So, the day has finally come — I’m recapping our road trip through the South from last month. 25 hours on the road. 7 states. 3 days. It was a whirlwind to say the least and I hope that we have the opportunity to do this again someday when we’re not in the middle of the pandemic and when we have a bit more time to explore and slowly make our way across the South.
For those wondering why the heck we did this road trip: we were taking a car from family in Texas and bringing it back to DC. And, if you’re curious about our overall experience, particularly given the timing, you can read my post here on how to travel safely during a pandemic. Lastly, a disclaimer: I
How We Chose Our Route for a Road Trip Through the South
When you’re planning a road trip through the South, specifically from Texas to DC, you’ve got a few different options. Do you go through New Orleans? Atlanta? We chose to go the “northern route” to take us through the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, an area neither of us had ever explored. In an ideal world, we probably would have spent a few days there but, hey, that’s for another trip, right?!
This route took us Texas to Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama to Tennessee to North Carolina to Virginia and, eventually, back home to DC.
Day One: Port Aransas, TX to Birmingham, AL
Prior to our trip, we spent a few days at the beach in Port Aransas, TX with Adam’s family. So, we set out bright and early at 6 AM from Port Aransas on our first day, ready to drive the longest leg of our trip: 13 hours to Birmingham.
Leaving Port Aransas via Ferry
The drive started with a ferry ride out of Port Aransas, which I was super excited for…until I realized it’s anti-climatic and lasts about 2 minutes. Womp womp. Still not a bad way to start the day with sunrise over the water.
First Stop: Houston, TX for Breakfast Tacos
We kicked off the drive with 3.5 hours from Port Aransas to Houston. If you’ve never been to Texas, it truly is incredible how varied the landscape is within one state. You’ll go from completely flat to desert hill country within just a couple of hours.
And, of course, another incredible thing about Texas is the breakfast tacos. Seriously, I’d never had a true breakfast taco until I went to Austin for the first time.
So, I obviously couldn’t leave Texas without a breakfast taco. A quick Google search turned up Brothers Taco House as the best breakfast tacos in Houston (or at least on our route). We grabbed a few tacos, chorizo being my personal fave, and made the mistake of trying to eat them in the car (I do not recommend trying to pour hot sauce on a breakfast taco while wearing white jeans).
Unsuccessful Stop in Baton Rouge, LA
Got nothing to say here because all we saw was a gas station, ha. We tried to stop in Baton Rouge, tried to stop in a little market to grab a snack before lunch but, unfortunately, everything we tried was closed for COVID.
Ironic given the #1 question I got about this road trip was whether the South wasn’t taking anything seriously and I wondered the same thing myself before we hit the road, but they definitely were.
However, it was definitely crazy driving over bayous and swamp that make up the Baton Rouge area. I’m back to what I said about Texas — it’s amazing to see the breadth of landscape across one region of the country.
Quick Coffee Break in Hattiesburg, MS
We only stopped in Hattiesburg for a hot second to grab a coffee, but Equinox Coffee is a hip little spot with several different takes on seasonal drinks (which I, unfortunately, didn’t notice until after I’d ordered my iced white chocolate mocha.
Another spot that looked cool here, particularly if you’re hungry: T Bones Records and Cafe.
Paying Homage to Home Town in Laurel, MS
Adam and I have been obsessed with binge watching the show Home Town on HGTV throughout the pandemic. While their style isn’t exactly what I’d choose for my home, there’s something so soothing about watching this cute Southern couple make over $30,000 homes in their hometown of Lauren, MS. Plus, even if the end result is a little bit country grandmillennial, we always appreciate the way they incorporate modern elements while maintaining the timeless character of old homes.
So, obviously, we had to stop in Laurel given it was on our route. We were driving through a little after 5 pm, which meant almost everything downtown was closed besides for the two shops, Laurel Mercantile and Scotsman, Co., owned by Ben and Erin Napier of Home Town.
I will say, it’s very clear very quickly why the cost of living is affordable there — it’s a sleepy town. But, from the story that Home Town tells, which is that the downtown was completely abandoned until the show’s hosts and their friends set out to reinvigorate Laurel, you can definitely tell that there are more shops and restaurants gradually opening.
A Late Arrival in Birmingham, AL
We cruised into Birmingham around 8 p.m. I’d spent a couple of hours prior to arrival perusing restaurant recommendations (shoutout to anyone who gave me recs via Insta stories!) and looking for something, anything that was open on a Monday evening. It’s certainly something we take for granted living in a big East Coast city that restaurants are just open every night of the week.
Eventually, we landed on Blueprint on 3rd. We placed an online order for pickup but got into town a few minutes earlier than we anticipated, so we sat down across the street at Hop City Beer to grab a drink. This was our first time during the pandemic actually dining at a restaurant, albeit outside, and all I could think was, “ugh, I wish DC restaurants had the physical space to spread out like they can here.” It was so nice to feel like you are easily 20 feet from the next table.
