Best Places in the South
There is a show of shows seven nights a week in New Orleans, more live music than one could ever hear in a lifetime of late nights. In the Quarter, in the Marigny, Uptown, downtown, and, when all else fails, on street corners spotlighted and improvised. No trip to the Crescent City is right without joining the parade. Luckily, all you have to do is follow your ear.
Arrive by land or by sea (Sylvia offers free dockage while you dine) to feast on a whopping 5 ounces of jumbo lump crabmeat scented with a heady dose of Old Bay, and served with the house-made tartar sauce. thecrabclaw.com or 410-745-2900
Get a good map (such as “National River Gorge Scenic Drives,” available at nps.gov/neri or any park visitors center) and explore the thinnest, wiggliest lines―these rural byways head to the heart of this adventureland.
Life, whatever its problems, always bears gifts, and for those of us from Mississippi one of its great fruits has been our literature, the written words by those who come from the place where, for all its conflicts and complexities, people always seem so openly friendly and generous, where the pine-winey summer afternoons or winter woodsmoke or the light in August never fail to bring to mind memories―and stories. rowanoak.com
The Opry is timeless. The stars change from Patsy Cline to Dolly Parton to Martina McBride. What endures―and has for 85 years―is the Opry itself. opry.com
• The dessert Death by Chocolate was created in Williamsburg at the Trellis Restaurant. thetrellis.com
• At The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg you can customize a 17th-century-style apothecary scrub with maize, raw sugar, and herbal powders for a one-hour treatment ($135).
• The Rare Breeds program rears six heritage species from colonial days, including Ossabaw Island pigs found off the coast of Georgia.
• In the early 1900s, tunnels were dug to move employees and supplies without disrupting the visitors’ experience. colonialwilliamsburg.com
The Journey with Gentle Giants program is for anyone over 12 years old. Guides lead you through the world’s largest aquarium that holds some of the world’s largest fish: four whale sharks, which range from 17 to 22 feet long, as well as a passel of hammerhead sharks, giant groupers, and manta rays.
Explore the surface where you may be bumped by docile whale sharks or go eyeball-to-eyeball with schools of silvery pompano. In exotic dive spots there are no guarantees, but at the Georgia Aquarium you’ll always swim with the big guys. georgiaaquarium.org or 404-581-4000. Journey with Gentle Giants: $225 swim program, $325 scuba.
Dance halls are as classic Texas as pickup trucks, brisket, and big hair. Gruene Hall, halfway between San Antonio and Austin, holds the honor of being the oldest in the state.
Built in 1878, it helped launch the careers of household names such as Lyle Lovett and George Strait. And any musicians in Texas worth their cowboy boots have played on its stage, from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson to Jack Ingram and the Dixie Chicks. If you’re anywhere close, it’s a must. Here’s our Dance Hall Survival Guide to ensure you make the most of your visit. 1281 Gruene Road; gruenehall.com or 830-606-1281
Journey through a section of Missouri’s wine country, from Augusta to Hermann, and you’ll see why some people compare it to the Rhine River Valley―Southern style. This path follows two-lane U.S. 94, crosses the Missouri River to U.S. 100, and snakes past lush green vineyards ripe with Catawba, Norton, and Concord grapes.
• Down-home desserts: Order buttery spoonbread with chocolate at the newly renovated Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant (boonetavernhotel.com or 800-366-9358).
• Souvenirs: For $25, you can buy a handmade glass bead―a perfect pendant for a necklace―by Jimmy Lou Jackson at her shop Hot Flash Beads.
• Berea Crafts Festival: July 9-10, more than 125 artists and craftspeople sell their work at the Indian Fort Theater.
• Blue plate specials: The Dinner Bell serves grandma-worthy fried chicken and hot buttered rolls.
For many, witnessing a sunset from Mallory Square is a bucket-list item, akin to seeing fireworks over the Washington, D.C., Mall or the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Only in Key West, a place made famous by its anything-goes attitude, do folks offer a reverent good-bye so irreverently, and then get the chance to do it all over again the very next day. sunsetcelebration.org
Winterthur’s 60 acres of gardens make a gorgeous visit any time, but spring is special. Thousands of bulbs and wildflowers carpet the ground on the March Bank and spectacular drifts of azaleas bloom beneath towering trees in the Azalea Woods. winterthur.org
It would be easy to spend all day wandering the 300,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, our readers’ pick as the best museum in D.C. This national treasure highlights American cultural icons and rites of passage. But if you’re short on time, here are our Top 5 can’t-miss picks.