In addition to being known as the home of US space exploration and humidity that can add curl to an Afghan Hound’s fur, did you know there is a burgeoning street art scene in Houston? Downtown Houston has embraced graffiti and murals with a Texas-sized enthusiasm which provide unexpected pops of colour, big and small. It’s not just the street art lovers who flock to these Houston murals, Houston wall art has proved popular for the Instagram-loving crowd too. We love to check out the street art scene wherever we are in the world, and Houston’s wall murals are a delight.
How Street Art in Houston is Jazzing Up Its Downtown (And 7 Top Houston Wall Murals Perfect for the ‘Gram)
Houston Wall Art For The ‘Gram
All this street art makes perfect Instagram feed material. Not only do you get instant backdrops for your selfie but you also let to drop in casually how cool and cultured you are at the same time. win/win.
The “Houston is Inspired” mural is one of the most Instagrammed spots in Houston. This first of the Houston wall murals was painted by Mario Figueroa Jr as part of the city’s business initiative to promote the local arts scene.
Mario Figueroa AKA Gonzo247 leads an artist collective, Aerosol Warfare which works to promote street art in the city such as, for example, liaising with businesses hiring street artists to add murals to their buildings. Houston graffiti is straddling the fine line between avant-garde and mainstream commercial success.
Businesses are discovering the widespread attention they get with colorful wall murals
In fact, Gonzo 247 lead the team of 5 artists (including Mr. D mentioned below) that did the Guerrilla Gorilla artwork of giant gorillas around the city for the Houston Zoo in 2015. Check out this cool photo gallery of artist Anat Ronen creating her gorilla wall from start to finish.
Another graffiti wall in Houston is the “Greetings from Houston” wall mural which looks like a cool 1970’s style postcard with its bright colours and iconic Texas images (cactus, oil rig, etc). Created by local talent, Daniel Anguilu, this Houston mural is a perfect e-postcard to announce your stay in the Bayou City.
For a big city in a bigger state “Let’s Preservation The Creation Houston” mural is Houston-sized. About 60 feet tall and 180 feet wide covering 10,000 s.f. of wall, this mural by Mr. D is a riff on Michaelangelo’s famous ceiling at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Only this creator god is holding a spray paint can (and briefly a football in 2017 when Houston hosted Super Bowl 51).
If you want a whole host of backgrounds for your selfie, you should check out the Houston Graffiti Building. Here’s my son hamming it up in front of some angel wings which appeared on the Just Go Places Instagram.
The so-called graffiti park in Houston is Market Square Park, located in the Historic District of Downtown Houston. Houston is so sprawling it actually has 10 different districts in its downtown area.
Houston Graffiti Building
When we went to the Houston Graffiti Building on a Saturday, there were a handful of photoshoots happening of Quinceanara girls and their entourages.
A quinceanara photo shoot at the Houston Graffiti building.
Quinceanara parties are birthday parties for girls turning 15 and are huge affairs in the Latin American communities of the USA. The fact that these dresses are gorgeous, the girls travel with entourages and have photo shoots should tell you something about what a big deal they are!
A colourful Houston wall mural in Downtown Houston
Lawndale Art Center
The Lawndale Art Center is a venue for local and regional art. It’s got a rotating mural on its facade. The current mural is an approximately 3000 s.f. trompe l’oeil by Francesca Fuchs of cathedral pillars.
Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas
When we visited, the opening of the Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas has been delayed thanks to the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. They do, however, suggest you check out their calendar for local events.
On the GSAM website you can also book guided Houston murals tours led by a street artist. It’s a 90 minute tour available on Sundays which we would have taken if we had been in Houston on a Sunday. We learned so much from our guided street art tour of Shoreditch that I definitely would recommend a guided street art tour if you have the opportunity.
Check out the Mini Murals Houston website for small-scale murals that pop up randomly on electrical boxes in Houston adding an unexpected pop of color and vibrancy to the city. We saw something similar on the electric boxes in Cork Ireland. There’s a map on the site showing you location of these smaller pieces of Houston graffiti.
The flower-headed ballerinas were one of my favourite works.
Wall murals tend to have more longevity. These Houston murals locations, moreover, have hit a degree of fame that they should stick around for the foreseeable future or alternatively, something else equally cool will have replaced the street art.
Houston Dreamers by Pink Lo Mein, Downtown Houston wall art
Here are some of the more famous Houston murals locations. I’ve tried to organise these Houston street art locations by zip code so that’s easier on your sat nav/GPS. Of course, you are driving there…it’s Houston.
Houston is Inspired – 907 Preston St, Houston TX 77002
Market Square Park – 301 Milam, Houston TX 77002
Lawndale Art Center 4912 Main Street, Houston TX 77002
Houston Graffiti Building – 1503 Chartres St, Houston TX 77003
Let’s Preserve the Creation Mural – 2800 San Jacinto, Houston TX 77004
Greetings From Houston Mural – 3601 White Oak Drive, Houston TX 77007
Houston Zoo Mural – 2201 Washington Avenue, Houston 77007
Where to Find The Top Houston Wall Murals
Practicalities for Visiting Houston Wall Art
We stayed at the St. Regis Houston which is a great hotel but not that near downtown Houston. It was about a 40 minute drive to downtown.
We went to the original Ninfa’s (on 2704 Navigation Boulevard) which is famous for creating fajitas back in the 1970’s. My kids love their Mexican food and fajitas remain one of their favourite dishes of all time/cuisines. Of course, we had to do a pilgrimage to Ninfa’s and it was totally worth it! Check out the excellent reviews for Ninfa’s on Navigation on TripAdvisor.
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With so many restored Louisiana plantation homes to visit, how do you narrow down your choice of Louisiana plantation homes when you are travelling with children in tow? My husband and I would have loved to have seen as many plantation homes in Louisiana as we could have but we knew our children had a much more limited attention span. In the end, we chose three of the New Orleans plantation houses to visit based on their proximity to each other and the different perspectives on Southern plantation life they provided.
The top 3 Louisiana plantation homes to visit from New Orleans.
New Orleans Plantation Country
New Orleans plantation country has 10 major plantations to explore.
