It’s nice to think we’ve gotten to a point where everything is “back to normal,” but that just isn’t the case. Variants are on the rise but travel hasn’t slowed by any means. The last two years have been challenging for the travel industry (and website owners like me!) but I feel hopeful that things are turning around. Now is a great time to support the small towns and businesses around the South, so start planning future travels now!
I passed through the riverfront town of Wetumpka while searching for the filming locations from Big Fish a few years ago. The charming community on the Coosa River is only 30 minutes from Montgomery and was featured on the most recent season of HGTV’s Home Town.
Despite the town’s small size, there are some great local shops on Company and Hill streets. Admire the artwork in local galleries and at the Dixie Art Colony. Learn about the history of the area at the Wetumpka Impact Crater marker, the Elmore County Historical Society and Museum, and the Elmore County Black History Museum.
The Coosa Cleaver offers pub fare, including burgers, flatbreads, and sandwiches. Hog Rock Bar-B-Que is a friendly restaurant with barbecue and Southern sides like black-eyed peas and macaroni and cheese. At the Copper House Deli, diners can enjoy hearty sandwiches and salads.
Located 30 minutes north of Little Rock, Conway is home to the University of Central Arkansas. The town is surrounded by water, including the Arkansas River, Lake Conway, and Beaver Fork Lake. The outdoors are plentiful, including the Tucker Creek Walking Trail.
Learn about the area’s history at the Faulkner County Museum, set in the historic jail from 1896. The Windgate Museum of Art at Hendrix College is free to visit and has rotating exhibits throughout the year. There are also frequent art walks.
When you get hungry, head to Stoby’s Restaurant for the famous cheese dip or to Mike’s Place for New Orleans-inspired seafood. Zeteo Coffee is a popular local coffee shop. And don’t forget about food trucks like Rubis Mexican Food.
The Florida capital of Tallahassee doesn’t get nearly enough love beyond the politicians and the college football fans. But there’s so much more to see! The green spaces are unparalleled, including 700 miles of trails. Maclay Gardens State Park is the 1923 winter home of Alfred B. and Louise Maclay with its sprawling grounds.
Tallahassee Museum is set on 52 acres, equal parts zoo and park with trails, a zipline, an aerial adventure course, and Florida plant and animal life. Music fans can’t miss the Bradfordville Blues Club, a cinder block juke joint that hosts nationally renowned blues acts.
The city also has craft breweries, including Ology Brewing and Proof Brewing. Enjoy weekend brunch at Jeri’s Midtown Cafe or dine on fresh oysters and shrimp at Shell Oyster Bar, a cash-only and BYOB spot downtown. Il Lusso is one of the top restaurants in Tallahassee, with steaks, seafood, and Italian dishes.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
The town of Blue Ridge is well known as a charming North Georgia getaway, but it’s also a gateway for other towns. It’s home to Mercier Orchards, one of the best places for apple picking, as well as the iconic Swan Drive In. Learn frmo the best at Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods.
The area is also home to wineries, breweries, and treehouse rentals. The Rum Cake Lady serves authentic Cuban pastries and sandwiches with locations in Blue Ridge and nearby McCaysville, which straddles the blue line between Georgia and Tennessee. Yellowbird Coffee Shop here is the perfect spot for a quick snack.
In addition to the gorgeous hikes and drives, a visit to this area allows you to be in two places at once. Or, if you’re in the mood to cross off another state, there’s a point where you can stand in three states!
Covington and Newport, Kentucky
The towns of Covington and Newport sit on the southern shores of the Ohio River on the other side from Cinncinati. They have an interesting history with connections to mob bosses like Al Capone. Learn about the area’s ties to organized crime on the gangster tours.
The area has its share of quirky landmarks like Fort Mitchell’s Vent Haven Museum, a collection of ventriloquist dummies, and the World Peace Bell, the world’s largest swinging bell. The Newport Aquarium is also a popular stop.
And what would Kentucky be without booze? Visit the New Riff and Second Sight distilleries or the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, which has the area’s best selection. Craft brewers can sample brews at Braxton Brewing Company. Press on Monmouth is one of the best places to eat around, with pressed paninis, pastries, and coffee.
And speaking of Kentucky, don’t forget about the recovery efforts from the recent tornadoes that destroyed entire towns around Bowling Green. This link is for the state’s fundraising efforts.
No Man’s Land, Louisiana
While places like New Orleans are well-tread by travelers, there’s an entire portion of the state that many don’t know the history of. Called No Man’s Land, this area was considered to be “neutral ground,” the disputed territory between the United States and Spain following the Louisiana Purchase.
