What is it about the English countryside? Why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?
– Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle
This quote from one of my favourite books (and movies) expresses the more-ness that is the English countryside. Sure it’s pretty but there’s also centuries of history and tradition inextricably woven into the fabric of what you see. When we recently took a road trip to the Seven Sisters Cliffs from London with our Europcar rental car, we were struck again by how very long the landscape has existed and how very small we are in comparison. Beachy Head, The Seven Sisters Cliffs, Birling Gap – the entire South Coast has seen the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the non-invasion of Napoleon and Hitler. Events jump in spans of hundreds of years. The South Coast may be eroding slowly but it will outlast us all.
Sunset over the Marine Parade sign in Eastbourne.
Days Out in East Sussex
As much as we love London, heading out into the English countryside is a real treat. There’s a lot to be said for fresh country air and wide open spaces. A lot of England is accessible by public transport, but we are definitely road trippers! It’s just a lot easier (and often cheaper) to have your own transport when you are travelling with children, too. You are on your own schedule and can make stops as you choose.
Europcar’s Long Term Car Hire
We were invited to participate in Europcar’s long term car hire program. This program is super flexible and available at every Europcar in the UK. It lets you rent a car for 28+ days at more affordable rates than the usual rental but with more flexibility than owning/leasing. In addition, with one month’s notice you can switch out your car if your needs change.
We had a Volkswagen Golf in London through the Europcar long term program which is a great city car. It’s the right size for running errands and squeezing into small parking spots.
Trading Cars The Easy Way
There are times though when a big car can come in useful. We traded in our Volkswagon Golf for a 7 seater Sharan. Europcar have a delivery and pick up program so the exchange was done in front of our house which was superconvenient. I’m so busy that I don’t know if I’d even get around to changing a car if it wasn’t so easy!
A Europcar UK representative will deliver/pick up the car for free.
We used the Sharan for running some of our bigger errands in London (such as an Ikea trip!), taking visiting friends to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and going on a road trip.
We went on a long weekend away to the South Coast and the South Downs National Park. I’ve got a family of bikers so with the extra space we were able to throw our bikes in the back along with our luggage. As any veteran road tripper knows, getting somewhere is as much fun as the destination itself!
The great thing about a road trip is that you can throw as much as you can fit into the back fo a car! (really handy with kids!)
7 Things To Do in Eastbourne
One of the things we take for granted today as a summer ritual, the beach vacation, started only in Victorian times. The Victorian seaside holiday transformed towns such as Brighton and Eastbourne. When the fashionable people decided it was healthier to visit the shoreline instead of taking the waters at a spa town like Bath, everyone else soon followed.
Eastbourne has the unfair reputation for being a sedate town suited for an elderly population. This reputation was gently mocked in the hilarious coming-of-age book Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging where 14 year old Georgia lives in Eastbourne and moans that nothing exciting ever happens to her.
Fun Fact! Filming for the movie, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging was done along the Eastbourne pier and seafront but the house the family lived in was actually located in nearby Brighton.
Like many seaside towns, Eastbourne does attract older folks (just like Florida!)
Don’t trust conventional wisdom! There’s lots to do in this charming town for everyone.
Marine Parade is a seafront road with lots of hotels and cafes. The buildings in this area were built between 1790 and 1840.
One of the hotels on Marine Parade had an old-fashioned Victorian bathing machine on display which my kids found fascinating. Victorian ladies would be wheeled down into the water in this machine by horses so that they could get into the sea with modesty intact.
A restored Victorian beach wagon shows how ladies used to bathe in the sea.
Eastbourne Pier has been blown away by storms, exploded by mines, and ravaged by fire but it’s still standing! The original opened in 1870 but what you see now is the latest 2015 incarnation. Some of the attractions include a fish and chips store (naturally!), a Victorian tea room, a jazz lounge and assorted entertainment events.
Eastbourne Pier in all of its ornate Victorian glory.
The Eastbourne beaches are pebble beaches. There’s a wide swathe of beach right in front of Marine Parade so you don’t need to venture too far. On the other side of Eastbourne Pier there is also the Grand Parade beach.
We saw the most charming contemporary little beach huts at Eastbourne Beach. Our favourite beach hut was on a revolving device so you could move the beach hut view to suit your needs. The exterior had an outdoor shower. The interior had a little kitchen, sitting area and lofted sleeping area. You can rent it for a very reasonable £45/day (£50 in July/August).
A very non-traditional beach hut that you can rent.
