Insiders' Guide to the Urban South

What hotel in Chattanooga let's you sleep in a train car? Where can you hear a free concert in Charlotte? We've scavenged the shops, sampled restaurant menus, relaxed in the parks, and more to find the best of the best. With these don't-miss tips from our writers (and their contacts), you'll have what it takes to navigate your way through some of the hottest spots in the South.

Have a Blast in Fort Worth
By Greg Staley, Director of Marketing Communications, Forth Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau

  • The Cowtown Coliseum (121 East Exchange Avenue; 817-625-1025; 1-888-269-8696 "COWTOWN") is actually in the Stockyards National Historic District. The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo takes place at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in the Cultural District (but only in the months of January and February.) The rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum is called the Stockyards Championship Rodeo, and runs almost every Friday and Saturday year-round. It is the home of the world's original indoor rodeo, first staged in 1918. For an authentic Western experience, stop in at The Stockyards Championship Rodeo, which includes many sports such as bull riding, barrel racing, and roping. If you are lucky, you might catch the horses and cowboys warming up in the outdoor arena on the west side of the Coliseum.
  • Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (2406 North Main Street; 817-740-8810) is a high-end restaurant, complete with white table clothes and pewter chargers. Main courses are priced up to $30 and reservations are recommended. The intimate restaurant with a small open kitchen sports state pride in all kinds of fun ways. For instance, one window in the kitchen has a Texas flag painted on it. In 2003, chef and owner Tim Love was the first chef from Fort Worth to cook at the famous James Beard House in New York City. Tim's menu includes wild game, such as kangaroo, elk, wild boar, and buffalo, in addition to his signature roasted garlic- stuffed beef tenderloin. Vegetarian offerings include warm grilled asparagus, roasted beet salad with balsamic vinaigrette, goat cheese, and fried sweet potatoes. Other popular veggie favorites are garden tomato-and-basil soup with homemade pesto, roasted portobello mushrooms with chiles, seared artichokes, and goat cheese-stuffed Vidalia onions. For an appetizer you should order the seared sweet lobster cakes with roasted corn-and-black bean salsa and cilantro-orange butter sauce. Every dish we sampled here was wonderful.
  • Sundance Square (www.sundancesquare.com) offers shops, theaters, events, and attractions year-round. A great new specialty shop is the high-end Western wear store Leddy's Ranch at Sundance (817-336-0800). It's connected to the famous Leddy's store in the Stockyards, where you can buy custom-made boots, hats, and clothing. Other shops include Earth Bones (817-332-2662), which offers an eclectic mix of gifts and jewelry from around the world -- good prices. There's Retro Cowboy (817-338-1194), which sells merchandise from the State of Texas, women's apparel, men's vintage shirts, sterling silver jewelry, Texas beers and wine, and ice-cold Dublin Dr Peppers.
  • Shop for unique jewelry and gifts at Mayfair on Main Street (817-336-0989). Pier 1 Imports (817-877-0479), which is headquartered in Fort Worth, has a large downtown store. There are several art galleries including Milan Gallery (817-338-4278), featuring local, national, and international artists, and the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art (817-332-6554), a small, free museum where you can see originals By Remington and Russell. Many restaurants in this area offer patio seating, including Angeluna (817-334-0080), Reata (817-336-1009; www.reata.net), and 8.0 (817-336-0880). Every April, the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival ( www.msfwaf.org) takes place. It is the largest free, outdoor arts festival in the Southwest. Performing, visual, culinary, and fine arts are all represented at this festival. Other events, concerts, and festivals are also staged here year-round, including Chevy Thunder in Sundance Square, which offers cars, music, and family fun, including visits from NASCAR drivers.
  • The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (1720 Gendy Street; 817-336-4475; www.cowgirl.net) is a two-story complex. The upstairs galleries are permanent and offer a mix of interactive exhibits. In their "Into the Arena" exhibit, kids can put themselves into a 1930s rodeo on a bronco ride, and later download the footage of their "ride" from the museum's Web site; the footage is also available through e-mail. The influence of cowgirls in pop culture is on display in the exhibit "Claiming the Spotlight." See Dale Evans' sequined costumes, a cactus-shaped guitar from the early days of the Dixie Chicks, an Andy Warhol original, and "Jessie," the Cowgirl from Disney's Toy Story 2. A brief film recaps great Westerns, from the beginnings of the silver screen to the present. The small theater in this exhibit even has a few saddle seats. Downstairs is the Hall of Fame, honoring 160 inspiring women with diverse achievements, such as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Willa Cather, Sacajawea, and Dale Evans, to name a few. Two large touch-screen electronic yearbooks give info on their lives. "Lifetiles," located between the first and second floors and visible from the rotunda, showcase 12 murals that change as you move around them. In the gift shop, lifelike models of honoree Mamie Hafley and her horse appear to dive from the ceiling into the shop.

