Southern Hospitality on Four Wheels: Charming Road Trips in America’s Southeast

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Anna Ruby Falls in Georgia

Want to explore America’s Southeast in 2022? Are you interested in urban adventures? Then check out Charleston, Nashville and Atlanta. More of an outdoorsy kinda family? Then head to the Great Smoky Mountains! If you’re all about the beach, then you won’t go wrong in North Carolina or Florida. You’ll find all of that and more with this SheBuysTravel’s ultimate Southeast USA road trip guide.

Read More: 12 Iconic Road Trips in the USA to Add to Your Family’s Bucket List This Year

Florida Road Trip Ideas

petting zoo animals in Sebastian florida
LaPorte Farms in Sebastian, Florida, doesn’t charge admission, but we suggest offering a donation when visiting. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Sebastian and Fort Pierce

Sebastian and Fort Pierce offer spacious beaches, endless water activities and affordable prices. These are great places to enjoy the sand, surf and family-friendly attractions. Plus, there are ecotourism activities galore. A Florida road trip between these towns and a few nearby can easily fill a week or more. Learn about why this area is called The Treasure Coast at Mel Fisher’s Treasures Museum. Next, fish or kayak at Sebastian Inlet State Park. Visit the first-ever National Refuge (great for birdwatching) at Pelican Island, and see, touch, admire animals of all kinds at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian.

A little further south, Fort Pierce offers beautiful waterfront dining, a weekend farmer’s market with live music and great breweries. Visit Natalie’s Juice Company, the National Navy SEAL Museum, and see the incredible tropical bonsai at Heathcote Botanical Gardens. No visit to Fort Pierce should miss the delicious shrimp options from 12A Buoy or Mahi Tacos. Finish the evening with Key Lime Pie from Cobb’s Landing.

Northwest Florida

Northwest Florida is a treasure trove. It is easy to fill a week-long road trip exploring the small towns between DeFuniak Springs and Marianna on I-10.

There is the Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs. That’s the winter outpost of New York’s famous multi-week Chautauqua Assembly that explores history, health, art and current events. There’s also entertainment from performers across the country and throughout the world.

Or meet the wolves at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley. On a hot day, head to Florida State Caverns in Marianna, where’s it’s always 67 degrees below ground, or cool off at Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon.

Read More: Florida Resorts that are Worth the Splurge

Georgia Road Trip Ideas

Hiawassee splash island
Splash Island in Hiawassee is a real crowd pleaser. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

North Georgia Mountains

The North Georgia mountains are an exceptional place to visit, with plenty of room to get outdoors and not be shoulder-deep in a queue waiting for your turn at an attraction. The towns of Young Harris and Hiawassee offer plentiful waterfalls, majestic mountain views and hikes, golf and a gorgeous place for horseback riding at Brasstown Stables. The best manmade whitewater rafting can be found in Columbus on the Alabama border.

Consider a stay at the Brasstown Valley Resort for a rustic luxury getaway. The rocking chair-lined deck overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains is a great way to destress and take in nature. Kids will love Hiawassee’s Splash Island at Ridge’s Resort. It has a huge outdoor inflatable wonderland with slides, swings and a bouncing platform. Adults can enjoy wine tasting at one of the stops on the Georgia Wine Highway, such as Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris.

Read More: 20+ Gorgeous Georgia Waterfalls and Nature Hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains expand 550 miles across multiple southern states including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Photo Credit: “Blue Ridge Mountains” by steviep187 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Blue Ridge, Georgia

Another adorable town for a fun road trip in the Southeast USA is Blue Ridge, dubbed Georgia’s premier mountain town. Take a family-friendly train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, munch on the best fried apple and peach pies you’ve ever tasted at Mercier Orchards and enjoy local shopping and dining in the historic downtown.

Blue Ridge is also the Trout Fishing Capital of America, so drop a line and see if the fish are biting. These Georgia mountain towns are two hours from Chattanooga (which has an incredible aquarium), Asheville (for the grand Biltmore Estate) and Atlanta (for visiting the state capital city).

You can download this audio tour for the drive.

