Traveling often means exploring and discovering new cities
and what they have to offer, from dining experiences to
history and culture. And, sometimes, it’s just about having
fun, with no timetable to dictate what you see or where you
go next. Here are eight destinations around the Southeast
where you can ditch the agenda, drop off the grid and
get out and play.
New Orleans (neworleanscvb.com, @VisitNewOrleans) pulses to an individual jazz beat, its air filled with Cajun and Creole spices, its wrought-iron-clad buildings standing through a history as tangled as Mardi Gras beads, and its friendly people who seem to find any excuse to throw a party.
If bargain shopping is what makes you strut down the street, head to the Bywater neighborhood, south of the French Market stretching from Press Street to the Industrial Canal. Poke around the Bargain Center (3200 Dauphine St., New Orleans. 504-948-0007) for eclectic finds from Hawaiian shirts to Mexican folk art, tea cups to bracelets. For vintage clothing, head next door to Pop Shop (3212 Dauphine St., New Orleans). Treat your ears to Euclid Records (3401 Chartres St., New Orleans. 504-947-4348,www.euclidnola.com), which specializes in used and new vinyl, used CDs and odds and ends.
Bargains can also be found in the Marigny neighborhood, between Esplanade Avenue and Press Street. Bohemianism abounds atFrenchmen Art Market (619 Frenchmen St., New Orleans. frenchmenartmarket.com, @FrenchmenMarket) in local artists’ crafts and wares. From there, wander and explore the area: Retailers don’t always have signs, but you can recognize shops because they routinely display merchandise on the sidewalk. “There are no chain retailers at all,” says Andi Eaton, New Orleans resident and author of New Orleans Style. “There are lots of cool little stores, handcrafted art and jewelry, handmade apparel. You kind of have to dig a bit. It’s definitely mostly thrift, vintage and artisan; you’re not going to find high-end pieces there.”
Magazine Street, a 10-minute drive or streetcar ride from the French Quarter, is so dense with shops that you may need more than a weekend to explore its 6-mile stretch from the Garden District to Uptown. The merchant directory (magazinestreet.com/merchant-directory/, @MagazineStreet) lists 26 antique, 41 clothing and 34 home decor stores, plus 13 art galleries and dozens more shops in multiple categories from architecture to wine. Savvy shoppers can find deals. Miette (2038 Magazine St., New Orleans. 504-522-2883,iheartmiette.com, @iheartmiette) stocks works by local and global artists who use repurposed materials. Miss Smarty Pants (5523 Magazine St., New Orleans. 504-891-6141, www.facebook.com/MissSmartyPantsNOLA) offers “luxe for less,” with a focus on jewelry and gifts. Trashy Diva (2044, 2048 and 2050 Magazine St., New Orleans. 504-299-3939,trashydiva.com) sells vintage women’s styles in sizes 0 to 24; clearance racks offer savings of up to 50 percent off.
Nashville (visitmusiccity.com, @visitmusiccity) is home of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the world’s largest songwriter community, the longest continually running live radio show (“The Grand Ole Opry”), and so much more. Music is the city’s best-known beat, but the 12South neighborhood hums its own tune and is a one-stop hotspot for eating, drinking, playing and shopping (photo courtesy of VisitMusicCity.com).
If you’re in the market for sheet music, a guitar and musical accessories, don’t miss Corner Music Store (2705 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-297-9559, cornermusic.com), where the pros shop.