If you want to know more about Fort Worth, surf these sites.

  • www.forthworth.com Find visitor information, event calendars, dining options, and coupons from the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau. You can even locate a hotel near your favorite Fort Worth attraction.
  • www.kimbellart.org The site for the Kimbell Art Museum offers exhibit and collection information, hours of operation, and restaurant and gift shop details.
  • www.fortworthzoo.com Get directions and admission information along with a schedule of events.

Cheers to Chattanooga
By Valerie Fraser and Wanda McKinney

  • Bluff View Art District (412 East Second Street; 423-265-5033) is a great place to ramble. They have a terrific little coffee shop called Rembrandt's Coffee House (423-265-5033, ext. 3), with a beautiful courtyard, which is shared By several surrounding restaurants. Bluff View Inn (423-265-5033, ext. 2) includes three bed-and-breakfast homes overlooking the Tennessee River, and there's a great restaurant nearBy called the Back Inn Café (423-265-5033 ext. 1).
  • Hunter Museum of American Art is fabulous (10 Bluff View; 423-267-0968). Ditto the little galleries in the area.
  • We loved strolling the Walnut Street Bridge, which is open to pedestrians only. It's a great way to see the river.
  • Rock Creek Down Under (191 River Street; 1-888-707-6709) is a great shop right smack in the middle of Coolidge Park. The store will help you gear up for a paddling adventure on the river. Just ask for manager Jim Fortune.
  • Probably the best thing about Chattanooga is the river itself. You can stroll the river walk or roam the neighborhoods that have been connected By well-designed walking paths.
  • And of course, there's Lookout Mountain, and the incline train. Both attractions are pretty impressive when you see them for the first time.
  • Be sure to spend the night at The Chattanooga Choo Choo. It's now a Holiday Inn, and you can sleep in the converted train cars. (423-266-5000; www.choochoo.com)
  • Don't miss the Tennessee Aquarium and the IMAX theater (1-800-262-0695; www.tennis.org). Another museum in the same area is the Creative Discovery Museum (423-756-2737; www.cdmfun.org), where kids can be play the role of an artist, musician, scientist, or inventor for a day.
  • If you get downtown and your stomach starts to growl, stop and eat at 212 Market Restaurant (423-265-1212; www.212market.com). The restaurant's been open for 12 years and is located right across the street from the Tennessee Aquarium. They offer New American cuisine, and have extensive dessert and wine lists. More good eats can be found at Clumpies Ice Cream Company (423-267-5425) on Frazier Avenue and River Street Deli (423-756-3354), which serves up fresh salads, sandwiches, and baked goods.
  • Also don't skip the Chattanooga Ducks (423-756-3825 "DUCK"). These are amphibious vehicles that once belonged to the military. They start out at 5th and Broad and do a brief tour of the downtown historic district. Then they head to Ross's Landing to launch into the Tennessee River for a 30-minute cruise around MacClellen Island. It's really fun.
  • The Warehouse Row Factory Shopping District (423-267-1111) is neat too. You can get to all these areas By taking the absolutely free electric shuttle that runs up and down Market Street between The Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Tennessee Aquarium.

For more on Chattanooga, visit these sites.

  • www.chattanooga.gov Discover all that Chattanooga has to offer on the city's official site.
  • www.huntermuseum.org The Hunter Museum of American Art site offers information on exhibitions and coming attractions.
  • www.chattanoogafun.com Find out what's going on from the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
  • www.lookoutmtnattractions.com You can find information on Rock City, RuBy Falls, and the Incline Railway, three popular destinations near the Chattanooga area. Purchase discounted tickets and learn the history of these attractions.

