The American south is often overlooked as a vacation spot, but there are lots of incredible things to do in the Southeast. From the rolling mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina to Florida’s theme parks to the cultural hotspot of New Orleans, you’ll find natural beauty, spectacular wildlife, and magical family fun, as well as sobering but important reminders of the nation’s Civil Rights movement. This roundup, featuring Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee includes all of the best vacation spots in the south, as written by the travel bloggers who love them. Whether you’re planning a scenic road trip through the mountains, a family vacation to Florida’s theme parks, or some time on the beach, you’ll find all kinds of amazing things to do in the southeastern United States.
- 1 Alabama bucket list items
- 2 Arkansas bucket list items
- 3 Florida bucket list items
- 3.1 Visit Walt Disney World
- 3.2 Swim with manatees along Florida’s Gulf Coast
- 3.3 Step into the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando
- 3.4 View incredible wildlife in Everglades National Park
- 3.5 Visit the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the US
- 3.6 Visit one of the United States’ most remote National Parks
- 3.7 Learn about space travel at the Kennedy Space Center
- 3.8 Road trip the Florida Keys
- 3.9 Satisfy your sweet tooth with Key Lime pie
- 3.10 Enjoy the crystal clear waters of Silver Springs State Park
- 4 Georgia bucket list items
- 5 Kentucky bucket list items
- 6 Louisiana bucket list items
- 7 Mississippi bucket list items
- 8 North Carolina bucket list items
- 9 South Carolina bucket list items
- 10 Tennessee bucket list items
Note: This post contains affiliate links, and should you choose to make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Alabama bucket list items
Train like an astronaut at Space Camp
Huntsville in northern Alabama has a great deal to offer – not least of which is the incredible Space Camp experience. This camp is focused on math and education learning in a fun, space themed environment, and is run by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville knows a thing or two about space incidentally. It’s the home of NASA Marshall, which is where for over fifty years rocket scientists have been building and testing rocket parts, including the engines that took men to the moon.
With this connection, it’s no surprise that Space Camp is a highly authentic experience. It’s open to pretty much anyone who is aged seven and over (yes, there’s an adult space camp!), with programs running for various durations, but usually in the range of 3 to 6 days. Programs are very hands on and team-based, and focus around a mission, giving participants a real feel for what it might be like to train as an actual astronaut.
By Laurence from Finding the Universe
If you can’t make it for Space Camp, you can still tour the US Space and Rocket Center. Get your tickets here!
Visit the ultimate thrift store full of lost baggage
Unclaimed Baggage in northern Alabama is almost a mecca for travelers and shoppers alike. Unclaimed Baggage operates under the very unique business plan of taking lost luggage and reselling the contents. It’s like a Goodwill, but infinitely better. Think about it. You donate items you *don’t* want. You bring your possessions that you *love* with you on your trips. Because of that, Unclaimed Baggage is filled with brand name, high quality items but for a fraction of the cost. The employees of the store have unearthed some amazing treasures including movie props, live animals, and even stone cold cash!!
It can be very frustrating to lose your bag on vacation, but worry not because only a very small percent (less than 5%) of bags even make it to Unclaimed Baggage because the airlines do their best to reunite the bags with owners. If you want to make sure your bag never ends up there, always make sure to put your name, address, and contact number on the inside of your bag as well!
Read more about the Unclaimed Baggage Center from Carly at Flight of the Educator
Dine on the famous Royal Red shrimp
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Alabama is not known for many high tourism areas, but the 60 miles of Gulf Coast, is probably the most popular in the state. Although there are a few towns that occupy this small piece of coast, the entire stretch is often commonly referred to as Gulf Shores. The area has been developed for tourism, with a variety of attractions, and a line of beachfront condos.
Visitors come to Gulf Shores for a lot of reasons, from lying on the white sand beaches, to adrenaline pumping adventure sports, from historic forts and naval vessels, to a coastal wildlife reserve. But only “in the know” travelers visit for good eating. Gulf Shores is the best place in the world to eat Royal Red Shrimp, and they are certainly a bucket list item!
Royal Red shrimp are a rare deep water shrimp that are typically found 40 to 60 miles offshore. They are not unique to the area, as they can be found all along the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Belize. However, they are few and scattered. The waters off of Alabama are known to be the sweet spot for the delicious delicacy, and only a handful of fishing companies have the special equipment and licensing required for harvesting.
Royal Reds are large, and as the name suggests, a deep crimson color. They are known for their exceptional tenderness, and their rich, salty-sweet flavor. They are amazing steamed, sautéed or grilled, and frying them is considered a sacrilege. Royal Reds are worth asking for at any area restaurant, because they are often an off menu special, but our two favorite places to eat them in Gulf Shores are King Neptune’s and Bahama Bob’s, right on the beach. One bite, and seafood lovers will be hooked.
By Roxanna from Gypsy with a Day Job
Arkansas bucket list items
Enjoy thermal baths at Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs, Arkansas
For years, Hot Springs National Park was the United States’ smallest National Park, though that title was recently claimed by the Gateway Arch. However, it remains one of the more unique parks that I’ve visited. The main draw and most commonly visited area of the park is historic Bathhouse Row, where the hot water bubbling up from springs in the mountains was once used for restorative bath treatments. Back in the day, it was one of the top things to do in the southeastern United States for the wealthy. Most of the baths have closed over the years thanks to the proliferation of indoor plumbing and modern medicine, but there are still a few in operation if you’d like to try them out. Don’t miss the National Park visitor center, housed in one of the historic bathhouses for a glimpse into the glory days of the baths. You can explore all three levels, including the beautifully decorated men’s baths and an upper level with an airy relaxation area.
The mountains included in the park also offer plenty of hiking opportunities and trails ranging from easy to difficult can be found winding through the wooded slopes. If hiking isn’t your thing, take a scenic drive to the top for a view of the valley below – it’s a great picnic spot if you like to dine with a view. There’s a tall observation tower at the top as well if you want to get an even higher vantage point. The town itself is cute too, with lots of little shops lining downtown. For a different kind of fun, try this sunset cruise and dance on a nearby lake.
Go diamond hunting at Crater of Diamonds
Crater of Diamonds State Park in southwestern Arkansas is not only one of the most unique things to do in the southeastern United States, it’s unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s the only place in the world where the general public is invited to hunt for diamonds and other precious gems in their original source. And the best part? You’re welcome to keep whatever you find. You can bring your own hand-operated mining equipment (no motors or batteries) or rent some at the park to aid in your search. Park rangers will even identify your finds for free. According to the state tourism board, an average of two diamonds per day are found by the park’s visitors for a total of more than 33,000 since the area became a state park in 1972. How cool would it be to find one and take it home to have it set into a piece of jewelry?
If diamond hunting isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities available at the state park. You can take advantage of the walking trails and picnic areas for a relaxing day or pitch a tent at the on-site campground for a weekend of relaxing. If you’re looking to cool off, pay a visit to Diamond Springs Water Park, a small water park with a pool, fountains, and water slides.
