Part of the fun of travel is discovery—and that never gets old, no matter how many miles you roam. Some places can be famous locally or within select circles and remain undiscovered by the rest of us. Maybe it's that tucked-away blues joint that music insiders know about, but you've never heard of. It could be a big city attraction with a hidden gem; a secret bottle of sauce that will transform whatever you just ordered; or a mysterious mailbox on an undisturbed beach with no house in sight. What on earth? Some things you just have to see for yourself. So check out our discoveries and then make your own special list.
Take Your Camera: Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
The 7,000 protected acres of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores represent a rare find in Alabama: undeveloped, pristine coastal barrier habitat. The refuge not only offers free beach access but is also a magnet for photographers, birders, hikers, anglers, and paddlers. (Tip: The one-mile Jeff Friend Trail is universally accessible.)
Molten Magic: Coastal Arts Center
Visit Alabama's premier glass-blowing studio—The Hot Shop—or try your hand at pottery in The Clay Studio. Both are housed in the Coastal Arts Center on Wolf Bay in Orange Beach. Check out the Center's Art Gallery, where you can enjoy works by local painters, sculptors, and textile artists.
Get Sauced: Rusty's Bar-B-Q
We love a smokehouse with a few tricks up its sleeve. The 5-ounce burger at Rusty's Bar-B-Q in Leeds, Alabama is hand-pattied beef cooked on a flat top and served with standard fixings. But owner Rusty Tucker puts a bottle of his house-made Alabama white sauce on every table, so fall in step with the locals and squirt some on your burger.
Hidden Blues Trail: Helena to Blytheville
Chances are, you know all about the Mississippi Delta Blues Trail, but the lesser-known Arkansas Delta Music Trail weaves a history of American music from spirituals to blues, jazz, country, and rock. Tune into America's longest running blues radio show, King Biscuit Time , at KFFA 1360 in Helena, and treat yourself treat yourself to a half-pound Big John cheeseburger at Tacker's Shake Shack .
Escape to "The Quiet Resorts": Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island
Expect a slower pace in the small, family-friendly towns of Delaware's Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, where visitors stroll the mellow boardwalk, bike on quiet streets, and fly kites on the beach.
Sweet Little Surf Town: Flagler Beach
Get this: Horseback riding on the shore. Fishing off an iconic pier. Nature walks down tranquil paths. The great little old-school community of Flagler Beach, Florida and its iconic beachfront on has all of that plus terrific local eateries and galleries. So break out your Wayfarers and head down to U.S. A1A.
Swim With the Manatees: Plantation at Crystal River
The Plantation at Crystal River —part of Florida's "Nature Coast"—is the only spot in North America where you can legally swim with the West Indian Manatee in its natural habitat. The resort's Adventure Center offers guided tours, boat rentals, and diving excursions.
New Way to Play: Oklahoma Park
"Park" is far too small a word to describe Tulsa's 66-acre, wildly-imaginative Gathering Place on the Arkansas River. The Adventure Playground, native gardens, Mist Mountain—a water park—and relaxing nooks and hangout spaces make this a place to spend the whole day with extended family. Bonus--admission is free.
See the Sponge Docks: Tarpon Springs
The historic town of Florida's Tarpon Springs is just north of St. Petersburg and a short hop from the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the "sponge capital of the world," it offers gorgeous waterfront views, a historic downtown, and the sponge docks, where you can experience the restaurants, markets, and music of the Greek community who first brought their sponge diving knowledge from their home country to Florida 100 years ago.
Unspoiled Beach: St. Joe Peninsula
Looking for a blissfully uncrowded beach? T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is home to big dunes, big views, and an unspoiled Gulf beach. This stretch of Panhandle is known as the state's "Forgotten Coast," which makes it a haven for nesting birds and sea turtles.
Like Sleeping in a Palace: Casa Monica Resort & Spa
Built in 1888 by industrial tycoon Henry Flagler, the Moroccan-style Casa Monica Resort & Spa in St. Augustine, Florida's historic downtown was renovated by Richard Kessler for his collection of boutique hotels, The Kessler Collection. The opulent lobby is a great people-watching spot. Also enjoy the Cobalt Lounge, Grand Bohemian Art Gallery, Poseidon Spa, and Costa Brava restaurant.