Once our food was ready, we picked it up and took it back to our hotel to enjoy a lovely hotel-bed spread of elevated Southern classics, fried green tomatoes, seasonal salad, and more.
Day Two: Birmingham, AL to Asheville, NC
Our Stay in Birmingham, AL
We booked both of our hotel stays during our road trip with Chase points. Typically, we like to save those for big trips but, as I told Adam, what else are we using them for right now? We can’t go anywhere big, so we might as well just save the money and use the points.
In Birmingham, we stayed at the Redmont Hotel, which is part of Hilton’s Curio Collection. Built in 1925, this hotel is beautifully renovated, maintaining it’s art deco charm in a way that feels youthful and colorful. It’s located right downtown, which, in normal times, I’m sure makes it incredibly convenient but was a bit quiet currently.
Civil Rights in Birmingham, AL
While we didn’t have but a few hours to explore Birmingham, we wanted to make sure we had time to stop by two of the major sites along the Civil Rights trail, particularly given the context today. We walked by 16th Street Baptist Church, which was the site of a white supremacist bombing in 1963 that killed four young Black girls, before making our way across the street to Kelly Ingram Park. The park contains statues that commemorate civil rights leaders and events that were pivotal in the fight for justice in Birmingham.
We visited first thing in the morning so the Civil Rights Museum was not yet open for the day but we did hear that it’s a moving museum should you have the chance to go.
World’s Largest Cast Iron Statue Resides in Birmingham, AL
I’m still a little confused by this Birmingham attraction. The Vulcan Statue in Vulcan Park dates back to an Italian artist in 1904. It’s the largest cast iron statue in the world. The park is beautiful. What’s the point of it? What’s its tie to Birmingham? That’s where they lose me a bit, but it is pretty and offers a beautiful view from atop Red Mountain.
Breakfast Stop Before Leaving Birmingham, AL: Alabama Biscuit Co.
When it came to breakfast options, we were torn. We’d gotten a slew of recommendations but, ultimately, decided on Alabama Biscuit Company.
But, here’s my deep dark Southern secret: I don’t love biscuits.
I sucked it up though and we got biscuits. Adam ordered the Pecan Butter and Honey, while I got the Biscuit and Gravy.
And, y’all, they were both DELICIOUS. The sweet biscuit was melt in your mouth. I take back everything I’ve ever said about biscuits.
Though, I did have a pang of regret when more than a few people asked if we’d stopped by Crestline Bagels, located just around the corner (we saw it, but didn’t think we needed more carbs at that very moment).
Driving Through the Great Smoky Mountains
I mentioned earlier that we had a few different options for our route and we chose to take the northern journey through Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains. From a landscape perspective, I can’t recommend this enough. Had we had a few more days in our itinerary, I would have loved to explore this area and spend a few days taking in these gorgeous views.
Actually, I’m wondering if this could be a good late fall-early winter trip given that we aren’t traveling much further anytime soon…
Lunch Stop in Chattanooga, TN: Southside Pizza
I was craving a good, meaty, warm pizza at about this point in our road trip and Chattanooga was the next big town on our route, so I took to searching for a good pizza place. We found Southside Pizza in what looked to be the “hip” side of town and it was a perfect pandemic road trip stop with plenty of outdoor seating.
You really can’t beat a classic pizza joint with garlic knots and a fountain soda. We ordered the Firestorm, a spicy pizza, and it was de-lish.
And, I know I say this again and again in this post, but the little taste of Chattanooga that we got made it seem like a cool, mid-size town that’s seeing a rebirth and we’d love to get another chance to visit.
A Note on Mask Wearing Throughout the South
Okay, this seems like a good time to address this given that I took this photo at Southside Pizza. I received SO many questions about whether people were wearing masks and social distancing in the south. I covered it in my post about how to travel safely by car during a pandemic, but I’ll chat about it again.
Every restaurant, gas station, or business we went in had a sign directing people to wear masks. And people in these establishments were wearing masks. There are people everywhere who aren’t wearing them, sure. But, I could say that about my own neighborhood in DC. Overall, I felt 100% safe and felt like others were being respectful, too.
Day Two-Three: Asheville, NC to Washington, DC
We made the decision to leave Birmingham earlier than planned because Adam did want more hours in Asheville since he’d never been, so we arrived in Asheville late afternoon with plenty of time to explore.
We checked into our hotel, Hotel Indigo, which we booked simply because it was conveniently located downtown and was a deal via points. It was a standard, updated hotel, but I did appreciate their uber-safe COVID precautions — they actually handed our hotel card to us in a UV-light cleaning box (over the top, sure, but reassuring).
This is where I’m going to get a little critical of our time in Asheville…maybe we hit it on an off night. But, y’all, this was the only place where the mask-wearing and social distancing was iffy to non-existent. And I was shocked. It’s a progressive city! Not that masks are political but…geez, I couldn’t believe how ignorant the city seemed as they packed lines outside breweries with nary a mask in sight. Although, ironically, the two photos with people in them that I chose to post both have masks, ha.