Visit historic Little Rock Central High School
Little Rock, Arkansas
While there are certainly plenty of purely fun things to do in the Southeast, it’s also important to stop and recognize the more unpleasant aspects of our history. If you’ve studied American history from the 20th century, you’ve almost certainly seen photos of this historic high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was the site of a fierce Civil Rights battle as segregationists fought to keep the city’s most prestigious public high school from being integrated in the 1950s. The still-operational high school has been designated as a National Historic Site and can be toured as part of a ranger-led group. Even if you can’t take part in the tour, don’t skip the visitor center. The small museum there tells the story of the original black students, collectively known as the Little Rock Nine, who suffered through a year of physical and mental abuse at the hands of their classmates and community in order to attend Little Rock Central High. You can see photos, artifacts, and quotes about the experience that will really drive home how incredibly brave they all were. You can also check out the vintage style gas station across the street maintained to keep its appearance from the 50s. Since the events at the high school across the street took place in the days before cell phones and the internet, the gas station played an important role for reporters relaying the news of the day via its phone.
Find out more about my visit, including meeting one of the Little Rock Nine, in my post about my visit to Little Rock Central.
Florida bucket list items
Visit Walt Disney World
Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida
No trip to Florida is complete without a visit to the four amazing Disney theme parks near Orlando and it’s one of the best vacation spots in the south, if not the country. Though often thought of as a kids’ destination, adults will find plenty to love at the “Most Magical Place on Earth.” Whether you’re looking for the many themed lands of the Magic Kingdom (that’s the “Castle park” for those who aren’t familiar), the food and culture of Epcot, the thrill rides and soon-to-be Star Wars land of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or the lush green, nature-centric attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there’s something for everybody. And then there are the water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are full of speed slides, kid-friendly areas, and water coasters to help you cool off on one of Florida’s very hot days. Some of my favorite rides are Splash Mountain (I worked there!), Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Test Track, Soarin’, Tower of Terror, Slinky Dog Dash, Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition: Everest. Don’t skip the nighttime shows either – Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom is a beautiful show, and Epcot’s Illuminations is fantastic, though it’ll be ending its run soon. If you’re more into food than rides and shows, you’ll love eating your way around Epcot’s World Showcase (try visiting during the Food and Wine Festival), indulging in the many beloved snacks like Dole Whip and Mickey Bars, and sampling some of the super sweet alcoholic beverages (the boozy lemonade from Woody’s Lunchbox in Toy Story Land was an instant favorite of mine!).
The incredible resort hotels at Disney World are an attraction in and of themselves. You can easily spend a day of your vacation exploring them with their beautiful theming. Some of my favorites include the Animal Kingdom Lodge with its wildlife viewing, the Polynesian Village Resort for its tropical feel, and Fort Wilderness for its upscale camping and multitude of activities. Disney Springs, the shopping and dining district on property, is another great place to visit on a non-park day. You can explore the shops, both Disney and non-Disney branded, visit the Coca Cola store, or eat your way through some delicious restaurants. As a former Cast Member there, I have a whole section of Disney World tips, so be sure to check that out for money saving tips, time saving tips, resort reviews, essential FastPass+ lists, and more!
Swim with manatees along Florida’s Gulf Coast
Crystal River, Florida
One of the most well-known Florida animals is the manatee. During the winter months, many manatees gather in the Crystal River area to stay warm because of the area’s many springs. These springs have warm water that bubbles up from underground and keeps the water above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Because so many manatees gather in this area, it’s a perfect place to go swimming with them!
We recommend doing a tour with Plantation Adventure Center. We liked them because they provide guests with thicker wet suits which means you’ll stay warmer. Additionally, while other companies provide guests with fins, Plantation Adventure Center does not which is actually better because splashing scares away the manatees.
In this area of Florida, the Federal Government allows “passive observation” which means you can get in the water and if a manatee comes up to you, you may touch them with one hand. However, you are not allowed to chase them, feed them, or disturb them in any way.
Being in the water with the many manatees ended up being such a magical experience. You float at the top of the water and move slowly (no diving). Many of the manatees come right up to you. There was a curious baby manatee that kept swimming up to us and also a large adult manatee that kept rolling over so that we’d rub his belly.
Swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida is definitely one of my favorite animal encounters and we highly recommend it if you’re in the area.
By Vicky from Buddy the Traveling Monkey
Step into the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando
The opening of the Hogsmeade area at Universal’s Islands of Adventure was one of the most anticipated theme park events ever. And boy did it live up to the expectations. In the years since, Universal Studios joined in the fun with a Diagon Alley area to explore – and the two lands are connected by the Hogwarts Express train. How amazing is that? Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the ride inside of Hogwarts, is an absolute masterpiece and should not be missed. You’ll also want to sample all of the varieties of butterbeer flavored foods from “traditional” style in a cup to ice cream (the ice cream is life-changing).
Of course, there are plenty of other things to do at Universal Orlando. Islands of Adventure is home to a fun Marvel themed land with a newly-rebuilt Incredible Hulk roller coaster and a Dr. Seuss land for kids. The original park, Universal Studios, has a couple of great coasters itself – Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and The Mummy – plus an always fun Men in Black dark ride and the new Transformers attraction. For nightlife, check out Citywalk which is full of clubs and iconic over-the-top restaurant chains.
View incredible wildlife in Everglades National Park
Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Collier counties, Florida
I’d been wanting to visit Everglades National Park for years and years and was absolutely blown away when I finally got the chance to go. Scenery-wise, it’s not the prettiest National Park out there (our tour guide even said as much) but I’ve never seen wildlife in such abundance as I did in this park. The Shark Valley Visitor Center on the north side of the park has a paved walking and biking trail through the wetlands and also offers daily tram rides with narration from a guide. The ride is so worth it! Our driver and guide spotted so many alligators that we would’ve completely missed because of how well camouflaged they are.
Along the ride, we saw about a dozen gators, including two sets of babies, and several species of large birds. Watching a white ibis soar through the air is incredible. After our tour was over, we walked for a bit along the path closest to the visitor center and were in absolute awe of the wildlife we saw. There were a dozen turtles right in front of us, some just swimming, some eating flowers (yes, seeing a little turtle nomming on a flower in the water is as adorable as it sounds). We could see fish of all sizes swimming around. But the most incredible sight was that of one of the bird species we’d been introduced to on the tour – an anhinga – fishing right in front of us. We spent half an hour just standing there watching him dive below the surface and cruise through the water before popping up with a fish in his beak and flipping it into his mouth – the showboater.
Visit the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the US
St. Augustine, Florida
There’s so much to explore in Old St. Augustine, but many people make it a weekend trip. It’s the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the US, and the historic section of the city boasts colonial Spanish architecture that makes you feel like you’ve entered another era. For those with limited time, I always recommend taking one of the Old Town Trolley tours to get an overview of the city and figure out which attractions you’d like to head back to and spend more time at.
Check out the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse along the pedestrian-only St. George Street. This schoolhouse dates back to the early 1700s and is open to the public. They’ve done a great job of turning it into an accurate and educational (no pun intended) representation of the history of St. Augustine. To escape the Florida heat or keep busy on a rainy day, I’d recommend taking a tour to check out Flagler College. Henry Flagler originally built this grand building in the 1880s as an exclusive and luxurious resort. Tours begin daily at 10 and 2, and you can expect to step back in time into the lives of 19th century elite.
Old St. Augustine has so much to offer, but these are two of my “must-dos” that I recommend for all first-timers. For me, simply wandering the cobblestone streets is the best thing to do. There are so many fun shops and fascinating pieces of history everywhere you look, that it feels like I’ve discovered something new each time I visit.
