What is Tuscaloosa, AL like?
I have to ask: Where oh where are these $300 rentals another person claims to exist near T-town? I have personally searched for such a place for myself and found nothing below $400, and the $400 was a bug infested nasty studio in areas that are not safe for single women to live, and anyone would expect their car to be broken into. Or is that person referring to shared rentals? If so, it is important to make note of that. The lowest rent that I found for clean and safe living started at $600. As for other of cost of living expenses, gas is low to average in price, tax is 9% on anything purchased (including groceries and food), and most things are reasonably priced and affordable. There are plenty of places to shop, but for excellent shopping on things other than groceries, you will likely want to go to Birmingham or shop online. And there are plenty of opportunities for employment.
As for the live music, I have to say that there is not much variety being offered. And what is out there is not that great. However, UA’s music department does offer concerts by the students, faculty, and special guests. That at least brings some variety from the same ol’ stuff being played at all the bars. But if you want variety outside of that, you have to go to Birmingham. There is the Amphitheater, and that’s great, but not for consistent weekends out.
I agree completely with another responder’s assessment of the restaurants in the area. (But I definitely prefer Archibald’s over Dreamland BBQ). There are a few fine dining options, the usual chain restaurants, the usual fast food options, and a few options outside of that. The Cypress Inn is usually consistent with their quality of food and service, and their prices are between chains like Olive Garden or Ruby Tuesday and the more expensive fine dining establishments. There are a few steakhouses that aren’t chain restaurants, and they are ok, but definitely a bit pricier than chain restaurants. Another Broken Egg is absolutely a delicious option, but also more expensive than a basic breakfast establishment. There are two southern kitchen establishments that are worth mentioning, too. Both of these are over the river in Northport, and are meat and 3’s. City Cafe in downtown Northport is the more popular one, and are always busy. The Brown Bag is out in the country part of Northport. I’d say they are just as good as City Cafe, but I don’t remember if they offer breakfast. City Cafe offers breakfast that is just as delicious as their lunch. The fast food and chain restaurant quality is usually sub-par to most other restaurants of the same name in any other city. There are definitely more quality lunch options available than dinner options, and most of these lunch options are not fast food chains but still chain restaurants: Jason’s Deli, Firehouse Subs, Momma Goldberg’s, Glory Bound Gyro, Mugshots, Mellow Mushroom… Oh! One more thing to make note of about food in Tuscaloosa! While there are not really any authentic foreign food options to speak of, Mr. Chen’s is the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten, and Hokkaido offers excellent Japanese food.
The university does offer a variety of things to do in Tuscaloosa. Their theatre, dance, and music departments all offer shows for the public. The astronomy department has viewings open to the public where they focus on a specific feature of space for the night: a lunar eclipse, the milky way, specific star clusters. Many departments offer guest presentations where a specialist comes in to speak of a specific topic that pertains to the department that invited them (psychology, archeology, mathematics, biology, etc). The English department hosts readings where the graduate students present their writings. Improbable Fictions is the English department’s presentation of Shakespeare as a staged reading series. The English department also invites authors to come in and speak about their works. There are other events available if you choose to utilize the university’s website and search for events available to the public (like the free movies showing on the University Quad during the summer). And of course there are the university sporting events that happen all year. During the summer, it is absolutely worth catching the Rude Mechanicals offering Shakespeare’s plays on a makeshift outdoor theatre. Outside of the university, there isn’t much to do unless you enjoy outdoor activities. There are a plethora of activities available if you enjoy the outdoors. However, biking is limited in the city to the campus because there are practically no bike lanes. I hear that they are supposed to be working on adding more bike lanes, but I have been hearing that for 10 years and haven’t seen much progress at all. There are a few art galleries, the Bama Theatre offers occasional entertainment (Arthouse Movie Series, live plays, the Pink Box Burlesque puts on a live rendition of the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Halloween), there are some arts and crafts events (Kentuck Art Festival is the big one, in Northport), there is the annual triathlon, there is a great farmer’s market (the Tuscaloosa River Market), and occasional events at the government plaza (such as their Live at the Plaza free live music events for the whole family and arts and craft events). If you truly want to find something to do, you can find something. Unless it’s an outdoor activity though, usually it will be something you have to actively look for by keeping up to date with Tuscaloosa events and University events.
The traffic varies. If you are trying to get anywhere at key times (to work by 8am, home from work at 5pm, anywhere around lunchtime, or anywhere around a school when schools start and end for the day) expect traffic to be terrible. On home football game days, expect traffic to be impossible before and after the game. Any other time, traffic isn’t so bad. Be careful to follow road laws, though. Cameras and cops will catch you breaking the speed limit, running a light, or rolling through a stop sign. And road construction is a constant. It will always be happening and interfering with traffic in the most inconvenient of times and places.
All together, living in Tuscaloosa is similar to living in a small town that has a few big city resources, but the big city’s real resources are about an hour away, in Birmingham. Even though Tuscaloosa is the 5th largest city in Alabama, and you would expect that to mean it has a large variety of resources available, it’s not. Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama, offering much more than Tuscaloosa does. The best resources are three hours away from Tuscaloosa, in Atlanta. If you want to visit the beaches on Gulf Shores, it’s five hours away.
You won’t break the bank by living in Tuscaloosa, but it is not as inexpensive as living in a true small town would be. You will not be bored if you actively look for things to do, especially if you like outdoor activities. Variety and culture is severely lacking, especially when you consider the fact that it has a huge university as the main focus of the city. Anybody living in Tuscaloosa must be willing to drive an hour to Birmingham to have access to most of what Tuscaloosa is missing. It is a decent place to live, especially when compared to many other places in Alabama. But if you are looking for a place with diversity, culture, and a variety of entertainment options, it is not the place for you.