Even if you can’t strum like a star, you can still imitate Nashville style thanks to fashion boutiques like Emerson Grace (2304 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-454-6407, emersongracenashville.com), which stocks contemporary women’s clothing and accessories in a mix of brands, including some local designers, across a range of prices. Find men’s and women’s T-shirts and custom-made jeans stitched onsite at Imogene & Willie (2601 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-292-5005, imogeneandwillie.com, @imogenewillie), and you may spot some celebrities hanging out. Watch artisans in action at Judith Bright Jewelry (2307 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-269-5600,judithbright.com) and pick among quality designs featuring interesting gemstones. Country artist Gary Allan’s the Label Nashville(2222 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-915-0722, thelabelnashville.com) stocks cutting-edge designer menswear (plus a few ladies’ items), jewelry and home furnishings; many lines are exclusive to the store. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James (2608 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-997-3601, draperjames.com, @draperjames) is a bright shop bursting with timeless Southern-style clothing and housewares, all inspired by Witherspoon’s favorite things. White’s Mercantile (2908 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-750-5379,whitesmercantile.com, @WhitesMerc), opened by Nashville songwriter and Hank Williams’ granddaughter Holly Williams, is a modern general store and a convenient place to pick up kitchen staples and gadgets alongside wardrobe essentials, beauty products and other goodies.
Jackson County in northeast Alabama (jacksoncountychamber.com) is home to Lake Guntersville (the state’s largest lake), 1,500 caves including Cathedral Caverns (which boasts the Frozen Waterfall and Stalagmite Mountain), a 200-foot gorge, and more natural wonders. But shoppers flock to the Unclaimed Baggage Center (509 W. Willow St., Scottsboro. 256-259-1525,unclaimedbaggage.com).
This one-of-a-kind shopping destination rewards bargain seekers, collectors, treasure hunters, impulse buyers, as well as anyone with discerning taste. The Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC) is so unique that it attracts more than a million visitors a year from all 50 states and 40 foreign countries (photo courtesy of Unclaimed Baggage).
UBC offers a vast array of goods from clothing to electronics, historic documents to jewelry and more, including many unexpected oddball things. Don’t arrive with a list: You never know what you’ll find. Stretching more than a city block, UBC is stocked with 7,000 new items every day.
How does UBC acquire its merchandise? If an airline exhausts its search for any unclaimed bag’s rightful owner, UBC purchases the luggage. UBC buys this personal property sight unseen. After a sorting process (some items are donated to charity, some trashed), merchandise deemed sellable is cleaned, refurbished, priced and routed to the sales floor, where it’s typically 20 to 80 percent lower than retail.
Much of the stock is predictable: tablets and iPads, headphones, jewelry, sporting goods, shoes and clothes — UBC has more than 20,000 items washed or dry-cleaned each day! There are also surprises: a full suit of armor, a 40.95-carat emerald, a Chinese dragon kite, 50 vacuum-packed frogs, moose antlers, a shrunken head, a French newspaper from the early 1900s.
Since there aren’t often multiples of items, UBC brand ambassador Brenda Cantrell advises shoppers to “set aside several hours” to explore both buildings. “It’s a little like Christmas every day because you may not find the size black boots you were hoping for, but you might find a ring that fits. Keep an open mind while you’re shopping, prepare for adventure, and it’s a wonderful experience.”
“Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea” is how locals describe their South Carolina town. It’s no empty boast. Beaufort (beaufort.com) has natural waterfront beauty plus its entire walkable downtown is a designated historic district. Antebellum residences, lush gardens and live oaks draped in Spanish moss surround its clustered galleries, boutiques and restaurants (photo courtesy of Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce).
Beaufort is a hub for Gullah-Geechee artwork and Lowcountry products. Start at the Beaufort Visitors Center (713 Craven St., Beaufort. 843-525-8500, beaufortsc.org, @Visit_Beaufort) for maps and information as well as a retail shop loaded with iconic sweetgrass baskets, the treasured African art tradition passed down generations through the Gullah-Geechee community.
