40 Things Every Southerner Ought To Do!
What Makes a Person Southern?
In honor of the 40th anniversary of Southern Living, our editors got together to ponder what makes a person Southern today. It is not, we decided, simply being born and raised here. Specific experiences and certain traits mark a genuine Southerner. We started talking, arguing, laughing, jotting them down--and ended up with this list. From where to chow down to the books you need to read, this list represents our thoughts and choices.
Take the Plunge
Summer temperatures steer Southerners toward rivers. Texans play in the currents of the Guadalupe. Hardcore adventurers tackle the Class V+ rapids of the Gauley in West Virginia. The more sedate are content to tube the gentle flow of Florida’s Ichetucknee. To experience the South’s best water adventure, though, you need to raft South Carolina’s Chattooga River.
Glorious stretches of open road await in the South. You can drive well-traveled miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Or take a tropical trek down U.S. 1 to Key West. For an undiscovered jaunt through the peaks of Tennessee and North Carolina, hit the Cherohala Skyway. But for sheer nostalgia, remember the song and get some kicks. Follow Route 66, where it rolls across the open miles of Oklahoma.
We Southerners are dancin’ fools. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolinians have perfected that funky move called the shag. Down in Miami, salsa steps heat up the nights. Texas, however, claims the best moves of all. Scoot a boot, and master the two-step at Gruene Hall in the Hill Country.
Get Some Culture
Southerners may be known for good times, but we're also a cultured lot. Everyone knows the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum complex, in Washington, D.C. Atlanta's High Museum of Art, praised internationally for its collection, has recently expanded. Still, to see fabulous art and a spectacular facility, head for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It may be the biggest surprise in Cowtown.
Nobody parties better than Southerners. Just look at our roll of festivals. The mother of them all is New Orleans's Mardi Gras. At Memphis in May International Festival, the barbecue comes with a plentiful side order of live music. Next March 17, though, make a date for Savannah's St. Patrick's Day Parade. You don't have to be Irish to fall in love with this celebration.
Life's a Beach
The region boasts some of the most magnificent stretches of sand and sea that the nation has to offer. Some folks are partial to the solitude of remote Ocracoke, North Carolina, while others prefer to drive their car right on the sand at Florida's Daytona Beach. Extroverts who like action as much as the Atlantic swear by the boardwalk experience of Ocean City, Maryland. Still, it's hard to top Siesta Key in Florida, home to the whitest sand and prettiest sunsets on the planet.
Just Veggies, Please
When it comes to understanding Southern food, you need to appreciate the vegetable plate. While mac and cheese usually anchors the dish, it pairs in the South with special regional offerings, such as crisp fried okra, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. Yes, seconds are always allowed.
Drink to This
We all know that icy concoctions are the toast of the South. Atlanta gave us Coke (pronounced Co-Cola); Waco, Texas, taught us how to "Be a Pepper"; and on beaches or piers in the summertime, Mountain Dew flows like suntan lotion. Still, as they pointed out in Steel Magnolias, the "house wine of the South" is sweet tea. Extra lemon, please.
Get Revved Up
We Southerners are wild for spectator sports--and why not? We host the grandest golf tournament of them all: The Masters at Augusta National. You can snag foul balls at some glorious settings, such as Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards or Atlanta's Turner Field. But the hottest new obsession is one wild ride. Gentlemen, start your engines, and attend a NASCAR race at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway.
Take a Chance--Or Not
You know you've said it: "Hey, y'all, watch this." Face it: We Southerners will try anything once. Attempt any of these, and you'll earn a story to tell for a lifetime. Hang glide off Tennessee's Lookout Mountain. Hike toward the sky at Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, or ride Disney's stomach-turning Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, where an Aerosmith theme thrills you. If all this sounds too daunting, then live vicariously and fly a kite on North Carolina's Outer Banks, where Wilbur and Orville took their first flight.
