Southern Dream Towns
BEST SPORTING TOWN
Locals call it simply “Apalach.” On a hot summer day, who wants to wrap their jaw around all those extra syllables anyway? Better to lock jaw around a glistening, briny Apalachicola oyster.
Natives have lived off of nature’s bounty here for thousands of years. And sport fishing is now a top draw. No one knows the local waters better than the Robinson brothers, Tommy and Chris. The duo offers year-round guide services (floridaredfish.com) for an all-star lineup of game fish including tarpon, king mackerel, redfish, cobia, and trout.
When you need a break from the water, head to the 12,358-acre St. Vincent Island’s National Wildlife Refuge. In its former life as a private hunting preserve, the island was stocked with exotics such as zebra, black buck, eland, and sambar deer (a 500-pound elk-like animal from Southeast Asia). A herd of sambar deer remains, and the refuge sponsors annual hunts with primitive weapons to keep the population in check (call 850-653-8808). The nearby 564,000-acre Apalachicola National Forest is a favorite destination for all manner of outdoor pursuits.
The motto at Boss Oyster, a popular riverside oyster shack, is “Oysters All Ways, Oysters Always!” They serve them twenty-nine ways and counting (inviting new recipe ideas from customers), including the Gooda Gooda, flame-broiled with spicy Creole soy sauce and smoked Gouda. But purists slurp them down raw.
A Typical Day: For breakfast, try the oyster cakes at Caroline’s River Dining. Ask the bartender to mix up a mean pitcher of oyster mimosas; then watch the shrimp boats gliding upriver. Go sailing, kayaking, fishing, crabbing, or clamming. Head out by boat or car to the uncrowded, pristine beaches of nearby St. George Island for lunch at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar, where the oysters, burgers, and cold beers are plentiful and cheap. Hike the trails of the island’s state park, and take a dip in the clear Gulf waters. In the afternoon, explore the unique shops in the historic downtown, where you’ll find everything from nautical antiques to local sponges (the town was founded by sponge divers). A five-course dinner at Avenue Sea, in the Gibson Inn, is a must (chef David Carrier and his wife, Ryanne, specialize in fresh, local, seasonal garden-to-table magic).
Plant Your Roots: This tiny historic fishing town on Florida’s Forgotten Coast is one of the few hamlets that can live up to the moniker. Residents have done a terrific job of restoring historic cotton warehouses as well as sprawling Georgian, Victorian, and Gothic Revival mansions. You can find late nineteenth-century historic homes for sale ranging from $765,000 to $1,600,000, and more recent homes and waterfront cottages. The average home price is $300,000 (forgottencoastlife.com).
Surrounded by 350,000 acres of nature preserves (the Francis Marion National Forest, the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, and the Santee Coastal Reserve), and fully recovered from Hurricane Hugo’s 1989 assault, this tiny waterfront town is a hunting and fishing paradise.
BEST MUSIC TOWN
Brevard, North Carolina
That magnificent sound you hear in brevard? It’s the music. Chances are it’s coming from the Brevard Music Center, where faculty and students make a habit of kicking open a window while practicing, or setting up under a tree for an impromptu concert.
The highly esteemed center opened its doors seventy-two years ago. Each summer now, more than four hundred students join professional musicians and internationally acclaimed guest artists for a seven-week jam on the 140-acre wooded campus. There are on average about eighty public performances per summer ranging from classical jazz to brass bands, Latino, opera, and musical theater.
Local bluegrass pickers converge at the annual Mountain Song Festival each September (mountainsongfestival.com), featuring the best of bluegrass, old-time, folk, and traditional mountain music, performed in an open-air auditorium with the Pisgah National Forest as its backdrop. Year-round, Celestial Mountain Music, owned by local Mary Gordon, is a gathering spot and the sponsor of Tuesday night jam sessions (celestialmtnmusic.com).
For a little of Ma Nature’s music, strike out in any direction from town. Perched at 2,200 feet, Brevard is ringed by the rugged 6,000-foot mountains of Pisgah National Forest, the DuPont State Forest, Three Gorges State Park, and the Bracken Mountain Nature Reserve. You’ll find opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, white-water rafting, horseback riding, rock climbing, and swimming.
A Typical Day: Grab a freshly baked pastry from the Bracken Mountain Bakery, and while you’re there, purchase its signature flatbreads for the road (smeared with blue cheese and walnuts). Head to the Pisgah National Forest for a morning hike. The “Land of the Waterfalls” offers more than 260 plunging waterfalls, the most spectacular being Looking Glass Falls. Cool off at any number of swimming holes. The “Skinny Dip” is a favorite (don’t take the name literally). Even on the hottest day, the water is bracing. Fuel up at Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que, then try your fly rod on the Davidson River, wading for trophy mountain trout (davidsonflyfishing.com). Head back to town for an afternoon stroll through Brevard’s eclectic galleries and antique shops (musicians will find handcrafted banjos, fiddles, and dulcimers at Celestial Mountain Music). In the early evening, enjoy the breezes on the deck at Hobnob Restaurant, which offers a special menu for concert-goers in a hurry. Try the dill-crusted mountain trout with roasted red potatoes, asparagus, and lemon caper sauce, and be sure to stick around for Sunday night jazz jams through July.
Plant Your Roots: Whether you’re looking for a nineteenth-century farmhouse, a rustic cedar cabin, an elegant cottage, or a Victorian inn, you can find it in the nearby hills. According to Jeremy Owen, a local Realtor, the average house sale in 2007 was $340,000 for a 2,500-square-foot home. Properties with mountain views, private trout streams, and lake views can run more. Recently, a forty-acre farm fronting the French Broad River was listed at $1.1 million.
Any thriving college town can boast its share of live music, but Lexington has a unique venue at the Lime Kiln (theateratlimekiln.com), a nineteenth-century lime kiln and quarry that create a multi-level stage under the stars. Outdoor programming thrives from May through October.