By Erica from Treading Wander
Visit one of the United States’ most remote National Parks
Dry Tortugas, Florida
One of Florida’s hidden gems lays at the southernmost point of the State. It is beyond Key West, where Highway 1 ends. Dry Tortugas National Park is a series of several islets, about 70 miles southwest of Key West. To visit Dry Tortugas National Park, you will need to either hop on the Yankee Freedom III ferry or take a chartered plane.
Dry Tortugas is one of the most remote US National Parks. There, you’ll learn about its rich history, beautiful scenery, and amazing underwater activities. You can join a guided walking tour of Fort Jefferson, followed by snorkeling or relaxing on the beautiful white sand beaches. If you reserve early, you can even go camping or kayaking in the Dry Tortugas. Avid scuba divers may wish to join a liveaboard that is based in Key West.
Check out the park’s official website here.
By Halef from The Round the World Guys
Learn about space travel at the Kennedy Space Center
Cape Canaveral, Florida
I was exactly the kind of nerdy kid who thought this place was amazing growing up. You can immerse yourself in all things space, and even though the shuttle program is no longer active, it’s still possible to catch a launch if you time it right. If you’re not lucky enough to visit during a launch, don’t worry – there’s still plenty to do at the space center. One of the big attractions is the heroes and legends of space, which includes a 4D presentation about the pioneers, as well as the Astronaut Hall of Fame. You can also get an up-close view of the space shuttle Atlantis, which was retired a few years ago after carrying astronauts to space on numerous missions.
Your admission also includes a bus tour to some of the behind the scenes areas related to spaceflight. The 40-minute tour takes you past the Vehicle Assembly Building and launch sites. One of the cooler things is the giant crawler that moved launch vehicles into position ever so slowly with its massive treads. The tour concludes at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you’re free to explore the exhibits on your own before catching a bus back to the visitor center. While there, you can also purchase certain extras like lunch with an astronaut and mission training simulations. Find out all the visitor info you need on the Space Center’s official website.
Note: the price at the Undercover Tourist link above seems higher than the price on the Kennedy Space Center’s website ($60.99 vs. $57 as of November 2018), but the Space Center’s site adds $3.99 tax and a $4.99 processing fee when you check out, making the Undercover Tourist link a few dollars cheaper.
Road trip the Florida Keys
Key Largo to Key West
The 100-mile long Florida Keys Overseas Highway is a classic American road trip. Beginning on Key Largo and ending on Key West, this highway links the many small islands of the Florida Keys. Along the way, you’ll encounter wildlife, beaches, the freshest seafood possible, and classic Americana attractions. Some highlights of a Florida Keys road trip include the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West which is famously home to countless six-toed cats, the No Name Bar with its walls decorated by dollar bills left by patrons from around the world, the turtle hospital where visitors can tour the facilities used to rescue turtles, and the marker at the southernmost point in the continental United States.
There are also plenty of gorgeous beaches for relaxing and enjoying the sun, of course. Other water activities include snorkeling, diving, fishing, and learning to sail. To appreciate the beauty of the water in this area right from your car, don’t miss Seven Mile Bridge, which is the longest span in the Keys and stretches over – you guessed it – seven miles of gorgeous turquoise water.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with Key Lime pie
Key West, Florida
When we visited Florida we had one specific cake on our food bucket list. Key Lime pie is an iconic dish famous in southern Florida and named after the small citrus fruits that were introduced to the area by Henry Perrine in the 1830s. While this tart and creamy dessert can be found on every menu in the Sunshine State, you absolutely must try it in the Florida Keys!
We planned a road trip from Miami to Key West, and if you believe that it’s too much trouble, think again! There’s nothing better than enjoying a large slice of key lime pie while sitting by the ocean in Mallory Square (Key West)!
The thing that sets the key lime pie in the Keys apart from the others is the use of real key lime juice. This small, green fruit offers an intense tartness and a mouthwatering scent. Most restaurants, from Key Largo to Key West, only use the very best lime for their pies. The most famous place for key lime pie in Key West is the Key West Key Lime Pie Company. If you are planning to visit during the peak season, get ready to stand in line even for up to one hour to get your slice of key lime pie! That’s how good it is! These pies won several national awards and are made fresh daily using real key lime juice and handmade graham cracker crust.
Time to add it to your foodie bucket list!
By Danila from Traveling Dany
Enjoy the crystal clear waters of Silver Springs State Park
Marion County, Florida
Silver Springs State Park in north-central Florida is a definite bucket list place. There are actually several springs, including the Main Springs, Blu Grotto, and The Abyss, which are collectively referred to as the Silver Springs, which is Florida’s largest first magnitude spring. Springs are measured by the amount of water they discharge, with a first magnitude being the highest volume of water discharged. This results in a remarkable clarity and superb living conditions for plants and animals.
What all of that means is that Silver Springs is richly forested, on the land, and in the water, and that there is a plethora of animal species living in the area. Native animals found in the surrounding forests include armadillos, deer, wild turkey, wild boar, tortoises, coyote, bobcat, and even the Florida black bear. There are also non-native Rhesus monkeys in the forest, introduced by an amusement operator in the 1930s for their “Jungle Cruise” attraction!
But, it is the aquatic animals that are the main star at Silver Springs State Park. There are numerous species of fish, and waterfowl, as well as turtles and American alligators cavorting in the waters. There is even an occasional manatee. For this reason, glass bottom boat tours and kayaking are the most popular activities in the park. Both allow visitors to watch the animals in their natural habitat, on the water, and below the surface. Seeing an alligator swimming alongside your kayak, or a manatee beneath you, is quite exciting! For those who do not live near the area, this is often a once in a lifetime experience that should not be missed.
Find out more about Silver Springs State Park by Roxanna at Gypsy with a Day Job
Georgia bucket list items
See beautiful historic Savannah
Historic Savannah is known for its stunning antebellum mansions, its 22 beautiful town squares, its beautiful Spanish moss, and, of course, its delicious southern food scene. Come to historic Savannah to enjoy its history: no visit would be complete without a tour of at least one of the antebellum mansions, a visit to the nearby Wormsloe Historic Site, a spooky ghost tour featuring stories of the past, and at least one tour to give context to the culture that built the city.
But, historic Savannah isn’t just about its history; come also for a picnic in beautiful Forsyth Park, for trendy coffee shops, for eclectic art put together by the local Savannah College of Art and Design students, for its award-winning restaurant scene, and for its great shopping. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, an architecture nerd, a photographer, or just a casual traveler looking for a quick getaway to one of the most beautiful cities in the USA, historic Savannah is definitely the place for you.
See more things to do in Savannah from Kate at Our Escape Clause
Take a climb up Lookout Mountain
Northern Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee
One of my favorite places to visit in the southeastern US lies in a lesser-known town – Lookout Mountain, Georgia – located on the edge of the Tennessee border near Chattanooga. Rock City Gardens sits atop a mountain bearing the same name as the tiny town, and it almost feels like it’s a secret place hidden away from the rest of the world. The park features a 4,100-foot Enchanted Trail that leads hikers through tiny crevices in moss-covered boulders and across a 180-foot suspension bridge before ultimately depositing them in front of a gorgeous 90-foot waterfall. High Falls is one of the most stunning waterfalls I’ve ever beheld, and from the observation deck located directly above it, you can see seven states on a cloudless day. This iconic viewpoint is affectionately known as Lover’s Leap due to a local Cherokee legend detailing the death of a distraught maiden who jumped from the ledge after her lover was thrown from the cliff by a feuding tribe. Just past this spot you’ll find a mountaintop cave full of fairytale creatures–the Fairyland Caverns – and it’s a delight for children as well as grown adults who haven’t yet forgotten how to dream. You won’t regret adding Rock City Gardens to your southeastern US bucket list!
