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An Authentic American Road Trip – A Taste of the Deep South

Considering the United States is one of our world’s most culturally diverse nations, it seems strange that such an overwhelming number of its visitors should gravitate toward the same, predictable, tourist-saturated destinations.

If a friend tells you they’re jetting off to the stars and stripes, you can confidently bet they’ll be touching down in one of two places: New York City or the West Coast.  

However, if Australians want a taste of real America, they should ditch the Big Apple and take a bite of the Deep South

There’s few more iconic experiences than an American Road Trip, so here are our tips and tricks on how you can explore the culture, music, food and famous hospitality of  six Deep South states.

Illustration: Jessica Bretherton

New Orleans, Louisiana

Your journey should begin in Louisiana. Considered to be the ‘New France’, New Orleans has a unique history as a French colony and is  bustling with European architectural elegance. What’s more, the city is the global birthplace of jazz and as such, is defined by its distinctly American musical heritage. At dusk, New Orleans comes alive with vibrant, colourful and round-the clock-nightlife and as a city that never sleeps, it’s a great place to start your road trip with a bang.

New Orleans is synonymous Mardi Gras, a two-week colour-fest consisting of daily parades, elaborate costumes, balls and lots of alcohol. The festivities take place in the two weeks preceding Shrove Tuesday, which usually falls in mid-February or early March.

The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. Image: Shutterstock

Grand ivy-laden houses found in the garden district contrast with the bustle and life found in the jazz clubs and whiskey bars that comprise Frenchmen Street and Bourbon Street. Meanwhile, the colonial history to be discovered in the French Quarter and the magnificent centrepiece of the city, St. Louis Cathedral, are worth thorough investigation all year round.

New Orleans is not to be rushed, a minimum of three days is needed to take it all in.

The Mississippi Delta, Mississippi

Described as the ‘most southern place on Earth’, the Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of The Blues and the home of the famous cotton plantations. The Delta is where you’ll discover the most concentrated character of the Deep South: it’s hospitality, incredible food and musical marvel fighting against its continued poverty and racial tensions.

The Delta is a rural area with no great urban hubs. Driving through it on the way to Memphis will allow you to stop off in any places that catch your eye.

Memphis, Tennessee

Crossing the border into Tennessee, Memphis will come as somewhat of a culture shock for the average Australian. Considered by some as more dangerous than Detroit, it must be said certain areas can feel a little tense.  

Despite this, Memphis is culturally fascinating and a hotspot  for Civil Rights history. The most striking tribute to its troubled past is the city’s National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel, the location of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.

Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Image: Shutterstock

As well as its rich history, Memphis is a musical mecca and home to King of Rock, Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion and Beale Street, a lively strip of blues clubs and neon lights. The musical standout however is the Sun Studios where you can stand in the same room where Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Ray Harris recorded some of their greatest music.

Two full days is a good amount of time to experience the edge, tones and history of Memphis.

Nashville, Tennessee

From memphis, a three-hour and 15-minute drive will land you in Tennessee’s State Capital.

Nashville is the home of country music and revels in its nickname, ‘Music City’. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nashville offers you another chance to party. Live country music can be enjoyed each night in the cascade of bars found in the City’s Downtown area. For those who enjoy museums, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame provides a great insight into the area’s musical heritage. No trip would be complete without enjoying a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, ‘the show that made country music famous’.   

downtown skyline of bridge and water.

Downtown skyline – Nashville, Tennessee. Image: Shutterstock

Three full days should be enough for a full Nashville honky-tonk.

Asheville, North Carolina

Now it’s time to hit play on your newly bought country album as you cruise for four and a half hours, breaking along the way of course, to cross the state lines into North Carolina. Asheville is an attractive little city and also known as the  gateway to the stunning Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s fresh greenery provides a welcome contrast to the dusty heat of our previous locations. More than this, Asheville is a splash of hipster culture nestled away among the hills. Within the squares and streets, you’ll stumble across artisan bakeries, independent art galleries and trendy bars.

If you’re keen to do some hiking (only accessible by car) allow yourself plenty of time. If not, two days will do.

Charleston, South Carolina

From North Carolina, it’s a four-hour drive down to the jewel of the south, South Carolina. Charleston is considered a city of the ‘Old South’, in which you will find horse drawn carriages, cobbled streets and plantation houses.

old buidings and street fronts

Charleston, South Carolina.

The city is a haven for food lovers and is famed for the hospitality of its people, regularly ranking among America’s friendliest cities. What’s more, Fort Sumner was the place in which the first shots of the civil war rang out and as such, is the pulse of civil war history. Surrounded by old slave plantations it also provides a glimpse into a bygone era of Southern slavery.

As one of the US’s most eye-pleasing  locations, witnessing a sunset in Old South’s most charming city is an unforgettable experience.

Savannah, Georgia

A painless two-hour drive carries you into the ‘Peach State’, where you’ll find Savannah, America’s first planned city.

Savannah is a small relaxed city in which a leisurely stroll will uncover iconic oak trees, grand houses and Spanish moss. Visit Chippewa Square, the primary location used in the filming of Forest Gump. While the bench has been moved to a museum, you can still ponder life’s box of chocolates in this quaint Georgia spot.

One full day of relaxation is ample.

Atlanta, Georgia

A three-and-a-half-hour drive will get you from Savannah to Atlanta,  but the contrast between the locations couldn’t be greater.

Atlanta is a global and modern city with its Metropolitan area home to six million people. This final stop on your trip might give you the chance to do some shopping. Alternatively, experience a game of baseball or American football, the latter of which you’ll have already discovered is a national obsession. If you’re still hungry for history, pay a visit to the Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and discover where the great man was born, preached and is buried.

Skyline of midtown Atlanta in Lake Meer from Piedmont Park. Image: Shutterstock


New Orleans (LA) to Memphis (TN) (Via the Mississippi Delta (MS)), 6 hour drive
Memphis (TN) to Nashville (TN) – 3 hour 15 minute drive
Nashville (TN) (3 days) to Ashville (NC) – 4 hours 30 mins drive
Ashville (NC) to Charleston (SC) – 4 hour drive
Charleston (SC) to Savannah (GA)  – 2 hour drive
Savannah (GA) to Atlanta (GA) – 3 hour 30 minute drive