Destrehan Plantation and Ormond Plantation are the closest to New Orleans and the international airport.
Houmas Plantation and San Francisco Plantation focus on the grandeur of New Orleans plantation houses and the Antebellum lifestyle enjoyed by its owners.
Poche Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation offers a history of the families who lived there.
Laura Plantation focuses on the connection of the French Creoles with the region.
St Joseph’s Plantation is still a working sugarcane plantation.
Evergreen Plantation offers a bit of everything – a French Creole history, grand architecture, the stories of slave labour and a working sugarcane plantation.
Whitney Plantation tells the story of the slaves working on these sugarcane plantations.
Our Three Picks for Family-Friendly Plantation Homes in Louisiana
Our decision came down to convenience as well as having good historical learning exhibits. New Orleans plantation country extends all the way to Baton Rouge on the River Road but we stayed at the end closest to New Orleans.
A map of the sugar plantations that lined the Missisippi River in their heyday.
Staying on site in a cottage at Oak Alley Plantation, we were also able to visit the nearby Whitney Plantation and the Laura Plantation. All three of these plantations lie in a convenient cluster near each other less than an hour away from Downton New Orleans.
Of these three New Orleans plantation houses, Oak Alley provides the most amenities. For example, there are rental cottages located on the 25 acre property. In addition, there is a large restaurant, separate cafe and a banqueting facility as well as the requisite gift shop.
New Orleans Plantations Tours I Missed
St. Joseph’s Plantation is located next door to the Oak Alley Plantation and I was gutted to have to drive by it without entering. I, however, know my children’s limits on museums and three museums in 2 days was plenty. I would have also liked to see Houmas Plantation to compare the Anglo-American sugar plantation lifestyle with that of the French Creoles.
The Grand Dame of the New Orleans Plantation Houses
We chose Oak Alley Plantation because it not only has family-friendly accommodation on site but is also beautiful. Small wonder it is the most photographed plantation home in Louisiana.
Oak Alley Plantation History
Oak Alley Plantations’s history is fairly abbreviated. The 28 Virginia live oaks that give the plantation its name are about 300 years old. They had already been planted by a previous owner when Jacques Roman, the scion of a local rich family, bought the plantation. He had the grand plantation home built as a way to tempt his New Orleans socialite bride, Celina Roman, out to the countryside.
Fun Fact! The Roman family owned a whole host of Louisiana plantations homes including one known as Le Petit Versailles (modelled after Versailles in France).
Built entirely by slaves with handmade bricks over the course of a mere 2.5 years in the 1840’s, the craftsmanship is extraordinary. The plantation house is built in a Greek revival style with 28 Tuscan columns meant to echo the 28 live oaks lining the driveway. The exterior walls are stucco made to look like marble.
A cutaway of the plaster wall at Oak Alley plantation shows the handmade bricks made by the enslaved workers.
The Romans lived for less than 10 years at Oak Plantation when Jacques Roman died. Celina did not have the skills to run a sugar plantation. By the time their son was old enough to take over the running of Oak Alley, the estate was heavily in debt and the estate was sold in 1866.
With the end of slavery, the economic model of sugar plantation was not viable and so the whole plantation eventually fell into ruins.
The current owner’s family, wealthy Texans, bought the house for $50,000 in 1925. They had to spend $60,000 though to renovate the plantation house and make it liveable.
The beauty of the columned terrace.
With its obvious beauty, Oak Alley is a popular film venue. For example, it has appeared in Interview With A Vampire (1994) as the home of Louis (played by Brad Pitt). My kids were more impressed though that it was in the video for Beyonce’s song Deja Vu.
Oak Alley Plantation Tour
As of January 2018, the tours are no longer conducted by guides in period dress. The tours of the plantation house are run frequently throughout the day and last about 45 minutes.
You get a brief history of the family, a look at the formal sitting room, the dining room and some bedrooms. You have great views over the plantation grounds from the second floor terrace, including down that famous alley of live oaks.
The view from the terrace down that famous alley of live oaks at Oak Alley Plantation.
Outside on the grounds, there are self-guided tours you can do. There is also an exhibit on slavery at Oak Alley for which you can listen to a separate tour guide discuss the life and duties of slaves on the plantation.
Old Sugar Kettles now are part of the landscaping at Oak Alley Plantation.
When we listened to the talk on slavery at Oak Alley, we realised about 2/3 of the people in the group walked away from lack of interest. Many people are at Oak Alley because it is pretty and a brief glimpse into the lifestyle of rich planters in the Antebellum South.
The Whitney Plantation Tour
Whitney Plantation is the only plantation to focus on the plight of the Southern slaves. Unlike the other two New Orleans plantation tours we took, the plantation owners’ life and home was very much ancillary to the tour.
Whitney Plantation History
The Whitney Plantation was started in 1752 by a German family, the Haydels, who had come to Louisiana as indentured servants. They changed their name to sound more French to fit in with the locals. From indentured servants to rich plantation owners, they epitomised the American Dream long before that idea had even been conceptualised.
The estate office for Whitney Plantation is a relatively subdued affair.
The house architecture is considered French Creole cottage. Although the house looks grand from the outside, the interior is remarkably humble in keeping with many French Creole Louisiana plantation homes. French Creoles did not entertain as lavishly as the Anglo-American plantation owners and saved their partying for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
In 2014, the Whitney Plantation was opened as a museum to the history of plantation slavery.
Whitney Plantation Museum
The Whitney Plantation tour is long – about an hour and a half and is mostly outside. Our guide, Ali, was a dynamic personality and tried to engage with the kids. TripAdvisor reviews agree that the Whitney Plantation tour is excellent.
My 11 year old kids found the Whitney Plantation tour fascinating but also disturbing because it made a vague concept they had studied about in a textbook more real.
Travel Tip – On a hot sunny day like we had, we were grateful we had bottles of water with us because most of the tour is outside.
The lives of sugar plantation slaves was very harsh. Sugar was 3x more profitable to grow than cotton but also much more difficult to extract. There were plenty of opportunities for accidents from the cutting of the tall sugar canes to the boiling of the sugar cane in the sugar kettles. For example, if some of the hot sugar cane syrup fell on your skin while it was being ladled, it would stick like tar to the skin.