Little Chelsea is a trendy area in Eastbourne for eating and shopping conveniently located near the Eastbourne train station. Although not a very big area, it’s got a charming selection of delis, cafes and boutiques.
My kids consider ice cream a main food group in the summer.
The Eastbourne Redoubt was built in the early 19th century as part of the country’s defence against a possible invasion by Napoleon. By the time construction was finished though, the threat of an invasion had passed. During World War I, the redoubt was used by military police and during World War II, it was used for storage.
When they saw this unexploded mine at Eastbourne Redoubt, my kids couldn’t believe how big it was.
Nowadays, the parade area and the top of the fortress are open to the public free of charge. There is a small military museum which does charge admission.
Eastbourne Annual Events
The Eastbourne Open is held annually in June at the Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club near Eastbourne town center. The Eastbourne International usually gets a few big names and is the last grass court tournament before Wimbledon. For example, this year Andy Murray played at Eastbourne as part of his comeback from injury.
Sadly, Andy Murray did not fare well at the Eastbourne international tennis tournament.
Every year in August, Airbourne is also the Eastbourne International Airshow. There’s free entry and a 2 mile display along the Eastbourne coast with big name RAF and international flying display squads such as the Red Arrows.
7 Places To Visit Near Eastbourne
All of these places are in the South Downs National Park. The South Downs National Park covers 3 counties in England and runs from the cities of Winchester to Eastbourne. The national park covers over 1600 square kilometres of area where over 110,000 people live. Over 85% of the South Downs is farmland.
An itinerary for a weekend in the South Downs near Eastbourne
Beachy Head East Sussex
Beachy Head East Sussex is the UK’s highest white chalk sea cliffs (not the white cliffs of Dover!). It’s appeared in films (such as James Bond and Harry Potter) and on television commercials. In fact, the Beachy Head cliff is often a stand in for the Dover Cliffs because they are bigger and whiter.
There are lots of beautiful coastal exploring to be done on Beachy Head walks.
Seven Sisters Cliffs and Country Park
The Seven Sisters are chalk cliffs on the South Downs National Park that run from Eastbourne to Seaford. There are technically now 8 sisters because the erosion of one cliff has created another one. You get the best views of the Seven Sisters cliffs from Seaford Head.
Fun Fact! Coastal erosion means that the Seven Sisters erode by an average of 0.4m annually and Birling Gap by 0.7m.
The Seven Sisters Country Park is 280 hectares of cliffs, parkland and river valley. It’s great for walking and cycling. There’s a cafe behind the Visitor’s Center which is located across the road from the entrance to the country park.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs have also been subject to coastal erosion.
Run by the National Trust, Birling Gap is perfect for walking along the cliffs and for playing on the beach. You get to the beach by a staircase from the cliff. Kids will enjoy fossil hunting (remember the Jurassic Coast is a bit further West along the English Channel) and exploring the rock pools that form when the tide goes out.
Coastal erosion has caused the breach at Birling Gap.
Friston Forest is perfect for walkers and for cyclists. The two walking trails are easy to do with children and not very long (between 1- 1.5 miles). The mountain biking is more challenging but there is an easier family route you can take.
Friston Forest is a woodland gem to explore.
Alfriston East Sussex
Alfriston is a village in the Cuckmere Valley which is pretty as a picture. In fact, it was included in The Telegraph Travel’s list of England’s prettiest villages.
Alfriston may be a small village but in true English style, has several pubs. In front of the George Inn, there is a masthead from one of the ships of the Spanish Armada that locals salvaged. The town is also the site of the very first National Trust property ever purchased, a 14th century thatched clergy house.
Fun Fact! The hymn “Morning Has Broken” was written in Alfriston about the village in 1931 and reached worldwide fame in the 1970’s when sung by Cat Stevens.
This house in Alfriston is almost impossibly pretty.
Drusilla’s Zoo is a theme park for young children near the village of Alfriston East Sussex which is perfect for young children.
There is a zoo with lots of interactive exhibits as well as animal exhibits that kids will enjoy – penguins, meerkats, butterflies, snakes etc. In addition, there is a large play area where kids can run around and let off steam. A dedicated Hello Kitty area will delight all fans of this cute Japanese export.
Drusilla’s Park is perfectly sized and themed for young children.
It reminds me of Sesame Place in the USA but more educational and with less water. You can easily spend an entire day here and leave with happy, tired children.
You are reminded that you are in 1066 country at Pevensey Castle. Pevensey was where William the Conqueror landed in 1066 changing the course of English history forever. We are talking 1600 years of history here! Although in ruins, the Castle is still majestic and is run by English Heritage.
