Most Amazing Places to Visit in the South (2024)

Whatever your travel preference, you will get to experience true Southern charm and beauty in these breathtaking locations

The South is home to many fascinating, attractive and unusual destinations. Because the Southern states occupy a significant portion of the United States, anybody planning extensive travel in the country will inevitably find themselves in the region sometime. Once you arrive, you will be in for a real treat.

The South is definitely worth the journey, no matter what takes you there: a road trip, state exploration, or a vacation to a national park. There is so much to see and do in this region, from bustling cities with deep histories to picturesque, natural settings.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina is a lovely coastal city with plenty of Southern charm, pretty architecture, and historic points of interest. There is truly something here for everyone making this city a top place to visit in the South. Also, did I mention the food?! This is a city full of great eats and I suggest taking a food tour to get a bite of all the best Southern food the city has to offer.

When you are full from eating your way through Charleston, relax on a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city or a boat cruise of the harbor. If you are into history or architecture, then check out the Fort Sumter National Monument, the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, or the Citadel.

If you are traveling with kids you might have fun at the Joe Riley Waterfront Park, the South Carolina Aquarium, or the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.

There are many great things to do in Charleston. That’s why I wrote this article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

With five miles of unspoiled beaches and sweeping paths, Hunting Island State Park provides a prehistoric camping experience amid a maritime forest of palmetto, palms and pines. It’s almost as if dinosaurs could be lurking around the tropical vegetation.

Climb to the top of the lighthouse for a great view of the island and saltwater lagoon. A hundred campsites include all the usual amenities with access to the beach.

There are many great things to do at Hunting Island State Park.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Located three miles south of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island has clear blue water and powdery white sand galore. It’s connected to mainland Alabama by a bridge, or you can take a ferry ride over. The island is a boon for history and nature. Visit the 164-acre Audubon Bid Sanctuary to see migrating birds in the spring. Head to Shell Mound Park to see beautifully preserved shell mounds dating to 1100-1500 AD and swing by Historic Fort Gaines, a 19th century bread seacoast fortification.

There are many great things to do at Dauphin Island. That’s why I wrote Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college.

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms’s alienated, hip, rule-breaking elder brother. You do not travel to Folly to flaunt your new designer beachwear or attend a social event. You go there to drink beer, eat fish tacos, and lounge in the Bert’s Market parking lot. Most importantly, you surf.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is a must for any Georgia road trip. This is a city full of Southern charm from its cobblestone streets to the Spanish moss covering the oak trees. This is the perfect city to escape to for people with any hobby or interest. History buffs will love exploring Old Fort Jackson or learning about the city’s past on an Old Savannah Trolly Tour.

If you are into architecture, you will really love checking out the Victorian district, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, or the Mercer Williams House. If you are traveling with kids and want some family-friendly fun, head over to pretty Forsyth Park or consider booking a river cruise on an iconic steamboat. No matter what you do in Savannah, you are sure to have a great time.

There are many great things to do in Savannah.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) on the northern edge of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color, all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language and it remains very strong in the region today.

Here’s a helpful resource: Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

With an incredible food scene, charming Downtown, and striking nature to discover, Greenville, South Carolina is one of the most enjoyable places to visit in the south. Start your southern getaway savoring delicious southern food in one of the countless restaurants in town.

Then, stroll around Downtown while enjoying the local charm. Once on Liberty Bridge, take in the beautiful view of Falls Park on Reedy River which has beautiful gardens and trails.

Nestled up against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of South Carolina’s Upcountry, Greenville is a heaven for nature lovers. 

Here, you’ll find a number of places to disconnect from technology and get lost in nature. 

There are many great things to do in Greenville.

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is another Southern city worth visiting. This is a popular travel destination for a number of reasons. For one, the cute city is surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy America’s favorite drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway as you twist through the mountains to find hiking trails and gorgeous scenic vistas. The nearby French Broad River gives tourists a place to go tubing, boating, or fishing.

When you are not exploring the encompassing nature, you will want to wander the cool city. Known for its art scene, Asheville is a hip city full of unique shops, outdoor markets, craft breweries, and local art galleries. Take a trolley tour to learn the history of the city or enjoy a delicious food tour. Another way to step into the past is to visit the Biltmore mansion which was built by George W. Vanderbilt in the 1890s.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

An hour north of Orlando, you’ll find this small quaint town full of antique shops and historic charm on the edge of Lake Dora. Stay at Lakeside Inn, Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel, and get your fill of delicious Florida cuisine, offered by chef Norman Van Aken at his restaurant 1921. Be sure to make a stop at the iconic Mount Dora Lighthouse, one of only three registered freshwater lighthouses in the country.

If you need ideas, check out: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Fairhope, Alabama

If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic. Stroll to see historic homes on streets lined with live oaks. Get lost in the European-inspired alleys of Fairhope’s charming, walkable downtown. Make a stop at the legendary Grand Hotel to see its well-landscaped grounds and vibrant bougainvillea. One last thing to note: Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, Louisiana

One of the state’s most legendary and off-the-beaten-path destinations is the Jungle Gardens of Avery Island which has been open to the public since 1935. Its connection to the McIlhenny Company (which created and still produces bottles of the famed Tabasco hot sauce) runs deep.

The gardens were established by Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny, former company president and the son of the inventor of the sauce. McIlhenny cultivated the land for conservation and research, eventually expanding it to more than 170 acres.

Located around a 45-minute drive south of Lafayette along Bayou Petite Anse, Jungle Gardens is an ideal spot for glimpsing wildlife. In fact, there are so many avian creatures here that one exhibit has been named Bird City and serves as a refuge and sanctuary. To see the beauty of Avery Island for yourself, you can traverse the grounds via automobile on a self-guided jaunt—just be sure to get the most out of your ticket and save time for a tour of the nearby Tabasco factory.

There are many great things to do on Avery Island.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown is a small city in Kentucky with a population of around 13,000 but that’s what makes it such a great place to visit. Many people call it one of the most beautiful small towns/cities to visit in America, so it’s worth adding to your travel list.

This city is most well known for its great bourbon, so be sure to head to one of the distilleries, like the Barton 1792 Distillery which offers tours. 

Visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to learn more about Whiskey and stop by the Old Kentucky Home for a tour of a nineteenth-century estate.

There are many great things to do in Bardstown.

Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez is a city in Mississippi, located on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. Its beautiful antebellum architecture is a huge draw for tourists, and homes and estates like the Melrose Estate or the unique, octagonal Longwood estate are very popular for visitors yearning for a glimpse at life in the pre-Civil War era.

The Natchez Trace, once a trade route, is now a beautifully scenic driving road where travelers can roll the windows down and enjoy the breeze as they look out over some of the loveliest nature in Mississippi.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers. The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands.

There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee.  From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

There are many great things to do at Okefenooke National Wildlife Refuge and Stephen F. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

I am southern—from the great state of South Carolina. They say, ‘You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.’ And it’s true.

—Ainsley Earhardt

The 25 Best Small Towns in the South 2024

The anatomy of a perfect Southern small town doesn’t come in just one idyllic shape or size, nor does it ever look or act in quite the same way. Some show their personality by way of tiny historic downtowns while others spread out their charm across sprawling parks and rivers.

Forget about size. These 25 Southern towns may be small (some are technically villages) but each one has its own distinct story to tell.

