The South's Best Girlfriend Getaways
Waltz Across Cajun Country: Acadiana, LA
Southwest Louisiana is a hotbed of Cajun culture, which you can see, taste, and hear in French-accented towns like St. Martinville and New Iberia. From the boutique Juliet Hotel (rates from $136; 337/261-2225) in the Hub City of Lafayette, it’s an easy walk to downtown’s food and music around Jefferson Street, including the popular Filling Station, DON’S Seafood, Pat’s Downtown (lunch only), and Agave Grill & Cantina, which sees no reason why guacamole and the two-step can’t go together. Beyond downtown, locals and tourists flock to Randol’s and Prejean’s for gumbo and boudin, accompanied by live music nightly. Local musicians will send you to Lakeview Park & Beach in Eunice, where the barn of an RV park and campground has become a music scene. In nearby Breaux Bridge, Café Des Amis serves a zydeco breakfast with live music every Saturday morning, while Mamou is home to the tiny but legendary Fred’s Lounge, open only on Saturday mornings for live music, dancing, and a radio broadcast. For a side trip, visit Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island and the McIlhenny family’s famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory, 170-acre Jungle Gardens, and Bird City egret sanctuary on Avery Island. lafayettetravel.com
Recharge Mind and Body: Austin, TX
With only 40 rooms and a staff of over 250, the Lake Austin Spa Resort can provide the kind of personal attention that makes a (gasp!) swipe of your credit card worth it. The lake setting is ideal for outdoor activities, while the LakeHouse Spa delivers 25,000 square feet of pampering. Just take it all in: 20 soundproof indoor treatment spaces with private showers; a private outdoor garden suite with an inground hot tub and outdoor shower; indoor and outdoor swimming pools; a treatment porch and outdoor treatment cabanas; separate men’s and women’s areas with whirlpools, saunas, and steam rooms; a state-of-the-art training center and daily roster of classes; and a yoga deck overlooking the lake. Many of the spa treatments relate to the Hill Country setting, such as Tour of Texas, which begins with a native prickly pear scrub. Pricing includes your lush accommodations as well as three gourmet meals daily, regular fitness activities, and special events (which can also be tailored to women’s groups). You and your friends can buy spa services individually, or choose to book Lake Austin’s Spa Refresher Package, which adds $350 in spa services to the rest of your inclusive accommodations. Rates from $1,720 for a three-night minimum stay
Saddle Up in Horse Country: Lexington and Georgetown, KY
Not only is Kentucky home to the granddaddy of all horse races, but also its farms and stables offer opportunities for you to take the reins. Stay in a stately brick mansion surrounded by horse farms at Essence of the Bluegrass (rates from $149) near Lexington. Start with a visit to Keeneland, Lexington’s world-renowned track, for an inside look at Thoroughbred racing with an Official Breeders’ Cup Tour. At the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington (over 1,200 acres), you can tour the facilities on horseback or in a horse-drawn streetcar or carriage. Book a group lesson and guided trail ride at Whispering Woods Riding Stables, which has 250 acres to explore. Beyond the stables, downtown Georgetown is lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants, while Lexington’s Main Street is great for antiquing. Also in the offering are tours of the bourbon distilleries that produce this area’s famous spirits. visitlex.com
Balloon Over the Blue Ridge: Charlottesville, VA
Share a once-in-a-lifetime view of the Blue Ridge foothills with the Bed, Breakfast & Balloon Package at Boar’s Head (rates from $770; available April to November). The package includes accommodations for one night, breakfast for two in the inn’s Old Mill Room, and a one-hour hot-air balloon ride (weather permitting). Besides ballooning, Boar’s Head offers golf and tennis, a spa, dining options, and tea and coffee served in the inn’s Ordinary Room. If your group is on a budget, book your balloon ride independently and stay at a bed-and-breakfast convenient to downtown, such as 400 West High (rates from $195). Just remember that lodging will be pricey during University of Virginia football weekends. Visit the university, local wineries, and two of the South’s most famous estates, Montpelier and Monticello. Don’t miss Charlottesville’s pedestrian-friendly Historic Downtown Mall with more than 30 restaurants and 120 shops, as well as art galleries and entertainment. visitcharlottesville.org
Hike in Scenic City: Chattanooga, TN
A riverfront city located in the mountains, Chattanooga is a hiker’s dream, offering everything from scenic, leisurely trails to seriously challenging climbs. It’s so well known for outdoor appeal that Scenic City is now its official nickname. More than 150 miles of hiking trails are readily accessible from downtown, but you don’t even have to leave town to enjoy an active vacation here. Lace up your sneakers, and explore the city’s 13-mile Riverwalk; pedestrian Walnut Street Bridge over the Tennessee River; Coolidge Park; and convenient rental services for bikes, paddleboards, and kayaks. The visitors bureau’s website offers a Naturally Chattanooga package with two nights’ accommodations; two adult tickets to Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Chattanooga Nature Center; and a half-day of white-water rafting on the Ocoee River (not available Tuesdays or Wednesdays). Stay close to the Tennessee Aquarium and you’ll be within walking distance of the best riverfront attractions. Or make the Bluff View Art District your base, and choose a room in any of three historic homes at the Bluff View Inn bed-and-breakfast (rates from $105), which is convenient to everything as well.
