Arts & Culture
27 Cool Ideas for Summer
Your hot-weather guide to icy drinks, breezy waterways, stargazing hideouts, the ultimate ice cream cone piled high with Southern scoops, and one idyllically refreshing mountain weekend
SOUTHERNERS: THE CONNOISSEURS
OF STAYING COOL
My marriage is sponsored by extra ice. I brought the order into our life together like a dowry (there are eight ice trays in our freezer) and a prenup (my husband promised to love, honor, and bring me extra ice in all my drinks). I like sweet tea with extra ice, coffee with extra ice, Orange Crush with crushed ice, and whole milk on the rocks. Extra ice means I want no floatage of ice. No, you can’t swirl it. No, it doesn’t rattle. I want my highball to look like a 1950s phone booth crammed with coeds. To use a straw, you have to stab it through the horde of cubes with the confidence of breaking a stack of bricks with your head. In New York City, where I live now, locals order “light ice” or “no ice” to be sure they get their money’s worth of beverage; but I am an Alabama native, and my love of extra ice is a holdover from the South.
Summers in the eighties, when I was a teenager in Tuscaloosa, I drank so many 7-Eleven cherry Slurpees and Dairy Queen Mister Mistys that my teeth were always stained. I looked like a werewolf who’d been doused with Nair. When my family would go to Fort Lauderdale, I didn’t lie out on the beach, because even if I covered myself in sunscreen with an SPF of that goop they pour over actors’ heads to make monster masks, I burned. So I stayed in the hotel because the room had cable and a machine that does nothing but make ice right down the hall. When we rented a cabin in the woods, I didn’t bird-watch under the sunny disposition of Mother Nature. I stayed inside and reworked a Cosmo questionnaire. If I went parking with a boy, I’d only kiss in the front seat by the arctic blast of the dashboard vents. The rest of my summer vacations I spent in libraries and malls, and at home watching soaps. As the world turned and the young got restless, I chiseled rock-hard Breyers with a grapefruit spoon.
When I first moved to New York, I couldn’t afford air-conditioning, so I stole it. I’d buy a ticket to a movie at a multiplex, see it, and then hide in a restroom until it was time to sneak into another. I credit this life of crime to my parents’ depositing me and my friends at kids’ double features every summer. If we didn’t get goose bumps before the coming attractions, it wasn’t cold enough. We’d curl up, our feet on our seats, knees tucked under our chins, heads thrown back downing two-foot-tall Pixy Stix so the theater looked like a night swamp full of reeds.
My husband plays softball in Central Park and comes home every weekend from May to September drenched in sweat and dirt. This is not for me. Even though I’ll forever be a sprinkler jumper at heart, I’m naturally athletic on the inside. Meaning: If I can’t do it in a cardigan, I’m not interested.
As a kid, I bowled at Leland Lanes, which was over the railroad tracks and up the street from the vet’s office. Is there anything more invigorating than a ten-pound ball made of cool slick urethane in your hands and freshly disinfected saddle shoes on your feet? Well, maybe an arcade. Spending hours at Barrel of Fun at University Mall was like spelunking for joysticks in a noisy, neon-lit cave. Is it just me or is anyone else turned on by having a face full of air hockey static and bumping up against the quarter slot of a pinball machine? And let’s not forget the sports of jigsaw puzzling, card playing, and sticking anything but your finger in the airplane-engine-looking blades of your grandmother’s rusty oscillating fan.
Speaking of my grandmother, my fashion icons are old Southern women in the sleeveless shift dresses they’ve been wearing since the sixties: perfectly preserved cotton Lilly Pulitzers with orange and pink hibiscuses or turquoise and yellow jungles full of lions, tigers, and zodiac signs that go from day to night, garden to church, cookout to cocktails. Sometimes they add pearls. They always wear flats. Their idea of a neutral is a Bermuda bag in madras plaid.
They never break a sweat.
