Top places to go in the Southeast in 2022
Expand Full List
Birmingham's Theater District
Birmingham, Alabama, was founded as a steel town. Downtown retains a beautiful, gritty visual, in the original train tracks crisscrossing between restored brick warehouses, incredible Terracotta façade architecture, and historic churches. However, modern public and private efforts have also resulted in stunning, sleek hotels, an impressive food hall, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium, several craft breweries, and a linear, 19-acre greenspace. Railroad Park features 600 trees, waterscapes, walking paths, and a dining car and has won numerous national awards.
One of Birmingham’s biggest draws is history, and there’s no better place to delve into the past than in the town’s Theater District. There were 27 theaters here at the turn of the century, all located in a five-block radius right in the center of downtown.
Today, three major ones remain. The Alabama is the anchor, opened in 1927, with seating for roughly 3,000. It features ornate, gilded trappings, from heavy velvet curtains to the famous Wurlitzer organ. The massive, neon marquee outside is an emblem for the entire state, and the theater screens movies, as well as theater performances and live music.
The adjacent Lyric Theater opened in 1914, and acts at this vaudeville house originally included The Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Milton Berle. It was also the only theater in the South that showed performances to both Black and white audiences, at the same time for the same price, during the era of Segregation. The Lyric fell into disrepair and neglect until 2013. After a painstaking restoration, largely privately funded, it reopened as a live act and music venue and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It joins the third major theater restoration downtown–The Carver Theater for the Performing Arts.
The Carver dates to 1935 and was originally opened to screen first-run movies to Black audiences. It remains dedicated to the story of African-Americans in the performing arts and is now home to The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. The Carver is a live performance space, as well as an educational center and a museum, hosting acclaimed performances by acts like the Magic City Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Diana Krall.
For a chic, affordable, Downtown experience, check into the Redmont Hotel, opened in 1925 and recently reimagined by Hilton’s Curio Collection. Mere steps from the Theater District and Railroad Park, this property features amenities like in-room spa treatments and the state’s highest rooftop bar. The Elyton, also in Downtown, is a step up in price point and panache, housed in one of the city’s famous terracotta-clad, classic buildings––the Empire. The 111 rooms and six suites feature bold pops of color against neutral palettes, and the fitness center, the 4,000-square-feet meeting space, and the rooftop lounge make The Elyton everything you’d expect from Autograph Collection’s group of luxury properties.
Vermont gets a run for its money when it comes to fall foliage in Birmingham, where views from the top of Red Mountain showcase a dappled tapestry of orange, red, green, and yellow. The color change peaks in October and early November. Spring is another excellent season, with temperatures warm enough to swim by early May. May also showcases Do Dah Day––the city’s adorable dog festival, founded in 1979. It comes complete with a float-filled parade, pup costume contests, and proceeds that benefit local animal rescues.
With 20+ months of pandemic fatigue, who isn’t a bit bleary-eyed? You’ve had time to ask yourself questions that you’re searching for answers to. In this upside-down world, you may be seeking help from places you wouldn’t normally go. Cassadaga could be it. After all, it’s the unofficial psychic capital of the world. If they don’t know stuff, who does? This tiny stretch of spirituality halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach has beckoned those seeking enlightenment since the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association—“The Camp”—was formed in 1894 by spiritualist George Colby. You’ll find mediums, psychics, and healers at the 57-acre camp.
This is no ordinary town and it’s not just because of the things that let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore, like the street sign that tells you that you’re at the intersection of “Mediumship Way” and “Spiritualist Street.” In 1991, the Camp was designated a Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Know too that Cassadaga is a natural vortex (a point of concentrated psychic energy on the planet) and has smaller vortices like Seneca Park and the Fairy Trail. Seminars, historical tours, and spiritual teachings take place among the cobblestone streets and meditation gardens. There are Reiki healing circles and Sunday church services. Any day of the week you can get a reading—tarot, palm, or psychic—or opt for a lie-down at the Cassadaga Psychic Shop. Crystal healing beds impact your chakras, the energy centers of the body.
The best first stop in Cassadaga is the Camp Bookstore, where you can browse books like The Medium’s Life or Becoming a Spiritualist, turn over crystals, and walk away with other feng shui goodies for your home and life. A wall full of literature about Cassadaga, and a small room with huge photo albums of paranormal evidence captured on film throughout the camp, invite visitors to linger awhile. This is also the place to sign up for various tours and events. For example, on Friday nights, take the After Dark—Find The Spirits Tour, where participants will join investigators to understand how spirits manifest all around us. Bring your camera, and better still, paranormal equipment.
