Whether your interests include history, college football, or barbecue, Tuscaloosa is a funky little college town invested in preserving and upholding its heritage. History runs deep in Alabama, and Tuscaloosa is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and telling its part of the civil rights story. Travel the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail, view a tremendous collection of African American art, eat at iconic restaurants, tour the college and learn about the history there, or take a walk along the Tuscaloosa River Walk, all on a weekend getaway.
1. Walk In The Footsteps Of History On The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail
The goal of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Task Force, created on October 18, 2016, is to bring positive change and reconciliation in a city where much of America’s best-known civil rights history occurred. The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail aids this endeavor through collecting, preserving, and telling Tuscaloosa’s civil rights history.
The trail memorializes the struggles for human dignity and citizenship and consists of 18 sites scattered throughout downtown. According to WBRC FOX6 News, “The Trail includes stops that call attention to stories of enslaved people, Native Americans exiled from their homelands, and racial violence such as First African Baptist Church and the Old Jail -- but also to sites of cultural achievement, such as the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center and the Paul R. Jones Art Gallery.”
2. Visit The Site Of The Stand In The Schoolhouse Door At Foster Auditorium
On June 11, 1963, Governor George Wallace, in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever” and to stop the desegregation of schools, stood at the door of the Foster Auditorium to try to block the entry of two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood.
In response, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard General Henry V. Graham via Executive Order 11111, ordering Wallace to step aside.
Declared a National Historic Landmark on April 5, 2005, Foster Auditorium is known, in large part, for the incident at its doorway. A historical marker stands outside the building telling the story of the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.
3. Explore Native American History At The Moundville Archaeological Park And Museum
Once the site of a powerful prehistoric community -- at its peak it was America’s largest city north of Mexico -- the University of Alabama’s Moundville Archaeological Park is a premier Native American heritage site. The Moundville site is the largest settlement of Mississippian culture on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama.
Just 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa, the park consists of stunning views of ancient mounds that served as elevated platforms for civic and ceremonial structures and were the homes of nobles. The park preserves 326 acres where these mounds are arranged around a central plaza. Inside the museum, you’ll discover the treasures unearthed at the site, including tools and household items, plus interactive displays depicting life in Moundville. Also on the site, there’s a half-mile nature trail, picnic areas, a campground, and scenic views of the Black Warrior River.
4. View History Through Art
Marvel at the murals of the Tuscaloosa Federal Courthouse Art Gallery. Located upstairs inside the Federal Building, artist Caleb O’Connor created 16 massive murals to depict Tuscaloosa history. O’Connor moved to Tuscaloosa to complete this three-year project and currently resides in Tuscaloosa and has a downtown studio.
You can also view the largest collection of African-American art at the Paul R. Jones Gallery. Paul R. Jones was considered, before his passing in 2010, one of the world’s top 100 art collectors. He started collecting art in the 1960s, driven by a motivation when he noticed the absence of African-American artists’ works in museums, galleries, and auctions. He collected art on a middle-class budget, eventually amassing his large collection.
In 2008, Jones donated a portion of his collection to the University of Alabama. The Paul R. Jones Collection contains more than 1,700 pieces that illustrate the importance of art in life.
Learn about Tuscaloosa native Dinah Washington and explore the art galleries at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, too. Managed and maintained by The Arts Council, the center is named after Dinah Washington, a jazz and blues vocalist and pianist born in Tuscaloosa. The so-called Queen of Blues has been cited as the most popular black female recording artist of the ’50s. In 1993, Washington was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
6. The View At The Black Warrior River On The Tuscaloosa River Walk
Near downtown Tuscaloosa you’ll find the Tuscaloosa River Walk, a paved trail that follows the southern bank of the Black Warrior River. The entire length of the trail is 4.5 miles, making for a leisurely walk with a view of trees, the river, and wooden bridges. The trail is well lit with street lamps and accesses a variety of park areas that are pet friendly.
You’ll find numerous restaurants and shops to stop at along the river walk, including the Tuscaloosa River Market, where there’s a Saturday farmers market where vendors sell local goods and produce.
While you’re near the river, enjoy a ride on the Bama Belle Riverboat. Take a weekend cruise with live music on Fridays, a sunset voyage on Saturdays, or a Sunday afternoon sightseeing cruise.
7. To Experience Legendary Barbecue Joints
Southern barbecue, and Alabama barbecue in particular, has a distinct profile steeped in its own history. It’s vinegar based, sandwiches are topped with coleslaw, and there’s the Alabama white sauce. The love of barbecue, like many foods, developed out of necessity. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, “During difficult economic times in the South, barbecuing was an inexpensive way for the working class to bring flavor and tenderness to even the most inexpensive cuts of meat.” This practical use grew into a savory favorite.
Two barbecue joints in Tuscaloosa carry on this rich tradition of slow-cooked and smoked meats.
At Archibald and Woodrow’s B-B-Q, they’ve been serving Southern barbecue in West Alabama since the 1960s. This unassuming barbecue joint was the only Alabama barbecue restaurant recommended as a place to stop in Southern Living.
You won’t find beef products on the menu, but pork and chicken are abundant. One Yelp reviewer raved, “We found this place by accident, getting off the freeway to dodge a traffic jam, and were we glad! Best barbecue sauce I've had outside of Texas -- perfectly balanced between sweet and tangy with a nice bite to it. I had the pulled chicken plate with baked beans and corn on the cob, my partner had the rib plate with baked beans and salad, and we both had leftovers. That rib plate comes with four full-sized ribs! This is definitely on the go-back list if we're in the area around lunch or dinner time.”
Dreamland BBQ was opened in 1958 by John “Big Daddy Bishop,” originally as the Dreamland Cafe. The ribs and secret barbecue sauce are legendary, but you’ll also find pulled pork, barbecue chicken, hickory-smoked sausage, plus a variety of sides. For dessert, be sure to try the Southern favorite: banana pudding. It’s a small location with just a few tables and booths and a pot bellied stove.
A reviewer on TripAdvisor relays the joys of their ribs: “The best ribs! The homemade potato salad and banana pudding are excellent also. The sauce has a little spice to it, but not overwhelming. Good service, clean restaurant. You have the choice of ribs or sausage ... but when you have ribs that are this good, there is no need for anything else.”
8. To Grab A Bite In A Unique Venue
Enjoy fine dining in a historic train depot at 301 Bistro and Beer Garden. The building acted as the Louisville and Nashville (L and N) Railroad Company’s passenger station from 1912 through the 1940s, then was a Trailway’s bus station from 1950 to 1967. It later fell into disrepair. In 1978, a group of investors renovated and opened the building as a restaurant and bar called HaddCall Station. The location was home to several restaurants throughout the years, until Bill Lloyd opened it in 2005 as a private events facility. In 2015, Lloyd made additional renovations -- the first major renovation since the 1970s, and opened as 301 Bistro, Bar, and Beer Garden. Visit for dinner or stop by on a Sunday for their jazz brunch.
Another unique venue is The Lookout Rooftop Bar, where you can watch the sun set on the rooftop of Hotel Indigo. You’ll find seasonal, locally inspired menus with a spectacular view.
Looking for other accessible weekend getaways? Consider the best things to see and do in Chattanooga, Tennessee, plus these five excellent weekend getaways in Ohio.