Discover the Other French Quarter: Fairhope, AL
Few attractions are more appealing than a pedestrian-friendly shopping district with lots of character, locally owned stores and eateries, and even live music. Established in 1992, Fairhope’s French Quarter mirrors the brick and ironwork, courtyards, and inviting passageways of its storied predecessor to its west. Chef “Panini Pete” Blohme anchors the district, where his eponymous restaurant keeps diners filled with hot beignets, Pete’s Muffaletta Panino, and such hot dogs as the German Sheppard (with sauerkraut) and the French Poodle (with onion confit and Dijon mustard). Stroll through a cluster of specialty shops, including The Bay Candle; Haint Blue; Page & Palette independent bookstore; and The Happy Olive, where you can taste and purchase olive oils, mustards, and balsamic vinegars. Make your base camp the venerable Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear (rates from $339).
Take a New River Adventure: Fayetteville, WV
On the dramatic rim of the deepest and longest river gorge in Appalachia is Adventures on the Gorge, a resort and outdoor experience. Its “social campground” provides amenities such as restaurants, a pool, and common areas for guests. You and your girlfriends will also find diverse lodging options: three luxury houses, deluxe to basic cabins, and no-frills platform tents. Among the adventures offered are Class I to Class V white-water rafting trips; guided hiking, biking, and climbing excursions; kayaking and paddleboarding trips; zip lines that are noteworthy for their impressive length, height, and speed; and the TimberTrek Adventure Park, which features the kind of challenging obstacles, bridges, and zip lines that encourage group camaraderie. Even the leisurely, innocuous-sounding Bridge Walk takes place on a 24-inch-wide and 3,030-foot-long catwalk beneath the roadway of an arched bridge—850 feet above the spectacular New River. You can buy a preset package or choose from the resort’s à la carte menu to plan a getaway that will suit everyone’s interests and budget. Rates from $189
Take the Wine Road: Fredericksburg, TX
In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, almost 50 wineries are clustered in an area roughly encircled by Lampasas, Austin, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg. Fifteen of them dot Wine Road 290, an association of wineries along a 45-mile length of U.S. 290. In downtown Fredericksburg, the Sugarberry Inn (rates from $185) has two suites in the main house, along with 12 cottages. For something more remote, check into the 112-acre Tres Lunas Resort (rates from $229) on Meusebach Mountain between Mason and Fredericksburg for what the owners call “Texas Zen ranch hospitality.” The mission-style resort’s Zen Suites front a serene vanishing-edge pool. Start your winery tour with The Reserve Wine Library at Becker Vineyards for tastings of Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker’s private library—vintages that are no longer available on the market but were favored by the owners. At Hilmy Cellars, meet the “staff” of working animals—from guinea fowl to Great Pyrenees dogs. Taste award-winning wines; tour the geothermal barrel cellar at Pedernales Cellars; and enjoy the beautiful stone tasting room, patios, and piazza at Torre di Pietra. Winery events are free, but most charge up to $15 for tastings. (Note: Reservations are recommended and often required for groups.)
