Growing up Yankee, I never really imagined I would one day live in the south and absolutely love it. In fact, a southern summer vacation is exactly what I long for, even though I live here year-round. I have always had a love for the outdoors and traveling and the south is loaded with gorgeous places full of culture and heritage. I have a husband who loves to explore just as much as I do and we have traveled all over Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Tennesse, Georgia and Florida taking in the sites, the scenery, the food and of course a lot of fun and adventure.
If you are heading down south this summer here are my…
Top 5 Southern Summer Vacation Ideas
5. Branson, Missouri
Branson has been a popular tourist attraction for years. In recent years, a construction boom and an increased tourism effort have made Branson the go-to vacation destination of the mid-south.
The Carriage House Inn is our favorite place to stay. The Victorian-style hotel is clean and cozy. Located on Green Mountain Drive, you will avoid the major traffic areas but be centrally located so you can easily get to Branson Landing, Silver Dollar City, The Outlets or any destination in-between.
Lambert’s Cafe is a bit of a drive outside of Branson but is one of our most favorite places to eat. If you love down-home, southern-style cooking this is a great place to eat. The portions are huge but sometimes the wait is long (upwards of an hour) during peak season. Oh, and watch out for the rolls. When you hear someone yell “Hot Rolls!” get your hands up and get ready to catch a scratch-made hot roll that will put your grandma to shame!
Silver Dollar City combines the history of the Ozarks with some of the best thrill rides in the south. The park is full of craft demonstrations, shops, shows and over 40 rides and other attractions. Outlaw Run is the only wood rollercoaster that twists upside down three times and ranks #7 out of the world’s top 50 wood roller coasters. It is the second fastest wood roller coaster in the world. My personal favorite is Powder Keg which launches you from 0 to 53 mph in 2.3 seconds. Our favorite time to visit is in late summer during the Midnight Madness event when the park is open until midnight. The Trailblazer Pass is highly recommended.
Dixie Stampede combines an equestrian show with a great dinner for an unforgettable entertainment experience. Trick-riders, special effects, and audience involvement make this show fun for all ages.
4. Bentonville, Arkansas
21C Museum Hotel is more than just a hotel. It is within walking distance of Crystal Bridges and is itself a contemporary art museum. Be sure to look for the Green Penguins.
Crepes Paulette offers delicious sweet and savory french style crepes and a variety of drink. They recently added a restaurant to their already popular food truck in Bentonville. Eating here will leave you full and satisfied and feeling a little French.
The Hive is a located inside the 21C Museum and prides itself on offering “refined country cooking”. Chef McClure is a James Beard Award finalist and the food offered is a gourmet version of southern country favorites.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is one of the most unique museum experiences I have ever had. Designed by famed architect Moshe Sofdie to fit the landscape, the museum houses an amazing collection of American art. The collection was started by Alice Walton (Sam Walton’s daughter) and includes thousands of historically important pieces. The museum isn’t just contained between the walls but extends to the grounds and forest surrounding it. The collection of sculptures and other buildings is outstanding. Museum admission is FREE with the exception of some special exhibits.
3. Memphis, Tennesse
Honestly, we have never stayed in Memphis! We live exactly 100 miles from the center of the river bridge so we usually drive there and back when we visit Memphis. I have always really wanted to stay in the Big Cypress Lodge inside of the Bass Pro at the Pyramid. It’s a lot of money to spend though when I can be home in less than two hours. Maybe someday…
Central BBQ isn’t the oldest BBQ joint in Memphis but it is one of my favorite. They have the standard fare like ribs, pulled pork, and smoked chicken. But they also have BBQ nachos and wings! The nachos are the best around and even the half order is way more than I can eat. Don’t forget to get some fresh pork rinds when you are in either.
Gus’s Fried Chicken was my first food love in Memphis. Their chicken is so good and spicy. Not Nashville Hot but still pretty spicy. Gus’s has expanded and opened several other locations across the country but the downtown Memphis location is charming and still my favorite. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait well over an hour for a table.
Bass Pro Shops recently took over the Pyramid. The Memphis icon stood empty and unused for many years once the FedEx forum was built. Bass Pro came in and built a state of the art store and hotel. There is a bowling alley, a river with two alligators and an elevator that will take you to an observation deck at the top of the pyramid.
