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The ultimate road trip through the coastal South

July 17 2022
12 min read
Savannah skyline
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Editor's Note

</strong>This article has been updated with factual corrections for Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with factual corrections for Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi.

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah, Georgia.

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Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast — balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic and endless breweries — as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through the warmest (both in climate and culture) region of America awaits.

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Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and, with deep French, Spanish and African roots, culturally distinctive cities.

As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street — the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music and local characters.

Dining at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants — perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s or Galatoire’s? Use a rewards card that racks up high multiples of points on restaurant purchases.

(Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Related: The 5 best American cities for solo travelers

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 25 minutes from the French Quarter and the Central Business District by Uber.

Spirit Airlines has deals on direct flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to MSY (around $125 round-trip and as low as $60 one-way).

A flight from Chicago is only two hours, and both Spirit and United have one-way tickets for well under $100. MSY is the ideal place to rent a car for the rest of the trip. I paid about $50 per day from Thrifty for a well-maintained Toyota sedan.

For a classic New Orleans experience, check out the International House Hotel, an institution beloved by visiting musicians and celebrities. This sumptuous property is within walking distance of the French Quarter. It will run you about $120 per night.

Travelers with extra World of Hyatt points can book a standard room at the Eliza Jane for about 15,000 points or $200 on most nights.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. We recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Highway 10.

After the bacchanalia of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town, is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history, visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James and Muddy Waters.

The current owner, Rachel Dangermond, continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis.

The Pearl exudes simple luxury and is perfect for unwinding after a day on the beach. Rooms hover around $150 per night.

Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious "royal reds," deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Related: A great American ​​road trip through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Whatever you do, make sure to stop in Pass Christian, a small town between Bay St. Louis and Gulfport, for biscuits and coffee at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner

Boasting two well-known casinos, Island View and Beachview, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to the superb Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Biloxi, Mississippi

(Photo by Johnny Motley for The Points Guy)

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters and crabs of its warm waters, Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino is a classic, but rooms are pricey (around $350 per night). It does, however, occasionally run flash sales where prices drop down to closer to $150 per night.

The all-inclusive package at Beau Rivage entitles you to the resort's casinos, pools, restaurants and bars.

Inspired by the laid-back island lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville in nearby Biloxi is another great option for an all-inclusive resort.

If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean. He's also slated to receive a makeover from the team at "Queer Eye" in the coming months.

Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman’s blues club, serves up both unforgettable live music and Southern barbecue. For an exceptional fine dining experience, try the Cajun seafood at Mary Mahoney’s, one of New Orleans’ best restaurants — albeit 100 miles east of Crescent City.

If you begin your road trip in Mississippi, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT) has some good deals from cities like New York (around $250 round-trip), Chicago (around $300) and Los Angeles ($350) on American Airlines.

For lodging in Biloxi, all-inclusive resort casinos abound.

The Golden Nugget ($140 per night) and Harrah’s Gulf Coast ($120 per night) are two of the most popular.

The boutique and beautifully appointed Wilbur Hotel harks back to Biloxi’s days as a French outpost. Nestled among ancient live oaks draped in Spanish moss, the Wilbur is a quaint and romantic hideaway — a honeymooner's paradise.

(Photo by Johnny Motley for The Points Guy)

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists' colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee and nightlife. It's sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies, and the old French influence is palpable.

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark.

Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don't leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

The Hemingway, a boutique hotel, is within walking distance of both the water and the restaurants and shops of Main Street.

The hotel only has four rooms, each exceedingly luxurious and named after one of the eponymous writer’s wives. Naturally, old photos of Papa Hemingway’s many exploits adorn the hotel’s surfaces.

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90 — it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Highway 10 as noted previously.

As with New Orleans, Biloxi and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that's already garnering national awards.

The boutique Malaga Inn was built almost 150 years ago. It epitomizes the French colonial architecture of the Gulf Coast with wrought-iron balconies, ornate fountains and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The rooms, simple but comfortable, are equally impressive. Standard rooms are usually slightly over $100 per night.

(Photo by Johnny Motley for The Points Guy)

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour east of Mobile.

With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently.

What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

If you’re willing to splurge on luxurious oceanfront lodging, Emma’s Bay House is a converted mansion right on the water. The photos of sunsets over the water taken from the hotel’s patio just might convince you to consider paying the $240 nightly rate.

For a no-frills option, check out the Hampton Inn (around $130 per night). Hampton Inn is affiliated with Hilton, so you can use Hilton Honors points if you have them.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns.

As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries and youthful verve.

If you’re nostalgic for college, head down to The Tally Strip, a multivenue nightclub complex devoted to cheap shots, skimpy clothing (it’s gotta be the hot climate) and questionable decisions.

The Days Inn by Wyndham Tallahassee is close to the city’s favorite nightlife spots and central district. Rooms run about $65 or 15,000 Wyndham points per night.

For a more boutique lodging option, a standard room at the Hotel Indigo Tallahassee costs about $135 per night. It's just 11 minutes from Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) by Uber and a quick five-minute walk to Florida State University’s campus.

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2 1/2 hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It's also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the Platonic form of the Florida beach — that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water — is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville's beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach, near downtown Jacksonville.

(Photo by Ryan Ketterman/Visit Jacksonville)

Jacksonville offers plenty of great lodging near the beach. Basic rooms at the Marriott Jacksonville Downtown usually cost around $125 or 32,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. Hotel Palms, formerly a motor-home court and now a boutique hotel, will delight those who appreciate quirky, creative lodging.

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South.

Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches — some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy.

Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact, as the Historic District — with its stately fountains, mansions and lush public parks — is a national treasure.

Savannah is a city that loves to indulge.

To pamper yourself with all the delights of Southern hospitality, check out The Drayton Hotel. From its white-stone facade to its sumptuous lobby and stunning rooftop bar, the Drayton, in its entirety, is spectacular. Rooms are not cheap, but not egregiously expensive either (about $230 per night). The Drayton is right by the Savannah Historic District, where you can take free walking tours to learn about the long, colorful and, according to many, haunted history of Georgia’s oldest settlement.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Savannah)

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Featured photo by (Photo courtesy of Visit Savannah)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees