As we slowly move back into a sense of normalcy after last summer’s travel hibernation caused by the pandemic, more and more people are ready to take a trip away from Tennessee. And this summer experts say that the car trip is still king, as not everyone is ready to jump on an airplane. Here are five places in nearby states that are perfect for a weekend or short getaway.
1St. Louis, Missouri
In 1904 St. Louis played host to the World’s Fair, with more than 20 million people visiting the city to enjoy the exposition. The old World’s Fair site is still a major attraction in the city for the many free attractions on its grounds. Located in Forest Park, it houses the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Zoo and the nation’s largest outdoor amphitheater where they do musical theater every summer. This summer they will start in July with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
While in St. Louis, it is a must go to the famous St. Louis Arch located downtown near the river. Tram rides to the top of the 630-foot arch are once again running. After a tram ride it is easy to walk down to the river via Gateway Arch Park to catch a ride on a river boat.
Don’t forget Six Flags Over St. Louis, Busch Stadium, the outdoor sculptures at Citygarden, shopping and entertainment at West Port, the many breweries in the city including Anheuser-Busch, and dinner on The Hill where great Italian food reigns supreme. Rigazzi’s is the oldest Italian restaurant there. They have been serving serious Northern Italian fare since 1957, and are located in a home build in 1901.
Louisville is best known as the home of Churchill Downs, world headquarters of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the birthplace of Muhammed Ali. The first Kentucky Derby was created in 1875 by Meriweather Lewis Clark, the grandson of famous Louisiana Purchase explorer William Clark. Coronel Harland Sanders actually began selling his fried chicken at a roadside stand in Corbin, Kentucky in 1937. And Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was considered one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century with 61 boxing fights and 56 wins. Touring the city, you will learn much more about these and other people and places.
Of course, the state is best known for its bourbon, and Louisville has its share of distilleries to tour. Evan Williams is headquartered here, as is Old Forester. Another recommended stop on a distillery tour is Rabbit Hole. One review calls it the best tour in Louisville.
For the kiddos, there is Kentucky Kingdom and the Louisville Zoo. Older kids may be interested in the Louisville Ghost Tour. Running March through November, the ghost tour has gained national attention due to the beautiful Victorian homes and the tales of the unique residents of the past who continue to roam the streets of Old Louisville, beginning at the corner of Fourth and Ormsby.
You can’t come to the city without trying one of its most iconic foods, the Hot Brown. Created at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville in 1926, the hotel still served the dish. It is an open-faced sandwich with bread and turkey covered in cheesy Mornay sauce, topped with bacon and tomato then toasted in the broiler and served hot. Follow it up with a piece of Derby Pie.
Covington, Georgia is the place to go if you are a movie and television buff. “The Vampire Diaries,” “Walking Dead,” “My Cousin Vinney,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Remember the Titians,” and more than 130 other productions have been filmed there. The city even has a Walk of Stars listing all the filming that has been done at locations around the town.
Unlike St. Louis and Louisville, Covington is much more laid back, with a population of about 15,000. The top tourist attraction is tied to vampires at the moment. Vampire Stalkers Mystic Falls Tour will cover locations where The Vampire Diaries and The Legacies have been filmed. They also have a tour for The Originals. Places like Gilbert House, Carolina Forbes’ House, the city square, Bourbon Street and Jardin Gris Voodoo Shop are covered on the two tours. Each tour lasts about two hours.
Hollywood of the South Tours, run by the same people as the vampire tours, covers other movie and television locations, as well as what is currently filming. Right now, the company is doing custom tours for those interested in a particular movie or show. They have a complete list of what has been filmed in Covington on their website. Some of the shows filmed here are surprising, like “Sleepy Hollow,” which was supposed to take place in upstate New York.
After getting your fill of movie and television locations, there will be time to take in the natural beauty of the area. An extensive park and trail system exists, including Chimney Park and the Turner Trail System.
Historic downtown Covington offers a variety of locally owned boutiques and restaurants, like Mystic Grill and Bread and Butter Bakery. Stay at Twelve Oaks, the home that inspired one of the plantations in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It was also where General Sherman stayed for 30 days for a pause before marching on to the sea.
The biggest reason to come to Huntsville, Alabama is the U. S. Space and Rocket Center. It can easily fill up a day or more. With the current interest in the various landings on Mars, make sure to book a viewing of Mission to Mars in the planetarium before you go, as it is selling out.
As Captain James T. Kirk says at the beginning of the original “Star Trek” television series, space is the final frontier. The Space and Rocket Center tells the story of the United States going where no man has gone before in a sprawling hands-on showcase that will entice adults and children. The Center offers an Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience, Flight Simulator, Multi-Axis Trainer, a Scuba Diving Experience, and a G-Force Accelerator. Some of these activities have additional charges, some are included with admission. There are also many other activities that teach about space science. Those who want more can always come back for their summer camps.
With the development of the missile and rocket program after World War II, came many German scientists who settled in the area bringing with them great German food. Since 1972, Ol Heidelberg, has served sausage platters, schnitzel, and spatzle, followed by a piece of their ever-popular Black Forest Cake. Now, there is also Hildegard’s, which serves German potato pancakes with sour cream and pretzels with house-made beer cheese during happy hour. Save room for the Nutella Cheesecake.
Get a feel for the history of Huntsville by staying at the Dogwood Bed and Breakfast. Located in northeast Huntsville, it offers four antique-filled guestrooms with private bathrooms. Next door, there is also a two-bedroom, two-bath cottage with a cozy sitting area. It is situated on four wooded acres about 10 minutes from downtown.
5Asheville, North Carolina
Located in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville made its name as the summer playground of the rich and fabulous when George W. Vanderbilt created his grand retreat, Biltmore, in the 1890s. Today, Vanderbilt’s home draws thousands of visitors every year to the city. Designed like a French Renaissance castle, the home features 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces and an indoor pool. Over the years, the estate has added various attractions to the 8,000-acres, including the Biltmore Winery. There is also shopping, dining, and luxury accommodations.
After enjoying the house and winery, food and shopping, explore the lovely gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also created New York’s Central Park. These grounds offer a number of hiking trails.
Other natural wonders abound around Ashville, including the beauty of Chimney Rock for those who love to hike, and the Botanical Gardens for those who do not.
Another huge draw to Ashville is their arts scene. There are many fine artists and craftsmen who feature their work in local galleries, or open their studios to visitors. And if you want to learn more about fine crafts, take a trip to the Appalachian Craft Center. Begun as a haven for potters, they now carry and show the work of wood workers, glass blowers, jewelry makers, printmakers, weavers, local writers, and makers of preserves.
Food is big in Asheville, with a number of James Beard Award-winning chefs. They are one of the top ten foodie cities in the United States. For those looking for a unique food experience, No Taste Like Home offers Wild Food Foraging Tours. “We’ve been taking people “out to eat” for nearly 25 years,” says their website. At the end of the forage, they cook up some for tasting, and others can be taken to a select group of local restaurants that will make them into part of your meal.
Omni Grove Park Inn provides luxury accommodations, golf, a spa, hiking trails and luscious views of the mountains. If you are not staying on the Biltmore Estate, stay here and be pampered.