Road Trip: Southern USA – An Epic Deep South Itinerary

Road Trip Southern US - Savannah

The allure of southern USA has been calling me for years. I wanted to experience that famous Southern charm, the music, the moss-laden trees, the accent, the mountains, and all the colourful cities and quirks that make up the southern states.

It’s a big area y’all, so coming up with a south US road trip itinerary was no mean feat. We found our priorities, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, New Orleans and Charleston and built it out from that. What we came up with was a fascinating trip through five states that far exceeded our Southern dreams.

So here’s our south USA road trip itinerary, including all the details of what we did, where we stayed and where we ate – it’s all you need to plan a perfect road trip in southern USA.

Also see our guide to the 22 best American road trips.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you book them (at no extra cost to you). It’s one of the ways I keep this website going. I have marked affiliate links with an asterix *. Read more about my affiliate policy here.

Contents hide

Southern USA road trip at a glance

  • Days 1-2: Atlanta
  • Days 2-4: Blue Ridge / Smoky Mountains
  • Day 4: Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Days 4-7: Asheville
  • Days 7-10: Charleston
  • Days 10-13: Savannah
  • (Days 13-14: Tallahassee or Montgomery)
  • (Days 14-15: Mobile)
  • Days 15-20: New Orleans
  • (Days 20-21: Jackson)
  • (Days 21-23: Memphis)
  • (Days 23-26: Nashville)

We went to all the places that aren’t in brackets. However, If you have time, you could also add the places in brackets, heading to Montgomery or Talahassee and/or Mobile (rather than flying between Savannah and New Orleans). And following New Orleans, you could add Jackson, Memphis and Nashville (or follow the Natchez Trace Parkway straight to Nashville). This would make it the ultimate south USA road trip!

USA Southeast Road Trip Map

Where is southern USA?

First of all, it’s not easy to define ‘southern USA’ as although it can include everything south of the Mason-Dixie line and as far west as Louisiana and Arkansas, most definitions hone in on the central states, leaving out the states north of Tennessee and North Carolina, and also sometimes Florida. For the sake of this south USA itinerary, we’re focusing on the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana, with the option of adding stops in Tennessee, the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi for an in-depth deep south road trip itinerary.

Our priorities and how we planned our road trip in southern USA

Planning a three-week Southern USA road trip was a daunting task – there’s so much to try and fit in and so many options to choose from.

For us, we were somewhat limited by time and traveling with an almost-two-year-old. We didn’t want to do too many long journeys, plus we also favour a slower mode of travel, ideally spending at least 2-3 nights in any one place.

You could do the same itinerary in a shorter (or longer) amount of time, or pick and choose from the destinations to craft your ideal southeast road trip itinerary.

As with all the itineraries on Bridges and Balloons, we have a special focus on creating handpicked itineraries that are filled with special places to stay and things to experience – think beautiful design, plenty of character and amazing locations – plus heaps of cake, independent bookshop, farmers markets and parks. We like to do a local style of travel, so don’t always hit all the “must sees”, preferring to soak up the atmosphere and experience local life. Read more about our style here.

I’ll also be writing detailed blog posts for each destination with extra tips and advice.

South USA Road Trip

How we got around on our Southern USA road trip

We hired a car all the way from Atlanta to Savannah, and then flew from Savannah to New Orleans (although you could drive between the two if you have the extra time).

As always, we used rentalcars.com* as that’s where we’ve always found the best deals. Rentalcars.com* is a booking agent for many car hire companies, and the best deal they found for us was with Alamo. We opted for a Dodge Grand Caravan (same as we had in California), which is an SUV-style car that allowed plenty of room for Otis’ stuff.

If you don’t want to drive, you could take buses instead, although of course that gives you less flexibility about where you stop. Public transport isn’t great in the States and distances between places are large, so hiring a car is definitely helpful for a road trip in the south.

I’ve included the driving times in the section for each destination below.

Find the best deals on car hire

We recommend Rentalscars.com for booking your rental car. They search over 900 companies, and if you find a cheaper deal anywhere else, they promise to beat it. We use them every time.

What to pack for South US Road trip

Weather and what to pack for a road trip in the south in November

Although the south has a reputation for being hot, we were there in November and the temperatures were pretty chilly. We had a few warm days at around 23 Celsius, but mostly it hovered around 15, sometimes going down to 8. We needed the heating on in all the places we stayed, even in New Orleans. That said, the temperature in November varies a lot, so I’d pack layers and keep an eye on the weather forecast. The sun makes a big difference, and we had quite a few days where we’d be wearing t-shirts in the sun in the mornings and then wearing a scarf in the afternoon in the shade.

