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Celebrating 70 Years of RVing - In the South
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It’s a great time to set out in your RV to experience the rich heritage of the Southern states. For instance, in Florida’s St. Augustine, you can spend the day seeing America’s Oldest City from the perspective of its first colonists. If gold mining or fresh peach pie sounds appealing, Georgia is the place for you. How about a Mississippi river cruise, Zydeco music on a Louisiana bayou, or a tour of a battleship in Alabama? Tennessee offers Elvis Presley’s Graceland while Kentucky’s known for heart-stopping horse races. Share the beauty of ancient Cherokee culture in North Carolina, and watch traditional Catawba potters practice their craft in South Carolina. Every state in America’s Southern region has delivered quality vacations opportunities for decades. Here are some of our favorites.
Welcome to Florida! Whether you decide to visit “The Great American Race” in Daytona Beach, gracious Southern Belles at Cypress Gardens, or roaring lions in West Palm Beach, the Sunshine State has a rich heritage of tried-and-true attractions for any sort of RV traveler.
Northwest Florida beckons tourists with soft white sands and sparkling waters that provide the stage for fishing villages and historic downtown districts. From shucking your own oysters to being amazed at the death-defying aerial precision of the Navy’s Blue Angels, you’ll find plenty of time-honored pastimes in the Sunshine State’s Northwestern region. Begin at the western short drive south of US-98. How about experiencing an animal encounter? Since 1983, the Northwest Florida Zoo of Gulf Breeze has treated visitors with its botanical gardens and close-up views of 900 amazing critters, from striped favorites like tigers and zebras to mischievous monkeys and rainbow-feathered birds.
Aviation enthusiasts should check out the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station. It houses an IMAX theater and more than 170 aircraft in an impressive seven-story facility. The Air Station is also the seasonal home base of the famed Blue Angels precision flight aerobatics team, which formed in 1946 at the close of World War II. Museum visitors can observe select Blue Angels practices from a designated viewing area and meet pilots for question-and-answer sessions.
Established in 1969, Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach features wildlife like flamingos, sharks, and sea turtles. Visitors can arrange to swim with dolphins or, for a real kick, enroll in the park’s special “Trainer for a Day” program.
If you’re keen on fresh seafood, plan to visit Apalachicola on U.S. Highway 98, where more than 90 percent of Florida’s oysters are harvested. Whether you prefer to dine at raw oyster bars or four-star eateries, you’re bound to enjoy tasting the local menu offerings.
In Carabelle, off State Highway 67, you can tour the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum. Learn the World War II-era story about the 250,000 amphibious soldiers who trained at the base nearby. Their difficult training exercises took place from 1944, just before the Allied D-Day invasion of Europe, through 1948. The museum contains the wartime recollections and memorabilia of the brave young people who served the United States by land and sea more than 60 years ago.
Florida’s north central region offers the understated and nostalgic charms of the Old South, complete with antebellum flair and splendid Victorian homes. In the captivating capital city of Tallahassee, an historic district with galleries and museums, an IMAX theater, and picturesque vintage homes surround the capital complex. Take an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of bygone state politics at The Old Capitol: The Florida Center of Political History and Governance. You can also see a circa-1834 estate in all its glory at Goodwood Museum & Gardens and view a restored 1928 home at the Knott House Museum. Also in Tallahassee, visual arts converge with natural sciences at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science. The open-air Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science encompasses a zoo and discovery center as well as some fine examples of historic southern architecture. For budding anthropologists, Tallahassee’s Mission San Luis is worth a visit. Presently, San Luis is the archaeological excavation site of a renowned 17th-century Spanish mission and Apalachee Indian settlement.
As you proceed southeast on State Highway 98, stop at the fishing village of Steinhachee at the southern end of State Highway 51 to catch your own scallops for a fresh seafood feast. Next, hop onto Hwy 27 and proceed to Gainesville, home of University of Florida.
As you make your way to northeast Florida, there’s an amazing array of things to see and do, from thoroughly modern metropolitan attractions to the cobblestone streets of America’s oldest city. But before we get there, we mustn’t forget to visit Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the home of towering giraffes, noisy warthogs, and slinking jaguars, among many others. At the city’s Alltel Stadium, another species of Jaguars, the NFL variety, attracts a flock of loyal observers in the fall each year. Another top Jacksonville destination is the Museum of Science and History where scientific demonstrations and planetarium shows delight visitors.
From Jacksonville, a short trip south on State Highway A1A takes you to the historic city of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. At the Colonial Spanish Quarter, you can learn about and almost imagine the lifestyles of the area’s early European settlers. There are even more lessons to be learned at the Oldest House and Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the U.S.A. If you think the wax figures and theatrical presentations at Potter’s Wax Museum are unnerving, wait until you see the bizarre exhibits at Ripleys Believe It or Not! The more sedate Lightner Museum, constructed in 1888, (formerly Henry Flagler’s own Alcazar Hotel) is full of paintings, sculptures and elaborate furnishings. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is a staple landmark in St. Augustine, as is the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The entertainment there is provided by a big bunch of spike-toothed alligators and their creepy crocodile cousins.
On Florida’s central east coast, you can go for a leisurely dip in the Atlantic, accelerate your pace with a stock car race, or track the trajectory of NASA astronauts as they rocket into space. Daytona’s International Speedway hosts the famed Daytona 500, otherwise known as “The Great American Race.” Ever since it hit the sports scene back in 1959, auto racing fans have been crowding the speedway, especially since the recent addition of the Daytona U.S.A. theme n’ thrill park and IMAX theater.
In Titusville, on State Road 405 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you can take a guided tour of NASA’s launch headquarters, pilot a space flight simulator, or have lunch with a real astronaut. Southward at the intersection of U.S. Highway A1A and State Road 520 in Cocoa Beach is the world-renowned Ron Jon Surf Shop. Established in Cocoa in 1963 as a small surfboard outlet, today’s multi-story retail shop sells a vast selection of casual clothing, water sports gear, Florida souvenirs, and beach-related equipment, and it’s open 24/7 for RVers who arrive in town in the middle of the night. Interestingly, Ron Jon owners Ron and Lynne DiMenna currently travel in style in their new 42-foot motorhome, custom painted to look like you guessed it¬–a 1940’s “woody” station wagon.