This wide-ranging list captures the wonderful diversity of the region. You’ll find towns by the seaside, in the mountains, outside of big cities, near universities, and more. Some are known for German food (Helen, Georgia; Fredericksburg, Texas), others have thriving art and culture scenes (Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Berea, Kentucky; Boone, North Carolina), many are rich in history (Williamsburg, Virginia; St. Augustine, Florida; Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia) or natural beauty (Beaufort, South Carolina; Blowing Rock, North Carolina). There is a small town for every interest and all of these places are destination-worthy in their own right.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across various media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

2. Sanibel, Florida

This 12-mile-long barrier island on Florida’s west coast is a laid-back slice of paradise and a treasure trove for shell seekers. Sanibel took a major hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 but the beloved getaway is open to visitors and on the mend.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay, he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

4. Beaufort, South Carolina

Wild beauty and Lowcountry allure abound in this South Carolina gem. Get lost among the pines and palmettos of an ancient maritime forest, catch a striking sunset over the Beaufort River, and marvel at the columns and sweeping porches of stately mansions. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Groups love the family-friendly attractions and mountain adventures in this bustling resort town. It’s also an entryway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a hiker’s paradise. Book a campsite to take in the scenery and plenty of fresh air. 

Read more: Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg

6. Blowing Rock, North Carolina

This mountain town is named for its most famous feature, a 4,000-foot cliff that overlooks a spectacular gorge, distant peaks, and dense forests. But Blowing Rock is no one-hit wonder. Expect plenty of High Country characters from a community of talented craftspeople and chefs inspired by their surroundings. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Read more: Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

8. St. Augustine, Florida

In this town founded in 1565, you’ll encounter the past and present around every corner. Step back into the 1600s at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and then enjoy the area’s up-and-coming dining scene and its many craft breweries and distilleries. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Learn more about Mount Dora: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

10. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Folks have been flocking to this resort town since the 19th century thanks to its namesake natural springs. The stunningly preserved Victorian architecture makes downtown a destination unto itself and quirky shops selling everything from kaleidoscopes to quilts can entertain you for hours.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

Although many think of Florida when it comes to great beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach beg to differ. The coastal twins boast the same sparkling turquoise water, white-sand shores, and family-friendly fun. With miles of coastline and easy access, it’s clear why sunseekers love the area. 

Read more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

12. Danville, Kentucky

Often referred to as Kentucky’s city of firsts, Danville’s appeal is due in large part to its long history. Explore spirited Main Street where you can find Renaissance Revival- and Federal-style buildings housing modern eateries; boutiques; and the Art Center of the Bluegrass, a creative hub in the community.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-most popular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

14. Shepherdstown, West Virginia

One of West Virginia’s oldest towns is a prime location to see the splendor John Denver waxed poetic about in Take Me Home, Country Roads. Stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and the meandering Potomac River play a backdrop to centuries-old Victorian houses and an art-filled downtown.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Fredericksburg, Texas

Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg has deep German roots. Its Main Street has always drawn visitors but now people are also making a beeline for the fantastic food scene here (biergartens included) and more than 100 area wineries.

Read more: Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg

16. Folly Beach, South Carolina

If going to a dive bar in flip-flops is your idea of a good time, head to this easygoing seaside town. Book an ocean paddleboard tour, check out the state’s oldest surf shop, or find a spot to sink your toes into the sand on its 6 miles of beaches.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Learn more about Bay St. Louis: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

18. Round Top, Texas

A contender for the award for tiniest town (at less than 1 square mile), Round Top has enough Lone Star spirit and style to more than makeup for its population of just 87. It is situated around three squares: Henkel, Rolland, and Town, and you should complete the trifecta for the full experience in this renowned antiquing destination. 

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Williamsburg, Virginia

The cobbled streets and 18th-century environs have long drawn people to Williamsburg, but these days, there’s much more to discover by way of shops and restaurants. Muststops include The Virginia Beer Co., Merchants Square, and The Cheese Shop. 

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

20. Mountain Home, Arkansas

Waterways like Bull Shoals Lake, Norfork Lake, and the White River surround this small town, which got its start as a resort. It lured folks in with opportunities for fishing and boating, activities that still power tourism here in the southern stretches of the Ozark Mountains.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017 but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Read more: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

22. Paducah, Kentucky

A jewel situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Paducah has an undeniably creative soul and is home to The National Quilt Museum as well as one-of-a-kind businesses like the antiques shop Frenchtown Station and the bourbon palace Barrel & Bond. 

23. Natchitoches, Louisiana

Louisiana’s oldest town has much more to offer than its famous fried meat pies. Visit sites like the National Historic Landmark District (with an array of architectural styles ranging from French Creole to Art Deco) and Melrose Plantation, a stop on the state’s African American Heritage Trail that is home to rare works by folk artist Clementine Hunter.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Wetumpka, Alabama

After a powerful series of tornadoes struck Central Alabama in 2019, Wetumpka worked to recover. Located just northeast of Montgomery, this town sits on the banks of the Coosa River, which has been its claim to fame along with Gold Star Park—until now. In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s wildly popular Home Town reported that they were taking over the entire town known as The City of Natural Beauty for their home-renovation show’s next season.

Learn more about Wetumpka: The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

25. Oxford, Mississippi

In 1837, this town incorporated and named itself after Oxford, England with the hope that it would also be home to a great university one day. About 10 years later, The University of Mississippi opened and in time Oxford became the South’s quintessential college town. Equally celebrated for SEC football and its literary-and-arts scene this place attracts all kinds creating a vibrant community with a refined sense of Southern style. 

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

The Top 10 Christmas-Inspired RV Road Trips

While any corner of the United States brims with holiday joy and magic during the season, these are the top road trips and destinations to mark on your map to experience the creme de la creme of Christmas road trips

This festive season, many people are choosing to avoid flying and hit the road for the holidays instead. Whether you’re looking for famed mountain peaks frosted with snow, national parks devoid of tourist crowds, or iconic routes allowing you to cruise without traffic or something in between, one of these options is sure to fit the bill.

RV road trips are often reserved for the freedom of summer vacation but if you miss the open road there’s no reason you can’t find holiday-inspired adventure along the highway during the winter. Work these festival stops into a trip back to grandmother’s house or follow the trail for a merry and bright day trip.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

While desert landscapes may not provide a winter wonderland experience, Phoenix knows how to do the holidays right with its famous Chandler Tumbleweed Tree tradition, a lighting ceremony, and Christmas parade.

Before or after enjoying it, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon where there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a dusting of snow with the South Rim sitting at about 6,800 feet in elevation, bringing lots of picture-perfect photo-ops without the crowds. And, during the holidays, you can ride the Polar Express Train from Williams to the South Rim.

Here are some helpful resources:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Augustine, Florida to Savannah, Georgia

Winter transforms beautiful St. Augustine, America’s oldest city into a stunning spectacle of lights. Its magnificent Spanish architecture is lit up with over three million individual bulbs and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides to view them all.

Afterward, take off for Savannah to enjoy the Boats on Parade with more than 40 lighted vessels parading both sides of the waterfront accompanied by live music, a tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks. Or enjoy an old-fashioned celebration with Christmas on the River with local entertainment, music, seasonal treats, and more.

Here are some articles to help:

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora’s slow pace of life and relaxed atmosphere paint the picture of a quintessential small town presenting a sweet escape from the urban hustle and bustle. This quaint destination is famous for its antique shops and festivals and by exploring the lively downtown you will discover several spots worth visiting.

One of the highlights is the Modernism Museum, a great place to admire intricate designs of modern furniture. But if you are interested in actual history, you can step into the Mount Dora History Museum. Here, you will explore a local legacy dating back to the 1880s through exciting exhibits.

