Plush hotel openings, top-tier sporting events, new monuments, and even a bent for the bucolic are spurring the most talked-about vacation spots this year. We spoke with travel experts about four Southern locales to add to your list.
South meets West in Fort Worth, where cowboy culture and a booming fine arts scene have long been hidden in the shadow of its sister next door. “It’s always been Dallas, Dallas, Dallas,” says Sarah Paster, hotel and tour partnership manager for Miami-based luxury travel tour organizer Excursionist. “Now Fort Worth is raising its hand.” In December, a chic, cowboy-boot clad crowd lined the block outside the opening of Bowie House, Auberge Resorts Collection, which feels more like the living room of a well-heeled rancher than a hotel—fitting, given the owner is hall-of-fame cowgirl Jo Ellard. Nearby, the Crescent Hotel recently opened its doors, and with it the three-story Canyon Ranch Wellness Club and a Mediterranean restaurant by a Food Network chef. From both hotels, walk to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Museum. (Excursionist can even arrange a tour of private art collections.)
Celebrity endorsement: For more proof of the allure of Cowtown, look no further than supermodel Bella Hadid, recently spotted with rodeo star Adan Banuelos in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, where visitors can watch a twice-daily cattle drive.
It’s a banner year for this horsey town, Paster says. First, the River City will see the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, when Churchill Downs unveils the $200 million redesign of its iconic paddock, with new multilevel stands allowing more spectators to watch the competition prance by between the spires. Not two weeks later, elite golfers and 200,000 of their fans descend on the greens of the Jack Nicklaus–designed Valhalla Golf Club for the PGA championship tournament. And this fall, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts debuts the pre-Broadway world premiere of Ali, a musical about hometown heavyweight hero Muhammad Ali. Stay at the 1883 Grady Hotel or one of two trendy spots that have opened over the last year: The Myriad Hotel shines in a former disco ball factory, and Hotel Genevieve brings high style from Austin’s hip Bunkhouse Group.
Coming soon: Louisville has long been known for its bourbon. A new statewide celebration of queer culture and spirits, Bourbon and Belonging, kicks off in October. Not to mention, our own G&G Distilled is headed to bourbon country this April for a week of panel discussions, culinary events, and insider distillery tours.
There’s an under-the-radar food revolution making this college town worth a visit beyond gameday weekends in the fall. (Maybe the university’s new culinary school, which opened in 2022, has something to do with it.) “There’s such a sophisticated scene here,” says Beth Flowers, a luxury travel advisor with Brownell Travel based in Birmingham, Alabama. “Why does no one know about this?” Flowers cites chef David Bancroft, the four-time James Beard Award semifinalist behind the much-lauded Acre, as paving the way for contemporary restaurants like California-vibing bistro Lucy’s and the punny Chinese hotspot Irritable Bao. Stay at the AAA five-diamond Laurel Hotel & Spa or Flowers’s pick, the English antique–laden Crenshaw Guest House.
Worth the drive: An hour away, find the new Freedom Monument Sculpture Park in Montgomery, a companion site to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The seventeen-acre site of art and artifacts along the Alabama River is dedicated to the tens of thousands of enslaved people who were trafficked here—and honors the four million who were freed after the Civil War.
Several travel advisors we spoke with are eyeing the upscale but bucolic resort coming to the Kiawah River development this June from Auberge Resorts Collection. (The California-based hospitality group appears to be betting big on the South.) The Dunlin hotel, half an hour outside of Charleston, joins a planned “agrihood” along two thousand riverside acres that include a farm, twenty miles of walking and biking trails, and endless views of the sparkling marsh. Coastal chic meets a vintage summer retreat vibe in the seventy-two “cottage-style” guest rooms designed by Amanda Lindroth. The Kiawah River Farm, a partnership of family farms in the community, adds to the throwback vibe with its free-ranging cattle and hens and 50,000 bees.
Souvenir: Make an appointment to pet the goats at the Goatery, then purchase cheese from the on-site artisan dairy, which supplies Lowcountry restaurants like Husk.