From Cajun dance halls to the State Fair of Texas, here are 18 Southern rites of passage to cross off your list this year.
Forget losing 10 lbs.; instead, resolve to pack your bags and hit the road.
We’ve rounded up 18 uniquely southern experiences—one for every state in the region—that reﬂect the spirit and diversity of travel around the south. Every time you complete a journey, log onto southernliving.com/stamps to download your southern Passport stamp and post to your Facebook timeline. (Yes, it totally counts to log any trips you’ve already taken.)
Now start planning your next great southern adventure!
Where: Birmingham, site of pivotal Civil Rights events.
Earn your stamp: Explore the Civil Rights Institute, a 58,000-square-foot museum with re-created scenes of a segregated Birmingham. Across the street, the 16th Street Baptist Church still holds services at 10:45 a.m. every Sunday.
When to go: September. Fiftieth anniversary events include a concert by the 16th Street Baptist Church youth choir.
Plan it now: Find info and events spanning the entire year at 50yearsforward.com, a site dedicated to the anniversary.
Where: The Victorian village of Eureka Springs, AR
Earn your stamp: Stroll this artists’ hamlet in the Ozarks. Explore Susan Morrison’s Signature Gallery, and spend the night in the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (from $120), a haunted hotel that hosts nightly ghost tours. Attention architecture buffs: Downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When to go: In May for the Festival of the Arts. Daily events include concerts, painting classes, and tours of artists’ home studios.
Plan it now: Most festival of the arts events are free. mayfestivalofthearts.com; crescent-hotel.com
Where: The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway
Earn your stamp: The second-annual Fireﬂy Music Festival offers on-site glamping (beds, showers, air-conditioned tents), hot-air balloon rides over the stages, and a lineup that holds its own against any big-time fest. The 2013 plans are in the works, but expect bands along the lines of the Black Keys and Jack White.
When to go: July 21-23. If you go only one day, choose Saturday. You’ll get the most bang for your buck with more than 20 acts playing from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Plan it now: Day passes from $68; VIP passes are $598 and include tickets, meals, and access to special viewing platforms. ﬁreﬂyfestival.com
Where: Key West, Hemingway’s 1930s stomping grounds
Earn your stamp: Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where Hem wrote 70 percent of his life’s work. Charter a boat from Key West Fish Tales for an afternoon of big-game ﬁshing. Sip on Cuba libres and brag about the one that got away at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.
When to go: Hemingway days (July 16-21), which includes a lookalike contest and a literary competition judged by Ernest’s granddaughter Lorian.
Plan it now: Tours ($13) run year-round. hemingwayhome.com; half-day charters are $750 with Key West Fish Tales. keywestﬁshtales.com
Where: Turner Field, in the heart of Atlanta
Earn your stamp: See the South’s ﬁrst Major League Baseball team, which moved to Atlanta in 1966, in one of the sport’s most illustrious ﬁelds (built for the ’96 Olympics), with top-nosh concession fare, such as steak sandwiches by Kevin Rathbun (near section 205).
When to go: Home-game Sundays, when kids (4-14) get to run the bases like a pro. Line up at the Hank Aaron Ramp, near aisle 129, right after the game.
Plan it now: Tickets start at $6 for upper pavilion. Season opener: April 1. braves.com
Where: Louisville, the state’s unofﬁcial capital every May
Earn your stamp: Pick up a custom hat from the stylish Peacock Boutique. Choose from 130 bourbons for the perfect mint julep at Bourbons Bistro. (We recommend basil-infused Basil Hayden’s.) Sample the inﬁeld minus the muck with the “Inﬁeld Experience” exhibit, which opens April 8 at the Derby Museum.
When to go: For a less crowded experience, try the Kentucky Oaks (May 3).
Plan it now: The Oaks on May 3 ($30), the Derby on May 4 ($50). kentuckyderby.com; shopthepeacock.com; bourbonsbistro.com
Where: Angelle’s Whiskey River Landing in Henderson, LA
Earn your stamp: Learn the Whiskey River Jitterbug, an easy Cajun two-step, at this converted back porch in the Atchafalaya Basin, where the only item on the agenda is dancing. For the best lesson, look for Antoine “Pop” Melancon, an 80-year-old local who never misses a dance.
When to go: Sunday nights from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. year-round. The joint gets jammed on Mardi Gras weekend, when as many as 1,100 people come.
Plan it now: Ten bucks gets you in, a cash bar serves beer and spirits, and for $5 you can get a hamburger. whiskeyriverlanding.ne
Where: Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay
Earn your stamp: Dive into Maryland’s crab culture (the state harvests about 40 million pounds of blue crab annually) with a fresh-off-the-boat jumbo lump crab cake at the 18th-century Robert Morris Inn.
When to go: Over a long weekend. Southern Living readers get 20 percent off room rates now through April 30. Use code 1710.
Plan it now: Crab cake sandwiches ($24) for lunch ($29 over veggies for dinner). Rooms from $120. robertmorrisinn.com
Where: The river town of Natchez, on the Mississippi
Earn your stamp: Tour nearly 30 pristinely preserved antebellum homes, including famed houses such as Longwood and Rosalie. Hostesses in 19th-century dress (yes, you’ll see hoop skirts) share passed-down stories of the Civil War. And each night, the town hosts tableaux vivants of early Natchez life.