Sad Fact: The average life expectancy of a slave working on a sugar plantation was only 10 years.
In fact, it was cheaper to let the slaves die as they grew older and more infirm than to take care of them. The plantation owners referred to young enslaved women as breeders because they were required to provide more human stock to replenish and to enlarge the workforce.
Slave women were also kept breeding in order to provide additional workers.
The Whitney Plantation has an indoor exhibit explaining slave trade throughout history around the world. Slavery, after all, has been around for millennia.
There is also Antioch Baptist Church which was built after the Civil War. This Baptist Church moved to the Whitney Plantation when the original congregation decided to build a new church after Hurricane Katrina.
The Antioch Baptist Church relocated to the Whitney Plantation.
The Antioch Church was built by skilled slave labour. Inside are some of the sculptures by Woodrow Nash of slave children taken from actual photographs of slave children. Their eyes are missing to symbolise their hopeless situation. The sculptures are very moving.
Woodrow Nash sculptures of slave children in Antioch Baptist Church at Whitney Plantation.
The Whitney Plantation Tour takes you to see 3 memorials to slavery:
The Wall of Honor recording the name of slaves who were owned by the Haydel family.
A mother is listed with her children under the age of 10.
The 18 Walls Monument which records the name of every enslaved person in a plantation home in Louisiana from 1719-1820.
A memorial with the name of every slave in a plantation home in Louisiana during the 99 years ending in 1820.
The Field of Angels lists the names of slave children who died at Whitney Plantation and its parish from 1823-1863. The average age of a child was three years old. Many of the youngest did not even have names.
Mediums have reported spirits of children playing near this statue to dead slave children.
The Whitney Plantation Tour also encompasses several of the outbuildings, including the separate building which was the kitchen, and the slave jail.
Laura Plantation in Lousiana
We visited Laura Plantation because we wanted to learn more about French creole culture which existed until after the Civil War very much separate from the Anglo-American culture in Louisiana. Not surprising considering their origins, the French Creole looked down on Anglo-American culture.
Fun Fact! – Laura Locoul Gore (born in 1861) was the fourth generation to live at Laura Plantation but the first generation to speak English!
Laura Plantation History
The Laura Plantation was built in 1805 by slaves in the Creole style for Guillaume Duparc. The Big House is a riot of colors similar to the houses you see in the Caribbean.
The Big House at Laura Plantation
The Laura Plantation’s history is remarkable because it thrived under the management of French women with backbones of steel. In its heyday, the Laura Plantation encompassed 12,000 acres, a sugar mill, 69 slave cabins housing 186 slaves, a slave hospital and communal kitchens.
This line of matriarchy was started by a wayward son exiled to the New World. Guillaume Duparc was forced to flee his native Normandy when he got into a duel with his father’s best friend’s son. He joined the French forces who were helping the American side during the American Revolution.
Duparc knew George Washington and had friends in high places. To keep on his good side, Thomas Jefferson gave the Laura Plantation to Duparc when the USA acquired the area as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Guillaume Duparc died within a few years and the plantation was run by his wife, Nanette. They had two sons and a daughter. The sons didn’t amount to much and the daughter, Elizabeth, was forced to take over the plantation.
Shocking fact – When Nanette retired to another house on the estate she took 5 slaves with her. Three of these slaves were her grandchildren by her youngest son and a slave woman. She didn’t even set her enslaved grandchildren free.
A genealogy of Nanette’s grandchildren who remained slaves.
Elizabeth split the estate in half to give to her two children. She was a tough old lady and thought her son was useless. She gave the better half (which included the sugar mill) to her equally-steely daughter. The son incurred debts trying to build his own sugar mill which eventually crippled his half of the plantation.
The son named his part of the inheritance the Laura Planation after his daughter, Laura Locoul Gore. Laura sold the plantation for $18,000 in 1891. Her only living descendent was a grandson who has since died of a drug overdose.
It’s not quite shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations but close. If it weren’t for the fortitude of the women in this family, the men would have run the plantation into the ground much faster.
Slave cabins at Laura Plantation.
Before Laura died in 1936, she wrote her memoirs, Memories of the Old Plantation Home which makes fascinating reading. Some of her attitudes seem patronising until I realised that would have been how they thought in that era. For their time period, she and her “weak” father were quite liberal which did not a good Southern plantation owner make.
Laura Plantation Tour
The Laura Plantation Tour starts in the Big House and also visits the slave quarters. It attempts to tell the story of both the slaveowning family as well as some of the enslaved family. Obviously, the family history is better known and documented whereas the enslaved peoples’ stories are pieced together from ancillary sources.
We wanted to stay in a New Orleans plantation hotel and the Oak Alley Plantation is one of two choices available in New Orleans plantation country. The other option in New Orleans plantation country would have been Houmas House Plantation which would have been another half-hour further on from Oak Alley Plantation.
If you are driving as far as Baton Rouge, you will also have the option of staying at Nottoway Plantation Resort and The Myrtles Plantation. Unless you have particularly brave children, I’d choose Nottoway Plantation Resort because The Myrtles Plantation is supposed to be one of the most haunted hotels in the USA.
The best part of staying at Oak Alley Plantation is having the house and gardens to yourself after the visitors have gone for the night and before they arrive in the morning. I was a little shocked that Oak Alley had lots of visitors from the very first tour which starts at 9 AM.
A view of the Big House at Oak Alley Plantation from the formal gardens.
Staying at the New Orleans Plantation Hotel
They have different sized cottages which can accommodate up to six people. Our two bedroom cottage was charming. It had a traditional charm that was endearing and enough shiplap on the walls to make Joanna Gaines happy.
One of the bedrooms at a traditional cottage at Oak Alley plantation.
Our cottage had a kitchen for which we were thankful after our fussy child threw a fit at the nearest restaurant at lunchtime. We bought frozen pizza and ice cream for the kids at the nearest supermarket, Piggly Wiggly, in Vacherie.
The beds were comfortable, the Wifi excellent and parking easy. What more could we want??
