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Ideas for a Deep South roadtrip (focus on food and nature)

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We are a married couple in our early 30s planning a 3 week roadtrip to the South. Right now the idea is to fly NYC-New Orleans and go from there. We'd like to take it easy during the trip, stopping for 2-4 days or longer in various locations and avoiding long drives. We are also hoping to focus on the quieter, off-the-beaten-track places in the south. Tiny villages with a diner that serves the best barbecue in the world (do those exist anyway?), quiet lakeside cabins and forests/mountains where one can spend a day hiking, quaint villages which don't see hordes of tourists.
We're considering ending the trip with a few days of swimming in the Florida Keys. But maybe that's too ambitious in terms of distances.

We are not big fans of crowds, country music, Elvis, or Civil War memorabilia. That said, I guess there are some "must see" Southern places which should be on the list.

I've read through the other threads here and, so far, we are thinking (sort of in order of appearance):

New Orleans,
Dauphin Island, AL
Gulf Shores park, AL
Mobile, AL
Atlanta, GA
Savannah, GA
Charleston, NC
Jacksonville, FL

Which essential places are we leaving out? What's not really necessary? Any suggestions would be very appreciated!

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