When to go: March 9 - April 9. Be sure to leave time for an azalea-lined drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway, which turns 75 this year.
Plan it now: Self-guided tours ($30) happen twice daily, showcasing three different homes on each one. natchezpilgrimage.com
Where: Downtown Mount Airy in Carolina’s Yadkin Valley
Earn your stamp: Spend a day in the late Andy Grifﬁth’s hometown, which inspired the ﬁctitious Mayberry of tv lore. Squad car tours operates out of a replica of the 1930s Wally’s Service Station and takes you to locations such as Floyd’s City Barber Shop, where you can still get an $8 haircut.
When to go: Mayberry Days (September 26-29) for a BBQ cook-off, checkers tourneys, and cast guest appearances.
Plan it now: $35 tours (up to ﬁve people). tourmayberry.com
Where: Aboard the Queen of the Mississippi
Earn your stamp: Ride along the Mississippi River on a Mark Twain tribute cruise, stopping in towns that inspired his writings. Dig in to the second volume of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, out this year.
When to go: Seven-night paddlewheel cruises embark August 3 and 17 from St. Louis.
Plan it now: From $3,995 per person with meals, tours, and anthology of Twain books. americancruiselines.com
Where: Woodward Elks Rodeo in northwest Oklahoma
Earn your stamp: Boot up for this 83-year-old rodeo, the state’s oldest. There’s nothing gimmicky about the rough-and-tough event: Cowboys such as world champion Trevor Brazile compete in bareback riding, steer wrestling, and bull riding. End the day with barbecue brisket and line dancing under the stars.
When to go: The rodeo runs July 17-20, but don’t miss the Longhorn Cattle Drive on July 16, when nearly 100 steer proceed through downtown.
Plan it now: Rodeo tickets are $10 and include supper on Thursday and Friday nights. woodwardelksrodeo.com
Where: Oak-lined Boone Hall Plantation; Charleston, SC
Earn your stamp: Tuck into freshly steamed oysters at the Lowcountry Oyster Festival— they go through 65,000 pounds every year!—on the lawn of the 720-acre colonial revival plantation, which served as Allie’s summer home in The Notebook. This bash is the winter equivalent of a backyard barbecue.
When to go: January 27 for the Lowcountry oyster roast—prime time to shuck the winter doldrums.
Plan it now: $15 admission, $10 for a bucket of three dozen oysters. boonehallplantation.com
Where: Neon-lit Downtown Nashville
Earn your stamp: At Winner’s Bar & Grill in Midtown, the Monday night Whiskey Jam has become the unofﬁcial industry night with the likes of Chris Young and The Fray taking the stage.
When to go: June 6-9 during the CMA Music Festival for max stargazing potential. Regardless of the time of year, it’s not until 10 p.m. that things really get rolling.
Plan it now: For Winner’s, 615/340-0004. You can also meander along Broadway for more boot-scootin’ joints.
Where: The State Fair of Texas in central Dallas
Earn your stamp: At the longest-running fair in the country, grab a hand-dipped corn dog from Fletcher’s Corny Dogs (said to have invented the treat in 1942), look out from the newly installed Top o’ Texas tower ride, and have your picture made with Big Tex, restored to his 52-foot-tall glory after burning down this past fall.
When to go: In October, for the UT-OU Red River Rivalry (date TBD).
Plan it now: September 27 - October 20; $17. bigtex.com
Where: Monticello, Mount Vernon, and Montpelier
Earn your stamp: Though all eyes are on D.C. for the inauguration, look west for the homes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison, all within a 100-mile swath. No sleepy history tours—think tours of Jefferson’s vineyard, tastings of Martha’s cherry punch, and archaeological digs at Montpelier.
When to go: In the spring to take in each site’s extensive gardens. In May, the Montpelier wine festival showcases Virginia wines and food.
Plan it now: Monticello, monticello.org; Montpelier, montpelier.org; Mount Vernon, mountvernon.org
Where: 19 Smithsonian Institute museums around Capitol Hill
Earn your stamp: Hunt down such artifacts as the only portrait Elvis ever sat for, at the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex. Download the Visitor’s Guide app (put out by Smithsonian Magazine) to create your own scavenger hunt based on your interests and time.
When to go: Now, before the spring break and summer vacation crowds start piling into the Nation’s Capital.
Plan it now: Free museum admission (si.edu). Download the app for 99 cents at smithsonianmag.com
Where: The Appalachian mountain town of Richwood, WV
Earn your stamp: Go foraging for ramps, a pungent root vegetable akin to wild onions. Four Seasons Outﬁtters and Adventure Sports (a supplier of ramps to chefs around the country) will give you the scoop on where to dig if you’re up for getting a little dirt under your nails.
When to go: In April. there are festivals and special dinners all over the state; the biggest is the Feast of the Ramson in Richwood on April 20.
Plan it now: The Feast of the Ramson is $15 at the door. richwoodchamberofcommerce.org; fourseasonsoutﬁtter.com