Read More: 11 Great Georgia Road Trips that Start in Atlanta

Mississippi Road Trip Ideas

bottlenose dolphin mississippi aquarium
Cute bottlenose dolphin at the Mississippi Aquarium. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Biloxi

Coastal Mississippi is a goldmine of treasures, with a handful of small towns to visit. Explore them all on your Southeast USA road trip! In Biloxi, the most well-known city, stay at a world-class casino (The Beau Rivage or Hard Rock) and have a front-row view of the serene Gulf Coast. You may also want to consider staying at Margaritaville, a hotel resort complex with killer pools and fun family-friendly attractions.

Take the kids to Biloxi’s Maritime Seafood and Industry Museum to learn about shrimping, climb up the Biloxi Lighthouse and take a fun and educational boat ride to Ship Island. Or enjoy the amazing aquariums, otters and touch tanks at the new Mississippi Aquarium in nearby Gulfport. There are 62 miles of shoreline to experience in Biloxi alone.

Read More: How to Plan an Epic Family Road Trip in 5 Easy Steps 

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

In Ocean Springs, admire local artist Walter Anderson’s art at the museum, visit gorgeous pottery shops and stay at The Roost, a charming boutique hotel as you wander the Spanish moss-lined streets. You may also want to explore the towns of Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula, which hold gems of their own. Enjoy boutique shopping, a Frida Fest (a tribute to artist Frida Kahlo), kayaking adventures, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and exceptional birding opportunities.

Prefer to soak up some history on your road trip? Vicksburg is worth a stop to learn about the Civil War siege that lasted 47 days…plus the food’s excellent!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider renting an RV for your next family road trip. RV travel is the easiest and most affordable way to road trip with kids.

Alabama Road Trip Ideas

Alabama Panhandle

SheBuysTravel road trip favorites in Alabama include a visit to the Panhandle region, with its popular beaches and the annual Flora-Bama mullet toss. That’s when contestants line up on the Florida side of the Florida-Alabama state line and throw dead mullet fish toward Alabama to see who can throw a fish the farthest. Really, it’s a reason for a beach party at the Flora-Bama beach bar. (And it raises money for local charities.)

Montgomery, Alabama

Alabama state capitol in Montgomery
The lovely Alabama State Capitol building is worth a stop in Montgomery. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

The civil-rights-steeped town of Montgomery, Alabama, is a hub of history. The Alabama state capital is home to plenty of great food and fun kid-friendly free things to do.

The Mooseum is a favorite. The cattle-themed museum has displays showing what products include cattle by-products (crayons!?!), a walk through the history of cattle ranching and a kid-friendly room complete with dress-up clothes.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - visit the Carnival Museum
These “trains” are individually designed and can cost as much at $45,000 to make. See them at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Mobile, Alabama

In the heady years leading up to the Civil War, this port city was known as the Paris of the South. That was in the 1800s, when Mobile was the 10th wealthiest city in the United States, thanks to the port and the cotton trade.

Today, it is a city coming back from much less heady times. The downtown area is reviving, the foodie scene is bursting with flavor and there are lots of ways to enjoy the water, from Duck boat rides to kayaks. This is a town that still feels Southern, showcasing that famous Southern hospitality, food and traditions.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider buying this 3-day pass to save time and money on your visit to Mobile.

Louisiana Road Trip Ideas

cafe du monde beignets in new orleans, a must see stop on a southeast us road trip.
Powdery beignets and chicory coffee are a must when visiting New Orleans. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

The Big Easy

New Orleans is the big draw in this state and Bourbon Street is the big draw in New Orleans. But Bourbon Street is not all that kid friendly, so if you’re traveling with kids, look beyond Bourbon Street, where you will find plenty of family-friendly fun along with some of the best food in the country. The city is steeped in history, which is on display in its cemeteries, tours of the old houses and even a not-too-spooky ghost tour.

And, of course, you need to eat a beignet at Cafe DuMonde. While it’s arguable whether the beignets here are the best, it is the tourist-approved spot to stop and spend some time people watching. And the kids will ask for more of those powdered-sugar-coated pieces of fried dough.

Another great Louisiana destination is Natchitoches, the oldest city in Louisiana made famous in the Julia Roberts film Steel Magnolias.

North Carolina Road Trip Ideas

Murphy and Fire Creek Falls, North Carolina

In the Blue Ridge Mountains across from the Georgia state line, is the town of Murphy. It offers antique shops, cute eateries, goat and alpaca farms, coffee shops and a great town square. Fire Creek Falls is an excellent place for outdoor adventure. Or if staying indoors is on your agenda, you can make unique jewelry at Jumping Mouse Bead.