The only game in town is the Cassadaga Hotel. And yes, legend says it’s haunted. In 1926 the hotel’s original building burned down, leaving unsettled spirits to roam the new hallways and guest rooms. If you’re not feeling the Bates Motel vibe, five minutes away in Lake Helen are two distinct B&Bs, The Ann Stevens House and the Cabin-on-the-Lake.
Central Florida in the middle of summer can be dreadfully hot. You might make your sojourn to Cassadaga any other time of year.
As for where to eat, Sinatra’s Ristorante, is the only restaurant in town. It serves up Italian and American cuisine and is in the Cassadaga Hotel. There is a coffee bar adjacent to the restaurant. In Lake Helen, you can also find pizza and BBQ. If you want a little frivolity, see a play or musical at Lake Helen’s Shoestring Theatre.
The Crystal Coast
The Southern Outer Banks (SOBX) are distinct from the rest of North Carolina’s barrier-reef Outer Banks Islands in that its southernmost island beaches are east-west oriented and face south, allowing for both killer sunrises and sets. Like its cohorts, the “Crystal Coast” of the Southern Outer Banks offers all the amenities of its more famous northern neighbors: the eponymous pristine beaches and myriad ocean sports; tidelands to hike, bike, and explore; lighthouses to climb, museums to peruse, and glorious, sumptuous seafood to eat. But the Crystal Coast isn’t just farther south–the islands are home to distinct and unique characteristics that make a visit worth the trek.
For one, the wild herds of feral horses on Shackleford Banks frolic on the shoreline of the Crystal Coast–a breathtaking experience for onlookers young and old. If nature’s wonder doesn’t satisfy you, explore the history of former fishing-village Portsmouth, a ghost town of former homes and buildings established in the 1750s and mostly abandoned by the 1930s. If you still aren’t satiated, hit up the annual North Carolina Seafood Festival in October, complete with oyster shucking contests, musical performances, and of course, all the freshest fruit de mer you can crack open. Don’t skip the shrimpburgers.
Many families opting for beach vacations on the Crystal Coast set about renting a cottage or house via abundant independent realtors or Airbnb offerings. But don’t overlook the hospitality of more traditional accommodations–there are plenty of bed and breakfasts, inns, and motel and hotel options for every traveler’s need. A few of our favorites? The beachy elegance at Beaufort Inn North Carolina is your home base for an upscale boutique hotel experience–beautifully modern decor and award-winning 34° North restaurant and bar will satisfy all your foodie cravings. A classic Southern charm fix is to be had in the Victorian home Pecan Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast. The free bicycle rental really comes in handy, and the gardens and the breakfast deserve their designations as two of the best perks of the property.
Memorial Day to Labor Day are always busy for the beach, but there are notable festivals during shoulder season: the Newport Pig Cooking Contest in March, Beaufort Music Festival in May, and North Carolina Seafood Festival in October. Off-season is extremely laid-back but no less beautiful, just cooler in temperatures.
The Eastern Shore
A trip to Eastern Shore gives visitors the opportunity to travel between two worlds: the past and the present. 2022 marks the 200th Anniversary of Eastern Shore-born Abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s birth. There’s never been a better time to head to the region and explore the vast landscapes and waterways of Maryland’s Choptank River region while experiencing the stories and places that marked Tubman’s early life.
Travelers wanting to explore Tubman’s story should plan a road trip along the Tubman Byway–a scenic drive that stretches from Maryland to Delaware. The Byway has over 30 storied landmarks transporting visitors back in time through the many places Tubman journeyed while leading countless enslaved people to freedom. Experience Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House, where Quakers helped sustain part of the Underground Railroad; Stewart’s Canal, a hand-dug 7-mile canal built by free and enslaved Black people; and a roadside garden built in Harriet Tubman’s honor.
When you’re not exploring history in Eastern Shore, tap into the magic of the waterscapes that scallop the bay’s edge. On Tilghman, a charming fisherman’s island, you can pick fresh seafood straight from the sand; on Assateague, beautiful horses roam free; and there are dozens of beaches and parks to choose from along the 3,000-plus miles of shoreline.
If you’re looking for a charming local stay, don’t miss the Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast, an 1840s sea captain manor located within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. For a comfortable hotel stay with a bit of luxury, the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort overlooking the heart of Cambridge’s marina offers an infinity pool, riverside hot tub, full-service spa, and an 18-hole golf course. And the area is home to many vacation homes with can’t-miss amenities like riverfront patios, private beach access, and plenty of outdoor green spaces.