See more about visiting Lookout Mountain from Jillian at Adventure Dragon
See where Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up and preached
This National Historical Park in Atlanta honors the life of Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. Located in the area where he grew up, visitors can tour the home where MLK was born and spent his early years, as well as the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached along with his father. Tours of the birth home can be hard to sang – they’re limited to 15 visitors at a time – but the rest of the site, including the church, are free to explore on your own.
While there, don’t miss the visitor center, which houses exhibits on Dr. King’s life and the Civil Rights movement, including a section targeted toward kids. That’s also where you’ll sign up for a birth home tour if you’d like. Nearby, you’ll find the beautiful but somber grave site where both Dr. King and his wife are buried. If you’re interested in Atlanta’s Civil Rights history, you can learn more on this tour that covers the Civil War to Civil Rights and includes a visit to the historic site.
Visit with legendary Muppets and Sesame Street characters
In 1978, Atlanta, Georgia embraced puppets. Puppeteering is an art form that few truly appreciate in this day and age, but for those who do, the launching of the Center for Puppetry Arts in the heart of the city will make you as happy as a clam. It did for me.
While on your trip through Atlanta, be sure to stop in and tour the exhibits. Learn where puppetry began with such notable characters as Punch and Judy, Pinocchio, Gumby and Pokey, and more. Take an audio tour and learn how exactly to bring marionettes to life. Watch the daily film or take an educational workshop. The center is a world of imagination, creation, and storytelling all in one. Spend an afternoon here to marvel at the original creations, see props from the famed films, and take a stab at making your
own creature. The choice is yours.
Once you learn more about the history of puppetry, make your way to (my favorite) area of the museum – the Jim Henson section! Learn the background of the most renowned puppeteer in history and how his incredible characters and innovation became some of the most beloved of all time. See original Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal and Sesame Street artifacts. And, with Carroll Spinney announcing his retirement this past October, why not pay Big Bird a visit and see just how incredible that costume is and how dedicated a puppeteer Spinney was for nearly 50 years portraying the giant and much loved avian.
Find out details and ticket info on the center’s official website.
By Janine from Fill My Passport
Bonaventure Cemetery is beautiful. It is located about a 20-minute drive from the historic center of Savannah, on the banks of the Wilmington River on the site of the former Bonaventure Plantation. It became a cemetery in 1907 and is now the city’s largest public cemetery (almost 160 acres) and definitely its most famous, especially after being featured in the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It is the epitome of southern Gothic and you can easily spend several hours wandering around. The gravestones are surrounded by enormous trees draped in Spanish moss; it is incredibly atmospheric. You really feel like you are in the Deep South here. Famous graves include the statue of 6-year old Gracie Watson; four-time Oscar winning song writer and the founder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer; and his great grandfather Hugh Mercer, a confederate general in the Civil War. It is possible to take tours of the cemetery, but before or after the tour it is also nice to just wander around and take in the eerie beauty of this place.
By James from Travel Collecting
Get a taste of Bavaria in Helen
Despite housing just 430 residents, Helen, Georgia consistently remains the third most visited city in the entire U.S. state. The charming mountain village lies nestled alongside a bubbling river just an hour and a half north of Atlanta and is best known for its Bavarian architecture, authentic German cuisine, and quirky shops. Anyone who visits instantly falls in love. You can watch live glass-blowing and pottery demonstrations or even shop for handmade wooden toys as they’re crafted right before your eyes. The nearby Dukes Creek helped launch the American Gold Rush, and mining for gold and gemstones is still a popular tourist activity in the town today.
Before you leave, you must try the homemade fudge from Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen. They offer over 20 different flavors, including my favorites – Amaretto Almond, Chocolate Raspberry, and Peanut Butter. I also recommend you dine at the Troll Tavern – a cozy restaurant that sits under a bridge and provides scenic riverfront dining. Helen is one of the most delightful places to visit in Georgia, and I hope you’ll include it on your bucket list during your next trip to the southeastern United States.
See more about things to do in Helen by Jillian at Adventure Dragon
Kentucky bucket list items
Tour the world’s longest cave system
Edmonson, Hart, and Barren counties in Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s longest cave system, is located in southern Kentucky near the Tennessee border. It is an easy day trip if you are near Louisville, KY or Nashville, TN. Mammoth Cave has almost 400 miles of underground chambers and tunnels, yet only about 10 miles have been explored. You cannot enter the cave on your own. There are many tours offered by park rangers ranging in difficulty. We chose the popular Dripstones and Domes tour and were very pleased with all we were able to see. It was about 2 hours long and about a mile in distance. You are expected to be in good physical condition on most tours because there are about 500 steps (some with quite an incline). Most tours are rated moderate for physical activity, yet would be fine for older children and anyone not afraid of tight spaces. The park does offer a few other short and gentle options for younger children and elderly who may not be as mobile. Be sure to bring a jacket when you visit, as the cave remains about 55 degrees year round. I highly recommend this cave visit to see the stalagmites, stalactites and all of the other rock formations created over time by the water. Mammoth Cave is a spectacular natural wonder!
Find out more on the park’s official website.
By Margie from DQ Travel
Get boozy on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail
If your travels take you through Kentucky, there’s a good chance bourbon will factor into your visit. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail attracts more than a million visitors each year as travelers seek to learn about—and sample—bourbons from the dozens of distilleries that call Kentucky home. Although bourbon can be produced in any state, Kentucky’s Bourbon County gave the spirit its name—yet another reason the Bourbon Trail remains a popular reason to visit the state.
Before you visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, consider the experience you want to have—and know there are actually two trails to choose from. The classic Kentucky Bourbon Trail will connect you to distilleries you may already know and love, including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. The craft bourbon trail includes smaller batch distilleries that aren’t as well-known but produce high quality bourbons you’ll be glad to discover. For the ultimate experience, consider creating your own bourbon trail by selecting one or two larger distilleries and a handful of smaller ones for a truly customized experience.
While a few large distilleries encourage you to buy tickets in advance, many distilleries encourage guests to stop in for a tour or a few samples without a reservation. Doing a bit of homework on the distilleries of greatest interest to you will help you create the trip you want. From large tours that explain the art and science of making bourbon to small, charming tasting experiences that serve cocktails on the veranda, it’s easy to create a fun, relaxing day. No matter what you choose, prepare to meet some of America’s friendliest people as you navigate the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – and prepare for some great bourbons, too!
By Stephanie from Road Unraveled
Travel along the Country Music Highway
Country music lovers will love the Country Music Highway through Eastern Kentucky. Along Route 23, you’ll pass by the birthplaces and residences of many country stars who grew up in the area, including Loretta Lynn and Billy Ray Cyrus. One notable sight is Loretta Lynn’s childhood home, a log cabin that is still owned by her brother.
