50 Reasons We Love Summer in the South
Our editors' must list—from secret swimming holes to new barbecue joints to off-the-beaten-path beach dives.
Here Are a Few of Our Favorite Ways to Spend a Southern Summer
1. Hotel Pools
The Carpenter Hotel
Stretch out with a michelada on one of the cerulean blue poolside chaises to take in the geometric architecture.
Parrot Key Hotel & Villas (pictured above)
Key West, FL
What’s behind door number one? Or four? Parrot Key has four sequestered pools, each wreathed by palms, banana plants, and hibiscus.
Perry Lane Hotel
Level with the city’s steeples and downtown rooftops, this penthouse pool is the best new vantage point to see Savannah’s historic district.
2. River Tubing
In view of the Richmond, Virginia, skyline, folks float down the James River that meanders through the middle of downtown to Belle Isle, a 54-acre city park where smooth, flat rocks make the ideal pit stop.
3. Bayou Paddling
From pink-feathered roseate spoonbills to mustard-colored warblers and leggy blue herons, over 270 species of birds call the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana’s Acadian region home. Locals weave through the cypress-studded swamps in kayaks to catch the most breathtaking views.
4. Beach Dives
What do Pirates Cove (Elberta, Alabama), Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp (Tybee Island, Georgia), Indian Pass Raw Bar (Port St. Joe, Florida), and the Surf Bar (Folly Beach, South Carolina) all have in common? These laid-back coastal canteens guarantee the best finale for any summer weekend. And the oyster happy hours can’t be beat.
5. Hammock Hangouts
Nylon hammocks may be marketed to rock climbers, hikers, and other outdoor adventurers, but homebodies use them to turn their backyards into personal retreats, no reservations or plane tickets required. When it came to naming the best recliner for lazy lounging, our editors had a hands-down favorite: The ultra-durable ones from Austin, Texas-based Kammok, made with a special waterproof fabric that stays cool even in the sunlight. FYI: Kid-size versions are available, too, in case you haven’t built that tree house yet.
6. Perfecting the Porch
Party-ready tips from Senior Editor Zoë Gowen
Do a thorough clean.
Spend a Saturday sweeping away any pollen or leaves and hosing down everything (screens included) so the space is spotless.
Decorate from top to bottom.
The most laid-back outdoor experiences happen when you’re comfortable being barefoot, so slip an outdoor rug onto the floor. This also creates a cozy interior atmosphere. Remember, it’s not a Southern porch without a “haint blue” painted ceiling. Zoë’s favorite hue: Rainwashed (SW 6211) by Sherwin-Williams.
Pick furniture for long sitting sessions.
It doesn’t matter where you find it or whether it all matches. (Our advice: Pull from inside your house too.) Seek out sturdy and plush pieces where you and your friends can gather and relax for hours.
Mix up containers and cocktails.
Run to your garden store, and buy something hard to kill and very green (a potted palm tree will last all summer long) to complete the connection to the lush outdoors. Serve plenty of drinks (including water) to beat the heat.
Designer Whitney McGregor’s porch in her Greenville, South Carolina, home
7. Lake Martin Weekends
SpringHouse executive chef Rob McDaniel shares an Alabama secret
“We have over 700 miles of shoreline along one of the biggest lakes in the Southeast, filled with beautiful clear blue water. But one of the best parts—to me—is how we have people from all walks of life, those who visit once or twice a year and others who come to their summer cabin every weekend. I love going to Ocie & Belle’s, a cool cocktail bar. There’s also a golf course (Willow Point Golf & Country Club) and Catherine’s Market (a great little shop), and both of them are accessible by water. Taking a vacation out here is different from the beach or anywhere else. The schedule is more relaxed, and you can really spend time with folks. People say that once they hit the road coming to Lake Martin, their blood pressure drops, and I feel that whenever I go back out on the water.”
8. A Beach Trapped in Time
Squeezed between the developed Florida shores of Panama City Beach and Rosemary Beach, a small stretch of sherbet-hued cottages serves as a reminder of quieter, quainter getaways to the Gulf Coast. Sunnyside, Santa Monica, and Laguna Beach hold on to their open water views, pastel-colored motels, and seafood shacks. Pink conchs, dried starfish, and sand dollars line the windows of a seashell shop. Locals and vacationers still sit on picnic benches and watch the waves at Thomas Donut & Snack Shop, nearly 50 years old. And inside the azalea pink Sunnyside Grill, regulars write their names and messages on dollar bills to pin on the plywood paneling.