Immersed in Music: The Shoals
Soulful music and the South are intertwined, but the sheer amount of hits that were created in this northwest corner of Alabama makes The Shoals unique. Visit 3614 Jackson Highway and FAME studios, where Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan recorded, and top off the day with a banana split at Trowbridge's Ice Cream Bar in Florence.
Beyond the Beltline: Shop, Hike, and Jam
Just 40 minutes north of Atlanta , find a fun mix of indoor and outdoor adventure— plus retail therapy—in Alpharetta . Explore 16+ miles of hiking and biking trails, or rev it up at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's internationally recognized rider training classes. Check out three music venues: Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, The Velvet Note, and Matilda's. Shop 250+ stores across the city's five shopping districts.
Sip the Trail: Georgia's Wine Country
You don't have to venture to Bordeaux or Napa to savor award-winning wines. Dahlonega , in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is home to several wineries and tasting rooms including Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery; Frogtown Cellars; Montaluce Winery; Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery; and Wolf Mountain Vineyards. Local limousine and van companies can take you safely along the wine trail.
Get Outside: The Dunwoody Nature Center
Just outside of Atlanta, the nonprofit Dunwoody Nature Center has a mission to educate people of all ages about the natural world and our place in it. Experience the wonder of nature through the Center's hiking trails, gardens, and wetlands.
Chattahoochee Views: Morgan Falls Overlook Park
Besides incredible views of the Chattahoochee River, the 30-acre Morgan Falls Overlook Park also features playgrounds, fishing and boat docks, and bench swings. Take a SUP yoga class or rend a kayak or canoe from The High Country Outfitter's Paddle Shack, which operates here in season.
Visit the "Little Grand Canyon": Providence Canyon State Park
What began with poor farming practices in Lumpkin, Georgia in the 19th century resulted in one of the state's most beautiful natural wonders. Huge gullies carved canyons in the pink, orange, red, and purple terrain, and now Providence Canyon State Park, " Georgia's Little Grand Canyon " offers hiking trails, Plumleaf Azalea blooming in July and August, and major photo ops.
Head of the Bourbon Trail: Bardstown
The oldest city in the Bluegrass State is home to 11 distilleries—and reportedly 80 percent of the world's bourbon can be found within 20 miles of downtown Bardstown . But even if you're not interested in sippin', there's plenty to do in this historic town, like the Kentucky Railway Museum, carriage tours, and the scenic My Old Kentucky Home golf course.
Ramble the "Red Stick": Baton Rouge
There are tons of hidden gems in this great river city . At the Perkins Road Overpass area, find classics like the original George's restaurant, Zeeland Street Market, The Royal Standard gift store, and The Overpass Merchant (a beer garden and restaurant space). More picks in the Red Stick : Baton Rouge Beach, a hangout where the LSU Lakes come together; The Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens; and Alexander's Highland Market (upscale grocery and café with pop-up markets, Cajun food demos, and wine dinners.
Two NOLA Gems: The Fly & Tchoup Yard
We wouldn't exactly call Audubon Park "undiscovered," but The Fly is another story. Locals come here to sit outside when the weather is nice—or to enjoy a picnic and watch the sun go down over the Mississippi. Tchoup Yard is an outdoor hotspot with cocktails, food trucks, and colorful vintage patio seating. This top-of-the-cool-list bar was opened by the same owners who run legendary F&M Patio Bar in NOLA .
Explore the Northshore: Covington
Less than an hour from New Orleans, explore Covington and other charming towns on Lake Ponchartrain's Northshore. The husband-and-wife chef owners of LOLA Restaurant both came from the landmark Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans. After Katrina, they evacuated to the Northshore and eventually decided to open their own place—now much lauded.
History and Seafood: Talbot County
Maryland's Talbot County has 600 miles of scenic shoreline—including Tilghman Island, a historic waterfront community famed for its crab and oysters—as well as gorgeous architecture and Revolution and Civil War sites, antique shops, and art galleries. Biking, paddling, or walking the trails are fun ways to see this picturesque county on the Chesapeake.
The Waterfront's Back: Old Town
Tiny Old Town , the historic waterfront downtown of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, has a rebuilt marina, the homey Bay Town Inn, the historic 200 North Beach Restaurant, clothing and interior design boutiques, and Ms. Mary's Old Town Snowballs, with more than 150 flavors of frozen treats.
