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My road trip through the American South was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. It’s also the most exploring I’ve done in the US since I began my full-time travels in 2010. Discovering the South was long overdue and it couldn’t have gone better.
The trip began in New Orleans and after a quick stop at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, moved on to Ocean Springs and Biloxi, Mississippi. Next I crossed into Pensacola, Florida, and backtracked into Foley, Alabama.
My longest day of driving took me from one end of Florida to the other: Pensacola to Seaside, then Apalachicola, then Jacksonville.
Finally, I drove up the East Coast into Georgia: Jekyll Island, then Savannah, finishing in Charleston, South Carolina.
I’ll be writing about this trip for months and months — but for the first post, here are the highlights.
Top Three Destinations
I loved everywhere I visited, but three destinations were exceptional.
Gorgeous and freaky and tragic and weird. A magical place, with music piping in from every direction, and the good times never stop rolling.
Slow, lazy, incredibly romantic and draped in Spanish moss wherever possible.
A trippy dream come true. Pleasantville pastels, immaculate streets, not a hair out of place, the buildings designed by master architects.
Total Spent on Gas
Driving along Route 30 on the Florida panhandle often took me along the sea, especially along Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe on the Forgotten Coast.
Just north of Jacksonville. Confusing roads criss-crossing each other and lots of overloaded trucks.
Pensacola Beach, Florida. The whitest sand I’ve ever seen (even whiter than Boracay!), and deep, intensely blue water. Parts of Pensacola Beach are busy, but head further out and the beach is just barely developed.
Best Local Dish
Oh, the list of amazing food could go on for ages!
But if there’s one dish that I’m still dreaming about, it’s the charbroiled oysters at Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi, Mississippi. They were so good, I was scraping them with my teeth.
Best Country Inn
Throughout the trip, I stayed at six different Country Inns and Suites — each of them offering outstanding service that made them feel like a four-star property on a three-star budget.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Savannah Historic District. It’s one of the fancier-feeling properties and the location is perfect – like most Country Inns, it’s right off the highway, but it’s also a three-minute walk from the heart of Savannah. The staff were wonderful, and the baby waffles for breakfast were fun.
Best Historic Site
Oak Alley Plantation, about an hour from New Orleans. I didn’t expect the displays about slavery to be as comprehensive and well-researched as they were. If you visit a region where slavery existed, I highly recommend you take the time to visit a plantation and confront the history face-to-face.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans, of course! It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event.
An original poem written by Cubs the Poet. For $5, you can give Cubs a topic and he’ll write you one on the spot. He wrote me a travel-themed poem called “Two Nikons.”
You can find Cubs on Royal Street in New Orleans, across from the Court of Two Sisters, on most days.
Definitely the Dead of Night Ghost Tour in Savannah. Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in America and ghost tours do big business here. The Dead of Night tour is for adults only and leaves at 11:00 PM.
My guide, Skippy, was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had, full of fast-paced, fascinating storytelling filled with tons of history and local knowledge. It’s well worth the $30.
“The last kind of traveler I ever wanted to be was a “Florida person” — in my mind, someone who just returns to the same place in Florida every year. That’s not what I wanted for myself.
But Florida has all those tourists for a reason — the beaches are glorious, the climate is fantastic, and it’s reliable. There’s something to be said about that. After experiencing Seaside, I were shocked to find myself falling for Florida.
Yes, I’m a Florida person.
I’m sorry to say it was the oysters in Apalachicola. Apalachicola was a pilgrimage for me — I had to taste the famous oysters, and I heard that the mixed oyster platter at Boss Restaurant was the way to go.
These oysters were small, messy, and so overloaded with accoutrements that I couldn’t even taste them. They did not remotely compare to the ones I had at Half Shell in Mississippi.
Perhaps I should have had them raw.
I went to Waffle House for the kitsch factor. I joked that I wanted to see a fight at Waffle House — and I almost got our wish.
After waiting for more than 45 minutes for my food, my waitress came over. “I’m gonna be honest with y’all,” she said apologetically. “The cook got mad and walked out.”