The ruins of Pevensey Castle have seen a mind-boggling 1600 years of history!
Where To Stay
Be aware that accommodation in Eastbourne and the surrounding area does fill up quickly because it is a popular domestic vacation spot.
You can stay in pretty little Belle Tout Lighthouse which is a bed & breakfast near Beachy Head where the rooms have stunning views. There is a minimum 2 night stay.
The best hotel to stay in Eastbourne is the 5 star Grand Hotel. It’s located on the side of Eastbourne that’s closest to Beachy Head and near the popular dining and shopping area of The Meads.
The Grand Hotel was full and so we stayed at York House, Best Western. Our room was huge even with a Queen bed, a single bed and a sofa bed. We had a room overlooking the sea and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
Where To Eat
The Crown and Anchor is a pub on Marine Parade which not only serves food but also offers live music on the weekends.
Fusciardi Ice Cream Parlour on Marine Parade serves more than delicious ice cream. You can get breakfast there as well as simple dinners like jacket potatoes and sandwiches.
Italian food seems to be a winner in Eastbourne. There’s also La Locanda del Duca for a fancy Italian meal and its more casual sister restaurant, Pomodoro e Mozzarella.
Cuckmere Inn has good views of the Seven Sisters Country Park and also offers outside seating.
How To Get There
You can drive to Eastbourne and its environs from London relatively easily. From the M25 ring road, take the M23 which becomes the A23. At Brighton take the A27 which goes all the way to Eastbourne.
Although Eastbourne has a train station, you definitely need a car to visit the South Downs easily.
The glorious coastline of the South Downs National Park
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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
I’m sure all the fabulous and diverse things to do on a Deep South Tour is why Lonely Planet has chosen the American southern states as one of their top regions to visit in 2018. Other regions on the Lonely Planet Top 10 regions list for 2108 are Alaska, the Slovenian Alps, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, Bahia in Brazil, Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic, the Kii Peninsula in Japan, the Aeolian Islands of the coast of Sicily, Northern Ireland and Lahaul and Spiti in India.
Ideas for A Southern USA Road Trip
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 Tavern
for 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.
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!
– Bret Love & Mary Gabbett at Green Global Travel and on social media at
Sunset in Outer Banks, North Carolina (Photo credit: Bret Love)
Visit Florida for Sun and Fun on your Deep South Road Trip
There’s so much more to Florida than the ever popular Orlando theme parks. We have been to some of the more popular places like the Palm Beaches, Orlando, Miami and Key West, including a beautiful road trip from Miami to Key West.
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 as Everglades 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 Everglades the River of Grass Adventures. 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.
– by Cherri Megasko at Bucket List Travel Club and on social media at
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.
Florida Lighthouse (Photo credit: Megan Johnson)
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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The famed landscape of Big Sur in California is nearly vertical with the Santa Lucia mountains behind you and the rocky cliffs to the sea in front of you. On our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur this summer, both natural and man-made marvels were spread out before us. The PCH is merely a strip of masking tape stuck onto the side of the mountains, a thin man-made edge where tourists flock to peer over the sheer drop to the ocean below.
We did the drive over the course of a day (primarily because the luxury accommodation in the area is not family-friendly). Moreover, my kids were over the rugged natural beauty of the coastline after an hour. (“It’s just trees!” “Why is there no WiFi?” “Can we have our iPads?”). Heathens.
A photo gallery of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.
I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur ever since I saw some of Ansel Adams’ photographs of the area as a child. Ansel Adams lived on the Monterey Peninsula in the mid-20th century for over 20 years which gave him plenty of time to photograph the area. Adams was instrumental in protecting Big Sur as a conservation area for future generations.
If we join together to accomplish the preservation of our Big Sur Coast I will feel I have had a life fully lived.
This quote comes from a man who is a legend for his black and white photographs of the American landscape! You may not recognise the name but you will probably recognise some of his photos if you see them.
A Road Trip of Big Sur
Big Sur is a 90 mile stretch between Carmel and San Simeon along the central coast of California. Approximately 3-4 million tourists take this Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.
There are plenty of road-side pit stops you can make to take in the fantastic views. We only stopped for lunch in Big Sur because the state parks were all closed when we visited. There were two major forest fires in the area.
The Santa Lucia mountains shrouded in mist.
Lots of secluded beaches because it’s pretty hard to get down to them!
Rock carved by the steady lapping of water.
Built in 1932, the concrete spans of the Bixby Bridge are widely photographed.
