- reported by Samantha Lee Chancey
What does Austin, Texas, Oxford, Miss., Athens, Ga., Columbia, S.C., Chapel Hill, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., Gainesville, Fla., and Charlottesville, Va. have in common? A lot more than just being college towns. Each one has its own take on music, food, history, and outdoors – and they all do it very well.
Live Music Scenes In...
- Austin, Texas
. Austin is a city that loves live music, and music lovers will love it. Musicians perform just about anywhere, from grocery stores to outdoors to
swanky venues. If good live music is essential for you, you may have found your new personal mecca. The city is home to such big music festivals as Austin City Limits
and South by Southwest
. In addition, there are lesser known but equally cool festivals like Pachanga Latino Music Festival
, Urban Music Festival
, Fun Fun Fun Fest
, and Chaos in Tejas
. If you’re looking for an experience on a smaller scale, you won’t be disappointed. There are almost 200 music venues to choose from, ranging from cozy coffeehouses to upscale concert halls.
- Athens, Ga
. Since its R.E.M days, Athens music has continued to gain attention and continued to grow. With hundreds of bands, several recording studios, independent record labels, and renowned venues, it’s a paradise for anyone who loves music. If you’re hoping to see a concert while you’re in town, there are two venues in particular that are must-sees: The 40 Watt Club
and the restored Georgia Theatre
. In addition to these two nationally renowned venues, you can find countless venues and bars featuring live music on any day of the week.
- Knoxville, Tenn
. Luckily, you won’t be stuck inside when it gets dark, because Knoxville has some pretty great things going on once the sun goes down. There’s the music scene that offers up any genre you could think of. When you head to one of the nightclubs in the Old City
and Market Square
areas, live music is an essential part of every evening. The One Vision Plaza has live music every day during the week, and Market Square hosts free outdoor concerts and movies from the spring through the fall. You can also tune in to the local radio station, WDVX
, which specializes in Americana and blue grass tunes.
History Lives In...
- Columbia, S.C.
If you’d like to take a break from the current whirlwind pace of this college community and get a closer look at Columbia’s past, there are several historical landmarks that deserve a closer look. The Woodrow Wilson family home
was built by Woodrow Wilson’s parents in 1872 and is still around today for those curious for a peek back into the past. The Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
was constructed in 1812 and has been called a "classic example of an elite planter's domicile," and remains very well preserved to this day. Then there’s the South Carolina State House
, a sprawling historical building that managed to withstand Sherman’s 1865 march. To wrap up your tour through South Carolina history, visit the South Carolina State Museum
, which holds an astounding 70,000-plus artifacts.
- Oxford, Miss
. It may be a small town, but Oxford has seen major moments in Southern history. In fact, the town barely escaped being burned to the ground, unlike many Southern cities that Union Troops passed through during the Civil War. But if you take a look around Confederate Cemetery, you’ll see that the history has a darker side, too. The cemetery holds approximately 700 Rebel and Union soldiers who died during the 1862 battle of Shiloh. Fast forwarding to 1962, James Meredith was the first African American to integrate
into the University of Mississippi, a previously all-white university, which led to major rioting but also marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
Get Outdoors in...
- Chapel Hill, N.C.
It’s a perfect time to take advantage of all of the opportunities for outdoor adventures around Chapel Hill while the weather is nice and warm.
Hikers will love the Eno River Hiking
, where you can blaze your own path through the woodlands or stick to the nature trails while taking in the beautiful Eno River State Park
scenery. Chapel Hill is home to more than seven nature trails of various lengths so you can tpick out the one that appeals to you most. If you decide water is more your element, head out to University Lake
, rent a canoe, and spend a day out in the water; or camp overnight at Jordan Lake.
- Columbia, S.C. Life outdoors in Columbia is just as vibrant as its entertainment districts. There are several playgrounds, rivers, parks and gardens to set up a picnic or spend a lazy day. Lake Murray
is a scenic water playground that offers boating, sailing, canoeing, fishing, skiing, swimming, and camping. If you’re interested in seeing some amazing biodiversity, visit Congaree National Park
, which is the largest remaining stretch of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States today. Then there’s Carolina Adventure World
, another record breaker with the Southeast’s largest ATV-UTV and dirt bike riding park. You’ll also find rivers and trails scattered throughout the area, so a chance for adventuring is always near.
- Gainesville, Fla
. There are endless opportunities to interact with nature in Gainesville, but one of the most highly recommended get-aways is the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History
. With 6,400 square feet of subtropical plants and hundreds of beautiful butterflies, it would be hard to picture a dreamier destination. To keep up the spirit, take a trip to Alachua to pick fresh fruit or rent a canoe and spend a day on the river in High Springs. Gum Root Park’s
floodplain swamp conditions make it a haven for birding and wildlife viewing as you explore the trails under a tangle of cypress and gum trees. For hiking or mountain biking, San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
has the perfect combination of solitude and picturesque woodlands. O’Leno State Park
was one of the original Florida State Parks, and remains a great place to hike and watch for wildlife by the banks of the Santa Fe River, and River Rise Preserve State Park
picks up where the Santa Fe River springs back up after going underground in O’Leno.