Meals at the New Orleans Plantation Hotel
If you stay at Oak Alley Planation, breakfast at the restaurant is included. We had a hearty breakfast that included a choice of omelettes, french toast or that old Southern favourite, grits.
French toast with Oak Alley cane syrup for breakfast at Oak Alley plantation.
My fussy daughter had pitched a fit at the lunch on offer at the nearest restaurant we were recommended. B&C Seafood Market & Cajun Restaurant is conveniently located between Laura Planation and Oak Alley Plantation. We thought the food at B&C was good. There is a children’s menu with things like grilled cheese and lemonade. She, however, saw the alligator nuggets on offer and that was a bridge too far for her culinary sensibilities.
Travel Tip – There are fast food establishments, like McDonalds, Subway and Pizza Hut on Highway 3125 about 6 miles from Oak Alley Plantation.
We had stayed at this New Orleans plantation hotel on Valentine’s Night so there was a special dinner available in the banqueting hall. It was a price fixe with a fixed menu and needed to be scheduled ahead of time. There were no substitutions allowed so we wound up skipping a course which included mussels to which we are allergic.
A romantic dinner for two at the banqueting hall at Oak Alley Plantation.
Overall the meal was good and the wine pairings excellent. We did, however, feel like we were at a wedding just the way the tables were arranged with 16 couples facing the front of the banqueting hall. The head chef even came out to give a little speech. I think fine dining options in this part of the world are limited and the Oak Alley Valentine’s Dinner was the best local option for the night.
New Orleans Plantation Tours
We drove from New Orleans to see these three plantation homes in Louisiana. The drive is really easy and straightforward.
Travel Tip – If you want to visit all three of these plantations, you should stay overnight in the area.
If you don’t have a car though, you have a choice of New Orleans plantation tours leaving from the city with different combinations depending on your interests.
We are glad we visited all three of these New Orleans plantation houses. They offered very different aspects of the Louisiana plantation homes lifestyle.
We believe our kids enjoyed the visits to these plantation homes, too. Other than the Whitney Plantation tour, all the tours were short. None of the houses had major artwork or furniture that required detailed explanation which they would find tedious. We were whisked through the houses fairly quickly.
Visiting the New Orleans plantation countryside with kids
They were fascinated with some of the stories they heard. For example, one of the teenage daughters at the Laura Plantation went to a French doctor to be treated for pimples. The medicine he gave her contained arsenic which lead to her death. Yes, modern medicine is a wonderful thing and they take it for granted.
My kids were likewise shocked that enslaved children from the age of 10 were separated from their mothers and treated the same as adults who were made to work 16 hours a day. They are 11 years old and nowhere ready to be treated as adults, never mind leave the comforts of childhood behind them.
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
– Edmund Burke
Kids may learn history in school but visiting a historical place really hammers home the point.
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Where do you start when planning a Deep South road trip itinerary? There’s so much to see and to do in the Southern States. That’s the problem I’ve been having because we are in the process of planning a Southern USA road trip. We have driven through some of the Southern USA like Florida and our recent Louisiana road trip post-Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Long before I met him, my husband did a Southern States road trip with his best friend. From what I gather, it involved a lot of beer and pizza. Our family-friendly Deep South USA would be quite different! I’ve reached out to some travel blogger friends for other (better?) ideas on Deep South tours.
Tips and Ideas for a Roadtrip of the Southern States in the USA
Who better to ask for advice on creating a Deep South road trip itinerary than travel bloggers who have been there? Below are the recommendations on places to visit on a Deep South tour and travel tips for a southern states road trip from 13 fellow travel bloggers.
Map South East USA
The Southastern USA on a Deep South Road Trip
The southeastern USA has many great locations to make up a Deep South road trip itinerary to suit your interests. Whether your interest lies in history, food, music or simply beautiful beach resorts, the Deep South has so many options that you will be spoilt for choice. We can definitely vouch for the beauty of the Outer Banks with its wild horses and the fascinating Wright Brothers National Memorial where the Wright Brothers flew the first plane.
The Deep South is unlike any other part of the U.S. – and that’s exactly why we loved our Deep South road trip through it. One of our favorite stops along the way was Birmingham, Alabama, a surprisingly hip and hipster town that was the site of many important (and tragic) events in America’s past.
There’s so much to learn about in Birmingham, and the Vulcan Museum and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) are both absolute must-sees. The Vulcan Museum is home to the world’s largest cast-iron statue, and the exhibits next door illustrate the city’s founding and its rise as a major geopolitical center of the South. The BCRI is the most comprehensive museum on the Civil Rights Movement, covering everything from desegregation to the Civil Rights Act, as well as present-day immigration and human rights issues around the world.
Birmingham is also underrated as a foodie destination, and every meal we had there was delicious. Head to Crestline Bagels in the suburb of Mountain Brook for the perfect bagel, downtown’s Brick and Tin for gourmet sandwiches, and Delta Blues Hot Tamales in Five Points South for a local twist on Mexican cuisine (with great vegetarian options).
– by Jen Ambrose and Ryan Victor of Passions and Places and
Street art in Birmingham Alabama seen on a Southern USA road trip (photo credit: Jen Ambrose and Ryan Victor)
A Civil Rights Focus For a Southern USA Road Trip
Three things you will find in the Southern states of the USA — delicious southern cooking, destinations with a deep yet troubled history, and the birthplace of the many musical genres that have impacted American music.
On this Deep South Road Trip itinerary, start in Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and home to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
From Atlanta, head down to Montgomery, Alabama and visit the Rosa Parks Museum and Freedom Rides Museum to learn about the monumental impact the bus boycott and Freedom Rides had on the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.
It is then a short one and one-half hour drive to Birmingham, Alabama, where you can learn about the civil rights struggle in Alabama at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and sample from Birmingham’s burgeoning food scene.
Finish off your road trip in Memphis, tracing the arc of MLK, Jr.’s life from beginning to tragic end with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, the site where he was assassinated.
Of course, the Memphis music scene is hopping with the blues clubs on famous Beale Street, Gibson guitar factory tours, Elvis’ Graceland, the Memphis Blues Hall of Fame, and historic STAX Museum of American Soul Music.
Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Georgia (Photo credit: Tamara Gruber)
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina is known for its colorful buildings, warm weather and delicious Southern cooking – and of course, a high level of Southern charm! During my whirlwind visit to Charleston, I tried to pack in as much as possible, and I was not disappointed by this sweet Southern gem.
On the strong recommendation of a local friend, I went to Poe’s Tavernfor lunch and had the best shrimp salad sandwich of my entire life! Poe’s is located just two blocks up from the beach, so it’s the perfect spot to eat before or after visiting the ocean. Their seafood is so fresh and the atmosphere has a fun, bustling local haunt kind of vibe out on Sullivan’s Island. I highly recommend checking Poe’s Tavern out while you’re in town!
A great spot for wandering and snapping some Instagram-worthy photos is Rainbow Row, which is a series of thirteen beautiful, colorful historic houses in downtown Charleston.
Fun Fact! – Rainbow Row is actually the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States.
Charleston is so walkable and picturesque that I’d recommend continuing your stroll by taking a free walking tour to learn more about the history of the city!
Charleston, South Carolina on a Deep South Road Trip (Photo credit: Sierra Dehmler)
Memphis, Tennessee is one of the jewels of the American South. Located along the Mississippi River, it has a long history as an important river port. Today, many of the riverfront warehouses are empty, but the city retains much of its charm.
Memphis is best known for two things: music and food. This combination has attracted tourists to the city in flocks, and led to redevelopment of the downtown area with the influx of tourism dollars.
You will want to stay downtown, as most of what you’ll want to see will then be within a fairly easy walk of your hotel. If able, stay at the historic Peabody Hotel and watch the morning march of the ducks into its lobby fountain. Just arrive early as seating is hard to come by.
Most tourists will visit Beale Street and its countless clubs with live music. Beale Street is crowded and loud, and most of the clubs have cover charges, but just walking along the street at night will expose you to the Memphis Blues!
For the best in the Memphis music scene, visit Sun Studio, the famous recording studio that launched countless careers including the city’s most famous former resident: Elvis Presley. The tour of the studio lasts about an hour, and will be one of your Memphis highlights! There is even a free shuttle for tour-takers from Sun Studio to Elvis’ Graceland mansion, a wonderful (but very expensive) look into the life of The King.
If all of this music makes you hungry, stop by Rendezvous for the original Memphis BBQ. The restaurant is largely unchanged over the past several decades, and that’s a good thing. Your waiter will know more about the city than the average person in the tourism office. For more, check out my interview with John Vergos, the owner of Rendezvous.
Finally, one can’t leave Memphis without spending a few hours at the National Civil Rights Museum. Built into the facade of the Lorraine Motel – where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – the museum is a living tribute to the American civil rights struggle, a struggle that continues today. By midday the line for the museum can be long, so plan accordingly.
No matter what you choose to do, Memphis is an incredible city, definitely worth a visit.
Elvis Statue in Memphis, Tennessee (Photo credit: Jonathan of The Royal Tour)
The Southeastern United States
As someone who was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, the news that the Southeast had been chosen as one of the world’s emerging travel hotspots provoked one question from me: What took them so long?
In terms of natural beauty, the region has it in spades, from the mountains of Appalachia and national forests such as Chattahoochee and Pisgah to islands such as the Outer Banks (NC), Golden Isles (GA), and Hilton Head (SC).
If it’s culture you seek, the Southeast is the birthplace of the blues, country, jazz, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s fantastic food, from the low country cuisine of the coastal regions to the soul food that traces its roots back to Africa.
If it’s hip cities you’re into, the region has more than its fair share, from Asheville and Charleston to Nashville and Mobile. And then there’s my hometown, Atlanta, which has grown from the city Sherman burned to a bustling metropolis rich with international flavor.
Whether you’re into Civil War history or the Civil Rights movement, the Southeast has a uniquely diverse array of offerings that will appeal to travelers of every style. So much so that, in recent years, a significant portion of our visitors seem inclined to stay!
Gainesville is an awesome place to visit for its diversity. As a college town where the University of Florida is located, there are a ton of very unique bars, and many that are cheap as dirt (the benefits of a college town!) Some even let you bring your dogs, which is fun whether you have a pup or not – I mean, who doesn’t love having a beer and petting a cute dog at the same time?
There are some cool walks to do as well, on one of which you can spot gators. Just don’t get too close, and they won’t attack. I swear, they’re tame! (Don’t bring your dogs for that walk, though, as they do want to eat your dog, just not you!)
Gainesville is filled with surprises, and awesome places to eat. Ever tried a falafel burger? You got it. As it’s a bit of a trendy place, there are loads of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, as well as something for the meat eaters out there – rest assured.
Overall, Gainesville is incredibly diverse, plus it’s a small city so it’s easy to walk around even if you don’t have a car. I highly recommend visiting!
Up close and personal with Alligators in Gainesville, Florida (Photo credit: Danielle Ditzian)
Beautiful Southwest Florida is as much a geographic region as it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Florida. Located in the sub-tropical southwest “paradise coast” of Florida, the region lies at the edge of the Florida Everglades giving visitors unparalleled nature and eco tourism opportunities.
The main cities of Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, and Fort Myers all offer great shopping, dining, and cultural activities centered around the Arts, and are surrounded by the small, still quaint fishing towns that offer a glimpse into the slower pace of Floridays gone past.
Island towns like Sanibel and Captiva islands, Pine Island, and Matlacha, are easy day trips from wherever you stay and perfect for paddling the calm bays and backwaters, browsing art galleries and eating fresh shrimp tacos for lunch.
It’s just a short drive to Miami for those needing more action, and a fun 3-hour boat ride to check out Key West for the day. But the biggest draw for visitors to southwest Florida is some of the best beaches in the country, with Caribbean-style turquoise water, soft white sand, and some of the best shelling in the world.
A live shell found on the beach in Naples, Florida will go back to the sea.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida
My family loves visiting the islands of Sanibel and Captiva on the West coast of Florida. They offer some of the Sunshine State’s most sublime scenery. Miles of white sand beaches, acres of wildlife refuge, and a low-key vibe make this part of Florida a true island oasis.