South USA road trip budget

Our South USA road trip budget

When we travel, we tend to mix budget and high-end options – for example, staying in a

simple hotel some nights and then splashing out on a luxury option here and there. We take the same approach with food. And we’re also big fans of the sharing economy, so do home exchanges when we can.

On this particular trip, we did home exchanges in the Smoky Mountains and New Orleans, but the rest was Airbnb, plus a couple of hotels. The home exchanges helped keep our costs down, but in the budget, I’m including the prices of equivalent Airbnbs, so you know what to expect.

Do remember that the USA doesn’t include sales tax in its prices, so you have to account for that when looking at costs, plus you’re expected to tip around 20% on food and drinks orders.

Accommodation: $75 – $220 per night for two people (total of $2,080 for 17 nights)

The accommodation cost of $2,080 for the whole tip includes three nights in hotels and the rest is Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb, use this link* to get £25 off your first booking).

Car hire: $470 (plus $83 for a car seat) 

This was for 13 days, including the transfer fee for picking it up and dropping it off in different locations. We went for an intermediate sized car, so it would be cheaper if you chose compact or small. We used Rentalcars.com *to book our car.

Fuel: $237 

Food and drinks: $50-$100 per day (for two adults and one child)

This varies a lot as it depends on how much self-catering you do, plus the type of restaurant you go to. For example, the most expensive meal we had was lunch at Basic Kitchen in Charleston, which cost $70 for the three of us, whereas our lunch at Mercier Orchards near Blue Ridge was $25. Portion sizes are huge in the USA, so you can often get away with just sharing one dish between two. We saved a lot of money by often self-catering. And we also didn’t drink on this trip (I was pregnant and Steve was recovering from glandular fever). You could easily add an extra $50 per day if you added alcohol into the equation.

As a quick quide, a coffee costs around $2.50 including a tip; a fancy donut is $4; and a brunch for two in a mid-range cafe/restaurant, including coffee is $30.

Tours and entrance prices: $472 for two people

We visited very relatively few paid attractions on this trip, so this cost is quite low. Instead we mostly stuck to free attractions and simply exploring a town on foot. This cost would quickly go up if you wanted to visit more attractions. The fees we did pay, per person, were: Blue Ridge Scenic Railway ($45); Asheville Pinball Museum ($15); Charleston carriage ride ($28); Magnolia Plantation ($28); Charleston Children’s Museum ($12); Savannah Trolley Tour ($34); Wormsloe Plantation ($10); Mardi Gras World ($22); New Orleans Botanical Garden ($8); Storyland ($5).

Disclosure

This was not a paid, sponsored trip, but we did receive a few discounted/complimentary stays because we are bloggers. We received discounts for the Airbnbs in Asheville and Charleston, and the Sonder apartment in Savannah. And our stay at the Catahoula Hotel in New Orleans was complimentary. We were also given media passes for Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, meaning we received complimentary entry to: Charleston Children’s Museum; Palmetto Carriage ride; Savannah Trolley Tour; Wormsloe Plantation; Magnolia Plantation; and Mardi Gras World.

Road Trip Southern USA: Our Itinerary

Road Trip Southern US

Atlanta

Days 1-2

The centre of countless African American political and cultural movements, and considered the South’s unofficial capital, Atlanta is an exciting, diverse city where you can spend days exploring its history, cuisine and getting to know its people.

Road Trip Southern US-Atlanta

What to do in Atlanta

  • Top of your list should be seeing the Martin Luther King Junior Historic Site, an area that covers several blocks and includes King’s birth home, the church that he and his father preached at, his grave site, and exhibitions about King’s life and the Civil Rights movement. You can also walk from there along a 1.5-mile trail to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
  • Other popular attractions include the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame, Children’s Museum and the High Museum of Art.
  • The aquarium is popular but not recommended as they hold dolphins and beluga whales, which is a huge animal welfare issue.
  • I also recommend walking part of the BeltLine, a former railway line that’s been converted  into 33 miles of walking and cycling paths (eventually there will be streetcars too). The Eastside Trail is a centre for hipster markets, eateries and craft beer bars.
Aloft Hotel Downtown Atlanta

