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.)
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
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.
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 Legacy Museum
- National Memorial for Peace and Justice
- Breakfast: Café Louisa
- Dinners: 1) Vintage Year (get Sheepshead fish if in season), 2) Central
April 25-27: Birmingham, AL with a stop in Selma, AL on the way
- Edmund Pettus Bridge tour with local ColumbusMitchell@yahoo.com
- Civil Rights Tour of Birmingham, from Red Clay Tours
- Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
- Vulcan Park and Museum
- Birmingham Botanical Garden
- Yoga at Good People Brewing Company (outdoors) (Would have liked to see a minor league baseball game at the stadium across the street from the brewery)
- Breakfast: The Continental Bakery, Panache
- Lunches and a takeout dinner: Birmingham Breadworks
- Dinner: Automatic Seafood and Oysters, which is a short stroll to Jeni’s Ice Cream (an early Grommet launch, when it was still just a little local Ohio shop.)
April 28-29 Atlanta, GA (Hedonism segment)
- Atlanta Botanical Garden (I always visit a garden in new cities–it’s the perfect antidote to all the urban and cultural stimulation.)
- High Museum of Art
- Atlanta Museum of Design (across from High Museum)
- Krog Street Photo Shoot–because why not?
- Ponce City Market—good shop: Citizen Supply
- Accommodation: Midtown Atlanta Townhome
- Dinners: Lyla Lila, The Optimist
- Breakfast: Huge X Brash
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.
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)
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.
May 8: Nags Head, NC
- Sunset at Jockey’s Ridge (go early enough to park and do the fairly rigorous climb up dunes)
- Breakfast: Morning View Coffee House, Duck Donuts (Even though they are made to order, resist the temptation to go crazy. The simple ones taste best.)
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.”