Even though Florida is technically “the south,” I’d say the majority of the Sunshine State, with the exception of St. Augustine, is more of relaxed vacation lifestyle than anything else. I love my home state, and I’m certainly not knocking its charm– but there’s something so simple and romantic about the historic districts of America’s famous, old southern towns. Whether it be the 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century architecture or the rich culture, there’s a palpable energy in the cities of Savannah, Charleston, and Asheville. Kyle and I decided to embark on an ambitious, two-week southern road trip earlier this year, and it was indubitably one of my favorite trips ever taken. The best part? We didn’t need to spend an exorbitant amount of money to enjoy ourselves either. Side Note: Please refrain from judging my fashion choices, as my options were very limited. Here’s an insider’s guide to taking the ultimate southern road trip without breaking the bank– all through the lens of my iPhone:
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Caroline is the definition of charming, and there’s no shortage of things to do, see, and photograph. According to Wikipedia, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly City” in 2011, 2013, and 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, as well as “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine, so it’s a fabulous first stop for any southern road trip. I’d been two times prior, and I’d never gotten to snap a picture of Rainbow Row, so that was first priority on my list of things to do. What is Rainbow Row? Just the most adorable row of pastel-colored homes in all of the south. How do you get there? Type the destination in Google or Apple maps, and they’ll take you straight there.
As we wandered around, we noticed a gorgeous old building called the Dock Street Theater, and due to the hospitable nature of everyone in the entire city of Charleston (see note above about being dubbed “America’s Most Friendly City”), a Dock Street board member offered to give us our own private tour in exchange for us noncommittally committing to a show that same evening. Turns out that the original Dock Street Theatre was probably demolished by the Great Fire of 1740, which destroyed many of the buildings in Charleston’s French Quarter, and it reopened for the third time in 2010 after a three-year, $19 million dollar renovation by the City of Charleston. After an array of truly mind-blowing historical facts, we were offered a crazy good deal on some bomb balcony seats, and we ended up seeing their rendition of the hilarious mystery show Shear Madness on the Charleston Stage.
Founded in 1670 as Charles Town in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its new (and current) name in 1783. Hence, it’s nowhere near short of historic fun facts, stunning architecture, and unique art at every turn.
We had about three hours before our show at the Dock Street Theatre started, so we sat down at The Oyster House for some of Charleston’s finest oysters– and champagne, of course.
Since we had time to kill (before the play, after the play, and the next day before leaving), we headed to Kaminsky’s upon the recommendation of our server at The Oyster House. All my photos came out blurry– thanks, Champagne— but both Kyle and I personally promise that you won’t find a better dessert spot in the entire city of Charleston.
And if you’re looking for a place to end the night, I highly recommend stopping by Tommy Condon’s for live bluegrass music, potato skin nachos, and the friendliest drunken crowd you’ll ever meet.
Asheville, North Carolina
I should probably disclose that I have two older brothers, and I’m a lot more outdoorsy than I seem. Kyle and I were actually set up by two friends during a camping trip, so we thought it’d be fun to save some money and rehash old memories simultaneously by camping with Campfire Lodgings in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains during our time in Asheville.
If you’re in Asheville and you don’t spend sufficient time outdoors, you’re doing yourself and your travel mates an egregious disservice. It’s beautiful. Kyle’s aunt and uncle live in Asheville, so upon their recommendation, we headed to DuPont State Recreational Forest for one of the most incredible scenic hikes of my life so far. The forest is open to equestrians, bikers, hikers, hunters, and sight-seers, and it has five mountain lakes with four major waterfalls. I wanted to see the prettiest waterfalls (obviously), so we headed to Bridal Veil Falls, where scenes from The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans were shot, and then circled back to High Falls, which is the tallest of the Little River falls cascading down 120 feet of solid granite.
We also spent some time exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is even more beautiful in person than in professional photos. Kyle’s aunt and uncle took us on two stunning hikes, one to picturesque Beacon Heights and one to Linville Falls.