All About Atlanta
By Ben Brown

  • You can't go wrong making Centennial Olympic Park your focus of activity (404-222-7275 "PARK"; www.centennialpark.com). Starting in April, local artists playing everything from jazz, to R&B, to reggae will give free concerts in the park during Music at Noon on Tuesday and Thursday. Or from 5:30 to 8 p.m., try the Wednesday WindDown, which features great local and national artists playing tunes spanning jazz to contemporary. Want more? Every fourth Saturday from April to September, the park hosts Family Fun Days that include street performers, special displays, and hands-on activities for kids.
  • Take time to visit cool historic sites, such as the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (441 Freedom Parkway; 404-865-7101; www.jimmycarterlibrary.org), which houses a full-size replica of the Oval Office. From May 15 to August 15, you can view "The White House Collection of American Crafts" exhibition. You'll feel like you're taking a stroll back in time at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum (990 Peachtree Street; 404-249-7015; www.gwtw.org). Enjoy a 90-minute tour of the home where the famous author of Gone With the Wind wrote the majority of her book. The attached Gone With the Wind Movie Museum illuminates the making of the movie, the premiere, and the legacy with memorabilia.
  • If you want to see where locals hang out, try the Sidebar (79-A Poplar Street; 404-588-1850; www.sidebaratlanta.com), a neighborhood bar and sandwich joint. Sample authentic Cuban sandwiches and black beans and rice, as well as other Cuban-influenced cuisine. Want to try something new? Then be sure to order the plantain chips.
  • Downstairs from the restaurant you'll find the cool, newly renovated club, The Mark (79 Poplar Street; 678-904-0050; www.themarkatlanta.com). A few extra bucks will get you one of the best meals downtown has to offer at another local favorite, City Grill (50 Hurt Plaza; 404-524-2489).

For more on Atlanta, check out these sites.

  • www.atlantadowntown.com See maps, current events, and get updates on what's hot in Atlanta.
  • www.atlanta.com This site offers a comprehensive guide to Atlanta and the surrounding metro area.
  • www.ci.atlanta.ga.us The official site of the city, this site will tell you what's going on in Atlanta and links you to area-related Web sites.
  • www.webguide.com The best of shopping, attractions, sports, restaurants, and more.
  • www.zooatlanta.org The ZooAtlanta site tells the hours of operations and admission information along with a glimpse of animals.
  • www.woccatlanta.com Access the World of Coca-Cola Museum.

Only in Oklahoma City
By Ben Brown

  • Hop aboard a Water Taxi on the Bricktown Canal (405-234-8263). Your ticket is an all-day pass to ride as many times as you'd like. The canal cuts right through the Bricktown historic district in downtown, and the boats board about every 20 to 25 minutes. A full trip around the canal takes approximately 40 minutes. Dinner cruises can be booked for parties of 10 or more. Cocktail cruises are scheduled to begin in late spring. Float down the canal towards the 12,000-seat SBC Bricktown Ballpark, where you can catch sporting events, including watching the Oklahoma RedHawks play baseball. Another popular water taxi stop is Bass ProShop Outdoor World.
  • For a change of scene, drop By the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (1700 Northeast 63rd Street; 405-478-2250). On May 29-30, the museum will hosts its annual Chuck Wagon Gathering and Children's Cowboy Festival. Enjoy cowboy grub, Western music, and stage comedies.
  • Hungry? You can grab a table at Lotus (100 East California Street; 405-270-0800) for excellent sushi and steaks as well as a full American menu all in one place. Or try the Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro (201 East Sheridan Street; 405-236-8040) for lunch or dinner. The restaurant's gourmet selections include seared scallops and fried calamari. An extra bonus: if you don't see something you want on the menu, order it anyway. If you let them know in advance, the restaurant will prepare your favorite dish for you as long as the ingredients are available. Finally, don't forget LiT (208 East Sheridan Avenue; 405-602-6246), the hip lounge that features artwork and music By locals. Grab a bite, listen to some hot tunes, and take a gander at original works in the lounge's gallery. You'll get a panoramic view of the city if you head up to the lounge's rooftop to dine.

Find out what's happening in Oklahoma City by visiting these Web sites.

  • www.downtownokc.com. Find out about the Arts District and the Bricktown Canal.
  • www.okccvb.org This site has all the information you need to find tourist attractions, and you can request a free city guide.
  • www.okcmoa.com The site for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art offers information on the museum, exhibits, and activities.
  • www.okczoo.com The site for the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens is your gateway to hours of operation, activities, and admission information.