Maybe it’s because they carry a hand fan, folded like a cobra in their purse. Or maybe it’s the attitude that comes with such a fan. Is there anyone icier than an old Southern woman who whips out her fan and silently judges you? Her cold dead stare can kill the inanest of conversations. Steel magnolias? More like silver icebergs. Iceberg lettuce, of course. Crisp, even under a pool of ranch dressing.
My husband says he’s up for this glimpse of my future self (and wouldn’t mind investing in a seersucker suit of his own), but I’m not courageous enough to pull off this look or this attitude yet. My friend in Florida says of all choices, fashion, and nerve: “It’s now or ninety.”
So until then, I’ll keep my cool. With extra ice. — Helen Ellis
STARGAZE UNDER DARK SKIES.
photo: Joe Hendricks
Nothing says summer in the South quite like a night sky full of stars, and having the time to watch them brighten—whether it’s from your backyard, on a Blue Ridge mountain trail, or on a cross-country road trip. In Big Bend National Park, the sunset brings not only a respite from the West Texas heat, but also the beginning of an awe-inducing spectacle. The expanse of 800,000 acres of desert, mountains, rivers, and canyons contains the least amount of light pollution of any national park in the contiguous United States. Take the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail for a blazing view of the Milky Way over the Sierra del Carmen and the Chisos Mountains, or settle into your tent or RV at one of the park’s four campgrounds to gaze upon two thousand visible stars and contemplate your foothold in the galaxy.
LOUNGE IN THE MOST ELEGANT LOBBY IN NEW ORLEANS.
photo: Courtesy of Hotel Peter & Paul
We all know and love New Orleans’ historic architecture, the Creole food, and all that jazz. But what about the less promotable obscene summer humidity? Hotel Peter & Paul’s airy lobby and other public spaces are a fine solution. This gorgeous inn was once a Catholic church and school, and from dark wainscoted corridors to colorful stained glass windows, the soothing cathedral vibe endures. A supersweet ice cream parlor sits in a little cottage where nuns once lived, and this summer, the menu features berries from Johndale Farm in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and watermelon from a cooperative of African American farms in Mississippi. Weekend brunch rolls out in the rectory and courtyard, and bartenders serve NOLA classics like the Roffignac (tart raspberry shrub, lemon, cognac, and soda over crushed ice) at the attached Elysian Bar’s shady patio.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
While perhaps not as refreshing as sipping iced tea, popping a habanero pepper or some Szechuan edamame can actually make you—and keep you—cool. By raising your internal body temperature, spicy foods induce sweating, the body’s natural cooling mechanism. Katsuji Tanabe, a Mexico City native and Chopped champion whose new restaurant, a’Verde, recently opened in Cary, North Carolina, keeps this bit of science in mind when he takes a cold meal and dials up the heat. “My go-to is a spicy shrimp or fish ceviche,” he says. “The combination of fresh lime juice, spicy serrano chiles, and crispy veggies makes it a great hot-day dish.”
DIP A TOE INTO A GLAMOROUS POOL.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
Perhaps it’s during the fifth lap around the lazy river, or after the first sip of a margarita served inside a breezy cabana, that one realizes: This is the place. The new Harborside Pool Club at the Boca Raton resort in Florida opened earlier this year as part of the property’s $200 million renovation, with three postcard-perfect pools (including an adults-only spot), a soon-to-debut surf wave simulator, and a 450-foot lazy river that gently snakes basking floaters atop transparent inner tubes past the poolside cabanas, which have—get this—private butlers.
SHOOT CLAYS AT ALTITUDE.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Primland Resort’s elevated approach to shooting sports has long been a draw for shotgunners. A fourteen-station sporting clays range sits against a mile-long backdrop of ridges and shady woods, while a separate five-stand course awaits to test the skills of shooters at all levels. Still not feeling primal enough? Sign up for expert archery instruction or (brace yourself) tomahawk and spear throwing.
HOOK A NATIVE BROOK TROUT.
photo: William Hereford
You could do a lot worse on a scorching afternoon than put yourself where brook trout live—in deep shade, at high elevation, and in cold, clean water. In Tennessee’s Hampton Creek Cove watershed where Hump and Little Hump Mountains rise over the high country, volunteers with Trout Unlimited teamed up with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to restore creek sections that now teem with wild reproducing brook trout. The South’s only native trout, brookies make up in dazzle and spirit what they lack in size. Hook one here, and you’ll tangle with a creature whose ancestors were feasting on flies around the time of the Ice Age.
