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July/August 2015 Issue

Southern Exposure

Readers and editors name their favorite places to visit and play in annual Best of the South poll.

Whether discussing the best music, food, attractions, or scenic places, there are no shortages of great spots–or opinions–in the South. In our annual Best of the South poll, readers shared their thoughts, and this year, three editors weighed in with memories of their favorite Southern experiences. But we can all agree–the South is a very special region of which we can be proud.


best of the midwest


Favorite scenic drive
Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway is an obvious pick for a scenic drive in the spring or fall when it is the most colorful, but I encourage everyone to drive the parkway regardless the time of year. It’s one of those wonderful treasures that often gets overlooked by the shinier and faster Interstate System. I’m guilty of that–looking for the shortest, fastest route to my destination, but then I have to remind myself that vacation is a journey, not a destination (my apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson).

On a recent trip across Mississippi, I had the opportunity to drive the Trace from its beginning in Natchez, Miss., up to the Tennessee River in Alabama. It had been a long while since I had driven the Natchez Trace Parkway, and I kept asking myself why I had ever abandoned the roadway. It is simply beautiful and chock-full of sights and points of interest and rest areas. Yes, the speed limit is reduced, and you can expect to share the road with bicyclists, but the breathtaking vistas more than make up for it.

I hope one week soon I will be able to complete the Trace all the way to Nashville and then back. This time, I’m bringing my bicycle.




Readers’ Choice

Southern Mountain Getaway
Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas

Best Weekend in Arkansas
Eureka Springs

Best Weekend in Mississippi

Best Weekend in Louisiana
New Orleans

Best Vacation State
(Outside home state)


Best Beach for Adult Getaway
Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Ala.

Best River for Float Trip
Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Best Antique Shopping
New Orleans, La.

Best Art Museum
New Orleans Museum of Art

Tastiest Town in the South
New Orleans, La.


Arkansas’s Mount Magazine State Park
Arkansas Parks & Tourism photo


Monmouth in Natchez
Natchez Pilgrimage Tours photo


Antique shopping in New Orleans
New Orleans CVB photo


Eureka Springs
Arkansas Parks & Tourism photo


Alabama’s Gulf Coast
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism photo


Fine dining in New Orleans
New Orleans CVB photo


The Buffalo National River in Arkansas
Arkansas Parks & Tourism photo



Favorite Botanical Garden
Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Ark., has everything that most botanical gardens have. But what sets it apart are some things that you don’t often find at other gardens, especially its location. Nestled on a 210-acre peninsula that extends into Lake Hamilton, the garden’s flora and fauna flourish amid lapping waves and 4.5 miles of shoreline.

The garden’s beginnings are fascinating. Loggers had clear-cut the property in 1915. Verna Cook Garvan fell in love with the land, which her family purchased in the 1920s. After that, she never allowed timber to be harvested there. A CEO of a manufacturing company, Garvan became a self-taught gardener and over 40 years, she planted thousands of specimens, including 160 types of azaleas. Upon her death in 1993, she bequeathed the property to what is now the University of Arkansas’s Fay Jones School of Architecture.

And there are amazing architectural elements within the garden, but my favorite is the Anthony Chapel designed by Maurice Jennings. Soaring nearly six stories, the chapel features massive pine columns, fluoroscoping glass walls, a flagstone floor, and a symphony of exposed wood trusses and braces.


The Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens Arkansas Parks & Tourism photo



Favorite Local Souvenirs
TABASCO® Country Store

Anybody can buy a postcard to send or bring back to family, but to return with a delicious remembrance of your trip is special. When I visited Avery Island in Louisiana’s Iberia Parish to take the TABASCO® factory tour, I left with a bag of goodies.

The excellent tour recounts the McIlhenny Company history, offers product samples, and–like any good company tour–ends at the gift store. Shop for great food gifts, cookbooks, aprons, and the like.

New visitor experiences on Avery Island include a Cajun-Creole cafeteria-style restaurant that was scheduled to open in June at press time and an expanded tour at the TABASCO® site, which should be completed by the end of summer. A museum will showcase TABASCO® artifacts, and guests will see how the pepper sauces are mixed, tour greenhouses, and look down on the mash floor.

Don’t leave without touring the beautiful Jungle Gardens on the island. You will see thousands of white egrets and other water birds at Bird City, a protected rookery started around 1890 by E.A. McIlhenny. Paths lead to gardens filled with bamboo, azaleas, and camellias.


TABASCO® Country Store is filled with fun souvenirs. Louisiana Travel photo



Favorite music venue
Dew Drop Jazz Hall

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall in Mandeville, La., has a fascinating history dating back to the birth of jazz in the late 1800s. Today, it’s regarded as the oldest surviving rural jazz dance hall in the world.

Established by African Americans as a meeting space for the Dew Drop Social and Benevolence Association, the hall became a prime venue for jazz musicians from New Orleans. It was a major hub for legions of loyal jazz fans during the 1920s and ’30s.

Because the building isn’t air conditioned or heated, concerts are seasonal and held in fall and spring. Arrive early, but know that seats are wooden benches. Most people bring folding chairs to enjoy the music outside.





Favorite Military Museum

There are some amazing military museums in the South, but at the USS KIDD Veterans Memorial, you can walk in the footsteps of sailors who helped win World War II. Moored in the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, La., this Fletcher-class destroyer is more than a museum; it’s a time machine.

While they may not have the notoriety as carriers and battleships, the destroyers were the versatile workhorses of the U.S. Navy during the war. Launched in 1943, the USS KIDD had a long and distinguished career during World War II and the Korean War. The ship shot down enemy aircraft, attacked submarines, rescued downed pilots, and more.

Exploring the tight quarters of the ship, authentically restored as it was during World War II, you come to understand what life was like for the “tin can sailors.” Making the experience all the more meaningful are docents, ex-Navy personnel, who share their insight and experiences.




Favorite Breakfast Venue
Brick & Spoon

Beignets and coffee are among life’s great pleasures, and there’s something oh so genteel about a jazz brunch in a courtyard. But as far as a breakfast that knocked me back a few feet, that has to be at Brick & Spoon in Lafayette, La., and it started with a Bloody Mary. Garnishes such as smoked sausage, picked green beans, onions, and just about everything but the kitchen sink were offered.

House specialties include Deviled on the Bayou, a dish comprised of Tasso-deviled eggs, fried oysters, and Sriracha aioli. For sweeter fare, the white chocolate and bacon bread pudding was just about the best thing I’ve ever eaten for breakfast. I sipped my cocktail and shared the Tasso eggs while waiting for shrimp and grits and sharing Bananas Foster French toast.

I’ll never forget this place, and–happily–as I travel through the South, there are more Brick & Spoon locations to be found, including Orange Beach, Ala.; Destin, Fla.; and Houston, Texas.

Breakfast here will hold you until dinner time, but with so many memorable restaurants in the South, why would you want to skip lunch?



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