This stretch of land isn’t the typical drive along the highway as you get a glimpse of the beauty of the region and its many hollers that make Eastern Kentucky so distinct. (Hollers are narrow roads that sit along the edge of a mountain.) Driving down through this area might give you a better understanding of the coal mining history that has been long intertwined with this region of Appalachia.
Along the way, I love stopping off at the Pavilion in Louisa, a gas station and gift shop where visitors can admire memorabilia from various country stars. It’s an iconic symbol of the region. At the beginning of the route, you’ll pass through Pikeville, where you can visit one of the new distilleries that has popped up to try locally sourced moonshine and craft beer.
See more about visiting Eastern Kentucky by Karen at Wanderlustingk
Louisiana bucket list items
Celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana
Some tourists have an incomplete impression of Mardi Gras in their heads. They think it’s boobs and beads and Bourbon Street and Tulane students getting wasted. This couldn’t be more wrong! My family has lived in New Orleans for 150 years, and we have always considered Mardi Gras to be the height of civilized living. Mardi Gras (which is French for Fat Tuesday) celebrates the last day before Ash Wednesday and Lent. You’re meant to indulge as much as you can for one day. Of course the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans last much longer than one day. Parades usually start about three and a half weeks before Mardi Gras.
Understanding krewes is essential to understanding Mardi Gras. A krewe is just an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball every Mardi Gras. Each krewe has its own special identity. The most prestigious krewe is probably Rex, which declares a King and Queen of Mardi Gras every year. Zulu is the most well-known predominantly African-American krewe in New Orleans. They elect their own King and Queen, but the most famous King of Zulu was Louis Armstrong. There are also female-only krewes like Muses. The Krewe of Bacchus tends to get the most attention every year because they like to elect a celebrity king like Will Ferrell or John Goodman.
Most tourists who come to see the parades want to catch one of the famous “throws”. Some krewes have their own throws, like Zulu and its hand-painted coconuts or Muses and its shoes. I’ve gotten everything from a black-and-gold New Orleans Saints necklace to a stuffed dragon in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. You don’t need to expose yourself to get some beads. Just yell, “Throw me something, mister!” if you’re so inclined.
See more about New Orleans by Stella Jane at Around the World in 24 Hours
Even if you can’t make it to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras celebrations, you can still learn about it with this walking tour that includes admission to the Mardi Gras museum!
Explore the beautiful French Quarter
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is home to one of the most iconic areas in the US. The beautiful French Quarter is a must-see spot on any visit to NOLA. Full of nightlife and its gorgeous buildings trimmed with wrought iron balconies, there’s also no shortage of history here. During the day, enjoy the beautiful atmosphere and views of the Mississippi River. You can explore Jackson Square or visit the Louisiana State Museum in the area. It was cool for this history nerd to see where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, thereby adding the huge tract of land to the United States. For a more festive experience, check out the Mardi Gras Museum.
Later at night, check out Bourbon Street and indulge in one of New Orleans’ famous cocktails. You can hit one of the many nightclubs to join in the party or just soak in the atmosphere. If partying isn’t your thing, hit one of the many excellent restaurants in the area to get a taste of NOLA’s famous cuisine.
Tour the many plantations of River Road
New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana
One of the things that Louisiana is known for is its well-preserved antebellum plantations. Before the Civil War, there were over 300 plantation homes lining the 70 mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans! Today only a couple dozen of these homes still stand, but a number of them have been restored and are open to the public. Some are grand neoclassical mansions whereas others are more humble Creole structures. At least one remains a working sugar cane farm and a couple of the plantations have beautiful oak lined alleys.
Of course, although the homes are beautiful, most of these places were built with the money earned through the forced labor of thousands of slaves. Plantation tours are increasingly giving more attention to the role of slavery and its effects, and one of the plantations along this route (Whitney) is now a museum dedicated to slavery.
Each house and tour is a little different. We’ve visited a dozen of the plantations along the River Road and have written a comprehensive Louisiana plantations guide that should help you figure out which plantation(s) you want to visit yourself!
By Jessica from Independent Travel Cats
Indulge in Café du Monde’s famous beignets
New Orleans, Louisiana
The city of New Orleans is synonymous with jazz music, Mardi Gras, and crazy drinking and partying on Bourbon street. But if you are anything like me and travel the world for food, then the word “beignet” will come to mind first when you think of New Orleans. And not any beignets, of course, but the famous beignets at Cafe du Monde in the French quarter.
Served piping hot, sprinkled with no less than half a pound of icing sugar, these deep fried pockets of dough can easily replace a meal. One order of beignets includes three such pockets. Don’t forget to order café au lait made with chicory — another signature creation of Cafe du Monde. Even though I usually don’t enjoy chicory coffee, this meal was one of the best in my travels through American south. You might have to wait to get a seat at this overly crowded place, but remember: good things come to those who wait.
By Yulia from That’s What She Had
Visit the National WWII Museum
New Orleans, Louisiana
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is honestly one of the best museums I’ve ever been to (though I do admit to having a lifelong fascination with WWII). With exhibits and artifacts from both the European theater and Pacific theater, visitors will get an in-depth look at the bloody conflict. There are also special exhibits covering the homefront experience during the war and the merchant marine. You can even book a deck tour or ride on a PT boat that’s still operational in Lake Pontchartrain.
If you’re more of a visual person, the Beyond All Borders show is well worth the additional fee. It’s a 4D multimedia presentation featuring voices of so A-list stars like Tom Hanks. It tells the story of the war from both fronts and the home. You can also catch a live show at BB’s Stage Door Canteen. It’s a vintage style club with musical performances that recreates the atmosphere of the 1940s as soldiers were heading off to war. Buy tickets through Viator here!
Mississippi bucket list items
Travel along the Mississippi Blues Trail
Mississippi Delta and beyond
Mississippi is home to the roots of modern popular music. Whether you’re a blues fan or a casual traveler in search of an exceptional trip, consider a self-guided road trip on the historical Blues Highway (Route 61) from Memphis to New Orleans. Driving along the Mississippi Blues Trail, you will find over 150 markers as well as several blues-related museums that tell the stories of significant blues contributors and how their circumstances influenced the blues movement.
Apart from the obvious stops in Memphis’ Beale Street and New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Blues Highway section in Mississippi is a particularly authentic part of the journey. Following the course of the Mississippi River, you’ll come across small towns like Tunica, Clarksdale, Leland, and Indianola. All of them used to play a significant part in the history of jazz and blues. Today, they’re home to various exhibitions, several interactive museums (Gateway to the Blues in Tunica, Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland and the BB King Museum in Indianola) and extensive collections of blues records, instruments, and other vintage goodies. At night, enjoy some authentic live music in the small bars around Clarksdale where legendary blues artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong used to rock out scatting and playing the saxophone in the 1940s.
See more about the Mississippi Blues Trail by Lena on Lena on the Move
Visit the site of an important Civil War siege
Many Americans have heard of the Battle of Gettysburg. Yet not nearly as many know about the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, even though it was arguably just as important to Union victory in the Civil War. Vicksburg was the Confederacy’s most important port on the Mississippi River. General Grant knew he couldn’t defeat the South without capturing Vicksburg first. So on May 18th, 1863, the Union Army began to lay siege to The Fortress City. It took 47 days for Vicksburg to surrender to Grant.