At the circa-1962 Cocoa Beach Pier, restaurants, beach-style stores, an ice cream parlor and arcade lend a nostalgic hint of yesteryear to Atlantic shopping sprees. If you prefer quieter surroundings, head for the specialty shops, galleries, and cafes in Cocoa Village, a tiny town that has managed to preserve its peaceful, friendly atmosphere since the 1950’s.
In Fort Pierce on A1A, the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum was established in 1985 at the original beachfront training grounds of the first U.S. Navy Frogmen, predecessors of today’s elite fighting force, the U.S. Navy Seals. Thousands volunteered and trained here for Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams from 1943 through 1946. Frogmen and SEALS have served in every U.S. conflict since the Korean War. The museum’s mission is to accurately portray and honor them through their stories, photos, artifacts, combat videos, and real training crafts that once operated by air or sea.
As you drive inland from the coast, central Florida will certainly keep you entertained. Gravity-defying thrill rides, enchanted castles, rollicking movie sets, and sleepy homespun cafes are all on our itinerary. And there’s even more. Silver Springs, on State Road 40 near Ocala, is the historic location where several movies, such as the original Tarzan series, were filmed. The “nature’s theme park” at Silver Springs has been a popular tourist spot ever since the first glass-bottom boats, invented in 1878, started providing accessible underwater views of the area’s crystal clear springs. Fantastic fountains, river cruises, and animal shows are also part of the fun at Silver Springs.
Mount Dora, off U.S. Highway 441, is a small, old-timey town that’s favored by antique shoppers. At Mount Dora Merchant’s Association, you can cruise for collectibles or take a leisurely ride on an old-fashioned carriage or train. And Renninger’s Twin Markets-Antique Center and Flea Market simply have everything from Grandma’s well-worn treasures to fresh-picked farmers’ fare.
Orlando is the established hub of family attractions, from Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom theme parks to the dazzling displays at Sea World and Universal Studios. But did you know it’s also home of Gatorland, a vintage theme park that’s been presenting gator jumpin’ and wrestlin’ demonstrations for the past 54 years? Orlando and neighboring Kissimmee are also noted for a pleasing (and tasty) variety of themed dinner shows. Choose from Arabian Knights, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, or a Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show that lets the audience solve the crime.
Just off classic U.S. Highway 27 in Winter Haven, Cypress Gardens Adventure Park is an updated version of Florida’s original theme park, where demure southern belles in frilly gowns greeted eager crowds of tourists during the 50’s and 60’s. The new Cypress Gardens still has lots of floral wonders and water ski shows, and they’ve added some new treats too – a cornucopia of thrill rides, cool water park, animal exhibits, concerts, ice skating demos, and more. Rest assured, y’all, those smiling southern belles are still making their daily appearances. Historic Bok Sanctuary, off County Road 17-A in Lake Wales, encompasses 250 acres with its 1930’s-era estate. Bok has a “singing” bell tower, magnolia and azalea gardens, and oodles of old-style southern charm. The 70-years-young Country Inn and Restaurant at Chalet Suzanne, off U.S. Highway 27, is also well worth a visit.
In the central west portion of Florida, come browse through first-rate museums and art galleries, delight to the sounds of a symphony, cheer your favorite sports team to victory or dine on delectable seafood. One of the area’s most nostalgic attractions is Weeki Wachee Springs, located off U.S. Highway 19. Weeki Wachee is famous for live mermaid shows that began way back yonder in 1947. Weeki Wachee’s unusual Mermaid Theater resides 16’ under the surface of the springs, so the fact that shows star real costumed women performing to music, eating and drinking–all under water–adds to the curiosity of the entire experience.
On the Gulf of Mexico, Grecian sponge divers developed the Greek-themed town of Tarpon Springs in the late 1800’s. At Tarpon’s Greek Village, off Alternate U.S. Highway 19, you’ll find authentic ethnic restaurants and bakeries with yummy pastries. Just east of Clearwater, Tampa is a booming city and it has the tourist attractions that helped create it. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has entertainment for everyone, exciting rides, restaurants, and a zoo. And speaking of zoos, Tampa’s full-scale Lowry Park Zoo is home to more than 1,600 animals, plus a water park, rides, and family-oriented shows. Other Tampa destinations of choice are the top-rated Florida Aquarium and the Museum of Science and History with its hands-on displays, IMAX movie theater, and planetarium. Pro sports are alive and well in Tampa, too. The New York Yankees spring training and Tampa Bay Devil Rays home games are in town, as are NFL Buccaneers football and NHL Lightning hockey. Shoppers get their “game on” just south of Tampa in the village of Hyde Park where the shops, cafes, and movie houses have old-fashioned European flair. Historic Ybor City, on U.S. Highway 41, has a flavorful blend of Cuban, Italian, and Spanish restaurants, offbeat shopping and a vibrant nighttime scene.
And in St. Petersburg, the Salvador Dali Museum houses a vast collection of the prominent Spanish painter’s works. After the museum, check out the beautiful views from the St. Pete Pier.
Southwest Florida is known for shells and shark’s teeth on the beach and sugar cane in the fields. It also has fabulous art museums, trendy boutiques, and standout theaters hosting everything from dramatic presentations to ballet troupes and opera companies. Since 1981, the 600-booth-strong Red Barn Flea Market has been at home in Bradenton. Red Barn’s indoor/outdoor shopper’s paradise covers every angle, from clothing, housewares, and jewelry to antiques and fresh-cut flowers. Hungry shoppers will be relieved to know that tasty food and beverage booths are plentiful here too.
