UA students just stick to what’s around them on campus; a lot of students, especially those from out of state, don’t branch out and see more of what the city of Tuscaloosa has to offer. Although Tuscaloosa is a relatively small town, there are a few great restaurants, campus activities, and spots outside the city to explore.
Although Tuscaloosa is far from a food hub, there are a few must-visit restaurants around the city.
Nicks in the Sticks
Absolutely one of my favorite restaurants in Tuscaloosa, if not the world. Nicks (actually named Nicks Filet House) is the quintessential “hole in the wall” restaurant about 15 minutes from UA’s campus. There are probably only 10-12 tables in the restaurant, which makes for long waits on Thursday or Friday nights. However, you can drink the famous Nicodemus on the patio (think a cherry flavored drink with tons of 151) while you wait.
Nicks is known for their steaks, which are tiny filets wrapped in bacon; to be honest, I’ve never ordered anything else there! While some people are deterred by the small steaks, they are delicious, and are accompanied by salad with homemade dressings, sides such as killer onion rings, and rolls. I recommend going on a weeknight before 6 pm to avoid a wait- if you do have to wait, its 100% worth it the atmosphere and down home, no-frills food. You can find directions and hours here.
Epiphany has quickly become the premier foodie, farm-to-table restaurant in Tuscaloosa. While the locally sourced produce and meat does make the food on the more expensive side for price-sensitive diners, Epiphany serves small plates (typically $7-10 for veggies, and between $12-18 for meats or fish), which makes it ideal for sharing multiple plates with a small group. They often rotate dishes based on time of year and availability of local ingredients; however, their year-round ricotta gnocchi is a must try, no matter when you visit.
Epiphany also has a great selection of unique cocktails; they create seasonal cocktails as well, which I enjoyed around Halloween this past year (think cocktails with names like Witch Doctor or Monster Mash). Epiphany is a little more on the upscale side, so its great for a date night or dressing up for dinner with friends. You can check out their menu, as well as make reservations online here.
Located in Temerson Square near 4th and 23rd and Mama G’s, Avenue Pub has been preceded by The Globe and Carmelo Cafe (previously one of my favorite restaurants in town). Avenue Pub has a downtown loft feel, with exposed brick and a small upstairs dining area. The food here is simple but tasty; the real star here is their selection of local beers, as well as a gin and kiwi cocktail which is a personal favorite!
Mugshots, located down the street, is a student favorite for burgers and pub fare (especially because they take Dining Dollars). However, with its more unique atmosphere and equally tasty burgers, Avenue Pub has become a new favorite for a solid casual meal.
No Tuscaloosa bucket list is complete without the inclusion of City Cafe. A traditional “meat and three” diner, City Cafe has been a student staple in nearby Northport since 1931. The food is incredibly cheap (your choice of meat, 3 sides, and a drink for less than $7) and the cramped but charming space is full of old pictures and Alabama memorabilia. The advertisements on the table haven’t changed in years, which often makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
As an added bucket list item, check out City Cafe when it opens at 4 am. You’ll see the true blue collar crowd and you’ll be able to get a table at the counter, not surprisingly without a wait. City Cafe closes at 3:30 each day, and isn’t open on the weekends, so get your fix during the week! Check out this article from al.com, which notes City Cafe as one of the top 100 places to eat in Alabama before you die.
While not exactly a restaurant, Summer Snow is an absolute must in the, you guessed it, summer. This tiny shack serves amazing shaved ice from April to late September, with popular flavors like Tigers Blood. A large cup of shaved ice is only $3- note that Summer Snow only takes cash. Summer Snow is located on University Blvd on the way to Alberta City.
Quick Grill- the favorite drunk, late night eatery of UA students; cheesy fries are the only way to go here!
Another Broken Egg- although its a chain, one of my favorite breakfast spots (if you’re willing to go at 7 am to avoid the crowds)
Five- delicious Sunday brunch with great beignets!
As a UA students, a few adventures are a must-do before you graduate. For a few of the below, do these at your own risk!