Look and Listen
America's greatest music started in the South. You can hear echoes of Jerry Lee, Johnny C., and The King at Memphis's Sun Studio. And country music wouldn't be country music if it weren't for Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. But for laid-back good times, get to Luckenbach, Texas, where Waylon, Willie, and the boys changed the face of popular music. (For more on the region's music, see " Soul of the South".)
Find a Classic
Crafts in the South have risen to the status of art. Handblown pieces from West Virginia's Blenko Glass Company deserve an honored spot in any home. Pottery, handcrafted by the artists in Seagrove and surrounding North Carolina communities, earns distinction as well. For the must-have, though, buy a sweetgrass basket. It's a glorious souvenir and symbol of the Lowcountry--and our South.
Once you’ve mastered your Southern vocabulary (see number 26: "Talk the Talk"), it’s time to address your Southern manners. Show everybody your mama raised you right. Remember the golden phrases and rules: yes, ma’am; no, ma’am; thank you, ma’am; and please. Always keep a casserole at the ready--friends could pop over (or pass away) at any time. Pull over when you see a funeral procession. And, hats off in the house--and always when we salute Old Glory.
Go to the Show
Plenty of award-winning movies have explored the stories of the South. Giant revolved around oil and ranch life in Texas, while To Kill a Mockingbird examined the conflicted heart of the small-town South. Steel Magnolias and Forrest Gump both offer more contemporary Southern settings. For scope, plot, and tear-jerking drama, though, you’ve gotta see Gone with the Wind. Yes, it’s old school, but viewing it on the screen of one of our region’s grand old movie theaters will positively give you the vapors.
Bright and Beautiful
Most Southern gardeners brighten their yards with camellias in winter and with brilliant azaleas and flowering dogwoods in the spring. Each summer they tend hydrangeas and crepe myrtles. But for profuse color that can last from midspring until first frost, plant daylilies. No Southern garden is complete without them. Plus, they're our favorite pass-along plant.
Take a Long Look
We all like to ooh and aah over our region's many magnificent sights. Our staffers recommend the West Texas views from atop El Capitan in the Guadalupe Mountains or the scenes visible from West Virginia's Spruce Knob. The Smokies have great vistas, but what you'll see from Roan Mountain, astride Tennessee and North Carolina, will top them all--especially if you visit in June when the rhododendrons are in bloom.
Toast With This
You may have sipped a Louisiana Hurricane, a Texas-size margarita, or a Kentucky mint julep--all flavored with a sense of place. The newest craze, though, is to drink a Mojito--think mint, moonlight, and Miami. Go ahead and sip. We won't tell mama.
Turn Some Pages
Any required reading list for Southerners will be long enough to give you serious eye-ache. Still, there are icons. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) and Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe) have both achieved lofty status. Our Southwestern staffers nominate Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry). Other books, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou) and The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy), depict more contemporary Southern characters. But the quirkiest modern-day must-read has to be Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (John Berendt). Controversial, yes, but it has captured imaginations around the world.
Walk Through History
There’s no denying the past--however dark--has made us what we are today. Its lessons are both poignant and sobering. Manassas National Battlefield, where two armies of brothers first clashed, and Appomattox Court House, where the cruel conflict finally ended, bookend the horrific story of Civil War. Every year motorcyclists gather in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma to follow and commemorate the Cherokee’s tragic Trail of Tears. Everyone, though, should tour the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. Its films, pictures, and artifacts eloquently convey the struggle for equality.
Video: Interview with Rev. Kyles
Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles recounts being on the hotel balcont with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was shot.
To get to the best Southern dives, you may have to crunch through a gravel parking lot or duck through a screen door, but inside waits something sinfully good, such as the chili-cheese fries at Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Or the tastiest tamales outside Mexico at Fat Mama's in Natchez, Mississippi. Or any of the frozen custard treats at Ted Drewes in St. Louis. Still, top honors go to the "naked dog" (plain hot dog) and crispy onion rings at The Varsity in Atlanta.
