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Best of the South

Five picks for summer trips, treats

For seven years, Southern Traveler magazine has presented some of the region’s best destinations, attractions, restaurants, and events as part of the Best of the South. In the past, we’ve asked readers to share their favorites. This year, our editors offer their picks for summer activities, food, and attractions that find a special place in the South.

Who doesn’t love to cool off in the searing Southern heat with a large, fruity snowball? Fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful this season, and we round up some of the best farmers’ markets in the region.

Water is the lifeblood of the South, so we’re taking you to our favorite beaches, fishing holes, and aquariums. Splash in the waves, drop a line in the water, or duck inside a cooled building and observe some of nature’s most fascinating animals.

It’s right here, a day’s drive or less from your home.

Aquariums
aquarium

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Georgia Aquarium
Atlanta, GA.

Georgia Aquarium’s motto might be go big or go home. There are more than 10 million gallons of water and more than 100 exhibits to showcase one of the world’s largest collections of aquatic animals.

Each year, the Georgia Aquarium welcomes more than 2 million guests. In 2015 – while celebrating its 10th anniversary – the aquarium was named the best in the United States (TripAdvisor). It’s also been named as the best aquarium in North America (USA Today), and AAA’s travel experts have designated Georgia Aquarium as a AAA GEM® (Great Experience for Members).

Another noteworthy fact: The largest fish in the world – the whale shark (above photo) – can be seen in the Ocean Voyager gallery. This 6.3-million-gallon exhibit that’s sponsored by The Home Depot is the only place outside of Asia to see whale sharks in captivity.

This March, the aquarium opened a $40 million California sea lion exhibit called SunTrust Pier 225. A new educational dolphin presentation, AT&T Dolphin Celebration, replaced the original show.

Before You Go: Georgia Aquarium is located at 225 Baker St. NW in Atlanta, Ga. Call (404) 581-4000 or visit www.georgiaaquarium.com for more information


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Audubon Aquarium of the Americas,
New Orleans, La.
Tennessee Aquarium,
Chattanooga, Tenn.
We love the GEAUX FISH! exhibit that takes a look at Louisiana’s fishing industry. Other exhibits focus on the Amazon rainforest, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River. Animals you may meet include moray eels, seahorses, frogs, penguins, parakeets, and much more. AAA can save up to $2 off admission when they show their membership card. The aquarium is at 6500 Magazine St. Hours are Monday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information: (504) 565-3033, www.AudubonInstitute.org Since 1992, the aquarium has celebrated the biodiversity of the Southeast. Check out the new River Otter Falls multi-tiered exhibit that’s home to six North American river otters. See other animals, including turtles, frogs, sharks, alligators, freshwater fish, and more. Don’t forget to include a two-hour cruise into the Tennessee River Gorge on board the River Gorge Explorer. The aquarium is located at 1 Broad St. Hours are Monday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Information: (800) 262-0695, www.tnaqua.org
Beaches

beach

Thirty-two miles of sugary shoreline and clear, warm Gulf waters attract vacationers to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area. Autumn still offers great weather and activities. Plus, condos and hotels often roll out off-season specials. Gulf Shores & Orange Beach

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Gulf shores/
Orange Beach, Ala.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast sister beach communities – Gulf Shores and Orange Beach – are playful siblings. Gulf Shores is the busy social butterfly, always looking for a good time. Orange Beach is the quieter, more expressive sister. But no matter what beach you choose, you’re never far from the other, so it’s all good. Sugary sand, emerald waters, impressive array of restaurants and attractions – if you can’t have fun here, you probably should vacation in the mountains somewhere.

Autumn’s cooler temperatures and great events – such as the Fifth Annual Alabama Festival of Flavor on Oct. 8 – scream for a weekend escape.

Before You Go: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, (800) 745-7263 or www.gulfshores.com


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Pensacola Beach Grayton Beach, Florida St. George Island
Located on Santa Rosa Island in northwest Florida, this lovely beach is perfect for swimming. There’s easy access to Gulf Islands National Seashore, and families can explore the fun near the pier. Information: www.visitpensacola.com Another northwest Florida jewel, this beach getaway comes with galleries, funky shops, a good amount of live music and dining venues, and a “hey, whatever, man,” attitude. Dude, let’s go. Information: (800) 822-6877, www.visitsouthwalton.com Located just off north Florida’s Gulf Coast, the 28-mile St. George Island is one of the last inhabited yet unspoiled barrier islands in Florida – and it is a serene and pet-friendly vacation. Check out the state park here, the historical St. George lighthouse, or just relax on the beautiful beach. Information: www.visitpensacola.com
Farmers’ Markets

market

From fresh herbs to any type of produce, you’ll find it at the French Market. The French Market

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French Market
New Orleans, la.

In a city that is obsessed with food, farmers’ markets can be found all over New Orleans, but the oldest and largest of them all is the French Market in the French Quarter at 1008 N. Peters St. Located on the same site since its founding in 1791, the market is a part of the cultural fabric of this culinary city.

The French Market District features six blocks of shopping, including a flea market, crafts bazaar, and a number of retail stores. But at the heart of the complex is the Farmers Market Pavilion, which is open daily from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Farmers and artisans from all over the state frequent the market to sell fresh produce, seafood, honey, baked goods, crafts, preserves, and more. The market is also home to two weekly fresh food farmers’ markets: the Crescent City Farmers Market on Wednesday from 1–5 p.m. and the French Market’s Artisan Saturday Market from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Adding to the appeal are full-service eateries, festivals, tours, and performances.

And no visit to the complex would be complete without stopping at Café du Monde – the French Market’s oldest tenant – for café au lait and beignets. The café is located at 800 Decatur St. Order an iced coffee then relax while admiring all your market treasures or watch people.

Before You Go: The French Market is located at 1008 N. Peters St. Visit the www.frenchmarket.org for more information.


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Fayetteville Farmers’ Market,
Fayetteville, Ark.
Mississippi Farmers Market,
Jackson, Miss.
Located on the downtown square, the market is open from April through November on Saturdays from 7 a.m.–2 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m.–1 p.m. Information: www.fayettevillefarmersmarket.org Located at 929 High St. near the state fairgrounds, the market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Shop for fresh produce and more. Information: www.msfarmersmarket.com

Recipe: Gad-Zucs Caprese Salad Recipe: Mexican Grilled Corn

salad

Jacek Chabraszewski/Fotolia.com

corn

Brent Hofacker/Fotolia.com

Ingredients:
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 medium red onion, sliced thin
4 radishes, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 zucchini, shaved into ribbons
4 slices fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup Italian dressing
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cut the tomatoes into small wedges. Toss the vegetables (except zucchini) together. Salt to taste. Spoon vegetables on a plate, a slice of cheese in between each spoonful. Top with the squash ribbons. Dress with Italian dressing and freshly cracked pepper. Serve (makes four servings).

Ingredients:
4 ears of corn
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup Cotija cheese (or feta if Cotija isn’t available)
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro

Directions:
To grill corn, brush shucked ears with oil and grill over medium-high heat, covered, turnont often, for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt after taking off the grill.

Mix the mayo and cumin and spread on each ear of corn. Then roll in the crumbled cheese and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve warm.

 

Fishing Spots

fishing

Louisiana Office of Tourism

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Toledo Bend Lake
Sabine Parish, La.

We are truly blessed here in the South with ample opportunities year-round to get out the rod and reel and head out for an exceptional fishing experience.

Your favorite fishing hole may depend on the time of year and what it is you are angling for, and the options are virtually limitless. Culling the list down to just three sites was as challenging as reeling in a trophy largemouth bass, but we did our best to compare oranges to oranges and focused on bodies of fresh water teeming with species of fish popular with most anglers.

Our No. 1 fishing hole in the South goes to Toledo Bend on the Sabine River, straddling Louisiana and Texas. Recently voted by Bassmaster Magazine as the nation’s best bass fishing lake, Toledo Bend also offers recreational fishermen opportunities to reel in other species such as sunfish, crappie (sac-a-lait in South Louisiana), catfish, and striped bass.

In addition to a large number of trophy-size largemouth bass – 81 lunkers (over 10 pounds) were caught in a single year – Toledo Bend is also known for producing lots of hefty sunfish, especially bluegill and redear sunfish.

Before You Go: Toledo Bend Lake Country, (800) 358-7802 or www.toledobendlakecountry.com


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Lake Fork, Sabine River in Texas Guntersville Lake, Guntersville, Ala. Arkansas River
near Dumas, Ark.
More than 65 percent of the Top 50 largest bass in Texas were hauled out of Lake Fork. Information: (903) 878-2262, http://tpwd.texas.gov The 75-mile-long lake is the largest in Alabama and has recently been named the top big bass fishery in the state. It was also rated by Yakangler.com as one of the top waters for fishing from a kayak. Information: (256) 582-3612, http://www.lakeguntersville.org With so many beautiful lakes and rivers (9,700 miles), anglers have as many choices for a fishing spot as there are lures in their tackle boxes. No wonder Arkansas, known as The Natural State, is a favorite destination for fishermen (and women) who can fish year-round here. Information: http://www.arkansas.com/outdoors/fishing/
Snowballs

sno cone

Jeff Robertson

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Just Chillin’ Too
Mandeville, la.

One of the best ways to counter summer’s relentless heat and humidity is to enjoy a cold, refreshing snowball from any number of neighborhood stands that are ubiquitous this time of year. Unlike its cousin the snow cone that is made from coarse ice, a snowball is made from finely shaved ice, which gives it a creamier texture and allows it to better absorb the flavored syrup.

Alternately spelled snoball and sno-ball, trying to identify the best of the best is no easy task. On any given day when the temperature soars above 80 degrees and the humidity level is at 90 percent, just about any sno-ball from any stand will do.

Just Chillin’ Too also offers more than 20 varieties of handcrafted ice cream, which is really important when you order a “stuffed” snowball, typically filled with either vanilla or chocolate soft serve ice cream. Adding quality ice cream to the center of a perfectly shaved mound of impeccably flavored ice is simply divine, transforming the humble sweet icy treat into a world-class dessert.

Before You Go: Just Chillin’ Too is located 700 Florida St. (at the corner of Rapatel and Florida streets) in Mandeville, La. Information: Just Chillin’ Too, (985) 951-2445. No website, but find Just Chillin’ Too on Facebook.


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Sno-La Snowball Lounge,
Metairie, La.
Pandora’s,
New Orleans, La
Woods Soda Fountain, Mountain View, Ark.
Try Chantilly Cake, (left) a snowball stuffed with cheesecake, covered with berries and condensed milk. Information: 2311 North Causeway, (504) 327-7669, http://www.sno-la.com More than 140 flavors to choose from. Pandora’s accepts only cash. Located Mid-City, Pandora’s also has lightly sweetened or sugar-free options. Information: 901 N. Carrollton Ave. No web site, but find Pandora’s on Facebook. Old-fashioned soda fountain is located inside a pharmacy. Sit at the marble counter or at one of the booths to enjoy shakes, malts, sundaes, or a chocolate phosphate. Woods Soda Fountain is located at 301 W. Main St. No website, but the business has a Facebook page. Open Monday–Saturday; closed Sunday. Soda fountain usually serves until 2 p.m. Information: (870) 269-8304

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