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Need help planning your Southeast USA road trip? There’s so much to see, from Florida’s sandy beaches to the Great Smoky Mountains. And regional eats you won’t want to miss like North Carolina BBQ and New Orleans’ beignets. Where do you start? Relax and check out the TravelingMom guide to where to go and what to do in the to help you map out your family’s epic adventure through America’s southeast states.
Road trips are back and bigger than ever as the country reopens after the pandemic. Load up the family car and hit the highway for a fun-filled vacation including local eateries, attractions, historic sites and outdoor activities. With so many places to choose from, we’ve helped narrow down your search for where to visit in the southern states. Here are the best road trips across the Southeast USA that we think might pique your interest.
TravelingMom Tip: Opening days and hours and rules for visiting (wearing masks, keeping social distance, limited capacity) are subject to change without warning these days. Always call ahead or check the website before heading out for the day.
Florida Road Trip Ideas
Sebastian and Fort Pierce
Sebastian and Fort Pierce offer spacious beaches, endless water activities and affordable prices. These are great places to enjoy the sand, surf, and family-friendly attractions. Plus, there are ecotourism activities galore. A Florida road trip between these towns and nearby ones can easily fill a week or more. Learn about why this area is called The Treasure Coast at Mel Fisher’s Treasures Museum. Next, fish or kayak at Sebastian Inlet State Park. Visit the first-ever National Refuge (great for birdwatching) at Pelican Island, and see, touch, admire animals of all kinds at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian.
A little further south, Fort Pierce offers beautiful waterfront dining, a weekend farmer’s market with live music and great breweries. Visit Natalie’s Juice Company, the National Navy SEAL Museum, and see the incredible tropical bonsai at Heathcote Botanical Gardens. No visit to Fort Pierce should miss the delicious shrimp options from 12A Buoy or Mahi Tacos. And finish with Key Lime Pie from Cobb’s Landing.
Northwest Florida is a treasure trove. It is easy to fill a week-long road trip exploring the small towns between DeFuniak Springs and Marianna on I-10. There is the Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs. That’s the winter outpost of New York’s famous multi-week Chautauqua Assembly that explores history, health, art and current events. There’s also entertainment from performers across the country and throughout the world. Or meet the wolves at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley. On a hot day, head to Florida State Caverns in Marianna, where’s it’s always 67 degrees below ground. Or cool off at Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon.
Read More: 10 Fun Florida Road Trips with Kids
Georgia Road Trip Ideas
North Georgia Mountains
The North Georgia mountains are an exceptional place to visit, with plenty of room to get outdoors and not be shoulder-deep in a queue waiting for your turn at an attraction. The towns of Young Harris and Hiawassee offer plentiful waterfalls, majestic mountain views and hikes, golf and a gorgeous place for horseback riding at Brasstown Stables.
Consider a stay at the Brasstown Valley Resort for a rustic luxury getaway. The rocking chair-lined deck overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains is a great way to destress and take in nature. Kids will love Hiawassee’s Splash Island at Ridge’s Resort. It has a huge outdoor inflatable wonderland with slides, swings and a bouncing platform. Adults can enjoy wine tasting at one of the stops on the Georgia Wine Highway, such as Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Another adorable town for a fun road trip in the Southeast USA is Blue Ridge, dubbed Georgia’s premier mountain town. Take a family-friendly train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, munch on the best fried apple and peach pies you’ve ever tasted at Mercier Orchards and enjoy local shopping and dining in the historic downtown. Blue Ridge is also the Trout Fishing Capital of America, so drop a line and see if the fish are biting. These Georgia mountain towns are two hours from Chattanooga (which has an incredible aquarium), Asheville (for the grand Biltmore Estate) and Atlanta (for visiting the state capital city).
Mississippi Road Trip Ideas
Coastal Mississippi is a goldmine of treasures, with a handful of small towns to visit. Explore them all on your Southeast USA road trip! In Biloxi, the most well-known city, stay at a world-class casino (The Beau Rivage or Hard Rock) and have a front-row view of the serene Gulf Coast. You may also want to consider staying at Margaritaville, a hotel resort complex with killer pools and fun family-friendly attractions.
