As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

“Four H Club” Trip Down South

I wasn’t planning on sharing this trip, but I’ve been asked for the itinerary a half dozen times. Some of the best travel plans are built right off a trusted friend’s experience, so in the spirit of a friend, here you go!

The basic stats:

  • Dates: April 15 to May 10, 2021
  • Why this “Four H Club” theme:  
    • Firstly, there were four women on the first half of the trip
    • Secondly, the activities were neatly divided in four parts which I described as:
      • Hiking (the Smokies),
      • Hateful History (Civil Rights Tour),
      • Hedonism (Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston),
      • Hustle Home (Up the Outer Banks)

(OK maybe that is a 6H trip?)

By the end of the trip we had driven 4,000 miles (another 4) in a Chevy Equinox–thank you Enterprise Car Rental for the upgrade from the sedan I had originally booked: it would have been really tight with all of our gear/snacks/purchases.

No one said we packed light.

April 15: Boston to Princeton–to pick up my first shotgun passenger

I include the full itinerary below for the places I can truly recommend. As such, not all sights, restaurants, or accommodations we experienced are listed. Because, why would I do that to you?

April 16-17: Charlottesville, VA

  • Rendezvous with our two traveling companions coming from California and Washington
  • Skyline Drive to Charlottesville through Shenandoah National Park
  • Accommodation: Country Inn and Suites by Radisson (Basic but quite nice)
  • Breakfasts: 1) Oakhurst Inn on the lovely terrace, 2) Mudhouse Coffee/Bowerbird Bakeshop (the shops are conveninenly located right next to each other)
  • Dinners: Sedona Taphouse.  (Do not go to Bisou Bisou. All four of our entrees were uninspired.)
  • Tour Monticello (The website for this historic treasure shows a family of four striding/sprinting away from Montcello in masks. It’s the polar opposite of a happy homestead scene of yore. Someday, someone is going to do a visual compilation of all the odd pandemic imagery.)
Jill (CA), Me, Mary (WA) at Oakhurst Inn, Charlottesville. This first breakfast was one of the best: and it had a lot of future competition. At the end of the trip we still all oohed and aahed over the Oakhurst.
Garden at Monticello. One one hand I thought it would be a LOT bigger. On the other hand, I had no idea of the gorgeous view from this terraced location.

April 18, Ashville, NC (sort of an artsy interlude before the Hiking)

  • Drove Blue Ridge Parkway to get there, took one short hike. It was too early in the season to fully appreciate the landscape: the trees had not yet leafed out.
  • Accommodation: Hotel Indigo (massive gorgeous room; greatest value for accommodation of whole trip)
  • Dinner: Rhubarb (One of the top three meals of the trip.)
  • Activities: Shopping crafts, River Arts district and downtown
This beautiful view on a short hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway was a lot of gain for little pain. (To find it: the Craggy Gardens trailhead is very near to where Carter Creek meets the Parkway and there is also an official parking lot.)
Hotel Indigo, Asheville NC
The first of many happy trout dishes. This one, at Rhubarb, was one of the best: served on grits with wild ramps.
River Arts District, Asheville

April 19-22: Whittier, NC (Hiking + a little bit of Hateful History mixed in)

  • Smoky Mountain National Park Hikes (our routes were held back a bit by hideous weather):
    • Newfound Gap to Charlie’s Bunyon
    • Clingman’s Dome (fuggedabout the view that day) to Andrews Bald
    • Kephart Prong Trail, Mingus Grist Mill
    • Indian Creek and Sunkota RidgeTrail (favorite hike–wildflowers and variety)
  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian (Our “Hateful History” education started here, with the original sins of our fathers.)
  • Qualla Arts and Crafts (I still covet a handmade ceremonial mask I saw and did not buy at this first rate shop/gallery.)
  • Dinner: RNR Café in Dillsboro. Yum the best sweet potato fries of my life.
Our last encounter as we left the Kephart Prong Trail

April 23-24: Montgomery, AL (Hateful History segment)

The catalyst for this whole trip was to visit the major Civil Rights sites in Alabama, so we focussed on our educational goals during this segment of the trip. While I was moved, angered, and informed by the official sites and museums, the two guided tours we took in Selma and Birmingham did more to alarm and expose me to the Southern modern-day-version of segregation and injustice that is still too alive and well.

