The American South doesn’t have quite as much of a reputation for tourism as other parts of the country, in large part because it’s not where most of the major cities are. A lot of people traveling to the U.S. or even traveling within the country will look to places like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston as primary destinations, and they are indeed among the best places to visit. The South has some wonderful cities too though, and beyond that it’s a region full of beauty, culture, and tradition.
This is my look at some of the best experiences you can have traveling there.
1. Austin City Limits
To support the idea that the South, too, has some very vibrant cities, I want to start with Austin City Limits, an annual event in Austin, Texas that makes for a really fun celebration. It takes place in October in Austin’s Zilker Park, and is essentially a music festival spread out over two long weekends. Vaguely reminiscent of the more famous Lollapalooza festival, it attracts many of the biggest acts in the world. And more importantly it showcases the excellent weather and energetic, artistic culture of the city.
2. Missouri Canoeing
There’s a cluster of, shall we say, middle-southern states that is all but ignored by tourists. Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Alabama come to mind as making up the bulk of this area. And within this subset of the South there’s a lot of beautiful nature, and hikes, kayaking, and canoeing routes to help you experience it first hand. Here I’m pointing specifically to the Eleven Point National Scenic River in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Highlighted as one of the best national parks for canoeing, this spot offers a dreamy, meandering journey through the hills known as the Ozarks.
3. Charleston Surfing
Charleston, South Carolina is one little part of the American South that does get quite a bit of appreciation in tourist circles. This is because it’s one of the best beach towns (or really, beach cities) in America. The city itself is packed with history, drinking and dining options and combines a sort of traditional “southern charm” with a college town atmosphere. But the nearby beaches – very pretty ones where lots of people learn to surf or kitesurf – are the real draw.
4. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is an annual celebration in New Orleans, Louisiana that has become one of the most famous festivals in the world. Spread throughout the city’s legendary French Quarter, it’s essentially a giant parade full of drinks, extravagant costumes, floats, music, and general revelry. Frankly New Orleans is worth visiting any old time, particularly if you love jazz music, fresh seafood, and eclectic culture. But Mardi Gras is something everyone should experience at least once in life.
5. Alabama Football
The American South has many sports traditions, and none is quite so impressive as college football – particularly in Alabama. While the premiere southern conference, the SEC, excites wherever it goes in football, Alabama is the true national home of the sport. In particular, the University of Alabama and Auburn University (which is also in the state) tend to put on a show. These two teams boast rich tradition and a strong rivalry, and that tends to mean there’s drama whenever they play. So if you get the chance, a game between the two is a lot of fun to see in person.
6. Tobacco Road Basketball
Much like Alabama football, North Carolina’s college basketball is a treat. In particular, the area known as Tobacco Road is something of a holy land for basketball, stretching between Duke University and the University of North Carolina – who may have the best rivalry in American sports, college or professional. Indeed a preview for the upcoming college season specifically notes that compared to the professional level, college rivalries are often fiercer and steeped in deep tradition. That’s what you get at a Duke or North Carolina game, and it makes it one of the best experiences you can have in the South.
7. Authentic Barbecue
Barbecue, or more commonly BBQ, isn’t just another name for a cookout when you get to the American South. Rather, it’s a style of cooking, and one that varies wonderfully from state to state. While the gist remains the same – smoked meats, decadent sauces, comforting sides, etc. – each state has its own highlight, and in some cases even a unique type of sauce or preparation. It’s essentially a whole type of food associated with and perfected by this region, and finding an authentic BBQ joint anywhere in the South will leave your mouth watering.
8. Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Mountains extend up much of the eastern United States and down into the South, and make for one of the best places in the region for nature lovers. Within the mountain range, the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is a famous hiking destination. It’s an extraordinary way to get in touch with the land should you wish to do just that.
9. The Everglades
Here we have another natural attraction, and one that seems more or less like it belongs on its own planet. The Everglades are effectively an expansive swampland taking up more than a million square acres in southern Florida. If that sounds as if it wouldn’t be particularly attractive though, think again. It’s actually a pretty area full of dense, lush vegetation and a wonderful array of wildlife. Some of the most famous attractions there include fan boats that take visitors on tours over the water, and alligators that are native to the park.
10. Disney World
Sticking with Florida, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out the original Walt Disney World! While there are other Disney parks (as well as Universal parks) around the world now, Disney World in Orlando, Florida remains the most noteworthy of the bunch. And though it’s geared somewhat toward children in places, it remains a magical attraction for any and all visitors.