<Charlotte--Take a Walk Down Main Street
By Nick Patterson and Gary Clark

One of the things we like most about Charlotte is its walkability. You can walk anywhere in the vicinity of Trade and Tryon (the two main streets). While walking down the street, you'll encounter art, music, and many attractive sites. It's also a great place to sit and people-watch.

I took advantage of the opportunity to walk down the street from my hotel to Starbucks. I ate there often, and the food was great. I even had the same waiter a couple of times.

There are many choices of things to see and do in Charlotte at any time of day.

  • On a Thursday night in summer months, try "Alive After Five," produced by Wachovia and held in Wachovia Plaza (301 South Tryon Street). If you want to get close to the band, you can pay. If you don't, you can sit across the street and listen for free.
  • One of my favorite places to eat in Charlotte is one of the easiest to find: the Rock Bottom Brewery (401 North Tryon Street; 704-334-2739). This microbrewery offers six to eight handcrafted beers, great American cuisine, a pleasant atmosphere, and a nice view of the street.
  • A few blocks away, Mert's Heart and Soul (214 North College Street; 704-342-422) serves up Lowcountry favorites and soul food. Every second Saturday Mert's hosts Uptown Saturday Night, a poetry slam. It's the perfect place to get some good grub and rhythmical rhymes right downtown.
  • View the vast collection of public art downtown at many corporate buildings. Don't miss the frescoes and paintings By Ben Long in the Bank of America building lobBy (100 North Tryon Street).
  • Take a walk through The Green, reading the literary signs and dodging the water fountains, or sit in the grass and have lunch. Or for a fun inexpensive evening, try Wachovia Movies on The Green. On June 4, July 9, August 6, and September 17, free movies will be projected on an inflatable screen in the park. The films roll at 8:45 p.m.
  • Don't miss a long sidewalk cafe lunch at The Monticello Restaurant in The Dunhill Hotel (237 North Tryon Street; 704-342-1193).
  • If a summer shower pops up, don't worry. You can eat, drink, and shop without getting wet By using the maze of overhead pedestrian walkways that connect the downtown buildings.

For more on Charlotte, check out these sites.


The Joys of Jacksonville
By Ben Brown

  • Take a stroll down the riverwalk--one of downtown's largest recreational areas. Come June 11-13, head to the downtown riverfront for the 2004 Sail Jacksonville (904-630-3690; www.sailjacksonville.com), a tall ship festival on the banks of the St. Johns River. There will be several water events, including a Parade of Sail and a Pirate Battle, along with landside demonstrations, a boat-building contest, and more. You'll also enjoy live entertainment, children's activities, and performance artists.
  • Stay downtown and check out the view of the city from the middle of Main Street Bridge. While you can't stop and picnic here, it's a great place to take beautiful photographs of the city's span.
  • Located at the base of the bridge is the Jacksonville Historical Center (1015 Museum Circle, Unit 1; 904-398-4301; www.jaxhistory.com), where you can see artifacts and pictures that tell of the city's past. For another great learning experience, swing By the Jacksonville Maritime Museum (1015 Museum Circle, Unit 2; 904-398-9011; www.jaxmarmus.com). The facility houses marine artifacts from Florida's past as well as ship models, including one of the Sarasota, which is 22-feet long and 2 1/2 feet tall.
  • Later, when you need to grab a bite, drop into Eclaté (331 East Bay Street; 904-354-8833) a tapas bar and jazz club, which has featured musical renditions from the likes of the Bob Reynolds Quartet.
  • If you're in the mood for a world of flavor, stop By the International Café (219 North Hogan Street; 904-665-3262). Each day, they serve up cuisine inspired By global dishes from Spain, Italy, Nicaragua, Cuba, and more.
  • You'll find the urban after-work crowd at the London Bridge Pub (100 East Adams Street; 904-359-0001). And for more upscale dining, there's La Cena (211 North Laura Street; 904-633-9255).
  • Downtown boosters offer a variety of informal entertainment, festivals, and special events to attract folks at lunch time and after work.

For more on Jacksonville, visit these Web sites.

  • www.downtownjacksonville.org. Get a listing of citywide events or check out information on local attractions.
  • www.jaxcvb.com The convention and visitors bureau site offers information on Jacksonville and the Beaches.
  • www.cummer.org View exhibit schedules and learn about the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.