The University of Alabama knows its football. The winner of multiple national championships since 2009, no one can argue with Alabama’s success. If you're a football fan, plan a trip with friends or family to experience it for yourself in Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for one of the best college football experiences in the country.
Find out some of the best games to catch, where to stay, how to get gameday tickets, as well as where to eat and drink when you are in town.
When to Go
Alabama plays in the SEC West division. The Crimson Tide gets to play home games against Georgia in 2020 and South Carolina in 2024, but you should not have to wait for those school visits to find a good game. Good games to catch in even-numbered years are Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU comes to town in odd-numbered years. Auburn is their biggest rival, but the game takes place over Thanksgiving. This is a drawback since the stadium may not crackle with as much electricity as it usually does with most of the students away for the holiday. Another good alternative would be Ole Miss, who travels well. Even if you can only squeeze in a less flashy opponent, you will still enjoy yourself at a game in Tuscaloosa.
As you would expect, tickets are not the easiest things to come by. You generally will not be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Alabama because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You will likely need to use secondary ticket options like StubHub, eBay, or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek. Craiglist is another option for deal-making but does not provide the same security of knowing if you are buying real tickets.
You can drive to Tuscaloosa if the driving distance is within reason, but if you plan to travel by air, then Birmingham is the closest airport only about an hour away from Tuscaloosa. American, Delta, Southwest, and United fly into Birmingham. If flights to Birmingham are sold out, you can also fly into Atlanta, Memphis, or Nashville, but the drive to Tuscaloosa would be between three and four hours.
There is a lack of hotels in Tuscaloosa. 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 are on a budget and if you plan. 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 three miles away from downtown Tuscaloosa or campus.
You can rent a house or condo through VRBO or Airbnb if you cannot find a hotel room near campus. Try to find a place downtown (approximately University to 9th streets between 19th and 24th avenues) or look for something within 1.5 miles from Bryant Denny Stadium. Taxis are not necessarily easy to come by (you will 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 if you had to. Staying in Birmingham is another option, but if you stay there, you might miss out on the Crimson Tide fever that pops up on the days preceding game days. If you do end up staying in Birmingham, some bars like Otey’s offers buses to Tuscaloosa on game days.
Tailgating Before the Game
Tailgating in Tuscaloosa is not what it used to be. It is 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 are not allowed, but you might find electric outlets, and grills are allowed. You can make friends, and the easiest way is to start the day walking around with a 30-pack of beer. The bathroom lines at the port-a-potties can get incredibly long on big game days, so make sure you prepare accordingly. Also, the Quad is conveniently located near the Walk of Champions, where Alabama's football players walk 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 can be found at Archibald and Woodrow’s BBQ in Northport (not technically Tuscaloosa, but close enough) across the river. Archibald's seems unassuming; it’s just a shack on a quiet road with picnic tables outside. But do not be fooled. There will likely be a wait when you go, so get whatever food is available when you get to the front. You will be extremely happy with the ribs, the pulled pork, or basically anything they serve. The vinegar-based sauce for the pulled pork is out of this world and do not be afraid to keep pouring it on unless you’re ready to bring a jug of it home yourself. Just know that one sandwich is not enough. Over-ordering is the thing to do since there are no sides other than white bread.
The popular barbecue chain Dreamland has eight locations, but its original location is in Tuscaloosa. It's a simple dining experience. For example, things start off with a simple bowl of barbecue sauce to go with your white bread. Dreamland is 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 of potato salad, baked beans, or banana pudding.
For non-barbecue food options in Tuscaloosa, the best breakfast in town is at Rama Jama’s, where you can enjoy southern favorites like biscuits and grits to go with the usual staples like eggs, sausage, and pancakes. If you are looking for a good burger, then the locals call it "Nick’s in the Sticks," but it is actually named Nick’s Original Filet House. Order a Nicodemus, which is basically an alcoholic fruit punch, to go with your burger.
If you are a fan of buffalo wings, you can get a healthy dose of wings and an interesting people-watching experience at Buffalo Phil’s. You can also get good wings accompanied with pub fries at Innisfree Pub. Surin of Thailand, Five Bar, and Chuck’s Fish 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.
For those who dig the late-night bar scene, then you might like that bars in Tuscaloosa stay open until 3 a.m. There are two main areas for bars: campus and downtown.
As you would expect, campus bars cater mostly to the younger crowd. 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 would never know it’s a bar since the exterior is an unmarked door next to an ancient "Campus Party Store" sign. Once inside you will find a band or DJ playing music and a bunch of college kids enjoying the bar's famed drink, Yellowhammers (rum, vodka, amaretto cocktail). Sorority girls tend to end their nights there. Other good options around campus include Rounders with three bars, live music, and an open-air roof deck, and Bear Trap, which also boasts a rooftop overlooking Bryant Denny Stadium. The Houndstooth Sports Bar has been named by Sports Illustrated as the No. 1 best college bar and is among the best sports bars in the entire country.
As for downtown bars, the Innisfree Pub 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. You can expect a line out the door on football weekends. Close by you will also find The Booth, which has a similar atmosphere. Catch 22 is down the street. It sports a good crowd and specializes in infused vodka drinks.