While I myself live in a highly segregated city (Boston) and find that deeply jarring, the general sense of acceptance for inequity we experienced in Alabama was truly stunning. For example, we visited a Black neighborhood in Birmingham that is hemmed in by a few unfettered and noxious industrial plants and seven freight train lines. For hours at a time people are trapped on their own streets by stopped trains, which operate on no predictable schedule. People have died due to first responders being unable to access the residential streets. Beyond that, and perilously living on a Superfund site, some of the residents also had no electricity or plumbing. In 2021. In a modern city. This is not only a local travesty. It is a national shame.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is dramatic, creative, and searing to experience. 800 suspended corten steel monuments represent the US counties that were the site of racist and terrorist lynchings. You walk along and then under them, as the roof progressively rises in the corridors of the open air structures.
My drawing of Sheepshead Fish, ala a Google search. This is NOT what I saw on my plate. But those creepy rows of humanoid teeth enable it to live on a diet of delectable shellfish, which makes the Sheepshead a very tasty creature indeed.

April 25-27: Birmingham, AL with a stop in Selma, AL on the way

April 28-29 Atlanta, GA (Hedonism segment)

Delightful Midtown townhome where we stayed
Fun with Art at the High Museum
Transcendent Artichoke Carmelle Ravioli with Mushrooms and Ramp Salsa Verde, at Lyla Lila
Krog Street–endless possibilities for great shots

April 30-May 2: Savannah, GA

  • SCAD Story–a completely unique Disney-esque introduction to Savannah College of Art and Design
  • SCAD Museum of Art (It’s beautifully built into an atmospheric and historic railroad depot originally built by enslaved people. You can see bricks where some folks carved their initials.)
  • Savannah Architectural Tour (Jonathan Stalcup, SCAD alum)
  • Wormsloe Historic Site
  • Savannah Bike Tour
  • Outside Savannah boat tour of Port of Savannah and National Wildlife Preserve
  • A miss: would like to see the three Telfair Museums
  • Best shopping is in the small design district on Whittier Street and at the ShopSCAD shop featuring alum, student and faculty work. While there I also discovered the fabulous SCAD alumni art site.
  • Accommodation: Magnolia Hall on Forsyth Park (SCAD owned, not open to the public)
  • Dinners: 1) The Grey (Cool location in a former Greyhound station–book way ahead or show up at 5:00 to try and snag seats at the bar), 2) Husk (Try to sit on the porch, but the inside was really great too. A second location of Husk is in Charleston.)
  • Lunches: We had a hat trick of scrumptious light meals from SCAD owned The Gryphon (I still crave the peach spritz drink), Paris Market (shopping too)
  • Breakfast: Savannah Roasters

We went to Savannah so I could do some speaking to students. One of the highlights of my trips there is staying in the gorgeous Magnolia House, the SCAD-owned guest house. Each room is uniquely themed and the entire place (which I have always had all to myself) is studded with SCAD alum artwork.

Savannah’s squares are a thing of beauty
Jill’s brave husband Andy joined us for a few precious days during the Hedonism phase. This was a stop at the Wormsloe Historic Estate, a 1736 Colonial property just 15 minutes from downtown Savannah.

