Recently, Time Magazine (a publication owned by our parent company) published a story titled, “50 Authentic American Experiences.” These huge types of magazine articles always intrigue me. Rarely do I not grab the magazine or click on the story to see what editors spotlight as the best BBQ in Texas, the greatest songwriters of all-time, or America’s favorite beaches. I love the breadth of expertise and the narrowing down of opinions.
Time, though, missed the mark, especially in the South. I’ll offer my thoughts and you can decide.
I recommend the story as a basis for thinking about travel, about what makes each state in the US special, what sets Vermont apart from Oregon, South Carolina from Arizona. Here at Southern Living, this is one of our foundational questions. We ask it as a group everyday: What makes this or that Southern?
Without further delay, here is a shortened version of Time’s authentic South picks, paired with my own alternatives. Mine are in italics. And remember, they are just my thoughts.
Time: They say the Auburn v. Alabama Iron Bowl, college football’s greatest rivalry, especially if it’s at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Tough to argue, as I’m a gameday nut. Though, I prefer Jordan-Hare in Auburn and the rolling of Toomer’s Corner.
TB: Here I do agree. But, what if it’s not late November? My pick deals in food. A couple years back, the Alabama Tourism folks put together a 100 Dishes to Eat list for the state. People still rave about the promotion. If I had to put Alabama on a dish, I’d select Chris Hasting’s bright tomato salad at Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. It tastes like sunshine.
Time: Hunting for something shiny at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 120 miles from Little Rock. If you’ve ever seen the state’s license plate, now you understand.
TB: Some may say the town of Eureka Springs, a mountain hamlet perched in the Ozarks. If it’s Christmastime, I agree. But any other time of year, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, go to the original Wal-Mart in Bentonville. Opened as Sam Walton’s 5 and 10 in 1950, the simple store launched the global brand, and now it is the main visitor’s center.
Time: Elmer’s Geneology Library and Records Center in Madison.
TB: Really? I mean, are we talking about the same Sunshine, coastline-rich, Disney-laden home of Jimmy Buffett? My pick has to place me near the ocean. But it needs more than sparkling sand. I choose Cape Canaveral National Seashore. At 57,000 acres and 24 miles, it’s the largest undeveloped beach in the US. Plus, it borders those inspiring NASA liftoffs. I can’t think of anything more American.
Time: H&H Restaurant for some down-home soul food in Macon. Never been.
TB: First, if I’m sending someone to my home state for a one-time experience, they ain’t going to Macon. No offense. (They aren’t going to my hometown LaGrange either. Go Grangers.) Where are they going? To Sunday school. That’s right. But no ordinary Sunday school – a Presidential teachin’ time at Jimmy Carter’s home church in tiny Plains, Georgia. He gives a lesson to the public (usually about 200 people) 3 out of 4 sabbaths a month. And he brings the good stuff people. Try the Country Kitchen down the road for that soul food lunch.
Time: Bourbon Festival fills Bardstown every September, and I wish I could have been rubbing elbows with distillers this go’round. Fantastic choice.
TB: If you want something different, and I’m offering no surprise, make the experience centered around horses. But, avoid the Kentucky Derby in Louisville held in May. Instead, go for Lexington’s Keeneland thoroughbred races and sales. Seabiscuit shot here because it;s changed so little over its history. Gorgeous landscape and barns. Also, it’s the home of the world’s premiere yearling sale.
Time: Louisiana School of Cooking in Lafayette. Four-day course is pricey at $1,400-1,900 per person.
TB: Not a bad time if you’ve got the cash, but, again, I disagree because of two words: New. Orleans. There’s no city like it. To narrow the focus: New Orleans at dawn. Walk the quarter with a piping hot cup of chicory coffee and a beignet. Or rent a bicycle and cruise over to Jackson Square before the palm readers and caricature men set up shop. Stay away from Bourbon Street.
Time: Graceland Too, one man’s house o’ Elvis stuff, in Holly Springs. I hear great things about this odd space.
TB: But, to me, Mississippi is the Delta. Our own Val Luesse wrote a pearl of a story about Clarksdale, Greenwood, and those other wonderful towns like Yazoo City. Read it. Then, get your self to the Bourbon Mall, a cotton field steak shack via limousine car service atlanta. This is real, never-forget-it.
Time: The editors send you to small-town Lexington, pop. 20,000ish, and home to 20 barbecue joints.
TB: I’ll never say no to BBQ. So I am game for this one. An alternative: Asheville. The whole thing. I love this city in the state’s western corner. Blue Ridge Parkway, the Biltmore, and great local brews make it a phenomenal weekend spot.
Time: Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper stands in Bartlesville? I did. But I am supposed to. Though a great find, the 19-story Price Tower is not representative to the Sooners.
TB: I have two ideas, both centered on tranquility. First, Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art. Gorgeous 23-acre, 72-room former mansion spread. Sitting in the gardens is quite a relaxing experience. Second, the Oklahoma City National Memorial. I still remember the day in 1995 crystal clearly. Pausing for an hour in this poignant, near-silent space, and admiring the Survivor Tree, will bring tears to your eyes.
Time: Cypress Gardens haunted boat tours (October) in Monch’s Corner. I’ve been here. It’s spooky and gorgeous in that swampthing way.
TB: Though both Beaufort and Charleston rank annually in our Readers’ Choice survey, I am going to Aiken’s Winter Horse Colony. Take a left on Whiskey Road and find the training track. Hundreds of giant specimen oaks let rays of early light through as the exercise riders breeze yearlings. March is the month of big races. Fox hunts and polo are huge here too.
Time: Memphis’ Stax Museum of American Soul. Been here, highly recommend it. I still hurt to think about the way Sam Cooke died.
TB: If you’d rather have a Nashville experience, find the bluegrass landmark Station Inn on 12th Avenue in an area busting at the seams called the Gulch. I think bluegrass is the finest music the Music City offers the world. Bela Fleck, Allison Krauss, and Old Crow Medicine Show all live here. And the Inn is its temple.
Time: Way out in west Texas, check out the Marfa Lights, spacey streaks seen (sometimes) in the Big bend sky. Problem: Locals tell me to go out around 2 AM. Who wants to do this?
TB: One choice for such an enormous state is tough. My first pick: a six-man high school football game. Check out this site for more about the small schools way of pigskin. My second pick: Gruene Hall. This hill country dance hall used to bring in Willie Nelson for rousing evenings of Shiner Bock beer and boot-scootin good times. Still rocking.
Time: They pick the Association for Research and Enlightenment, the home for all things for New Age cures and medicines. Cough, cough…excuse me?
TB: Let’s not dwell on the unfortunate reach for surprising readers mentioned above. Moving on, we go to Tommy Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I revisited last fall for the first time in 15 years. I have a new favorite part: the period makers who build furniture and weave baskets on the grounds. This trip is a must for any voting citizen. Preferably linked with a Virginia wine country driving trip. Check out an upcoming wine primer from Executive Editor Warner McGowin and Foods Editor Scott Jones.
Time: Midnight tour of the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville. Gulp. Though intriguing. Could be WV’s Alcatraz?
TB: I go old school money with my WV choice – the Greenbrier. This tony getaway has been setting the tone for luxury since 1778. I bet more Presidents have relaxed here than any other stateside location, save Camp David maybe. And, as the Allegheny Mountains begin to burn with fall color, there may be no better looking post.