Ultra-Coastal Town: Pass Christian
Sleepy little Pass Christian just off Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90) has some of the prettiest houses and live oak trees on the Gulf Coast . Downtown Pass Christian has a cluster of walkable gift shops, coffee shops, and restaurants, and the beachfront Shaggy's Pass Harbor serves up fresh seafood with a Gulf view.
Go Jukin': Red's Lounge
At his juke joint Red's Blues Club , owner Red Paden features real blues, a welcoming atmosphere, and a cooler full of beer. And he only takes cash, so don't show up with plastic.
Not Since Prohibition: Lazy Magnolia Brewery
Mark and Leslie Henderson own the oldest packaging brewery in Mississippi —and they've only been open since 2003. Lazy Magnolia is the first Mississippi brewery of its kind since Prohibition, and its beer is now distributed in 18 states. You can sample brews from locally sourced ingredients like roasted pecans and family-produced honey.
Lace Up Your Blue Suede Shoes: Elvis Presley Birthplace Trail
The fun and informative Elvis Guitar Trail ties downtown shops and restaurants to the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Rent a bike at CRAVE, Tupelo's downtown dessert café, and visit sites like Johnnie's Drive-In, where a teenage Elvis hung out with friends, and Tupelo Hardware Company, where Mama Presley bought The King his first guitar.
Head for The Hill: St. Louis
The historic St. Louis Italian neighborhood The Hill is home to the late Yogi Berra, not to mention about 20 restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses, and markets. Here, you'll find many variations on a St. Louis specialty, toasted ravioli.
Diner Bordering on Dive: Jeff's Burgers, Dogs & Shakes
At this fast-food diner , owner Jeff Bender and his staff hand-cut everything from fries to fish. Jeff's serves a mix of locals and Marines (from nearby Camp Lejeune). Other favorites include the Reuben Burger or a chili dog with all the fixings.
The New Chef's Capital: Downtown Raleigh
James Beard Foundation winner Ashley Christensen has helped turn North Carolina's capital city into a culinary mecca. Five-time James Beard nominee Chef Scott Crawford , serves Southern food with a twist, like Carolina Gold Rice Pudding with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote and Manchego-Herb Biscuits at Crawford and Son. Also in Raleigh: Laotian Pho Lao at Bida Manda and locally-sourced Indian at Garland.
Historic Waterfront Town: Edenton
A former haunt of Blackbeard and other assorted pirates, this small town on North Carolina's Albemarle Sound dates back to the 18th Century, with a 1767 courthouse still in use. Explore such downtown shops as Polka Dot Palm and Edenton Bay Trading Company. Guided walking and trolley tours start at the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center. Edenton recently added a self-guided Museum Trail with 10 sites, including historic homes, churches, a lighthouse, and more. Get seriously into the coastal spirit with a cruise on the six-passenger Liber-Tea.
Mystery Beach Mailbox: Kindred Spirit
About a mile from the pier on Bird Island's pristine Sunset Beach in North Carolina is a strange and intriguing sight: a mailbox labeled " Kindred Spirit ," with a bench next to it—no house—just a bench. The mailbox is filled with notebooks, where you can share your reflections on life and read those of others.
Go for the Trout: Western North Carolina Fly-Fishing Trail
This fly-fishing trail —the first in the United States—has more than 70 miles of rivers and streams. Fish for brown, brook, and rainbow trout at 15 spots in the Smokies. Guides are available to hire, so even novices can enjoy the adventure.
NASA Shares a Secret: PARI
Developed by NASA during the pioneering days of the U.S. space program, historic PARI —the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute—has been transformed into a public science center. A 200-acre campus in the heart of North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest , PARI features spectacular mountain views, hiking trails, Space Shuttle artifacts, stargazing with knowledgeable astronomers, hands-on science activities suitable for all ages, and more.
Go Off Road on the Beach: Outer Banks
Few things match the sense of freedom and adventure you'll get by four-wheeling down a beach with the Atlantic Ocean out your window. North Carolina's Currituck County on Bodie Island has an off-road community where there's no pavement, and you can cruise the sands of other islands as well.
Come and See Us: Southern Living Store
Next time you're in Destin or Panama City, Florida, Hunstville, Alabama, or Myrtle Beach, stop by our retail store . Shop great merch in fashion, home, garden, travel, and food, with an emphasis on Southern makers.