Fly in for a Lake Experience: Greensboro, GA
When scattered friends are searching for a reunion site, a great air hub is key. About an hour’s drive from Atlanta, the lodge-style Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee has 30 acres of picturesque shoreline. A new multimillion-dollar renovation included updates to the outdoor infinity pool area, and its spa, among other amenities. The Ritz also offers its guests five championship golf courses, water recreation, Segway tours, and s’mores served nightly by the lake. You can book rooms and suites in the main lodge or choose to stay in a communal two-or-three-bedroom cottage. The lodge even has a three-story lake house that sleeps eight people and includes a private heated outdoor pool. Pair up your girlfriends to enjoy the splurge-worthy Chiminea Dining, a three-course dinner for two that includes a Champagne toast, a bottle of wine, and dessert—all served at your own personal lakeside bonfire. Rates from $259
Cook in The Delta: Greenwood, MS
The birthplace of the blues is also home to some special small towns, including Greenwood, which was incorporated in 1844. Locally headquartered Viking Range, LLC., restored much of Greenwood’s downtown, including the historic Hotel Irving, which Viking reopened in 2005 as The Alluvian (rates from $195). This elegant boutique hotel has 45 rooms and 5 suites, a romantic courtyard, a spa, an impressive art collection, and a sleek lobby that becomes a lounge at 5 p.m. Across Howard Street from the hotel is the Viking Cooking School and Retail Store, which offers occasional Girls’ Night Out workshops throughout the year. If no class is scheduled during your getaway (or if you’d prefer a private class), you can work with Viking to set one up. Also on Howard are such specialty shops as Russell’s Warehouse Antiques & Jewelry, TurnRow Book Company, and The Mississippi Gift Company. Don’t miss dinner at Giardina’s (off The Alluvian lobby), where you can request a private booth to sit in as you enjoy fresh seafood, steaks, and Italian fare. Road-trip to Merigold, about an hour away, for renowned McCartys Pottery; its founders made their first pieces from clay that William Faulkner let them dig from his property. Shop, take a tour of the gardens, and have a classic ladies’ lunch at the McCartys Gallery Restaurant. Round out your Delta experience with a night at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
Relax at a Mountain Inn: Highlands, NC
Located in Highlands, North Carolina, in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the luxurious Old Edwards Inn and Spa (rates from $199) features a historic inn, several guest estates, a boutique motel, and three different styles of cottages ideal for group trips. The new Falls Cottages are clustered around a heated mineral pool, whirlpool, and outdoor fireplace. Old Edwards has the total package: plush accommodations; an upscale spa; on-site shopping; fine and casual dining; golf, tennis, and a fitness center; and a roster of fitness classes, nature walks, and mountain hikes. Downtown Highlands has preserved its small-town character with mostly local shops and galleries. Enjoy the spectacular mountain views with a hike to area waterfalls, a scenic drive, or a group fly-fishing lesson on the Nantahala or other rivers in the area. visitnc.com
Sail into the Sunset: Key West, FL
From Mallory Square to the deck of a pirate ship, you can celebrate the sunset from many vantage points in this Florida island paradise. Book the Wind & Wine Sunset Sail with Danger Charters and spend two blissful hours aboard a 65-foot schooner, tasting up to eight different wines from across the world. Boats are limited to 25 passengers. (Your group can book a private charter and have the cruise all to yourselves.) Along with wine, the crew serves hors d’oeuvres and a selection of domestic and imported beers. Stay at the Ocean Key Resort & Spa (rates from $529), right on the water at the end of Duval Street, or opt for a quiet inn such as the Cypress House Hotel (rates from $339), a short walk from Duval’s shops, restaurants, and people-watching bonanza. Stay anywhere in historic Old Town and you can walk or take a bike-powered pedicab almost anywhere you’ll want to go. keywesttravelguide.com
Escape to The Sanctuary: Kiawah Island, SC
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, about 26 miles from Charleston, is the perfect place for a relaxing on a luxe escape with your friends. It’s even in the name. The resort’s two-night Girls Getaway package includes garden-view accommodations with two queen beds; daily breakfast for two; dinner for two at Jasmine Porch (Lowcountry cuisine) or Tomasso at Turtle Point (Italian fare); and four 60-minute spa treatments (basic massages or facials). Advance planners can save up to 45% off peak rates by booking their getaways during Kiawah’s off-season (late October to mid-March). Weekend packages are also offered and feature everything from jazz to comedy and highlight such amenities as The Sanctuary’s 11 restaurants, world-renowned tennis centers, and championship golf courses. You’ll also enjoy an on-site fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, a salon, bike rentals, and a nature program. If that’s not enough to keep your group busy, Charleston is just a short drive away. Rates from $330
Houseboat in the Ozarks: Royal, AR
Imagine yourself on a peaceful cruise across a gorgeous mountain lake with all the comforts of home and some serious vacation luxuries. On Lake Ouachita in Arkansas, Wake Zone Luxury Houseboat Rentals offers five boats—each with two baths, a fully outfitted kitchen, indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, satellite television, and a hot tub—ideal for groups of 10 to 16. Sundecks and pool slides make it easy to take a dip, and rentable add-ons include everything from kayaks to margarita machines. The Wake Zone team handles all the heavy lifting and will keep the boat situated to your liking, so you can just relax. They’ll even ferry you back to your car for a day trip to the spas and mineral baths in nearby Hot Springs. Quapaw Baths & Spa offers a full menu of services, thermal pools, a Steam Cave, and a thermal bath called MicroSilk Hydrotherapy.
