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The US South is the home of authentic Americana. Here’s where Aussies should go

If you’re seeking to understand the real America, the US South is an excellent start. In fact, Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot says it’s the home of authentic experiences. Here’s why the US South resonates with Australian travellers, what’s new in 2024 and insider insights for under-the-radar attractions and activities.

If you’re seeking to understand the real America, the US South is an excellent start. In fact, Travel South USA Chair Mike Mangeot says it’s the home of authentic experiences. Here’s why the US South resonates with Australian travellers, what’s new in 2024 and insider insights for under-the-radar attractions and activities.

Comprising 12 states each with its own stories, attractions and experiences, Travel South USA represents a diverse slice of America that’s underpinned by that famous Southern hospitality and a down-to-earth manner that Aussies will recognise as similar to our own.

“There’s a lot of similarities between Aussies and Kiwis and the US South,” Mangeot says.

He says the US South attracts seasoned travellers who have already visited major cities and are now looking for “something different and authentic” in small towns and off-the-beaten path experiences.

“That’s really kind of collectively our wheelhouse – it’s kind of what we excel at,” he added.

Easily accessible from Australia via the gateway of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and then by either domestic US flights or self-drive, here’s where you should go and do in the US South.

Alabama

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The Saturn V rocket at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Sweet home Alabama, indeed. From the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville to the famous 1960s and ‘70s recording studios in Muscle Shoals and Florence, Alabama has plenty to engage all ages. There’s a lot of Civil Rights history in significant sites such as Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery, while with its French influence, Mobile lays claim as the birthplace of Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. Fly-drive here from Nashville.

Underrated gem: Scottsboro has the only Unclaimed Baggage Store in the US that’s also the largest commercial laundry facility in Alabama and you’ll find anything that’s been left on a plane or suitcase or unclaimed cargo items on sale.

Find out more at alabama.travel

Arkansas

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The Momentary contemporary art space in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Known as ‘The Natural State’, Arkansas is a beacon for lovers of the outdoors and city comforts alike. New for 2024 sees additional craft breweries added to the now 24-strong Fayetteville Ale Trail in Central Arkansas, while the Lower Arkansas Delta welcomes the new hiking and biking paths on the Lakewood Trails. There’s also the Arkansas River Trail, connecting 38 parks in Little Rock where you can also get among the capital’s dining and entertainment scene.

Underrated gem: A literal hidden gem is digging for precious stones at Crater of Diamonds State Park. More than 35,000 diamonds have been found by park visitors and if you find a gemstone, it’s yours to keep.

Find out more at arkansas.com

Georgia

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Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia.

You’ll be peachy keen on Georgia and not just for Atlanta’s renowned status as the entertainment mecca of the US South that’s full of juicy diversions. Beaches, mountains, cities and small towns? Georgia’s got it all. For 2024, look forward to exploring Georgia’s first national park, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, with 17,000 years of Native American history or take a US South road trip to popular TV series filming locations in Senoia, Covington and Conyers.

Underrated gem: Savannah is considered one of the most haunted cities in the US South. Discover the supernatural tales of this and other historic cities in Georgia on a guided ghost tour.

Find out more at exploregeorgia.org

Kentucky

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Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, Kentucky.

Famous for horses, bourbon and bluegrass, Kentucky is all of this and more. In fact, 95 per cent of the world’s bourbon is produced in the state, there’s the annual Kentucky Derby, which celebrates 150 years in 2024, and yes, KFC is also from here. Explore more on dedicated trails such as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Craft Distillery Trail. In Louisville, you can encounter everything from a mirrorball factory to the Louisville Mega Cavern, a manmade underground cavern where you can zipline in the dark.

Underrated gem: Cumberland Falls, the state’s biggest waterfalls and known as the ‘Niagara of the South’ for its curtain-like cascade, is one of only six places in the world where you can see a ‘moonbow’.

Find out more at kentuckytourism.com

Louisiana

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Atchafalaya Basin Airboat Tour in Louisiana.

Everybody knows Louisiana’s good-time town of New Orleans, steeped in amazing food, music, festivals, history and Cajun and Creole traditions year-round. But there’s also another side to Louisiana with plentiful national parks, green space and waterways that you can explore on the likes of swamp tours and kayaking on the bayous or take your taste buds on a tour of the unique Louisiana cuisine.

Underrated gem: Fans of the doomed duo can check out the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, located at Ma Canfield’s Café where the couple dined for the last time.

Find out more at explorelouisiana.com

Mississippi

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Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, Inc. store in Clarkdale, Mississippi.