Accommodation in Atlanta

  • We hadn’t originally planned to stay the night in Atlanta, so got a last-minute deal for the Aloft Hotel*. Its style is a little too “funky” for my taste, but it deserves its reputation as a chain of hotels that stands out for its young, modern design and additional extras such as free waffles in the morning and lively lobby bars by night. It’s also clean and comfortable with affordable prices, making it a good option if you’re looking for somewhere central (it’s a 5-min walk from Centennial Olympic Park). Our room cost $120 for the night. Book your stay here*.
  • For something a bit more characterful, I would choose Sugar Magnolia B&B* or Social Goat B&B*. Sugar Magnolia sounds like a place to experience quintessential Southern hospitality while enjoying the back porch or getting cosy by the fire.  Social Goat* is a little further out of the centre, but has characterful rooms and is home to goats, ducks, cats and chickens. We really wanted to stay at one of these but were both fully booked on the night we wanted to stay.
Road Trip Southern US- Atlanta Breakfast Club

Where to eat and drink in Atlanta

Atlanta has a wealth of great food, including Southern classics and worldwide cuisine. Here are a few recommendations.

Getting to and around Atlanta

We drove everywhere we needed to go in Atlanta, or walked around downtown from our hotel. However, if you don’t have a car, you can get around using the bus, railway or tram. You can use the Marta website to plan your journey on the bus, tram or streetcar.

The drive from the airport to downtown Atlanta took about 15 minutes.

Road Trip Southern US- Smoky Mountains

Blue Ridge / Smoky Mountains

Days 2-4

There’s something magical simply in the name, the great smokies, and the reality lives up the enchantment. Cloaked in a perpetual blue haze, the Great Smoky Mountains National Mark, along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, is part of the southern Appalachians, and the USA’s most visited national park. We stayed an hour outside the park in Murphy, near to Blue Ridge. This is a good jumping off point for exploring both the Smokies and the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Road Trip Southern US - Blue Ridge Railway

Things to do in the Smoky Mountains

  • One of the best things we did in the area was go on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, an open-air train journey that takes you to McCaysville and Copperhill – two neighbouring towns that straddle the Georgia/Tennessee border (you can stand with one foot in each). There’s not an awful lot to do in the towns, but Otis loved the train ride, so it’s an ideal family activity. It cost $45 per adult and was free for Otis.
  • We also enjoyed the views from the top of Panther Top Lookout Tower (just outside Murphy).
  • Visiting Mercier Orchards was another great family friendly activity. We took a tractor ride to the orchard where we could pick our own apples (they do other fruits throughout the year) and also did some cider and fudge tasting back at the shop, which is a huge place filled with gifts and many, many apple products.
  • Inside the Smoky Mountain National Park, some of the top things to do include climbing Clingman’s Dome (this involves a 0.5 mile easy climb and views from an impressive observation tower) or visiting one of the many waterfalls. This page on hikes in the Smokies has loads of useful info on the different types of hikes, including info on difficulty levels and access. And if you’re definitely looking for a short hike, this page has lots of detailed on short day hikes in the Smokies.
  • Blue Ridge is a sweet town to explore with lots of upscale boutiques alongside local souvenir shops, and many sweet treats, including a fudge shop and a cake shop owned by one of the winners of Cupcake Wars.
  • Do like we did and go in the autumn when you’ll get to see the fabulous fall colours. It’s one of the USA’s top leaf-peeping destinations.
  • The Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachians, so you can also walk part of the Appalachian trail while there. One popular option is the Charles Bunion trail.
  • A more popular place to stay when exploring the Smokies is Gaitlinburg, but we wanted somewhere quieter (Gaitlinburg is super touristy and busy). That said, Gaitlinburg is also close to Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, so if you’re a big Dolly fan, you could also base yourself around there. Read more about things to do in Gaitlinburg.
Road Trip Southern US - Smoky Mountains

Accommodation in the Smoky Mountains

We stayed in the cutest cabin, The Hemlock House*, near Murphy, North Carolina. It’s everything that cabin dreams are made of, surrounded by forest, and with the cosiest interiors you could wish for. It’s stylishly done, with a mix of modern and vintage touches, twinkly lights and a fire for snuggling in front of by nightfall.

From the front, the cabin looks tiny, but it actually has three floors and includes two bedrooms, a kitchen/lounge area, a full bathroom, a shower room, and a laundry cupboard (with washer and dryer). A s’mores kit is also provided for use on the outdoor fire pit. And there are kids toys as well, which was a bonus for Otis.