Stepping outside, Mount Dora is surrounded by picturesque sceneries like Palm Island Park. This tranquil nature preserve features a promenade passing along Lake Dora and through a wooded area. You can find a laidback picnic area or fishing spot to spend quality time. Meanwhile, one of the best times in Mount Dora is during winter festivals like the Mount Dora Arts Festival or the Mount Dora Half Marathon. 

Check this out to learn more: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe makes a great alternative to the norm for your best Christmas travel ideas. A trip here allows you to view Christmas through the lens of Pueblo and Hispanic cultures.

Celebrate a midnight mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi. Discover the GLOW light display at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Pick up some unique gifts at the Winter Santa Fe Winter Indian Market. There are also many music and dance performances to check out. The lanterns adorning the rooftops on Christmas Eve are a sight to behold as well!

Santa Fe has more to offer the Christmas traveler than you would think! Activities, traditions, candles, and lights all make this a unique offering. Enjoy sipping hot chocolate while watching the winter sunsets.

Check this out to learn more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

A Bavarian Christmas in America? Yes, it is possible and Helen in Georgia serves it up for you with the snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.

Helen is one of the cutest small towns in the South and it only gets more adorable during Christmas. You can drink Glühwein, visit the Christkindlmarket, marvel at the architecture, and all without having to leave the U.S. For a Bavarian Christmas, Helen offers something different when it comes to the best American Christmas vacations.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park to Moab, Utah

The onset of winter shouldn’t automatically mean that sunny days in the great outdoors are over; to chase bright, dry skies, head for the desert. This jaunt will have you swooning over Utah’s myriad of red rocks, elaborate hoodoos, and slot canyons with pitstops in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches National Parks. Spend a full week to soak up the scenery (and craft beer).

Begin early in Zion to take in the sunrise glow from within the fabled canyon walls. Stop for photos and say hello to the horses in rustic, cliff-lined Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park then cruise up to Moab for the Arches scenic drive before taking in the sunset at Dead Horse Point.

Here are some helpful resources:

Manatee in Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Cool temperatures in Florida bring to life one of the state’s most famous marine mammals. The gentle Florida Manatees escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico to warmer springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, such as the gorgeous Three Sister Springs. Crystal Rivers boasts a long list of park spaces that are perfect to visit during the winter season. At Crystal River Preserve State Park, you find various fun recreational opportunities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, and bird-watching. 

Alternatively, you can mix your love for history and the outdoors at the Crystal River Archeological State Park. This pre-Columbian site houses a plaza area, temple mounds, and burial mounds that portray a primitive way of life in ancient Native American societies. A visit to Crystal River would not be complete without an intimate encounter with the town’s most famous marine resident and the Swim with Manatees boat tour provides tourists with this rare opportunity. 

Check this out to learn more: Swim with the Manatees of Florida’s Crystal River

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

It is not just the name. This well-known Alabama jewel provides the ultimate Gulf Coast winter experience. Relaxing coastal breezes, mild temperatures, and heart-ravishing views will see one’s vacation end before it starts. With its miles of white-as-sugar sandy beaches, bayous, rivers, and lakes, winter here is not the time to dress as someone going to the moon.

Gulf State Park boasts 8 miles of paved trails perfect for biking—while Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the Alabama coast is bearably cooler in winter and, hence, an awesome outdoor adventure spot. In winter, you will likely see birds such as Red-breasted Mergansers and Peregrine Falcons—at the wildlife refuge. The latter is not only the world’s fastest bird but also the world’s fastest animal. For those who love skating, The Wharf boasts an ice skating rink and is worth checking out.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Jekyll Island Club at Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

Jekyll Island is home to more than a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 45,000, which is more per square foot than the NYC Rockefeller Center Christmas tree! Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir! 

Don’t miss the light parade, holiday fireworks, and special drive-in movie presentations.

Here’s a great article to help you do just that: Holly Jolly Jekyll.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park to Nashville

One of the best things about East Coast mountains (apart from their rich human history) is their year-round accessibility due to being lower in elevation than their counterparts out west. This trip is all about soaking up the best of both worlds—the human and the wilderness—from the panoramic views of Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive to a spooky tour of Mammoth Cave and even the lively honky-tonk bars in Nashville’s historic downtown. 

Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia is a hiker’s dream with 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail cutting right along the park’s spine. From there, it’s easy to continue onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Head to Cades Cove to take in the centuries-old Cherokee and homestead history before veering north towards a self-guided tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

22 Southern Destinations for an End-of-Year RV Road Trip

Celebrate the spirit of the season

As another year draws to a close, you’ll likely notice a few familiar patterns beginning to take shape. Your social calendar fills with holiday fetes, giftgivings, and cookie swaps galore. The days until Christmas seem to slip away faster than you can click add to cart. And the pressure of seeing every last great aunt and twice-removed cousin over the holidays begins to mount.

With all the added pandemonium that the most wonderful time of the year can bring, getting away for an end-of-year road trip may be just the thing you need to reset before the New Year.

Whether you want to head for the mountains or the seashore these 22 Southern destinations are ideal for a year-ending RV road trip.

Whether it’s the Gulf Coast, a German village in Georgia, or Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg all of these southern destinations are worth a spot on your Christmas travel list.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Head to Gatlinburg for holiday fun in the Great Smoky Mountains! Few mountain vacation destinations are as popular as this one where you can find everything from a high-flying RV resort experience to a tranquil cabin in the woods. If you’re looking for a winter wander you’ll find it near this fun town which is known as the Gateway to the Smokies. Also, if you’re lucky and the weather’s just right you might just get to experience the beautiful landscape surrounding Gatlinburg blanketed in snow.

2. Asheville, North Carolina

See and hike the snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains on a trip to this well-known western North Carolina city. Winter trips should always include a tour of the Biltmore Estate to see it all dressed up for the holidays. Other must-dos are a stop at the Omni Grove Park Inn to check out the gingerbread house competition finalists and an evening of hot chocolate sipping at French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. San Antonio, Texas

If you’re not in the mood to be bothered by the winter chill, hightail it to the Lone Star State for a road trip to San Antonio. This historic city is ideal for an end-of-year getaway where shopping and snacking are high-priority. You’ll surely find a sense of wonder in the thousands of multicolored string lights adorning the scenic River Walk.

4. Dahlonega, Georgia

If you’ve been sleeping on Dahlonega’s Old-Fashioned Christmas, it’s time to wake up and smell the gingerbread cookies. Americans everywhere travel from far and wide to catch this place during Christmastime. The North Georgia town is draped in twinkling lights and overrun with rambling horse-drawn carriages. The town’s month-long celebration features everything from a hometown parade to charming tree lighting.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gulf Shores, Alabama

You may not get snow but you can find a different kind of white Christmas on the white sand shores of this Southern beach town. We can’t imagine anything more perfect than a sunset picnic on the quiet beaches here in the off-season.

6. Natchitoches, Louisiana

This small Louisiana town celebrates Christmas in a big way. The annual Festival of Lights runs for 40 days and attracts visitors from all over who arrive with family in tow to take in the more than 300,000 glittering lights and riverbank holiday decorations on display. The Christmas Festival is also a huge draw replete with a boat parade, fireworks, and a holiday market. This small-town Christmas celebration is well worth a road trip. Don’t leave town without trying one of Natchitoches’s famed meat pies.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Charleston, South Carolina

While most people associate South Carolina with seafood-scarfing and sandy-toed summer vacations, it’s also a great place to visit in cooler months. Average temperatures hover around 60 degrees so you’ll be perfectly comfortable as you tour through town stopping into specialty stores and swooning over the rows and rows of adorable pastel-colored homes.

