The American South is one of the most interesting and simultaneously bizarre places I’ve visited. Magnolia lined and surrounded by gorgeous coastline, it’s a region of contrast, and one I had the pleasure of getting to know while living in South Carolina. I’ve curated a culture tour of the South’s highlights and some of my favourite locales and places we visited.
The most metropolitan of the destinations covered in this post, Atlanta has become the region’s film capital. In any given day you can see countless productions being filmed on the streets of the Big Peach. The city somehow manages to be filled to the brim with arts and culture and yet is seemily unimposing at the same time. Spending a humid summer afternoon sat in the Olympic park, snacking on street food from the Ponce City Market, provides a whistle stop tour of the most popular sights.
Bluffton, South Carolina
I may be slightly biased after spending two and a half years galavanting across both Bluffton and the connecting Hilton Head Island, but Bluffton is one of the most charming towns I came across while living in the states. A close knit coastal community nestled on the May River, the town is home to the friendliest locals, freshest seafood, and most laid back lifestyle. Driving through the Old Town a greatest hits tour of my favourite haunts; Agave Sidebar, Fat Patties, Corner Perk, the list is almost as long as Calhoun Street itself. Here in the Lowcountry, locality thrives and the town is brimming with small and locally owned businesses.
Charleston, South Carolina
Another Carolina favourite, Charleston serves up southern hospitality all year long. Home to some of the grandest – and most instagrammable – doors and houses, wandering the streets is a pastel wonderland. Its hidden charm and Southern grandeur is everywhere and you can find homes adored with door knockers shaped as lions and pineapples. The fusion of Art Deco, Georgian, Colonial, and Victorian properties create a cityscape so uniquely Charlestonian. But Charleston is so much more than pretty buildings, foodies delight at some of the states most renowned eateries serving up southern dishes with flair. Pro tip: find somewhere with fried chicken and waffles for a true taste of the South.
A relatively compact city, Chattanooga is set in the scenic Appalachian Mountains and is my top spot to visit in Tennessee – yes, I think it’s better than Nashville. With a serine waterfront at the base of the Tennessee River and more street art than you can shake a stick at, it’s got something for everyone. If you prefer outdoorsy type activities then the nearby Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls park is for you, or if you’re quite happy just wandering the streets stopping at local hideaways Chattanooga’s centre has you covered. A southern experience relished by both locals and tourists alike is the Sticky Fingers Smokehouse. It’s home to the best barbeque I’ve ever tasted, the chain has locations across the country but I first discovered it in Chattanooga, and still use their sauces to this day in the UK – no joke we’ve got seven bottles of their ‘Carolina Sweet’ sauce in the pantry.
Greensboro, North Carolina
When we headed up to Greensboro for my birthday weekend a couple years back, I didn’t have very high expectations for the city itself. It was chosen purely on its location, halfway between Bluffton and our friends in Maryland, making it the perfect meeting point to catch up. While we didn’t spend a massive amount of time in the city itself, what we did see pleasantly surprised me. Rather than be completely overrun by big brands it has a fusion of chains and local businesses. Although, I probably wouldn’t plan a trip to specifically go there, it would work as a road trip stop off. If you do ever find yourself in Greensboro, I highly recommend that you visit the Pig Pounder Brewery. We spent a laughter filled afternoon there and loved the warehouse conversion filled with social activities.
I haven’t been to Miami since 2012, however I loved my time there and it’s on my list to visit again as soon as possible. Walking the stunning beachfront surrounded by gorgeous pastel art deco buildings is an experience every Miami visitor needs. Crystal clear water swallows the the city making it glow with a turquoise blue aura in the evening. Combine this with its arts and culture scene and you’ve got the perfect long weekend getaway.
Another destination that pleasantly surprised me, Montgomery worked as a great overnight stop on our road trip to New Orleans. Most famous for its role in the Civil Rights movement and Rosa Parks’ instrumental bus boycott, the Alabaman capital surpassed all my expectations. With a peaceful waterfront and barbeque joints on almost every street, our 24 hours in the city was thoroughly enjoyable. We watched the ballet at the theatre adjacent to our hotel, wandered the waterfront and toured the capital building.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Rivalled only by Savannah for both charm and simultaneous spookiness, New Orleans truly is a gem. While I wasn’t a fan of its rowdy nightlife *cough, cough Bourbon Street*, during the day wandering the streets is simply ethereal. Hop on the St Charles Street tram and head from Canal Street into the tranquil Garden District, and you’ll be greeted by some of the most classically Southern streets in the city. Homes laden with balconies, encompassed with great oaks drip with Spanish Moss and Southern charm, I dare say the Cresent City gives Charleston a run for its money. A visit the Big Easy isn’t complete without a trip to Cafe Du Monde, where through a cloud of powdered sugary, sweet, warm beignets are served up 24 hours a day at the French market.
Popularised by its theme parks, endless sunshine, and plentiful palm trees, Orlando became our go to for a long weekend. During our year as Universal Passholders, we were able to get to know Orlando. Both Universal and Disney have free access retail districts, CityWalk and Disney Springs respectively, which were somewhere we always make a point to stop in at. A short drive away, Tampa’s Busch Gardens offers theme park magic at a fraction of the cost. As much as I loved our time there, if theme parks aren’t your thing then Orlando probably isn’t for you. Clearwater, Miami, or Naples may be more your style.
A mere thirty minute drive from our house in Bluffton, Savannah was my favourite day trip and somewhere we always took out of town visitors. A spooky city filled with charming independent boutiques and eateries, Savannah’s streets are permeated with a rich history and lie cloaked under a sea of Spanish moss. While Atlanta may be the Hollywood of the South, Savannah is not without presence in film and television. One of the many green spaces dotted around, Chippewa Square is where the famous Forest Gump bench scene was filmed.
To me the South is so much more than a region, it’s a state of mind. There are so many experiences particular to the South, sipping sweet tea in the shade, fried chicken and waffles for brunch, shopping in humid vintage shops, iced coffee all year round or spending an afternoon chatting to the friendliest locals.
I absolutely adored writing about and reminiscing on my trips around the South and hope you enjoyed reading about them.
If you have any specific questions or want more detailed recommendations for any of the places covered do let me know.