Start your stay in Gulf Shores at The Lodge at Gulf State Park ($119 and up, 21196 E. Beach Blvd., 251-540-4000, lodgeatgulfstatepark.com). This eco-conscious beachfront hotel stands alone with no adjacent development except for the Gulf State Park Pier jutting 1,540 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. After exploring the beach and pier, dine on Royal Reds and other fresh catches of the day at King Neptune’s ($14 and up, 1137 Gulf Shores Pkwy., 251-968-5464, kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com).
In the morning, enjoy a New Orleans-style breakfast/brunch of Eggs Cochon (poached eggs served on a gravy-soaked biscuit and roast pork) and beignets at The Ruby Slipper Cafe ($10 and up, 24151 Perdido Beach Blvd., 251-800-7470, therubyslippercafe.getbento.com). Afterward, explore Gulf State Park and the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail by foot or bike through a maritime forest and secondary dune system. For dinner, Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar ($20 and up, 25753 Canal Road, 251-948-9663, cosmosrestaurantandbar.com) is an off-the-beaten-path spot specializing in banana leaf-wrapped sea bass.
In Orange Beach, book a fishing charter at one of the many marinas in town and if you catch anything worth eating, take it to Doc’s Seafood Shack ($10.99 and up, 26029 Canal Road, 251-981-6999, www.docsseafoodshack.com) where they’ll cook your catch for you. In the evening, enjoy contemporary coastal cuisine and exceptional sunset views on the large patio at Cobalt ($20 and up, 28099 Perdido Beach Blvd., 251-923-5300, www.cobaltrestaurant.net). Popular menu items are the Gulf shrimp and grits and Bronze Gulf grouper.
Grayton Beach, Florida, is a highlight of Scenic Highway 30A.
Credit: Tricia Gaston
Credit: Tricia Gaston
Florida: Fun on the water
Water sports fans need travel no farther than the Florida Panhandle to get their fix in any number of ways. The focus of this road trip is Scenic Highway 30A, designated a National Scenic Byway last month, with a trek to Mexico Beach, which is back on its feet after being nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
En route to the coast, make an inland stop at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park ($4 per vehicle, 2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Road, Ponce de Leon, Florida, 850-836-4281, www.floridastateparks.org) to swim in the crystal-clear blue springs.
On the coast, stay the night in a cabin in the piney woods next to Western Lake, a coastal dune lake at Grayton Beach State Park ($130 per night, 357 Main Park Road, Grayton Beach, 850-267-8300, www.floridastateparks.org/graytonbeach). The park’s one-mile stretch of undeveloped silky, white sand beach is backed by an extensive dune system. Explore the dune lake by stand-up paddleboard or kayak, available for rent through The Rental Shop 30A ($70 a day, 850-260-0001, www.therentalshop30a.com).
Travel 73 miles south along the coast to Port St. Joe and book a cottage at The Port Inn and Cottages ($154 and up, 501 Monument Ave., 850-229-7829, www.choicehotels.com). Some of the best sport fishing along this stretch of the Gulf Coast is at Mexico Beach next door, where artificial reefs teem with game fish. KC Sport Fishing (102 Canal Pkwy., 850-933-8804, www.kcsportfishing.com) provides a variety of long- and short-range fishing and sightseeing expeditions, including a lunch run to Apalachicola.
The view from a tee box at the mountaintop Bear Lake Reserve golf course in North Carolina.
Courtesy of Bear Lake Reserve
North Carolina: Golfer’s paradise
Golf courses in the Tarheel State provide a wide variety of scenery, terrain and challenging play. Begin in the mountains then head to the Sandhills region in the central part of the state to tee off at a legendary golf resort.
Stay and play at Bear Lake Reserve ($75 per round, accommodations $219 and up, 412 Lake Forest Drive, Tuckasegee, 828-293-3455, bearlakereserve.com). A resort community centered around a mountain lake, Bear Lake Reserve features a 9-hole, par 29 mountaintop course known for its stunning mountain vistas and diverse range of play. Guests get free all-day access to the driving range. Another notable course in the area is the Robert Trent Jones II-designed links at Sequoyah National Golf Club ($65 and up per round, 79 Cahons Road, Whittier, 828-497-3000, www.sequoyahnational.com).