BOAT UP FOR TUNES.
photo: Josh Wool
photo: BRITT SPENCER
Newport Folk may be one of America’s oldest music festivals, but it’s still one of summer’s hottest tickets and a favorite of Southern music buffs. Stages fill Rhode Island’s Fort Adams State Park on Narragansett Bay (July 22–24), but fans who can’t score regular admission often attend by boat, dropping anchor along the horizon to enjoy the sounds (and the breeze) wafting over the water. From early years with Earl Scruggs, the Freedom Singers, and Ralph Stanley to Dolly Parton’s surprise appearance in 2019, Southerners always play a role in the iconic event. This year, artists like Sierra Ferrell, Rhiannon Giddens, and Valerie June continue the tradition.
REWATCH THE COOLEST CLASSIC MOVIE.
You’re clearing brush and tarring roads in Central Florida. The air is humid, sticky. Sweat gets in your eyes. Mosquitoes and ants are biting. It’s so hot you get knocked out from heatstroke—“bear-caught,” as your fellow prisoners call it. Welcome to life on a chain gang. There’s one man who won’t give in to the sadistic authority, and he becomes a folk hero: Cool Hand Luke. Continue reading >>
DRESS FOR THE WEATHER.
Cotton is the “steel magnolia” of fabrics—it feels at once familiar and fine, ages gracefully, can handle fancy or casual occasions, and knows how to just breathe in the summer heat. With the textile’s versatility in mind, Red Land Cotton, the family-run purveyor of crisp sheets spun from Alabama fibers, recently introduced a wardrobe staple called the Go Anywhere Dress that does triple duty as a beach cover-up, a sun guard on the boat, and a breathable layer for a dockside dinner.
IDLE THROUGH OLD FLORIDA.
After you’ve open-water sunned on Central Florida’s St. Johns River and Harris Chain of Lakes, which link all the way to the Atlantic, discover the mysterious, jungle-like Dora Canal that connects Lakes Eustis and Dora. Botanists can’t quite agree on the purpose of cypress knees, the gnarled woody cones that rise from the base of swamp trees, but you’ll find just over a mile of them sprouting from the freshwater canal. Paddle a canoe or putter along in a pontoon to share quiet reverie with the baby gators, turtles, and ibis lazing around the slippery knobs. The soft light filtered through the leafy canopy is so cinematic that the 1951 Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn film The African Queen shot retakes here.
KEEP ON SIPPING BOURBON.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
Just as bourbon changes as it ages in oak barrels—resting in sluggish hibernation throughout winter and retreating deep into the wood against summer’s relentless heat—how to enjoy bourbon is seasonally dependent. A neat pour is a cold-weather warmer, but summer humidity requires a different remedy. A citrus-forward cocktail might suffice—try a Gold Rush: Shake with ice 2 oz. bourbon, ¾ oz. lemon juice, and ¾ oz. honey simple syrup, and strain into a glass with fresh ice. But if that’s too much work in this languid state, retreat to the porch with a glass, a bowl of ice, and a bottle of high-proof bourbon. The chill creeps in with each sip as the ice mellows the pleasant burn.
DESCEND INTO A GLOWING CAVERN.
When darkness falls on Dismals Canyon in Northwest Alabama, the rocky walls of the gorge glimmer with a bluish gleam. The magical display comes from dismalites, cousins of rare glowworms found in Australia and New Zealand, seeking to attract flying insect snacks. The best time to see the spectacle is during Saturday-night tours from May to September that wind through the canyon’s moss-filled forest. The tiny worms—actually the larvae of an endemic fly—reside around the Appalachians, and the canyon’s flora attract massive numbers. “Sometimes there are so many it feels like you’re walking through the stars,” says Christy Saint, the privately owned park’s manager. “You can’t tell where the rock walls end and the night sky begins.”