All right, then.
She later told me that she had been fired for fighting with the cook, but it was okay, since she was planning on quitting anyway. I left her a nice tip.
What I Would Have Done Differently
I think this trip would actually work better in reverse. Charleston was my final destination, and as lovely and pretty a city as it was, it couldn’t hold a candle to Savannah and New Orleans.
That said, this trip was fairly close to perfect.
The South is a fascinating, beautiful, delicious destination. I didn’t expect my own country to feel so exotic to me — but it did. There were such subtle differences in life, from how outwardly friendly everyone was to the common dishes on menus and the unusual vegetation, especially the draping Spanish moss dominating the squares of Savannah.
If you’re going to explore the South, a road trip is the way to go. It gives you so much flexibility and the option to explore both urban and rural regions on your own schedule. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
Have you been to the South? Is it your kind of destination?
The #SouthUSA campaign is brought to you by Country Inns and Suites by Carlson and Holiday Autos. All opinions, as always, are my own.
66 thoughts on “#SouthUSA: Best of the Trip”
I live in Pensacola and visit NOLA regularly and am glad you had a great experience at both! I’ll be exploring Savannah for the first time this summer and I’m definitely going to do that ghost tour you recommended.
Great! You’ll have a wonderful time. Skippy is such a good guide.
Love this region of the country and love your photos of it! Good tip on ending your trip in New Orleans – it’s hard to top. Did you all make it to any of the cemeteries in New Orleans or Savannah?
Yes! We made it to the cemetery in Savannah (not the big one slightly outside) and Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. Plus a ghost tour in Savannah and a vampire tour in New Orleans.
I am absolutely dying over memories of Pensacola Beach as a kid. This entire blog has me dyyyyying to go on (yet another) road trip.
So pleased you had a great time, Kate 🙂
One day, I will get to do my American road trip and the South in particular is the place I want to explore. Will have to bookmark this for when I get myself together and do it!
It sounds like you’ve had a great trip in the American South! I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks around New Year’s in New Orleans and just loved it! It must be the most musical and the most delicious city in the US South. Oak Alley was stunning as well. I’ve been to dozens of southern plantation homes and I this one definitely had the best exhibit about slavery. I can’t wait to read more about your trip!
Wow! This sounds like an awesome trip and I am looking forward to hearing more. Plus, I have never heard of Seaside and I lived in Florida (albeit briefly). But I have been very interested in New Orleans and Savannah lately, so I definitely want to hear more about those! And also, I’m with you: I love being the navigator on the road trip as opposed to driving!
I love the areas that you highlighted. I went to NOLO for the first time last year, and I’m going back this year and cannot wait.
We are definitely Florida people. I love Pensacola, Orlando, Miami, and the Keys. All great places to visit!
Touring the southern states was always a huge dream of mine. The slow pace, the grand spaces and the historic plantations are quite fascinating to me, especially quaint villages like Charleston and Savannah. I really hope I can make it there soon. Granted that I actually get a driver’s licence one day.
I agree with you about all of your destinations! Savannah is truly one of our favorite places – wish you had made it to Tybee Island which is really charming. I love Pensacola and had been going there for years since I was a kid but really the Gulf coast is even prettier the further down you go. Destin, although pretty touristy, has the most magnificent sand and water and Sarasota is even more beautiful with powder soft sand. Yes, I am a Florida person – although my husband is not so I take my girlfriends when I need a beach visit!
We drove through Destin and it looked gorgeous but crazy busy with all those high-rises. Okaloosa Island next door looked like it had all the beauty of Destin without all of the development.
I live in SC and Charleston is one of my favorite cities but in my family we say you are a Savannah or a Charleston person – not usually both. I took my husband to Savannah for the first time a few years ago and within an hour he was declaring his love for Savannah – go figure, he’s a Savannah person! But after 28 years together I think we can still make it work ha ha! And I love that you are “Florida people” – my dad was obsessed with Florida when I was growing up and it was the only place we ever went. My parents even retired there. I was so not gonna be a “Florida person” – ever! And now that I am older, I can really see myself retiring there and have enjoyed exploring there over the last few years. I guess you just never know!