The Memphis Riverboats offer dinner and sightseeing cruises on the Mississippi River. The cruise is a great way to learn about some of the local history. Check out my post about the Memphis Riverboats.
The Memphis Zoo has really come a long way in the last ten years. They are still growing and have been steadily making improvements to their exhibits to make this one of the most beautiful zoos I have ever been to. My favorite section is the Teton Trek. I love the Timber Wolves. The zoo also welcomed a new baby hippo on March 23! They don’t stay cute and tiny for long!
2. Atlanta, Georgia
Quality Suites Buckhead Village in Buckhead is where we usually stay when visiting Atlanta. It is a bit outside of the downtown area but is in a super cute and trendy area. Most everything downtown has readily available parking so the “commute” isn’t an issue. The hotel has really nice suites with kitchenettes at really great prices and they also offer a free breakfast and offer evening amenities during the week.
The Varsity is the world’s largest drive-in and a great place to grab a hotdog or a burger before the big game. Shouts of “What’ll ya have…What’ll ya have” will ring out as patrons crowd to the front of the line. Make sure you know what you want before you get up there because things move mighty fast!
Gladys Nights Chicken and Waffles offers up their signature Midnight Train to satisfy that need for something not quite dinner and not quite breakfast after a long night of singing, dancing and partying. The menu is full of satisfying soul food and you will leave happy for sure. (Get the Fried Corn as your side dish!)
The Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest aquarium in the world. The aquarium houses over 60 exhibits in five galleries and is home to thousands of fish and other sea life, including several large whale sharks. They offer an early bird pass which I highly recommend. If you get in early, head straight for the Ocean Voyager room for a few peaceful moments before the crowds arrive.
CocaCola World is so much fun! Learn about the history of Coca-cola, see a production line and drink coke! View a 4D movie and even visit the vault where the top secret Coca-Cola recipe is stored. The highlight of the tour is the tasting room where you can taste over 100 beverages that Coca-Cola produces and sells all over the world.
1. Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is HANDS-DOWN my favorite vacation location. We go every summer and I can’t imagine a better vacation!
Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach – We stayed at HIPCB for several years before we started renting a house. Every room has an ocean view, they have a gorgeous pool and they have great children’s activities available if you are traveling with kids. The newly renovated and expanded Escape Deck and Oasis Tiki Bar just reopened and offers gorgeous beachside seating where you can enjoy a cocktail, hang with friends and grab a bite to eat. If your looking for someplace to stay without having to commit to a full week at a house or condo, I HIGHLY recommend HIPCB.
Schooners “The Last Local Beach Club” is an open-air restaurant right on the beach. The seafood is fresh and local, the food is great and the drinks are refreshing. They often feature live music and they fire a cannon on the beach every night at sunset. The wait can be long, so go in the off-hours, especially if you want to snag one of the few and highly coveted beachside tables.
Thomas Donuts located just west of PCB in Laguna Beach has been a local favorite and favorite of the tourists since 1971. The donuts are to die for and the line often snakes out to the road in the early morning hours. Enjoy a beachside view while you eat your breakfast. They also offer a full menu and are open for lunch and dinner as well.
Three Brothers From Italy Pizza is probably one of my favorite pizza joints. The slices of pizza are bigger than your head and they have amazing Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. You can dine on the picnic tables in front of their store or you can have them deliver a delicious pie right to your door.
Parasailing is something I never imagined myself doing but I absolutely loved it. There are parasailing stands all up and down the beach. Prices and services vary from stand to stand, so check out a few options before you make a selection.
Walk on Water (WOW) Paddle Boards was where I first learned to paddle board. It was where I fell in love with the sport. They offer tours and lessons on Phillips Inlet at Camp Helen State Park and a river tour on Holmes Creek. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and the scenery if gorgeous.
Shell Island at St. Andrews State Park is also a must-see. You can sign up for a shuttle and boat ride through the park and there are also a variety of other companies that offer excursions to the island. Be aware though that there is NOTHING on the island so come prepared with water, food, lots of sunscreen and something to provide shade. Snorkling gear and something to carry all of your shells in is also highly recommended.