It became like the Wild West, known for outlaws and people on the run. But these days, it includes well-known places like Natchitoches and Lake Charles, along with smaller parishes like Allen, Beauregard, DeSoto, Sabine, and Vernon.
This region is home to charming small towns like Grand Cane, fishing and hunting, museums, and events like annual Mardi Gras festivities. Some of the best places to eat here are in gas stations. These unique restaurants offer all sorts of dishes, including burgers, boudin, and barbecue. There’s a gas station trail to help you find the best spots.
Hattiesburg is closely tied with the music history as an early rock song was recorded here in the 1930s. The University of Southern Mississippi, located here, has its own art museum, which has works by students as well as local and national artists. The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum is one of the quirky spots in town.
The African American Military History Museum honors the contributions of Black Americans in the military. The Hattiesburg Zoo is popular with families, along with the Longleaf Trace Trail rails to trail path. Southern Prohibition Brewery is one of Mississippi’s craft breweries. The Lucky Rabbit is a quirky shop often used on the show Home Town.
SouthBound Bagel & Coffee Shop showcases New York-style bagels in sandwiches or with cream cheese along with breakfast dishes. The Midtowner is a classic diner open for breakfast and lunch along with blue plate specials. Another longtime spot is Ed’s Burger Joint, offering burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches.
Greensboro, North Carolina
The city of Greensboro is in the heart of the state and has a background in the textile industry, home to Wrangler and Lee. It played an important role in history, home to the former Woolworths lunch counter that was a part of sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
The Greensboro History Museum is set in a former church and Confederate hospital, covering the city’s history from Native American settlement to the present. Among the collection is Dolley Madison dresses and artwork from the Black Lives Matter protests.
Fainting Goat Spirits crafts whiskey, gin, and vodka using North Carolina grains. The city also has a number of craft breweries like Little Brother and Pig Pounder.
Chez Genese is one of the best restaurants in town, with a French-inspired menu that includes sandwiches and salads. Located inside the Proximity Hotel, Print Works Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with favorites like flounder and quiche.
Spartanburg, South Carolina
The Upstate city of Spartanburg is known as the Hub City for its location along a number of train lines. The Hub City Railroad Museum, located inside the historic Southern Railway depot, at the functioning Amtrak station, interprets this history with artifacts like a Pullman blanket.
The Chapman Cultural Center is a sprawling complex with an art museum and a history museum. The Johnson Collection is another must-see, with an impressive collection of artwork from regional artists. Football fans can also see Carolina Panthers Training Camp on the Wofford College campus.
Beacon Drive In is one of the most recognized restaurants in town, with old-school burgers and shakes. Wade’s is another favorite, a meat and three open since 1947. The Pharmacy is a coffee shop in a historic 1925 building that serves coffee from Little River Roasters along with toast and sandwiches.
Flock Shop has fried chicken and all the fixings, located in an old auto repair shop near a walking trail. The Kennedy has 20s style decor, art, cocktails, and dishes like the lobster roll.
Columbia is less than an hour south of Nashville but feels worlds away from the chaos of Broadway. Centered around the historic courthouse, the downtown seems straight out of a Hallmark movie with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
President James K. Polk called the town home (and his house is now a museum) but these days makers from around the country have settled here. Briarworks, one of the only American-made tobacco pipe-making factories, is based here, along with Smith & York, a home decor boutique.
The music industry from the Music City has also trickled in. A few years ago, country singer Rory Feek began hosting shows at his farm’s Homestead Hall. The Mulehouse, set in a historic church, also opened recently.
There’s also an outpost of Puckett’s, the restaurant and venue that got its start in Franklin. Southern Tré Steakhouse, MuleTown Pizza, and River Terrace are other favorites in town.
One of Virginia’s most charming towns, Roanoke got its start as a trading hub and eventually became a stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountain town sits under the Mill Mountain Star, a neon star that was put up in the 1930s as a Christmas decoration but has remained ever since.
Admire the works of American art at The Taubman Museum of Art and the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University. Or play a round at the Roanoke Pinball Museum, an interactive space with games dating back to the 1930s. Visit Black Dog Salvage, an eclectic store seen on TV, or purchase an iron skillet made by Heart and Spade Forge.
Open since the 1930s, the ten-seat diner Texas Tavern is known for its chili, burgers, and breakfast plates. Enjoy vegetable-heavy dishes at Lucky Restaurant like homemade gnocchi with mushrooms and lamb shank with polenta.
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