The American southeast includes North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (Florida, which is usually included here will be considered by itself, later). Because these states all border the Atlantic Ocean, many sights are related to their coastlines. However, there are other types of geology inland, making for a variety of attractions to entice the traveler. These are my choices for the best of the region. Look for a photo album to follow, showcasing these tourist destinations.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina/Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 750 kilometer (469-mile) scenic highway which connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park and makes for a great excursion from either. There are several Visitor Centers which provide information about the history of the road and the neighboring countryside. Because the road follows the ridge line of the mountains, numerous pullouts offer spectacular vistas of the valleys to the east and mountains to the west. Speed limits are strictly enforced and established to encourage leisurely travel, so this is not the route to take when in a hurry.
Another excursion in the Smoky Mountains area is to the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina. The sumptuous, ornate home was built for the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s. It is a French-Renaissance style mansion with 250 rooms and is probably the most-visited venue of its type in the United States. The chateau is tastefully furnished with original furniture (note the intricate woodwork) and period pieces. The artwork on display, alone, is impressive.
The estate also includes 75 acres of gardens, designed by the architect of Central Park in New York City, Frederick Law Olmsted. There is even a winery on the grounds.
While in the vicinity, check out the charming and interesting city of Asheville, which has long been popular as a mountain resort area, and serves as an eastern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stroll the historic center, admiring the interesting architecture and perusing the many shops. Also nearby is Mount Mitchell, the highest US peak east of the Mississippi River.
2. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina, provides the visitor a glimpse of the Old South with its stately antebellum homes, tree-lined streets, gardens, and courtyards. The Historic District is fairly compact and easy to walk (self-guided walking tour maps are available at the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St). Walks must include The Battery and its nearby “Rainbow Row” of elegant homes. Some of Charleston’s mansions are open to the public.
Magnolia Plantation is located just outside of Charleston. It offers a look at a genuine southern plantation with its glorious mansion and its extensive gardens. The Greek-revival plantation house is set amidst sprawling woods and wetlands. The Spanish Moss-draped trees add a special ambience to the grounds. Walk the garden trail to enjoy the wetlands with their human touches of wooden bridges, painted white, and benches for rest and contemplation.
Take a boat from the Charleston City Marina at 17 Lockwood Blvd, for a 75-minute tour of Charleston Harbor and a 1 hour tour of Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861.
3. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia, is the state’s capitol as well as the largest city in the southeast. It is tourist destination for several reasons.
Atlanta is the birthplace of Coca-cola and the World of Coca-Cola is the most popular tourist sight in the city. The entire process of making Coke products is highlighted in multimedia exhibits. There is even a sampling area. The venue is at an entrance into Atlanta’s Underground, which boasts numerous shops and restaurants and comes alive at night.
The Martin Luther King National Historic Site includes the famous American’s birthplace, church, and grave.
Ted Turner’s broadcasting empire is also native to Atlanta, and visitors can experience his most successful operation in the CNN Studio Tour.
Centennial Park, the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics, commemorates that event with fountains and walkways.
Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park, just outside of the city, encompasses one of the most massive granite monoliths in the country. More impressive than the Mountain itself is the huge carving of Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on horseback which occupies 3 acres of the mountain’s north face.
4. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia is a classic city of the Deep South, which grew on the backs of slave labor and the fortunes of cotton-farming. The downtown area is laid out in an unusual way — homes and neighborhoods were centered around a series of 24 squares which are now landscaped and preserved as city parks. Twenty-two of the original squares designed by General James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, still remain and they provide a charming walking tour of the downtown area. Also visit the riverfront where shopping opportunities and restaurants abound.
Of all the parks, Forsythe Park is particularly attractive.
5. Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Wright Brothers Memorial is located on an area of the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks. Although a very popular destination in the summertime, because of the extensive water recreation activities available, the area is relatively quiet at other times of the year because it is so isolated from the mainland. In fact, to exit at the southern end of the Outer Banks requires taking a ferry.
The Visitor Center at the Wright Brothers National Memorial contains exhibits and models pertaining to the pursuit of flight in the early twentieth century. A monolith marks the place where history was made on December 17, 1903.
While on the Outer Banks, attend a performance of “The Lost Colony”, a symphonic outdoor drama which dramatizes the mystery concerning the fate of a colony of English settlers, dispatched by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 and again in 1587. In the latter year, the first English child born in America, Virginia Dare, was born. However, the colony had vanished without a trace when the next ship from England arrived in 1590. This play is only offered during the summer months, in the evening. Tickets should be purchased in advance, if possible.
6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is the major tourist destination along what is commonly called the “Grand Strand”, a 100 km (60 mile) stretch of sandy beach. Outdoor recreation opportunities are endless, although the area has become a Mecca for the golfing enthusiast, with more than 100 golf courses in the area. The boardwalk area offers amusement-type activities and is especially popular with children. There is also shopping galore and numerous restaurants of all types.