Hidden Destinations in the American South

As summer begins to come to a close, many look for a quiet getaway to escape to, and Southern Living has curated a list of the region’s hidden destinations to escape to this summer.

As always, due to local regulations, travel restrictions, and COVID-19 surges, it is suggested that travelers properly research all local guidelines and CDC recommendations in order to keep you and those you care about as safe and responsible as possible in these unprecedented times. Luckily, Southern Living’s list of “Hidden Southern Escapes” includes many isolated getaways, allowing for more social distancing and relaxation.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia

Once upon a time, nearly one million acres of desert habitat covered southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, and preserving that environmental marvel in Virginia today is the largest intact remnant of that desert habitat, the Great Dismal Swamp National Refuge. Originally opened as a result of a local forest products company’s sizable 1973 donation of 49,097 acres to The Nature Conservancy, this refuge encompasses over 112,000 acres of an environmentally, biologically, and historically important area. Visit Lake Drummond, the largest natural lake in Virginia, and take part in some one-of-a-kind birding or boating experiences in one of the most diverse and unique landscapes available in the American South.

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma

In their curated list, Southern Living calls this destination the literal “home where the buffalo roamed,” and they’re not technically wrong because as the National Park Service reports this exact stretch of land in Oklahoma was originally inhabited by tens of millions of bison. Today, this preserve that encompasses 39,650 acres is the single-largest protected remnant of the tallgrass prairie habitat left on the planet earth today. Visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve to take part in excellent wildlife watching opportunities, since over 700 plants, 300 birds, and 80 mammals call this prairie home. One highlight of the preserve is quoted by the Nature Conservatory as allowing visitors to “experience the wide-open prairie and the patches of cross timbers forest by circling the 15-mile bison driving loop, hiking along designated trails and stopping to take in the views at various scenic turnouts.”

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Second only to the majesty of the Grand Canyon is the Palo Duro Canyon State Park located in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. At this hidden destination, visitors of this massive, other-worldly expanse can explore the canyon as they see fit by foot, mountain bike, car, or horse. The park itself has over 30 miles of equestrian, biking, and hiking trails from which to view the canyon’s highs and lows as well as the wildlife. This State Park originated from a vast ranch owned by the legendary Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight before it was acquired by the State of Texas in the 1930s. The diverse landscape that embodies the park is a combination of sediment, rock formations, and canyon walls, but they are also contrasted spectacularly by the vibrancy of Texas plant life. This makes for a truly beautiful, picturesque expanse of land that was once so unique that it inspired the infamous painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

The final hidden destination listed here in the name of isolation and hermit-try is South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island, a location only accessible by boat. Now occupied by local artisans is the Mary Fields School, a historic schoolhouse where classic author Pat Conroy taught. Conroy, who has written such literature as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, was inspired by the students and outside, timeless island landscape on Daufuskie Island to write his 1972 memoir The Water is Wide. Take a self-described “remote retreat from modern life” and visit an island lost to time itself.

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Visiting the Sophisticated City of Tallahassee, Florida

While it doesn’t have the Kennedy Space Center or the magical expanse of Walt Disney World Resort within its city limits to draw in its tourists, the capital city of  Florida (Tallahassee) is a pinnacle of southern charm, unforgettable hospitality, and sheer sophistication, as evidenced in this feature from the blog Travel Pulse.

 The city of Tallahassee stands proudly in the western panhandle of Florida as being more than the sum of its parts. This is due to the fact that many Americans typically view the city as solely being the home of notable football programs and collegiate achievements. These tourists are often surprised by the multitudes contained within this aptly nicknamed “southern gem” for its vibrant arts district, breathtakingly lush park grounds, and a plethora of quaint experiences to be had within its boundaries.

Tallahassee, Florida is the eighth-largest city in the state of Florida and the 126th-largest city in the nation, and because of it being home to Florida State University, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College, it’s still widely considered to be a significant college town. This classification contributes to the lively spirit that is seen embodied throughout the city’s recreational, historical, and social scenes.