Today the battlegrounds of Mississippi have been turned into the Vicksburg National Military Park. You’ll need to bring your own car in order to see all the sights. A cell phone driving tour is provided by the National Parks Service free of charge. The major artifact at the Military Park is the USS Cairo. This is a genuine Civil War Union ironclad warship, the only one of its kind you are ever likely to see in person. You can also follow in Grant’s footsteps and visit the Shirley House, which is the home where Grant took shelter after his failed assault on Jackson Road. Finally don’t miss the many memorials dedicated to the lives lost on both sides. The most beautiful is probably the Illinois Memorial made out of Georgia marble and granite. There are 47 steps leading up to the Memorial, one for each day of the siege.
The legacy of Vicksburg has lasted for a long time. My aunt lives in the city, and she told me that many Vicksburg residents refused to celebrate the 4th of July until very recently. After all, July 4th was when the siege ended. So for the people of Vicksburg, it was a tragic occasion and not a cause for celebration.
By Stella Jane from Around the World in 24 Hours
Relax on Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico
Ship Island, Mississippi
West Ship Island is an island located 11 miles off the coast of Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s part of a chain of barrier islands in Mississippi and Florida that make up Gulf Islands National Seashore. The island is a great escape from the bustle of the mainland and a perfect place to enjoy nature, learn about American history, or simply sunbathe. When your hour-long journey to the island begins, be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins swimming alongside the ferry. Once you arrive, set up your sunbathing spot for the day and unwind. You can also enjoy birding, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, photography, or touring the historic Fort Massachusetts while you are there.
The National Park Service provides free guided tours of the 19th-century brick fortification that was used by members of both the Confederate and Union military during the Civil War. You’re also free to roam the fort on your own to see the remnants of what life was like on the island at that time.
Restrooms, showers, water fountains, covered picnic seating, and a snack bar are all available on the island for your convenience. Beach chair and umbrella rentals are also available. Although, I suggest saving yourself a ton of money by packing your own lunch, snacks, and beverages in a small cooler. Also, limit the amount of gear you bring so you can fully relax and enjoy your beach day. Just bring the basics – a towel, a beach blanket, sunscreen, and a book – and you’ll be all set!
Ferries leave from Gulfport or Biloxi in the morning and return in the afternoon daily during the summer. They run only on specific days of the week in the fall and spring. Find the schedule on the Ship Island Excursions website.
By Brittany from She Goes With Purpose
Learn about Native American history at the Winterville Mounds
The Winterville Mounds Museum is a hidden gem of an attraction found at 2415 Highway 1 North, Greenville, Mississippi. We’d never heard of this aspect of Native American culture before; pow-wows, wigwams and dream catchers, but never mounds. The mounds are manmade earthworks dating back to 1100-1350 AD and are the ancient ceremonial and burial sites of Native American tribes. The highest is nearly five storeys tall at 55ft.
It is believed they were platforms to build temples and homes of high ranking tribe members. When a chief died, the structures together with the chief’s body were burned and buried, and a new layer would be added and new structures built on top. The largest is made up of eight layers where archaeologists have discovered the remains of seven chiefs.
Mississippi was home to a large number of indigenous tribes, but today the only native tribe that lives in the state is the Choctaw.
The Winterville grounds covers 42 acres and has 11 mounds, and the museum artifacts include a carved stone pipe and a dugout canoe recovered from the site. It’s quite fascinating and is an amazing place to visit.
See more about visiting the Winterville Mounds by Sharon & Darrin at What The Saints Did Next
North Carolina bucket list items
See where the Wright Brothers first took flight
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
North Carolina is the true hidden gem of the USA. Nestled along the east coast, it offers visitors a tranquil escape that many cannot match. One of the most famous – but still much underrated destinations is the Outer Banks region of the state, with towns including Cape Hatteras and Rodanthe drawing visitors in. Whether it is a recreation of a Nicholas Sparks romance you’re looking for, or a step back in time to a world before airline travel, this is one of the most scenic landscapes in America. But romance isn’t all this region is known for, with the town of Kitty Hawk, home to the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Who were the Wright brothers? Orville and Wilbur Wright who gave the world the invention of flight through their attempts to fly the first successful powered airplane flight in 1903. Showcasing the exact locations of the attempts and distances the brothers made during their first flights (there were 4 in total); this is the place to visit if you enjoy aviation history, or just want to stand somewhere historic. The best part about it is you likely arrived into North Carolina on a plane…and here you are standing where it all began!
There is a visitor center, the flight line distance markers and the Wright Brothers Monument right here in Kitty Hawk for all to enjoy. For a bare piece of land, they have really made this into a worthwhile attraction.
Whatever your reasons, the Outer Banks is a true highlight within the United States. But if you make it to North Carolina? It is a must visit – even just for 1 night.
By Toni from Enchanted Serendipity
Tour the opulent Biltmore Estate
Asheville, North Carolina
One of the most iconic images of Western North Carolina is the Biltmore Estate. It’s America’s largest home in the U.S., built by one of the wealthiest families in the country. After a visit to Asheville with his mother, George Vanderbilt fell in love with the area and the next year began construction on his 250-room mansion. After he passed away at only 51 years old, his wife sold thousands of acres to the Forest Service at bargain prices. Then, in 1930, his daughter and her husband opened the estate to the public in the hopes they could bring tourism to Asheville during the Great Depression.
Since then, the Biltmore Estate has added a winery, hotels, and there’s a village with restaurants and shopping. Visitors to the home take self-guided tours of this gorgeous mansion. From the enormous banquet hall with its 70-foot ceiling, to the pool and bowling alley in the basement, guests are astounded by the sheer opulence and extravagance. The gardens are also superlative, especially the orchids and other exotic plants in the greenhouse.
The Biltmore Estate is one of a kind, and it’s definitely a bucket list destination.
By Theresa from The Local Tourist
Explore the Outer Banks islands
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Affectionately known as “OBX” by long-time visitors and locals alike, the Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands along North Carolina’s Atlantic coast. Though most visitors to the area are there to spend time on the Outer Banks’ stunning Atlantic beaches, there is much more to do on the islands than just relaxing in the sand. Start your journey in the northern OBX and be sure to stop to see the small population of wild horses in Corolla. Visitors can even ride alongside Corolla’s horses in approved four-wheel drive vehicles. Heading south into the more tourist-heavy parts of the Banks, take a detour from Nags Head to the giant sand dune of Jockey’s Ridge. This seventy-foot high dune is the perfect place to spend an afternoon flying a kite or (for the more adventurous) go hang gliding. Next on your route, pop over to Manteo on Roanoke Island and be sure to grab a ticket to watch the Lost Colony play; one of America’s longest-running dramas. Continue south along the Banks towards Hatteras, where the islands narrow to nearly the entire width of the highway. Cinema fans may may recognize the incredibly photogenic stilt house from the film Nights in Rodanthe, which was moved from its original beachfront location to prevent it from being swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean. Your next stop should be Hatteras, where you can hop out at the National Park and view the classic black & white striped lighthouse. While Cape Hatteras is often considered the end of the Outer Banks, the Banks actually extend further southwest to the equally beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle.