9. The Lodge at Gulf State Park
It's rare to hear beach town residents cheer on the arrival of yet another hotel, but The Lodge at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama, has turned the tide. With a commitment to sustainable tourism, The Lodge goes far beyond letting guests keep their used towels and considers factors like dune restoration, native-plant landscaping, light pollution, and nesting sea turtles. The property is also seeking both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certifications. The interiors beat expectations, too, with mid-century modern-inspired fixtures and panoramic ocean views in the lounge-worthy lobby (no nautical-themed wallpaper here).
10. Swimming Holes
The world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, located in Balmorhea State Park, closed last summer due to erosion, but a new $2 million investment will open the aquamarine anomaly back up to Texans who have been diving in here for generations.
11. Blackberry Mountain
If Blackberry Farm is the sister who always knows which bottle of wine to choose and brings her dog truffle hunting, then Blackberry Mountain is the one who goes to a yoga retreat and always takes a moment for self-care. Nestled within 5,200 acres 7 miles northeast of Blackberry Farm, the newly opened resort has 36 freestanding guest cabins that look out to the lavender Great Smoky Mountains. The staff encourages visitors to explore the scenery up close—from trail running and rock climbing to creekside meditation and herb-foraging excursions. Don’t worry; they emphasize relaxation, too, especially over cocktails in Firetower, a restored 1940s lookout post turned on-site restaurant.
12. Really Cold Beer
Fullsteam Brewing founder Sean Lilly Wilson packs our dream cooler
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Tritonia
“Brewed with coriander, salt, and lemon, this twangy gose complements summer salads.”
Birds Fly South Ale Project Noodles
“In this smooth lager, rice lends sweetness and Crystal hops add a citrus edge.”
Champion Brewing Company Shower Beer
“This cold, crisp pilsner makes the ideal reset for the hot Southern summer day.”
TrimTab Brewing 205 Southern Pale
“Citra hops punch up this quaffable and dry pale ale with a Champagne-like finish.”
Live Oak Brewing Company Hefeweizen
“It’s a classic wheat beer that embodies Texas’ German influence.”
Prairie Artisan Ales Standard
“Glass bottles allowed? Then pack this straw-colored farmhouse ale.”
Wilmington Brewing Company Tropical Lightning
“An IPA for non-IPA drinkers, this hazy juice bomb delivers on its tropical moniker with pineapple and mango and no lingering bitterness.”
13. Graceful Vacation Day Drinking
South Carolina food writer Anne Wolfe Postic shares her strategy for imbibing during beach weekends without overdoing it.
8 a.m. Get out of bed. Cut a watermelon into cubes. Drop a few into your favorite insulated tumbler, and add a splash of vodka. Stick the cup in the freezer, and forget about it.
2 p.m. After eating lunch, remove the cup from the freezer. Add more fresh fruit. Pour in a splash of Prosecco, and then top with seltzer water. Take a big enough gulp to make room for two more large ice cubes.
2:30 p.m. Open a book, and enjoy your drink. You may find that the first one (the book and the beverage) goes down pretty easily and you want more. Indulge in all the reading you desire, but pace yourself on the libations.
3:30 p.m. Carry your cup back into the house. Add more ice and maybe some extra fruit. Feeling tipsy? Even a bit? Pour in more seltzer—at least a little. Whatever you do, just don’t add vodka. Trust me on this.
6:30 p.m. Repeat with pimiento cheese and potato chips.
8:30 p.m. Repeat with dinner.
9 p.m. Sit on the porch, listen to the waves, and talk softly with your friends so as not to disturb the nesting loggerhead turtles. Finally, eat the vodka-infused watermelon.
10 p.m. Fall asleep watching Law & Order reruns.
14. Local Bubbles
Mango and papaya layered with lime juice and chili powder and frosty pink guava paletas—the menus at fruterías are made for sweet relief from sticky days. In Mexico, fruit stands like these are commonplace, but you can find great Southern variations on them, too, including El Maná Taqueria y Frutería (Austin), The Frutería (San Antonio), and LottaFrutta (Atlanta).
16. Vietnamese Iced Coffee
This bittersweet combo of iced coffee and condensed milk has crept onto menus inland from the Southern coasts, which are home to some of the country’s largest Vietnamese communities. “Vietnam is actually the second-biggest producer of coffee in the world,” says Dan Q. Dao, a Houston-born food writer. “Vietnam’s robusta beans have a nutty, chocolaty flavor, and the condensed milk adds a vanilla note. It’s almost like dessert.”
