At the Travel Media Meetup (recently held in Nashville at Fat Bottom Brewery where I’ll take you on a tour soon), I learned about escapes in 10 states. Some of these places I thought I knew. Others I knew nothing about.
Normally I don’t recommend any destination, hotel, restaurant, or event unless I’ve experienced it myself. Plans are in the works to do just that, but in the meantime, I want to share secrets too good to keep so you can explore these ideas when making plans for late summer or fall.
Did you know Mobile, NOT New Orleans, is known as The Birthplace of the Original Mardi Gras? Or that you can celebrate Mardi Gras- style anytime and hear the world famous Excelsior Band here? Want to take a kayak or airboat down “America’s Amazon”? Mobile has one of the largest and most bio-diverse wetland ecosystems in the world. In the U.S., it’s second only to the Mississippi Delta. The city is known for the “Three Southern Bs”: bayous, bays and beaches. And the Mobile Museum of Art is the largest museum of its kind from Tampa to New Orleans on the Gulf Coast. Learn more here.
*I’ve been covering places I’ve discovered on the west coast of the Sunshine State since 2020. Here are 3 new places on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts I plan to explore soon (and one old friend I look forward to seeing again).
This place came on my radar when a fellow writer recommended it and I saw that it’s one of the most dog-friendly cities in the state. The fact that it is two hours south of Savannah, Georgia (which I love) was intriguing. Now that I know more, I’m obsessed. I’ll save more reasons for the feature I’ll be writing because I plan to heed the call to “Come Make Memories” soon. I can’t wait to photograph and video my way across the island and on the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, Nassau Sound and Cumberland Sound. Then there’s the state’s oldest lighthouse, the historic downtown area of Fernandina Beach, the food. Learn more here and stay tuned…
If you’re into shorelines, this city has 1,100 miles of navigable water and 22 miles of beaches — more than any other in the state. With 10 State & National Parks and more than 400 City Parks and gardens, you’re within 15 minutes of a hiking, biking, fishing, or camping adventure. You got to love a city that has Porch Fest (Nov. 5, 2022), a free festival with food and live music played on porches and in parks in Springfield, downtown Jacksonville. Like Amelia Island, JAX is dog-friendly, and because of the proximity of these two relaxing spots, I plan to do them together.
This area is nostalgic for me. I’ve spent amazing vacations here with friends and family, but it has been too long. I’m excited to return with new eyes this fall after learning about the area’s new offerings. Did you know Destin is called “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and has the largest commercial charter fishing fleet in the country? More than 140 vessels bring in thousands of pounds of seafood daily. Deep sea fishing and eating my own catch has been on my Bucket List for a LONG time. A couple of more fun facts: Did you know Destin- Fort Walton has a Greek Festival? Did you know BOTE paddle boards are made here? At the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Virtual Media event one lucky attendee won one. Do you know who? YAY!
A Media Tour is in the works, so stay tuned for features on this area. … For now, learn more here.
This one was listed on Trip Advisor’s 2021 Top 15 Beaches in the U.S. My niece — who has beach-hopped across the Gulf of Mexico and recently discovered Pensacola — says it’s now her go-to place. I have a list of reasons from her and other fans I’ve talked to. Hopefully I’ll share them from first-hand experience in a feature soon.
You can still catch Bands on the Beach — a free lineup of regional artists until October 25 at the Gulfside Pavilion on Pensacola Beach. Blues Angel Music’s Blues on the Bay is another free summer concert series held at the Community Maritime Park Hunter Amphitheater on select Sunday evenings through August 21. Learn more here.
I took my first solo flight to this city when I was in fourth grade. When my daughter was a young teen, we did a shopping trip to Buckhead for her birthday and ate our weight in sushi. Since then, much has changed. Two recent additions are Illuminarium, a new immersive entertainment setting and event space that features the world’s first virtual safari and an outdoor cocktail bar with ever-changing scenery. Chattahoochee Food Works, located in the heart of the Upper Westside, is a 31-vendor, 25,000 square-foot food hall that opened in mid-May. Whether passing through or making a vacation of it, this town has a lot to offer. See here.
I knew nothing of Perry until the Travel Media Meetup. Now I’m impressed with all of their signature events. Having grown up with the Western Kentucky State Fair at the end of my street — the biggest annual event in town — I appreciate a good fair. Perry is home to the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, the LARGEST fairgrounds in the country. The midway was designed by the same people who designed Disney World. Last year 500,000+ people attended. Catch it in October and see what else is happening in Perry.
