Why These 7 Cities Should Be On Your 2015 Travel List

As a Southerner, I used to take living in Atlanta for granted. But, lately, in a season of blizzards and nor'easters constantly in the news, I've come to realize the many merits of the South: the historical architecture, the myriad cultural offerings — and, first and foremost, the balmy climate. 

By way of spontaneous, summer weekend adventures with friends, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some other unique spots in the region. The one thing that links them all? Charm. It shines through in strangers’ smiles, the natural landscape, and the local businesses. If you haven’t been down below, it’s time for a road trip — when the roads have defrosted, of course. Here are seven Southern destinations that will not disappoint.       
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Photo: Courtesy of Dan Herron and Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas’ liberal mecca, is widely known as the home of music festival SXSW, but also as a hub for local artists, trendy post-grads, and wild bats (strange, but true).
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Photo: Courtesy of Denise Chambers/ Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Where To Go
A spot called Midnight Cowboy used to be a massage parlor-slash-brothel, but now it’s turned into a little-known, Prohibition-style speakeasy with an unassuming service door on the outside. Reservations are made in advance, and then you retrieve the password required for entry — once inside, you’ll feel like the ultimate insider. Guzu Gallery, meanwhile, features exhibits for pop-culture nerds (like Japanese monster movie-related art).

If you want an eccentric night out, Esther’s Follies features old-school vaudeville, comedy, and music. Finally, for your calorie splurge, check out Gourdough’s, a unique restaurant where every menu item, including fried chicken and Tex-Mex food, is served on a large doughnut — and it’s delicious. Ryan Palmer, the owner, says, “Austin has a loyalty to homegrown businesses — that intrigues visitors. It’s not all big-box stores and chains.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Dan Hacker Photography and Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Durham, North Carolina
Durham is one of the most unique towns, not just in North Carolina but in the South, thanks to incredible food, a relaxed vibe, and cool warehouse buildings (this is an old tobacco city). It’s full of perfect spots to enjoy nature, listen to local bands, and taste finely brewed beer.
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Photo: Courtesy of Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Where To Go
Durham’s Brightleaf Square is a hub for restaurants and shops, housed in renovated tobacco warehouses. If you love food trucks (and Durham helped snowball the trend, with its Food Truck Rodeo), the city has some goodies: Pie Pushers, Chirba Chirba Dumpling, and Only Burger.

If you’re into camping or hiking, spend a day at Eno River State Park (and if you’re road-tripping in the summer, bring your homemade flower crown and check out the annual music festival in honor of the river). If you’re a serious concertgoer, head to Motorco Music Hall. If you’re into beer, the Biker Bar NC is a 14-person bar on a bike that wheels you around downtown Durham as you sample brewery favorites.
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Photo: Courtesy of NewOrleansOnline.com.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is one of those cities that is viewed by outsiders through an incredibly specific lens — be it a wild Mardi Gras party or classic Cajun cuisine. But, locals in this timeless city grew up without such a restricted view, which allows them to see the true (and sometimes overlooked) magic New Orleans has to offer.
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Photo: Courtesy of NewOrleansOnline.com.
Where To Go
Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter, with its authentic Creole cuisine, is considered by locals to be the epitome of fine dining. If you’re pressed for cash, Port of Call and Mother’s Restaurant are the best spots in the city for burgers and po'boys, respectively. Marty Muller, manager of Mother’s, sums it up best: “Most of the country goes out to eat for the matter of human survival, but here in New Orleans, food is our entertainment. We live to eat; we don’t eat to live.”

While you’re near Port of Call, take a walk around Jackson Square to gaze at street performers and artwork, and stroll Magazine Street for all the unique boutiques anyone could ask for. Natives hit Frenchmen Street, an area with an artsy vibe, for a night out, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro for live music.

Don’t forget to try a Hurricane and a Grenade, the city’s two signature drinks. Meet more locals out dancing at d.b.a., Blue Nile, or the Spotted Cat Music Club.
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Photo: Courtesy of AtlantaPhotos.com/Kevin C. Rose.
Little 5 Points In Atlanta, Georgia
The quirky epicenter of Atlanta is without a doubt Little 5 Points, located near downtown on the east side. Boasting an edgy design and layout, plus graffiti that’s more like works of art, this is a neighborhood you’ll want to hang in for at least a couple of days.
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Photo: Courtesy of AtlantaPhotos.com/Kevin C. Rose.
Where To Go
The best burger in Atlanta can be found at the Vortex Bar & Grill. Crystal Blue, on the other hand, will immerse you in holistic health books and the energies of stones and crystals — just stepping inside feels meditative.