That’s interesting, Jill! You can definitely put me and Mario in the Savannah category.
In fact, a bunch of my girlfriends were deciding between Charleston and Savannah for a trip this summer and I tried to push them in the Savannah direction, but they chose Charleston with a day trip to Savannah.
Wow, such lovely pictures and experiences! South USA does sound more easy and relaxed.
I can relate to your “being a florida person” wonders. Not for Florida in particular, but lots of expats think they’ll live abroad forever- but I love America! I know I’ll go back eventually. Your road trip sounds awesome. I’ve been a few of the places you went, and seriously need to try oysters. I’ve never had one! and I live on a beach! I”ll order some tomorrow 🙂
So glad to hear that you loved your road trip so much! How amazing is the South?! This post has me wishing I could be back in Savannah RIGHT NOW. If not for the ridiculous humidity in the summer, I could totally see myself living there.
Also, I definitely need to get myself down to New Orleans sometime soon…
Let’s go in on a condo! I’m ready to buy. Seriously. Love that place!
I’ve always wanted to do an American road trip! I’d normally imagined it being Route 66 though, but you’ve certainly made it sound like exploring the South could be a better option.
As if you can pay a guy to make up a poem on the spot., that is amazing! Would love to see the poem he wrote for you.
I visited Savannah last fall for a (too quick) weekend, and really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading more what you thought about it!
I LOVE the south!!! I was just in New Orleans for the third time last month and have also been to Biloxi (twice), Charleston and Savannah. NOLA and Savannah were my favourites by far… I either flew in or did the Greyhound which trust me is a whole other experience. I can’t wait to read more about your adventures in the south. It’s hard to believe your trip around the world is almost coming to an end!! I’ve been following you and Mario around via your blog and SOTM – what an awesome journey!!! And then you get to go back and live in London! (my favourite place in the world)
Thanks so much, Laurie! I agree that the Greyhound can be…interesting. 🙂 The South was great!
I’d definitely be up to visit Florida – not sure if I’d be a Florida person (can you be both a California and Florida person?) given the heat though!
Maybe Florida in March or April is just what you’re looking for!
Great recap of your tour Kate! I was surprised to see you in the South so I read the whole post! Very well done. Enjoyed the read!
I understand what it’s like to be surprised at how exotic your own country can feel! As an Aussie I’m quite unfamiliar with a lot of our west coast and the north of Queensland, so if I ever get the chance to take a road trip there one day I’m sure I’ll explore it with as much wonder as a person visiting from overseas.
This part of the US looks lovely; hopefully I can get to it one day.
It really looks like you had a great time Kate. A US road trip is on the cards for me in the next few years and Savannah and New Orleans are two of the places I must visit. Looking forward to reading your future posts about them so I can get lots of tips!
Drive down the A1A from ponte vedra to anastasia state park. Huge, beautiful beaches, it’s $15 or something to enter with one car but very much worth it for the beach and space. A1A is my favorite highway on the east coast as well.
Great recommendation — thanks!
I took my first trip to Savannah a couple years ago, and good lord is that place stunning. I think I spent half the time just sitting one one of the benches in the many, many parks and squares, staring at the moss in the trees. Did you make it to Forsyth Park at all?
No, no Forsyth Park on this trip. I can’t wait to return to Savannah, though!
NOLA is one of my favorite cities – I’ve been 3 times! I’ve been dying to go to Savannah forever as well and every time I read a blog post about it I realize I need to start planning a trip there – looks beautiful.
Sounds like a fantastic southern adventure. We took a group of travelers from around the world on a coast-to-coast road trip across the U.S. via a Southern route last summer on an old school bus and it was an incredible experience. Love the southeast but I think the southwest was most memorable. We will be taking another southern route trip this summer if anyone wants to join! There is nothing better than a good road trip with new friends.
