It’s the time of year when we start planning upcoming adventures. There are so many places I recommend visiting in the South, but 2017 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!
Locals are quick to tell you that despite what you’ve been told, Mobile is actually the original home of Mardi Gras. It’s the life of the party, year-round. Like some of its Southern counterparts, you can take your drinks to go on Dauphin Street. This same street is also where you’ll find the best stores, restaurants, bars, and art galleries. In many ways, Mobile rivals cities like New Orleans and Savannah, especially when it comes to fresh seafood. It also shares the French, British, and Spanish influences with these cities, which tend to get more acclaim in travel publications.
In addition to the traditional must-sees, Mobile is home to a unique arts culture. Every month, locals and visitors come for the Art Walk in LoDa, which shuts down the street. Local vendors bring their wares for you to buy. Another way to experience the arts is at Mobile Museum of Art and Alabama Contemporary Arts Center. Admire the works of both international and regional artists.
Little Rock, Arkansas
I passed through the Arkansas capital on my way to Oklahoma and while I was only able to see it for a few hours, I knew I’d want to come back. I find the entire state to be underrated and Little Rock, especially as this city reckons its often dark past with the positivity of their present. If you’re a history buff, be sure to visit the many Civil Rights landmarks that the city has turned into a free mobile app tour. Among the stops are Central High School, the Mosaic Templar Center, and the state capitol. The stops along the state’s “Billgrimage” honoring the Clintons brings you to the presidential library.
Other unique draws to the city are the Esse Purse Museum, a museum devoted to women’s history and fashion, and Ernie’s Museum of Black Arkansans. Breweries have also popped around town, including Blue Canoe, Flyway, and Lost Forty, along with distilleries like Rock Town. Browse the shops in River Market and explore the neighborhoods of the Quapaw Quarter and The Heights.
Tampa, Florida has previously been known as somewhere for retirees, but I’m here to say that there’s never been a better time to be young in the city. The food and drink scene rivals Miami with restaurants like Oxford Exchange, Ulele, 717 South, and The Refinery as well as classics like Columbia Restaurant and Bern’s Steakhouse. The food hall trend will also arrive in town this year with Hall on Franklin and Armature Works. Cocktail bars like Anise’s Global Gastrobar and Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club are also hits. Tampa has also become a beer destination in its own right, started by Cigar City Brewing. Newer breweries like Coppertail and new in 2017 Rock Brothers Brewing make the city a brew lover’s hotspot.
In 2017, Icelandair will begin service to Tampa’s airport, opening the city up to European travelers and providing an alternative to some of the more chaotic Florida airports. Dozens of museums and a cruise port make it a hit with families as well, especially when you can get around entirely on bicycle trails and skip the parking decks. A ferry will soon connect with St. Petersburg, making it easy to explore the area. There’s also never been a better time to explore Ybor City, the city’s original Cuban quarter. Kids will love the TECO Streetcar’s vintage feeling.
Home to Fort Benning, as more industry has arrived in Columbus, so has a local restaurant scene and outdoor experiences. Its location on the Chattahoochee River makes it a great spot for kayaking, paddleboarding, and, of course, rafting. You can even zipline across the river to Alabama. For cultural experiences, visit the top-notch National Infantry Museum, Columbus Museum, and the famous Springer Opera House. The city is well connected for day trips around the region, including Warm Springs and LaGrange.
Columbia has a thriving food and drink scene, which ranges from dives to fine dining. 11th and Bay Southern Table has river views and modern interpretations of Southern dishes. The Black Cow makes similarly delicious plates while Four Winds is known for their “Ranger Burger.” Stop by the weekend farmer’s market to pick up your week’s produce, brought straight from the southwest Georgia farms. Nonic is a new bar, which serves small plates and craft beer.
Horse racing and bourbon may be the first things that come to mind when you hear Lexington, Kentucky, but at its core, the city is a large college town. Home to the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University, you could easily keep yourself entertained without indulging in either of the town’s most famous attributes. Foodies will enjoy a visit to the Lexington Farmer’s Market and meals out at County Club or Joella’s Hot Chicken. Breweries like Blue Stallion, West Sixth, Ethereal, and Country Boy all honor their location in their brews.
Thanks in part to the opening of the 21C Museum Hotel, there are many art galleries to visit. Street art and murals also brighten up the downtown. But if you’d rather spend your time in the great outdoors, Lexington is a surprising destination for cycling with both urban trails and sprawling hills between distilleries and horse farms. Nearby Shaker Village also has horse and walking trails.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Louisiana is full of great destinations, but the capital city of Baton Rouge is frequently overlooked. Like some of the others mentioned, it is a college town, which brings in creative talent. The area suffered devastating floods in 2016 but is on the mend. Whereas some of the other cities may put on airs, the “Red Stick” isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. But that doesn’t mean that locals don’t have serious pride for their city.