Residents and tourists alike take advantage of the numerous eco-adventures offered by the city such as its many biking, hiking, and paddling trails from which the beautiful scenery of the capital city can be observed. Consider booking an expedition (ranging from beginner to expert) that has you adventuring down the Munson Hills Mountain Bike Trail or one of the city’s other offered trails. Tallahassee has so many trails to traverse that the city has a resource named “Trailahassee” that helps to guide its visitors and residents to make the most out of the city’s 700+ miles of trails.

Outside of being a notable collegiate city, Tallahassee also is the capital seat of the state of Florida, giving a home to the Florida State Capitol, Supreme Court of Florida, Florida Governor’s Mansion, and dozens of additional state agencies. This is in addition to the city also being widely-known for its contributions to the field of science with it being home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory as well as the domain of public safety with it being recently honored by the American Public Power Association for receiving the prestigious honor that is the 2021 E. F. Scattergood System Achievement Award. This award names Tallahassee as having the top public utility in the entire country for “demonstrated achievements that made a difference in the community, improved service to customers and enhanced the profile of public power.”

If you find yourself wanting to see a more social and creative angle to the city, then look no further than Tallahassee’s Arts & Creative District where everything from live performances, art classes, and vibrant festivals can be enjoyed from the Railroad Square Craft House. Additionally, immerse yourself in the worlds of both architecture and nature with the secret gardens and floral marvels found at the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. The gardens encompass over 1,000 total acres that wrap around Lake Hall, and they offer adventures in canoeing, horseback riding, and biking alongside vibrant artwork made from the state of Florida’s own flora.

Round out your trip by immersing yourself in the rich history of the city by exploring the Tallahassee Historical Museum and Capitol Building where you can stroll through the preserved gardens, living exhibits, animal sanctuaries, and even a “Tree-to-Tree” zip line. On the premises, you’ll also find the Florida Historic Capitol Museum that is housed within the original capitol building, and since it was originally constructed in 1902 there is plenty to be learned from its architecture as well as its archives, making it a perfect destination for anyone interested in the state’s history and politics.

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Southern Day Trips to Take in Summer 2021

If you live in the American South, then you’re familiar with the majesty of the surrounding area, and due to the close proximity of the interesting attractions, you might not always feel inclined to spend multiple nights or days visiting what’s practically in your backyard. If that is true, then consider taking a southern day trip to a spectacular, nearby state, and it’s easy thanks to Southern Living’s list of suggested day trips to take in the Southern United States.

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park; Gatlinburg, Tennessee

While this park isn’t for the faint of heart, it is for those who are unafraid of incredible heights and breath-taking sights. Located in the heart of Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park that gives you the perfect vantage point from which to see the majesty of the expansive Smoky Mountains. Whether you’re looking down at Crockett Mountainfrom 500 ft. above, taking a breather at the SkyDeck atop the mountain, or braving a stroll down SkyBridge, the longest suspension bridge in the United States, your adventurous side will no doubt be satisfied. After taking the SkyLift to the top of Crockett Mountain or walking down the 680 ft. SkyBridge, you can stop by the SkyCenter to check out the gift shop, grab your professionally-taken photo of you atop the Skylift, or just relax with delicious concessions while looking at the greatest view imaginable.

The United States Naval Academy; Annapolis, Maryland

Since 1845 the United States Naval Academy has been rigorously training officers for the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps in Annapolis Maryland, and the campus is available for public visitation. Once you’re at the academy, there’s plenty of history to uncover about the prestigious entity that is the nation’s Naval and Marine forces. Visitors stopping by on a day trip might be attending a raucous sporting event at the Brigade Sports Complex or the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where recruits are often engaged in a Navy game of football, lacrosse, or hockey. Those more inclined to learn about the history of the United States Navy or its academy might want to take in an exhibit at the Naval Academy Museum, see what academy life is like for a midshipman by booking a guided tour, or pay resorts at the crypt of naval hero John Paul Jones. The Naval Academy is located on the northeastern coast of Annapolis, Maryland, and while many residents have grown up with training officers jogging or marching down the streets of the city’s downtown area, many go their whole lives without visiting the Naval Academy, so book a day trip and learn about the history of the famed branch of the U.S military.

