The University of Alabama knows its football. Winner of three national championships since 2009, no one can argue with Alabama’s success. The recent performance of the Crimson Tide has brought back prominence to the program, but it’s always been a great place to catch a game. The energy has picked up in recent years and hopefully you can plan a trip with friends or family to experience it Tuscaloosa someday for one of the best college football experiences in the country.
And if you like good looking college coeds, Alabama has that too.
When to Go
Alabama plays in the SEC West and recently the SEC determined its non-divisional opponents until 2025. (Or until the conference expands again…) The Crimson Tide get to play home games against Georgia in 2020 and South Carolina in 2024, but you don’t have to wait for those schools to find a good game to see. Good games to see in even-numbered years are Auburn and Texas A&M with LSU coming to town in odd-numbered years. Auburn is their biggest rival, but the game takes place over Thanksgiving and could be missing the usual buzz of the student body. Another alternative would be Ole Miss, who travels well and has a very good looking female following. But if you can only squeeze in an inferior opponent, you’ll still enjoy yourself in Tuscaloosa.
As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by. You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Alabama because most tickets are sold to alumni or students.
You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options like StubHub and eBay or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek. Craigslist is another option for deal-making, but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets. My experience in Tuscaloosa, however, has been successful.
Craiglist has generally been more accepted by locals trying to get rid of tickets than the likes of StubHub have.
You can obviously drive to Tuscaloosa if the math on driving distance suits you, but everyone else will be flying in. Birmingham is the closets airport and is only about an hour away from Tuscaloosa. American, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways are the five airlines that fly into Birmingham. If flights to Birmingham are sold out, you can also fly into Atlanta, Memphis, or Nashville, but those drives to Tuscaloosa are all between three and four hours.
There is a lack of hotels in Tuscaloosa because it’s a college town. Hotels generally start taking reservations a year in advance, so you might be able to find a room at the Holiday Inn Express or the Hampton Inn if you’re on a budget and plan in advance. The Capstone is the best hotel for those with a bigger budget. There are other hotels near the highway or across the river in Northport, but those are at least 3 miles away from downtown Tuscaloosa or campus. Renting a house or condo through VRBO.com or Airbnb is probably your best option if you can’t find a hotel room near campus. You’ll be in great shape if you can find a place downtown (approximately University to 9th st.
between 19th and 24th Ave), but you can settle for something within 1.5 miles from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Taxis aren’t necessarily easy to come by (you’ll likely wait about 30 minutes for one to show up), but at least being within 1.5 miles of the stadium allows you to walk places. Staying in Birmingham is another option, but you’re here to experience Tuscaloosa for all it has to offer. (Some bars in Birmingham like Otey’s offers buses to Tuscaloosa on game days.)
Tailgating in Tuscaloosa isn’t what it used to be. It’s better. Most of the action has moved to the Quad in recent years, which is for the better. Centrally located in the middle of campus and just northeast of the stadium, the Quad is an enormous space where people set up their tailgate areas starting on Friday. Generators aren’t allowed, but there are opportunities to find electricity and grills are allowed.
You can make friends and walk around with a 30-rack of beer even if you don’t know anyone to start the day. The bathroom lines at the Port-A-Potties can get incredibly long on big game days, so make sure you prepare accordingly. It’s also conveniently located near the Walk of Champions, where the Alabama football time walks past all the statues into the stadium approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes before each home game.
Barbecue is a Southern staple and Tuscaloosa represents that to the fullest. Some of the best barbecue in the United States exists at Archibald’s in Northport (not technically Tuscaloosa, but close enough) across the river. It’s very unassuming because it’s just a shack on a quiet road with picnic tables outside, but don’t be fooled. There will likely be a wait when you go, so get whatever food is available when you get to the front. You’ll be extremely happy with the ribs, the pulled pork, or anything you get your hands on. The vinegar based sauce for the pulled pork is out of this world and don’t be afraid to keep pouring it on unless you’re ready to bring a jug of it home yourself. Just know that one sandwich isn’t enough. Over-ordering is the thing to do since there are no sides other than good ole’ white bread.
The popular chain Dreamland has eight locations, but its original location is in Tuscaloosa. That location breeds a simple barbecue experience as well. Things start off with a simple bowl of barbecue sauce to go with your white bread. They’re known for their ribs and there isn’t much else on the menu. You can also supplement your meal with sausage and one of their three sides (potato salad, baked beans, and banana pudding).
While it might be surprising, there is non-barbecue food in town as well. The best breakfast option in town is Rama Jama’s, where you’ll enjoy southern favorites like biscuits and grits to go with the usual staples like eggs, sausage and pancakes. The locals call it Nick’s in the Sticks, but you’ll find it as Nick’s Original Filet House when searching for a good burger. They also have something called Nicodemus, which is basically alcoholic fruit punch. People watching can complement your buffalo wings at Buffalo Phil’s. You can also get good wings accompanied with pub fries at Innisfree. Local Catch provides the option of a nicer dinner with Caribbean fish tacos being the highlight of the menu. Surin, 5, and Chuck’s are some of the other more upscale dinner options. Quick Grill is your late night food destination of choice with messy fries being the thing to order.
One major positive for those who want to enjoy it is that the bars in Tuscaloosa are open til 3 a.m. There are two main areas of bars: campus and downtown. The campus ones cater mostly to the younger crowd as you’d expect. Most of the younger crowd seems to end up at Galette’s, which has a line outside starting around 10 p.m. or earlier. It’s unique because you’d never tell it’s a bar since the exterior is an unmarked door next to the Campus Party Store. Once inside you’ll find a band or DJ playing music and a bunch of college kids enjoying yellowhammers and $4 baby bombs. Locals will tell you sorority girls have a tendency to end their nights there. Other good options around campus include Rounders, which recently reopened and is gaining a lot of attention. There are a few days to enjoy some roof-top day drinking including Bear Trap. The Houndstooth Sports Bar was named the best sports bar in the country by Sports Illustrated a long time ago and is skewed more to an older crowd.
You can also have some fun downtown. The aforementioned Innisfree is one of the busiest bars in that area with both indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy a laid back evening with upperclassmen and alumni. There will also be a line there on football weekends. Close by you’ll also find The Booth, which has a similar atmosphere. Catch 22 is down the street, but also has the same type of crowd to go along with infused vodka drinks.