Similar influences are found in the dishes, as you’ll still find po boys and beignets. You can experience the food culture at the annual Fete Rouge, which brings together the city’s top chefs, as well as on Baton Rouge Food Tours. They take you to some of the city’s most memorable restaurants and explains the history. In the next year, the city is sure to be recognized for its uniqueness when it comes to food. White Star Market, the city’s first food hall, will open with eateries like Gov’t Taco, Jolie oyster bar, and Chow Yum Phat. Many of Baton Rouge’s notable culinary stars will have outposts at the market.
Similar to Louisiana, parts of Mississippi get more glory than others, namely Oxford and the Delta. But Jackson is coming for their titles, setting itself apart as more than just a college town. Students have become locals, opening boutiques and restaurants around town. Trendy restaurants like Parlor Market, Babalu, and Saltine are just a few favorites. The capital city is also known as a filming location, used in The Help and A Time to Kill.
Jackson boasts history, with museums honoring the Civil Rights movement. In fact, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will open in December 2017 on one united campus. Other notable museums include the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Music Experience at the Iron Horse Grill, and the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Jackson also boasts dozens of blues trail markers.
Wilkesboro, North Carolina
North Carolina is full of quaint mountain towns, but Wilkesboro swells from a small town to a sprawling campsite every year for Merlefest. The annual music festival honors the late son of Doc Watson and embraces bluegrass and regional music. Next year, it will celebrate its 30th anniversary. Pay your respects at the mural dedicated to Doc in town. The music history is rich, even beyond his influence. Tom Dooley, of ballad song fame, was jailed in town for his influence in a murder.
Beyond music, the great outdoors can be found in Wilkes County, whether you’re interested in mountain biking or hiking. Dark Mountain Trails are world-class for biking and the Yadkin Greenway allows for shaded walks. It’s also a great place to experience orchards and vineyards in the Yadkin Valley. The county has a history with moonshine, once called the white lightning capital of the world. Modern distilleries like Call Family Distillers and Copper Barrel Distillery allow you the chance to try it.
Travelers Rest, South Carolina
You might have passed through Travelers Rest without realizing it, but as the name implies, this town has been a haven for the weary sojourners for generations. Wagons stopped here in the 1800s before the railroads made their way. Named one of America’s coolest small towns, it’s just a short drive from the city of Greenville. It has a number of bars, restaurants, inns, and even a brewery and distillery. Cafe at Williams Hardware and Swamp Rabbit Brewery are favorites. Furman University is located within the town limits.
But perhaps it’s best known for the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a rails-to-trails project that connects the 20 miles between Greenville and Travelers Rest. The paved path is open to runners, walkers, cyclists, and skaters. It has a number of access points and even restaurants along the way. It also connects to Trailblazer Park, where the town’s farmer’s market is held.
Knoxville is known as the “Scruffy City” after a remark made during the World’s Fair, but now they love the nickname. The city even celebrated its 225th birthday this past year but has never looked younger. Urban renewal has taken over the city, especially in the Old City. Former warehouses are now hip coffee shops, lofts, and restaurants. Vegan-friendly spots like Tomato Head and The Sunspot and brunch favorites OliBea and Knox Mason are must-visits. Market Square is a hub of activity with its boutique Oliver Hotel and national chains like Urban Outfitters.
The city is also well located for outdoor adventures. Within the city limits, the Ijams Nature Center offers countless opportunities, whether you’re into mountain biking, hiking, or cycling. The former quarry is also a place to spot wildlife. It’s also a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which you can be in within an hour’s drive.
Richmond has history on its side, dating back to the early settlement of the United States. Learn about the past at its historic landmarks. Leigh Street Armory and the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site are just two of the city’s African American history attractions. Despite the city skyline, it’s easy to get outside. Cycling enthusiasts can ride over 50 miles between Richmond and Jamestown on paved trails via the Virginia Capital Trail.
The Quirk Hotel is one of the city’s top hotels, a boutique beauty, while HI Richmond is one of the South’s best hostels, offering visitors the chance to experience Richmond like a local. Foodies will fall for eateries from chefs like James Beard-nominated Peter Chang or be terrified by GWARbar, run by the native members of the metal band. Richmond has its own beer trail, which allows visitors to reach all of the city’s breweries and cideries easily. Stone Brewing opened their East Coast production facility in town in 2016.
Where do you want to go in the South in 2017?