The end of summer is fast approaching! Things start to wind down; students and teachers are preparing to get back to school and everyone is trying to get their last fun activity in before the season is over. Luckily the Southeastern U.S. is filled with an endless variety of things to do. From gorgeous beaches to museums and mansions – your last fun summer road trip is a day’s drive or less away from your high-rise in Atlanta or Washington, D.C., your gated community outside Charlotte or your townhome in Alexandria! The Southeast is also home to all kinds of American history from the colonial days through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars up to the present day. So no matter where or how you’re living, you may never know what you can learn in your own backyard or from traveling right over the state line.
Biltmore Estate & Asheville, NC
Located in Asheville, NC the chateau-style Biltmore Estate was built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1889 and opened in 1895. Here you can go on a self-guided tour through three floors of the mansion, getting a glimpse of how the richest lived over a century ago. The Biltmore estate is also home to lush gardens created by Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park) that pay tribute to the Vanderbilt’s expertise in environmental protection. The Biltmore estate has max potential for family fun with activities such as biking, hiking, horseback riding, river float trips, Segway tours, fly-fishing and carriage rides available on the grounds. Adults can even blow off some steam with wine tasting incorporated with cheese and chocolate, fine dining and shopping. The ice cream is a must!
After a day of exploring the estate, you can check out the nightlife in Asheville, known for its microbreweries and local restaurant scene. Check out some of the local concert or dance venues and then stop at one of the interactive piano or guitar bars. Nearby Chimney Rock State Park, an even shorter road trip away from Asheville, is a beautiful place to spend a day and was home to several movie locations, including Last of the Mohicans and Firestarter.
River District & Island Beaches – Wilmington, NC
Wilmington’s River District is a testament to both the city’s place in history and current dynamic culture. Sites range from Victorian-era architecture to modern designs to the Riverfront pier with fine dining, shopping, hotels and park along the two-mile Riverwalk. Wilmington can take you back in time with over 220 blocks of National Register Historic District homes and gardens. Then you’ll come back to the present with the beautiful Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure Beaches. At the island beaches, live watersports, boardwalks, aquariums and a bit of history at Fort Fisher State Historic Park. Wilmington is often referred to as the Hollywood of the East or “Wilmywood” as many movies and television shows have been filmed in the area such as Ironman 3 and The Secret Life of Bees. Wilmington is a treat for all!
Myrtle Beach, SC
Part of the Grand Strand’s 60 miles of beaches in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach is a vacation resort city. Here you’ll find boardwalks, amusement rides, ocean-front resort high rises and casinos. In Myrtle Beach, you will never say you have nothing to do. For family-friendly fun you can visit Splashes Oceanfront Water Park, take a cruise on one of the many narrated tours, enjoy a show at a theater or visit one of the many amusement parks. You can also simply enjoy yourself by hanging out on the shore and taking a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as America’s “Music City,” Nashville brings that and so much more to the table. Founded in 1925, The Grand Ole Opry is the place that made country music famous. Here you can see live performances and get backstage tours. You can learn all you can about music at one of the many museums such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Honky Tonk Highway and Musicians Hall of Fame. Local live music abounds at a variety of venues and includes rock and jazz in addition to the expected country music offerings.
Nashville is also home to plenty of fun and historical museums including the National Corvette Museum, Tennessee Agricultural Museum, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, The Upper Room Chapel and Museum and First Art Museum. Visitors can participate in scavenger hunts, escape rooms and mini golf. Here you can also visit and play at The Rabbit Hole VR, Nashville’s first virtual reality arcade, and at Nashville Airsoft indoor arena. In Nashville the possibilities are endless! Besides all the fun, music and learning experiences, Nashville is also very big on sports and has plenty of standalone historical attractions.
Like so much of the Southeast, Charleston is filled to the brim with history. You can learn all about it by staying in one of the many boutique hotels, going on a walking tour or visiting one of the countless museums. At the Charleston City Market, you can purchase souvenirs and handmade goods and experience that old south feeling. Visitors can also find that feeling that the Drayton Hall Plantation, The Battery Middleton Place and, of course, at Fort Sumter National Monument. History aside, there are plenty of contemporary art museums, food tours, brewery tours, aquariums and boat tours and rides such as the Schooner Pride.
Golden Barrier Islands/Golden Isles, GA
Discovered by Spanish explorers over 400 years ago, the mainland city of Brunswick and the four barrier islands known as St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island sustain natural southern beauty and are close enough to Atlanta, Charleston and Charlotte for an easy weekend road trip. Natural is the key element here – in the Golden Isles, you won’t find flashing lights and fried foods on the boardwalk. Go camping, fishing, golfing, attend a guided tour and simply spend time with family. The area has lots of history and educational aspects as well. Visit the A.W. Jones Heritage Center, the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, Earth Day Nature Trail, Driftwood Beach or Brunswick Actors Theatre to learn about the history of the Golden Isles.
In Savannah, you’ll find that true southern charm you always hear about and so much more. For starters, you can take a ghost tour for all ages to the areas most haunted hotels, squares and cemeteries in the area. Visit one of their 22 historic squares – you might learn that life is like a box of chocolate in at least one of them; Oscar-winning motion picture Forrest Gump’s bus stop scenes were filmed at Chippewa Square! Savannah has tons of dining options, art galleries, entertainment options and outdoor activities to keep you busy the last few days of summer. But don’t forget to check out Tybee Island and take a moment to enjoy the calming ocean view.
Mobile is great for a family road trip. Here you can take an airboat, kayak, canoe or fishing tour in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta – one of the largest deltas in the country. The area is also one of the top ten golf destinations in the United States. With its bustling nightlife, it is almost impossible to not have a great time in Mobile. The nightlife is especially spectacular during Mardi Gras, so if you can’t make it down this summer, there’s always Fat Tuesday! Local museums focus on the ocean, Mobile’s history, science and art. The historic World War II Ship, U.S.S. Alabama, is stationed right in Mobile and has been since 1965.
Close by you’ll find Montgomery home to many Civil Rights monuments and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The National Civil Rights Trail links Montgomery to Selma (perfect for a road trip within a road trip) and along the way, you’ll be able to explore Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and sites related to other notable leaders of the movement in Alabama.
In Huntsville, the whole family can participate in NASA’s Space Camp, the second largest research park in the United States. At Space Camp, you can launch on a simulated mission and train like an astronaut during the program all while learning of the town’s involvement in the aerospace industry! You’ll never run out of dining options in Huntsville, an area that boasts some of the best German food in the country. Take the family to one of the multiple biergartens or enjoy schnitzel at Ol’ Heidelberg Restaurant.
The Southeast is can bring you all sorts of new experiences and knowledge. Between all of the delicious food, fun activities and history – you may find yourself wanting to spend more than just a quick summer road trip exploring the area! While summer comes and goes each year, the pleasantly sunny weather of the Southeast lasts through fall, making many of these fun stops potential road trips throughout October and even November. Get a group from your community association or building together so more people can enjoy the fun!