Take the kids to Biloxi’s Maritime Seafood and Industry Museum to learn about shrimping, climb up the Biloxi Lighthouse and take a fun and educational boat ride to Ship Island. Or enjoy the amazing aquariums, otters and touch tanks at the new Mississippi Aquarium in nearby Gulfport. There are 62 miles of shoreline to experience in Biloxi alone.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
In Ocean Springs, admire local artist Walter Anderson’s art at the museum, visit gorgeous pottery shops and stay at The Roost, a charming boutique hotel as you wander the Spanish moss-lined streets. You may also want to explore the towns of Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula, which hold gems of their own. Enjoy boutique shopping, a Frida Fest (a tribute to artist Frida Kahlo), kayaking adventures, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and exceptional birding opportunities.
TravelingMom Tip: Consider renting an RV for your next family road trip. RV travel is the easiest and most affordable way to road trip with kids.
Alabama Road Trip Ideas
TravelingMom road trip favorites in Alabama include a visit to the Panhandle region, with its popular beaches and the annual Flora-Bama mullet toss. That’s when contestants line up on the Florida side of the Florida-Alabama state line and throw dead mullet fish toward Alabama to see who can throw a fish the farthest. Really, it’s a reason for a beach party at the Flora-Bama beach bar. (And it raises money for local charities.)
The civil-rights-steeped town of Montgomery, Alabama, is a hub of history. The Alabama state capital is home to plenty of great food and fun kid-friendly free things to do. The Mooseum is a favorite. The cattle-themed museum has displays showing what products include cattle by-products (crayons!?!), a walk through the history of cattle ranching and a kid-friendly room complete with dress-up clothes.
In the heady years leading up to the Civil War, this port city was known as the Paris of the South. That was in the 1800s, when Mobile was the 10th wealthiest city in the United States, thanks to the port and the cotton trade. Today, it is a city coming back from much less heady times. The downtown area is reviving, the foodie scene is bursting with flavor and there are lots of ways to enjoy the water, from Duck boat rides to kayaks. This is a town that still feels Southern—from the famous Southern hospitality to the racial divide. Even the Mobile Mardi Gras celebrations honor two sets of kings and queens—one black, the other white.
Louisiana Road Trip Ideas
The Big Easy
New Orleans is the big draw in this state and Bourbon Street is the big draw in New Orleans. But Bourbon Street is not all that kid friendly, so our TravelingMoms looked beyond Bourbon Street and found plenty of family-friendly fun along with some of the best food in the country. The city is steeped in history, which is on display in its cemeteries, tours of the old houses and even a not-too-spooky ghost tour.
And, of course, you need to eat a beignet at Cafe DuMond. While it’s arguable whether the beignets here are the best, it is the tourist-approved spot to stop and spend some time people watching. And the kids will ask for more of those powdered-sugar-coated pieces of fried dough.
North Carolina Road Trip Ideas
Murphy and Fire Creek Falls, North Carolina
In the Blue Ridge Mountains across from the Georgia state line, is the town of Murphy. It offers antique shops, cute eateries, goat and alpaca farms, coffee shops and a great town square. Fire Creek Falls is an excellent place for outdoor adventure. Or you can make unique jewelry at Jumping Mouse Bead. Admission is free to Fields of the Wood, a Bible-themed park that shares religious stories through marble and stone outdoor exhibits. Murphy is close enough to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to make a road trip to both destinations.
Johnston County, North Carolina
Across North Carolina on the East Coast, Johnston County is filled with adorable small towns (Smithfield, Clayton, Benson and Selma), making this one of the best road trips in the Southeast USA. Learn about farm life at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum (lots of cool educational offerings here), eat delicious NC BBQ and shop at the Carolina Premium Outlets.
The Ava Gardner Museum is the area’s claim to fame, and worth a visit. You may have to explain to your kids who she is, but chances are they will enjoy the movie that showcases Ava’s life and the Hollywood-esque goodies on display. Check out the family-friendly local breweries, such as Double Barley for craft beer, non-alcoholic sodas, yummy flatbreads, live music and a wealth of games and puzzles to enjoy.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville offers excellent local boutiques, cool art and sculptures in the historic downtown. And great museums to wander around. The Airborne and Special Ops Museum is one of the best, with vivid displays, interactive showcases and a Pritzker Simulator. You also won’t want to miss the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum, complete with Airborne Airpark, where almost all aircraft paratroopers have jumped since WWII.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
No one puts Lake Lure in a corner. This is the town where Dirty Dancing was filmed. In August, there is even a Dirty Dancing festival where you can compete with your own version of the famous lake lift.