The 5 Best Things To Do In Nashville
We love Nashville for its vibrant country music scene and extraordinarily talented people. But fine Tennessee bourbon, lush botanical gardens, and legendary hot chicken are also major Nashville attractions. Watch this short clip from sister brand Travel & Leisure for Nashville inspiration.
The South's Ultimate Home
The region has long been known for great music and food, but here's a trivia tip: It's also the birthplace of American architecture. No one had more of a hand in defining our country's style of design than Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, and there's simply no better way to understand Southern architectural style than to tour Monticello, Jefferson's mountaintop plantation.
Travel in Style
Southerners have become a jet-settin' crowd. Whether it's a plane, train, or automobile, we love anything that keeps us moving. In San Antonio, we tour the vibrant River Walk by boat, taking in the sights at a lazy float. In historic New Orleans, we make our way through town on old-style streetcars. Riders board the Tweetsie Railroad's steam train to chug through the mountains of North Carolina. Everyone, though, needs to book passage on a riverboat and ride the currents of the mighty Mississippi.
Want to take a walk on the literary side? Visit the Florida home and farm that inspired Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write The Yearling, or smell the flowers in Eudora Welty’s family garden in Jackson, Mississippi. You can invite yourself into William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford, or sit on the porch of Alex Haley’s boyhood home in Henning, Tennessee. But for the ultimate literary experience, attend a performance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama.
Think of horse racing, and the South comes to mind. After all, two legs of The Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby and Maryland's Preakness, take place on Southern soil. These events thrill, but if you really want to savor the sport of kings at its finest, spend a day at Keeneland. Steeped in tradition, this Lexington, Kentucky, track is what horse racing was meant to be.
Everybody Needs 'Em
To be a true Southerner, you should own a few specific items. Whether you inherit it or buy it in famed High Point, North Carolina, you must have at least one to-die-for piece of heirloom furniture. In the kitchen, you need a seasoned cast-iron skillet. And in the backyard or on the front porch, we'd recommend a Pawleys Island Rope Hammock. For the most distinctive regional item, though, get fitted for cowboy boots from ML Leddy's in Fort Worth. What? You expect to be taken seriously wearing a pair of pumps or wing tips?
Talk the Talk
To live in the South you need to speak the lingo. If your vocabulary is rusty, bless your heart. Here’s a quick lexicon. Y’all: short for "you all" and infinitely more functional than "you guys." Fixin’: getting ready to. Reckon: to think, imagine, or suppose. Dear, hon, sweetie, shug: universal terms of endearment.
We Southerners cherish college football and the campus traditions that accompany it. When the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma go head-to-head during the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, you must fill up on Fletcher’s Corny Dogs in order to root either team to victory. Tiger fans eagerly line up to roll Toomer’s Corner and scream "War Eagle" every time Auburn posts a win. The ultimate tradition, though, takes place at Ole Miss in Oxford. Thousands of fans gather to picnic in the Grove and feast on gourmet spreads.
Shop Till You Drop
We approach shopping with the intensity of a contact sport. We pull on sensible shoes and flex those credit cards. We scour Magazine Street in the Big Easy to look for silver, antiques, and chandeliers. In the Lone Star State, we amble through Fredericksburg's cute boutiques in search of gift items and all things Texas. For ritzy finds and everything Florida pink and green, we stroll quaint Fifth Avenue in Naples. For the best overall experience, shop Charleston, South Carolina's King Street. It's a buyer's mecca in a grand setting.
Check Out the Wildlife
Certain animals thrive in our neck of the woods. An entire town of prairie dogs lives in Mackenzie Park in Lubbock, Texas, and Key deer can be found pretty easily around their namesake refuge in the Florida Keys. You'll have to work harder, though, to spy the wild horses at Maryland and Virginia's Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The vote for most awe-inspiring, however, goes to the bison at Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. They inject a remarkable sense of life into this serene, haunting landscape.