By Savannah from Savvy Dispatches
Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Beginning in Cherokee, North Carolina
If you were a fan of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, which was part of my Mid-Atlantic Bucket List, you’ll love the Blue Ridge Parkway. It connects that National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and although about half of it runs through Virginia, some of the most scenic areas are in North Carolina. It begins at the edge of the Smoky Mountains in Cherokee and cuts through plenty of beautiful scenery.
Some of my favorite parts are in the Asheville area, which is also where you’ll find the newest visitor center as well as a folk art gallery. The stretch closest to Asheville offers panoramic views and great locations for watching sunset over the mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the Pisgah National Forest and right through land that made up the famous Biltmore Estate.
Take a ride on a natural water slide
Pisgah National Forest
I found Sliding Rock while on a business trip to Asheville and knew I had to find a way to visit. It’s a gently sloping waterfall that flows over a smooth rock face and ends in an 8-foot deep pool at the bottom. Visitors can climb up and take a slide down the wide rock. I’ve been to plenty of manmade waterparks and never heard the kind of giggles coming from people plunging into the water.
There are lifeguards on duty during the day in the summer, though if you arrive after they leave you can slide for free at your own risk. I definitely wouldn’t attempt it after dark, but I rolled in about 5 minutes after they went off duty and had a blast with just a couple of other families in the area. You’ll want to wear a bathing suit and possibly a pair of old gym shorts since you are sliding on rock after all. Water shoes are also recommended because once you exit the deep pool at the bottom, the more shallow area of the creek is pretty rocky. Just beware: even in the summer, the water is pretty chilly, so you may be in for a shock the first time you land in the pool at the bottom. The parking lot is at 7841 Pisgah Highway, a few miles from the junction of Highway 64 and Highway 276. Check out some more waterfalls in the area on this tour leaving from Asheville.
Immerse yourself in the River Arts District
Asheville, North Carolina
One of my favorite things to find when I visit other cities is street/mural art. I was happy to discover there was a lot of this on my recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina earlier this year. I was particularly excited to find there is an entire area called the River Arts District!
The River Arts District is comprised of over 200 artists’ (painters, jewelers, wood-makers, glass-blowers, ceramics, etc) studios and galleries housed in old industrial buildings that run parallel to the French Broad River. You can visit during opening hours to see the artists honing their craft or just drive around viewing the many outstanding murals on your own should you happen to visit while they are closed. We drove through on our own and found some of the best and most creative murals I have ever seen! However, I really want to return on a Saturday when most of the studios are open to properly tour the district and see the creative artists at work!
TIPS: For directions and other info, read the River Arts District FAQs. Parking is free in the district. There are plenty of restaurants and microbreweries too! For more photos of the RAD or if you’re planning a trip to Asheville, check out my 15 Things to Do in Asheville, North Carolina: Something for Everyone!
See more things to do in Asheville by Heather at Trimm Travels
South Carolina bucket list items
Visit historic Charleston and Rainbow Row
Charleston, South Carolina
There’s a reason why Charleston, South Carolina is frequently named as one of the “Top Cities” in the world. With an historic downtown spilling over with beautiful antebellum architecture, the shimmering blue Atlantic Ocean is always within a few blocks. And the gastronomy is unparalleled – from she-crab soup to shrimp and grits, to fried green tomatoes – it is said that you can eat in a different restaurant every night of the year – and each one will be just as good as the one before.
For a great afternoon at any time of year, head to the southern part of the Charleston peninsula. Hugging the tip of the peninsula, The Battery is an attractive seaside promenade popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists. There are 360-degree views, with the Atlantic on one side, and stately majestic mansions on the other. It’s the perfect place for a morning stroll, before the hordes of tourists arrive. Next, walk a few blocks north to the most Instagrammable spot in southern Charleston, Rainbow Row. The thirteen pastel-colored homes are lined up one-after-another, facing the ocean. It’s the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States and one of Charleston’s most photographed spots.
Also in the area is Waterfront Park, one of Charleston’s most visited public commons. The park offers fantastic views of the Charleston Harbor and displays the well-known Pineapple Fountain. The pineapple is accepted as a traditional expression of “welcome.” There are colorful gardens, walking paths and park benches in the park.
By Patti from Luggage & Lipstick
Pedal your way around Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head, South Carolina
South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island has been voted the “Best of the Best” by Conde Naste Traveler and Travel & Leisure on more than one occasion. It’s no wonder given that Hilton Head boasts 12 miles of pristine white sand beaches, world renowned golf courses, and some of the best low country Southern food in all of South Carolina. We have another reason why we think Hilton Head should definitely be on your Southeastern United States bucket list: the bike trails! Biking is one of our favorite activities when visiting HHI and with more than 60 miles of multi-use trails throughout the island, there are endless opportunities to enjoy on a bicycle. We typically start our morning with a lovely ride on the beach to our favorite cafe for breakfast, followed by a leisurely ride to take in the beauty of the Island’s homes and parks. We easily navigate our way around the Island on the paved trails and boardwalks. Finally, we end our time with a well-deserved ice cream or late afternoon snack.
While you are out, you can also ride into some of the resort areas such as Shelter Cove Marina or Seapines Plantation for some shopping, dining, and photo ops. Most local bike shops rent bikes for all ages and many will deliver the bikes directly to your hotel and pick them up at the end of your vacation. We park our car and never get it back out until it’s time to go home. Biking is definitely our top choice of transportation when visiting Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and if you want to get outside and enjoy the Island’s beauty beyond the beach we think it should be yours too!
For more information on visiting from Amanda, read Hilton Head Island Beach Getaway at VeraVise Outdoor Living.
See where the first shots of the Civil War were fired
Charleston, South Carolina
In April 1861, Confederate troops fired the first shots of the Civil War when they began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor. After more than a day of shelling, the Union troops were forced to surrender the fort and left it in the hands of the Confederates, bringing the damaged American flag from Fort Sumter north with them. Eventually, the tattered flag returned to the fort and is now displayed as part of the museum. After the Civil War ended, the fort was in ruins, but was partially rebuilt, and also served as a lighthouse for a time. In response to the Spanish-American War, it was once again reinforced and manned, though it never saw action during that time period and was eventually decommissioned in 1947.
Modern day visitors can take a ferry ride out to the fort from Charleston Harbor. It’s a must-see for history buffs, and the on-site museum covers the history and construction of the fort itself. Back on the mainland, the visitor center houses a museum covering the causes of the Civil War. Nearby Fort Moultrie is also available for tours. Check out the official website to plan your visit. You can also find out more about the Civil War in Charleston on this tour.
Get lost in the relaxing Brookgreen Gardens
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
When one comes to Myrtle Beach, you are inundated with souvenir shops, zip line activities, haunted houses and mini-golf courses on every corner. But, there is a quiet place that is less than 30 minutes away from all the craziness that is Myrtle Beach and that is Brookgreen Gardens. This 9,127-acre garden has several areas for you to explore such as the Sculpture Gardens, Low Country Rice Plantation, Low Country Zoo, and the Butterfly House. Brookgreen Gardens should definitely be on your bucket list to experience in the Southeastern US.
Since Brookgreen Garden is so extensive, don’t forget to pick up a map at the Welcome Center. Most of the hedges and shrubs are very tall and you will have to resort to looking at the map to navigate the garden. Walking through the hedges, you step into a serene, quiet garden with fountains in the center and giant Greek statues seeming to rise out of the water. If you go early in the day, you can explore the sculpture gardens without a lot of people intruding in your photos.