Bonus: You can attend the annual Illumination Charleston event (December 1-2, 2023) that includes a holiday market, cooking demos from some of their favorite Southern chefs, and a fabulous opening night party.

8. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Enjoy the coastal charm of Myrtle Beach at Christmastime. Don’t miss Brookgreen Gardens which is filled with Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and flickering candles during the winter season. And be sure to catch a Christmas show with your family at one of Myrtle Beach’s beautiful theaters.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah, Georgia

Enjoy the cinematic charm of Savannah minus the high-season crowds by visiting the Hostess City of the South during winter. On top of great weather and plenty of strollable streets, you can also visit for the Mountainfilm Festival (January 18-21, 2014) and Savannah Book Festival from February 15-18, 2024.

10. Lewisburg, West Virginia

The Greenbrier resort (in nearby White Sulphur Springs) is reason enough to plan a trip to the Lewisburg area. Families have been spending Christmas at The Greenbrier for centuries and once you see the incredible decorations at the hotel you’ll understand why. There are plenty of other places here where you can feel the holiday magic including the lovely shops of downtown Lewisburg. To really get in the spirit, catch an area performance of the West Virginia Symphony.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown‘s beloved Main Street is a perfect destination for your seasonal adventures. Kick off the holidays with the Light Up Bardstown event, a light-filled festival that signifies the beginning of the season in this small Kentucky town. Don’t miss the much-anticipated visit from Santa Claus or the plentiful browsing opportunities in Bardstown’s downtown shops.

To rest your head for the night head the RV to My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground.

12. Oxford, Mississippi

This college town has Christmas spirit aplenty lighting up with glimmering decorations, lush greenery, and seasonal decor each December. Check out the Gingerbread House Village, Santa’s Workshop, and Holiday Ornament Auction, as well as the Oxford Christmas Parade on the downtown square for family fun. Before you leave, make sure to hit Square Books to find a unique gift.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

If you’re looking for a Bavarian-style winter wonderland you’ll find it and more in Helen. From downtown parades to Victorian Christmas celebrations to a Christkindlmarkt (German Christmas market), there is no shortage of festivities to enjoy in this small Georgia town with a big Christmas charm.

Among the gingerbread-style homes with their steeply pitched roofs and lovely cross-gables, you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving up bratwursts, schnitzel, and plenty of sudsy brews. For lovers of vino, there are several nearby wineries.

14. Branson, Missouri

Visit Branson, Missouri for the Ozark Mountain Christmas festival, a month-long holiday extravaganza complete with great music, festive lights, and fun parades. Grab the kids and jump on the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride for a rollicking time on the tracks and plenty of excitement for the whole family.

Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Williamsburg, Virginia

Experience Colonial flavor in Williamsburg at Christmastime! The yearly Colonial Christmas celebration lets visitors explore the Jamestown Settlement and meander the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown—so you can celebrate Christmas and learn about American history at the same time.

16. Pine Mountain, Georgia

Nothing will make the kids happier than Christmas at Callaway. Located in the small town of Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens hosts what can only be described as “the ultimate Christmas extravaganza.” The main attraction: Riding through a dazzling illuminated forest complete with synchronized Christmas carols. But you can also make merry (and shop for gifts) in the Christmas Village, meet holiday characters up close, and have an overall festive stay at Callaway’s resort.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Seaside, Florida

Head to Florida for a coastal Christmas full of festivities and seafood galore! Seaside is a fantastic beach town because there is so much to do on 30A in December. Marvel at the beautiful holiday decorations, shop for your gift list, and check out the amazing restaurants for celebratory drinks and meals.

Added bonus: You won’t even need to bring a jacket!

18. Grapevine, Texas

Do you know about the Christmas Capital of Texas? Let us introduce you. Grapevine touts more than 1,400 holiday events throughout the season but don’t overlook the Christmas Wine Train. Family-friendly activities range from The Parade of Lights to watching classic movies or Christmas concerts at the Palace Theatre. The Gaylord Texan Resort—already an impressive sight—is transformed with millions of lights, a rotating Christmas tree that’s more than 50 feet tall, miniature train sets, and even a life-sized gingerbread house.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Mount Dora, Florida

Visit merry Mount Dora to experience the best of the holidays. Central Florida doesn’t get much more festive than this fun small town where you can see two million twinkling lights throughout the town. Stop by St. Nick’s Holiday Shoppe to get your celebration on and don’t miss the annual Christmas walk, a fun block party for the community complete with carolers and musical performances. There’s also a Christmas tour of homes and the local-favorite Christmas boat parade which brings the festivities to the water.

20. Blue Ridge, Georgia

This is the closest thing you’ll get to the Polar Express down in these parts. This mountain getaway feels as magical as the man in red himself. Start your holiday journey by hopping on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Santa Express. Your family will hear a Christmas story, sing carols, meet holiday characters, and visit Santa and Mrs. Claus as the famous couple makes their way through the train.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Fredericksburg, Texas

Small-town Texas gets an infusion of Christmastime charm with the annual festivities held in Fredericksburg, a community located in Central Texas west of Austin. The town’s old-fashioned celebrations are characterized by carolers, a three-day Christmas festival extravaganza, and plenty of nostalgic downtown shopping every December—all the while paying tribute to its German heritage. Enjoy kolaches (yeast buns filled with fruit) and Christmas bratwurst.

22. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Spend Christmas in Eureka Springs for an unforgettable holiday season. Don’t miss the Eureka Springs Christmas Festival, the annual Silver Tea at the Crescent Hotel, a downtown Christmas parade, and the annual Christmas tree lighting. The kids will love an afternoon with Santa (and reindeer games) in one of the town’s charming parks. This small town promises music and merriment aplenty.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Mount Dora, a laid-back, relaxing getaway just an hour from Orlando offers the pleasures of Old Florida country living

Lake County, Florida is home to over 1,000 lakes and is the state’s geographical center. It’s often called Real Florida or Old Florida—beauty and allure that pre-date Disney or Universal by decades.

To me, Mount Dora brought home the Old Florida moniker. We fell in love with this small, charming town. There are no high-rise condos…no chain hotels or restaurants. The streets are still cobblestone in some areas, everyone knows each other, and the locals still outnumber the guests. This small town in Florida is worth a visit.

Mount Dora has the feel of a small New England town but with lots of Old Florida charm and there is so much to do. No matter what kind of getaway you’re looking for whether it’s a couple’s retreat, a girls’ weekend, or a family trip, there is truly something for everyone.

Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora, just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown. 

The charming, compact city center sports an abundance of restaurants, sidewalk cafes, independently-owned shops, and art galleries situated along picturesque streets studded with palms and towering oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss—a true postcard-worthy scene. 

While the pace is slow there is never a shortage of things to do. Start with my list of 11+ things to do in Mount Dora!

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Spend a day by the lake

Lake Dora is one of seven cobalt-blue lakes in the Harris-chain-of-lakes, each connected by rivers or canals for a total of 77,000 acres to explore. The waters are a haven for bass fishing, bird watching, boating, and even manatee spotting but simply taking in their beauty from the shore is a rejuvenating way to spend a day.

