We've searched the South's cities, villages, and hamlets to find a small town perfect for a fun summer getaway. There's no better time for a refreshing escape, and we've picked just the spots--Mandeville, Louisiana; Jonesborough, Tennessee; and New Bern, North Carolina.
Living Large by the Lake--Mandeville, LA
Louisiana has more to offer than the party-girl city of New Orleans. Mandeville nestles on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. A 24-mile-long bridge (Lake Pontchartrain Causeway) draws visitors from the bustling Big Easy to this take-it-easy city on the North Shore.
Wandering the sidewalks along the shores of Pontchartrain is a must. Lakeshore Drive, lined with beautiful, stately homes, also features a gazebo that often serves as a backdrop for bridal photos. Car washes and lemonade stands complete the summertime picture. Walking alongside the lake makes for a perfect 30-minute stroll.
Following their noses, many morning wanderers turn into Java Grotto and then take their coffee and pastries outside. People sit on benches and read the paper, while gentle breezes cool their lattes and invigorate the sultry air.
Every Saturday morning, visitors make the pilgrimage to the Mandeville Trailhead Community Market, located along the Tammany Trace. Forty to fifty vendors sell their wares here, which include produce, homemade salsas, soaps, wearables, and pottery. Shoppers often browse to the beat of live music, and children play in the fountain that's shaped like Lake Pontchartrain. More shopping takes place at Stone and Paper Art Center, where hand-thrown pottery (pieces start at $10) makes a great memento.
Just one block from Lake Pontchartrain, MarVilla Guest House welcomes all weary travelers. The 1870s coral-colored house features three guest rooms with modern amenities. Visitors love to sit on the screened porch and listen to chirping crickets after a light rain. Another popular lodging option is the Courtyard by Marriott in nearby Covington.
It doesn't hurt that The Original Broken Egg Café resides next door to MarVilla. One of the best menu items has to be the Garden Delight omelet ($7.45). It includes fresh spinach, fresh sliced mushrooms, and diced tomatoes, all topped with Swiss cheese.
A special treat awaits guests who plan an elegant dinner at Alex Patout's Restaurant on Lakeshore Drive. Fried Oysters Brochette ($6.95) leads to Chicken & Andouille Gumbo ($3.95) and Crabmeat Imperial ($19.95). A taste of crème brûlée ($5) puts the final sweet touch on a visit to this charming waterside town.
One Amazing Story--Jonesborough, AR
Coast to a stop at the crest of Main Street's gentle hill just outside town, and look down upon this striking village in northeast Tennessee. American flags furl and flap on nearly every building. A quaint wooden gazebo shades mustachioed band members, working out the oompahs of a Sousa march. Giggling children dart in and out of an ice-cream parlor. Couples stroll along the street, holding hands and ducking into unique shops. And everyone everywhere seems to know one another.
Make your first stop the Blair-Moore House Bed & Breakfast. Its austere Federal facade hides a bounty of surprises, not the least of which are the two charming owners, Jack and Tami Moore. Jack's gardening and woodworking skills will entertain like-minded folk for hours. Tami may make the world's best breakfast (don't miss her fluffy muffins). For a non-B&B option, try the Eureka Hotel next door. A large, inviting front porch begs to be used to bid the sun farewell each day.
By the way, park the car, and leave your keys in the room. Jonesborough is laid out as God intended: with everything on or near Main Street. The International Storytelling Center makes a fun afternoon--listening to tall tales told live by colorful characters. There are other performances in town as well. Most Friday nights this time of year bring Music On The Square, an event that showcases regional bands and closes the road to all but foot traffic. Amble down the street, and browse shops such as the Jonesborough Antique Mart, the Jonesborough Art Glass Gallery, and The Celtic Cupboard.
For meals, try Bistro 105, a former post office that now delivers gourmet salads, pastas, and desserts. Don't miss an inexpensive ($2.50) breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, and bacon at The Cranberry Thistle, a perfect small-town gathering place where chatty gossips come to dish. Bring your ears and appetite, and you'll leave town with a great story.
Tucked Between Two Rivers--New Bern, NC
What's neat about New Bern? This little burg may be one of the prettiest and friendliest places on the coast of North Carolina. The vibrant, revitalized downtown district sits perched on a triangle of land bordered by two rivers, the Neuse and the Trent. Visitors will also fall in love with New Bern's beautifully renovated old homes, some dating back to the 1700s. Most of the shopping, dining, and cultural action centers around the town's riverfront--actually two riverfronts--along Front and South Front Streets. The best part? People can park their cars and walk to most places and never be farther than a stone's throw from the water.
If you actually want to get out on the water, On the Wind Sailing Cruises offers day and evening charters from Northwest Creek Marina at Fairfield Harbor. Two-hour day cruises along the Neuse River cost $20 per person, and sunset cruises are $25.
Cool breezes and great views come with a visit to Union Point Park, located right where the two rivers meet. Another good way to see the town is by taking a trolley ride with New Bern Tours, which offers 90-minute guided trips through the historic district ($12 adults, $6 ages 12 and under).
New Bern's number one attraction has to be Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens. (New Bern, the second-oldest town in the state, served as North Carolina's first colonial capital.) An imposing Georgian brick mansion, rebuilt to be an exact replica of the original structure, overlooks 14 acres of patterned and themed gardens. Costumed interpreters bring the past into present-day liveliness.
After seeing Tryon Palace, visitors can cool off with a banana split ($4.25) at Cow Café. Or you can enjoy lunch at Marina Sweets Café & Deli. Lunch items here include such deliciously clever sandwiches as the Historically BLT ($4.95), which comes served as a pita wrap instead of on the usual sliced bread. New Bern abounds with good places for dinner. The Chelsea Restaurant, set in a 1912 building on the corner of Middle and Broad Streets, offers such entrées as Sonoma--shrimp and bacon over pasta with a blue cheese cream sauce ($14.95).
Among the town's other notable places is The Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi was concocted here in 1898 by pharmacist Caleb Bradham. Today, manager Larry Cook serves up Pepsi, 7 Up, and Mountain Dew from a fountainhead tapper.
Lodging choices in town include the Sheraton New Bern Hotel and Marina and the Comfort Suites Riverfront Park. Both offer easy access to downtown and views of New Bern's remarkable rivers.
This article is from the June 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.