The rugged coastline kept most settlers away until the the 1960’s.
The rugged coastline were the sea and the mist meet on the horizon.
This is the sort of shoreline that really needs a lighthouse.
More sand, sea and rocks. Repetitive but still pretty.
My kids though the chipmunks were the cutest. Too much Alvin & the Chipmunks I think.
We could have watched these two play all day.
The mountains recede further from the coastline as you reach St Simeon.
Practicalities of Visiting Big Sur with Kids
Nepenthe has been a local institution since the 1940’s when the Fassett family bought the building from Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Falling in love with the view, the two Hollywood stars had built a cabin getaway on the site. The love shack never got used because they divorced in short order. Nepenthe is still owned and operated by the Fassett family. The current building was built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright according to the vision of the Fassetts.
The Phoenix statue which is the symbol of Nepenthe.
Nepenthe is famous for its burger which we thought was pretty good. It’s a big rambling restaurant with fantastic views and decent food. Overall, I thought the place lived more on its bygone hype and the fact that there are limited places to eat in Big Sur. There’s usually a wait for the restaurant but you can easily kill time wandering around outside and in the fabulous gift shop downstairs.
You can see how big the forest fire was in the summer of 2016. 90,000 acres under threat!
Thanks to its conservation status, there are only a few places to stay in Big Sur. There are campgrounds in the state parks as well as some nicer hotels in the area. The area has limited WiFi.
If you want to stay in Big Sur in relative comfort, it’s a good idea to ditch the kids. Both the Ventana Inn and Spa and the Post Ranch Inn takes rustic chic to new levels. Both luxury hotels are also adults-only. The Ventana Inn and Spa was built by writer Lawrence Specter from his proceeds from the iconic film, Easy Rider. The Post Ranch Inn, an old ranch which was the homestead of W.B. Post in the 19th century, is still owned and run by the Post family. By the way, the Post Ranch Inn has a portfolio of Ansel Adams limited edition signed prints on display.
Accommodation is much cheaper and plentiful at either end of Highway One (as well as kid friendly). We bookended our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur by staying at the Monterey Bay Plaza and Spa Hotel at one end of the drive and then Auto Aircamp in sunny Santa Barbara at the other end. After all the mist and cool weather of the central coast of California, we were really glad for some sunshine.
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The miles of flat dusty prairie stretched out ahead of us. In our car with digital radio and air conditioning, we could admire the vastness of the American plains without any of its attendant discomforts. It was easy to pin the hopes and dreams of a young country on this unending horizon and believe your luck could be as expansive as the countryside. The early settlers carved their homes from the ground burrowing deep for shelter against a merciless landscape. Although many of the sod homes have collapsed back into the earth from which they were dug, a prairie homestead museum in South Dakota stands testament to this long-gone way of life in this part of the world.
Prairie Homesteads and the Homestead Acts
I had heard of prairie homesteads from history class and, of course, the Little House on the Prairie books. The Ingalls’ family prairie homestead is long gone because these sod homes usually just caved into the elements.
The very well preserved Prairie Homestead, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is today a museum offering a glimpse into the hardscrabble life of the early pioneers in the Western United States.
A homestead in the Dakota Territory
South Dakota was one of the last areas in the USA to be homesteaded. Originally this area was set aside for the Native Americans because the Badlands were sacred to they Cheyenne tribes that lived here. There was ongoing trouble though between the Native Americans and encroaching Americans looking for silver and gold. Finally the US government went back on their word and just annexed the area.
The Homestead Acts were a series of US Government laws that let people stake their claim on government land if they could build a home and farm it for a minimum of 5 years. The government got people to settle on new lands and create a stable community. The homesteaders realised their dream of owning property if they could just stick through the hardships.
You may remember the Hollywood version of The Homestead Acts in practice in that (awful) movie Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. That movie ended with the two main characters staking their claim to land. The real story though would have been that their hardships would only have just started. That part of the story though would not have been glamorous enough for Hollywood.
The Prairie Homestead of South Dakota
I wondered how the landscape must have seemed for the pioneer homesteaders who made their way here in the early 20th Century though. They would have driven their wagons filled with their few earthly possessions into unknown territory. They headed far away from home fuelled by wanderlust and the promise of a better life. Tenacious and hardy, the early pioneers pitched their claim and created prairie homesteads much as the Ingalls family did in De Smet in South Dakota.
The Prairie Homestead Museum is located near one of the entrances to the Badlands National Park
The Prairie Homestead in South Dakota was built in 1909 by Ed Brown who had travelled out west from Iowa with his wife and son. They homesteaded 160 acres in 1909.