Mount Dora’s eastern location on the lake means gorgeous lakefront sunsets too. Camp at a local RV park or stay at historic Lakeside Inn where you can walk the shoreline, relax by the waterfront pool with a book, or dine at their on-property restaurants with the lake as your backdrop. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Hunt for antique treasures

Collectors from across the country descend upon Renninger’s Antique Market, a sprawling antique center, flea market, and farmer’s market where 200 vendor booths overflow with vintage finds in all styles. During its Antique Extravaganzas, the market hosts more than 1,500 antique dealers and more than 800 booths.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Stroll the downtown streets

The walkability of Mount Dora is a true highlight and just about any local inn or bed and breakfast will afford you easy on-foot access to all the charm of downtown. The unique downtown makes Mount Dora special; there isn’t another city like Mount Dora because of its historic downtown. With all independently owned shops, bars, restaurants, and museums, Mount Dora is truly one of a kind in Florida.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Get out on—or over—the water

Ready to venture beyond the shoreline? Lake Dora’s water activities are plentiful with a variety of boat tours and rentals, seaplane rides, and water sports of all sorts from skiing and tubing to wakeboarding and wake surfing. Beautiful Lake Dora offers many scenic tours by way of covered pontoon boats, seaplanes, kayaks, or cat boats.

The history of the waterway and the nature you will experience on any of the tours offered is amazing. Adventure Cat Boat Tours are two-hour, guided trips on a two-person mini catamaran where you’re in the driver’s seat (after some instruction from the pros, of course). You’ll experience nature and history in the most unique way as you cruise across Lake Dora and through the famous Dora Canal.

Cruise at a slower pace on the 80-foot New Orleans-style paddlewheel boat, Dora Queen, which launches from the adjacent town of Tavares and offers two-hour rides complete with live music and cocktails on board. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Support the arts

Mount Dora is an artist’s and art lover’s haven with independently-owned galleries throughout town and art festivals throughout the year. The largest, Mount Dora Arts Festival takes place in February (49th annual; February 3-4, 2024) and is one of the top-ranked fine arts shows in the country. This year, 250 artists will line the streets in addition to a kid-friendly area, food and drink vendors, and live music.  

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Walk the boardwalk

A must-see for any Mount Dora visitor is the Palm Island Boardwalk on the south end of town on the waterfront. This elevated nature walk will take you out onto Lake Dora at a safe distance from the water for the ultimate viewing of wildlife. The boardwalk may be experienced on foot or via a Segway PT for the adventurous. Visitors stroll under old-growth live oaks and tall cabbage palms and among knobby cypress trees with ample opportunity to spot migratory birds and even gators.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Visit a freshwater lighthouse

Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. Sometimes referred to as Lighthouse Park, Grantham Point Park was created from road rubble and fill to create one of Mount Dora’s famous landmarks—the lighthouse. Built to represent the Port of Mount Dora, the lighthouse appears on many symbols. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.

8. Step back into the future

Home to an impressive collection of midcentury modern furniture, Mount Dora’s Modernism Museum is a worthwhile stop for design history buffs and those who want to learn. The museum has hosted many exhibits since opening in 2013 including Memphis Collective furniture and design objects owned by David Bowie and sculptural furniture by artists George Nakashima and Wendell Castle.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora restaurants

For a town of 13,000, Mount Dora has a lot of good options for dining. With more than 36 restaurants and cafes in the downtown area all within walking distance you are sure to find something that will satisfy your palette. For sunset, the big patio at Pisces Rising has terrific views. In 1921, elevated fare from celebrated chef Norman Van Aken pays homage to local Florida ingredients with an eye toward modernity and sustainability. You can’t beat the clam chowder at Tony’s Clam Chowder Seafood Restaurant.

Several of the bars and restaurants have live music on weekends.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Get into the holiday spirit 

Christmas in Mount Dora is spectacular with millions of lights throughout town and a large singing Christmas tree. Festivities kick off the weekend after Thanksgiving when over 2 million lights get draped over downtown, its historic homes, and Donnelly Park; and the Christmas tree on Main Street is officially lit. This night is arguably the most magical of the season.

Get your decoration inspiration at the 45th Annual 2023 Christmas Tour of Homes on December 2 and 3—it’s a self-driving tour of six beautifully decorated homes decked out in their holiday finest.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Visit the oldest continually operating hotel in Florida

Whether you stop by to take in the Lakeside Inn’s spectacular Lake Dora view, grab a meal at one of its four on-site restaurants, or book a stay, a visit to this pretty yellow piece of history is a must. The oldest continually operating hotel in Florida started as the 10-room Alexander House when visitors in the late 1800s enjoyed Florida’s mild winter weather and the bounty of the lake. Today, visiting the 85-room Victorian-era inn feels like stepping back in time and is a place where you can truly unwind. 

I said I’d offer 11 things I love about Mount Dora but there are more: I love it for the sunsets over Lake Dora, all the birds you see on the lake (including bald eagles), the big Christmas light display in December, and Boathouse Row, a few blocks of boathouses converted into cottages perched over the water along Lake Dora Road. (Start at the restaurant Pisces Rising, cross the railroad tracks, and stroll down Lake Dora Road.)

I could go on, but you get the idea: There is a lot to love about this little town.

Worth Pondering…

The very name Florida carried the message of warmth and ease and comfort. It was irresistible.

—John Steinbeck

The Most Charming Southern States (According to Southerners Themselves)

A new survey of 5,000 southerners rated some states higher on southern hospitality than others

Much of the South is known for having a certain charm from quirky roadside attractions and quaint small towns to friendly locals who are sweeter than sweet tea. But which state truly takes the cake when it comes to being the most charming around?

A recent survey of 5,000 Americans commissioned by Oddspedia, a sports and entertainment data and betting site aimed to uncover which states most embody southern hospitality. The top spot on the resulting Southern Hospitality Index went to Tennessee, known for its music capital and other cities full of unique charm like Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Coming in second place just a tenth of a point behind is the big peach state, Georgia, home to the city of southern hospitality, Atlanta, and taking the third spot is coastal South Carolina.

Tied at the bottom of the index as the least charming states are Delaware (which, I’d argue, is Delaware really even the South?) and Florida, the sprawling vacation destination for many. Oddspedia’s ranking was based on charm, politeness, helpfulness, and friendliness of each state. The 5,000 people polled were from the South and were asked to rank their own state and other southern states based on these factors.

Mississippi Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below is the full ranking of southern states according to the Southern Hospitality Index.

1. Tennessee
2. Georgia
3. South Carolina
4. Louisiana
5. North Carolina
6. Kentucky
7. Alabama
8. Virginia
9. Texas
10. Mississippi
11. Arkansas
12. West Virginia
13. Oklahoma
14. Maryland
15. Delaware
16. Florida

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The website also asked respondents to name the most charming celebrities hailing from the South and it’s no surprise that the darling patron saint sweetheart Dolly Parton took the top spot (she also hails from the top charming state as well).

With her signature wit and lovable friendly laugh, Dolly Parton has also embodied helpfulness throughout her long career. Parton has brought awareness and financial aid to a variety of causes such as childhood literacy and in 2022 she received a Courage and Civility award from billionaire Jeff Bezos which gave Parton $100 million to support charitable causes of her choosing.

If there ever was a Southern hospitality icon, it’s Dolly Parton. We’ll always love you and your Southern charm, Dolly!

Looking for more travel inspo?

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most charming southern small towns

The South is peppered with charming small towns. From once-thriving spa meccas to sleepy Smoky Mountain villages, there’s something for every taste. While they vary greatly in history and landscape, there’s one thing all small Southern towns have in common and that’s community. Whether you are planning to visit or are just looking for a dose of that warm Southern charm, there are plenty of hidden gems to go around. Here are the 12 most charming Southern small towns.