Get on a Campus Roof Building
Yes, I have actually done this one! You didn’t hear it from me, but it is possible to get on the roof of both Nott Hall and Gorgas Library. Sometimes, back doors or entryways are mysteriously open, allowing you climb up to the roof. Note that fraternity house roofs don’t count toward this bucket list item, as they are a bit too ubiquitous on our campus!
Break into Bryant Denny at Night
Unfortunately, I have not yet completed this bucket list item. However, I’ve had multiple friends break into Bryant Denny and perform various activities on the 50 yard line in the dead of night. From accounts I’ve heard, if the police catch you, they’ll typically just ask you to leave, but don’t take that to the bank. I’m hoping to complete this one before graduation, so stay tuned.
Go to Every Bar in Tuscaloosa
This is a personal bucket list item of mine that I’m very close to completing. Although Tuscaloosa might have less bars than college towns such as Athens or even the cow college across the state, there are a variety of both good and terrifying bars around the city. Whether its attending every Wine Wednesday your fall semester of junior year, or heading out to Harry’s for crazy buckets across town, there are plenty of good bar options to explore.
As an ancient grad student, I prefer to hit quieter bars such as Alcove (one of only two semi-hipster bars in town with a great beer selection, as well as jazz nights on Tuesdays) or Speakeasy (the cheapest drinks this side of the Mississippi). I only have a few bars left on my list to visit, most notably of which is Kennedy’s (you can look that one up for yourself).
Old Bryce Hospital
As a big hater of anything scary, this is probably my least favorite item on the list. Old Bryce is an old mental hospital located in Northport (you can find more information about how to get there here); it has been abandoned for years, making it the ideal place for UA students to vandalize and wreak havoc upon. While I’ve been too terrified to actually enter the hospital, I’ve driven up to it and then promptly scurried away. The interior of the hospital is full of graffiti and broken objects, including lovely sights such as old operating tables. Definitely not my cup of tea, but this spot is a favorite of bored, often under-the-influence UA students.
Alabama Southern Railroad Bridge
This old wooden bridge is located to the left of the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, and used by trains to cross over the Black Warrior River. Although its not a pedestrian bridge, you’re able to (although I’m not sure if legally) climb up to the bridge and walk across it, leading to pretty views of the Black Warrior, especially at sunset. Be warned that while walking on the bridge while crossing over the river, there are holes that lead directly down into the water, probably at least 50-60 feet down. You can easily walk over the bridge, but you might be a bit scared (like myself while doing this). The bridge follows down into Northport, and you can exit the bridge by City Cafe.
Note that the bridge is currently being worked on near the river, and I’m still unsure if climbing the bridge is legal or not.
Exploring the Outdoors
Tuscaloosa is surrounded by multiple lakes and wooded area, with tons of opportunity for swimming and hiking. Its very easy to venture about 15-20 minutes outside the center of the city and find places to mud, offroad, or just explore the country. While I won’t share a few of my favorite spots, there are a few places that are easily accessible at all times of year.
The Cliffs are very popular amongst UA students; located on Lake Nicol, this is a favorite place to visit in the summer to swim and jump off the various heights of cliffs located there. Due to many students sustaining mild to serious injuries while jumping off the cliffs, it is often patrolled by police, so be careful if you choose to do so. Even if you don’t choose to jump the cliffs, its still a great spot to hang out with friends.
Hurricane Creek, located down 15th Street about 10 minutes from campus, is a beautiful creek that’s great for fishing and hiking. While I have not yet hiked at Hurricane Creek, I plan to do so in the next few weeks. I’ve heard great things about visiting this spot in the summer as a great place for swimming.
I also recommend simply driving around and finding your favorite spot outside of town. There are many areas to explore both north and east of the city, and it’s fun to discover a place of your own on a spring Saturday.
What’s on your Tuscaloosa bucket list?
I tried to do as much as possible in my 5 years at Tuscaloosa, but I’d always love to learn about more things going on in the city of champions. Leave a comment with any suggestions for your Tuscaloosa bucket list items.
I hope you enjoyed my Tuscaloosa bucket list. And as always- Roll Tide!