Breweries We Visited in Asheville, NC
We had about 4 hours to explore Asheville, NC and, surprise, surprise, we spent those 4 hours checking out 3 different breweries. I mean, that’s what you do in Asheville, right? Here are those we visited.
- Wicked Weed Brewing: This is one of the big names breweries that has expanded their craft roots to become a slick operation but they’re loved for good reason. Their beer’s great. We visited the Brewpub, which is the original location. It was a little more crowded than I would have liked, but we were outdoors so it was fine. Don’t miss the beer cheese and chips.
- Twin Leaf Brewery: A much smaller operation, Twin Leaf has a cute little side yard where tables were safely distanced. I didn’t love my beer here, but the ambiance had a down-home appeal.
- Catawba Brewing, Co: From a space perspective, this was at the top of my list. From a beer perspective, it was also up there. I believe I got the King Coconut (I love a dark coconut beer), but I’m looking at the list now wondering why I skipped the Honey Combed. Any brewery that gives me more than one dark option is a winner. Plus, it’s right next to Buxton Hall Barbecue and Vortex Dougnuts. That trio seems like an afternoon made in heaven.
Grabbing Dinner To-Go at White Duck Taco
Okay, no photos here, but we stopped by White Duck Taco Shop at the recommendation of approximately 20 (no joke, probably more) friends and followers who responded to my Instagram story.
It lived up to the hype.
We got the Bangkok Shrimp, Korean Beef Bulgogi, Duck with Mole, Lamb Gyro, the queso…and more I can’t remember. OMG. It was all so, so good. Maybe it’s a little bit of the breweries talking, but I haven’t had a better takeout meal in recent memory. Plus, they have their to-go packaging down to a science. Little taco trays are definitely underrated.
Breakfast in the Arts District Before Hitting the Road
Sadly, we left Asheville too early in the day to do anything besides drive through the Asheville River Arts District but we were able to grab a yummy breakfast there.
We stopped by Ultra Coffeebar at the recommendation of my friend Alexandra and I’m literally craving this bizarre coffee drink I had there as I write this. I ordered an Orange Peel, which was espresso + orange syrup + sparkling water. A fizzy, slightly sweet coffee concoction that was right up my alley. Paired with the Rad sandwich, sans balsamic, it was just the meal I needed before hitting the last leg of our road trip through the South.
One Last Meal on the Road: Viet Sub in Roanoke, VA
The last few hours of our trip from Asheville, NC to Washington, DC took us back up through the Great Smoky Mountains, through Johnston City, TN (hello, Wagonwheel), and then through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
And, maybe I’m biased, but you won’t find a prettier section of the country than that last bit of the drive through the Blue Ridge.
We stopped for our last meal of the trip at a divey little spot in Roanoke: Viet Sub. This unsuspecting sandwich shop makes a mean bahn mi — believe me, it had a kick.
Then, that was it. We drove the last 4 hours with uneventful bathroom breaks and one Dairy Queen stop. And, of course, we were welcomed home with traffic outside of DC on 66…
A Few Questions We Got Again and Again…
How Did We Split Up Driving?
Um, easy answer: we didn’t. Ha. I’m not really sure how I got so lucky on this one but every time I asked Adam if he’d like me to drive for a bit, he said no. To be honest, 25 hours on this road trip through the South passed quicker than you’d think it might.
Even the first day with 13 hours of driving didn’t seem so bad. I do think including a few short stops beyond gas stations and fast foods helps.
How Did We Make the Time Pass With 25 Hours on the Road?
A lot of podcasts. Typically, my tastes in podcasts are focused on lifestyle and career, while Adam’s are all political, all day. But, we discovered our podcast venn diagram intersects at U Up?. We seriously might have listened to 10+ hours of Jared and Jordanna throughout this trip.
Where Should You Stop While Driving on a Road Trip Through the South?
If you’re taking a road trip through the South, or really anywhere, during the pandemic, definitely check out my post with more detailed tips on taking precautions and staying safe.
However, overall, I’d say lean in the direction of stopping at fast food restaurants and gas stations for bathroom breaks over rest stops. Literally seconds after I snapped the photo below, a group of 4 unmasked women walked in. So, that’s more than the permitted amount of people in a small rest stop AND no masks. Double whammy. This was the case at almost every rest stop. Just avoid them at all costs.
A Final Thought on Taking a Road Trip Through the South
Honestly, my last thought on this trip was that I’d love to plan a road trip through the South again, but not during a pandemic and with much more time to explore. This was a quick trip — we had a reason we were driving beyond just enjoying the adventure and we were on a schedule (we’d just spent a week on PTO at the beach so we needed to get back).
There are so many cool small towns and mid-size cities to explore, so many roadside antiques stops I missed, and so, so much food still left to eat. Plus, this is the longest road trip either of us had ever done but we’re basically pros now.