Take US-41 south to Sarasota. It’s as well-rounded a locale as you’re likely to find. You can visit sea turtles and manatees at Mote Marine Laboratory Aquarium, get dazzled by the exhibits at the Ringling Art and Circus Museums, and attend a concert presented by the 56-year-old Florida West Coast Symphony. While here, Cincinnati Reds fans can watch their team step up to the plate at spring training. And shoppers can explore sunny galleries and trendy boutiques at historic St. Armands Circle, then dine in style at the circle’s fine restaurants.
The city of Fort Myers on Interstate 75 is the site of the Thomas Edison-Henry Ford Winter Estates, where a museum and botanical garden complement fascinating home tours. Fort Myers is also the spring training site for the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. And a 67-year-old local legend, the Shell Factory and Nature Park, is a Fort Myers’ shopping tradition. In addition to the giant gift shop, the Shell Factory has a seafood restaurant, mini-golf course, and bumper car track.
In the southeast part of the state and the Florida Keys, seaside life is reflected in aquariums, fish tales, scenic cruises, and a coral castle. By land or sea, it’s a good place to be. Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach opened its drive-through, cageless zoo way back in 1967. Today, you still get close-up views of burly rhinos, galloping zebras, and of course, roaring lions. It feels like a genuine safari experience since most resident animals roam freely in outdoor habitats. If you’re rrrrrrrrrrrrreally lucky, a skulking lion might even scratch his back on your RV bumper.
For 60+ years, the Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise has transported tourists past waterfront estates in Fort Lauderdale to popular island-style buffets. Next time you’re in town, why not follow the Queen’s time-honored tradition? After dinner, enjoy an evening of entertainment at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The bustling center features stellar performances in music, drama, and dance.
Just south of Fort Lauderdale in Dania Beach at the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, there are books, films, photos, and artifacts related to fishing, as well as a marina. The association, established in 1939, aims to preserve the past and promote the present and future of sport fishing. Meeting the animals at Miami’s acclaimed Metrozoo or watching whales and sea lions at the 50-year-old Miami Seaquarium are ideal ways to get acquainted with Southeast Florida. West of Miami at the Miccosukee Indian Village and Everglades Airboat Tours, you’ll see traditional camp life, beadwork, doll making, woodcarving, and alligator handling. And you
can taste Miccosukee delicacies like frog legs and pumpkin bread. Next, consider touring the Italian Renaissance villa and botanic marvels at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Coconut Grove. Or catch a game of the Miami Dolphins NFL or Miami Heat NBA teams. At Cauley Square Historic Village, you can stroll through a cluster of 1890’s-era shops that sell antiques, vintage jewelry, crafts, chic clothing, and such. South of Miami in Coral Gables, take in the sights at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Fairchild is acclaimed for its rare tropical plant collections. Also south of Miami is Homestead’s Coral Castle, another rarity that shouldn’t be missed. Beginning in 1923, pint-sized Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly constructed the castle, its nine-ton gate and a distinctive sundial from huge chunks of coral, using homemade tools crafted from scrap metal. Leedskalnin’s building project lasted 28 years, and curious folks have been flocking to see it ever since.
As you travel south through the Florida Keys to “the end of the line” of U.S. Highway 1, the island town of Key West comes into focus. Set aside an evening (or two) for Key West’s signature Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square and plan to circle the island by land or sea on the Conch Tour Train, Old Town Trolley, or Discovery Glass-Bottom Boat. Last but not least, be sure to browse through three worthwhile attractions: the Ernest Hemingway Home, Harry S. Truman Little White House, and the Southernmost House in the U.S.A.
There are countless good reasons to keep Georgia on your mind. From gold mines and bluegrass to yellow peaches and white magnolias, Georgia has all the right colors for a great vacation.
The northern part of Georgia is a mountainous maze of rich
Appalachian heritage. Believe it or not, the first big rush for gold in America happened in here. Today, you can still pan for nuggets or tour a real mine at Dahlonega’s Consolidated Gold Mines or Cleveland’s Gold n’ Gem Grubbin’ Mine. How about hearing some bluegrass, gospel or country tunes? Traditional mountain music is still in the air at Dahlonega’s Folkways Center, Remember When Theater in Helen, off U.S. Highway 129, and the Bluegrass Express, in Hartwell.
Georgia’s north central region is dominated by the greater Atlanta area, where there’s a limitless supply of tourist venues. Atlanta’s 1926 Fox Theater was originally constructed as a shrine mosque, and its minarets and ornately decorated curtains still tell a tale of its religious beginnings. Woodruff Arts Center features top-rated theater, symphony performances and art exhibits, and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a favorite haunt among dinosaur hunters. Are you aware that Coca-Cola’s flavor formulas differ throughout the world? You can actually sample international variations at Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola Museum. And if traditional southern barbecue sounds like an appealing accompaniment, sprint on over to Sprayberry’s, a 1926-era eatery that serves up good ol’ southern cookin’.
Outside the metropolis, train buffs will revel in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, north of Atlanta via I-75. If recollections of “Gone with the Wind” make you smile (or cry), you’ll want to visit the museum of the same name in nearby Marietta or browse through the extensive “Gone” collection further south of Atlanta on I-85, at the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro.
Northeast of Atlanta, take US-23 to Duluth where you can actually board an old-time steam-powered train at the Southeastern Railway Museum.
For many moons, Stone Mountain Park, east of Atlanta off U.S. Highway 78 has been Georgia’s granddaddy of attractions, and it’s no wonder! From the mountainside sculpture of Civil War heroes and dazzling laser show to the recreated 1870’s town of Crossroads, Stone Mountain brims with family fun.
East central Georgia is a land with a colorful past patched together by charming southern towns. South of Interstate 20, Augusta’s restored riverfront is alive and well. Check out the Riverwalk Antique Depot (set in an old train station), learn about local legends at the Augusta Museum of History, and take a nostalgic paddleboat cruise on the Savannah River. On the two-block-long Craftsmen’s Row in Rutledge, you can observe local folks engaged in traditional skills such as quilting, rug hooking, and woodcarving. You’ll gain a greater understanding of Civil War influences at the Brown House Museum in Sandersville or Macon’s Cannonball House and Confederate Museum off Interstate 75.