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Who doesn’t love a classic country mountain small town? Gatlinburg, Tennessee is set in the heart of the Smoky Mountain range and famous for its spot on the Appalachian Trail and seasonal celebrations. This small community of 4,144 residents also hosts a chili cookoff and Winterfest which are legendary shindigs.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora is the definition of a laid back coastal town. Idyllic beaches, Old Florida living, and tons of gourmet restaurants are just a few things that make it so loveable. The quiet small town is known for its vast variety of antique shops for any of you vintage pickers out there. Here you’ll find just about everything from estate jewellery to rare collectables which only add to the unique atmosphere.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg is the best place in the country to brush up on colonial history. This historic small town is overflowing with colonial finds and rich stories. Not a history buff? No problem. The town is full of other things to do like craft breweries and haunted houses. There are also several opportunities for outdoor activities to keep you busy from cycling to kayaking.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Fairhope, Alabama

This tiny Alabama town founded in 1894 is known for its annual shellfish phenomenon. Each year crabs, flounder, and shrimp flood the shallow bay in what’s referred to as the jubilee. There’s more to Fairbanks than that though; the cosy Alabama gem boasts its own brewery, tons of farmers markets, Museum of History, and nearby Village Point Park Reserve.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fredericksburg, Texas

Tucked within the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find one of the most adorable small towns in the Lone Star State. Fredericksburg is famous for its incredible craft beer and wine scene and great shopping. No chain stores are allowed in the city centre and the town boasts a whopping 150 boutiques alone. Whether you’re going for wine, shopping, or just to soak up the atmosphere, you’ll leave with a smile.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-mostpopular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Seaside, Florida

Seaside is that perfect Florida getaway, especially when you are looking for one of those small towns in the south that feels like a resort community! Known for its urban design, the pastel-colored houses and large porches and fences look like they are truly from a postcard. At Seaside you can enjoy long stretches of sandy beaches, pavilions, and even Grayton Beach State Park which features a variety of trails and a costal dune lake.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Wetumpka, Alabama

The name, Wetumpka, is a Creek Indian word meaning rumbling waters describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceed across the Bridge to the largely residential west side and discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

Road Trip Love: Take a Look at 25 of the Prettiest Little Towns in America

From coastal towns to southern gems, these idylls are worth a visit

I am always dreaming of taking a road trip, somewhere, anywhere. Do you ever find yourself staring out the window and wishing you could hop in the RV and drive away?

When you find yourself having moments like this, where do you imagine yourself driving? Do you envision a desert town or a beachfront campground? Or maybe it’s the drive itself you’re most jazzed about.

One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty small towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.

If that is something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in America. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if you can’t head out on the open road immediately, you can at least make some travel plans so you’re ready to launch when you are.

And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.

OK, here are 25 of the prettiest little towns you ever did see.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 2. Wetumpka, Alabama

Put your finger on the middle of a map of Alabama and you’re likely to land on Wetumpka. Just north of Montgomery, this town is known as the The City of Natural Beauty and it’s easy to see why: Visitors love canoeing and kayaking on the nearby Coosa River and enjoying the green spaces on walks and picnics. Don’t miss Swayback Bridge Trail (for hiking), Corn Creek Park (for birding, fishing, and waterfall watching), and William Bartram Arboretum (to see local flora and fauna).

To learn more about Wetumpka, read The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Aztec, New Mexico

Known by the Navajo as Kinteel (wide horse), this town’s names come from Escalante’s misguided notion during his visit to the San Juan Basin. He stumbled across the ruins of the Aztec National Monument and thought it was built by the Aztec Indians (though they were built by the Anasazi). 

History lives here at Aztec, especially along its downtown core which is complete with a host of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, this San Juan County community is packed with natural wonders and historical monuments, perfect for activities such as fishing, mountain biking, or hiking.

To learn more about Aztec National Monument, you can read The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Schulenburg, Texas

Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.

Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches (I recommend Kountry Bakery) or German schnitzel.

Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!

One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.

To learn more about Schulenburg, read Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 5. Murphys, California

In California’s historic Gold Country, Murphys is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutiques. The picturesque town park is a popular place to have a creekside picnic after visiting several of the town’s historic sites where you can delve into the history of the Gold Rush. Don’t miss the Murphys Hotel whose famous guests have included writer Mark Twain. 

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a funky artist haven with copper mining town roots. It sits nearly a mile high in the Mule Mountains which means it’s 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the summer here than it is in Arizona’s major cities. Victorian homes and buildings are perched precariously on the town’s steep mountainside which has over 350 staircases carved right into it for access.  

Discover Bisbee’s past by visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and taking the Queen Mine Tour. The tour will bring visitors underground to explore the mine on an ore ride while they learn more about the stories of the miners who worked here. Those who have an interest in the paranormal can book one of several ghost tours in Bisbee to hear the eerily fascinating reports of unexplained happenings and even sightings of spirits donning Victorian attire. Public art features prominently throughout town, from colorful murals and mosaic walls to cars that have been transformed into unique works of art.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Roswell, New Mexico

Chaves County’s community of Roswell is known among tourists for the reported site of an extraterrestrial sighting and spacecraft crash in 1947. Believers of the extraterrestrial flock to Roswell every July for the UFO Encounter Festival.

Visitors can admire the extensive UFO memorabilia and related activities at Roswell including exhibits at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the souvenirs at the Invasion Station Gift Shop. 

Besides being famous as an alien town, Roswell is also a hub of cultural activities and local history given it was once the original homeland of the Mescalero Apaches and the Comanche’s hunting grounds.

To learn more about Roswell and the UFO Festival you can read What Really Happened at Roswell? and A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mesilla, New Mexico

While Mesilla exists as a small New Mexico town today, it was once a major stop for traveling between San Antonio and San Diego. Once visitors step into Mesilla they will feel like they stepped in time as the town remains mostly unchanged since its heyday in the 1800s! 

Explore the San Albino Church in the town plaza, which stands as Mesilla Valley’s oldest (and still active) church. This town is also lively thanks to its offerings of unique boutiques, galleries, wineries, and specialty eateries!

To learn more about Mesilla, read La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience and Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown. 

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

There are many reasons to visit Fairhope, especially in the off-season. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with historic homes on streets lined with live oaks and a charming, walkable downtown. Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg which comes in at fewer than 4,000 residents escapes many travelers. Despite the high-season influxes, it’s the area’s homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of the visitors here in the first place. The village has continued to evolve with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries. 

To learn more on Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, read Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg and Springtime in the Smokies.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Helen, Georgia

The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of fairytale dreams but sits in the mountains of Georgia.

Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and beer from September through October. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday through September and daily from September 28 to October 29, 2023.

Alamogordo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Alamogordo, New Mexico

Nestled in the high desert on the base of the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County, this southern New Mexico community gets an average of 287 days of sun giving visitors plenty of sunlight to enjoy a collection of thrilling activities.

Play a round of golf at the Desert Lake Golf Course, admire the mechanics of the F-117 Nighthawk at the Holloman Air Force Base, or feel the soft sands at the nearby White Sands National Park. This New Mexico destination is also home to several family-friendly attractions, including the Alameda Park Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. 

Before you leave Alamogordo, don’t forget to stop by the world’s largest pistachio which is located near the world’s largest gypsum dune.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Bardstown, Kentucky

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the Most Beautiful Small Town in America. But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face. This Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama, one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

 If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

Learn more about Bardstown by reading Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories and Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Tours and samples are available for a small fee. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

To learn more about Shiner and Spoetzel Brewery, read A Toast to Texas History.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. This strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

To learn more about this charming town, read Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Marietta, Ohio

The oldest town in Ohio, Marrieta gets its name from the infamous Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Marietta was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory which was all of the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the establishment of this territory in 1787.