17. Kudzu Lemonade
At Home.made (her Athens, Georgia, restaurant), chef Mimi Maumus lets guests replicate the experiment that sold her on kudzu lemonade. When they pour some lemon juice into a gray simple syrup made from kudzu blossoms, a refreshing, bright fuchsia-flushed concoction appears.
18. Souped-Up Soft Serve
Three spots whipping up delicious and daring treats
Turkey and the Wolf
New Orleans, LA
Drizzled with tahini and date molasses
Hello, Sailor (pictured above)
A sky-high, Dreamsicle-inspired citrus-vanilla bean swirl
Filipino-style, made with ube sweet potatoes that produce a beautiful deep purple hue
19. The Pink Rosé of Texas
20. Gin and Tonics
At Asheville, North Carolina, bar Little Jumbo, patrons build their own “G&T” from a checklist menu featuring brands along with garnishes. “To me, the G&T is the quintessential afternoon cocktail,” says cofounder Chall Gray. “But there can be vast differences in flavor.” Gray recommends these.
Aviation American Gin & Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Classic Tonic Syrup: The tonic’s lemongrass notes complement Aviation’s floral quality. (Lemon twist garnish)
Plymouth Gin & Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water: A classic English gin and modern tonic. (Grapefruit twist garnish)
21. Key Lime Pie on a Stick
The Florida Keys know how to keep cool: a thick slice of tart Key lime pie dipped in chocolate, frozen, and served on a stick. It’s synonymous with a southernmost summer, and while boxes of this sweet treat are now shipped far and wide, they’re best enjoyed alongside an authentic Key West breeze.
—Caroline Rogers, Assistant Editor
22. Bigger Scoops
Small-batch creameries on the rise
Big Spoon Creamery
Soda fountain vibe meets fine-dining technique at Big Spoon. Order a scoop of the Sweet Basil.
Melt Ice Creams
Fort Worth, TX
Melt owner Keri Crowe-Seher suggests Peachy Keen: Texas peaches with buttery oat streusel.
Reza and Rehan Bhiwandiwalla make Indian-inspired flavors such as Heartbeet Rose Petal.
23. Prodigious Produce
The lightweight town of Hope, Arkansas, knows how to grow scale-tipping watermelons. At the annual Hope Watermelon Festival, farmers gather to show off their prized 200-pounders and revelers compete to see who can spit seeds or toss a melon farthest. Those who would rather not exert themselves in the August heat can sit back and enjoy chilled, sweet slices.
24. The Year's Haute Hydrangea
“A seasonal stunner, the new ‘White Wedding’ hydrangea from the Southern Living Plant Collection flaunts huge, pillowy white blooms that won’t flop in our region’s stifling summer heat,” says Assistant Editor Grace Haynes. The shrub’s branches are sturdy enough to support the conical heads and continue to keep them upright when scorching temperatures set in. “You can enhance this selection’s wow factor by planting a grouping of them in your yard,” says Grace. “Because it’s drought tolerant and deer resistant, this particular hydrangea is a low-maintenance, high-reward choice for any gardener
in any setting.” You can find this flower at your local garden center.
25. Fun Food Festival
Named after a distinctively Appalachian pickle relish, the new Chow Chow festival aims to gather North Carolina talent to present a more multidimensional portrait of the region’s culinary scene. Led by chef Katie Button of Cúrate, the directors of the event include chefs John Fleer and Meherwan Irani, French Broad Chocolates owner Jael Rattigan, and Burial Beer cofounder Jess Reiser.
26. Hot-Off-the-Press Cookbooks
Senior Editor Lisa Cericola shares the new cookbooks she most excited about.
Thank You for Smoking
By Paula Disbrowe
From bean dip to steak tacos, this collection will inspire you to fire up your smoker or grill on weeknights too.
Whole Hog BBQ
By Sam Jones and Daniel Vaughn
Delve into the world of Carolina-style ’cue through recipes and stories from one of North Carolina’s most legendary pitmaster families.
In Pursuit of Flavor
By Edna Lewis
You may already have this timeless title, but a beautiful new edition includes charming illustrations and a foreword by Savannah chef Mashama Bailey, who helms The Grey.
By Belinda Smith-Sullivan
A love letter to peaches, this pick not only offers a bounty of sweet and savory recipes but also breaks down the different selections.
Perfect Homemade Ice Cream
By Jeni Britton Bauer
If you haven’t tasted Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream at one of her many shops or picked up a pint at the supermarket, now you can experience total bliss by making these treats at home.