Road Trip Southern US - Hemlock House cabin, Murphy

The owners also have a second cabin, The Holler House*, which is perhaps even cuter, albeit more tiny. In fact, it’s a proper tiny house of the Tiny House Movement. The one-room cabin is an Instagram dream and includes lots of classic cabin touches, including hammocks, a yoga deck, outdoor shower, firepit and woodburner. We chose the Hemlock House because it had more space, but for aesthetics, at a push, I’d go for the Holler House (although the Hemlock House is also A+ for aesthetics.

The Hemlock House starts at $110 per night. Book Hemlock House here*.

And the Holler House starts at $125 per night. Book the Holler House here*.

Road Trip Southern US - Mercier Orchards

Where to eat and drink in the Smoky Mountains

If staying in a cabin, I think the best option is to take advantage of your setting and self-cater amid the cosines. That’s what we did.

  • Restaurants that were recommended in and around Murphy by our host included: Parson’s Pub, Chevelle’s 66 and Bistro 29.
  • We also heard great things about Black Sheep and Harvest on Main in Blue Ridge. And we can vouch for the cakes from The Sweet Shoppe.
  • In Macaysville/Cooperhill, the picking for vegetarians were very slim. We ate at Katz’s New York Deli, which is not the same as the famous one, but did have good bagels.
  • There are a few branches of the Rum Cake Lady in the area, which is famous for its rum bundt cakes. They were a little too sweet for me, but they’re legendary, so you may find you love them!
Blue Ridge Railway

Getting to and around the Smoky Mountains

The drive from Atlanta to Murphy took just over two hours. Although there are a few bus services, you would struggle in this area without a car as the buses are few and far between. If you’re carless, it might be better to stay in Gaitlinburg where there is more public transport, including to the Smoky Mountain National Park.

Road Trip Southern US - Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 4

One of the main reasons we did this trip was to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn and see all the seasonal leaves. It was a gamble as you can’t bank on nature and all the variables that go into when the leaves will change – a storm could blow them off, hot weather can cause delays or cold the opposite – you just have to hope for the best. In that respect, we were lucky: we just missed “peak colour” but it still had the wow factor we’d been hoping for. Moreover, we drove on a clear and sunny day, so the views were wide and awesome.

That said, I think the Blue Ridge Parkway is likely worth driving at any time of year as the road and views are stunning. The whole thing is 469 miles long, starting at Shenandoah National Park and ending at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The speed limit is 45mph, so it would take about 15 hours to drive the whole thing. We just did one section from Balsam to Asheville, but one day I’d love to do it all.

Blue Ridge Parkway - Grave Yard Falls

There are lots of viewpoints along the way (we stopped at pretty much every one we passed!) and there are also plenty of hikes to choose from. We did a short one called the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, which was easy to do with Otis and included a beautiful waterfall.

This website has a really useful route planner with details of where to stay and things to along the whole length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Road Trip Southern US - where to stay on Blue Ridge Parkway

Where to stay on the Blue Ridge Parkway

We stayed in Asheville, which I cover in the next section, but there are lots more options if you want to drive more of the parkway. The route planner I shared above has lots of options.

Southern USA itinerary - Blue Ridge Parkway

Where to eat on the Blue Ridge Parkway

There aren’t many places to eat on the parkway itself, so you may need to bring a pack lunch to enjoy at a picnic spot, or else you can leave the parkway to eat. This map lists all the different options on or near the parkway. There were no options for us between Balsam and Asheville (the Pisgah Inn was closed), so we ate just before we got on at Balsam (at Burger King of all places because we wanted to try the Impossible Whopper, which I can now confirm tastes just as I remember a real Whopper did).

Getting to and around the Blue Ridge Parkway

It took us about three hours to drive from Balsam to Asheville along the parkway, which included all the stops at the viewpoints. We were at Graveyard Falls for another hour or so, so in total our whole time on the parkway was about 4-5 hours. It also took about 1.5 hours to drive from our cabin near Murphy to Balsam.

Road Trip Southern US - Asheville

Asheville

Days 4-7

Asheville was a dream for us – a liberally minded mountain town filled with art, creativity, great food, and surrounded by stunning nature. It’s just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so an ideal place to stay along the way. We loved every bit of it and here’s a post with our 31 favourite things to do in Asheville.