But there is much more than dancing at this lake. There’s a majestic mountain backdrop, cool waters, and fresh air, pontoon boat sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, water slides and a water park.
South Carolina Road Trip Ideas
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A great road trip itinerary for the Southeast USA is to see family-friendly Myrtle Beach (or the surrounding less crowded towns on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast) or Charleston’s historical sites. Myrtle Beach has more commercialized things to do, including Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing and all the outrageous slingshot and thrill rides that teenagers love.
More tame options would be to stroll through Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, explore the Shops at Pawley’s Island or browse downtown Georgetown, about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the quintessential Southern town to enjoy sweet tea, magnolia blossoms and Civil War history. Visit the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the site of a horrific 2015 shooting that brought racism issues to the front burner.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville might be in the South, but it is hardly Southern. At least not in that laid back, sleepy sort of Southern way that is accentuated by a sweet southern drawl. Rather, it’s a vibrant metropolis filled with surprises and topped with a generous helping of southern charm.
Among the fun things to do in Greenville with kids:
- Marvel at the waterfall in the center of town and walk across the Liberty Bridge.
- Ride bikes along the Swamp Rabbit Trail and look for the mice sculptures along Main Street.
- Don’t miss a stop at the Mast General Store to shop among the candy barrels.
- And eat one of the best burgers and milkshakes anywhere at Grill Marks. The milkshakes come in “adult” varieties, too!
- Visit a local family-friendly brewery in Greenville.
Tennessee Road Trip Ideas
Tennessee’s Blue Ridge Mountain Towns
Northwest Tennessee offers fewer crowds and appealing outdoor attractions. Go hiking or mountain biking, or just sip a beer at one of the five breweries. There are music venues and a walking art trail in the Blue Ridge Mountain towns of Johnson City and Jonesborough. Spend your evenings in the stylish digs at The Carnegie Hotel. It’s a stately and sophisticated hotel that looks like it stepped out of the late 1800s.
Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway, are two other great places to consider for a Southeast USA road trip. Visit the epic Dollywood theme park. Or go discount shopping, snap some Instagram pix, hike or explore the historic sites. And eat more delicious food than you can shake a stick at.
From the Johnny Cash Museum to the General Jackson Showboat and SoundWaves water park, the Music City offers Southern charm to everyone. Music envelopes the streets, the culture, even the economy of the Tennessee state capitol. Don’t miss a stop at the Goo Goo Shop. This nostalgic little store is home of the Goo Goo Cluster. Take a selfie by the iconic Goo Goo wall and watch the candies being made by hand. Then enjoy a milkshake or a cupcake at the Dessert Bar. Those are just a few of the fun things to do in Nashville with kids.
Follow the Civil Rights trail to the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel. That’s where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
If you’ve got a train lover in your family, don’t skip Chattanooga. You can spend the night in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel. And ride the very steep Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain.
Virginia Road Trip Ideas
Shenandoah National Park
The beautiful Shenandoah National Park area is like a breath of fresh air on a cold, cloudy day. The majestic mountains are spectacular to hike through, drive through, and to photograph. Download and print a Junior Ranger book before you go for the kids to complete on the trip.
Consider staying at Massanutten Resort, a mammoth hotel with several choices of accommodations. Activities at Massanutten include an incredible water park and pools (both indoor and outdoor), an aerial course, mountain biking, escape rooms, golf and skiing. Don’t miss the farm-to-table dining options at the onsite restaurants, including delicious BBQ and chicken & waffles.
Stanley and Luray, Virginia
In nearby Stanley and Luray, consider renting a vacation house or cabin that can comfortably sleep large families traveling together. We’ve stayed in Shenandoah Woods in a five-bedroom/five bath cottage (Somerset). The luxury accommodations came complete with a hot tub and game room. Or enjoy a relaxing stay at the Mimslyn Inn in an adorable pastel-colored cottage on the back of the property. There are two delicious onsite restaurants, a swimming pool, game area and hammocks. And it’s all within walking distance of nearly everything in town. Enjoy fresh-made pastries, a delicious breakfast, coffee and the best cake you’ll ever taste from Gathering Grounds Patisserie and Cafe.
Horseback riding, hiking and biking are popular attractions. But the best offering in town is visiting Luray Caverns. They are the best caves (and one of the most accessible) on the East Coast. Luray offers a brewery, winery and distillery, all in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Then, stop in Cooter’s Garage. It’s a pop culture icon from the Dukes of Hazzard TV fame, and a fun place for kids.