The path that leads through the Low Country is nicely laid out with stations for you to hear what it was like to work on the Brookgreen Plantation. This area can be very moving so be prepared. And the Low Country Zoo is filled with many animals that were rescued and the zoo takes care of them in their natural habitats. There is a definite non-zoo feel to this place.
If you are visiting Myrtle Beach for an extended time, I recommend purchasing your ticket to Brookgreen Gardens the first day you are there. Because that ticket is valid for seven days so, you can come back on your trip and spend more time in this magnificent garden.
By Heather from RaulersonGirlsTravel
Tennessee bucket list items
Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina
Ok, this park – the most visited National Park in the United States year after year – straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, but it had to go in one category so I picked Tennessee. The rolling mountains of this part of the Appalachians are dreamy and the natural fog that gives them their name adds a touch of mystery to them. They’re a hiker’s paradise, with miles and miles of trails and waterfalls, as well as a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Along those trails, you’ll find plenty of waterfalls like Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls.
If you’re more into driving than hiking, you can take a scenic drove along the Newfound Gap road that runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. Don’t miss the view of the Gap from the overlook right at the state lines. It’s the picture-perfect angle you’ll see on every postcard. The park’s tallest peak, Clingman’s Dome, also features an observation tower that gives you another spectacular view. The best, but most crowded, time of year to visit is during peak fall season when visitors line the roads in order to view Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also full of historic sites, as it includes cabins and farm buildings from people who occupied the land before it was turned into a National Park. You can even explore the area by helicopter for a bird’s eye view!
Listen to country greats at the Grand Ole Opry
Sat in his parents ramshackle house, after a long day picking cotton, a young boy flicks on the wireless. As the music crackles through the tinny speakers, he sits and dreams of one day being able to play music half as good as the sounds coming to him from the Grand Ole Opry. The boy was Johnny Cash and he would go on to play at the Opry. In fact, he would meet his future wife there, and he’d get banned from the establishment too! All just a small fragment of the magnificent history of “Country Music’s most famous stage.”
The Opry began as a simple radio broadcast in 1925 and has since transformed into a magnificent live music experience. The evening is filled with many different artists performing short 3 or 4 song sets. The MC makes everyone feel incredibly welcome with small pockets of information and heart-warming anecdotes during the gaps in between.
Only the best make it onto the Opry stage and the night I visited was no exception. I listened to music from many different genres, though most with at least a nod to Country, in an atmosphere that I’d describe as like a big, friendly, family get-together.
The headliner, country music’s hottest star, Chris Janson, took the stage by storm. He lit the place on fire with his energy, humor and incredible music – check out ‘Take a Drunk Girl Home’ – it’s a fantastic track. And the whole evening was broadcast live on the radio, just as in 1925. I like to think there was a future Johnny Cash out there somewhere, listening to the Opry, escaping from his day-to-day life and dreaming of becoming a star.
By Tim from Tunnock’s World Tour
Visit the National Civil Rights Museum
If I can urge you to see one place on your travels in Memphis, this is it. Comprising a series of buildings including the Lorraine Motel itself, this is a powerful, compelling and profound encounter with our past, present, and steps to a more enlightened future. The walk through the museum starts with an account of the horrors of slavery, moving through the major landmarks of the civil rights movement. From Jim Crow to the lunch counter, and the bus riders, it’s all set out here.
By the time you’ve walked through the museum, if you are like me, you will be unprepared to arrive in the Lorraine Motel itself. Complete with a soft bedspread and coffee cups on the table, Dr. King’s motel room is such a contrast to the evil perpetrated outside. Your final stop is across the road for the history of the subsequent investigation. You find yourself, as if by accident, at the bathroom window where the shooter stood for Dr King’s assassination. It’s a deeply saddening moment. I was heartened to see the number of families making the visit, investing in understanding our past to contribute to a better future.
Find out more on the museum’s official website.
By Bernadette from A Packed Life
You can visit the museum and other attractions with the Memphis Heritage Pass.
Dance and dine on Broadway in Nashville
Few streets become a destination in and of themselves, but lower Broadway St in Nashville, TN has earned that designation. Also known as the Honky Tonk Highway, Broadway has a unique ability to condense historic Music City, never-ending live music, amazing food, and the down-home, friendly feel of this Southern town all into 4 blocks. It plays live music from one of its many venues literally all day, every day of the year (the party does officially stop at 3am). The music venues are often free, meaning you can spend a day here without spending a dime! It is the ultimate destination for day-drinking, hosting groups on pedal taverns, old converted school buses, and, yes, even tractors while they cruise the street. If cruising isn’t your thing, you can enjoy a meal and a beverage from one of the many balconies overlooking the street. Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan and Kid Rock claim coveted spots on the strip for their own joints. One “must-see” includes Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge, painted bright purple against the Nashville Sky. It served as a starting point for many country-stars, and with 3 levels and 4 stages, the fun and party never stop here! The food scene in Nashville is also a must. You can enjoy amazing barbeque from Jack’s Barb-B-Que, a nice sit-down at Merchants, or some delicious street-food dishes at Acme Feed & Seed. So, get on your cowboy boots, bring your friends, and enjoy an awesome time on this stretch of street in the heart of downtown Nashville, TN!
By Sarah from The Moment Mom
See Elvis’ Graceland estate
I grew up listening to Elvis music thanks to my classic rock fan parents, so I was always weirdly obsessed with visiting Graceland. The family mansion appears much as it did when The King himself was alive, and visitors are able to tour the basement and first floor. I thought it was sweet that his daughter, Lisa Marie, still celebrates holidays at the house with her family. During the tour you can see the famous Jungle Room and visit the kitchen and basement with its giant couch.
Other exhibits revolve around Elvis’ performing years. Several of his iconic jumpsuits are on display in all of their sparkly glory. There’s also another gallery full of his many accolades. I thought it was cool to see the record for “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which is a song I’ve always loved. The last stop on the tour was his gravesite, as his body was moved from its original burial spot after an attempt to steal it. Lots of visitors leave flowers and other mementos at the site.
You can book a tour here!
Take a cruise on a Mississippi river boat
When your ears have enjoyed so much of what Memphis has to offer, then it’s time to see the city from a different perspective. You can enjoy the beauty of the mighty Mississippi on a river trip from the Beale Street landing, a short walk from downtown. We took the Island Queen from Memphis Riverboats. She’s a tall, elegant vessel, with plenty of room to see the sights from open or closed decks. Plus she has the obligatory paddlewheel, making her a truly traditional riverboat.
We took a sightseeing cruise, but there are plenty of opportunities for longer voyages too. As you would expect on this kind of trip, you learn lots about the history of the city, delivered in an engaging and entertaining way. There were some amusing references to the relationship between Tennessee and Arkansas, and its effect on the partially ornate (guess which half) road bridge between the two. It’s a charming way to enjoy legendary Southern hospitality, and to get new insights into the marvelous city of Memphis.
See more about visiting Memphis by Bernadette at A Packed Life
Did we miss anything that should be on this bucket list of amazing things to do in the Southeast? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re looking for incredible places to visit in other areas of the US, check out these regional bucket list guides:
- The Ultimate New England Bucket List
- See the Best of the Midwest with this Ultimate Bucket List
- The Ultimate Mid-Atlantic Bucket List