It’s the time of year when we start planning upcoming adventures. There are so many places I recommend visiting in the South, but 2018 will be an important year for many reasons. Each of these destinations has been thoughtfully selected for what is new and exciting in the state. This list also serves as a personal bucket list for places we need to write about! So start searching for transportation deals and prepare to pack your bags!
There are changes coming to the capital city. Usually bypassed in favor of better-known destinations like Birmingham and Selma, Montgomery has deep ties to American history. Here you can visit the home of Zelda Fitzgerald, where she lived when she met F. Scott. The Hank Williams has items that belonged to the famous country singer, including his car. The Montgomery Museum of Art showcases works from around the world. Montgomery was also the capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War and the White House still operates as a museum.
And, of course, Montgomery played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, leading to the bus boycott, and Martin Luther King Jr. worked at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The Dexter Parsonage Museum details his time living in the city.
The Delta, Arkansas
You might have heard of the Mississippi Delta, but what about the Arkansas Delta? This region runs along the mighty river and shares much of the music and food influences. You’ll certainly find delta tamales. Start at the Johnny Cash Birthplace in Dyess to the north before traveling south to Helena. The King Biscuit Blues Festival is held here every year. The Delta Cultural Center, also in Helena, will provide an introduction to the region. You can even navigate the waters with a local canoe outfitter.
To the south in Jerome, thousands of Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II. And in Piggot, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum honors the American writer who lived in the town with his wife’s family for a time while working on A Farewell to Arms.
There are plenty of quaint college towns but DeLand, home to Stetson University, is something else entirely. It has an Old Florida quality, with kitschy landmarks and fish camps, but also represents the Gilded Age at the Stetson Mansion. Because of the young people who live in the area, there’s a thriving downtown with locally owned restaurants, craft breweries, and public art like the popular DeLand Wings.
In greater West Volusia, you can visit the top notch state parks, which offer the chance to get up close with wildlife. Everyone thinks of Crystal River for manatees, but the St. John’s River has them too. It’s also home to one of the region’s best skydiving facilities. The nearby town of Cassadega is known for its mediums. Best of all, you’re halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
The Golden Isles have long been a place of protected beauty where wildlife can roam free. Recent development plans on Cumberland Island have put that in jeopardy, so visit this year before changes are made. The national seashore is only accessible by ferry and reservations for campsites must be made in advance. There’s also the Greyfield Inn, a luxury hotel onsite.
While you’re there, visit the Dungeness Ruins, pictured, what remains of the Carnegie winter home. Plum Orchard Mansion was another Carnegie family home that survived and is open to tours. Don’t miss the iconic First African Baptist Church, where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. Wild horses roam the island on over 15 miles of uninterrupted beach. Bring your binoculars for bird watching.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
While many travelers stick to central Kentucky, western Kentucky has plenty to offer, especially when it comes to museums. Start your journey at he National Corvette Museum, where one of America’s most beloved cars is made. Rare models are on display and there’s even a driving track.
The Kentucky Museum, operated by Western Kentucky University, hosts rotating exhibits and also has a permanent collection of items significant to the state. The Downing Museum, also on the WKU campus, includes the Baker Arboretum and a collection by its namesake artist and others from around the region and nation. Bowling Green is a perfect base for exploring the rest of the state, including Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s only a few hours from Nashville and Atlanta.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Its proximity to western Texas makes it an easy road trip stop. Don’t let the casinos fool you. There are luxurious accommodations and award-winning restaurants inside, but Lake Charles has more to offer than just gambling. It’s a starting point on the Creole Nature Trail, a wildlife trail that loops around the region. It has top-notch food, especially Cajun meats. The thriving downtown music scene hosts local and nationally known acts every week.
Lake Charles also has its own Mardi Gras festivities, which are a far cry from the debauchery of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Instead, the parades are more family-oriented. If you get the chance, you can also check out the Cajun festivities in the rural towns surrounding Lake Charles. And if you don’t, visit the Mardi Gras Museum to learn about it.
Most people picture high rise casinos when they think of Biloxi, but there’s much more to coastal Mississippi than meets the eye. It has the stunning home of Jefferson Davis, Beauvoir, with its majestic oak trees. The Maritime and Seafood Museum has exhibits on the area’s important industries.
The arts also play a role in the region. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum is an art museum in a Frank Gehry-designed building. The Biloxi Lighthouse is also a must-see. And because Biloxi has the most hotel properties on the Gulf Coast, you can use it as a base to explore cute towns like Pass Christian and Ocean Springs.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Before Georgia was the film capital of the South, there was Wilmington. Hit shows like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed here, as well as movies like Blue Velvet, A Walk to Remember, and Empire Records. Thanks to recent hits like the show Good Behavior, film tourism is back on the rise in Wilmington. Go on a filming locations tour to see where your favorites were shot.
And while you’re there, check out the stunning coastline that has made the port city an important place for the state. Use Wilmington as a base to explore further, including the national historic site at Kitty Hawk and the iconic lighthouses like Bodie and Hatteras.
Aiken, South Carolina
Did you know that Aiken, South Carolina is where the wealthy spent winters? The Aiken Winter Colony was established by names like Astor and Vanderbilt as a place to thaw from the northern temperatures. Their annual steeplechase dates back to 1930 and, if you’re looking to attend a horse race, is a cheaper and more low-key alternative to the Kentucky Derby. The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame educates on the area’s horse racing history.
The town itself has a number of great restaurants and shops. Stay at The Willcox, a historic hotel with a top-notch spa and Sunday brunch. Venture out to Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site, a historic plantation with a unique past that was documented by the residents of the property.
You’ve likely heard plenty about Nashville and its thriving restaurant scene. But Chattanooga is the underrated cousin to the Tennessee city. The travel and food media is just starting to catch onto it, so plan your trip before it blows up too! Whatever you’re flavor, you’ll find it here, from old school meat and three joints to white tablecloth fine dining restaurants to funky dives.
Most visitors stay around downtown, near the Tennessee Aquarium, but there’s even more beyond it. The North Shore is a popular neighborhood with Coolidge Park and its views of the river. On the Southside lies the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the next generation of Chattanoogans operating coffee shops, juice bars, and even a whiskey distillery.
There’s no way to describe the tragedy that took place in the college town of Charlottesville this year. The events shook up the friendly atmosphere where University of Virginia students peacefully live alongside residents. But there’s never been a more important time to visit. You’ll see signs that say “Hate Has No Place Here” and “Cville Stands for Love” all over the place.
The university campus itself is well worth a visit, with its Aboriginal art museum and the form dormitory of Edgar Allan Poe. Charlottesville is also the gateway to Virginia wine country, located a short drive from town. And back in C-ville, don’t miss the locally-owned restaurants and bars that launched the careers of groups like Dave Matthews Band.
Where do you want to go in the South in 2018?