Everglades National Park; Florida Everglades

It’s not every day that you can visit a near-mythological landscape that emcompasses 1.5 million acrees of wetlands.Book a day trip to Southern Florida and see the truly unforgettable sights of Everglades National Park, where anything is possible. One popular entry point to the Everglades is located deep in the heart of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and it has a 2.1 mile-long boardwalk from which you can see the towering sights of the cyprus trees above. Not only are some of the trees 135 ft. in height, but the Sanctuary is the single-largest stand of old-growth cypress trees in the world. While visiting, you can also check out the hundreds of alligators that line the canal banks of the 720,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve. Many want to experience the Everglades first-hand and fast-paced, so if that sounds like you, then you’d be well-off booking an airboat adventure ride at the Sawgrass Recreation Park. Once aboard, you’ll be able to hear authentic, Florida-specific stories and see over 100 mammals and reptiles that have been adopted and rescued over the past few decades.

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The Greatest Walking Tours of the American South

Southern cities have so much to see and learn about in terms of local art installations, unique architectural trends, and natural history that sometimes the best way to see it all is by booking a walking tour with a knowledgeable resident and expert of your destination. Thanks to Southern Living’s curated list of “2021’s Best Walking Tours” to be found in the southern United States, you’ll be properly prepared the next time you’re in a new location with a rich history.

If you’ve never taken a walking tour, it’s essentially a more calculated attempt at learning a wide array of a city or town’s history by hearing it from a knowledgeable tour guide instead of you driving around the city picking up your facts through context clues. These tours are typically found in the town’s busiest areas and they can range from the general “learn about the history of this district of New Orleans, Louisiana” to “popular filming locations in Savannah, Georgia.” There’s truly something for everyone depending on your particular interests or level of prior knowledge you come to the tour with, but here are our favorites from Southern Living’s “2021 South’s Best” list.

Walkin’ Nashville Music City Legends Tour

Nashville, Tennessee

If you’re a fan of the golden age of country music, then there’s no city quite as fruitful as Nashville, Tennessee since no other city rivals it in terms of country music’s legacy, superstars, and impact. When booking the “Walkin’ Nashville Music City Legends” walking tour, you’ll learn just how much the genre has evolved over the past century and exactly how the city itself played a role in making the greatest legends of country music such as Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, and plenty others into the notable icons they are today.

This two-hour tour spans only about one mile of Nashville, but it’s less about walking and more about the story of the biggest names in music that have the city to thank for some aspect of their success. When on the tour, you’ll be inundated with anecdotes, music history, trivia, and more as you’re brought to notorious Music City landmarks like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Ryman Auditorium, Printers Alley, and The Maxwell House Hotel, all of which have played a significant role for country music’s biggest stars. The tour ends in maybe the city’s most sought-after location, and after over 90 minutes of insider information about the genre, there’s no place else you’d rather find yourself than the Country Music Hall of Fame, where you can let yourself go wild and at your own pace! Book a ticket today and learn more about not just country music but the city that calls the genre its primary export.

Fredericksburg Walking Tours

Fredericksburg, Texas

For many, the attractions found on a walking tour are the immediate draw, but the regimented schedule of a tour guide’s well-meaning itinerary is a drawback. If that’s the case, then this history-rich, self-guided tour of the 175-year old town of Fredericksburg, Texas is the perfect way to learn about the legacy of the town’s historic district that has garnered some natural recognition of its own.