For gifts, check out Junkman’s Daughter, a shop brimming with oddities. If you love both pizza and the Avengers, grab a slice at Savage Pizza, a superhero-themed hotspot. “Have you heard the quote that’s on the window when you come into Little 5 Points?” asks Savage Pizza’s Heather Conrad. "‘We’re all here 'cause we’re not all there.’ That pretty much sums up it up.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston has a lot more to offer than just beautiful architecture and houses you wish you could afford, though one could stare at those intricate wrought-iron porches all day. It’s a beach town, a bar town, a biscuit town, and a burger town, all rolled into one.
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Photo: Courtesy of Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Where To Go
For warm sands and that hair that only beach salt can provide, check out Folly Beach and its long pier, as well as the Windjammer, a bar with beach volleyball out back. Visit Cypress Gardens, an outdoor sanctuary with trails and boats to paddle through the swamp.

Whatever sound you’re into, Music Farm hosts over 200 events per year, ranging from comedy and hip-hop to EDM and bluegrass. Head to Hominy Grill for nosh and order the shrimp and grits, fried chicken, the Big Nasty (a sausage-gravy biscuit), and chocolate pudding. Poe’s Tavern is an Edgar Allan Poe-themed local haunt on Sullivan's Island, where the writer was stationed during his military service, that serves the best burgers in Charleston — all with names derived from Poe stories and poems.

If you’re looking for a night out, look no further than AC’s Bar & Grill, a tiny dive bar on King Street, or find the locals at Recovery Room Tavern, which has sold more cans of PBR than any other bar in America. A last quirky must-see is the Angel Oak, an enormous, almost 500-year-old oak tree with a 26-foot-circumference trunk — hug it, kiss it, Instagram it.
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Photo: Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation.
Nashville, Tennessee
It’s true Nashville’s known for its country-music scene, but it's not all highlights from the ABC TV show. There are loads of local hangouts that make up a behind-the-scenes “Music City.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation.
Where To Go
Third Man Records, started by Jack White of the White Stripes, does triple duty as a record store, label headquarters, and performance venue. Check out little-known hotspot Blue Bar, a hole-in-the-wall joint where you can find the best local musicians.

Pinewood Social, a combination coffee shop, bar, bowling alley, bocce-ball court, public living room, and pool, has got you covered for pretty much anything you want to do. For free line-dancing lessons, head to Wildhorse Saloon downtown.

Checking out Prince's Hot Chicken is a must, and the Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden offers an old-school soda fountain.

The 12 South district features boutique shops like imogene + willie, a designer-denim label that will make you one-of-a-kind jeans while you wait.
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Photo: Courtesy of Visit South Walton.
Seaside, Florida
Despite its generic name, Seaside is truly the beach destination to top all others. I've been coming here for 10 years, and I think it’s worth a road trip of any length. If you’re looking for a small-town beach feel with boutique shops, emerald waters and white sands, and good eats, read on.
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Photo: Courtesy of Visit South Walton.
Where To Go
DejaVu is a one-stop shop for bohemian style, with very unique dressing rooms and a small stage where you can sing and play guitar to score 15% off your purchase. Stop by the shiny silver trailers in the square that have been transformed into food trucks: The MeltDown, known for its specialty grilled-cheese sandwiches; Raw & Juicy, an organic juice bar; and Frost Bites, featuring shaved ice and cold drinks.

Take a walk in the park by heading behind the square to Ruskin Place, a community of art galleries, and get over to The Red Bar to eat — it has fewer than ten items on the menu, all of them flawless. Finally, rent bikes and ride down the road to WaterColor, where you can rent paddleboards from the Boathouse or explore the trails that line Western Lake. As Chance Gullett, owner of Frost Bites, notes, Seaside “offers a sense of old-time U.S.A.”