Road Tripping through the South
The U.S. South is home to delicious barbecue, incredible wildlife and outstanding hospitality.
After a cheery greeting in Little Rock, Arkansas surrounded by the mid-August heat, our crew headed toward the Alamo Rent-A-Car to grab our brand new Ford Explorer to get us on the road in style. Our guest, Camille, acclaimed French Travel Blogger and adventurista, was in from a long flight from Nice, France. After checking in at our hotel, we cleaned up for dinner at a steakhouse downtown called Sonny’s. The atmosphere was casual, cool and dark — a perfect reprieve from the evening heat. We ordered lobster tail and prime rib, and toasted a delicious cabernet sauvignon to the fantastic trip ahead of us. Mingling with the crowd at the local piano bar for after-dinner drinks and dancing capped off the first evening.
The next day we headed out on a short jaunt down the riverfront boardwalk toward the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, where we touched up on the USA’s 42nd president’s backstory and caught an insider view of the presidential life. A stroll through the SOMA district (south of Main Street) led us to the “Green Corner” and Loblolly Ice Cream, where we sampled the finest ice cream made locally from real ingredients and lots of love. After our decadent indulgence it was time to hit the road to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Cruising southeast, we came upon the lush green scenery of the Ouachita Mountains, and the little town of Hot Springs. Situated amongst several natural and mineral-rich hot springs, the town is known for its heritage bathhouses, many of which are still in operation. A magic show downtown and a classic southern-style seafood dinner set us up for a good night’s sleep at the historical Arlington Hotel. We started the next morning with a special mineral spa treatment at the Buckstaff Bath House, complete with scrub down and massage. A classic Southern lunch of pulled pork po’boy sandwiches, ribs, and sweet tea at Stubby’s got us energized for a hike up to the Mountain Tower, which stands a couple thousand feet above the town, providing expansive views of the Ouachita Mountains. We decided it would be best to beat the afternoon heat so we headed out to one of many marinas on nearby Lake Hamilton and took out a pontoon boat for some sunset high-speed tubing! After drying off, we hit the road again, this time back westward over the Mississippi River.
Clarksdale, Mississippi is a small town built largely on the numerous juke joints — or blues houses — that have cultivated the Southern blues sound for decades. Oxford, Mississippi was the next stop down the road, home to the famous University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss, William Faulkner and an amazing soul food scene. Our afternoon activities included a tour of the university’s historic campus and a step back in time at Rowan Oak, the house where Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner and his family lived for over 40 years. Then we had a delicious lunch at Ajax Diner before hitting the road toward the birthplace of the legendary Elvis Presley, Tupelo, Mississippi.
Another beautiful day was upon us as we explored Tupelo with a stop at Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis Presley purchased his very first guitar! We had many miles to cover so hit the road before noon, driving further south through Selma, Alabama, where the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights Marches took place in 1965, depicted in the lauded film Selma. From there we cruised to the Gulf Coast and checked into the Grand Marriott in Point Clear, Alabama. A late but incredible seafood cornucopia was our dinner and we went to bed exhausted but ready for some coastal activities.
We made our first stop of the day at the USS Alabama Battleship to tour its labyrinth of steel and weaponry, an impressive sight to say the least. For lunch, we split some crab legs and then headed to Five Rivers Delta for a swamp tour, where we were thrilled to see alligators, Great Blue Herons and lotus flowers. A quick drive East toward Orange Beach, Alabama got us to town in time to take out a couple of jet skis into the bay for a nice high-speed cool off. Dinner was at the Gulf Restaurant, an outdoor beach haven with a cabana-style ambiance and amazing food.
The following morning we were waist deep in double-kayaks paddling down the Bon Secour River, gliding silently under jungle-like foliage and taking in the wildlife. Before we knew it we were out of the kayaks, into the car and across the state line into Pensacola, Florida for a sunset paddle boarding session. Our next day was spent touring the historical town of Pensacola on Segways, catching bits of history between laughing attacks from the hilariousness of our mode of transportation. A stroll down Palofax Street downtown, a museum stop and a delicious lunch at the Fish House got us on the road to Tallahassee, Florida.
We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful, vintage home in downtown “Tally,” as the locals like to call it. It was a gorgeous setting for a bed and breakfast, and the owner treated us to two amazing meals during our stay. My favorite meal of the trip was in Tally, at Cypress Restaurant, an established spot with impeccable pairings of the most inspired of Southern flavors. That evening we headed for a short drive out of town to the Bradfordville Blues Club where we finally got to see some real-deal live blues music, played in a perfectly divey setting in Western Florida. As Mr. Sip howled on the microphone, we danced to the rhythm into the night before passing out in our beds, happy and smiling.
An amazing home-cooked breakfast of shrimp and grits prepared us for a morning high up in the trees at the Tree to Tree Zip Adventures at the Tallahassee Museum, where we climbed up nearly 20 meters into the canopy and zip lined over boggy marshes through cypress forests. A tasty lunch at the Paisley Café segued into a trip to Wakulla Springs, where classic thriller Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed, for a boat tour. We encountered manatees, alligators, rare flowers and anhinga birds along the way.
Our last meal of our incredible trip started at Level 8 Bar overlooking downtown Tallahassee, and continued at the Avenue Bar and Grill where we were treated to four courses of incredible cuisine from land and sea with some sweets to top it off. On our last day we were up early and barely awake as we loaded up into an R44 helicopter for an hour long bird’s eye view of Tallahassee, covering ground from downtown and the college campus to Wakulla Springs and Eight Mile Lake; a truly incredible and exhilarating experience thanks to Tallahassee Helicopters. Touching back down to Earth felt like a metaphor for coming down from another amazing road trip, and it was time to head our separate ways. The Southern states are more than we bargained for, and we’ll soon have to heed the warm greeting of the South: “Y’all come back now!”
By Corey Warren