Asheville River Arts

Things to do in Asheville

Many people use Asheville as a base to explore the surrounding nature and multitude of different hikes and outdoor sports, but the city itself is also worth exploring. These were some of our favourite things to do in Asheville:

West Asheville
  • Also be sure to explore trendy West Asheville where we stayed, which has a plethora of creative shops, restaurants and cafes (favourites included Firestorm Books, Flora, and Hole Doughnuts).
  • We didn’t do this, but the Biltmore Estate is one of the most popular attractions in Asheville. It’s the largest private residence in the USA.
  • Other popular attractions include the Folk Art Centre, the Asheville Art Museum, aSHEville Museum, the Smoky Mountain Adventure Centre and Brew-ed beer walking tours.
  • Read more in our guide to 31 things to love about Asheville.
Road Trip Southern US - Asheville AIrbnb

Accommodation in Asheville

We chose to stay in West Asheville, a residential area with a hip reputation. There are plenty of Airbnbs on offer and we chose this beautiful house*, just off the main West Asheville strip, Haywood Road. I’m obsessed by this American style of wooden houses with porches, and this one was extra special, complete with a day bed on the porch, perfect for lounging. The interiors of the house were also beautiful, filled with little creative touches, collected by the artist owners. It had three bedrooms, so had even more space than we needed, and we really appreciated the full kitchen and spacious living room. It was one of those Airbnbs where you really felt like you were getting a taste of what it’d be like to live there. I recommend it 100%. The house costs from $145 per night. Book your stay here*.

Road Trip Southern US - Asheville

Where to eat and drink in Asheville

Asheville is filled with great places to eat and drink and is particularly famous for its craft beer scene. A few of our favourites were:

Getting to and around Asheville

We covered how we got to Asheville from the Smoky Mountains in the section above on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If we hadn’t driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the journey from Murphy to Asheville would have only taken two hours. Once in Asheville, we drove most places, but also did one full day of walking from our place in West Asheville to downtown and back via the River Arts (the walk was about an hour each way).

South US Road Trip - Charleston

Charleston

Days 7-10

Charleston is one of the most pristine cities I’ve ever visited, filled with row after row of colourful, perfectly kept houses. Add to that a hefty dose of Southern charm, horses and carriages roaming the streets, and a plethora of historic houses, and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 18th Century.

Road Trip Southern US - Charleston

Things to do in Charleston

  • Wander the streets, admiring all the colourful houses. Rainbow Row is particularly beautiful. And the Battery is lovely for a stroll along the waterfront.
  • Visit the Angel Oak, just outside of the city.
South USA Road Trip - Calhoun Mansion
  • Visit some of the historic houses, such as the massive Calhoun Mansion, Charleston’s largest private residence.
  • If you have kids, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is amazing. It includes a mini play supermarket, which Otis loved.
  • Take a carriage tour around the centre to learn a little more of the history and to simply take part in one of the city’s most quintessential activities. We went with Palmetto Carriage Works and our guide was both friendly and knowledgeable. It costs $28 per person.
Magnolia plantation
  • Charleston has a very troubled past. It was the USA’s biggest slave port and thousands of enslaved people lost their lives there. To better understand that past and the context of the city, I recommend visiting the Magnolia Plantation and doing the Slavery to Freedom tour where the guide doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery and takes you on a journey from slavery through the Jim Crow era to today. It includes a tour of four cabins that were used by enslaved people. Be aware that many plantation tours gloss over slavery, so it pays to do your research first and find one that pays respect to the enslaved people. Entry to the plantation costs $20, plus $8 for the tour.
  • Another place to visit to learn more slavery is the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston centre.
Road Trip Southern US - Charleston Airbnb

Accommodation in Charleston

Charleston has a plethora of beautiful homes to stay in, be they Airbnbs, hotels or guesthouses. We chose to stay in Airbnb/rental properties as we wanted a taste of local Charleston life. We stayed in two different properties and have also written a guide to the best Airbnbs in Charleston.

Road Trip Southern US - Charleston Little Pink House
  • The Little Pink House* is the epitome of charming – just look at how cute it is, both inside and out. Despite being a small house, the inside is deceptively spacious and we didn’t feel cramped, even with Otis in tow. From the pink exterior to the vintage furniture, everything is sweetly styled with both elegance and charm. There are two bathrooms (one shower), one bedroom, a living/kitchen area and even a laundry space. Plus the porch and balcony areas give added living space too. The house costs from $220 per night. Book your stay here*.
Road Trip Southern US - Charleston Percy Street Retreat
  • Percy Street Retreat, the second house we stayed in is my actual dream home. From the kitchen to the soap to the record collection, everything was as I’d like my own home to be. The house is often used for events/photoshoots and you can see that owners have impeccable style. It looks a little like something out of the pages of Kinfolk magazine. The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and three bathrooms (one shower and one bath). Plus a double-storey porch and a big garden. As I said, it’s a dream home! The house costs from $215 per night. Book your stay here.
Road Trip Southern US - Charleston