Both Sanibel and Captiva have long been known as the best spots in the world to go shelling, but Sanibel in particular has a huge abundance of shells due to its unusual east-west orientation, allowing the shells to roll in and stay put. People come from far and wide to go shelling on Sanibel.
Sanibel is also the home to the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, offering a ton of wildlife spotting, making the island a nature-lovers paradise. There is town life as well, but for the really funky part of the islands, head over the bridge to Captiva, where swirls of bright colours great you with quirky stores and bungalow-style restaurants and cafes.
Captiva is fun and unique, with places like the wacky Bubble Room, which celebrates Christmas all-year round, and known for their delicious cakes. Sunset Beach cocktails can be had at famed Mucky Duck, a Captiva institution. Best of all, though, is just hanging at one of the islands’ many beautiful beaches, and feeling completely removed from the hustle and bustle.
– by Corey Cook at Fifi and Hop and on social media at
A Captiva Florida sunset (Photo credit: Corey Cook)
One of the most famous ecosystems in the southeast US is the Florida Everglades, as it contains the largest subtropical wetland in the country. Over 1.5 million acres has been designated asEverglades National Park, and is home to more than 70 threatened or endangered species.
The Everglades has such a unique ecology that it’s also received several international recognitions, including International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International Importance, and World Heritage Site (this place is special, y’all!).
Since the Everglades is so shallow, with sawgrass marsh as its primary feature, motorboats can’t operate in most areas. So the most novel – and fun! – way to explore it is by airboat. Airboating is a great eco-friendly option, since there’s no submerged propeller to damage underwater plants and wildlife (that gets extra points from this sustainability-minded traveler). It’s also loud, windy, and fast!
To get a little taste of what the Everglades has to offer, I recommend a tour with EvergladestheRiverof GrassAdventures. Just an hour’s drive from Fort Lauderdale and a cost of $50 for a one-hour tour, it’s easily accessible and well-priced. The guides are super knowledgeable on ecology of the area, and there’s a good chance you’ll have some close encounters with local wildlife. Fingers crossed for an alligator sighting!
– by Mary Beth Charles at MBSees.com and on social media at
American Alligator Swimming through the Everglades (Image credit: Mary Beth Charles)
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Georgia and Florida
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is as much fun to visit as it is to say (oh-kuh’-fuh-noh’-kee). Residing along the Georgia and Florida border in the Southeast United States, this renowned swamp covers 438,000 acres. The look and feel of this swamp is almost prehistoric, as alligators inhabit the waterways and Spanish moss hangs from the trees.
If you are a wildlife lover, be sure to bring your binoculars and camera. Besides the thousands of alligators in the swamp you might also see black bears, otters water moccasins and a whole host of interesting birds, including the osprey, sandhill crane and anhinga.
You can explore Okefenokee Swamp at your leisure from your car or the wilderness walkways, or take one of the many tours offered by the Park Service. You can even take a train tour aboard “The Lady Suwanee” along the Okefenokee Railroad.
I very highly recommend getting out of your car and taking the Adventure Walk to the Observation Tower. This boardwalk sits low – nearly on top of the swamp so wildlife viewing is fantastic. The Observation Tower is 90 feet high and allows wonderful panoramic views of the swamp.
Twin alligators at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on the Florida-Georgia border (Photo credit: Cherri Megasko)
Florida For a Southern States Road Trip
When you think of Florida, you probably think of Disney and gators, but there is so much more to it than that.It’s home to the oldest city in the US (St Augustine), one of the least visited national parks in the country, natural springs with crystal clear water, and some of the best cave diving in the world.And if none of that interests you, it’s got the Kennedy Space Center, beaches galore, some of the best state parks, and one of the most stylish cities in the country.
I love visiting Florida, because just driving three hours can feel like an entirely new place.There’s something for everyone whether you’re a city slicker or a beach bum, there’s a place for you.
I love the colorful shops in Cocoa Beach, boating around Port Orange, relaxing at the Anastasia Island State Park, and exploring the springs.
In Gainesville check out The Flying Biscuit for brunch and CYM for a delicious coffee.
If you’re in St. Augustine, head to Kookaburra for a unique coffee experience and an awesome dinner at The Floridian after wandering the old city.
Florida is an awesome place to visit because it is such a diverse state.
Louisiana and Texas for a Deep South USA Road Trip
We have just returned from a Louisiana road trip that started in with Mardi Gras in New Orleans and ended in Houston. I’ve not yet had time to write the articles for this Louisiana road trip which included visiting plantation country and cajun country. In the meantime, here are two other perspectives on visiting Louisiana and Texas.
New Orleans, Louisiana
United States is a huge country with plenty of diversity, amongst which the southern states holds its own. The weather is warm, the food is spicy, the people are known for their “southern” hospitality and there are some unique rituals and festivals that are not observed anywhere else in the country.
New Orleans, the major city of Louisiana, stands out on its own because of the French colonialism hangover. The creole-cajun food where African (much like other southern states, Louisiana too had African slaves employed on plantations and cotton fields) and French traditions meet, the strains of Jazz music and the crowd puller Mardi Gras are all nods to its checkered past.
There are so many reasons to visit New Orleans, be it to witness the frenzy of Mardi Gras or the liveliness of New Orleans Jazz fest or to taste the amazing diversity in southern food.
However, the one thing that you should not miss is the French quarter neighborhood or Vieux Carre, the oldest district of the city and built by the French in 1718. The architecture is distinctly European with slatted windows, beautiful courtyards and fountains. It is a bustling neighborhood with bars, pubs, restaurants and local boutique shops. Bourbon street is the liveliest street which becomes the epicenter of drunken revelry during Mardi Gras while Canal street is where you get to see some of the best parades at that time.
French Quarter is home to the famous Jackson Square, formerly known as the Place d’Armes and later renamed after Andrew Jackson, the hero of the battle of New Orleans. Close by is the iconic Cafe du Monde serving beignets and coffee 24/7 (cash only please).
The French Quarter is a must visit if you are in NOLA and you can further enhance your experience by joining one of the many walking tours offered in the neighborhood.