From the birthplace of American music to Civil Rights history, coastal escapes and fun festivals, Mississippi has got it going on. Check out historic Vicksburg, Natchez’s Under-the-Hill – a formerly seedy now family-friendly hub plus Jackson’s arty Fondren entertainment district. Elvis fans can’t go past the King’s birthplace, Tupelo, to visit significant sites and immerse themselves in all things EP.

Underrated gem: For one of Mississippi’s best beaches, head off the coast to Ship Island – one of the state’s barrier islands – for white-sand shores and even a historic fort. It’s only accessible by boat with Ship Island Excursions.

Find out more at visitmississippi.org

Missouri

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Route 66 in Missouri. Image: Beth Wiles

A big occasion for Springfield, Missouri in 2024 is the Centennial of Route 66 with a festival, museum and more to get involved in – a perfect time for a US South road trip! There’s also new and expanded attractions and outdoor activities such as Armory STL, a former armoury-turned-interactive game and bar complex; and Finley Farms farm-to-table dining at Thunder Ridge Nature Arena in the Ozark.

Underrated gem: Love Netflix’s Ozark? While the show was actually filmed in Georgia, you can visit the real Lake of the Ozarks at Osage River, Missouri for the scenic drive, watersports, attractions and more.

Find out more at visitmo.com

North Carolina

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Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

From the mountains to the coast and urban locales, North Carolina plays up to its ‘For Real, Visit NC’ brand. Raleigh will welcome Swing Racquet & Paddle – billed as the world’s largest multi-racquet sports venue in 2024 – and the US Open returns to Pinehurst Resort in June. Get outdoors at the new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery at Grandfather Mountain, a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve that also has the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

Underrated gem: The Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee, NC is one of the longest-running tribal museums in the US. Currently undergoing a main exhibit reno after a name change and new mission, a temporary installation will reopen on 15 March.

Find out more at visitnc.com

South Carolina

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Located on the US South coast to the east, South Carolina brings Southern charm and waterfront fun in spades. New for Greenville, SC in 2024 is the Trueline Music Venue, a music and events hub, and PKL Park – a new pickleball complex; plus there’s the Tiger Woods-designed PopStroke family-friendly golf experience in Myrtle Beach and the first-ever Myrtle Beach Classic PGA Tour event.

Underrated gem: Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach is a historic nightclub from the 1930s to ‘60s that hosted famous performers from Billie Holiday to Little Richard. With plans to create a museum and motel, travellers can schedule a visit via the website.

Find out more at discoversouthcarolina.com

Tennessee

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The Broadway Historic District in Nashville, Tennessee.

There’s a lot going on in Tennessee such as food and music heritage in Memphis and Nashville (like hot chicken and more live music venues and historic museums that you can count) to sports teams. It’s also home to America’s most-visited national park: the Great Smoky Mountains. New for 2024 are the National Museum of African American Music, Nashville Yards entertainment complex, Dollywood – The Dolly Parton Experience, the Tennessee Night Sky Trail for stargazers and so much more.

Underrated gem: Tennessee Tourism nominates Knoxville and Chattanooga as East Tennessee’s underrated gems to add to a Memphis and Nashville road trip. Knoxville is artsy, adventurous and full of craft breweries while Chattanooga offers live music and watersports on its revitalised waterfront.

Find out more at tnvacation.com

Virginia

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Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Image: Julia Smyth-Young

You may know this state by its famous tagline, ‘Virginia is for lovers’ and there’s plenty of new things to love in 2024, kicking off with the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission (VA250) that commemorates the 250th anniversary where the ‘Birthplace of a Nation’ history took place. The Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail also celebrates 20 years in 2024 with a host of concerts and square dances across Southwest Virginia throughout the year.

Underrated gem: The Richmond Region introduced a self-guided Mimosa Trail with more than 40 restaurants offering the delicious brunch fave and dining options.

Find out more at virginia.org

West Virginia

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River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia.

West Virginia, with its rugged good looks, is made for road-tripping with access from Washington, DC for international travellers. Just like the John Denver song, the new Country Roads – Byways, Waterfalls & Adventure itinerary has what it says on the box. There’s plenty of open space, including the nation’s newest national park, River Gorge, and more than 200 waterfalls on tap. For adrenaline junkies, there’s whitewater rafting, ziplining, rock climbing and the new River Gorge Bridge Walk from 7.6km below.

Underrated gem: Close to Washington, DC, West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort looks like a Hallmark movie with its alpine village and also has night skiing, a basin and an accessible ski program.

Find out more at wvtourism.com

For more info, resources and inspo on the US South, head to travelsouthusa.com