The southwestern region of Georgia is graced by rivers and woodlands, with pecans, peaches and cordial hospitality in plentiful supply. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House and therapeutic, spring-fed pool, preserved as they were at the time of his death in 1945, are open for tours in Warm Springs. Just take I-85 southwest from Atlanta, then Alt 27 south. East of there, in nearby Pine Mountain, folks have been awed by botanic wonders at Callaway Gardens Resort Preserve Community. Expansive, rolling grounds, a Butterfly Center, and showcase gardens of vegetables and azaleas are just part of a day’s tour of Callaway.
If you’re driving south on US-19 from Atlanta you’ll eventually arrive in Plains, where a short detour west on US-280 will take you to the boyhood farm and 1976 campaign headquarters of President Jimmy Carter. The Carter Farm is presently a National Historic Site complete with reconstructed 1930’s-era barn and blacksmith shop.
Driving south on US-19, nearly to the Florida state border, Thomasville harbors a different sort of home - the Melhana Grand Plantation, an historic masterpiece from the 1820’s. One of Thomasville’s original inhabitants is the famous Big Oak, a 323-year old tree that’s 68 feet tall with a horizontal limb span of 162 feet.
Southeastern coastal Georgia has barrier islands, hushed swamps, oak-shaded downtown districts and lots of compelling history.
Can you imagine what it was like flying an American bomber over Nazi-occupied Germany during World War II? At Pooler’s Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, just north of Savannah, you can pilot a simulated B-17 bombing mission. Yes, you can! Once you’re grounded, drive south on I-95 into Savannah. By foot, trolley or carriage, tour the restored Greek Revival homes in historic downtown, and breeze through the galleries and shops at Riverfront Plaza and City Market. Don’t miss seeing the “Waving Girl” statue of Florence Martus, an intrepid woman who reportedly waved every ship into Savannah’s port for 44 years running, from 1887 to 1931. As legend has it, Florence was searching (and searching) for a lost love.
In Brunswick off Highway 17, stroll through an 1850’s antebellum home and sniff magnolias at Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site. While you’re near the coast, better visit a picturesque lighthouse or two at Tybee, Sapelo, St. Simons, or Little Cumberland Islands. And as you travel south on I-95 on your way out of Georgia, go for a ride on a restored 1950’s train on the Historic St. Mary’s Railway.
Take heaping portions of gumbo, plantations, pelicans, bayous, assorted cultures, Zydeco tunes, dirty rice, and hot pepper sauce. Combine, stir, and simmer for a few hundred years. The spicy end result is the great state of Louisiana.
Northern Louisiana is often called a “Sportsman’s Paradise,” but it’s also an oasis of flowers, food, and riverside fun. At the sweet-scented American Rose Center Gardens in Shreveport, you’ll see (and smell) the largest rose-only garden in the country. The grounds feature more than 20,000 splendid roses, including colorful hybrids, delicate miniatures, exotics, and thornless varieties. The American Rose Society, founded more than a century ago in 1892, hosts the center. If you’d like to sample the Pelican State’s famous cuisine, Don’s Seafood Restaurant, in Shreveport since 1934, is a good place to start. And while you’re in northern Louisiana, take a stroll through the historic steamboat town of Columbia. Founded in the 1830’s, it now has a thriving Main Street community centered on the Ouachita River, said to be Louisiana’s most scenic waterway.
Next comes central Louisiana, “The Crossroads” of the state. Cultural influences blend the old with the new. Off U.S. Highway 84, Natchitoches was founded in 1714, and you can recognize the town’s Creole, Victorian, and Georgian influences on its streets and iron-railed balconies and in specialty shops. Be sure to tour the circa 1796 Melrose Plantation, also in Natchitoches. Charming Melrose was once owned by Marie-Therese “Coin-Coin” Metoyer, a former slave who became a successful entrepreneur. Next, take a drive over to Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gin where you’ll learn about plantation life from the 1700’s through modern times at a genuine, 1,800-acre working cotton farm.
The southern section of Louisiana, rising from the border of the Gulf of Mexico, is known as “Cajun Country,” and you’re more likely to find the spice of life here than anyplace else in the country. The Liberty Theater in Eunice is so well-known for its Zydeco music that many folks call it the “Cajun Grand Ole Opry.” The Liberty’s musical entertainment is live, the dancing is lively, and Saturday nights feature in-house performances of the popular Rendez-Vous des Cajuns radio show.
South of Interstate 10, Lafayette is the unofficial capital of Cajun Country. That’s where you step back into Louisiana’s past at the Acadian Village. And at Café Vermilionville, you can feast on succulent Cajun/Creole dishes at a restored 1800’s-era inn.
In New Iberia, the Conrad Rice Mill and KONRICO Company Store offer tours, regional crafts, and packaged Cajun foods. And on Avery Island at the TABASCO Hot Sauce Factory on State Road 329, be sure to stock up on the famous pepper sauce that delivers the fire to zesty Cajun dishes.
South central Louisiana is “Plantation Country” and home of the Louisiana state capital in Baton Rouge. The art deco-style Capitol building has 34 floors, making it the tallest state capitol in the country. In the vicinity of St. Francisville’s historic Main Street district, Grandmother’s Buttons is an unusual shop and antique button museum based in a restored turn-of-the-century bank building. Since the proprietor discovered her own grandmother’s 1800’s button collection, the shop has sold its signature line of handcrafted button jewelry in the heart of St. Francisville.
The southeast corner of Louisiana is the Greater New Orleans area, known for paddlewheel steamboats, crawfish, jazz and pralines. Off Interstate 10, New Orleans’ Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are at the center of town. Be sure to explore the French Market and browse through galleries in the Arts/Warehouse District and the jumble of shops on Magazine Street. To listen to some great jazz, Preservation Hall, in the French Quarter, is New Orleans’ “Best of the City” pick. It can get crowded before the first notes hit the air, but there are so many outstanding venues for music, and great food, you won’t have any trouble satisfying your “fix”.
A trip through Mississippi reveals hillside farms, deltas, forests, and plantation reveries. How about ferry rides, river cruises, handcrafted pottery stores, persimmon pickin’, and fine dining? You’ll never run out of vistas commemorating the great American travel itineraries in Mississippi.
Northern Mississippi Hill Country is where you can find
Borroum’s Drug Store, in downtown Corinth near U.S. Highway 72. Opened in 1865, Bourrum’s is the state’s oldest family-run drug store, which probably explains why the Borroums’ burgers, milkshakes, and fountain-style sodas are so delicious. They’ve had plenty of time to perfect them.
Burton’s Sugar Farm in Michigan City has been a family enterprise since Grandfather Burton moved from Arkansas in 1879. Today, it’s a Heritage Village where you’ll find authentic elements of long-ago farm life, from grist mills grinding corn and a working blacksmith’s shop to pumpkin patches and sorghum molasses.
The Magnolia State’s west central zone is known as “The Delta,” and where there’s a delta, there’s a river. Fortunately, if you take U.S. Highway 61 to Tunica’s RiverPark you can get out and about on the Mighty Mississippi, America’s greatest river, aboard a Tunica Queen Riverboat Cruise. The scenic forests, swamps, and sandbars that you’ll cruise past on the paddlewheeler have been around for a very long time. And they don’t look much different than they did during Mark Twain’s era.
Also off U.S. Highway 61, McCarty Pottery in Merigold houses the celebrated shop and gardens of “Uncle Lee” and ”Aunt Pup” McCarty, two amiable, accomplished potters whose work has been showcased in galleries from Mississippi to Japan. The McCartys’ bustling business was launched in 1954 when a generous aunt gave Lee and Pup her mule barn for their studio conversion. The rest is pottery history.
In east central Mississippi’s “Pines” region you’ll find Meridian’s historic Dentzel Carousel in Highland Park. The carousel’s 28 wooden horses, reindeer, and lions are hand-carved and flanked by 64 museum-worthy oil paintings. Considering the National Landmark Carousel and its original domed house were custom-crafted for the 1904 World’s Fair, the 50-cent ride is one of the best vintage bargains in Mississippi. You can’t help but feel a little nostalgic while you’re spinning around on this classic beauty.
Another example of the past may be found at the Williams Brothers, Inc. in Philadelphia. Three generations of family proprietors at this general merchandise store have sold nostalgic provisions like slab bacon, iron skillets, and mule collars. For fresh produce, drive your rig down U.S. Highway 82 to Reese Orchard in Starkville, where you can pick your own blackberries, apples, persimmons, and pears at a tranquil family farm established in 1955.
The southwestern capital/river section of Mississippi includes Natchez, where antebellum mansions such as Auburn, Rosalie, and Magnolia Hall offer retrospectives of plantation life. Lots of tours abound, including those of houses, churches, and restaurants in Natchez’s historic downtown. Keep your eye on the skies at Jackson’s Russell C. Davis Planetarium near Interstate 55. Offerings include engaging sky shows, giant-format documentary films, and laser light rock n’ roll concerts.
Southeastern Mississippi is the coastal region bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1926, the Ship Island Ferry has shuttled folks 11 miles from Gulfport to Ship Island to the unspoiled sandy beaches and lighthouse that welcomes debarking passengers. After the boat ride, stop for a special meal at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi. Constructed during the French occupation of Mississippi’s coast and a landmark restaurant since 1964, the circa 1700’s house is Biloxi’s oldest. Mary’s tasty seafood dishes and superb decor add much to the experience.
Alabama has memorable music makers, space vehicles, pecan pies, and fast cars. In the heart of “Dixie,” you’ll see farmer’s markets, historic mansions and an unforgettable battleship standing strong. All things considered, the state of Alabama offers everything you could need to make great memories.
Located in Tuscumbia, in northern Alabama “mountain” region, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame elevates regional musical genius to new heights. The institution’s beginnings can be traced to a 1980 legislative mandate to formally honor Alabama’s top musical achievers. Today, the site boasts a chandelier light show, bronze stars bearing the names of those honored, a gallery with inductees’ portraits, and recording studio where you can choose a song track to make your own recording. All genres of music are represented here, with superstars like Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, Martha Reeves, Jimmy Buffet, and Nat King Cole singled out for top honors. Don’t miss an exhibit of special interest to RVers: musical group Alabama’s retired Southern Star Tour Bus.
Achievers of the orbital variety are recognized at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, off Interstate 565. The center has an extensive outdoor rocket park, Spacedome IMAX theater, and museum with interactive exhibits. The facility is also the official Space Camp Training Center, with amazing, simulated out-of-this-world activities for participants.
Visit the recently renovated Vulcan Statue on top of Red Mountain in Birmingham, regarded as north central Alabama’s metropolitan area. It’s the second largest sculpture in the country, surpassed only by the Statue of Liberty. The vista of Birmingham from its perch is incomparable. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, has been the city’s proud symbol ever since it was designed for the 1904 World’s Fair. On your way out of Birmingham, stop by Dreamland Bar-B-Que for some smokin’ southern fare that even Vulcan would appreciate.
If you’re an auto racing fan, the speed contests at Talladega Superspeedway will no doubt get your blood running. While the speedway only plays host to two NASCAR Nextel Cup races each season, the track and facilities are open for tours and racing schools year-round. Take a class and some hot laps behind the wheel of a late model stock car and let the inner Jarrett, Gordon or Earnhardt,Jr. in you run wild. Your RV will never feel the same again.
In Alabama’s south central River Heritage area, pop into Priester’s Pecans, in Fort Deposit. Your crew should enjoy watching candy makers concoct sweet delights like pecan pie, pralines, and divinity before the need to devour them becomes too overwhelming. And here’s the really good news – free samples are part of the viewing experience.