Next, travel 270 miles east to Pinehurst (80 Carolina Vista, 855-235-8507, www.pinehurst.com). Established in 1895, it claims to be America’s first golf resort and offers a variety of accommodations ranging from an historic inn to contemporary condos. Located in the Sandhills region in the central part of the state, it’s undoubtedly among the most legendary golfing destinations in North America, home to nine courses named simply by number. Highlights include the famed Pinehurst No. 2, a U.S. Open anchor site, and Pinehurst No. 3, the shortest of the nine featuring small greens that demand precise play.
Pinehurst’s Bed and Breakfast Golf Package ($398 and up per person) includes accommodations, a round of play and a hearty Southern breakfast. The resort has a full range of dining and drinking options available including a coffee shop and a craft brewery.
The Red Horse Inn in the Upstate region of South Carolina has secluded cottages for couples with views of the mountains and rolling pastures.
Courtesy of Blake Guthrie
Credit: Blake Guthrie
Credit: Blake Guthrie
South Carolina: Couples getaway
For a couples weekend close to home, head to the Upstate region of South Carolina in the Appalachian foothills and traverse the Cherokee Foothills Scenic highway (S.C. 11), where you can explore fruit orchards, wine vineyards, state parks and mountain lakes.
Spanning 125 miles from Fairplay in the west to Gaffney in the east, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (SC 11) offers spectacular views from Table Rock State Park ($6, 158 Ellison Lane, Pickens, 864-878-9813, www.southcarolinaparks.com), Caesars Head State Park ($3, 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland, 864-836-6115, www.southcarolinaparks.com), and the circa-1820 Poinsett Bridge (580 Callahan Mountain Road, Travelers Rest), with its eye-catching Gothic stone archway. Stay overnight at the Red Horse Inn (cottages $400 and up, 45 Winstons Chase Ct., Landrum, 864-909-1575, www.theredhorseinn.com), a 200-acre spread offering cozy accommodations in six secluded cottages with sweeping mountain views in horse country. Enjoy offerings from the wine bar on the outdoor terrace and breakfast in bed. Request a map to a self-guided driving tour of the area’s covered bridges, waterfalls, wineries, antique stores and other noteworthy spots.
Travel 25 miles south and spend a day exploring downtown Greenville. Top attractions include Falls Park on the Reedy (Free, 601 S. Main St.), a natural oasis in the city with gardens, trails and the tumbling whitewater of Reedy Falls. Rent bikes to pedal the paved 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail running along the riverbank from the park. Dine at Soby’s ($19 and up, 207 S. Main St., 864-232-7007, sobys.com), serving eclectic interpretations of contemporary Southern-style cuisine with indoor and outdoor dining.
Tennessee: Make music tracks
For a tuneful trip through Tennessee, head straight up I-24 from the state line toward Nashville. But be prepared to make some stops along the way. An hour north of Chattanooga is The Caverns ($50 and up, 555 Charlie Roberts Road, Pelham, 931-516-9724, www.thecaverns.com), famous for holding concerts below ground inside a cave. Newly opened is an outdoor venue with socially distanced, pod-style seating called The Caverns Above Ground Amphitheater, and this spring popular acts such as Margo Price, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and the Del McCoury Band are scheduled to perform.
Stay overnight nearby at The Smoke House Lodge and Cabins ($69.99 and up, 850 W. Main St., Monteagle, 800-489-2091, thesmokehouse.com). On Friday and Saturday nights the Smoke House hosts the Music on the Mountain series featuring established and up-and-coming Nashville tunesmiths.
The next day, head up the road 100 miles to Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork ($12 and up, 4142 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, 615-794-1308, www.puckettsofleipersfork.com). Inside the grocery store founded in 1953 is a restaurant and a music venue where you never know who you’ll see on the free open mic nights. Being close to Nashville, it’s common for celebrity musicians and hit singer-songwriters to grace the small stage for a song or two after dinner. Stay in a nearby Airbnb camper with a covered porch at The Quirky Canary ($78, www.airbnb.com/rooms/42645270).
In Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry ($75 and up, 2804 Opryland Drive, 800-733-6779, www.opry.com) has begun allowing limited attendance to its historic weekly radio shows. Stay next door at the Gaylord Opryland Resort ($195 and up, 2800 Opryland Drive, 615-889-1000, www.marriott.com), an atrium-enclosed city unto itself with manmade rivers and waterfalls outside your room. The Ryman Auditorium ($25.95, 116 Fifth Ave. N., 615-889-3060, ryman.com) has re-opened its doors for self-guided daytime tours ($25.95). And nearby is the brand-new National Museum of African American Music ($24.95, 510 Broadway, 615-301-8724, nmaam.org), dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced and inspired by African-Americans.