10 Things a Tourist Definitely Has to Experience When Visiting the South

Southern cliches: NASCAR, guns, trailers, inbreeding. Southern reality: Some of that, but also so much more. Southerners and frequent visitors know that the South is home to world-class cuisine, historical sites that may as well be time machines and countless other reasons to visit.

1. The French Quarter (And Greater New Orleans)

A group of friends enjoy the day on new orleans tours around Jackson Square, in the French Quarter. Millions visit New Orleans yearly.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

You don’t necessarily have to brave Bourbon Street if you’re not into the party scene, but The French Quarter remains a must-visit attraction for Southern vacationers. The beignets (powdered donuts) and coffee at Cafe Du Monde are world-renowned. While most of the best New Orleanian restaurants aren’t in the Quarter, you have to see Jackson Square and walk around this bastion of American history.

2. Florida Beaches

Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota Florida shot by aerial drone. #1 Beach in the USA.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Suncoast Aerials

Have you heard that Florida’s gulf coast has some of the most pristine beaches in the world? Sure you have, as has virtually every other tourist that’s ever planned an excursion through the Southern United States. But, unlike Disney, the Florida beaches live up to the hype.

If you’re a savvy researcher or have deeper pockets than most, you’ll track down more secluded beaches that deliver cool sand and gulf (or ocean) views without the crowds.

3. Savannah, GA

JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District– Savannah, GA
Image Credit: JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District– Savannah, GA.

A trendy spot for bachelor parties, girls-only weekends, weddings, and quick, drivable Southern vacations, Savannah is a not-so-hidden gem located on the Savannah River, only a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. Between the cobblestone streets (Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city), vibrant foodie culture, and quaint-but-bustling vibe, Savannah has become a Southern staple.

4. Barbecue

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You haven’t lived until you’ve had brisket prepared by one of the South’s premier BBQ joints. Do your homework. You might prefer your ribs slathered by the sauce-ome culinary artists at Central BBQ in Memphis, TN, Fox Bros. B-B-Q in Atlanta, GA, or one (or ten) of the countless other renowned barbecue restaurants across the Southern United States.

Warning: You wouldn’t be the first tourist to uproot your family to be closer to elite pulled pork sandwiches. If you’re not prepared for that possibility, you may just want to avoid Southern barbecue altogether.

5. An SEC Football Game

SEC Football Game
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This selection isn’t as niche as you might think. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) offers game-day experiences, including massive cocktail parties, cookouts, and boat parties, depending on where you catch a game. Plus, football can be downright pulse-pounding.

From Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA, to The Grove in Oxford, MS, and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN, college football games offer a glimpse into unbridled, hyper-hospitable Southern culture.

6. Non-Barbecued Southern Cuisine

Key Lime Pie. Classic traditional American dessert favorite. Key lime pie, raw mixture made with the juice from Key West lime juice, condensed milk sugar and eggs poured into graham cracker crust.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Marie Sonmez Photography

Something about smoked pork calls for its own spot on this list. However, leaving out other Southern culinary staples would be a crime in seven states (including Louisiana). Gumbo in New Orleans. Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys (we’ll count Florida as the South).

Fried catfish in Mississippi. Soul food from several Southern states. If you’re traveling south of the Mason-Dixon, do your food diligence first.

7. An Airboat Tour

Airboats tours
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Disclaimer: Airboat tours are very much hit or miss. You don’t want to end up in a sweltering, wildlife-deprived swamp with a self-unaware “guide” doing his worst Johnny Carson impression to stretch the “tour” to the hour mark. That being said, if you find an airboat tour heavy on wildlife (Louisiana swamps) or excitement (see: Florida marshland), you won’t soon forget it.

8. Asheville, NC (Or a Comparable Mountainous Destination)

Couple hiking on summer vacation trip. Friends hiking in the mountains. Milepost. Near Asheville, Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina, USA.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Margaret.Wiktor.

The South is not known for its mountains, making North Carolinian locales like Asheville (located on the Appalachian Trail) so special. You don’t know fresh air until you’ve smelled North Carolinian mountain air. It’s like nature’s version of Glade.

9. Charleston, SC

carriage ride in Charleston
Image Credit: Shutterstock / LanaG

Nestled on Charleston Harbor, which flows from South Carolina‘s Atlantic coast, Charleston represents everything great about the South. With history, antebellum architecture, scenery straight out of Gone With the Wind, and modern amenities (and food) that inevitably arrives in the South’s most popular tourist attractions, Charleston must be on your itinerary.

10. A 2am Waffle House Visit 

Waffle House 
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This is a bit facetious. But it’s a right of passage for southern youngsters (of legal drinking age, of course) to find themselves inhaling hot, artery-clogging waffles and sausage at a Waffle House just around the time bars announce last call (weird coincidence, right?). Out-of-towners have the right to gorge themselves at this 24/7 eatery, too.

This thread inspired this post.

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