Where to eat and drink in Charleston

  • Tu for some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had.
  • Basic Kitchen for health food in upscale, hip surrounds.
  • Workshop where you can choose from several stall. We loved the burgers at Chuck and Patties and tacos from Rebel Taqueria.
  • Daps for breakfast.
  • Brown Dog Deli for a huge selection of gourmet sandwiches (including lots of veggie options).
  • Sublime biscuits at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit.
  • Gourmet Doughnuts at Glazed.
  • And an impressive selection of cakes and cookies at Sugar Bakeshop.
Charleston - Southern US

Getting to and around Charleston

The journey from Asheville to Charleston takes four hours. It’s highway nearly the whole way, so not the most scenic drive (especially after having done the Blue Ridge Parkway).

Once in Charleston, there’s a shuttle bus that can take you to most of the major sights, but we drove or walked most places. We never had an issue with finding a parking space (there’s a large parking lot near the City Market). And we had parking spaces included at our accommodation. It was particularly handy having a car to drive out to the Magnolia Plantation.

Savannah - Forsyth Fountain

Savannah

Days 10-13

Trees draped in hanging Spanish moss, an artsy population fuelled by one of the county’s best art schools, picturesque squares, and a laid-back Southern charm are just some of the things that combine to make Savannah into arguably Georgia’s most beautiful city.  

Savannah City Market

Things to do in Savannah

  • Head to Forsyth Park for a photo in front of the famous fountain. Plus it’s also just a gorgeous park with lots of the mossy trees and a great children’s playground. We also loved the Saturday Farmer’s Market.
  • Jump on one of the iconic trolley tours, which is a handy way to get around all the main sights while also learning some history along the way (plus Otis loved it!). We went with Old Town Trolley Tours.
  • One of the best things to do in Savannah is simply wander the streets, enjoying all the beautiful architecture. The city centre, from the river up to Forsyth Park, is built around 14 public squares that add an appealing grandeur and greenery to the city.
  • There are tons of galleries in the city, partly because it’s home to SCAD, one of the USA’s best art colleges. Head to the SCAD Shop, which is part shop, part gallery, plus there are lots of independent galleries around that area, including Roots Up Gallery, which we loved.
  • Head to City Market, an open-air shopping district with pedestrianised streets. It’s home to one of the branches of Byrd’s Cookies, which is a perfect place for gifts.
  • River Street, which lines the water is one of the most popular tourist attractions, but as such it’s very busy and commercialised. I didn’t find it as charming as the rest of the city.
Road Trip Southern US - Savannah
  • The alley of oaks at Wormsloe is one of the most iconic Savannah sights and it really is breathtaking. However, Wormsloe is an old plantation and I’ve heard that the tours gloss over the history of slavery and focus on the architecture and life of the colonialists instead, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing a tour. Instead head to somewhere like Magnolia Plantation in Charleston or the Whitney Plantation in New Orleans.
  • Also head up to the Starland District, which has lots of street art and independent shops, including Gypsy World and Graveface Records.
  • We had really wanted to go to the Children’s Museum, which looks amazing, but it was sadly closed because of a wine festival the weekend we were there.
Road Trip Southern US - Sonder Savannah

Accommodation in Savannah

We stayed at a Sonder apartment on Broughton Street. Sonder a in between a hip, boutique hotel and an apartment rental. You get all the comfort and convenience of an apartment (fully equipped kitchen, laundry, living space etc) but with the quality of a well designed hotel. It‘s a great concept and ideal for families who want a bit more space (we’re quickly learning that sitting in the dark in a hotel room once Otis is asleep at 7pm is far from ideal!). Plus it’s a good price, starting at $75 a night. Book your stay now.

Road Trip Southern US - Sonder Savannah

Our only mistake was that we booked an apartment where the bedroom was on the corner of a busy street. This would be fine if it was just me and Steve as we could wear ear plugs, but the noise did wake Otis up. If you’re booking this particular building in Savannah (East Broughton Street), I’d recommend booking an apartment where the bedroom is set back from the street (there are plenty available).

Leopold's Ice Cream - Savannah

Where to eat and drink in Savannah

  • Leopold’s Ice Cream is the oldest ice cream shop in the USA and regularly makes the top 10 lists. I can vouch that it deserves that accolade.
  • Back in the Day Bakery has one of the best currant buns I’ve ever tasted. It’s also famous for its biscuits.
  • Starland Yard has a few food trucks and an excellent pizza restaurant called Vittoria Pizzeria.
  • The Sentient Bean near Forsyth Park is a good stop for casual veggie food in studenty surrounds.
South US Road Trip - Savannah

Getting to and around Savannah

The journey from Charleston to Savannah is about two hours.