Kate, this adventure makes me want to do a tour of the South before I hit the road for SEAsia in the Fall! Lesley @ontheroadbusadventures – I want to go on your trip! 🙂
Hilarious that you and Mario asked yourselves if you’re Florida people! I actually just visited Florida recently for the first time ever and felt the same way – I really enjoyed myself and could see it being the kind of place I’d want to return to on a regular basis. I’ll always be someone who wants to explore new, far-off places, but it’s nice to have some places that are just a short, cheap flight away for when I want a dose of sunshine.
New Orleans and Savannah are two of my favorite cities – I’m glad you enjoyed them. I’ve never been to Charleston, but hearing that you liked it less than Savannah and New Orleans makes me think that I might be disappointed by it (even though it always comes up on those lists of the best cities to visit in the US).
Great Post! I don’t think enough people realize the greatness they can find when they travel close to home. Like you said – the US is full of exotic locales. So many travelers think if I want an exotic location or a “REAL” travel experience they have to go elsewhere but I’m always surprised by what I find in the small towns around Ontario (where I live) and even in the States.
So true, Stephanie. And there’s nothing wrong with loving some places close to home!
So very glad you made the #travel trip to Northwest Florida. I’m a former NOLA resident and live in Pensacola and on 30A (Seaside) splitting my time all during the week for over 20 years. I’m a food+travel journalist and blogger. All of the beach communities in South Walton are vastly different, including the people that live and visit the areas. Pensacola is rich with history and the Panhandle is the South’s last best kept secret for true foodies. Apalachicola is amazing and the last place that still tongs for oysters. Sadly post Katrina they were over harvested, and the BP spill did not help. There is also a huge problem with Georgia hoarding the water supply that keeps oyster beds flourishing. Our Governor, Rick Scott, has sued Georgia in august 2013, “Scott’s move came after the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay suffered a near collapse and after federal officials declared a fishery disaster for oystermen on the Gulf Coast. Oysters need a mix of fresh and salt water in order to thrive.”
Therefore, the Apalachicola oysters are small and not the pristine highly praised versions you’ve heard of. We are expecting regeneration of the beds, but in the meantime most restaurants serve Louisiana, Texas, and Bon Secour, Alabama. I was a celebrity judge at the Alabama Seafood Oyster Cook-off in Orange Beach at The Hangout , and agree that Half Shell has some mighty fine oysters! They won first in the cajun category! Enjoyed your blog! Come #VisitFlorida again!
Thank you so much for this information, Susan. I had no idea about the oyster situation in Florida. Awful. I hope it turns around.
I do wish we had had more time in Apalachicola — we got there as the sun was setting and ran around taking pictures in the beautiful light before the sun went down without thinking about what we were seeing!
I would really love to see more of the panhandle and beach communities along the Gulf Coast. Thanks for the information!
You bet! Come back soon! October is beautiful!
The only part of the South that I’ve been to is Texas – well, and Florida but only Orlando – and it seems like something I really need to do. I would absolutely love to spend some time in New Orleans. I’m a big lover of jazz, and there’s really no better place to experience it.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time!
I visited Charleston and Savannah in October and fell in LOVE with Savannah. I’m so looking forward to these posts!
Happy travels 🙂
Yay! I can’t wait to start reading your posts about the South, Kate. I adored Charleston when I visited there, and would have loved to have gone to Savannah, if there’d been a decent option to get there from Charleston (I can’t drive). Atlanta was…meh. And the only place I visited in Florida was Miami, which I actually loved! Oh, and oysters aren’t really my thing, but I think you’ve sold me on those ones from Mississippi.
Whenever I make it back to the USA (hopefully in the next couple of years), the South is firmly on my list of places to explore. One of my besties is moving to Charlotte, N.C., so I have a very good reason to go!
North Carolina and Tennessee might be our next Southern road trip destination, Tom! Lots of great stuff down there.
I’ve never visited the southern part of the USA as I’ve only been to the western part of the country. My brother went to Florida a few years ago and he had a delightful time. He couldn’t stop talking about the beach, the food, the people, and the amusement parks. Personally, I’d love to go to New Orleans and Charleston.