Summertime along the Eastern Shore is moderately hot, and many seafood favorites are in season, making it one of the best times of year to visit. For fall foliage lovers, the abundance of state parks and nature spaces makes getting outdoors a pleasurable experience. The Rock Hall Fall Fest brings the region together to celebrate the Chesapeake Bay area community with live music and lots of oysters.
Because of its history and small-town charm, the Eastern Shore is a haven for antique shopping. In Queenstown, the Chesapeake Antique Center features dreamy, timeless pieces (like a 17th-century marble fireplace) that will make your trip to the shore unforgettable.
It’s not just the food, though admittedly, it is a big part of Greenville’s appeal and one that deserves recognition. For it’s in the heart of this South Carolina city, you’ll find perfect biscuits (Tupelo Honey), venison ravioli with a view (Up on the Roof), and a steamed bagel sandwich (Sully’s Steamers—just trust). But even the sparest audit of the dining scene would be remiss without mentioning CAMP and Bobby’s BBQ. The latter is a stone’s throw from the center of the city, and a perfect opportunity to check out the area’s brand new high ropes course. It’s recommended that Flying Rabbit Adventure course completion be rewarded with a beer at ‘90s-themed Double Stamp Brewery before heading back to downtown Greenville.
Back in the beating heart of the remarkably clean city is exquisite coffee from Methodical, and during spring and summer, a greenmarket tempting with treats like the best kouign-amann you’ve ever tasted from Bossy Bakers. If you happen to be in town during Alchemy Comedy’s Improv nights, consider yourself lucky.
Baseball fans should not miss the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum. The museum unsurprisingly pushes the White Sox player’s innocence in the 1919 World Series scandal, but regardless of your take, it’s a good way to spend an hour. If America’s Favorite Pasttime doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps a 90-minute full-body massage at River Falls Spa, housed in the old courthouse will?
AC Marriott is both as hip (the property features 100 works from more than 30 local artists, each with a QR code so you can scan and learn more about the artist) and as unfussy (rooms tend to be bare bones and basic) as you’ve come to expect from this brand’s understated style. For a more refined stay and old Southern charm, choose The Westin Poinsett, where many rooms have been recently renovated.
The height of summer may not be everyone’s glass of sweet tea, but spring and fall are both lovely, and while winters here are mild compared to the Northeast or Midwest, it might not be quite as much fun to bar hop in February as opposed to, say, September.
Fall for Greenville takes place every October, and it’s a superb time to eat and drink to your heart’s content, but come for Artisphere (always Mother’s Day weekend in May) and not only will you eat well, but you may also go home with some new art—the event brings in some 250 artists, many of whom set up pop-up galleries on Main Street.
Beaufort, Hilton Head, St. Helena’s, and Daufuskie Island show another side of South Carolina—one rich with greenery from the looming Spanish oak trees to the marshlands that lead out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is also here where the Gullah/Geechee community was born. In the aftermath of slavery, formerly enslaved people cultivated the unwanted land to grow produce and rejuvenate it.
Today, it is known as a popular summer destination for its beaches and beautiful coastline where the descendants of the Gullah people still reside. Preserving their culture and building platforms to teach those outside this unique corridor about the local culture, Gullah locals share their rich history via tours like the Gullah Grab in St. Helena’s where you can enjoy some local soul food while looking at their collection of historic photos and stories that speak on the Gullah heritage. You also have the restored Mitchellville Freedom Park on Hilton Head where visitors can see the remnants of the town created by people who were formerly enslaved and who gave birth to the Gullah community.
Anchorage 1770 Inn, located in Beaufort, is a colonial-style mansion with an intimate feel. For those who want a bit more amenities and want to stay closer to the beach, the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort offers perfect views and easy access to the beach along with requisite water activities.
Late spring and early summer are the best times to go explore the islands and the beach. There are also a lot of outdoor restaurants in the area for a seafood boil.
Rent a car to fully experience this region. Public transportation isn’t available outside of major cities and most of the attractions are spread out. Be prepared for humidity if traveling during the summer.
Memphis' South Main Arts District
It’s no secret that Memphis is on the up, but to truly witness the city’s renaissance you need to head straight to its South Main Historic Arts District. Just a short stroll from the neon symphony of Beale Street, this one-square-mile neighborhood has risen from the ashes, transforming once derelict warehouses into locally-owned boutiques, cool coffee spots, and a new batch of very stylish hotel rooms.