May 3-6: Charleston / Isle of Palms, SC

  • Highlights of Charleston Walking Tour
  • The Old Slave Mart Museum By this time in the trip most of the information presented at the museum was not new, but the location and small building were worth a quick stop.
  • Personal architecture tour by Jane O’Boyle (U of Michigan friend)
  • Walking beach at Isle of Palms, where we stayed. It was a good 30 minutes away from Charleston, but we had a hankering for some non-city sights and beach time.
  • American College of Building Arts tour–I wanted to enroll on the spot and learn to be one of the elite craftspeople who graduate from there every year and are immediately snapped up by places like the White House and Monticello. I think I would do blacksmithing or architectural carpentry. But the masonry work was tempting too. Students range from 18 to 55 and are always employed, due to their high skill level. Two and four year accredited degrees are offered.
  • Gulla Geechee Concert (Historic Charleston Foundation) Be sure to check this foundation’s site before you go to Charleston, to get a bead on whatever this group is sponsoring
  • Bulls Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge by ferry from Awendaw (alligators, birds, boneyard of landlocked dead trees, pristine beach.) This outing was one of my favorite events of the trip–for the landscape and the wildlife and getting a tiny sense of what it is like to live near the water in Low Country. After: a quick stop at Sewee Outpost
  • Accommodation: a house in Wild Dunes. This big resort did not do it for me, but the beach is spectacular and it seemed like the resort was the only game in town for rentals in IoP. Alternately, staying at Folly Beach would be closer to Charleston–I would try that first, or just stay in Charleston itself unless you really want to stick your toes in the South Carolina sand.
  • Dinners: 1) The Obstinate Daughter (got to dine with my pandemic-refugee-from-New-York nephew Keegan!), 2) FIG (if you only have one night in Charleston, pick this place), 3) Home Team BBQ, 4) The Ordinary (the most full-on “scene” establishment we visited.)
  • Lunches: 1) Gaulart & Maliclet Fast & French, 2) Caviar and Bananas (Good for takeaway. Yum, the salads. Buy the Duck Fat spray to take home)
Rainbow Row
Dock living, Low Country style
Boneyard at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
Cape Romain: we saw lots of alligators (and a couple unwelcome snakes on the footpaths)
Cape Romain: walking, talking, laughing–it’s what we do.

May 7: Beaufort, NC (Hustle Home segment)

  • Brookgreen Gardens en route–really special to have a great deal of sculpture integrated into the gardens
  • Island Express Ferry to Shackleford Island. Anne and I had a quietly transcendent moment when four ponies came trotting by us within arm’s length. We saw a total of 11 ponies and if you love to shell, this is the place.
  • Accommodation/Breakfast + Dinner: Beaufort Hotel One of my favorite stays: the 34 Degrees North restaurant is excellent too. We saw wild ponies across the way from the breakfast terrace.
  • Lunch: Beaufort Grocery
  • NB: we planned to drive via Okracoke along all the islands but did not realize we should have booked the car ferry in advance  We instead went to Shackleford Island and were really glad we had that time on the beach instead of in a ferry.  But not sure what we might have missed.
These ponies are reputed to be descendent of Spanish Banker ponies that were tossed overboard in the 1500’s

May 8: Nags Head, NC

Au revoir, les amies!

May 9: Princeton

  • If travelling in this part of the mid Atlantic, don’t miss driving the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel’s 17 miles and enjoy the smaller roads in the area. It was a stunner.

May 10: Boston (Waaaah!)

In my prior road trip narrative I talked a lot about Covid precautions and observations. It was a fairly radical time to be hitting the road, but we had a number of our own reasons to do so.

Six months later, and fully vaccinated, this trip felt entirely different. (Even though we certainly went in the “wrong” direction by going to Covid hotspots.) We still sported masks when needed, sanitized hands, and ate outdoors whenever possible. But, for better or worse, I shed the fear I had back in the Fall that every stranger was the Grim Reaper. Since this Spring trip, the Delta variant has reared its ugly head so I would probably retrench a bit in my behaviors (mainly more mask wearing) if I took the trip at this moment, just four months later.

P.S. Travel buddy Jill passed these additional thoughts/tips along:

“So fun to have this great review with all the details in one place! Having never visited any of the Southern US states before, this trip was an eye-opener in multiple directions with the balance tipping to the positive. Birmingham, with the most disturbing history of segregation, was also the epicenter for creative restaurants.  I will add one more to the list Jules shared: the very fresh tasting Bay Leaf Indian. Another recommendation we received: to get off the main roads and to take the time to talk with people was great advice and following this theme, between cities, we listened to the Amateur Traveler podcast where locals recommend their favorite spots.”

2 Responses to ““Four H Club” Trip Down South”

  1. ps8649

    Loved, loved, loved everything — the photos, narrative, and sharing the enjoyment with you and your cohorts. “Almost” felt that I was there with you.

    As I might have mentioned, I once hosted a small boat Alumni Tour along the Intracoastal

    from Florida to Charleston. I loved every placed, especially Beauford. Even took a photo of the house from “The Big Chill” that was filmed there.

    Thanks so much for sharing and allowing me to enjoy the trek vicariously.


    Nancy F. Beja

    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

    • julespieri

      We did not make it to the Big Chill house…that would have been fun. Lawrence Kasdan was my college graduation speaker and I still remember (and live by) one of his key pieces of advice.


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