Then head downtown to Bay Street, just a block from Waterfront Park, to explore LyBensons Gallery & Studio’s (211 Charles St., Beaufort. 843-525-9006, lybensons.com) collection of Gullah and Lowcountry paintings, sculptures and other works. Stock up on local foodstuffs like sauces, pickles, marmalades and seasonings at Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe (302 Carteret St., Beaufort. 843-322-1900, lowcountryproduce.com). Satisfy sweet cravings at the Chocolate Tree (507 Carteret St., Beaufort. 843-524-7980,thechocolatetree.us), which produces handmade candies and made the box of chocolates featured in “Forrest Gump.” Peruse fun finds that often glitter or tickle the funny bone at Lulu Burgess (917 Bay St., Beaufort. 843-524-5858, luluburgess.com) from cocktail napkins to handbags, bobbleheads to jewelry. Scout Southern Market (709 Bay St., Beaufort. 843-379-2282,scoutsouthernmarket.com) offers a curated assortment of Southern-made food and home decor items.
Ten minutes from downtown on St. Helena, don’t miss Red Piano Too Art Gallery (870 Sea Island Parkway, Beaufort. 843-838-2241,redpianotoo.com), a collection of works by more than 150 Gullah-Geechee folk, fine and craft artists. The colorful store also carries Gullah books and foods.
Thomasville (thomasvillega.com) is known for its well-preserved downtown, which continues to thrum with more than 100 retail and dining establishments lining its brick-paved streets. While strolling the square, take time to admire Victorian architecture and visit historic museums between stops to shop and eat.
“The revitalized area of downtown, called the Creative District, offers an artsy walk through what will soon include a new amphitheater and a trailhead for a new multiuse trail system connecting historic districts and parks,” says April Norton, Main Street & Auditorium director for the city of Thomasville. “Downtown Thomasville has seen great economic growth already this year, with 10 new businesses opening and several more anticipated to open soon.”
Downtown Thomasville’s variety of shops includes antiques, fashion, jewelry, books, art, home decor, craft and children’s goods. But foodies are in for special rewards.
Start at Grassroots Coffee Company (118 S. Broad St., Thomasville. 229-226-3388, grassrootscoffee.com), a local gathering spot that serves specialty coffee drinks and roasts small batches of beans in-house. Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop (123 S. Broad St., Thomasville. 229-228-6704, sweetgrassdairy.com/cheeseshop/, @sweetgrassdairy) sells the award-winning cheeses made at its 140-acre family farm in Thomasville. Find imported cheese at Liam’s Restaurant, Lounge & Cheese Shoppe (113 E. Jackson St., Thomasville. 229-226-9944, liamsthomasville.com). What better to pair with cheese than wine? Head to Farmer’s Daughter Vineyards Tasting Room (106 N. Broad St., Thomasville. 229-233-8314, farmersdaughtervineyards.com, @FDVineyards) to sip samples before buying whatever uncorked treats made your taste buds dance. Visit the Flowers Bakery Store (236 S. Madison St., Thomasville. 229-225-3849) to purchase items made at the Flowers Baking Co. Bakery located downtown — it makes Sunbeam and Nature’s Own bread plus Blue Bird snack cakes and is to thank for the fresh-baked bread aroma wafting through the air. Don’t miss Relish (107 S. Broad St., Thomasville. 229-236-5999, relishthomasville.com) to stock up on professional-quality cooking gear, gadgets and gourmet foods. Be sure to grab some jars of locally made Blackberry Patch (blackberrypatch.com, @theblackberryp) jams, jellies and fruit ketchups, named one of Oprah’s favorite things. If your furry best friend has discerning tastes, go toHuggaMugga’s (210 W. Jackson St., Thomasville. 229-236-9663, huggamuggas.com) for homemade dog treats made with ingredients such as Sweet Grass Dairy cheese and wild Alaskan salmon.
Ocean Springs, Miss.
Dubbed the “City of Discovery,” Ocean Springs (gulfcoast.org, @VisitMSCoast) is a haven for artists and art lovers. The Mississippi Gulf Coast town is home to the Ocean Springs Art Association, representing more than 300 local artists plus more than 200 independent locally owned shops, galleries, antique shops and restaurants (photo by Fred Salinas).
Most shops are located downtown on Washington Avenue and Government Street. Along the walkable route, musicians often entertain and tempting aromas waft from restaurants.