Once in Savannah, you don’t really need a car aside from to visit the plantations or sights outside of the city. We parked in one of the city parking garages near our place on East Broughton Street and only used the car to drive up to the Starland District (although we could have taken public transport there too) and to Wormsloe.

The rest of the time, we got around either on foot or on the trolley. I highly recommend the trolley as it goes to all the major sights, runs frequently (we never waited more than 15 mins) and it’s nice to hear about some of the history and culture as you travel.

South USA Road Trip - New Orleans

New Orleans

Days 13-18

Oh, New Orleans! I kind of knew I’d love it before I got there and the reality lived up to the hype. We were there for five nights, which allowed us to explore lots of different areas and really soak up the city’s vibe. It’s one of the most creative places I’ve been to and you can feel that on every street.

Road Trip Southern US - Canal Streetcar

Things to do in New Orleans

  • Wander the French Quarter and discover all the beauty, charm, craziness and partying that makes up New Orleans. The area around Jackson Square is somewhat overwhelming, teeming with people and in-your-face tourism. And Bourbon Street is where all the out-of-town revellers go to drink lurid cocktails from giant glasses you can hang around your neck! We preferred Royal Street, which is a little more sedate and lined with galleries and boutiques. The architecture is gorgeous and I recommend popping into some of the eclectic shops, including Fifi Mahony’s, Voo-doo Bone Lady, Faulkner House Books, and Royal Pharmacy, which has an old preserved soda fountain inside. There’s live music everywhere.
  • Walk around the different districts to get a feel for the different characters of the city. We loved the Garden District, which is gorgeous to wander round with street after street of beautiful homes, boutiques and restaurants. The Marigny and Bywater are also great for spotting colourful houses and interesting shops and restaurants. Crescent Park in the Bywater is ideal for a stroll along the waterfront.
  • Frenchmen Street is the place to head to for live music. We didn’t make it there, but The Spotted Cat comes highly recommened.
Road Trip Southern US- Mardi Gras World
  • Mardi Gras World is a fun place to visit to learn more about the big event – it’s where they make lots of the floats, so you can do a guided or self-guided tour around the workshop, learning about how they’re all made and seeing many of the final designs up close.
  • Walk at least part of Magazine Street, which is six miles of independent shops and businesses, including Peaches Records and lots of little gallery shops.
  • City Park is twice the size of Central Park and filled with so many things to do, including: botanical gardens (which include the Historic Train Garden where kids will love seeing a little train riding around a miniature New Orelans); Storyland where kids can be entertained by giant sculptures from children’s stories; a modern art museum and 11-acre sculpture garden; an amusement park; boating lake; mini golf, children’s museum and more. You could easily spend a whole day there.
  • If you’re in New Orleans on a Saturday, go to a Second Lines parade for a taste of Mardi Gras festivities.
  • Ride one of the historic street cars down Canal Street or St Charles Avenue.
Catahoula Hotel New Orleans

Accommodation in New Orleans

We had two nights in the Catahoula Hotel*, a hip boutique hotel with minimalist, industrial-style rooms and a beautiful modern vintage Pisco bar, which also serves delicious plant-based, south-east asian food. It’s a bar as much as a hotel and has a buzz by night. The patio and roof deck is particularly striking with a three-storey mural and pretty festoon lighting. The hotel is ideally suited to a hip, young crowd, and the premier rooms have plenty of space if you’re travelling with a baby/toddler. That said, nowadays, with Otis, I prefer an apartment to a hotel room, so I’d also recommend checking out the Catahoula Hotel’s apartments. The hotel is situated in the Central Business District of New Orleans, which isn’t the most characterful spot in the city, but does have lots of good cafes, plus it’s in walking distance of both the French Quarter (10 mins) and the Garden District (15 mins). Rooms start at $80 per night. Book your stay here now*.

Road Trip Southern US - Catahoula Hotel

For the remainder of our time in New Orleans, we did a home exchange in Mid City, right next to City Park. We stayed in a gorgeous Arts and Crafts house in a residential area, which was a fantastic taste of local life. Being next to City Park, it was a very family-friendly area and also close to the Canal Streetcar (just 15 mins to the French Quarter). It was a peaceful place to stay, so a good option for families. The Home Exchange we did isn’t on Airbnb, but there are plenty of other rentals available in the area.