Admission is free to Fields of the Wood, a Bible-themed park that shares religious stories through marble and stone outdoor exhibits. Murphy is close enough to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to make a road trip to both destinations.

tobacco farm life museum
Tools of the trade for tobacco farming. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Johnston County, North Carolina

Across North Carolina on the East Coast, Johnston County is filled with adorable small towns (Smithfield, Clayton, Benson and Selma), making this one of the best road trips in the Southeast USA. Learn about farm life at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum (lots of cool educational offerings here), eat delicious NC BBQ and shop at the Carolina Premium Outlets.

The Ava Gardner Museum is the area’s claim to fame, and worth a visit. You may have to explain to your kids who she is, but chances are they will enjoy the movie that showcases Ava’s life and the Hollywood-esque goodies on display. Check out the family-friendly local breweries, such as Double Barley for craft beer, non-alcoholic sodas, yummy flatbreads, live music and a wealth of games and puzzles to enjoy.

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Fayetteville offers excellent local boutiques, cool art and sculptures in the historic downtown. And great museums to wander around. The Airborne and Special Ops Museum is one of the best, with vivid displays, interactive showcases and a Pritzker Simulator. You also won’t want to miss the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum, complete with Airborne Airpark, where almost all aircraft paratroopers have jumped since WWII.

Lake Lure NC
Lake Lure, NC. Photo credit: James Castle, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Lure, North Carolina

No one puts Lake Lure in a corner. This is the town where Dirty Dancing was filmed. In August, there is even a Dirty Dancing festival where you can compete with your own version of the famous lake lift.

But there is much more than dancing at this lake. There’s a majestic mountain backdrop, cool waters and fresh air, pontoon boat sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, water slides and a water park.

Read More: Best Resorts in North Carolina

South Carolina Road Trip Ideas

Ferris wheel broadway at the beach myrtle beach
Take a spin on the colorful Ferris wheel at Broadway on the Beach. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A great road trip itinerary for the Southeast USA is to see family-friendly Myrtle Beach (or the surrounding less crowded towns on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast) or Charleston’s historical sites. Myrtle Beach has more commercialized things to do, including Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing and all the outrageous slingshot and thrill rides that teenagers love.

More tame options would be to stroll through Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, explore the Shops at Pawley’s Island or browse downtown Georgetown, about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is the quintessential Southern town to enjoy sweet tea, strolling downtown, magnolia blossoms and Civil War history. Visit the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the site of a horrific 2015 shooting that brought racism issues to the front burner.

barrels of candy in Mast General Store, a fun road trip stop for kids
Kids will love the candy (grownups too!) at Mast General Store. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville might be in the South, but it is hardly Southern. At least not in that laid back, sleepy sort of Southern way that is accentuated by a sweet southern drawl. Rather, it’s a vibrant metropolis filled with surprises and topped with a generous helping of southern charm.

Among the fun things to do in Greenville:

  • Marvel at the waterfall in the center of town and walk across the Liberty Bridge.
  • Ride bikes along the Swamp Rabbit Trail and look for the mice sculptures along Main Street.
  • Don’t miss a stop at the Mast General Store to shop among the candy barrels.
  • And eat one of the best burgers and milkshakes anywhere at Grill Marks. The milkshakes come in “adult” varieties, too!
  • Visit a local brewery in Greenville.

Read More: Best Family Resorts in South Carolina

Tennessee Road Trip Ideas

Dolly Parton statue at Sevierville TN courthouse
Fans of Dolly Parton will want to visit her statue in downtown Sevierville. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Tennessee’s Blue Ridge Mountain Towns

Northwest Tennessee offers fewer crowds and appealing outdoor attractions. Go hiking or mountain biking, or just sip a beer at one of the five breweries. There are music venues and a walking art trail in the Blue Ridge Mountain towns of Johnson City and Jonesborough. Spend your evenings in the stylish digs at The Carnegie Hotel. It’s a stately and sophisticated hotel that looks like it stepped out of the late 1800s.

Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway, are two other great places to consider for a Southeast USA road trip. Visit the epic Dollywood theme park. Or go discount shopping, snap some Instagram pix, hike or explore the historic sites. And eat more delicious food than you can shake a stick at.