Realizations (1000B Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. 228-875-0503, walterandersonart.com), affiliated with the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, presents the acclaimed nature and wildlife painter’s work and block print designs in new forms from clothing to prints, continuing his mission to make art with integrity available to anyone. The Art House (921 Cash Alley, Ocean Springs. 228-875-9285,oceanspringsartassociation.org/the-art-house/) is a co-op gallery showcasing a wide range of members’ works including pottery, jewelry, note cards, watercolors, photography and more; a number of “browse bins” contain art at reasonable prices. Hillyer House(920 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. 228-875-8065, hillyerhouse.com) presents works from local, regional and national artists; handmade soaps and candles, blown glass, pottery, jewelry, paintings and more, many with a coastal theme, await discovery. Take time to read artists’ biographies on display near works “because you may see a piece of art in a different light once you know the backstory,” says Susannah Snyder, manager of Hillyer House. Shape, color and texture are on display at Coastal Magpie (918 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. 228-215-1815, coastalmagpie.com), where the crafts, fiber works, antiques, gifts and fine art are produced by local and regional artists.
In Ocean Springs, shopping isn’t for adults only. Miner’s Doll & Toy Store (927 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. 228-875-8697,minerstoystore.com) appeals to children and the kid in everyone with its mix of nostalgic and contemporary playthings, from Madame Alexander dolls to wooden Brio trains. Two Dogs Dancing (619A Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. 228-875-0150) specializes in gifts for pets and their people, from collars to pampering products, carriers to toys.
From the historic district to the Cape Fear River to three island beaches, Wilmington (wilmingtonandbeaches.com, @WilmingtoNCoast) is North Carolina’s most accessible coastal destination. As expected, surf gear and coastal treasures are available, but the state is known for its furniture shopping and, perhaps surprisingly, Wilmington is no exception (photo courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB).
The Cotton Exchange (shopcottonexchange.com, @cottonexchange), located in the historic downtown district at the corner of Front and Grace streets, is comprised of eight 19th-century buildings that now house over 30 specialty shops and restaurants. The Golden Gallery (311 N. Front St., Wilmington. 910-762-4651, thegoldengallery.com) features the paintings, photography and music of its artist owners. Fidler’s Gallery, Wrigley’s Clocks (304 Nutt St., Wilmington. 910-762-2001, fidlersgallery.com) has a large inventory of home furnishings including frames, clocks, figurines, lamps and sculptures.
Downtown beyond the historic district, the Ivy Cottage (3020, 3030 and 3100 Market St., Wilmington. 910-815-0907,threecottages.com) is the largest furniture consignment store in the Southeast. It fills three cottages, a courtyard and a warehouse with its gigantic inventory of high-quality antique, vintage, modern furniture and home decor items; from midcentury modern to shabby chic, an array of styles is represented. The Cape Fear Antique Center (1606 Market St., Wilmington. 910-763-1837,capefearantiquecenter.com) is shared by three dealers specializing in a mix of American, English, French and Belgian furniture, from armoires to dining tables plus porcelain and china, estate jewelry and oil paintings.
The thriving “Castle Street Antiques District is small,” says Jason Frye, Wilmington resident and author of “Moon North Carolina.” “But the shops are really well-curated and always have top-notch stuff.” Michael Moore Antiques (539 Castle St., Wilmington. 910-763-0300) specializes in antique and vintage lamps, light fixtures, lamp parts and shades, and also offers furniture and jewelry. Fifth and Castle Design Shop (602 S. Fifth St., Wilmington. 910-769-2488, fifthandcastle.com), owned by HGTV personality Meg Caswell, is one of the recent additions to the neighborhood and sells furniture, pillows and rugs.
Successful shopping may make you hum a happy tune. Strum along with a new uke from the North Carolina Ukulele Academy(203 Racine Drive, Wilmington. 910-538-3419, alohau.com). Need music or lessons? That’s available, too.