-Knoxville, Tenn. Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains
and the banks of the Tennessee River, Knoxville offers up beauty and adventure in spades. No matter what you choose to do, the message that the people dedicated to Knoxville’s recreation attractions
are trying to send above all is get out and play! You’ll find dog parks, greenways, parks, rivers, flowery fields, quarries, and trails, so there’s no excuse not to get out of the hotel room and take advantage of Knoxville’s mild temperatures and beautiful sunny weather. There are constantly new events going on, like bike rides, disc golf, and ultimate Frisbee. If you’d like, you can take a ride on the Three Rivers Rambler train
to take in the sights in a more leisurely fashion.
-Athens, Ga. Foodies are guaranteed to love this town as well, because it offers just about every dining experience you could want coupled with a progressive culinary scene. Farm 255
, located downtown, blends all of the best things about Athens and offers local, seasonal food with the chance to see live music on their outdoor stage. With a menu that blends Mediterranean and Southern influence, not only does the food taste good, but you can feel good about where it came from. Athens Food Tours
will take you on a three-hour walking tour through six to eight local restaurants and shops downtown to discover the best of Athens’ cuisine as well as a little local history.
- Chapel Hill, N.C. An essential part of any proper Chapel Hill trip is good southern food, and lots of it. Check out Mama Dip’s
for country cooking if fried chicken
and pecan pie call to you. Crook’s Corner
, which has been called “a temple of Southern cuisine” by Raleigh’s News & Observer
, is known for their shrimp and grits, and for those with more of a sweet tooth, their honeysuckle sorbet. Foster’s Market
offers up a gourmet food market and café, combining old fashioned recipes with a modern twist. Best of all, everything on the menu is made from scratch and prepared in-house. You can also find local produce at the Southern Village Farmers Market
every Thursday. If southern cooking isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options. Satisfy your pizza urge and pick up a slice at Pepper’s Pizza on Franklin Street. And no matter what, make sure to save some room to try the best biscuits you’ll ever have at the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen.
- Charlottesville, Va. Even the gas station food is good in Charlottesville, No, really, the town is known for its gourmet gas stations that serve fresh deli-style sandwiches. If you’re looking for something convenient and tasty, you couldn’t do any better. But if you prefer a more traditional dining experience, there are a few places that locals and visitors agree are essential. For breakfast, lunch, or just a tasty snack, you’ll want to visit Bodo’s Bagels
. It’s very popular, reasonably priced, and a delicious essential part of the local dining experience. There are two pizza places that put all of their competition to shame, and those are Christian’s Pizza and Crozet Pizza
. If going out for exotic pizza with gourmet toppings sounds good to you, you’ll want to visit Christian’s pizza. If you prefer calling in, give Crozet Pizza a try – people actually used to have to call in their orders days in advance because of its run-away popularity. The White Spot
is a classic diner that’s more than fifty years old and a magnet for local students with its deliciously unhealthy fare like burgers and ice-cream topped fried treats. To satisfy your dessert craving, try Spudnuts, a famous local doughnut shop that has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1969.
Unique, Unusual and Different...
- Charlottesville, Va. In the midst of picturesque Charlottesville, there are several aspects that make it especially unforgettable and maybe even a little on the quirky side. One of these special features is the hot air balloons. Don’t be surprised if you see one or two drifting around on a nice day, and if you’re not afraid of heights, you can even try one out for yourself. Another exciting aspect of Charlottesville life is the chance to spot celebrities like Dave Matthews or John Grisham milling around town. The town actually has the second-highest concentration of authors of any metropolitan area in America, turning out famous writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Roger Mudd, making it a perfect destination for both readers and writers. And for a little extra odd town trivia, the place where all of the crash dummy footage is filmed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is also located in the area.
- Oxford, Miss. Oxford is home of Rowan Oak
, William Faulkner’s retreat, where he penned the classic novels As I Lay Dying
and Absalom, Absalom!
Head to the famous Square to explore Square Books
. Bookworms, beware! You can get lost for hours in here, because it’s stocked with thousands and thousands of books. You’ll also find works autographed by their famous southern authors,including Eudora Welty.ˆ
- Austin, Texas: Austin knows weird – and supplies it in abundance. Some of it you’ll have to seek out and some of it may just walk past you on the street – like Lizardman, a local who has undergone extensive body modification (including head to toe tattooing) to look like his reptilian namesake. If you’re looking for places to explore, a donation will get you into the Cathedral of Junk, which is exactly what its name would suggest, a glorious amalgamation of all kinds of interesting junk. The Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
is a museum dedicated to things that may or may not exist (really) with new collections always making their way in and out.
photo credits: (top left) music/guitar, Austin Texas CVB; (top right) State House, Columbia S.C. CVB; (middle left) University Lake, Chapel Hill, N.C. CVB; (middle right) Three Rivers Rambler, Knoxville, Tenn. CVB; (bottom right) Crook's Corner, Chapel Hill, N.C. CVB; (bottom left) Rowan Oak, Oxford, Miss., personal collection