Taylor Swift makes her presence known at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The singer has donated millions towards the museum’s education center. Photo credit: Mary Lebeau

Nashville, Tennessee

From the Johnny Cash Museum to the Grand Ole Opry to the General Jackson Showboat and SoundWaves water park, the Music City offers Southern charm to everyone. Music envelopes the streets, the culture, even the economy of the Tennessee state capitol.

Don’t miss a stop at the Goo Goo Shop. This nostalgic little store is home of the Goo Goo Cluster. Take a selfie by the iconic Goo Goo wall and watch the candies being made by hand. Then enjoy a milkshake or a cupcake at the Dessert Bar.

Consider booking a hop-on hop-off trolley tour when you arrive to get the lay of the land. And, by all means, stay at the gorgeously over-the-top Gaylord Opryland Resort.

Memphis, Tennessee

Follow the Civil Rights trail to the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel. That’s where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

If you’ve got a train lover in your family, don’t skip Chattanooga. Spend the night at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel and book an historic train ride. And ride the very steep Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain. Or go below to see an underground waterfall! If you happen to be traveling with a selfie-obsessed teen, don’t miss a stop a the Selfie Museum.

Virginia Road Trip Ideas

Massanutten resort indoor pool, one stop on a southeast us road trip
Kids will love the indoor pool at the Massanutten resort. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Shenandoah National Park

The beautiful Shenandoah National Park area is like a breath of fresh air on a cold, cloudy day. The majestic mountains are spectacular to hike through, drive through, and to photograph. Download and print a Junior Ranger book before you go for the kids to complete on the trip.

Consider staying at Massanutten Resort, a mammoth hotel with several choices of accommodations. Activities at Massanutten include an incredible water park and pools (both indoor and outdoor), an aerial course, mountain biking, escape rooms, golf and skiing. Don’t miss the farm-to-table dining options at the onsite restaurants, including delicious BBQ and chicken & waffles. Also considering just getting outdoors to watch the colors change if your trip coincides with the changing of the seasons.

General Lee, the Dukes of Hazzard car, in front of Cooter's Garage, a sight to see on a southeast us road trip
Dukes of Hazzard fan? You’ll want to visit Cooter’s Garage and see the “General Lee.” Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Stanley and Luray, Virginia

In nearby Stanley and Luray, consider renting a vacation house or cabin that can comfortably sleep large families traveling together. We’ve stayed in Shenandoah Woods in a five-bedroom/five bath cottage (Somerset). The luxury accommodations came complete with a hot tub and game room.

Or enjoy a relaxing stay at the Mimslyn Inn, an adorable pastel-colored cottage on the back of the property. There are two delicious onsite restaurants, a swimming pool, game area and hammocks. And it’s all within walking distance of nearly everything in town. Enjoy fresh-made pastries, a delicious breakfast, coffee and the best cake you’ll ever taste from Gathering Grounds Patisserie and Cafe.

Horseback riding, hiking and biking are popular attractions. But the best offering in town is visiting Luray Caverns. They are the best caves (and one of the most accessible) on the East Coast. Luray offers a brewery, winery and distillery, all in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Then, stop in Cooter’s Garage. It’s a pop culture icon from the Dukes of Hazzard TV fame, and a fun place for kids.

Melody Pittman of Mesquite, NV, is the creator and owner of Wherever I May Roam Blog, an established blog focusing on cruising (54 thus far), small towns, great food, and travel, plus syndicated on MSN. She is also a digital influencer and freelancer, writing for print and online publications. Born in West Virginia, Melody loves showcasing her beloved Mountain State. She recently published her first book, 100 Things to Do in West Virginia Before You Die, through Reedy Press. She has social channels and a podcast (100 Things WV) to accompany it. Melody and Taylor Hardy, her daughter, have hosted an annual travel conference (Southern Travelers Explore or #STE), which brings CVBS and travel writers together from around the country since 2020. Melody loves and promotes the concept of buying and shopping locally and “be better, do better.” She can find fun no matter where she travels and prefers sunsets over sunrises. Melody is an animal lover, will brake for cows, and puts family first over anything else. Being a GB (what her granddaughter calls her) is her favorite hat she wears! Never at a loss for words, Melody has never met a stranger and says that meeting amazing people from all corners of the world is the best part of her job. She also shouts out to those her age (over 50) who can juggle the ever-changing social media trends and stay relevant in today’s society.
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