From the Smoky Mountains to the coastal islands, summer vacations in the Southeast are smooth and easy. This is a distinctive region with unique cuisine, language, art, landscape, and music—all are waiting to be discovered. Rivers roll to the sea and are ideal for rafting. Kentucky blue grass and bourbon, the grace of Charleston, the kick of Savannah, and a taste of the Caribbean in the Florida Keys. What are you waiting for?
The Great Smoky Mountains
Most people never go farther than a few hundred feet from their car, so even though this park has more summer visitors than any other, it’s easy to leave the crowds behind. Hiking the park is the finest way to experience its exceptional beauty. The Smokies, located in North Carolina and Tennessee, are known the world over for the rich diversity of plants and animals, ancient hills, and what’s left of Appalachian culture and arts. There are waterfalls to discover, and a soft, smoky-blue mist gently covers the valleys.
The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks are barrier islands, now connected by bridges, off the coast of North Carolina. Historic Roanoke Island dates to the first mysterious English colony, and the Wright Brothers took flight at Kitty Hawk. Ocracoke Island was once the haunt of pirates and shipwrecked sailors. Today, rent a bicycle and tool around the woods and shoreline. Stretch a blanket on the beach. Explore the Outer Banks villages, walk the sand dunes, relax, and enjoy this protected and preserved part of the south.
Summer in Charleston, South Carolina is a warm embrace, the scent of jasmine, and a taste of honey. Ramble the late-night streets and listen to music pour out the doors. Take a carriage ride. Explore nearby plantations along the Ashley River. Long before the Revolutionary War, Charleston was a busy port. Influenced by the Caribbean, West Indies, France, and Africa it became as cosmopolitan as New Orleans. Tour the historic homes and Rainbow Row. Dip into the Charleston Museum. Founded in 1773, it is the country’s oldest museum and is a good place to begin. Most of all, Charleston is to savor.
Savannah, Georgia is everything you’ve heard about and then some. If this city were a woman, she’d be a lady dressed in silk, and she’d offer you a pull from the pint tucked in her stockings. Sit on one of the squares, shaded by oaks covered with Spanish moss. Go to the Mercer-Williams House, featured in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Take a riverboat cruise or enjoy the beach at Tybee Island. Go on a ghost tour in the evening (there are loads of spirits around), and the next morning head to the Forsyth Market for heirloom seeds and local crafts.
One of the friendliest towns in the south, Lafayette, Louisiana is a hidden gem and the heart of Cajun and Creole country. It is a steamy mix of American Indian, African-American, English, French, Acadian, and Spanish culture. Rand McNally and USA Today has called Lafayette, “The Town Best for Food”—its distinctive cuisine is sheer heaven. Celebrate the joy of being alive with local music. Go on a swamp tour. Head to Avery Island, home of Tabasco sauce, and trek to an enormous Buddha. Stop at a flea market. Dance until dawn and laugh out loud.
Summer in Nashville is about adventure in nearby rivers and live music until dawn. Kayak or zipline through ancient rivers and forests just 30 minutes away. Head off to the Jack Daniels distillery for tours and tasting. Now dive into Nashville’s downtown honky-tonks, blues bars, speakeasies, and (of course) the real-deal country music scene. Go to the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Johnny Cash Museum. Perhaps a fantasy country music day camp! East Nashville is a diverse haven for artists of every sort—expect great dining and shopping and bring home a souvenir that is pure kitsch.
Called “The River of Grass” by Native Americans, the Everglades is 100% unique. It is a wetland, a lake, prairie, grasslands, and a swamp that weaves in and out of territory, stretching as far as you can see. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the continental USA. Alligators’ eyes and nose bob just above the waterline, and they blend perfectly with their environment. Great blue herons rise above it all. A swamp tour is spectacular. Your local guide will be a naturalist and an entertaining storyteller.