New Orleans, Louisiana (Photo credit: Paroma Chakravarty)
Austin, the state capital of Texas, is a great place to visit and rightly deserves to be included in the Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Regions to visit in 2018.
Known predominantly for it’s eclectic music scene and the University of Texas at Austin, Austin also has enough parks and lakes to keep every outdoor enthusiast happy and are great for hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking.
It also has a blossoming food scene and currently serves up some of the best BBQ and Taco’s in the whole of the South! Add in an outdoor gallery and 2 annual music festivals, and you’ve got a city with something for everyone.
If you are planning a weekend in Austin, this guide has everything you need to know from things to do, where to stay and what to eat!
– by Vicki Garside at Make Time To See The World and on social media at
Austin Texas (photo credit: Vicki Garside)
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I feel it is deeply unfair when a woman has an unabashed love of cats she’s known as a crazy cat lady. When a man, however, is a cat lover no one comes up with such a pejorative nickname. Relatives of mine (ahem! my brother) are crazy about their cats. He’s got three cats who are deeply loved and cosseted. Does anyone accuse him of being a crazy cat person? No. So I shall do some finger-pointing and call out the American swashbuckling hero, general hard-drinking/hard-loving, larger-than-life novelist, Ernest Hemingway, as a crazy cat man. Hemingway’s Key West house is now a visitor destination and home to a whole lot of cats.
Hemingway and His Cats
Hemingway’s Key West house is filled with cats. You turn around, and there’s another cat that you are practically tripping over. There are 50+ cats in residence in the house. Some of them are descendants of Snow White, Hemingway’s polydactyl (six-toed) cat given to him by a sea captain as good luck. Hemingway’s sons chose the name for this cat but subsequent cats were named after the author’s famous friends.
One cat just leads to another.
See? This quote just proves that Hemingway was a crazy cat man.
Kitty does not look amused.
Here’s a cat on top of a mini version of Hemingway’s Key West house built as a cat house.
Hemingway liked cats because he admired their intelligence and independence.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.
No animal has more liberty than the cat. The cat is the best anarchist.
Just doing a perimeter check.
Stop looking at my toes, people. Nothing to see here.
Hemingway had curtains embroidered with cats. ‘Nuff said.
Hemingway and His Women
It seems Hemingway was more faithful to his cats than to the women in his life. He was notorious for his messy love affairs. He had four wives and three kids. Three of his wives became friendly with each other (probably bonding over what a pain he was).
Hemingway’s bed. Bet this saw a lot of action.
When he ran off to Europe to be a war correspondent and took his mistress with him, his second wife tore down his boxing ring in the back garden and built a very expensive pool. It was actually the only in-ground pool in the Florida Keys in the 1930’s. The Florida Keys are islands made of solid coral and digging out the pool cost some serious labour and expense. The town of Key West would not allow the use of dynamite to create the pool so it was dug out by hand over the course of a year.
A detail of the pool.
The Hemingway house is a popular wedding destination (because Hemingway himself was so good at marriage??). It’s probably the same people who go on to play My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dione at the wedding reception. Newsflash: it’s a song about love and loss inappropriate for the first few hours of wedded bliss.
Beyond just his love of cats and women, the man had a fascinating personal story. He knew he had manic depression but in those days no one knew what to do with that sort of illness. His doctors told him to drink to get over his mood swings. As everyone now knows, alcohol is a depressant and pretty much exactly what he shouldn’t have had.
Hemingway’s Key West House
Hemingway’s Key West House was built by a local wealthy salvage merchant in the mid-19th century. Key West during that time had a lot of money thanks to the salvage trade and all the ships that run aground along this treacherous stretch of ocean. The merchant’s family all died thanks to yellow fever and the house was abandoned.
A beautiful house from the outside as well.
This water fountain is actually the urinal from the men’s room of a bar in Key West that Hemingway liked to frequent.
By the time, Hemingway’s rich second wife’s uncle bought it for the couple, the house was in a serious state of disrepair. The Hemingways restored the house and what you visit now is very much how it would have looked when they were in residence. After Hemingway’s death, his sons sold it to a local Key West resident who opened it up as a museum.
The property has a cat cemetery where the names of the cats that have lived on the estate are buried.
A cat paying his respects to Willard Scott buried in the Pet Sematary.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is today a National Historic Landmark. You don’t need reservations to visit. It is suggested you go early in the day as it is very popular and lines to enter can stretch down the street. There are guides who will take you around the house and explain the history of the house and its inhabitants, including the cats.
We heard the Lamborghini’s roar before we saw the car itself. Not that the black and gold car was hard to spot even in the sea of expensive cars awash along the sidewalks of South Beach in Miami. Everybody’s head turned and the cell phones came whipping out of pockets. Even the vanity license plate was obnoxious – screaming look-at-me by spelling out the word “winning”. The owner was just one of the many people out to see and be seen on a sunday afternoon on South Beach in Miami.
So much money for such an ugly car
I wondered who could own such a distinctive car. A quick search on Google, showed that the last time this license plate showed up in an article it belonged to a New York divorce lawyer who owned a Lamborghini. The article makes him sound like a real class act (similar to Charlie Sheen who is famous for his “winning” twitter hashtag). It must be a truth universally acknowledged that a man who uses the term ‘winning’ without irony must be an ass.
South Beach, the lower bit of Miami Beach has its fare share of brash behaviour masquerading as sophisticated, tanned and toned flesh being flaunted and cash of dubious origins being flashed. Yet, it also has its quiet charm of Art Deco architecture and everyday people enjoying a weekend in the sunshine.
We spent a sunday on South Beach before our flight from Miami to London. After a nice lunch, we hung out on the beach while the children played. When my son got bored, I joined him for a walk along Ocean Drive to spot expensive cars.
How cool is this retro life guard stand?
Our game was not as exciting as walking around Chelsea in London on a sunday afternoon. We found a lot of Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs. You just knew the owners of these cars would be friends with The Flamingo Kid. Surprisingly, there were also a lot of Chrysler PT Cruisers. Clearly, this crowd liked its American cars.