Once you set forth on the tour, you’ll immediately notice that Fredericksburg’s streets are incredibly wide, and sure “everything’s bigger in Texas,” but the width of the streets is due to the fact that the founders of the town had an outstanding need for a full team of oxen to be able to turn around in the street before being hitched up on one of the street’s still-accessible metal hoops (found along the sidewalks). The tour allows you to independently survey the town’s historical district according to the areas that interest you the most– whether that be admiring the Admiral Nimitz Gallery of the National Museum of the Pacific War, learning about Fredicksburg’s founding history in the iconic Vereins Kirche Museum found in the center of Marktplatz, or setting down for one of your three meals at the unforgettable Rathskeller Basement Restaurant in Frederickburg’s Historic Keidel Hospital Building. Sure you may have to spend multiple days taking in all that this notable Texan city has to offer, but that’s just the price you pay when you’re learning about one of the more architecturally and historically rich towns in the Southern United States.

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Southern Weekend Getaways

The Southern treasures of Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida have recently resurfaced as tempting travel destinations by way of Southern Living’s recommendation. Both Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood and Jacksonville’s cosmopolitan beach scene have a lot to offer the traveler that craves excitement alongside relaxation. As always, be sure to travel safely and responsibly by checking local government restrictions and CDC guidelines.

The Midtown Neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia

Midtown Atlanta is practically a new city altogether thanks to its burgeoning neighborhood with its inclusive array for hearty, stylish shops, museums, and restaurants to peruse. Everything about this locale invites you to indulge in this Georgia Peach just as you would the Big Apple.

This setting is absolutely perfect for anyone who self-identifies as a style-setter wanting a big-city southern weekend getaway. If that describes you, then begin your sojourn with the heart and height of Atlanta’s art scene, the High Museum of Art, or take in the experienced sights of the new-to-the-neighborhood Museum of Design Atlanta and its celebration of item design that includes items from handbags to graffitied skateboards.

Reinvigorate your style by shopping at Billy Reed’s new outpost in the Westside Provisions District, which emcompassess a collection of boutiques that are housed in a former meatpacking plant.

If you’re hungry, definitely expect to order oysters on the half shell from chef Ford Fry’s latest seafood venture, The Optimist. Alternatively, taste southern decadence with a supper consisting of pork belly with sweet tea-jus at the lavish restaurant, The Lawrence. Then, top it all off with an unforgettable chocolate-chip cookie dough cheesecake from Café Intermezzo.

Take advantage of all that Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood has to offer today by booking a stay in one of the comfortable rooms of The Artmore Hotel, which is nestled inside a classic, 1920’s building, rivaling the many chains of Atlanta.

 The Beachtown of Jacksonville, Florida

Located further down south, this cosmopolitan beach scene favors relaxation to luxury, but it avoids the tacky entirely, if done right. The key is sticking to the water, and in Jacksonville it’s simply everywhere. The city itself is perched against the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s split into two by the St. Johns River. Southern Living offers the following guide to the ideal Jacksonville Weekend stay.

Arrive on a Friday for a southern weekend getaway, unpack your bags after checking in to The Sea Turtle Inn, which is the lodging that also suits famed novelist John Grisham. The Sea Turtle is even still sparkling from its $6.5 million renovation, and its rates are affordable at an average of $109 in the off-season.

The hotel’s restaurant specializes in Floribbean cuisine, which is a combination of Caribbean spices and traditional freshly-caught fare.

On Saturday morning, an early riser can catch the unforgettable Florida sunrise and then head over to The Coffee Grinder, the cozy coffee shop located next to a local gift shop that’s full of souvenirs, standard postcards, and watercolors that you’re practically required to browse and purchase for your loved one back on the mainland.

Spend Saturday on the beach, in the sun, and around the water, but once you’re tired or looking for something different, be sure to take a walk over to a local book store like The Book Mark. Similarly, you could peruse the wares of Patina and purchase some niche home accents and furnishings that are comfortably vintage.

Depending on your energy levels, you’re free to head in for the night or explore the sights along the SS. Marine Taxi,The Jacksonville Landing, and/or The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. All in all, Jacksonville has a little something for everyone, and you’d be delighted to find your favorite corner- whatever it may be.

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