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6 Stops to make on a Southeast U.S. road trip

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Looking to escape the cold and head somewhere a little warmer? The Southeast U.S. has a lot to offer from top-notch food joints and cultural experiences to outdoor recreation activities. Here are six places full of charming and vibrant cities, abundant history, unique architecture, beautiful beaches, and diverse flavors. 

1. St. Augustine, Florida

Photo: Kristin Wilson

The city of St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorers in 1565 and is the oldest city in the U.S. The area is well known for its Spanish colonial architecture and flair along with its sandy beaches, notably St. Augustine Beach. After a morning relaxing by the shore, head to Anastasia State Park, a 1,600 acre state park on a peninsula on Anastasia Island with pristine white sand beaches.

Places to eat:

To truly experience the Spanish influence of this city, dine at the Columbia Restaurant, a hot spot that serves a mix of Spanish and Cuban cuisine. While sitting in a room decorated with hand-painted tiles, art, and a Spanish-style fountain, share a tapas and a pitcher of sangria with your traveling companions. 

For live entertainment, handspun milkshakes, and farm-to-table food in the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district, visit Prohibition Kitchen. The interior has an old-timey, dimly lit ambiance, transporting you to a different place and time.

While in the area, check out these outdoor adventures:

Walk/Bike the Beaches of St. Augustine

Explore Guana State Park and Wildlife Preserve

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Tyrone Sanders

Charleston is known to be one of the most charming cities in the Southeast U.S. Here, you can walk cobblestone streets while admiring historic homes and eat some of the best Southern comfort food! Stroll down Rainbow Row (a collection of adorable and vibrant pastel-hued townhouses), check out the Charleston City Market, and make your way to one of the nearby beaches to lay out, book a surf lesson, or rent a paddle board.

Places to eat:

Foodies should not miss an opportunity to dine at Maison, a memorable French bistro with exceptional and creative food presentation. Their Instagram page speaks for itself. There’s also a bountiful wine and cocktail menu to pair with the flavors of your meal. For seafood and comfort food in a trendy industrial atmosphere, check out Leon’s Oyster Shop. This spot is known for oysters, scalloped potatoes, and rosé on tap. And finally, for an even more low-key place that’s a must for true southern soul food, make your way to Martha Lou’s. Situated in a small pink shack, Martha and her family feed locals and visitors with lip-smacking hearty portions of fried chicken, baked macaroni, and bread pudding on styrofoam plates. Don’t let the casualness fool you – this joint has been recognized by sources like the New York Times and The Travel Channel.

While in the area, check out these outdoor adventures:

Explore the White Point Garden

Explore Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Visit Fort Sumter National Monument

3. Asheville, North Carolina

Photo: Clayton Manche

Asheville, North Carolina is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a major stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic drives in the country. The downtown area is home to cute boutiques, art galleries, craft breweries, and hip eateries. After a hearty meal, take a walk along the Urban Trail to soak in some of the city’s cultural and historic landmarks. For even more history, check out the Biltmore Estate, a privately owned mansion built in 1895 in French Renaissance style by George W. Vanderbilt on an 8,000 acre property. There are beautiful gardens and even a winery with a free wine tasting with admission! Outdoor adventurers will rejoice at the ample opportunities to recreate in the surrounding area too.

Places to eat:

For a unique dining experience, try Plant, a vegan restaurant that offers mostly organic, gluten-free, locally sourced food and drinks. Even non-vegans are blown away by the creative food options like the hazelnut- and ramp-crusted tempeh and the lasagna cruda. The presentation is A+ and clearly done with care. Visitors should also check out Biscuit Head. Here, you’ll find oversized biscuits, a variety of gravy, and sides like pulled pork, pimento cheese grits, and sriracha maple sausage. Much of the produce and products are sourced from local farms and suppliers.

While in the area, check out these outdoor adventures:

Run though Carrier Park

Photograph Haw Creek Valley Overlook

Explore Lake Powhatan 

4. Nashville, Tennessee

Photo: Chad Morehead

What comes to mind when you think of Nashville? If you think country and music and nightlife… you’re certainly right! But, there are also some great city parks, craft breweries, and boutiques to explore while here! Make sure to spend time at the Broadway Historic District (aka Lower Broadway), where you’ll find a lot of different music venues, hotels, bars, and live music!

Places to eat:

Embrace the heat and spice at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. In a casual setting, order your chicken with no spice or all the way to “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” Wash it all down with a cold lemonade or beer. At Pinewood Social, you can mix food with play, making it the perfect place to spend a few hours with friends! There’s a bowling alley, two outdoor pools, a trailer bar, a bocce court, and a full coffee shop. In between rounds of games, grab a bite to eat. You can select a lighter option like the kale & pomegranate salad to heartier choices like the chimichurri burger. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner options are served here as well as wine, beer, cocktails, and coffee!

Outdoor adventures:

Hike the Trails at Fontanel

Hike around Radnor Lake

Hike the Day Loop at Long Hunter State Park

5. Kennamer Cove, Alabama

Photo: alabama.travel

Kennamer Cove is located in Northeast Alabama on the side of Gunters Mountain with features like small valleys and low mountains. Alabama has some stunning natural attractions like the Cathedral Caverns State Park, a place where visitors often feel small among eye-widening, geologic formations and rock pillars. It’s also home to one of the largest stalagmites in the world at 45 feet!

Places to eat:

After a day of exploration or several hours sitting in the car, a slice of pizza from Joe’s Pizza can really hit the spot. Choose from classic pizza, pasta, and sandwich options to refuel at this casual dive. To fulfill your Tex Mex cravings, try El Coyote Mexican Restaurant. It’s a family-friendly local favorite where taco Tuesday is a hit!

While in the area, check out these outdoor adventures:

Visit the Cathedral Caverns

Explore Tumbling Rock Cave

Stephens Gap

6. New Orleans, Louisiana

Photo: Mitch Hodiono

Louisiana is an upbeat cultural hub with French, African, and American fusion! You’ll feel the vibrance and soul of the city while making your way down Bourbon Street in the heart of the city’s French Quarter. Experience the energizing nightlife with some of the finest jazz clubs in the U.S. Spend time admiring the unique architecture and jump at every opportunity to indulge in the cajun and creole cuisine. Aside from amazing food, you can also take a moment to relax in City Park, a big green space for kicking back with access to walking trails. Art lovers should stop by the New Orleans Museum of Art to experience a wide range of artistic talent.

Places to eat:

For authentic cajun food, live music, and dancing, check out Mulate’s, renowned for being the King of Cajun Dine and Dance halls. You can expect to find things like flavorful gumbo du jour and shrimp on the menu! For authentic Creole cuisine, head to Dooky Chase’s, a long standing family-owned restaurant that opened for business in 1941 by Emily and Dooky Chase. The Chase family welcomes its regular customers, locals, tourists, and world-known public figures including politicians and musicians. Indulge in favorites like chicken creole, stuffed shrimp, oyster norman, and shrimp clemenceau.

While in the area, check out these outdoor adventures:

Photograph the Tree of Life in Audubon Park

Run the Audubon Park Trail

Don’t discount the Southeastern U.S. from your list of places to see and experience full force! There’s plenty of eye-opening culture, history, food, and natural playgrounds for you to delight in. Download our app to help plan your road trip and find additional adventures along the way. Some of the best memories are made during spontaneous stops!

Cover photo: Ashley Knedler

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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