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8 Underrated Destinations to Add to Your Southern Road Trip

April 27, 2019
9 min read
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The Southern United States has many incredible destinations, whether you’re looking for big cities or rural landscapes. It’s where American music has its roots and where you’re never far from a delicious meal. But there are places beyond popular destinations such as Nashville, Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans. If you’re planning your own road trip around this region, don’t miss these underrated towns and cities.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Road Trips

Richmond, Virginia

(Photo by Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson / Getty Images)

The capital city of the Commonwealth is still too often overshadowed by nearby, Washington, DC. It has a thriving arts district with funky galleries and museums showcasing works from around the world. Richmond also has an award-winning restaurant scene. L’Opposum is a modern French restaurant helmed by a James Beard semifinalist, and Southern Living magazine even named it the South’s Best Restaurant in 2018. It’s just a short drive from wine country and the Shenandoah Valley.

Spend the night at the Quirk Hotel, created by owners of a nearby art gallery in a former dry goods store. It’s decked out in millennial pink with artwork in every room. They have their own gallery, restaurant and rooftop bar. It’s a member of Destination Hotels.

Durham, North Carolina

(Photo by Sean Pavone / Getty Images)

Durham is in a corner of what’s called “the Triangle,” a collection of three cities in central North Carolina where many of its major universities are located. Durham is home to Duke University and the Durham Bulls baseball team, as seen in the classic film, "Bull Durham." Duke’s campus has the Duke Lemur Center, the foremost facility for the primates, and the Duke Gardens, a 55-acre botanical garden. The former tobacco town has been transformed, with warehouses at the American Tobacco campus being turned into into lofts and offices. Even Burt’s Bees moved their headquarters here.

Unscripted Durham is a midcentury-inspired hotel that gave new life to the formerly vacant Jack Tar Hotel. Managed by New York-based Dream Hotels, the property is covered in murals and artwork, serves Partners Coffee (formerly Toby’s Estate), stocks toiletries by Jonathan Adler has a popular poolside restaurant.

Greenville, South Carolina

(Photo by Jon Lovette / Getty Images)

Located in what’s known as the “Upstate,” Greenville strikes a perfect balance of city and nature, close to the mountains that run to the border of North Carolina. Paris Mountain State Park is one of the places where visitors can disconnect, and Falls Park on the Reedy is a green space that connects both sides of the Reedy River downtown. The Swamp Rabbit Trail, a paved bike and pedestrian path, connects Greenville to Travelers Rest. Pass a drizzly day at the BMW Zentrum — the German automaker’s main North American factory. It has a museum featuring some of its most impressive cars.

Earn (or redeem) Marriott Bonvoy points when you bed down at the Westin Poinsett, which was originally built in 1925 to host attendees of a textile convention. This downtown property was restored in the 1990s and has a fitness studio, restaurant and bar. This spring, rates start at $158 or 35,000 points.

Atlanta, Georgia

(Photo by Walter Bibikow / Getty Images)

Savannah has risen to become one of Georgia's most popular road trip stops, but there's plenty to love in the capital city of Atlanta, too. Long a destination for sports fans, hosting the 1996 Olympics and the Super Bowl in 1994, 2000 and 2019. Today, it has four teams: the Braves (baseball), Hawks (basketball), Falcons (football) and United (soccer) and the experiences at the new and renovated stadiums are a huge draw for fans. For example, SunTrust Park, home of the Braves, has an in-house brewery at Terrapin Taproom, while Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where United and the Falcons play, has a restaurant by "Top Chef" Kevin Gillespie.

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Book a night or two at the American Hotel, one of the few nonbranded properties downtown. Managed by DoubleTree by Hilton, it was redesigned to resemble how it looked in the 1960s when it was Atlanta’s first desegregated hotel. With its own bar and restaurant, it combines boutique style with the amenities of a chain hotel where you can earn and redeem Hilton Honors points. Rates start around $130 a night this spring, or 32,000 points.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

(Photo by Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images)

Typically associated with its rail history, this city was memorialized in the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” But today, the forward-thinking destination is known for something different entirely. It leads the nation with the country's first and fastest citywide fiber optic internet, earning the nickname “Gig City” and bringing in tech-focused businesses. They also have a free electric-powered bus that has serviced the downtown area since 1992. The Chattanooga Riverwalk runs 13 miles along the Tennessee River with paved paths that runners and cyclists can enjoy.

The Dwell Hotel is a design lover’s dream, featuring colorful wallpaper, midcentury furnishings, and a popular restaurant. Rooms come with pourover coffee-making supplies, a sound machine, a claw-foot bathtub and balconies. The hotel is also a participating member of Design Hotels, so you can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points at this Category 5 property.

Florence, Alabama

(Photo courtesy of Marriot Shoals Hotel and Spa)

The South has deep ties to American music, but few know about the importance of this Alabama town. Florence, and the surrounding towns of the Muscle Shoals, welcomed big-name musicians in the 1960s to record in the studios for the “Muscle Shoals Sound.” Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Cher are among those that recorded hit songs at Fame Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which are now open for tours.

After a long day of driving, reserve a room at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, which overlooks the Tennessee River and has a fitness center, a pool and a revolving restaurant in its attached tower. The hotel is proud of its musical heritage and plays the documentary "Muscle Shoals" on the television throughout the day. The bar is named for the Swampers, the Muscle Shoals house band.

Clarksdale, Mississippi

(Photo by Tiago_Fernandez / Getty Images)

Known as “Ground Zero of the Blues,” it was here that Robert Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroads for his guitar talents. But one thing is for certain: The Mississippi Delta is where American music has its roots. Visitors can catch a show at Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, or learn about the music legend at the BB King Museum in nearby Indianola.

Clarksdale doesn’t have many accommodation options, but the Shack Up Inn is one, made of restored sharecropper cabins. For the full hotel experience, there’s nowhere better than the Gold Strike Casino in nearby Tunica, which is an MGM property.

Bentonville, Arkansas

(Photo by Christina Horsten/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Northwest Arkansas is home to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, started by Alice Walton (daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton), which boasts a collection of works by Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe and Norman Rockwell. A Frank Lloyd Wright home was even moved to the museum campus. Bentonville also has paved bike trails and mountain biking trails nearby for travelers who want to stretch their legs after the long drive.

There's even a 21C Museum Hotel that opened here with ties to Crystal Bridges. The hotel has its own art gallery, gym, restaurant and rooms stocked with Malin + Goetz toiletries. Their signature bright green penguin statues can be found across the property, and the hotel brand was acquired by AccorHotels, which recently announced a refreshed loyalty program.

Featured image by (Photo by Luigi Manga / Unsplash)

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • 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.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more