27. Cultural Cooldowns
Museums and air-conditioning make for a winning hot-weather combo. Assistant Editor Caroline Rogers shares her favorites.
"Hand to Hand: Southern Craft of the 19th Century"
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
This Atlanta exhibit explores rural Southern artwork, including quilts, furniture, and ceramics produced in the region during the 19th century.
(On view through August 4, 2019)
"Piercing the Inner Wall: The Work of Dusti Bongé"
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
Stop by the Ogden this summer for a retrospective of Mississippi artist Dusti Bongé, whose career spans half a century and includes an array of stunning Modernist paintings.
(On view April 11 through September 8, 2019)
"Nature's Nation: American Art and Environment"
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
This exhibit traces American art over the course of three centuries while examining the country's relationship with ideas of sustainability and environmental awareness.
(On view May 25 through September 9, 2019)
28. Summer Blooms
Who needs that $25 bouquet when a walk around your garden costs nothing? Confetti-paper bougainvillea blossoms arch over a fence, musky magnolias glow against glossy green leaves, crepe myrtles explode like firecrackers in fuchsia and flamingo pink, and the sweet scents of honeysuckle and jasmine blooms hang in the humidity. “A small investment now will pay off big if you want to start your own flowering vine,” says Assistant Editor Grace Haynes. “Plant iconic climbers like jasmine or trumpet creeper after the last frost, and watch as they ascend each summer.” To celebrate bougainvillea, tie stems along a wall or trellis to train the plant. Pinch off spent flowers for more blooms.
29. New Wave of Summer Reads
Assistant Editor Caroline Rogers’ top titles for downtime
Orange World and Other Stories
by Karen Russell
Florida-born writer Karen Russell returns with a collection of imaginative short fiction—and a heaping dose of magic.
To buy: $25.95, amazon.com, indiebound.org
At Briarwood School for Girls
by Michael Knight
The latest book from Knoxville, Tennessee-based writer Michael Knight is an inventive coming-of-age tale set in Prince William County, Virginia.
To buy: $26, amazon.com, indiebound.org
I Miss You When I Blink: Essays
by Mary Laura Philpott
From the host of the Nashville Public Television series A Word on Words comes a charming memoir-in-essays that’ll make you laugh and think and laugh again.
To buy: $26, amazon.com, indiebound.org
by Belle Boggs
The latest novel from North Carolina writer Belle Boggs is a strikingly original satire that’s set on Florida’s Gulf Coast and tells a story about what separates us—and what brings us together.
To buy: $16, amazon.com, indiebound.org
In West Mills
by De’Shawn Charles Winslow
Writer De’Shawn Charles Winslow makes his outstanding debut with this novel about love, community, and friendship that’s set in his home state of North Carolina.
To buy: $26, amazon.com, indiebound.org
30. Minor League Baseball
31. Road Trip-Worthy Podcasts
Assistant Editor Caroline Rogers shares her summer podcast picks
From the Front Porch
Tune in to this great podcast for conversations about books, small business ownership, and the adventures of life in the South. It’s hosted by Annie B. Jones (owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia) and shop staffer Chris Jensen.
Start with: Any of Jones’ and Jensen’s monthly book recaps—they both read widely and offer recommendations that are as thoughtful as they are fun to listen to.
The Splendid Table
This food-centric podcast explores a variety of cuisines—and their creators—across the country, including fantastic episodes with some of today’s most recognizable names in Southern cooking, including Carla Hall, Edward Lee, and John T. Edge.
Start with: “Episode 668: Edna Lewis, An American Original,” a reflection on the life of the great Southern chef and food writer.
Sean of the South
Hosted by novelist and humorist Sean Dietrich, this entertaining podcast combines homespun regional stories with an assortment of live music performances.
Start with: “Bless Their Hearts,” an episode about Dietrich’s storytelling beginnings, which features music by Raleigh, North Carolina’s Hank, Pattie & the Current.
32. Flip-Flops Forever
“Nobody has ever praised them for their elegance. But, oh, they’re practical. They shake off sand, survive a splash, and score you entry into those pesky few ‘no shoes, no service’ beach dives. And if you attend Sunday services at the Flora-Bama Lounge, well, you can wear them to church too.” —Betsy Cribb, Editor
33. The New Rules of Denim Shorts
Go high: High-rise cuts promise a more flattering fit, plus they’ll make your legs look longer.