A group of pioneers settled and founded Marietta in 1788. The town was easy to access by boat due to its placement on the banks of two major rivers. One of the early industries of the area was boat-building. Boats built in Marietta made their way down to New Orleans and often into the Gulf of Mexico. The town also made steamboats and furniture but much of their industry began to focus on brickmaking, sawmills, iron mills, and, eventually foundries.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Stowe, Vermont

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, but it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music.

Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury. Be sure to book a maple syrup tasting at one of the local sugar farms to get a real sense of Vermont’s long and storied maple sugaring industry.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Enjoy the quaint yet lively Breaux Bridge. Known as the Crawfish Capital of the World, the small town of Breaux Bridge offers rich history, world-class restaurants, and a very lively Cajun and Zydeco music and art industry.

Breaux Bridge is also home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival which is celebrated every May (May 5-7, 2023). This is to pay homage to the sea creature that brought fame and wealth to the town.

Aside from being a popular stopover, you might also want to stay in the quaint town for a couple of days.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The quaint New England village of Woods Hole lies at the far southwestern tip of Cape Cod with Buzzards Bay to its west and Vineyard Sound to its east. Because of its excellent harbor, Woods Hole became a center for whaling, shipping, and fishing before its dominance today through tourism and marine research.

Woods Hole is a small village and is easily strolled. The village is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It houses two large, private organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A total of 49 Nobel Laureates have taught, taken courses, or done research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Woodstock, New York

To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival would be a major blunder—the festivities weren’t even held within city limits. In reality, Woodstock is a quaint little Catskills oasis where residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft and visitors can tour the grounds and see where magic was made.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Medora, North Dakota

One would think getting Broadway-quality performers to spend their summers in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota would be tough. But it’s barely a chore when you’re drawing them to quaint Medora, home of the Medora Musical and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The once-depressed cattle town was brought back to life when businessman Harold Shafer sunk millions into it turning it into an Old West Revival that avoids being too campy. Saloons and steakhouses offer stellar food; day hikes along the Pancratz Trail, just outside the Badlands Motel offer sweeping views; and a trip to the Burning Hills Amphitheater—a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands—is a must for musicals and steak-on-a-pitchfork dinner. The entire town obliterates expectations of what one would expect to find in North Dakota.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Jacksonville, Oregon

Life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jacksonville. Steeped in history, the entire town of Jacksonville is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley and haunted history tours. A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places in Washington State that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village.

This riverfront town has a lovely setting located on the Swinomish Channel overlooking Fidalgo Island with plenty of waterfront restaurants.

Downtown La Conner has a wonderfully preserved Historic District with 27 vintage buildings from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Many of these were constructed during La Conner’s heyday in the 1890s when it was a major steamboat hub between Seattle and Bellingham.  

Get more tips for visiting La Conner: La Conner: Charming, Picturesque & Quaint.

Worth Pondering…

I say half your life is spent trying to get out of a small town and the other half trying to get back to one.

—Anon

Winter 2022-23: 10 Best Things to Do in America

While summer gets all the popular attention—sun, sand, sea, surf, and so on—it’s safe to say that winter is underrated

From fishing and camping to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 10 best things to do in the US this winter. Your RV bucket list just got (a lot) longer.

The best things to do this winter include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-trued staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this winter.

Daytona Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cruise the Atlantic Coast of Florida

Location: Jacksonville to Key West, Florida

Stretching along Florida’s Atlantic Coast from Fernandina Beach to Key West is the iconic A1A highway. The famous route passes through historic towns like St. Augustine before making its way through hotspots like Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Then, stay a few days in Miami before continuing south on the Overseas Highway, a scenic 130-mile stretch of roadway connecting Key Largo to Key West in the Florida Keys.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Discover Outer Space at Kennedy Space Center

Location: Kennedy Space Center Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

Visiting Kennedy Space Center allows you to live out the dream of being an astronaut. You can see the space shuttle Atlantis, meet an astronaut, and watch a space movie in the IMAX movie theater. For true space travel enthusiasts, consider booking one of the add-on enhancements such as the Special Interest Bus Tour or the Astronaut Training Experience. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Wander through Mount Dora

Location: Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Feel the warm desert air in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Location: Ajo, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake. The park lies near Ajo, 43 miles south of Gila Bend on Interstate 8. This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fish and camp at Goose Island State Park

Location: Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot-long fishing pier. Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sample the South in Savannah’s Historic District

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Few US city centers match the charm and style of Savannah’s Historic District. Every corner reveals an 18th-century home somehow more picturesque than the last. The area is perfect for strolling aimlessly and stopping for treats (and shade) along the way. Wander down River Street to sample the famous southern pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen or indulge in a Bourbon Pecan Pie martini at Jen’s & Friends. If you’re somehow still hungry, choose from over 100 eclectic restaurants. Then, burn it all off by dancing the night away in Savannah’s buzzing nightlife scene. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Experience the magic of the Sonoran Desert at Usery Mountain Regional Park

Location: Mesa, Arizona

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

>> Get more tips for visiting Usery Mountain Regional Park

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience the quaint, seaside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Location: Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

It’s no secret that the farther west you travel along the Mississippi coast, the stronger you’ll hear the call of New Orleans. Once you hit the waterfront in Old Town Bay St. Louis, you might as well be in the French Quarter. Many locals here have New Orleans roots and this little burg is all about letting those bons temps rouler. Its artsy, funky, and quirky yet still peaceful and relaxing, with the unhurried, y’all-come-on-in attitude of a small Southern town: NOLA, meets Mayberry.

In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living MagazineBudget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Fairhope, Alabama

Location: Fairhope, Alabama

Wiry trees draped with Spanish moss frame pastel-painted bungalows in this small Alabama town. Fairhope is perched atop bluffs overlooking Mobile Bay. You can bike oak-lined sidewalks, watch watercolor sunsets, and browse inspiring shops including Page & Palette bookstore and other businesses in the town’s French Quarter near the water.

Explore the piers and meander the parks and beaches—if you’re lucky, you’ll witness the summer jubilee when sea creatures wash up on the beaches by the bucketful. Once you watch a sunset from the Tiki Bar at the American Legion Post 199, you’ll understand Fairhope nostalgia and wonder why anybody would want to live anywhere else.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Discover the Crawfish Capital of the World

Location: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

A tiny bayou town just a short hop from Lafayette, Breaux Bridge is not only the “Crawfish Capital of the World” per the Louisiana legislature but lays claim to having invented crawfish etouffee. It’s in the heart of Acadian Louisiana with all the fantastic food and music that entails. Cajun dancers have been two-stepping and waltzing around the beautiful old dance floor at La Poussiere since 1955. On Saturdays, Café des Amis serves a Zydeco breakfast with live music downtown.

Breaux Bridge is one cool little Louisiana town where locally-owned shops, Cajun eateries, French music, bayou country, and crawfish all come together. The walkable downtown hub is studded with antique shops, restaurants, and homey cafes. And if you love fishing and boating, you’ll be right at home thanks to the town’s quick access to Lake Martin. For art lovers on a budget, the Teche Center for the Arts has regularly scheduled workshops and musical programming that typically clock in under $10.

>> Get more tips for visiting Breaux Bridge

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

While it’s entirely possible that one person’s travel treasure can be another’s trash, sharing insider tips with others is one of the best parts of returning from any road trip. For me, the lure of the road is constant and my travel bucket lists are infinite. Picking favorites is almost impossible but I’ve tried curating a list of Extraordinary Places to enhance your next road trip.

Painted Churches of Fayette County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Here are just some of the places that I love the most—that is, until I hit the road again and discover new favorites. Explore my list and start planning your next road trip today.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.  Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Related article: Extraordinary Places

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg is the kind of place you could make a quick stop or spend a full day exploring. The battlefield has roads so it’s easy to drive from one monument or site to the next. There’s an audio tour and there is even an app you can download to help add dimension to what you’re seeing and to find the highlights at the park.

