Already thinking about a vacation? We don’t blame you. There’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do in the South, but to give you a few ideas, we’re looking ahead to destinations to put on your radar for 2018. Whether you’d like to celebrate three centuries of history with the folks in New Orleans or San Antonio, spend a fall weekend at a new Smoky Mountain resort, explore a Bahamian bonefish paradise from the comfort of a floating mothership, or toast the bourbon renaissance in Kentucky, we’ve compiled a month-by-month guide to a year’s worth of Southern travel. After all, it’s never too early to start planning an adventure.
Get off the grid (way off) with a fishing trip to Andros West Side National Park, a pristine Bahamas saltwater wilderness. It’s so remote, you won’t find any traditional lodges here. But as of December, anglers can now bunk down on the Andros Mothership, a new seventy-four-foot Hatteras run by the adventure travel company the Eleven Experience (which also launched another island property, Bahama House, in summer 2017.) Though it’s well off the beaten path, rustic the Mothership is not. Outfitted with three state rooms and open December to May, the floating lodge can accommodate six guests, plus crew and a private chef. Local guides captain custom Beavertail skiffs on daily over-water excursions for the area’s hundred-square-foot schools of bonefish and plentiful tarpon.
New Orleans is no stranger to celebrations, so naturally you’ll find plenty on tap as the city marks its Tricentennial in 2018. Events are scheduled throughout the year, starting with a punched-up Carnival. Bacchus (February 11) and Orpheus (February 12) will mark their own anniversaries (fifty and twenty-five years), which means the superkrewes will roll out even more Mardi Gras spectacle. Zulu (February 13) joins the Tricentennial revelry with history-themed floats adorned with the krewe’s signature flare. And fittingly, Rex (February 13)—originator of several Mardi Gras traditions, including its colors of green, gold, and purple—will honor the early people, places, and events that shaped the city from its first century through the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
Whether you call it kitsch or charm, the throwback appeal of the Ruby Falls experience in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is hard to deny. The 145-foot waterfall under Lookout Mountain opened for tours in 1930, and while the falls’ natural good looks needed no modernizing, come spring, the attraction is scheduled to reopen following a $20 million renovation, including the addition of an outdoor observation area, new facilities, and expanded retail space. In town, another old-time favorite, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, received a welcome jolt of contemporary energy with the opening of Station Street last year. The revamped alleyway, which runs alongside the Choo-Choo exhibit hall, is now pedestrian-only, strung with café lights, and lined with a brewery, a coffee shop, a new guitar museum, and a handful of restaurants and bars, including the excellent Main Street Meats, owned by local culinary lights Erik and Amanda Niel.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Today, the motel is part of the National Civil Rights Museum campus, and in honor of King’s legacy fifty years after his death, the museum will hold a two-day symposium, MLK50: Where Do We Go From Here? (April 2–3). Based on his final book, the symposium will host a series of panel discussions with some of the nation’s leading civil rights leaders—past and present. April 4 brings a full day of activities, musical performances, and speakers, culminating in An Evening of Storytelling, with guests including the Georgia congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis.
Remember more than the Alamo when San Antonio hits its 300th Anniversary. Throughout 2018, the city, founded on May 1, 1718 as a Catholic Spanish mission, will host more than seven hundred Tricentennial events, including Commemorative Week (May 1–6)—six days of exhibits, concerts, community gatherings, fireworks, and an Air Force Flyover honoring the city’s long military and aviation history. Many of the tricentennial celebrations center around art. Friday’s festivities (May 4) offer citizens and visitors free admission to museums and galleries across the city, and don’t miss “Common Currents,” an innovative new exhibition staged at multiple venues that tasked three hundred local artists with creating a work inspired by each year of San Antonio history.
Revisit a Gulf Coast classic in Point Clear, Alabama, when the Grand Hotel completes its 18-month-long renovation. Despite construction, the unflappable staffers welcomed guests throughout 2017 with their usual commitment to Southern hospitality. (The hotel, built in 1847, has shuttered operations only four times in its 170-year history, and it took a civil war, a world war, and two hurricanes.) The top-to-bottom transformation will include a refresh to the property’s guest rooms, and you’ll find newly erected cabanas down by the main pool and bayside beach. The hotel’s trio of restaurants are getting new looks—and menus—too. At Southern Roots, dine on plates of pan-fried soft-shell crab and fresh-caught Gulf grouper, and linger over a nightcap at the restaurant’s just-opened bar, 1847.