Arrive hungry, as this is the place to get your fix of Memphis’ legendary cuisine. Head to Gus’s Fried Chicken to discover why its boastings of being world-famous checks out, indulge in lip-smacking ribs at Central BBQ, or head to Rizzo’s, where chef Michael Patrick has elevated grandma’s home cooking to fine-dining standards.
This being Memphis, the district is also infused with history, from the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, now immortalized as the must-visit National Civil Rights Museum, to the outrageously photogenic Arcade Restaurant, a mid-century gem of a diner once favored by that swivel-hipped rockabilly himself, Mr. Elvis Presley.
Spearheading South Main Historic Arts District’s evolution has been the opening of The Central Station Memphis in a restored Amtrak station. Skillfully tapping into the local music scene, you’ll find DJs spinning tunes in the lobby and homegrown bands performing out on the railway platform—although the lonesome whistle of the passing freight trains really provides the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to any stay here.
Also adding some new riffs to the area is the recent addition of the Arrive Memphis. This former art school is now a boutique hotel that’s deeply rooted in its locale, housing a bakery and shuffleboard den that has become a hit with visitors and locals alike.
Spring and fall offer pleasant climes and plenty of festivities. In May, Memphis hosts a world-famous BBQ competition alongside jazz and blues festivals, while the River Arts Fest in October shines a spotlight on the Bluff City’s creative talent.
On the last Friday of each month, the sidewalks spring to life with music and dance, as the neighborhood plays host to Trolley Night, Memphis’ longest-running street festival. It’s best experienced by grabbing a drink and ducking into the 50-plus participating businesses as they take your fancy.
For all the visitors who descend on Orlando from around the world to visit the house of a certain mouse, most regrettably never make it roughly 16 miles northeast of Disney (and the assorted other theme parks) to Downtown Orlando itself. Here, brick streets lined with historic bungalows and lakeside parks await in stylish neighborhoods, and buzzing local communities promise more multi-culti fun than anything over at Epcot.
The Mills50 district, on the northern edge of Downtown Orlando and formerly known as Orlando’s Little Vietnam, is a current favorite with foodies for its pan-Asian fusion fare and with the Instagram set for its art. It’s full of street murals, old-school Asian grocers, tattoo parlors, and breweries (Ten10 Brewing Company is a great one), and interesting restaurants and bars, too, including the excellent izakaya-style Tori Tori (owned by Sean “Sonny” Nguyen, whose parents immigrated from Vietnam) and Kabooki Sushi, helmed by James Beard-nominated Laos-born chef, Henry Moso. Among the many authentic Vietnamese restaurants to try in Mills50 is Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen, known for its excellent pho, which is simmered between 10 to 12 hours to richly layered effect (the restaurant will even pack you a soup kit to go to prepare at home in your Instant Pot).
About a mile south, in the heart of Downtown Orlando’s Thornton Park neighborhood, the setting is more pedestrian-friendly. You can stroll from the boutique and restaurant-lined Washington Street a few blocks to Lake Eola Park, which hosts a farmer’s market every Sunday (with a beer and wine garden), and proudly displays its kitsch in the form of giant swan-shaped pedal boats you can take out onto the water for a spin.
Winter Park is a tonier enclave about six miles north, with some excellent restaurants (don’t miss Italian-inspired Prato and the gastro-pub Ravenous Pig, with its new beer garden) and a European-meets-U.S. main street vibe along upscale Park Avenue.
Open your mind to another side of Orlando in any of these spots, and you’ll be met with many surprises.
Downtown Orlando has a range of excellent hotels in locations where you don’t need a car to get around. New in 2021, the AC Hotel Orlando Downtown is walking distance to nightlife, restaurants, and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and has the city’s best rooftop bar, the AC Sky Bar. It’s about 10-minutes (two miles) by rideshare to Mills50, too.
In Winter Park, right near Park Avenue, boutique property The Alfond Inn is filled with incredible artwork and has a courtyard that flickers with fire pits come nightfall (it’s 3.5 miles or a 13-minute drive from Mills50).
Summertime temperatures paired with Florida’s famous humidity can be oppressive, but by October or November things are far more pleasant—and they usually stay that way into May.
For a beloved dive bar in the Mills50 district, hit Will’s Pub for microbrews, indie tunes, and rounds of pool.