10 Best Places to Travel in the South in 2018
A new year means a new calendar and new travel itineraries. To help jumpstart your day dreaming, here are a few Southern cities and towns that we think are worth a visit this year—or any year. Start planning now if you want to help New Orleans celebrate its tricentennial, organize a quiet weekend away to St. Petersburg, explore Memphis with the family, or plan the perfect bachelorette party in the Bourbon Capital of the World. (That’s you, Bardstown!)
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New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s New Orleans’ 300th anniversary and the whole city is rolling out the red carpet and inviting visitors to let the good times roll. To mark the tricentennial, this year’s Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras are expected to be bigger and better than ever. There will be history lectures, a star-filled concert, block parties, historical art exhibits, and so much more all tied to the remarkable anniversary. The citywide contemporary arts triennial is also taking place this year, bringing local, national, and international artists to the city. In short, there’s no better time to come visit the Big Easy.
Richmond has been the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780, so it has had a lot of time to practice its hosting skills. The city truly has something for everyone, from the World’s Largest Slinky to rafting trips on the James River to Carytown shops. History buffs will want to stop by the American Civil War Museum, Richmond National Battlefield Park, and Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place of two U.S. presidents. While Richmond loves its past, the future is pretty bright, too. See it unfolding in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, where you'll find craft brewers, startup distillers, charming boutiques, and restaurants.
When you’re in the Bourbon Capital of the World, expect to have a few drinks and a lot of good times. To find out everything you need to know about bourbon and tasting, start at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distillery, makers of Elijah Craig and Larceny. The city offers a lot more than bourbon, though. Bardstown is one of the oldest cities in Kentucky and one of its most charming. In summer, stop by My Old Kentucky Home, which inspired Stephen Foster’s ballad and, if you’re visiting in summer, snag tickets to watch the long-running outdoor drama The Stephen Foster Story, held in the amphitheater. Wander Bardstown's well-preserved downtown, hop a ride on the Kentucky Railway Museum’s Train Robbery, or grab a bite at the Old Talbott Tavern, which began operating in 1779.
The home of Blue Bell Creameries—where they make all that delicious ice cream—is about 75 miles northwest of downtown Houston. While visitors will certainly want to tour the factory, be sure to explore beyond Blue Bell. Brenham is just a half-hour's drive to the Texas antiquing capital, Round Top, and close to where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in Washington-on-the-Brazos, which has the historical sites to prove it. Explore the great outdoors at Lake Somerville State Park, wander the Bluebonnet Wine Trail, or stay in and catch dinner and a movie at the Barnhill Center at the historic Simon Theater, which dates back to 1925. Grab a cinnamon bun from Newman’s Bakery before heading for a tour of Newman's Castle, the home built by the bakery owner, complete with drawbridge and moat. Or escape from it all at the Inn at Dos Brisas, the luxury ranch resort nestled on 300 acres of Texas land.
Take a cue from Johnny Cash and head to Jackson this year. The Mississippi Civil Right Museum recently opened there. Tour the home of literary great Eudora Welty, visit the Mississippi Museum of Art for exciting contemporary exhibits, pay your respects to Farish Street’s history at the Big Apple Inn, or simply meander around the Fondren District, popping into the cafes, bakeries, boutiques, taco trucks, and performance spaces that line the blocks. Don't miss Saltine restaurant or drinks at Parlor, F. Jones Corner, and Cathead Distillery. Check out local jazz or blues at Underground 119, or opt for trivia night at the Pig and Pint pub. Bookworms will find plenty of fare at Lemuria Books, the renowned local bibliophile hangout. Grab a book and then have a Red Rum Cobbler cocktail at The Apothecary at Brent's Drugs.
Brevard, North Carolina
The annual festival held by the Brevard Music Center brings arts and music lovers from all over the country to this tiny town. Between concerts, visit Looking Glass Falls or the swimming hole at Sliding Rock. More adventure-minded travelers can whitewater raft along Wilson Creek or hike the hundreds of miles of trails that criss-cross through Pisgah National Forest. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop for memorable pimento cheese, burgers, and all your soda fountain favorites. By the end of the day, you’ll want a cozy place to sleep, so book a room at the restful Key Falls Inn.
St. Petersburg, Florida
Don't miss the Dali and Duchamp show coming to The Dali Museum, but if you can’t bear to be indoors in the Sunshine City, keep an eye out for St. Pete's local street art. Grab provisions at the Saturday Morning Market, or stop by Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish before heading to the beach to work on your tan. You can explore the beach on horseback. Rent a bike at Merry Pier to tour Pass-A-Grill’s charming main street and historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Grab dinner at the Sea Porch Café at the gloriously pink Don CeSar hotel, or wash down local favorites like stone crab and gator with a pint of Mad Beach Brewing Co.’s finest ale.
The cornerstones of any great Memphis vacation are rock ’n’ roll and food. Start at the Smithsonian’s Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum on the corner of legendary Highway 61 and Beale Street and then grab some barbecue at Payne’s or the Bar-B-Q Shop. While it’s always fun to spend some time on the banks of the Mississippi River, it’s even better during Memphis in May, when the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Beale Street Music Festival are held. For a taste of the outdoors, head to Shelby Farms, one of the largest urban outdoor parks in the country. While Memphis has a lot of old favorites (there’s always time for Jerry’s Sno Cones or the duck parade at the Peabody Hotel) the city is working to reinvent itself. There are plans to reinvigorate the waterfront and create more projects like the Crosstown Concourse, the new “vertical village” built inside an abandoned Art Deco warehouse, which holds a theater, garden, and soon the Crosstown Brewery.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville has always had its share of attractions: the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, Falls Park on the Reedy River, and the Andrew Wyeth collection at the Greenville Museum of Art to name a few. But increasingly, the best reason to visit is food. Enjoy the speakeasy feel of Vault & Vator cocktail bar and Greek-inspired brunch at Ji-Roz. Jianna comes to Greenville from a chef trained at Spago, while Anchorage pays homage to the region’s country fare in a classic setting. Many other Southern spots are setting up outposts in Greenville, too, like Charleston’s Husk and Asheville’s Biscuit Head. Between meals, head to the Upcountry History Museum, bike the Swamp Rabbit Trail, or simply plan your next meal.