One Tiny, Fabulous Burger: Little Jack's Tavern
A steakhouse that doesn't take itself too seriously and a tavern where the martinis are shaken, Charleston's Little Jack's feels like the Southern godson to Manhattan''s 21 Club or P.J. Clarke's. But Little Jack's is also home to one of the most satisfying burgers in the land, the Tavern Burger. Petite enough to be an appetizer, it features 4 ounces of USDA Prime beef (a 50/50 blend of chuck and brisket) cooked to a perfect medium-rare, blanketed with American cheese, tavern sauce, and griddled onion.
Doggie Day Camp: PetSafe Village Pet Resort & Spa
With cat condos and luxury pup suites—not to mention a dog park, pampering, grooming, 24/7 care, and webcams so you can view your precious pet—Fido and Fluffy might never come home again from this pet boarding center that also offers individualized training. You might wish you could book a room yourself.
Eat on the Cheap: Dino's
This great old Nashville dive got rehabilitated by restaurateur Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, who kept its character and charm—not to mention the famous burger, served with fries and a Miller High Life pony for ten bucks. Dino's other temptations include hot chicken and Frito pie.
Louisiana Flavors in Tennessee: The Second Line
Break Out the Napkins: Stanton's City Bites
The building doesn't look like much, but you won't care after your first bite. Start off at Stanton's with the bacon cheeseburger: a half-pound of griddled Texas beef on a challah bun with all the standard fixings.
Arcade-Eatery-Marina: Ski Shores Café
Ranch water is the cooling, simple cocktail of choice for purists and those who want to save their calories for chicken fried steak or cheesy grits. Enjoy all of the above at Austin's Ranch 616 , a South Texas style ice house, where Ranch water was reportedly invented.
Beautiful Texan Town Square: Georgetown
Georgetown's Victorian town square is built around the majestic Williamson County Courthouse, and contains dozens of buildings with period gingerbread detail. After a leisurely stroll, try the Chipotle Rib-Eye and a Blue Corn Margarita (made with habanero syrup and roasted pineapple) at the popular Blue Corn Harvest Bar and Grill, and then hit the antique shops, toy stores, and boutiques.
Get Outside: Cibolo Center for Conservation
One woman's vision sparked a community effort that preserved 100 acres along Cibolo Creek in the small Texas town of Boerne. The Center's mission is to "transform lives through the love of nature," and you can't help feeling moved when you wade in the creek under the shade of cypress trees, hike the trails, or go horseback riding.
Upscale Beach Charm: Cinnamon Shore
A new residential community with a commitment to responsible development, Cinnamon Shore offers beach rentals on Mustang Island, near Port Aransas and Corpus Christi. If you're looking for upscale charm along a scenic barrier island, this is the spot.
An Audience with "The Queen": Mission San José
Of all the beautiful Spanish missions in Texas, the Alamo attracts the biggest crowds, but don't miss "The Queen of the Missions" south of downtown San Antonio . A World Heritage Site and National Park site, Mission San José was almost fully restored in the 1930s, giving visitors a sense of what these amazing communities once looked like.
Kansas City 'Cue in Texas: 18th & Vine BBQ
This hot spot feels more like date night than dive, and it sidestepped all the Texas barbecue debates by opting for Kansas City style. Don't skip the burned-end pork belly potato skins with Cheddar and scallions, for starters.
Keeping It Natural: RdV Vineyards
This 100-acre boutique vineyard and winery near Delaplane, Virginia, believes in growing its own fruit, working in harmony with the land, and minimizing interference with the natural growing process. Led by Rutger de Vink, RdV focuses on creating world-class Bordeaux-style blends. Wines are available only at DC-area restaurants, through the vineyard's Ambassador Program mailing list, or at the vineyard.
Blue Ridge View: Bolling Wilson Hotel
Blue Ridge travelers enjoy a road break and sophisticated Southern dining at Wytheville's Bolling Wilson Hotel's Graze on Main restaurant and Perch Rooftop Terrace. The restaurant serves regional favorites like shrimp and grits and pan-fried trout. Enjoy a cocktail with a mountain view around the fire pit at Perch.
Pig's Feet, Greens, and Yams: Florida Avenue Grill
Though it no longer cooks its sides with meat, this Washington D.C. no-frills diner claims to be the world's oldest soul food restaurant. It still serves classics like scrapple, chitterlings, and pig's feet.