You can see cheesemaking at Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in my home state. Oh, and you can take a field trip like I did as a child to an UNESCO World Heritage site. I was amazed then at the size of Mammoth Cave, but having seen UNESCO sites in other countries, I realize how cool the title is. Travel + Leisure recently named Mammoth Cave the most beautiful place in Kentucky. I love that it’s also the longest known cave system in the world. Learn more here.
THE KENTUCKY WILDLANDS
I grew up in Western Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and have seen a handful of other places in the state. When I saw the ancient forests, waterfalls, lakes and more — 14,000 square miles of eastern and southern Kentucky — called The Kentucky Wildlands, I was amazed. The hardest part is choosing which adventure to do first. Stay tuned and I’ll show you what I decided. In the meantime, watch the video below and learn more here.. www.explorekywildlands.com/
SHELBY KY (Shelbyville, Simpsonville, & Shelby County)
Though I lived on a Lexington thoroughbred farm, I had no idea the American Saddlebred Capital of the World was just an hour away. Shelby County has 90 farms and equine facilities. Here you can ride trails or jump off the Kentucky Bourbon trail and stay awhile. I didn’t realize my favorite bourbon and rye whiskey — Bulleit — is made here (my go-to for Mint Juleps and Madhattans.) Here’s to touring the Bulleit Frontier. Learn more about this area here.
Monroe-West Monroe promises experiences “outside the lines.” I see why with the Duck Commander Tour (as in A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty) where you can track the Robertsons’ adventures; the Biedenharn Museum where you can wander formal English gardens, a Coca-Cola Museum, and a Bible Museum; and the Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge and more here.
This city claims to have the oldest live-music scene in Mississippi. After the Civil War, railroads made Meridian the largest in the state. Between 1890 and 1930 touring musicians stopped to play in clubs on their way to New Orleans. Music is still the heart of Meridian. Here’s what it offers Music Lovers now. (I’d love to see EmmyLou Harris at MSU Riley Center December 9). At WelArts + Entertainment Experience (THE MAX) learn how Mississippi was muse to William Faulkner, Eurdora Welty, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis, B.B. King, Jim Henson, and Oprah Winfrey.
One of my favorite authors, Jill McCorkle, is from a small town in North Carolina. If your coming-of-age story is in the U.S. South, too, take Ferris Beach, The Cheer Leader, or one of her other novels with you when you vacation below.
Coastal Living Magazine named Southport “America’s Happiest Seaside Town.” I can’t wait to explore where some of my favorite movies were made for an upcoming feature. Stay tuned…. On Brunswick Islands you can photograph and video sunrises and sunsets over the sea without moving your beach chair. And if you’re an oyster lover, too… this year is the 41st anniversary of the North Carolina Oyster Festival which will be held October 14 & 16. More info here.
Ever soaked in a tub above a lake? Or slept in a chicken coop? A floating house? A tiny home? Bryson City offers unique ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains. On both Deep Creek and the Oconaluftee River you can rent tubes. There’s also whitewater rafting, Fontana Lake swimming holes, waterfalls, and the PolarExpress® (record scratch) on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Whether you visit in water-sport season or the holidays when the town transforms into a Hallmark movie, you’ll have a unique experience in Bryson City. See more here.
I’ve wanted to get to the Outer Banks for a LONG time. I’ve wanted to see Corollas — descendants of Spanish mustangs — in my dreams. Knowing what Currituck offers, I fear that once I get there, (sing it like Mick J.) “wild horses couldn’t drive me away.” If you’re with me, start making plans here.
PINEHURST, SOUTHERN PINES, ABERDEEN AREA
If you’re a linkster, you should love this area which is said to be “The Home of American Golf.” If you’re not, there are other things to do … especially eat. This destination appeals to foodies and those who would love a Sandhills of North Carolina Pour Tour Passport. Learn more here.
WILMINGTON AND BEACHES
Wilmington, recently named one of the “South’s Best Cities on the Rise” by Southern Living, offers a Riverwalk, historic downtown, coastline, and Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park — one of Live Nation’s only music venues located by the water. . In addition to Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville beaches, you can enjoy museums, a water park, farm and sea-to-table restaurants, and live music. Grab a bite at Zombie Fresh Kitchen indoors or outdoors on the dog-friendly patio. At Catawba Brewing Co. choose from 24 craft beers and hard seltzers on tap, or at Panacea Brewing Company, have a hard and non-alcoholic Kombucha. Learn more here.