Tour a Haunted City: Savannah, GA
Ghost tours are one of Savannah’s most affordable and popular nighttime diversions (usually $17 to $30). Stay in an 1873 mansion at the Hamilton-Turner Inn downtown (rates from $229). The Ghost City Savannah Haunted Pub Crawl and the Creepy Crawl Haunted Pub Tour serve spooky tales with adult beverages at local watering holes. (Ask for a private tour if you’re concerned about over-imbibing rowdies.) Blue Orb Tours offers a two-hour Uncensored Zombie Tour featuring colonial ghost stories as well as voodoo- and hoodoo-based tales and a shuttle tour of Bonaventure Cemetery. The Hearse Ghost Tours can carry up to nine guests in—you guessed it—a hearse modified for sightseeing. You can also board the Trolley of the Doomed with the Ghosts & Gravestones Savannah Frightseeing Tour. By day, experience Savannah’s more earthly appeal with shopping on Bay, Broughton, and Bull streets; tours of Forsyth Park and 22 city squares; and a relaxing day at the beach on Tybee Island. visitsavannah.com
Go City to Shore: Tampa, FL
Talk about a water-inspired city. A river runs through it, bays and channels surround it, and Gulf beaches are just a short hop away. You’ll find lots of group entertainment along the Tampa Riverwalk, which winds from Water Works Park in Tampa Heights to the South Plaza near The Florida Aquarium and Channel District. (Save on select activities with a Tampa Bay CityPASS). Pilot your own electric eBoat, or charter the catamaran Noshooz, which can take up to six passengers. Both charters are located at the Tampa Convention Center docks. Get your group together to take a Stand Up Paddleboarding lesson with Urban Kai outfitters to get in a workout while you sightsee. Is your gang interested in a beach stay with downtown junkets (or vice versa)? Book a room at the plush Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach (rates from $249) or the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay downtown (rates from $229).
Head Downtown: Tulsa, OK
Some of the holdovers from Tulsa’s boom times as an oil town have been transformed into arts and entertainment districts that preserve the city’s historic character while also introducing great restaurants, galleries, shops, and entertainment venues to the city. The close proximity of diversions makes them ideal for groups who want to avoid a lot of logistical finagling. In The Brady Arts District, you’ll find the landmark Cain’s Ballroom, one of the oldest music venues in America; Guthrie Green, an outdoor recreational and performance space where you and your friends can enjoy free fitness classes (and afterward hit up the food trucks parked there); the local and historically significant arts at Mainline, the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition Gallery, and Tulsa Glassblowing School; an educational and performance center honoring native Oklahoman Woody Guthrie; and the Philbrook Downtown, a satellite of Tulsa’s famed Philbrook Museum of Art, which is a must-see side trip. On the first Friday of each month, Brady hosts an Art Crawl from 6 to 9 p.m. Just south of this area, from First to Eighth streets (between Cheyenne and Cincinnati avenues), is the Deco District, where you’ll see mind-boggling architecture from the 1920s, along with eateries and shopping. Prime sipping spots for a girlfriends’ toast include Valkyrie, which is right in Brady, or Hodges Bend in the East Village District. Where to stay? You’ll love the Ambassador Hotel Tulsa (rates from $199). Or lessen your drive time by booking at the historic Mayo Hotel (rates from $242) or the modern Aloft Tulsa (rates from $98).