When I sat down to write this post last year, I had no idea that the world would essentially stop a few months later. I took my final flight of the year on March 13 home from Memphis.
But in the coming months, people started to travel again, mostly close to home and by car. Our guides became a helpful source of information.
Thinking about what travel should look like in the South in 2021 is difficult. It’s important to consider the coronavirus infection rates before going anywhere and to wear masks, even if it’s not mandated. The locations chosen aren’t major cities and provide better distance.
Mentone, Alabama is a beloved North Alabama mountain town a few hours from Atlanta. Home to less than 500 residents, it’s the perfect retreat with cozy cabins and inns.
It’s a short drive to DeSoto State Park, known for the waterfalls, Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, and Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel. Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort is Alabama’s only ski resort.
Dine at one of Mentone’s charming eateries like Wildflower Cafe, Elevation Bistro, and Mentone Market, or browse the downtown shops.
It’s safe to say that we could all use a bit more cash these days. But did you know that there’s a place in Arkansas where you can pan for diamonds and keep them?
Crater of Diamonds State Park welcomes people to sift through the soft mud. A nearly 4.5 karat diamond was recently discovered. The first diamonds were found here in 1906 and the site opened as a state park in 1972.
Located southwest of Little Rock, the town of Murfreesboro is the perfect base for visiting the park. The Ka-Do-Ha Indian Village is also nearby, interpreting life in the pre-Columbian culture.
There are a number of charming North Georgia towns but Clayton is among the best. The mountain town is less than two hours from Atlanta.
Clayton is also close to craft breweries and wineries, along with a moonshine distillery. Quirky landmarks like Goats on the Roof and Foxfire Museum are a short drive away.
Visitors can cozy up with friends in a cabin rental and go for a hike on one of the plentiful trails. Dine at Fortify and Universal Joint and browse for local goods at Wander North Georgia.
The town of Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle was once a part of Spanish Florida and later a British settlement. It’s best associated with the oyster industry but is also the gateway to neighboring St. George Island.
Visitors can learn about the area’s history at the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, St. George Cape Lighthouse, and Crooked River Lighthouse.
Sip on craft beer at the breweries and dive bars, browse the shops, and eat the freshest local seafood. Cafe Con Leche, The Franklin and Parlor Bar, and Up the Creek Raw Bar are a few favorites.
Incorporated in 1890, Berea is one of the fastest-growing communities in Kentucky, thanks in part to Berea College, founded in 1855 by a Presbyterian minister.
Set on the Cumberland Plateau, the town is only 45 minutes from Lexington. The incredible arts and crafts community, including the Kentucky Artisan Center, allows visitors to shop for unique gifts. There’s also hiking nearby.
The Boone Tavern Hotel is an inn and restaurant named for Daniel Boone. Native Bagel makes delicious bagel sandwiches while Noodle Nirvana has ramen.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Before I had to cancel, I was supposed to be going to this rural part of Louisiana north of Baton Rouge for the Angola Prison Rodeo. The annual event allows visitors into the prison to see bull riding and purchase inmate-created crafts.
During the rest of the year, the sleepy town is a stopover for river cruise passengers touring The Myrtles, a nearby plantation said to be haunted. It’s one of many historic inns in the area.
When the rodeo isn’t going on, visitors can check out the Angola Museum and the West Feliciana Historical Museum. Dine at restaurants like Magnolia Cafe and The Francis.
The Mississippi Delta has dozens of towns to explore, but Clarksdale is the best for first-time visitors. It’s full of intimate music venues and creatives making art.
Learn about the music history at the Delta Blues Museum or navigate the Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company. Delta Bohemian Tours also offers tours of this area.
Get your morning cup of coffee at Mekari Roasting Company, pictured, or enjoy daily specials at Hooker Grocer. Spend the night at the Travelers Hotel, the only boutique hotel in the area.
Sylva, North Carolina
Sylva is one of North Carolina’s mountain towns, located less than an hour from Asheville. It was where Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was filmed and markers indicate which places were used.
The town has a thriving downtown with antique stores and boutiques as well as breweries like Innovation Brewing. Get a cup of coffee at White Moon or enjoy barbecue at Haywood Smokehouse.
Go on one of North Carolina’s best hikes or visit quirky landmarks like the American Museum of the House Cat, which has cat-related artwork and artifacts.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
The South Carolina coast, specifically Daufuskie Island, is home to the Gullah community of former slaves that worked on the Sea Island cotton plantations.
It’s only accessible by ferry and private boat from Hilton Head. Visitors should check out the landmarks within the Gullah community, including First Union African Baptist Church, the island’s oldest building. Tour Daufuskie is one of the operators.
Despite its remote location, Daufuskie Island does have restaurants like Old Daufuskie Crab Company and Lucy Bell’s. Rental houses are the best way to experience the island.
It’s hard to remember all that happened this year, but in early 2020, Cookeville, Tennessee was hit hard by a tornado. It’s a great time to support the university town, which was founded in 1854 and is an hour from Nashville.
Explore the natural landmarks like Cummins Falls and Burgess Falls state parks or learn about history at the Cookeville Depot Museum. Arda E. Lee’s Hidden Hollow is one of the offbeat attractions.
Start your day at Poet’s Coffee or dine on Southern favorites at Seven Senses Food & Cheer. If that’s not enough reason, check out the whimsical treehouse resort Sulphur Ridge right outside of town.
Hampton, Virginia is often overshadowed by nearby destinations like Virginia Beach but the city has a lot of history. It was here that one of the first slave ships arrived in 1619. Blackbeard‘s head was displayed after his death in North Carolina. NASA also does a lot of work in Hampton.
Learn about the area’s legacy at the Hampton History Museum, the Virginia Air and Space Museum, and Fort Monroe. Visitors can explore by boat tour and even by Segway.
Hampton has fresh seafood at many restaurants, including The Deadrise, located on the harbor. The Vanguard is a former armory-turned-distillery and brewery. Brown Chicken Brown Cow is known for its incredible burgers.
Where do you want to go in the South in 2021?
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