OLD 96 DISTRICT
On trips to the Gulf as a child, my family would always stop in Georgia at roadside stands to buy peaches. Did you know that South Carolina produces more peaches than Georgia… that Georgia is the 2nd largest producer of the fruit behind California… and that SC peaches are DELICIOUS? While sampling one, I learned that peaches were first documented in China in the 10th century, and that Titan Farms in Edgefield, SC is the largest peach grower on the East Coast with over 6,000 acres of peaches in production.
I also learned that this area — Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, and McCormick — loves hosting girl getaways. There are bed and breakfasts. I’ve done Charleston and Hilton Head with friends, but going off the beaten trail would be fun, too. Abbeville, where Julia Roberts filmed Sleeping with the Enemy, has colorful buildings like those in Charleston and Dublin. Learn more here.
*Lots of options for planning here.
If you’ve seen the sign “See Rock City” your whole life but never have, the 90th Anniversary of this attraction may be your year. Summer Music Weekends are part of the celebration if you’re passing through. Here’s a playlist to take you there.
I grew up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky less than 30 miles up the road from Clarksville. As a kid, I’d cross the border to eat at Shakey’s Pizza; as a teen, to go to a club called Water Works; and as an adult, to attend a Fort Campbell officers’ picnic at Beach Haven Winery.
Beachaven is still going strong. Their Jazz on the Lawn summer series is scheduled for August 20 and October 22. On non-Jazz weekends, you can enjoy live acoustic music on the lawn Saturdays and Sundays through October. But as for the rest… I had no idea how much Clarksville has changed!
Downtown @ Sundown is a concert series featuring local and regional music. Held on the first and third Fridays from May through October, their lineup includes Hot Lanta, Beatles VS Stones, and The Eagles Project on August 19 I hope to see.
Old Glory is now a small-batch artisan distillery. Star Spangled Brewing Company claims to be “The Most Unapologetically Patriotic Brewery in America.” It turns out there’s a lot to say “Cheers” about with all the new craft beer breweries in town. I also took for granted Clarksville’s location. Check out these day trips. And I’m looking forward to a night trip to The Mail Room opening in August in Clarksville’s historic federal building. They’ll be serving Korean and South American cuisine and bringing people together on their outdoor deck with fire pits.
I have some wonderful memories here — a girl getaway on a mountaintop, romantic escapes, and day trips from Knoxville with my son… but I’ve barely started exploring all this area offers. If you’re into outdoor sports, nature, chalets, hot tubs, artisans who give you “Create Your Own” experiences, power shopping, Christmas decor on steroids, comfort food, and/or areas so beautiful they can’t be described with words… the mountains are calling. Join me in Gatlinburg soon.
I love this town. If you have a Lego fan in the house, the Brickuniverse Lego Fan Convention will be here August 13-14.
See the new Elvis movie, then celebrate The King during Elvis Week 2022 August 9-17. Go all- in by staying at Graceland or go all- out on Beale Street and stay at Caption by Hyatt , a new tech-forward hotel using recycled and repurposed materials.
(Get my Homegirl Guide here.)
UNION STATION NASHVILLE YARDS
I am soooo looking forward to an upcoming Staycation here. With accolades from US Today, Conde Nast and local publications like The The Tennessean, Nashville Lifestyles and more, The Union Station Nashville Yards is proud to be named “Best Southern Boutique Hotel,”“Best Haunted Hotel in the South,”“Sexiest New Restaurant in Nashville” and more. Plan your stay here.
Have you seen the new Jurassic Park movie? It was a wild ride. Did you know Tennessee has Frank, our own r 38-foot-long T. Rex skeleton? At Earth Experience, the first natural history museum in middle Tennessee, you can see a working paleontology laboratory where dinosaur bones are cleaned and repaired as well as archeological relics from as far away as Antarctica. Drop by. I will. Though I’m a member of the English Department at Middle Tennessee State University (and you’re welcome to drop by campus, too), I didn’t know we had such a cool interactive attraction like this one. See more the area has to offer here.
VIRGINIA’S BLUE RIDGE
Here you get the best of many worlds – city amenities in Roanoke and Salem — outdoor adventures on the Appalachian Trail, and Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve driven it and understand why some call it America’s Favorite Drive . Actually, the road itself is a national treasure. See why here.
- Thank you, Pineapple Public Relations and Southeast Tourism Society for bringing a lot of fun people together at the TMM and at southern U.S. destinations.