ROCK A HAT.
photo: DREW BALFOUR
The Irish haute milliner Philip Treacy once said, “A person carries off the hat.” It’s a philosophy Eldrick Jacobs, the founder of the Bainbridge, Georgia, hat company Flint & Port, shares: “A hat is something the wearer should write their story on,” he says. He recommends a dress-weight beaver felt in every season, but for summer, if you’re especially prone to perspiration, a lightweight panama straw is tops. Generally, a hat’s crown should be proportional to the distance from where the hat hits your forehead to your chin, and the brim, for straw hats in particular, can be as daring as you like. Personalize it with a ribbon or a family brooch, Jacobs says. “The accoutrements are many—it’s about what you want this hat to say about you.”
TIE UP IN THE BVI.
Nearly five years after Hurricane Irma devastated Virgin Gorda, leveling all the structures across the sixty-four acres that made up the Bitter End Yacht Club, the storied sailing locale at the edge of the British Virgin Islands is back with a new deep-water marina as well as the BVI’s first over-water lofts. Northeast trade winds temper the tropical heat year-round, and the picturesque North Sound—a safe harbor for mariners for centuries—remains a respite for seafarers. Launch a Hobie Cat, try your luck at windsurfing, grab a Painkiller from one of two revamped bars, and share a flag to help the club rebuild its famed burgee collection.
STEEP A SMOOTH COLD BREW COFFEE.
photo: Courtesy of the Grand Bohemian
And then mix it into a cocktail or three. Continue reading and get the recipe >>
SCOOP THE ULTIMATE SOUTHERN SUNDAE.
photo: Johnny Autry
Scream-worthy treats from some of the best shops, restaurants, and ice cream purveyors across the South. Continue reading and get the list >>
CHILL IN ASHEVILLE.
photo: TIM ROBISON
How to spend three days in the buzzy mountain town. Continue reading and get the itinerary >>
BIRD-WATCH IN A SHADY SWAMP.
Near the little town of Belzoni, Mississippi, Sky Lake’s 1,700-foot-long boardwalk meanders among bald cypress trees, the “giant living dinosaurs of the Delta.” The largest (and likely oldest) has lived more than a thousand years and measures almost fifty feet across. Shaded by the natural canopy overhead, the hidden treasure of a walking trail makes for prime bird-watching—prothonotary warblers, pileated woodpeckers, and anhingas all nest in this verdant swampland. Underneath the boardwalk winds a paddling route for kayaks where red-eared slider turtles sunbathe and wood ducks dabble beside you.
PACK A COOLER.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
Every boater, beachgoer, and backyard idler has his own way of packing an ice chest for a day in the sun, and Rob McDaniel, the owner and executive chef at the Birmingham, Alabama, restaurant Helen, is no exception. “I’m all about proper ice-to-water ratio,” says McDaniel, whose ideal afternoon involves a cooler, a boat, and a fishing pole on Lake Martin. “For me, that’s sixty percent ice to forty percent water. This increases the surface area contact of the beverage container to the icy water, and in my opinion, results in a much colder drink.” Science backs him up: Due to water’s high specific heat, it stays frigid much longer than empty air. So fill it up—as long as nothing needs to stay frozen and every container is sealed tight.
WITNESS SEA TURTLE RECOVERY.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, loggerheads paddle in pools of clear blue water. Despite the Peach State’s relatively small coastline, turtles by the hundreds defy extinction and nest here each year, and any injured or sick individuals receive treatment at the state’s only turtle research and rehab center. In a cavernous century-old brick building, onlookers can see the turtles propel themselves round the pools—healing their shells, and their bodies, in real time. Behind a glass wall, veterinarians stitch wounds and scrape barnacles. Groups of children clutch stuffed turtles they’ve gotten from the gift shop as they look on in wonder.
RECAPTURE CHILDHOOD AT A SEASIDE HIDEAWAY.
photo: Baxter Miller & Ryan Stancil
On the Crystal Coast, the Atlantis lodge endures through time and memory. Continue reading >>
FREEZE YOUR FRUIT.