This facade hasn’t changed since Mr. Brown built it.
Mr. Brown used cottonwood logs to make his home. The house still retains these original logs and beams. The upper walls of the house was buffalo grass sod laid in tiers. The grass sod had incredibly dense roots and were cut into strips and laid like bricks. The grass would then grow and reinforce the house walls.
The sod bricks peeking out above the wood wall.
He dug into the bank to create a cave which worked as a refrigerator in the summer and a place to store food in the winter.
Behind this kitchen is the cave which served as a pantry.
Mr. Brown hand dug this well for water. Towards the end, you could only get about 8 buckets of water a day from it.
The hand-dug well
Mr. Brown only needed to work 5 acres of his 160 acres in order to stake his claim. After 18 months, he was allowed to pay a total of $80 and get the rights to all of his land.
Some meagre possessions
Think this was a good deal? Not really. It was incredibly difficult to survive by farming the land in the Great Plains. Although 160 acres sounds like a lot of land, conditions were so tough that it would only provide enough grazing land for 8 cows. The lawmakers who wrote the Homesteading Acts didn’t really understand the arid conditions of the Great Plains.
A cozy domestic scene
Mr. Brown died at the Prairie Homestead in 1920. His wife moved later to California to be near her daughter. Her daughter wrote about her parents:
“They loved the place, the country and all the people. Mother was so happy to be there, even though she worked hard.”
When Mrs. Brown moved to California, she rented the homestead out to a George Carr who himself had come from Iowa. He lived in the Prairie Homestead until 1949. So, despite the hardships, for many people a homestead was a dream come true.
A tattered copy of the Bible – the pioneers needed faith of all kinds in this harsh environment.
Visiting the Prairie Homestead Museum in South Dakota
The Prairie Homestead Museum is located off South Dakota Highway 240 near the Northeast entrance to the Badlands National Park. Admission fees for adults are $7 and children under 9 go free. The Prairie Homestead has a large and well-stocked gift store. Do check out its website for hours because they are seasonal.
Did you know that Pennsylvania has the most covered bridges of any state? There are 219 covered bridges left in the state. I set out to explore some of the historic covered bridges of Bucks County in Pennsylvania courtesy of the very handy covered bridge tour put out by the county authorities.
Covered bridges became a romantic trope thanks to the wildly popular 1995 movie, The Bridges of Madison County starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood based on the novel of the same name. Some people called them ‘kissing bridges’ because courting couples could sneak a kiss on them away from prying eyes.
A more practical explanation would be that the covered part of the bridge protected the actual bridge from the elements. Additionally, a covered bridge kept animals from spooking on the bridge when they were crossing. Of course, covered bridges also protected people crossing from sudden storms.
Covered bridges fell out of favour when metal bridges began to be built in the mid-19th century. Now there are so few left, they are protected and rebuilt if they become damaged.
Covered Bridges of Bucks County
Bucks County in Pennsylvania still has 12 of 36 of its original covered bridges. Not bad considering that there were about 12,000 covered bridges in the United States but only about 10% remain.
I managed to convince the kids to do a mini road trip to see three of the remaining covered bridges of Bucks County. Yes, covered bridges are pretty but of limited interest on a sunny day to 9 year-olds. Luckily, it was a heat wave and they were happy to drive around for a couple of hours in an air-conditioned car!
Cabin Run Bridge, built in 1871, is 82 feet long. It crosses Cabin Run Creek which was so named because there were lots of cabins built along the creek. (Early settlers were not noted for their originality in place names.)
Cabin Run Bridge
The inside tresses of Cabin Run covered bridge
Frankenfeld Bridge, built in 1872, is bigger at 130 feet long. It crosses Tinicum Creek near where it merges with the Delaware River.
Frankenfeld Covered Bridge
Erwinna Bridge is the oldest (1832) and the shortest (56 feet long). It crosses Lodi Creek which when we saw it had pretty much dried up to nothing.
Erwinna Covered Bridge
Fortunately, the countryside provided a beautiful drive as well. We stopped at farm stands and found fresh tomatoes and peaches in season. Although we didn’t run into a Clint Eastwood-type out on assignment for National Geographic, our drive was a lovely diversion in the middle of a hot summer day in Bucks County.
A rustic-distressed red barn
Fresh tomatoes for sale
A Covered Barn over a creek. – that’s different from the usual!
One of the grand historic homes along the Delaware River.