Eyeing a trip across the pond? Pull on your Wellies and join 150,000 field sports fanatics at Britain’s Country Land & Business Association (CLA) Game Fair (July 27–29) at historic Ragley Hall. The four-acre, eighteenth-century estate in Warwickshire, England, is just a two-hour train ride from London. The fair, the largest of its kind in the world, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, so expect even more from its already deep roster of events. Browse Gunmaker’s Row for the newest products from Britain’s Holy Trinity—Purdey, Holland & Holland, and Boss & Co.—and peruse wares from a who’s who of international craftsmen. Shoot clays, wet a line on the Ragley Hall lake, watch the country’s top gundogs compete in the hugely popular field trials, or tour the fair’s new Jubilee Museum, filled with sporting artifacts.
Charlotte, North Carolina’s food scene has been quietly burgeoning as of late. Make plans to get a taste as a trio of new chef-driven restaurants and bars open up in (and around) the Queen City. For starters, master mixologist and whiskey archivist Gary Crunkleton, of Chapel Hill’s much-beloved The Crunkleton, is opening his second location at the corner of 7th Street and Pecan Avenue this summer. Notably, the new Charlotte bar will have a full food menu with a focus on open-hearth cooking, spearheaded by pit master Zach Goodyear. Similarly, when fellow North Carolina native chef William Dissen, of Asheville’s Market Place restaurant, began looking for a location for his sophomore endeavor, he too chose Charlotte. The soon-to-open Haymaker will focus on Appalachian and Piedmont culinary traditions and fronts Romare Bearden Park. Just outside of town, chef Joe Kindred recently opened his second restaurant, Hello, Sailor, on Lake Norman. Kindred’s modern fish camp is an easy drive from downtown, but the lakefront outpost, which opened in December with Charleston charcuterie wunderkind Craig Deihl at the helm, has plenty of dock space for boaters.
In 2009, there were nineteen distilleries in Kentucky. Today, there are fifty-two and counting. Tip back a glass and celebrate in bourbon country during National Bourbon Heritage Month. For Louisville’s once-dormant Whiskey Row this year is looking bright as it continues to bounce back from a devastating 2015 fire. Brown-Forman will finally welcome visitors to its new 60,000-square-foot Old Forester distillery this spring, and Michter‘s plans to open its own micro-distillery this year, too. Southwest of downtown, the bourbon country cathedral Stitzel-Weller, which reopened to the public in 2014, wrapped up a second phase of renovations to its historic campus in late 2017. And an hour east in Frankfort, Castle & Key Distillery—situated on the exquisitely restored, 113-acre Old Taylor property—hopes to at last raise a glass with guests in August.
Is there a bad time to visit Charleston, South Carolina? That depends on your position on mosquitoes and humidity. But it’s hard to argue with October, especially since come fall, you can sleep in splendor in the long-awaited Hotel Bennett. Billing itself as “the South’s grandest new luxury hotel” and slated to begin taking guests this summer, the nine-story, 179-room boutique property sits on the site of the old county library, a prime piece of peninsula real estate overlooking Marion Square, where you can peruse the city farmers’ market on Saturday mornings from April to November. The rooftop bar will offer views of the Holy City’s church-steeple-dotted skyline, and in a city best experienced on foot, you’ll be within an easy walk to most of the city’s downtown restaurants and attractions. Stroll South of Broad and poke your head into some of Charleston’s most beautiful private dwellings during the Preservation Society’s Fall Tour of Homes (October 2–29), and make time to visit the nearby South Carolina History Society’s new museum inside the renovated Fireproof Building, set to reopen this fall.
The hospitality dynamos at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, are bringing a new 5,200-acre resort to the Smoky Mountains. The latest projections have the sprawling Blackberry Mountain slated to open in early 2019, but you’ll want to make your reservations early. The eco-conscious resort plans to set aside 2,800 acres for conservation and will offer a wealth of outdoor activities: mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, sporting clays, fly-fishing, and foraging, among others. There’s also a spa, yoga studio, full gym, and an infinity pool that takes advantage of the area’s natural beauty. Recharge in one of the property’s cabins, cottages, or homes before heading up to dinner at one of the Mountain’s two restaurants, Three Sisters and Firetower, which delivers 360-degree views of the Smokies.
Once Key West’s commercial fishing hub—a hive of boat builders, shrimpers, fishermen, and dock workers—Stock Island retains much of its historic character even as development creeps up on this unincorporated islet just north of Key West proper. In fact, many locals haul visitors over to Stock Island for a beer and a fish sandwich at Hogfish Bar & Grill—and a taste of the Key West of old. You can celebrate the island’s unique culture with the hometown crowd during the annual I Love Stock Island Festival. Typically held in early December, it includes a trolley tour of island restaurants, a lighted boat parade, live music, a traditional shrimp boil, a crash course in local history via bicycles, open-houses at area galleries, and more. If you go, bunk down at the marina-front Perry Hotel. Though just opened last year, the boatyard-turned-boutique lodging was thoughtfully designed to pay tribute to the island’s rustic roots.