At Freight House restaurant in Paducah, Kentucky, watermelon is a summer salad staple. But with all that juicy goodness comes a surplus of slicing scraps—scraggly bits left over after pretty cuts are added to dishes. To prevent it from going to waste, chef Sara Bradley started whizzing the leftover melon (minus the rind and seeds) through a juicer (a blender works, too) with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt, then freezing it in large rubber ice cube molds to save for cocktails. “It’s a really delicious and beautiful way to add subtle sweetness to drinks,” she says. “When I was pregnant, to help with leg cramps, I would pour tonic over a watermelon cube with a little squeeze of lime. I also love the flavor with mezcal and tequila drinks.” Her summer sipper is El Guapo: Shake and strain 2 oz. of good tequila with ½ oz. each orange liqueur, lime juice, and jalapeño simple syrup (store-bought or homemade). Strain over a watermelon cube and enjoy poolside.
HOP ON A BIKE TRAIL IN ARKANSAS.
A long, lumpy lobster claw of a peninsula, Two Rivers Park and its thousand acres of wooded wetlands and breezy fields seems worlds away from downtown Little Rock some eight miles downriver. Passing over the 1,368-foot pedestrian and cyclist bridge, a three-mile path drops among stands of loblolly pines and bald cypress, eventually culminating in a loop where the park’s resident deer graze among the native trees. If lollipopping around the urban park hasn’t tuckered you out, stack your miles with the recently opened River Mountain trails, or the ever-fun-to-say Big Dam Bridge.
GO CHASING WATERFALLS.
photo: its.the.lake/Stockimo/Alamy Stock Photo
Emerald leaves frame Issaqueena Falls, a towering cascade in Oconee County, South Carolina, that sends mountain mist breezing toward your brow. The trail to the easy-access observation deck, which serves up the best views, is less than a half mile round trip. The surrounding Sumter National Forest has something for everybody: mountain bike trails for the adventurous, fishing for the patient, loads of picnic tables for the hungry, and for history lovers, an unfinished link along the onetime Blue Ridge Railroad: the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, where the temperature holds steady at a bracing fifty degrees.
TROT ALONG THE BEACH.
If you like the idea of waves lapping at horse hooves and sea spray tickling your cowboy boots, book a ride with the Stables at Frederica. Even if you’re not staying the night at Georgia’s swank Sea Island resort, you can explore the breezy private beach like a knight in linen armor. Three times a day, guided ninety-minute excursions ramble alongside the glittering marsh (take binoculars to watch egrets and herons wade) and over windswept dunes to a pristine beach on the island’s south end—go during high tide to splash through tide pools.
SWIM WITH MERMAIDS.
photo: BRITT SPENCER
Where else in the world would a manatee crash a mermaid party? At Weeki Wachee Springs in Central Florida, acrobatic swimmers put on three underwater recitals a day, and gentle sea cows sometimes bob through the open-water performances. A hugely popular tourist attraction in the 1950s and now a state park, Weeki Wachee nestles around a natural limestone swimming hole where crystal-clear water bubbles and flows through ancient caverns at an invigorating seventy-two to seventy-four degrees year-round. (They’ll let you take a dip here, even if you don’t have a tail.)
DRINK THE COLDEST MARGARITA.
photo: Margaret Houston Dominick
At the new Rancho Lewis in Charleston, South Carolina, amid the longhorn skulls and Mexican sconces from El Paso flea markets, eight repurposed giant silver Japanese milk tea machines line the counter behind the bronze-plated bar. “Las máquinas,” pitmaster John Lewis says, are used across the Pacific for blending boba tea and milkshakes—and they’re here to shake your margarita with the vigor of supercharged jackhammers. Lewis, who made waves with his Texas-style brisket at Lewis Barbecue, has now brought his spin on border foods such as chiles rellenos, enchiladas, and tacos on house-ground corn tortillas to town, and with it, what he claims are the “coldest, frothiest margaritas in the country.” A fitting pick-me-up for a warm afternoon in the Hatch Valley or the Holy City.
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