If you’re looking for a classic road trip in the United States, take a drive along the Gulf Coast, where local diners, notable historic sites and sprawling beaches vie for your attention.
Starting Point: Little Rock, Arkansas
Begin your journey in Little Rock, the small-but-quaint capital of Arkansas. You can fly into Little Rock’s Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (though you will most likely be routed through a nearby international airport like the one in Memphis, Tennessee) and rent a car before exploring the city. Hop on the vintage River Rail Streetcar, which runs through downtown’s charming River Market District. This part of town is home to plenty of local shops, bars and restaurants, as well as a seasonal farmers market, which runs from May through October. If you’re not in town during the farmers market season, visit the adjacent indoor Ottenheimer Market Hall where vendors serve delicious local treats like gourmet coffee, artisanal bread and pastries and regional souvenirs.
Unwind In Hot Springs, Arkansas
After stocking up on snacks, head about an hour south to Hot Springs, Arkansas, located on the eastern edge of the lush Ouachita National Forest. While here, spend a day discovering Hot Springs National Park, which surrounds the north part of the city and offers spectacular views of the verdant Ouachita Mountains. Stroll through the Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District, where you can enjoy the thermal mineral waters at Buckstaff Bath House before hopping back in the car for the next leg of your journey.
Blues, Views And Delicious Eats In Mississippi
A three-hour drive southeast across seemingly endless stretches of farmland will lead you to Greenville, Mississippi. This town lies in the heart of the Mississippi Delta country and basks in views of the iconic Mississippi River. It’s also smack dab in the middle of Blues country, so plan your visit around one of the many music festivals that take place throughout the summer and fall.
From Greenville, drive west back into Arkansas and take Route 65 south to pick up Interstate 20 heading east. This route closely follows the Mississippi River, so you can enjoy the view almost all the way to your next stop: Jackson, Mississippi. Once in Jackson, take a tour of the Beaux-Arts-style capitol building (constructed in 1901) and then stop in at Parlor Market for lunch, where you’ll find farm-to-table, seasonal Southern fare, such as spicy pimento cheese and fried catfish.
Follow The Route To Civil Rights In Alabama
The next few stops on your Gulf Coast road trip provide a fascinating look at U.S. history. Famous as the starting point of the seminal Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March, in 1965, Selma, Alabama, sits about three hours due east of Jackson. At Selma’s National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, you can learn about the USA’s civil rights movement and the struggles black Americans faced in their pursuit of equality. On the drive from Selma to Mobile, Alabama (pronounced MO-beel), you’ll pass through Montgomery, Alabama, where you can tour the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, honoring a famous civil rights pioneer.
History And Revelry Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast
Prepare yourself for a healthy dose of excitement upon arriving in Mobile. Founded in 1702 on the shores of scenic Mobile Bay, this Gulf Coast city is home to the USA’s original Mardi Gras celebration. The city hosts parades every day for the last two weeks before Mardi Gras itself — on Fat Tuesday — during which the city comes alive with festive marching bands and colorful parties. Throughout the rest of the year, Mobile enchants with its Southern charm, boasting a variety of historic attractions (like Battleship Memorial Park), museums (like the Mobile Carnival Museum) and family-friendly sites (like the Gulf Coast Exploreum).
On your way from Mobile to Tallahassee, Florida, stop in Pensacola, Florida, to tour the historic halls of Fort Barrancas and the sprawling beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Fort Barrancas guarded the entrance to Pensacola Bay since 1763 (the current fort dates to the early 1840s). While visiting the fort, be sure to pause and admire the jaw-dropping views of the Gulf.
End Of The Road: Tallahassee, Florida
From here, take the slow road east for three hours to Tallahassee, Florida. Florida Highway 30 winds along the Gulf Coast and through many peaceful beach towns that overlook the cerulean waters of the Gulf. On the way, stop in at The Red Bar in Grayton Beach, which offers live music every Wednesday through Sunday and a scrumptious fried shrimp po’boy loved by locals and visitors alike.
Tallahassee, the Florida state capital, is home to nine official “canopy roads,” where the limbs of huge Spanish moss–draped oak and hickory trees create a picturesque canopy over roads that began as paths traveled by Native Americans. Then head to the Calhoun Street Historic District, nicknamed the “Gold Dust Street” in the late 1800s for the high-end mansions that line it. Afterwards, spend some time at the Downtown Marketplace, where you can pick up some local snacks and celebrate the end of your drive with live music. From here, you can drop off your rental car and hop a flight home from Tallahassee Regional Airport; or, continue on your journey to discover other exciting Florida destinations, such as Orlando or Tampa Bay.
What to bring: Light layers to accommodate the Southern heat and the coastal breezes, and a relaxed attitude.
Basic Route Information