Healthier fare such as fresh cornbread and fresh-roasted peanuts can be found while browsing through the colorful State Farmer’s Market in Montgomery off historic U.S. Highway 31. And at Old Alabama Town history village in Montgomery’s restored downtown district, learn how folks lived, worked, and played in the “Heart of Dixie” at the turn of the 20th century.
In Mobile Bay, along Alabama’s southern Gulf Coast, take a leisurely tour of the USS Alabama & USS Drum Battleship Memorial Park. Military seagoing vessels and aircraft, dating from World War II to Operation Desert Storm, are on display. You’ll see the massive USS Alabama battleship, USS Drum submarine, bombers, fighters and a Blackbird spyplane. There’s even a flight simulator ride for visitors who want to become part of the action and a snack bar for hungry campers.
When you visit Kentucky, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. Do heart-stopping horse races, sleek sports cars, railway rides, bluegrass banjos, and toe-tappin’ melodies sound like fun? You betcha’!
North central Kentucky is horse country, and there’s no better way to gain an overview of the region than by touring the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington near U.S. Highway 60. It’s a working farm with more than 50 resident breeds of horses plus a theme park showcasing the long-standing bond between horses and people. There are pony and carriage rides, guided trail adventures, historical exhibits, a horse-drawn trolley tour, equestrian shows, and world-class sporting events. Visits to the legendary Churchill Downs racetrack and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, west of Lexington and off The Dixie Highway 60/31W, afford an insider’s perspective of America’s most celebrated horse race. From Lexington, take the Combs Mountain Parkway into eastern Kentucky.
In this mountainous, picturesque region, the folks at Mountain HomePlace, near Paintsville, re-create daily life living on an 1860’s Appalachian farmstead. With mountain music accompanying activities and a mule, sheep, and pigs standing by, costumed guides demonstrate traditional farm chores at this living history center. Don’t forget to buy an old-time stick slingshot or a cake of homemade lye soap before you heading back to the 21st Century.
Country, Bluegrass and American Folk music fans already know that Renfro Valley’s Entertainment Center on U.S. Highway 25 presents top musicians in concert. We’re talking about shining stars like Loretta Lynn, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Mickey Gilley. Renfro Valley’s restaurants and RV campsites are fine and dandy, too.
You can also catch expertly performed comedies, dramas, and Broadway musicals at the 40-year-old Jenny Wiley Outdoor Theater in Prestonburg. Paramount Arts Center in the restored 1930 Paramount Theatre in Ashland (near U.S. Highways 23 and 60) offers all kinds of fabulous entertainment, from symphonies and ballets to Beatles tributes and soul music concerts.
Point your RV out of the mountain region, west into south central Kentucky, along the Daniel Boone Parkway and the Cumberland Parkway.
The “cave country” of south central Kentucky is home of the National Corvette Museum and Corvette Plant, both in Bowling Green. The museum exhibits the cream of the Corvette crop, including classic antiques and some unique designs that never reached the assembly line. Afterwards, head over to the world’s one-and-only Corvette production plant to discover the unique process for building the quintessential American speedster.
The Bluegrass State’s coal mining connection is highlighted at two regional locales – the Blue Heron Mining Community exhibit and the Koger Barthell Camp, a restored mining center with company store and schoolhouse dating back to the early 1900’s. Both mining camps are located in Stearns, a scheduled stop on the 13-mile-long Big South Fork Scenic Railway ride. Follow the William H. Natchez Parkway from Bowling to Owensboro and into the western country.
Western Kentucky, a land of fabulous lakes, is also home of artist John James Audubon’s Museum and Nature Center. Located in Henderson, the Audubon Center offers a fine display of oil paintings, watercolors, and engravings, many of which Audubon completed while he lived in Kentucky. Nearby in Paducah off historic U.S. Highway 60, the “world’s largest” Museum of the American Quilter’s Society exhibits more than 100 hand-crafted quilts.
The International Bluegrass Music Museum is a top-rated western Kentucky attraction that’s noted for banjos and the uplifting lilt of Bluegrass tunes. Situated off Highway 60 in Owensboro, the museum chronicles the 1930’s-era emergence of Bluegrass, a style of country music that boasts a distinctive Kentucky flair.
Tennessee offers something special and exciting for everyone. It’s the home of Elvis Presley and the center of production of the cultured pearl industry in the U.S. The “Volunteer State” houses country music’s historic headquarters, Dolly Parton’s signature style of Smoky Mountain magic, and one of NASCAR’s most popular speedways.
Start your tour of the state in the western Tennessee. Memphis is the site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland. No other place affords a better insight into Elvis’ private life and musical career than his home at Graceland. The official tour takes guests into several rooms of Elvis’ mansion, as well as the trophy building which houses his vast collection of awards and gold records. You’ll also see an assortment of stage costumes, jewelry, photographs, and the Meditation Garden where Elvis and other Presley family members are buried.
Another Memphis institution is the A. Schwab Dry Goods Store, a multi-purpose store operated by three generations of the same family since 1876. Classics such as derby hats, bow ties, spats, and tambourines are on the shelves at the oldest family-owned general store in the region.
Near the town of Camden, off Hwy. 70, the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm tells the fascinating story of the years-long process of culturing pearls inside mussel shells in the freshwaters of Camden’s Kentucky Lake. Guests can watch a descriptive video about pearl aquaculture, take a guided tour (by reservation only), browse through the farm’s museum, and visit a jewelry showroom where finished pieces showcasing Tennessee’s official state gem – the freshwater pearl - are sold. There’s even a catered BBQ luncheon available at the end of the tour.
In middle Tennessee’s music country, the nationally acclaimed Ryman Auditorium is in Nashville, off Hwy. 70 South. Constructed as a place of worship before the turn of the century, the “Mother Church of Country Music” was the home base of the Grand Ole Opry until the 70’s and is now a
designated National Historic Landmark. Top-name musical acts are on Ryman’s concert line-up, and guided tours of the auditorium’s museum and backstage areas are offered.