If you can’t go flashy and trashy, then go old-school.
My favourite part though was the kaleidoscope of colours around me. The pretty faded pastel colours of the buildings and signs was enchanting. South Beach is also great for people-watching.
It was a whole world that was a photographer’s delight – vendors selling assorted stuff, people out walking their dogs, the beach volleyball games being taken very seriously by their players, the sunbathers on the beach itself and the many people having a leisurely lunch in the outdoor cafes.
Confident in hot pink on a rental city bicycle. You go girl!
Here are my photos of a sunday afternoon on South Beach.
Why yes that is a red Ford Mustang in the background.
Beach volleyball is taken seriously here.
An art deco beauty
I remember Barbizon as a shady modelling school in New York when I was growing up.
Lime green and pink against the dark green of the palm and the blue of the sky.
A wall isn’t going to get in the way of our saying hello.
Mojitos, the drink to have.
If you aren’t having a cocktail, go healthy with a fresh coconut.
What a lifestyle! Cycling to the beach in your flip-flops to play some volleyball.
I had all my Miami stereotypes confirmed in one Sunday afternoon on South Beach. Our Cuban restaurant even had some Miami Sound Machine music playing as we sipped mojitos in the warm sunshine.
We keep saying we will spend more time in Miami one of these days. Usually we are passing through Miami on the way to or from somewhere. From the little I saw of Miami, it’s a city worth exploring in more depth.
Remote islands are always going to attract people who are a bit different from the majority of people on the mainland. Perhaps they chose island life because they wanted to escape the conformity of the majority population or maybe island life made them a little bit loony. The southernmost island in the United States, Key West, has definitely had its share of eccentrics throughout history. Some of them even rose to the level of freaks in real life and, in the afterlife, ghosts in Key West Florida.
The Nanny Diaries, Circa 1900 Version
One of the most famous residents of Key West isn’t even a person. He is Robert the Doll, apparently the most haunted plaything in the United States, upon whom Chuckie from Child’s Play was based.
Robert was given to a little kid Robert Eugene Otto at the turn of the 20th century by his Caribbean nanny. The little kid’s mother was a nightmare employer who had fired the nanny. The nanny was a practitioner of voodoo/santeria and placed a curse on the doll. As one does, before the advent of employment tribunals.
At first glance, the doll looks creepy but harmless. He’s an old-fashioned doll in a sailor suit with button eyes about the size of a four year old child. He’s stuffed with straw (and possibly magic!). Robert the doll has his own toy lion to keep him company. Every nefarious villain needs a minion sidekick. I personally would have picked a little fluffy white Persian kitty as Robert’s special friend.
You can buy Robert the Doll replicas and souvenirs.
The kid decided to name the doll Robert and used his middle name (shortened to Gene) in order to differentiate between the two of them. Gene was constantly getting into mischief and his response was always the same: “Robert did it!”. Gene’s mother eventually sent Robert to live in the attic.
Robert was just biding his time though. After he got married, Gene took over the family house. He brought Robert back down from the attic and continued to treat him as if he were alive. Needless to say the wife was less than happy. Robert and the wife hated each other. Once the police were called for a domestic disturbance to find the wife locked in a room. What did Gene have to say for himself? “Robert did it!” Of course.
Everyone’s favourite phrase.
Robert the doll has a long history of mischief. After Gene’s death, the family who bought his house found Robert in the attic. The little girl in the family took a liking to Robert. Uh oh. She soon changed her mind and started having nightmares that Robert was trying to kill her. So, Robert wound up at the East Martello Museum in a protective glass case. He’s also got a loJack chain on him just in case he decides to wander off.
Robert’s exhibit at the Museum has a series of letters from people apologising for either not believing in him or not approaching him with the appropriate amount of courtesy. You need to verbally ask his permission before you take a photo of him. I guess he wasn’t enthusiastic about me because I found that my video of him cut off prematurely. I’m pretty sure that Robert did it.
Robert wants you to say hello even by snail mail.
Count Frankenstein and his Bride
I found the story of Count Carl von Cosel just as creepy and even more disturbing. Carl Tanzler was a German immigrant and a self-proclaimed count. He worked in a hospital in Key West and was looking for love in all the wrong places. Carl took a liking to one of the patients, Elena, a beautiful 22 year old Cuban woman dying of tuberculosis.
After Elena died, he’d visit her grave and talk to her. Reportedly, she talked back. And, told him she hated her grave. So he disinterred her (without anyone knowing) and stuck her in a wingless airplane. Stuck in a metal can in the Florida heat and humidity is not good for anyone, never mind a year and a half dead corpse.
Elena’s wax effigy
Creepy Carl eventually took Elena to his home where he kept her for 7 years. During that time he managed to stuff her insides and keep the body going with wire and wax to be as realistic as possible. Plus lots of scented candles and perfume. Rumors began to reach Elena’s sister that Creepy Carl was up to something with Elena’s body. She marched on over to Carl’s house to find out it was indeed true. Elena was wearing a wedding dress and lounging on Karl’s bed.
Carl got taken off to jail but released on a technicality. Because, you know, Florida. Elena was reburied in a grave where Creepy Carl couldn’t get to her. By this time, the case had received a lot of publicity. Her wake was attended by 6000 people!
Creepy Carl went back to Tampa where he had had a wife and two kids living the entire time. He wrote a book about his experience. When he eventually died, he was found with a life-size mannequin of Elena.
Of course, Elena had heaving bosoms. Of course.
Ghosts in Key West Florida
There are a number of ghost tours offered in Key West as befitting America’s fourth most haunted city. I took the Ghosts and Graveyards tour on an appropriately black-coloured trolley bus. We didn’t visit the graveyard so they may need to rethink the naming of this tour. There were children present and I didn’t find it very creepy. How creepy can a trolley bus tour be, right? The stories were entertaining and really added colour to a quirky city separated by location, temperament and weather from the rest of the United States.
The Trolley of Doom
You can also stay in Robert the Doll’s former house which is now a B&B called The Artist House. People have reported strange things happening in the attic room as well as sightings of Gene’s long deceased wife on the lookout for a crazy homicidal doll.