If we hadn’t done a home exchange, I would have also looked at options in the Garden District, Marigny and Bywater.

Where to eat and drink in New Orleans

  • You have to try a beignet while in town. The most famous is from Café du Monde. The queue was huge when we were there, but the café is giant, so we only had to wait 15 minutes and the beignet was definitely worth the wait. Café Beignet is another very good option – it’s a much smaller cafe, but also has a much shorter queue. The beignets are different in each one, so I recommend going to both!
  • Green Goddess Café has an interesting menu and a peaceful patio setting. It’d be particularly lovely on a warm, sunny day.
  • Go to District Donuts to try what I think are a contender for best doughnuts in the world!
District donuts
  • Willa Jean is a popular spot for breakfast. The baked goods are A+. I had a delicious homemade apple pop tart with a bourbon glaze, and the biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
  • Surrey’s has perhaps the best breakfast in town. Don’t miss the local speciality – bananas foster. Oh my, I’d go back to NOLA just for that (and the donuts from District)
  • High-end Israeli food at Shaya.
  • A dazzling array of hot dogs at Dat Dog, including four vegan sausage options and so many toppings to choose from.
  • We’re vegetarian so didn’t get to try all the local cuisine, which is very seafood heavy, but friends have recommended: Commander’s Palace, Brigtsen’s, Galatoire’s and Parkway Bakery and Tavern.
Second Lines Parade New Orleans

Getting to and around New Orleans

We flew to New Orleans from Savannah as we were short on time (the drive is 9.5 hours, so you’d need to break it up along the way. If we’d had more time, we’d have stopped at Talahassee or Montgomery, and perhaps Mobile too. I’ve written a little about them below.

We didn’t hire a car in New Orleans, and mostly got around on foot, cable car and bus, with the odd Uber when we were short on time. We walked as much as we could as that’s the best way to really soak in the character of the city. Buses and cable cars are reasonably priced ($1.25 per journey or $3 for a day ticket) and easy to navigate using Google maps.

How to extend this road trip

As outlined in the itinerary and map at the top of the post, I’ve offered some suggestions for how to extend this southern US road trip, including stops on Tallahassee, Montgomery, Mobile, Jackson, Memphis and Nashville. As we didn’t go to see these places, I’ve linked to blog posts/articles that could be useful for planning a trip there.

Useful travel resources for a southern USA road trip

For car rentals, we recommend booking with Rentalcars.com*. We’ve always found them to have the cheapest deals for mainstream retailers.

If you decide to book any AirBnB apartments, use this link*, as it’ll give you £25 off your first trip.

We found great last-minute deals on Booking.com*, getting a discount of up to 60%.

Don’t forget your travel insurance! We recommend World Nomads* or True Traveller* who both offer reliable, comprehensive cover, including medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities*. You can buy both True Traveller and World Nomads insurance even when you’ve left home, which is unusual for travel insurance companies.

If you’re planning a trip to the southern US or anywhere in the world, be sure to check out our travel planning pages*  for all our best travel tips, including how to save money with the best cards, what to bring, and all our favourite tools and tricks.

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6 thoughts on “Road Trip: Southern USA – An Epic Deep South Itinerary”

  1. I am so glad I stumbled on this! I’m from London and just off on a backpacking trip around the Southern US at 5 months pregnant. My husband and I love to travel and want to make the most of my energy in the second trimester. There have been a lot of naysayers but we are so inspired by your blog. We can’t wait to travel with our baby too. Thank you!

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  2. Great information and tips! Thank you for sharing. We are planning to go this summer, a similar route with also Nashville and Memphis.
    Greetings from the Netherland

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  3. I’m from the South and have lived in Atlanta, Savannah and Nashville. When I meet people wanting to roadtrip the southern US, this is almost the exact itinerary I recommend to them! A couple extra tidbits I’d recommend: MaryMac’s near Piedmont Park in Atlanta for the best real southern food (tell them it’s your first time and you get a free sampling of hoppin john), the Prohibition Museum in Savannah (designed by the same people who created the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and with a prohibition speakeasy at the end of the tour) and Vinny Van Goghs right next door for pizza (cash only but has an ATM inside), and a stop in Dillard, Elijay or Clayton en route from Atlanta to the Blue Ridge. Elijay and Clayton are both charming, small mountain towns with a vibrant food and arts scene, and Dillard has the R.M. Rose Whiskey Distillery and is the jumping off point for the North Georgia Wine Trail. Happy travels!

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