Best Southern Road Trips in the U.S.

New Orleans to Houston (© Getty)

New Orleans to Houston

When most people talk about making the drive from New Orleans to Houston, they do so begrudgingly—that needs to change. You can make this trip year-round, and see everything from antique bookstores to distilleries to contemporary art. Or do it for the food alone (we won’t judge).

Where to stop: Don’t miss the Texas Travel Information Center in Orange, right over the border. There’s a great photo op here with a giant lone star sculpture.

Where to eat: Order half a dozen buttermilk drops to go from the decade-old Buttermilk Drop Bakery in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood. They will change your life—or at least how you think about doughnuts.

Where to stay: Check into the two-year-old Watermark Baton Rouge, a 144-room hotel housed in the former headquarters of the Louisiana Trust & Savings Bank. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, the hotel is a three-minute walk to Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, famed for its Gothic architecture and jaw-dropping stained glass rotunda.

Atlanta to Jekyll Island (© Jay Kossman/Courtesy Chateau Elan)

Atlanta to Jekyll Island

Hollywood has officially descended upon Georgia—making it the third-busiest filmmaking location behind Los Angeles and New York City. You probably knew you could eat fried green tomatoes like Jessica Tandy did in Juliette, Georgia, but what about tracing the zombie trail in the town from The Walking Dead? Here, how to take a road-trip through your favorite scenes.

Where to stop: Stop about an hour southeast of Atlanta in Jackson, or as you may know it, Hawkins, Indiana. You’ll recognize the main square from various scenes in Stranger Things—the general store where Joyce Byers works, the alleyway where Jonathan fights Steve, and the public library where Dustin studies up on demogorgons.

Where to eat: Zesto Drive-In was featured on Atlanta for a reason: spring for the famous double-pattied Fat Boy burger with a giant Pibb-infused ice cream float.

Where to stay: Chateau Elan in Braselton is a must for Ozark fans—you’ll recognize it from episode eight, when Jason Bateman and Laura Linney go to visit their drug lord. But if that doesn’t entice you, the four golf courses, grand, newly-renovated wine-tasting room, and spa should do the trick.

Civil Rights Trail: Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana (© Art Meripol/Alabama Tourism Dept.)

Civil Rights Trail: Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana

There’s nothing like running a late-summer thunderstorm on a two-lane highway in the American South, roof pummeled by hail the size of golf balls, to test your nerves behind the wheel. But it’s only one small part of a put-me-in-my-place drive everyone should do, following a stretch of the Civil Rights Trail from Memphis to New Orleans by way of Alabama, where some of the country’s best social-justice museums confront the past head on—prompting those who pass through to look at the present in the same way.

Where to stop: After a visit to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, pass through Montgomery, where the brand-new National Memorial to Peace and Justice has been making headlines as the country’s first memorial to lynching victims, before parking for a weekend in New Orleans. A different kind of education happens here, where local artists like muralist Brandan Odums feed a national conversation on race and class.

Where to eat: Stop in Birmingham to decompress at the James Beard-winning Highlands Bar and Grille.

Where to stay: Once you get to your final destination in NOLA, there are plenty of hotel options, but we’d pick the Henry Howard Hotel or the Pontchartrain Hotel, both just far enough removed from the craziness of the French Quarter.

Houston to El Paso (© Getty)

Houston to El Paso

What we’re going to tell you is not surprising: Texas is a big state. By the time you drive from east to west, you could have passed through five European countries. But as diverse as France is from the Czech Republic, South Texas is from West Texas. You may not be able to hit up the whole state in one road trip—unless you have a month to spare—but our 1,022-mile itinerary from Houston to El Paso, with an optional stop in New Mexico, will cover all of the highlights.

Where to stop: Marfa has become a bucket list trip for anyone who’s tapped into culture. Here, there are 16 galleries, one for every 124 residents of this isolated town, in addition to the Chinati Foundation, which holds hundreds of works by Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, Donald Judd, and more. The key to tackling Marfa is timing, as restaurants have odd hours and can be closed unexpectedly. Your best bet falls between Thursday and Sunday.

Where to eat: On the way to Austin, make a lunch pit stop in Lockhart. With three standout barbecue restaurants, you’ll have to leave your ego at the door and join the ranks of brisket and rib enthusiasts eating with their hands off butcher paper “plates.” Stop at least one joint from the town’s holy trifecta: Kreuz Market, Black’s Barbeque, or Smitty’s Market.

Where to stay: San Antonio’s Pearl District should be your starting point, with home base at the offbeat Hotel Emma, which itself is plenty of reason to visit San Antonio.