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katejer Feb 18th, 2013 10:47 PM

Where to go for 16 days in Southern USA

I'm planning a trip from Australia to the US with my family for 16 days in October and November this year. We've previously been to New York, Washington DC, LA, Boston and San Fran and I've been to New Orleans. I really loved New Orleans and want to spend more time in the South, so this time we've decided to concentrate on this area.

After some initial research we're thinking of going to Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston. I am conscious, however, of the fact that we would be missing out on Tennessee with this itinerary.

We love history, architecture, art, good food and wine, shopping, music and just generally absorbing the feel of new places.

I'm interested in learning about what towns/ cities others think are must-sees based on our interests and time frame and how long we need to spend in each place.

Thanks for your help!

Gretchen Feb 19th, 2013 03:31 AM

As with any trip, you are going to "miss" something you just can't get to.
Starting in Texas you add a lot of distance to your next place, unless you are planning to fly from SA to NOLA. Austin and SA are interesting--yes. But may be the outliers. If you flew to Memphis to start, then did your sweep to Charleston it could be interesting. The Gulf coast of Mobile and Pensacola would be an interesting stop en route to Charleston.

stumpworks73 Feb 19th, 2013 05:08 AM

Your choice will be whether to take the Northern/Tennessee or gulf coast route. I would recommend the coast. If you did not have a chance to tour the plantations along the Mississippi outside New Orleans, you should do so. Gulfport and Ocean Springs are fine destinations with some historic homes. Mobile has a great garden district. You should spend a night at the Grand Hotel (a Marriot property) on Mobile Bay allow a day to appreciate the history and atmosphere of this gem. Apilachicola is worth a visit to appreciate a working coastal oyster and fishing village. Tallahassee is beautiful.

On the Carolina coast, a great beach destination is Hilton Head, 45 minutes N of Savannah. If you would like a day of beach and biking to shake off the road dust is very pleasant.

I am sure you are aware that a direct route from Austin to Charleston is 1300 miles. The scenic route will increase the trek another 300 miles or more. You will have extensive windshield time. If you have to do a round trip returning to your point of origin, your mileage is significant and maybe too much for the time available.

If you are driving one way and flying back to your point of arrival, you must shop car rental as one way rentals here can be very expensive.

Gretchen Feb 19th, 2013 06:15 AM

There are much nicer more charming places to go to the beach than Hilton Head, and much easier to get to than driving through a huge housing development to reach the beach.
Charleston has lovely beach areas near the city. Edisto is a charming old southeast coast beach.

bamafam Feb 19th, 2013 06:47 AM

I agree that if you start in Texas, it's going to take a huge bite out of your time. I'd save Texas for another trip when you can see more of the Southwest, and narrow your itinerary. If you try to cover too much ground, you're going to miss out on the small towns and hidden gems that make the region so unique and special.

I would either focus on the Georgia/Tennessee/South Carolina area or Louisiana/Mississippi/Tennessee. My vote goes to the former - Charleston and Savannah, IMO, are the two most beautiful cities in the South, and you could spend two weeks in the Lowcountry area alone.

One thing to be aware of is that autumn is hurricane season along the Gulf Coast, so the weather in that area will be unpredictable, to say the least. It could be sunny and fair, there could be a severe storm, or anything in between.

Consider an itinerary along these lines:

- Atlanta will probably be the easiest place to fly into. Spend a couple of days in the city. October is usually the prettiest time of year, and you'll find more good food and great shopping than you can shake a stick at. Visit the High Museum of Art, Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Oakland Cemetery, the Swan House and Atlanta History Center, in addition to any other sights that interest you. Check to see who's playing at Chastain Park Amphitheater, arguably the city's most enjoyable music venue (it's outdoors in a pretty neighborhood).

- Head from there to Nashville for 2 days. Enjoy the thriving music scene and the Ryman Auditorium, Opryland, Belle Meade Plantation, RCA Studio B, etc. (Memphis is another music lovers' nirvana, but a little out of your way. However, you could work it in if you don't mind backtracking.)

- Drive from Nashville to Chattanooga and spend a day. Chattanooga is a nice town and the surrounding mountains are lovely.

- From Chattanooga, go to Athens, Georgia, which is a fun college town with a well-known music scene (birthplace of REM, among others). From there you can visit Madison, a beautiful small town known for its historic homes. You could drop Athens if you want to spend more time elsewhere.

- From Athens, head to Charleston and spend at least 3 days. Food (especially seafood) and shopping heaven, and there are so many lovely and unique sights to see. Middleton Place Plantation is one good possibility.

- Charleston to Savannah is an easy 2-hour drive. Stop in Beaufort, South Carolina, along the way.

- Spend a couple of days in Savannah, including a visit to Tybee Island, soaking up the city's history and charm. Fort Pulaski, the riverfront, the historic district, Bonaventure Cemetery, and the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace are worth a visit, among others.

- Drive to Amelia Island, Florida, which is just over the Georgia line. Spend a couple of days enjoying the island and Fernandina Beach. Make time for a day trip to Cumberland Island, which I think is the prettiest of Georgia's Golden Isles - a wild and beautiful landscape, totally unique.

- From Amelia Island, head back to Atlanta for the flight home.

This is just a starting point...but may give you some ideas.