After two days of honest camping, we wanted to indulge in the city a bit, so we headed to downtown Asheville to see the Asheville River Arts District and taste test some of their most popular cafes and restaurants, like Over Easy Cafe– who makes the most delicious lavender french toast you’ll ever taste.
Even if you don’t know, like, or enjoy art, you’ll probably want to at least stop by any one of the 20+ art galleries, studios, and museums located within a half-mile radius of the city’s center. Also, the River Arts District, which is a vast array of artists and working studios in twenty-two former factories and historical buildings along the French Broad River, is just miles away and features artwork by some of the best modern artists, like my personal favorite– Jonas Gerard.
Although Kyle would’ve easily skipped it, I refused to leave Asheville and continue the southern road trip without seeing the historic Biltmore House and Gardens in person. It was built in 1985 after six years of construction and was opened to the public in 1930 as a response to requests to increase area tourism during the Depression, as well as to generate income to preserve the estate. Due to inopportune timing, we missed the blooming of the famous Azalea gardens but got to see a variety of stunning wedding exhibits instead.
We also didn’t pass up the opportunity for a free wine and premium Champagne tasting at the Biltmore Winery either.
Recommended Pit Stop:
South of the Border (Hamer, SC)
This looks, sounds, and pretty much is a joke, but if you’re taking an extended southern road trip and you have even three or four hours to spare, I recommend taking a peek at South of the Border. It’s a place like no other. It all started in 1949 when Mr. Alan Schafer built a simple 18 x 36 foot beer stand known as South of the Border Beer Depot. It’s now an entire town with its own exit on i95 and a 97-foot state of a Mexican man and official SOB mascot named Pedro. One may ask, “How did Pedro come about?” Well, it’s just as inappropriate as it sounds. According to their website, Alan Schafer went to Mexico to establish import connections and met two young men, who he then helped get admitted to the United States. These men went to work at the motel office as bellboys for several years, and people started calling them Pedro and Pancho– and eventually just Pedro. Hence, the legend of Pedro was born in all its 97-foot glory.
The town features its own Reptile Lagoon, Pedroland Park carnival, Sombrero Observation Tower, themed shops (yes, plural), 24-hour bar, which bears a striking resemblance to a bowling alley without any lanes, and six restaurants, including the family-style Sombrero Restaurant. Who could ask for anything more?
And after surviving an evening of delirious debauchery at South of the Border, we felt we deserved Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Treat yo’ self.
Let’s address the big elephant in the room— this post is pathetically belated, and I’ll finally admit that our southern road trip was taken in March (not summer)– right around St. Patrick’s Day. Since Savannah is known for having one of the largest St. Paddy’s Day celebrations in the country (second only to Boston), Kyle and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to experience the fun first hand– so we shacked up with Kyle’s sister, her husband, and their two precious pups for one of the most fun holiday weekends ever.
The best place for food in the midst of gluttonous day drinking? Treylor Park. If you go, order the Nachos Grande (think deconstructed Chic-Fil-A on a single plate) and PB&J Chicken Wings, which taste heavenly despite your valid concerns. You won’t regret a thing.
Have I mentioned how romantic the city is? Savannah is by no means only for lovers, but if you’ve got a lover, I recommend stopping by Savannah on your southern road trip. If you’re single, worry not; Savannah has one of the most lively nightlife scenes in the country, and you’re going to have a blast with all your girlfriends and/or bros.
From ghost tours to art galleries, there are dozens of worthy things to do in the city of Savannah. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more unique, try a mead tasting at the Savannah Bee Company instead. It’s known as “honey wine,” and it’s pretty dang tasty. Although we unfortunately didn’t have time to partake, they also host honey tastings, too.
So that concludes my travel diaries of the ultimate southern road trip, which easily ranks as one of my favorite vacations ever taken. Kyle and I are actually days away from embarking on yet another lengthy road trip from Tampa to Charleston to Maine to Rhode Island to who knows where, so keep an eye out here for many of our upcoming travel adventures. As of tomorrow, I’m packing up my (reasonably new) apartment and moving away from home with literally no plan of settling down in sight– so this should be fun. Have an awesome week, y’all!