As an island girl who grew up twenty minutes from the Pacific, I am always a little stunned by the beauty of the South. I’m not surprised, it’s just that I suppose no one ever told me how lush and green it is, or about the amazing natural beauty that you will find if you drive through our southern states.
I find the greatest beauty in what some might find ordinary— in a one room church, or a pecan orchard, or in moss covered oaks. For me, it’s all so pretty and charming.
Growing up on a tropical island amid skyscrapers, big hotels, mega crowds and big city traffic, I appreciate the simplicity of the South. W.Somerset Maugham said: “Simplicity and naturalness are the truest marks of distinction.”
If you need another a reason to head down South—Southern food is probably one of the top reasons to visit.
Not just because they fry everything so well—from chicken, to pickles, even olives—it’s like every grandmother in the world moved to the South and cooked up a supper fit for an army.
It’s all good, and not very good for you—but when you’re on vacation, it’s perfection.
Still, here are many reasons to “go south, young man” and when you get there, why don’t you come in and sit a spell?
I live in Alabama now, but I’ve seen a lot of my new home state. I just spent a weekend in Montgomery and visited the Museum of Alabama, which is housed in the Alabama Department of Archives and History. There are lots of hands-on activities for children, and like most good museums, it is filled with artifacts coupled with interactive video and computer graphics.
If you’re a football fan, the best place to watch the game and eat some great barbecue, is Dreamland BBQ Restaurant in The Alley. Their pulled pork sandwich and dipping sauce is delicious; pair it with some Crimson Tide or War Eagle football, you’ll have a “true Southern experience.” And don’t leave out a big helping of their banana pudding— it will help you understand the phrase, “So good, it will slap your Mama.”
The best part of the trip for me was visiting The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. The Fitzgeralds lived in the house with their daughter Scottie in the early 30’s while Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night and Zelda wrote Save Me the Waltz.
The only museum in the world dedicated to F. Scott or Zelda, the museum is filled with rare finds— the original galley proofs of The Great Gatsby (still titled Trimalchio, Fitzgerald’s original title) as well as his boyhood journal,
Zelda’s therapy paintings, paper dolls she painted and created for Scottie and her grandchildren, as well as personal letters and photos from the Fitzgerald family.
The museum is also the only place where Zelda’s art is showcased and shown.
Birmingham has a lot to offer. Don’t miss learning about important moments of the Civil Rights Movement at the amazing Civil Rights Institute, a walk to Kelly Ingram Park, and the 16th Street Baptist Church.
If you have kids, the McWane Science Center is a cool hands on museum. The Birmingham Museum of Arts is free, but so worth dropping a donation to sit in their lovely courtyard just to enjoy the sunshine and be surrounded by art and sculpture.
If you like driving really fast— Barbers Motorsports Park is home to hundreds of vintage cars and motorcycles, and hosts occasional racing events.
When you’re in Tuscaloosa, stop by and visit the University of Alabama. Don’t skip a stadium tour, because if you’re a football fan, you can’t miss the House that Bear built. Stop by Bama Bar-B-Q and Grill and eat some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had in the South right there in Bama Nation. Don’t miss the Bear Bryant Museum to see how Alabama has 15 National Championships. Roll tide roll.
We ate at the famous Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, where Jack once lived and where Miss Mary would make lunch for employees and guests, as well as the Tennessee Squires (the super secret squirrel group which at one time regulated how high in a tavern’s shelf a bottle of Jack should sit).
You can make a reservation and sit family style to eat lunch at Miss Mary’s house, and a docent will give you the history of the house, the town, and of course, Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
The food alone is worth the drive, but the tour of the distillery is a mix of history and complete awe, as well as the only place in a dry county you can buy a bottle and they will fill it with whiskey free of charge.
Remember, you’re buying the special “bottle” not the alcohol itself, because that would be against the law. When you visit the distillery, visit the White Rabbit room and see what kind of special bottles are for sale.
In Concord and Charlotte we got our NASCAR on. In Concord we visited Hendrick Motorsports where our friend Rob Lopes, tire specialist for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 car, showed us around, as well as Richard Petty’s Motorsports where we ran into the King of NASCAR himself. We also visited Dale Earnhardt’s DEI Museum and paid our respects to “The Intimidator” and the #3 car.
If you don’t follow NASCAR, this may not be your thing, but this was one Southern cliché gone really great. Even for a girly-girl like me, it was amazing to see the detail and expertise poured into racing, and I understand now why it is a multi-billion dollar sport. In Charlotte, we spent the day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and got an amazing history lesson, as well as hands-on experience in completing a pit stop, racing rules and regulations, as well as driving in a simulated race.
We have spent time both inland in Asheville, as well as two South Carolina shores— Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island. We visited Myrtle Beach in the off-season, and it was quiet and the beach was beautiful, but there wasn’t much open.
We enjoyed walking on the beach and riding the SkyWheel on the strip, and just really having a quiet vacation watching beautiful beach sunrises and sunsets.
We did get in a visit to Medieval Times to watch some fun horsemanship and hot men in tights pretend to kill each other in noble sword play. The meal was delicious and the homemade sangria delightful. No matter the cheese factor, I loved the sheer fun of it all.
No matter what you want to see— beaches, art museums, good barbecue, race cars or horses, the South could meet all of your travel needs.
What I have found in the land of Dixie is a beautiful part of the country, where the scenery is worth the drive, and the people are beyond kind and generous.
During my travels, while I didn’t sit under a shady parasol and have good looking cowboys serve me Jack Daniel’s on the rocks, I did have a fantastic time.
I came home each time well fed, in both my belly and brain, knowing I’d seen parts of the true South. Now when Elvis sings “I wish I were in Dixie,” I know where the King is coming from.