This looks very cool. I’d love to do some travel thru the southern part of our country. I’ve been traveling for over a year, mostly west coast and northwest… this year hoping to get to New Orleans and a few other southern cities before going to ICELAND! (fingers crossed)
Anyway, very cool post here! Two thumbs up and enjoy.
Ha hoooo! I just love New Orleans and Florida! The whole south is AWESOME! I’m not allowed back in New Orleans though on account of night that was TOO GOOD! Looks like you had fun, safe travels!
I feel that way about Vang Vieng, Laos. 😉
We want to go to Savannah sometime. Looks like a great little getaway that can be done at a very reasonable cost.
We know what you mean about being the “Florida vacationer”. We’ve been plenty since being kids due to family trips and so many people cop out with the same vacation. BUT we did go to Sanibel Island recently (coincidently a family trip) and had a blast – despite it not being a particularly lively place. It seems like most everyones bed time is 7:30pm on that island. None the less it had great beaches and we biked/kayaked in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge which was gorgeous. It was a very lush/tropical place. Super enjoyable.
I’ve heard that Sanibel is lovely. Maybe a destination for the future!
I love the South! I was raised in North Carolina and I miss it so much (especially with this brutal NYC winter!) I hope you had a Bojangles biscuit while you were down there.
I want to visit the Seaside, Florida! I have lots of relatives living there and they told me that the place is superbly beautiful.I hope someday I would have a chance to visit there, even a short vacation.
I’m glad you like my stomping grounds (though you still need to get to TN!). Nashville, NOLA and Savannah tie for my favorite U.S. cities, and Seaside is my childhood vacation spot and a place I still visit annually (and now cover for travel magazines). I’m glad you went to some of the less-touristy spots along the way and didn’t just go for all the bigger destinations. Can’t wait to read more!
Came’s & Chocolate: I’m still here! Twenty years later. Sold in Seaside and moving to the Coastal Dune Lakefront this year. Seeking a little peace now that we are beginning to burst at the seams on 30A. As I recall you like Blue Mt Beach too. Safe travels!
I’m glad to hear that, Kristin! We’re talking about doing a different Southern road trip next time, through Tennessee and North Carolina, and we might end up in your neck of the woods!
I just discovered your blog and I’m already in love with it!
Welcome, Hannah! Thanks. 🙂
Your trip sounds amazing! I’m heading to Florida next summer for a wedding but I definitely intend on staying on for a bit to travel around and will be hitting up some of your recommended spots!
Seaside. Seriously. What a place!
We did a Deep South road trip just recently going basically your route plus more. It was just fantastic!! My favourite spots were New Orleans, Charleston and Chattanooga – I am a city person though!
I was very happy to read that about the oysters. I loooove oysters and we nearly drove a fair bit out of our way to go there to have them, so I am glad we didn’t bother. I am from somewhere (Tasmania) with awesome oysters, so it sounds like I may have ended up disappointed.
I’m travelling through the U.S. South from Australia next year and this post made me really excited for it!
I don’t have a lot of interest in Florida, but New Orleans looks amazing. I also hope Cubs the Poet is there when I am, he seems like my kind of person.
Also, thanks for letting us know about Apalachicola. I’d planned on eating those Oysters and now I might reconsider.
Glad to hear you liked the south so much! I’m a native from Atlanta and I hate when people say they’ll never visit the south because of it’s history. Savannnah is a wonderful and historic city and New Orleans is always a huge party with delicious food. Your waffle house experience sounds like a typical experience to me, although normally the food doesn’t take THAT long. oh well, hopefully you will visit again soon! and you should check out Atlanta one day as well!
I’m really glad you liked the south! I just recently went to New Orleans and found it to be quite the interesting city. Please tell me you tried the hand grenades! Actually, I have no doubt in my mind that you did. Again, I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. You’re almost done – chugga chugga!
Haha. No hand grenades for me, but I did try a voodoo daiquiri! Just like Dimetapp with a bit of booze in it…
I am in love with your trips! Quick question – When was the last time you drove a car? 🙂
When I was home for Easter a few weeks ago.