Ask your group what they picture when envisioning a perfect day in a new city in the Southeast. They might tell you they dream of hearing bluegrass music flowing from windows and doors, wandering cobblestone streets lined with bakeries and antique shops, or getting to know the locals over a pitcher of sweet tea on a sunny patio.
Group tours often include stops at the top attractions in major cities, but these simple joys are just as much a part of the quintessential Southern experience as much as trips to Churchill Downs or the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition to touring stately capitol buildings, admiring masterful artworks in lauded museums, and diving into a destination’s past at historical sites, it’s important to find a balance between structured group activities and your group’s need to relax and desire to explore.
The simple solution lies in carving out time for groups to be immersed in the preserved historic districts and beloved neighborhoods that encapsulate the unique character of your destination. Here, colorful small businesses are a great place to shop for souvenirs, a variety of restaurants cater to diverse palates, and a city’s rich history is on display through stunning architecture and winding, brick-paved roads. Make a stop in these storied neighborhoods that are the perfect place to park the motorcoach and start making memories.
In Charleston, South Carolina’s French Quarter, groups will find a bounty of art galleries and antebellum historical sites, plus, Rainbow Row, a street lined with pastel homes. Bulldog Tours is one of the top-rated tour companies in the city and offers guided, customizable walking tours to help navigate this magnificent neighborhood. Also in South Carolina, a visit to Greenville, known as “America’s Friendliest City,” isn’t complete without spending time on Main Street. Follow this central road to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and art galleries. Spend some time relaxing in Falls Park on the Reedy, a revitalized riverfront park and waterfall with walking trails.
Savannah, Georgia’s picturesque Historic Landmark District is known for its collection of 18th-century homes, making it a fantastic place to enjoy an architecture tour. Stop by the Savannah City Market, which was built in 1755 and is full of small shops with products ranging from sweet treats to fine jewelry. In addition to perusing the area’s stores and restaurants, book a trolley tour for a nostalgic ride through the city streets.
Memphis, Tennessee, is the “Home of the Blues,” and there’s no better place to appreciate the city’s contributions to music history than on Beale Street. Here, there are live performances seven nights a week, filling the air with the wistful, yet wonderful sounds that launched a generation of American music legends.
“Beale Street is known for its rich history as the birthplace of the blues,” says Kirby Boyd, public relations manager for Memphis Tourism. “Known as the ‘Home of the Blues, Soul, and Rock ’n’ Roll,’ Beale Street played a significant role in the development of this influential genre of music. Many legendary musicians—including B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and W.C. Handy—performed on Beale Street, contributing to its iconic status.” In between educational and enriching tours at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, let your group slow down and appreciate the new generation of talent making waves in the city today.
Another historic music destination is Macon, Georgia, where soul music has deep roots. Recognizing the need to build upon and share this legacy, Macon’s investment in downtown revitalization has hit overdrive in the past five years with renovation of historic buildings and adding restaurants, music venues, attractions, and museums. Today, groups can find eight art galleries, 32 entertainment venues, and 36 shops and boutiques. “Macon’s downtown offers a historic, walkable experience for all groups,” says Gary Wheat, president/CEO of Visit Macon. “Designed as a ‘city within a park,’ Macon’s downtown continues to attract new businesses to enhance the cultural draw to visitors and new residents alike.”
The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of the most famous historic districts in the Southeast. Visit a historic jazz club, dine on savory Creole and Cajun foods, and discover centuries-old courtyards and markets. Or, for another authentic Louisiana experience, venture to the center of the state to Natchitoches, Louisiana, the state’s oldest city. Established as a French colony in 1714, the city has preserved its European roots while evolving alongside its diverse residents over the past few centuries. This unique character is best exemplified in the National Historic Landmark District, where groups can wander past French Creole townhouses, the Minor Basilica, and the 19th-century Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, which is the city’s oldest general store. The Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau offers group tours of this district, so travelers can marvel at historic fountains, dine on authentic dishes, and shop antiques and niche gifts.
Downtown Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is a perfect destination for history fans. The quaint downtown area is a National Historical Park, honoring the area’s significance as the site of John Brown’s abolitionist raid in 1859, the Battle of Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, and as a meeting place for the Niagara Movement. Downtown’s historic buildings are a reminder of these bygone eras, but today, they house pottery studios and candy shops that delight visitors.
Also in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains, Beverley Street runs through the heart of Staunton, Virginia. Follow along this road to find major attractions, like The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, sitting side-by-side with historic theaters and boutiques housed in Beaux Arts, Romanesque, and late-Victorian architecture. This area is considered one of the most idyllic main streets in America and a wonderful place to relax after exploring the Shenandoah Valley and a myriad of local-favorite museums.
Farther west, Arkansas Tourism describes Eureka Springs as a “shopper’s paradise.” The downtown area, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is centered on Main Street and lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques and art galleries, plus cafes to refuel after a long day of traveling through the surrounding Ozark Mountains.
By Katherine Lawless
Main Image: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Credit: West Virginia Department of Tourism