Our HOT Summer Bucket List
No matter where you are craving to go in the summer - woodsy mountains, beaches or boardwalks, or majestic national parks - you are most likely to find the perfect spot in the South. Kickstart your summer by checking out some of our buckets list destinations and activities.
The South is so diverse when it comes to its summer offerings. Imagine escaping the heat under the canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Mountains. Or, hitting the cool rushing waters of the many robust rivers. And, of course, we can’t forget the Gulf, whose sandy beaches are pretty much monopolized by the South. So keep cool, head due south and start checking off your summer bucket list.
Knoxville’s location on the banks of the Tennessee River and in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains makes it a perfect warm-weather town. Its large pedestrian-only Market Square is spacious, inviting and features fountains perfect for splashing around in. During the summer months, patrons of the many restaurants on the square sit at outdoor tables under the shade trees. The square is also home to theater performances, a farmer’s market, and many other summer festivals and events. If you are around on Labor Day, don’t miss Boomsday - billed as the largest labor day fireworks display in the nation. The city also has museums that offer outdoor displays, like the Knoxville Museum of Art’s outdoor sculpture exhibition. Head to the Old city, where much of Knoxville's gritty Southern character remains. Live music from bluegrass to contemporary rock is easy to find and enjoy here.
Where to Stay:Hip lodgings and a spot-on location can be found at The Oliver Hotel. It also sits above the famous Tupelo Honey Cafe. Bonus! theoliverhotel.com
Kick it Up a Notch:Ocoee Rafting is the most experienced on the Ocoee River and offer safe and thrilling experiences to help keep you cool and your adrenaline high.ocoeerafting.com
Tybee Island, Georgia
Head to the coast of Savannah for a Southern twist on the classic beach experience. Here you will find secluded islands, marshlands, sea turtles and flocks of rare birds. Head to bike-friendly Tybee Island, just 18 miles south for the peaceful public beaches, fresh Georgia shrimp, bottlenose dolphin tours and relaxed nightlife (bars here are known to provide plastic cups for those who want to stroll along the beach with their beverages). If you crave a more secluded getaway, head for Georgia’s Golden Isles, a beautiful collection of islands near the Florida coast, Jacksonville. Sophisticated and deeply Southern, the stately houses and draping Spanish moss everywhere on St. Simons Island will charm you into submission.
Where to Stay:King and Prince Resort is a must on the islands, it’s historic and the only hotel and restaurant actually on the waterfront. kingandprince.com
Kick it Up a Notch:Ocean Motion Surf Co. not only offers a wide array of water sport equipment, but they offers some pretty scenic tours of the marshland areas. stsimonskayaking.com
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Albeit a huge spring break hot spot, during the summer months it is decidedly a family-friendly destination. Warm waters, endless white sand beaches and the freshest seafood are easily the top reasons to visit. If that wasn’t enough to tempt you into under-travelled Alabama, there are also amazing golf courses, a huge water park (Waterville USA), the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, and the Tanger Shopping Outlet Center. History buffs will want to head out to Fort Morgan State Historic Site offering loads of interesting stories.
Where to Stay:Kiva Dunes Resort is named after a Native American word meaning “retreat” and the resort follows suit. kivadunes.com
Kick it Up a Notch:Orange Beach Helicopter Tours offers great online deals if you want a quick helicopter experience, just to say you’ve done it. new.orangebeachhelicopters.com
Lake Rabun, Georgia
Known for its classic style, this is the perfect lake for old-fashioned family fun. Families have been building memories and community on Lake Rabun since 1915. A quick 90 miles from Atlanta, it is the perfect getaway from the heat and traffic of the sweltering Atlanta summers. The traditions and love for the lake remain constant, even as vintage wood boats and modern jet skis cross paths. Daytime activities are centered on enjoying the water. Early morning ski clubs enjoy the glassy waters before the tubing and jet skis get going. When the days wind down, cocktail cruises begin and some very rare and classic wood boats cruising the lake begin to appear. Beyond the summer, Lake Rabun is an ideal spot for enjoying all four seasons of the year. There are no boat rental facilities on the lake, so you'll have to BYOB and launch it from Hall's Boat House. Make sure you also bring your boater's license.
Where to Stay:Lake Rabun Hotel is your luxury cabin escape hidden in the trees and features an award-winning farm to table restaurant. lakerabunhotel.com
Kick it Up a Notch:Rabun Boathouse Rentals, also known as “Hall’s Boathouse” is a local institution that locals have been going to for years, rent a 20-foot pontoon here. rabunboathouse.com
Lake Martin, Alabama
A popular second home to Birmingham and Montgomery residents, Lake Martin also has a population of full-time lakeside dwellers. On the weekends, boats raft up at Chimney Rock, a prominent cliff-jumping spot near the dam. When it comes to happy hour, the same common sense applies, but the open container laws are somewhat more lax. Plan to visit June 8-9 to enjoy the Alexander City Jazz Fest, which is held lakeside. Looking for a something a bit off the Lake, enjoy a nearby float trip down the neighboring rivers, or check out some of the surrounding waterfalls with a nice hiking trip.
Where to Stay:Creekside Lodge is brand spanking new and perfectly poised on the lake, you cannot go wrong. creeksidelodgelakemartin.com
Kick it Up a Notch: Lake Side Marina is the place to get suited up for all your adrenaline pumping water sports. lakesidemarinallc.com
Lake Guntersville, Alabama
This sleepy hamlet wraps itself around one of Alabama's prettiest patches of fresh water - Lake Guntersville. The small city holds a few shopping and dining surprises that could have easily been plucked from much more urban areas such as Birmingham and Huntsville (only 45 miles away). You are here for the lake, though, and its calming qualities will ease you through this relaxing weekend. For the best views and picture perfect selfies head to Lake Guntersville State Park, located seven miles from downtown Guntersville, it also offers a beautiful golf course and several hiking trails. Nearby Cathedral Caverns, a 14-acre underground world is home to the world’s largest stalagmite, largest cave entrance, largest stalagmite forest, and largest frozen waterfall.
Where to Stay:Lake Guntersville Bed and Breakfast is a must-visit experience, and the breakfast offerings are downright sumptuous!lakeguntersvillebedandbreakfast.com
Kick it Up a Notch:Alabama State Parks offer everything you would need for any adventure on or around the lake, even lodgings. alapark.com
This magical corner of Louisiana is such a lovely destination during the summer. Not only can you check a trip to Louisiana off your bucket list, but also you will obtain a deeper understanding of the local culture - and it is also on Lake Pontchartrain. About 40 minutes from New Orleans, this lakeside summer resort was originally developed for the well to-do and many of Old Mandeville’s original buildings are still standing. It is also connected to the longest bridge in the world (24-miles to be precise)! Bucket list check number two! Bikers can pedal the 31-mile Tammany Trace trail through lovely wooded areas and links five St. Tammany towns. Afterwards enjoy a beer at one of the area’s craft breweries- Abita Brewing Company is Emeril Lagasse’s fav - or stop for a few bottles at the two nearbywineries pumping out French styled vino.
Where to Stay:Enjoy a Hemingway-esque stay at Marvilla Guest House, and check out the second floor veranda rooms overlooking the jungle of tropical plants. marvilla.com
Kick it Up a Notch: At Bayou Adventure stock up on craft beers, bait, and get a kayak in a one-stop-shop.
More Summer Bucket List Destinations