Strike a balance: For a cooling contrast, pair your favorite tailored shorts with a floaty blouse.
Stay grounded: Denim shorts + heels = a total no-go. Try lace-up sandals or espadrilles instead. —Betsy Cribb, Editor
34. Ode to the Caftan
Vintage seller Susan Dumas came by her company’s name honestly. I Wish I Could Keep It All started when her personal eBay habit became a business. In addition to her online listings, Dumas opens her Birmingham home for summer sales where customers meander through every room, perusing racks of her boldly hued collection, much of it devoted to her favorite style, the caftan. (She even transforms her children’s bedrooms into lovely little changing areas.) We asked Dumas to tell us about the caftan that started it all. “My sister gave me my first one, and it was a red-and-white swirl graphic print with ruffles,” she says. “I went to a Widespread Panic concert on Halloween in it, and I fell in love. I felt just like Cindy Crawford. I was floating.” Caftans have been around for thousands of years, but they’re such a natural look for the American Southeast. They’re colorful and comfortable, two things we love here. They’re made to be one size fits all and perfect for sitting on a dock to watch the sunset and then heading straight to dinner. The main thing, though, is ventilation. I’m sorry, but if you’re in Alabama in the summer, you need that, you know? Plus, people just notice you’re happy when you’re wearing them. I’ve never met a caftan I didn’t like.”
35. Beautiful Bags
Editor Betsy Cribb zips up all the season’s looks
Trade your work purse for its cooler cousin: a raffia bucket bag you’ll want to take everywhere.
June Bag in Pink, $85; indegoafrica.org
Put a feather in your nighttime ensemble. (Go hands-free with its removable chain.)
Parrot Clutch, $128; tnuck.com
For the Beach
Schlep your boat-day essentials up and down the dock in a sturdy canvas carryall.
Cabana 88 Sand Tote in Drift, $64; ameandlulu.com
36. The Easy, Breezy Uniform
Flutter through the season’s busy social calendar in a light and airy caftan that’s universally flattering. Dress it down for your poolside picnics, or pile on accessories for an elegant sunset soiree. —Betsy Cribb, Editor
Sedona Midi Dress, $120; paxphilomena.com
Tyla Earrings in Turquoise, $95; deepagurnani.com
Garten Embellished Sandal in Molten Gold Leather, $90; nordstrom.com
Natural City Bag with Chain, $30; zara.com
37. Fresh Entertaining Staples
East Fork Pottery’s Everyday Bowl ($34 each; eastfork.com) This wide but shallow dish serves anything from salads to saucy mains.
Sun Splatter Enamel Serving Set ($28; leifshop.com) Splatter enamelware is back, whether you use your grandmother’s vintage pieces or new ones like this cheery serving-spoon set.
Blue Water Pitcher ($98; thesheltercollection.com) Charleston-based designer Erin Reitz created her glassware collection with Starworks, which employs rural artisans in Star, North Carolina.
38. An On-the-Go Grill
Here’s a great gift to give Dad this June 16. Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin use Arkansas brand PK Grills in their own backyards, and this lightweight, portable PKGO version of its classic aluminum grill is made to move from weekends at the beach to tailgate season.
39. Better Ways to Keep Bugs at Bay
40. Boutique Bandanas
From scarf to sweat dabber, the versatile, practical, and iconic bandanna is also one of warm weather’s most stylish accessories (not to mention the most affordable). These Southern labels carry on that legacy with their own prints, techniques, and fabrics.
Club Duquette, Birmingham, AL
Garner Blue, Jackson, TN
Mary Claret, Austin, TX
Cote Squares, Atlanta, GA
Jenni Earle, Winston-Salem, NC
41. In Praise of Coral Lipsticks
Senior Editor Lisa Cericola celebrates this sunny shade
Some grandmothers pass down the family biscuit recipe or a full set of classic Spode Christmas Tree china plates. My Nanny instilled within me the importance of a good coral lipstick. When I was a young girl, I thought that lively pop of color on her lips was the epitome of beauty, and I still do. Peek inside my purse, and you will find at least five different shades—and that’s not even counting the dozen tubes ranging from bold orange to soft peach in my makeup bag. (They truly do spark joy!) That punchy mix of pink and tangerine is more fun than your basic berry or nude shade but not as heavy and dramatic as red. A little swipe adds instant polish to any summer outfit, whether you’re wearing a sundress or cutoffs. If a bold lip isn’t usually your thing, choose a sheer version and start with a small amount. You’ll be amazed by how it brightens your face—and your mood.