Happy trip planning!

bamafam Feb 19th, 2013 06:53 AM

I forgot to add - if you choose to visit Athens and it happens to be the weekend of a home football game, be prepared for some crazy crowds! But it is a terrific atmosphere. A football Saturday in the South is like nothing else.

Gretchen Feb 19th, 2013 08:55 AM

I think they really want to do NOLA. Atlanta is not really necessarily the best place to fly into--Memphis turns out to be a hub for a flight from OZ, I think we discovered in another thread.
I am not a fan of Atlanta either, for this trip's desires. And too much Georgia?
I like Memphis,Nola, Gulf coast to Charleston. More time in Charleston than Savannah.
And while the hurricane season does extend to late October, to me October along the southeast coast and the gulf is absolutely GORGEOUS--great time of year to visit.

bamafam Feb 19th, 2013 09:30 AM

If NOLA is a must, then yes, fly into Memphis. Maybe stop at Vicksburg, MS on the way down, since history is an interest. I'd still make time for at least a couple of days in the Golden Isles area since it is such a beautiful and interesting part of the region, and it really isn't that far out of the way if you're going to Savannah/Charleston. But YMMV.

jill_h Feb 19th, 2013 12:20 PM

I second this option -- <<Atlanta ... October is usually the prettiest time of year ... Visit the High Museum of Art, Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Oakland Cemetery, the Swan House and Atlanta History Center, in addition to any other sights that interest you. Check to see who's playing at Chastain Park Amphitheater, arguably the city's most enjoyable music venue (it's outdoors in a pretty neighborhood).>>

We did this and enjoyed it. Least favorite was the Oakland Cemetery (but that could've been the tour guide and/or the heat in June!)

I would add the Margaret Mitchell house (Gone with the Wind), the Georgia Aquarium, and the Fox Theater.

I also second the suggestion to do Charleston and Savannah.

You could also add the Biltmore in Asheville, NC --

katejer Feb 19th, 2013 10:27 PM

Thanks for the responses everyone!

We can only get direct flights fom Melbourne to L.A, hence our thoughts of stopping off in Texas then flying to New Orleans and then fly over to Savannah and Charleston.

You've got me thinking though, perhaps we fly staight from L.A to New Orleans (we definitely want to go here) for about 4 days and then fly over to the East for the remaining 12 days.

If that was the case, what would you recommend? I'm leaning towards 4 nights in Charlestown and 2/3 in Savannah, so we will have 5-6 nights remaining.

As we're not used to driving on the right-hand side of the road we will most likely be taking buses between towns/ cities (except for the flights already mentioned).

jill_h Feb 20th, 2013 09:08 AM

This sounds like a good plan. you don't want to rush! We just recently visited Charleston and LOVED it! We stayed at The Meeting Street Inn. Directly across the street from the market. Very nice staff, nice b'fast in the lobby, wine/cheese in the lobby every day at 5:00, and centrally located so you can walk everywhere.

You might be interested in visiting some plantations, but that would require you driving (which isn't that difficult -as long as your co-pilot can help navigate the intersections!)

Gretchen Feb 20th, 2013 09:41 AM

The public transportation system in the US leaves much to be desired, and riding a bus inter-city may be an unforgettable experience.
I wish you would rent a car for at least parts of your trip--Charleston and Savannah in particular. Bus service could be really unpleasant.

dwdvagamundo Mar 11th, 2013 12:39 PM

Strongly second Gretchen's 20 Feb. comment re public transportation. You'll need a car for the Atlantic Coast part of your trip, although certainly not for NO.

As to what else to do, Wilmington, N.C., is a beautiful and historic city and not that far from Charleston, and you could then drive north along US 17 to the Outer Banks (Cape Hatteras, Kitty Hawk) which are quite different from anything else in the U.S. If you stick to US 17, the traffic shouldn't be too intimidating.

Or drive South, stopping at St. Simons and Jekyll Islands to St. Augustine, oldest city in the States.

Or drive up to Atlanta for the Civil War and Civil Rights stuff described earlier. You could then fly out of ATL.

I live in and love Atlanta, but if it were I, my preference would be to stick to the east coast.

Also, I don't know that you'll need four full nites in Charleston. The historic area is very compact and there is not all that much to do--most of the charm is just walking around and looking at the homes. Do visit one of the rice plantations--you could do that on the way up or down from Savannah.

louisag Mar 11th, 2013 05:11 PM

Katejer - I live in Wilmington and have traveled extensively along the Southern Coast (am also a travel advisor by trade, so if you do need any more help, feel free to reach out). I recently posted trip reports about Savannah and Palmetto Bluff on this forum so feel free to read also recently just traveled to Charleston and New Orleans. Great places. Wilmington is lovely (I live here and shouldn't knock it!), but I feel like you will get a similar feel from Charleston/Savannah and it won't be necessary to take the 3 hr drive up here.

Gretchen Mar 11th, 2013 05:30 PM

Please do not drive to Atlanta'. It is a long way--and once you are there it is a really big sprawling place with not that much to do.
We need some more info--but the southeast coast is truly magical.

jeffergray Mar 11th, 2013 06:01 PM

Speaking of the southeast coast, you might want to check out the posts in response to the topic below:

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