Nashville’s landmark Country Music Hall of Fame first opened in 1967, and today it qualifies as the world’s largest popular music museum. Noteworthy instruments and costumes, videos, interactive exhibits, and fabulous live performances are all part of a visit to the Hall of Fame.
Also in Nashville, Purity Dairy is on the creamy, cool side of Music City’s action. Purity’s 79-year-old ice cream outlet teaches guests about ice cream production and packaging, and offers tasty samples of the company’s premium hand-packed flavors. Moose Tracks, White Chocolate Raspberry, and Nutty Buddy are just three of many delights. If you like ice cream, don’t miss the chance to pop into Purity Dairy.
Over in eastern Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region in Knoxville near US-70, candy and shopping enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the gourmet confections, galleries, stores, and Victorian homes at the site of the South’s Finest Chocolate Factory, a company originally established back in 1889. While in Knoxville, take in a concert, evening of ballet or theater production at the historic Tennessee Theater. It’s a recently renovated 1928 movie palace that’s emerged as a center for the city’s performing arts.
Southeast of Knoxville in Pigeon Forge, off US-441, Dollywood theme park has wowed visitors for 20 years with thrill rides like the Thunderhead coaster, authentic Craftman’s Valley exhibits, top-notch entertainment, and the down-home appeal of life and times in the Smoky Mountains.
Located near the border with Virginia, Bristol delights racing buffs who flock to Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway, the wildly popular motorsports complex that hosted its first NASCAR contest more than 45 years ago. RVers, start your engines!
North Carolina offers travelers the heritage of the Cherokee people, vintage estates, world-class pottery, heart-thumping drama, and dreamy gardens. Lots of vehicles to see, too, from World War II battleships, trolleys, and old-fashioned railways to puttering golf carts and sleek racing cars. Why not add your RV to the mix? It’s a great time to experience NC!
Western North Carolina’s mountains provide the setting for the Cherokee people’s Oconaluftee Indian Village and Living History Museum. The village is located in the town of Cherokee, off US-441. Visitors see recreated period homes and a council house, as costumed guides offer insights into the Cherokee lifestyle during the mid-1700’s. At the nearby Qualla Arts and Crafts Co-op, you can purchase authentic pottery, baskets, and wood carvings, hand-crafted by the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad may be boarded in Dillsboro or Bryson City for a memorable round-trip ride through the tunnels, river gorges, and valleys of the Smokies.
In Asheville’s Blue Ridge Mountains, off I-26, tour the largest home in America, George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. The 250-room mansion, furnished with exquisite antiques, is surrounded by gift shops, four restaurants, winery, and 100-year-old gardens. At the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Folk Art Center in Asheville, the Southern Highland Craft Guild hosts exhibits, demonstrations, and a store that’s been selling homespun Appalachian crafts for more than a century.
From Asheville take Hwy. 64/74 and move into central North Carolina. Paramount’s Carowinds, near Charlotte, has provided full-scale family entertainment since the early 70’s. From a whole host of thrill rides to water park adventures to musical concerts, Carowinds continues to delight visitors of all ages.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte is accessible from State Highway 29 or 49. Opened in 1959, the action-packed speedway hosts several major NASCAR racing events each year. Guided tours are presented through the onsite Nextel Cup Gift Shop and comfortable, full hook-up campsites are rented at the adjacent Fleetwood RV Racing Camping Resort.
Central North Carolina has much to offer to serious craftsmen. Old Salem in Winston-Salem, off Hwy 52, was established in the mid-1700’s as a community for craftsmen. Today the site features historic gardens and more than 100 restored and furnished buildings from that era, including homes, North Carolina’s first African-American church, and a fascinating toy museum.
The town of Seagrove, off U.S. Highway 220, started as a haven for potters in the late 18th century and remains so to this day. Nearly 100 area potters use high-quality local clay to produce a wonderful variety of pieces, from everyday cups and plates to museum-quality works of art. And they’re happy to demonstrate their time-honored skills to onlookers who come to learn about the area’s unique artistic heritage.
For active travelers who’d like to play a few rounds of great golf, Pinehurst Resort is both green and grand. Pinehurst’s first golf course was constructed at the turn of the last century, and the resort (located in the town of the same name) is now regarded as one of the top golfing destinations worldwide.
Eastern North Carolina encompasses the coastal section of the “Tar Heel State.” If you’re traveling down Hwy. 17, pull over when you get to the town of Wilmington. We recommend a visit to the World War II battleship North Carolina, where you can take a self-guided tour of the ship’s nine decks. You’ll also learn the record of this great vessel, and her crew of over 2,300 men, which fought in all the major naval battles of the Pacific theater.
In New Bern, take the city’s Historic Trolley Tour to catch up on almost 300 years of history in North Carolina’s second oldest town. And enjoy an icy soft drink at the Birthplace of Pepsi Cola Store, the exact location where the Pepsi formula was first invented in 1898. The original soda fountain has been re-created for your nostalgic enjoyment.
Beaufort Historic Site on U.S. Highway 70 effectively takes you back in time to 1722 when the town was initially established. Tour guides in period attire liven up tours on the old-fashioned British double-decker buses with engaging tales about pirates, spies, jailbirds, and skilled artisans that colored Beaufort’s past and shaped its present.
In Manteo, on the Outer Banks’ U.S. Highway 64, the Elizabethan Gardens serve as a memorial to 16th century English colonists who dared to brave the perils of the New World. If you like the looks and scents of blossoms such as jasmine, magnolias, daffodils, tulips, and pansies, the Elizabethan Gardens is an all-season botanic treasure that you shouldn’t miss. Next to the gardens at the circa 1937 Waterside Theater, “The Lost Colony” has been running longer than any other outdoor drama in the country. The expertly performed musical production recounts a riveting story of 117 courageous souls who founded the first British colony in America on Roanoke Island in 1587, then disappeared without explanation, never to be found again.