Related article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in October

It’s especially haunting thinking about the brave and dedicated men who walked into certain death across open fields during battle. It helps to have an appreciation for military history but even families will enjoy a visit. Some recommended reading beforehand: The Red Badge of Courage for background and The Killer Angels.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

The term “Painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors—painted by itinerant artists who advertised in church bulletins and newspapers. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork. The paint—mixed on site—is still vibrant and bright—even after all these years.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1800s, thousands of German and Czech immigrants left Europe due to poverty in search of a new dream and landed in Central Texas.  These communities embraced America and the promise of their new future while still preserving the traditional values, culture, food, and faith of their homelands. Each community of ~600 families came together to build their community church—purchasing the statues and donating them to the churches. They decorated the interiors with colors and symbols to remind them of their homelands.

The Painted Churches are in a tight cluster (relatively speaking) in southern Fayette County near Schulenburg. The tour can easily be a day trip from Houston, Austin, or San Antonio.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

In Arizona, several villages have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presido is a state historic park.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possess remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. With elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters, and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even daily temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Are you in the mood for a leisurely, legendary drive? If so, head for the Blue Ridge Parkway where the speed limit sits at a comfortable 45 mph, and commercial vehicles are strictly prohibited. Snaking through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, the 469-mile route connects the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks. For prime leaf-peeping, visit in autumn when foliage explodes in a brilliant display of crimson, auburn, and golden leaves. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can’t-miss pit stop: Spend some time at Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, famous for its extensive network of hiking trails and the storied Pisgah Inn which dates back to 1919.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, and tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Four of the original six Spanish colonial missions built along the San Antonio River make up the park. The missions continue to be used as places of worship by parishioners and can be toured daily by park visitors, Learning about the craftsmanship of the architecture, the extensive acequia system (irrigation canals), and the grist mill built in the 18th century takes visitors beyond the religious aspects and into the past lifestyles of the people who built and lived in these missions. The visitor center at Mission San Jose has museum exhibits and an introductory film about the establishment of the San Antonio missions.

Related article: Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

10 of the Best Small Towns to Visit this Fall

Like a red, orange and gold wonderland!

Peak foliage season varies by region and by year, depending on the weather so it’s best to check with local sources before you go. Many top destinations to view fall’s splendor have leaf and foliage reports, maps, and trackers so you can follow the local predictions and current conditions—and arrive just in time for the best of the season.

Some of these destinations will be familiar while others are lesser-known locales where you can capture and embrace fall’s beauty. So, pack your jacket and grab your camera for one of nature’s most spectacular spectacles.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

As you might expect from the destination that acts as the gateway to the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg isn’t short on views or things to do—an aerial cable car, a ski resort, and a 407-foot observation tower with park views, to name a few.

The autumn season is well celebrated during the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival which runs from mid-September to late November encompassing the full spectrum of colors including the peak in mid-to late October.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is a tiny town with a big reputation—not only for its ski slopes which tempt powder hounds year after year but also for its abundance of sugar maples that come alive in the autumn. With the colors peaking between early September and late October, Stowe makes it easy to hike, bike, or drive through the expanse of fall foliage. If you time it right, you may be able to make the annual Trapp Family Lodge Oktoberfest (September 17, 2022).

Related article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Shipshewana, Indiana

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of Indiana’s Amish Country, Shipshewana is a great place to learn about Amish communities and enjoy fun fall activities. Take a buggy ride with Buggy Lane Tours for a look at the Amish experience while enjoying the beautiful autumn colors or walk the Pumpkinvine Trail, known for its brilliant foliage. The Shipshewana Swap Meets offer locally grown pumpkins, gourds, and more.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Makers Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the 18th century, bourbon has been central to Bardstown, home of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival (September 16-18, 2022). In fact, along with Covington and Frankfort, Bardstown is part of a collaboration called Come Find Bourbon. These quaint towns offer some of the most respected bourbon distilleries in the world as well as restaurants, pubs, diners, boutique hotels, and of course, distillery tours and tastings. Fall weather is mild in this part of Kentucky, but if evenings get a bit brisk, there’s always a glass of bourbon to take away the chill.

Related article: America’s Fall Foliage: Leafing through America

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

On the Rappahannock River on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, Urbanna (population 442 as of the 2020 census) is about an hour outside of Richmond making it an easy destination for a last-minute fall getaway. When it comes to charm, it doesn’t get much better than historic Urbanna which is home to seven buildings that have been in continuous use since the Colonial period. This tiny tidewater town is notably home to a fall oyster festival (65th annual, November 4-5, 2022) which attracts about 75,000 visitors a year.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is notably at the forefront of any leaf-peeping conversation and if you want to experience it with a touch of luxury why not head to the Omni Mount Washington, an elegant hideaway in dreamy Bretton Woods? Dating back to 1902, guests came here by train from New York and Boston and then explored the gorgeous surroundings by horse and carriage. Several presidents have stayed here as did Thomas Edison

In addition to the foliage, there are zip lines and a golf course to keep you occupied. And if you should happen to get here after the leaves fall, don’t sweat it, as the Omni is a top ski resort as well!

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blairsville, Georgia

Nestled in the north Georgia Mountains, Blairsville (population 652) is just a short drive from one of Georgia’s most notable landmarks, Brasstown Bald. Within the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, the Brasstown Bald Recreation Area & Visitor Center is the highest point in Georgia rising 4,784 feet above sea level. It’s an ideal place to take in the stunning fall colors of the mountains around Blairsville. And on a clear day, Brasstown Bald visitors can even get a glimpse of the downtown Atlanta skyline more than 100 miles away. 

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

The small Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg located between San Antonio and Austin dates back to 1846 when it was founded by German immigrants. Its German roots are still present today and mix well with the Texas culture. That’s why fall is a great time to visit and experience this heritage at Oktoberfest (42nd annual, September 30-October, 2022). For history buffs, there is the National Museum of the Pacific War, the only museum of its kind in the continental U.S., and Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic National Site. Another park, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is known for its giant pink granite dome.

Related article: 8 of the Best Leaf-Peeping Destinations! But is it the Season of Fall or Autumn?

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

One of the most popular small towns in Florida, Mount Dora is beloved for its 19th-century clapboard houses, antique shops, and outdoor cafes that line its historic district. Offering the best of both worlds, you can go shopping for valuable collectibles at Renninger’s Antique Center & Farmer’s Flea Market before soaking up the scenic natural setting around Lake Dora. Go on a fishing excursion, sample local cuisine in the gourmet restaurants, or relax with a glass of vino at The Cellar Door winery.

Fort Langley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley, British Columbia

This little town in British Columbia seriously looks like it was plucked right out of a Hallmark movie. There are so many small shops to explore and in the fall, you can expect to see pumpkins and other autumn decorations scattered everywhere.

Fort Langley National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is home to the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading post, still standing over 150 years later as a reminder of Langley’s proud heritage. Come watch as costumed interpreters demonstrate the pioneer way of life, where Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders mingled with California gold prospectors, and hear Indigenous interpreters tell century-old tales, feel the blast of the musket fire, and pan for gold dust dreams.

Related article: Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

Located along the Fraser River, Fort Langley features a variety of museums, shops, restaurants, art galleries, parks, trails, and iconic yellow Community Hall which is featured in many TV & Films.

Worth Pondering…

As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas, and colors enough to paint the beautiful things I see.

—Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh