The seaside cities of the American Southeast welcome everyone—from history buffs and hikers to foodies, art lovers, and festivalgoers. An abundance of diverse attractions makes these destinations ideal for groups of all kinds and sizes, so group leaders can easily string together several cities for a weeklong itinerary. (Many destinations boast enough activity to keep groups engaged for a multiday city-stay!) With plenty of stories to share, sites to discover, and tastes to savor, planning a visit to these locales is as easy as letting your senses be your guide.
The seaside cities of the Southeast are some of the oldest in the United States, and their walkable historic hearts are packed with landmarks and amenities for visitors. With roots tracing back to before the American Revolution, these cities have stories to share and have mastered the ability to tell them in a dynamic way through entertaining walking and trolley tours with informative commentary.
For example, St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States, and the imposing Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is central to that history. Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, were major ports for the English colonies. Fort Sumter at the mouth of Charleston Harbor saw the first shots of the Civil War, while Savannah was spared from burning during Sherman’s March to the Sea toward the end of the conflict.
Stories to Share
Seaside cities on the Gulf Coast, including Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana; were among the first French colonial outposts, and these communities are always finding new and important stories to share with visitors. One of the most critical is told in Mobile, where the recent rediscovery of the slave ship Clotilda generated worldwide attention. Under the cover of night in the summer of 1860, a ship carrying 110 Africans slipped into Mobile Bay and sold its human cargo into slavery. In the ensuing years, the displaced Africans survived enslavement and then established the tight-knit, independent community known as “Africatown.” A new exhibition in Mobile, opening this summer, will share the full story of the Clotilda and its passengers. Individuals’ stories will be shared through a combination of interpretive text panels, documents, and artifacts.
On Florida’s Space Coast, the tale of America’s race to space continues to be written. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is organized into Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. Visitors can go beyond the gates on a tour of the launchpad itself, explore over 60 hands-on stations, and learn about the early days of space exploration, current and ongoing missions, and more.
If you’ve been dreaming of fresh seafood paired with refreshing drinks, the restaurant scenes in seaside cities are a foodie’s paradise. With proximity to the fishing and shrimping fleets, part of the charm of coastal cooking is the ability to offer guests plenty of “boat-to-table” treats. Oysters are a staple served raw, roasted, or Rockefeller-style. Savannah’s Olde Pink House, one of Savannah’s most famous eateries serving classic Southern cuisine in a Colonial mansion, is famous for its blackened oysters. Enjoying oysters in Mobile means having them flame-grilled at Wintzell’s. In Virginia Beach, visitors can learn the legend of the famous Lynnhaven oyster and even tour an oyster farm to learn about the role that these coveted delicacies play in the coast’s fragile ecosystem.
Closer to the Chesapeake Bay, Lowcountry recipes like crabcakes are on most menus while more southerly locales feature shrimp in étouffée, jambalayas, and gumbos. In Wilmington, North Carolina, shrimp-and-grits is one of the most popular dishes, and each restaurant gives it a signature touch. Some restaurants boast a creamy, cheesy version, while others jazz it up with herbs or add sausage gravy for a spicy twist.
Specialty items are a veritable bucket list of quintessential cuisines. A trip to Florida’s Space Coast is not complete without a helping of local rock shrimp. In Mobile, King Cake is king while beignets from Café Du Monde and pralines from the nearby French Market reign supreme in New Orleans. In Virginia Beach, She Crab Soup is celebrated as chefs compete in an annual cook-off on the oceanfront. Pair a sampling of these items with a group cooking class to encourage travelers to bring a taste of the South back home!
Both New Orleans and Savannah have open container policies that allow responsible guests to sip the beverage of their choice in designated pedestrian areas. These locales don’t shy away from a fun time with festivals like Mardi Gras or Savannah’s famous St. Patrick’s Day bash. Travelers seeking to tap into the craft brewing craze will find an abundance of local breweries almost anywhere they visit to sample flights and take in the sights.
Written by Michael McLaughlin
Main Image: Monterrey Square in Savannah, Georgia; Credit: Visit Savannah