There’s no doubt about it. South Carolina is so full of fun that you’ll have a tough time choosing what to see first. Will it be gardens or grist mills, grand opera singers or Catawba’s celebrated potters? How about racehorses or 50’s-style drive-in movies? In South Carolina, the choices are many, and they’re all for you.
The northern region of “The Palmetto State” gives green-thumbers something to think about in the form of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, located on Clemson University’s campus in the town of the same name. The garden, whose beginnings date back to the 1950’s, is readily accessible from Highway 76. The 295-acre green space includes a wildflower meadow, camellias, butterflies, nature trails, and meandering streams. And the grounds contain a 1700’s house, an 1800’s cabin, a Discovery Center with art galleries, and a geology museum.
Northwest of Clemson, on Hwy 178 is the town of Pickens. You can take a tour and stock you rig’s galley with stone ground cornmeal and grits at Hagwood Mill, a working water-powered gristmill right out of the 1800’s. Once a month, the Hagwood staff presents corn-grinding demonstrations designed to give visitors a realistic look at the rigors of farm life in times gone by.
In 1865, Jefferson Davis and his war council formally dismissed the Confederate Armies at the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville off U.S. Highway 72, south of Clemson. It’s ironic, considering that, years earlier, the prominent 1830’s estate served as the launchpad for the Confederacy cause. Antique furnishings and accessories, including those used by high-ranking members of the Confederacy, remain at the Greek Revival-style house today.
You’ll see 50 fine examples of antebellum buildings and numerous examples of Victorian and classical architecture in a pleasant setting of parks and gardens at Cheraw Historic District and Town Green in Cheraw off U.S. 52.
From Abbeville, drive eastward, exploring the central and southern part of South Carolina, until you come upon the town of Newberry and the restored Newberry Opera House. The facility hosts all sorts of musical programs, ranging from slick Broadway productions, to restrained classical performances, to knee-slappin’ country concerts. The 1881-era Opera House may be reached from Interstate 26 or Hwys 72 and 76 from Abbeville, via Clinton.
The Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Hopeland Gardens in Aiken can be reached from Columbia on Hwy. 1. Opened nearly three decades ago in 1977, the Hall honors Aiken’s trainers, jockeys, and polo players as well as the many horses that trained there and later gained national prominence. The Gardens’ Carriage House encompasses the Hall of Fame where trophies, photos, and silks of honored horses are displayed. Art lovers should be sure to take a peak at the paintings in the equine-themed gallery on the grounds.
Do you ever have trouble keeping track of the time? That’s a challenge that never baffles the renowned Vertical Sundial at the Barnwell County Courthouse Circle off U.S. Highway 278. South of Aiken, the sundial has consistently displayed accurate time for an amazing 150 years! Situated just off U.S. Highway 278 in downtown Barnwell, it’s said to be the last such sundial left in America.
Hwy 301 whisks you from Barnwell to Santee. The Lone Star Barbecue & Mercantile is set in a restored century-old country store in Santee a few miles northwest of Interstate 95. Fortunately, in addition to dishing up tasty old-fashioned meals, many other appealing aspects of the original old mercantile grace the Lone Star of 2006. Antique showcases, counters, and vintage photos cozy up the interior of this popular buffet-style restaurant.
Consider a detour to Monetta (north of Interstate 20 up SC Route 39 on U.S. 1), “Big Mo” is the nickname of the town’s recently revamped 50’s-era drive-in movie theatre. The entire drive-in experience at the Mo inspires considerable nostalgia in those of us who remember the good old days, from the nightly opening rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to butter-slathered popcorn and sizzling hot dogs at the snack bar. There are even double features for hard-core drive-in buffs who just don’t want their movie date under the stars (in the car or RV) to end.
Hwy. 17 is a good departure point for visits to cities in the southern coastal region of South Carolina. Make Charleston your headquarters and start with a visit to Fort Sumter National Monument, the famous site where the Civil War broke out in April, 1861. A powerful symbol to both the North and South during the “War Between the States,” the fort still stands in Charleston Harbor, now accessible only by tour boat. Passenger ferries depart from two convenient locations, the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Charleston and Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum in nearby Mount Pleasant, also off Highway 17.
South of Charleston, the Serpentarium is on Edisto Island close to U.S. Highway 17. Brothers Ted and Hayward Champ spent more than 50 years hunting for snakes and other creepy crawlers before they were able to formally display their hand-gathered reptile collection at the current Serpentarium. The Champs’ facility includes indoor glass enclosures plus complex outdoor habitats with trees, streams, foliage, fallen logs, and such that provide resident reptiles with shelters resembling their original homes in the wild.
North of Charleston, the Harborwalk is in historic downtown Georgetown, where you can take a scenic stroll on the old dockyard along the waterfront. The docks have been renovated as antique stores, restaurants, and a nice assortment of seaside shops. Stop for a delicious meal of just-caught seafood and if you’d like to venture out on the water, you can board a sightseeing cruise on one of the tall ships moored at Georgetown.
If Myrtle Beach, at the intersection of Hwys. 501 and 17, happens to be along your route you might want to stop and see what you’re missing.
Myrtle Beach’s Pavilion Amusement Park, also on Highway 17, is another oceanfront attraction that’s worth investigating. With it’s wild-riding rollercoaster, fascinating circa 1900 European pipe organ, and splendid antique carousel, the 11-acre amusement park is tops for vintage-style family entertainment. For an old-fashioned ice cream delight, try Kirk’s 1890’s Ice Cream Parlor and its the house favorite, a giant-sized banana split.
Along the Grand Strand, more than 1,700 full-service restaurants are waiting to serve you. The choices are plentiful, but naturally they're famous for fabulous, fresh seafood, and they serve it up every way there is under the sun. Try traditional Calabash- or Murrells Inlet-style seafood, they’re local favorites.
The Grand Strand is also well stocked with nightclubs, discos, sports bars, beach clubs, and other hot spots. After spending too many days behind the wheel, do you feel like shaking “your groove thang”? The area has a wealth of dance clubs, where you can shag, disco dance, swing, two-step, or do whatever moves you and your partner.