3 Places to Visit for an Authentic Southern Experience
Just like any other country, the United States is made of distinctive regions that include their own cuisine, dialect, and mannerisms. One of the most well-known areas is the American South. The South is known for its hospitality, tasty food, and unique culture. And if you’re dying for a true Southern experience that captures the region’s diversity, then you need to visit these three places.
Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
South Carolina is known for many things, but one of the most authentic aspects of its Lowcountry region is that of the Gullah culture. The Gullah (or Geechee) people were a segment of West Africans from present-day nations such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia who were brought to the United States and worked as slaves in South Carolina. However, they managed to maintain much of their original culture even during their enslavement and through emancipation. And to this day, their descendants have continued to preserve that culture through their cuisine, language and traditions.
Saint Helena Island is a popular vacation spot for families, but it’s also a prime place to immerse yourself in Gullah culture. Make your first stop at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark. The former school now serves as a museum and historical site offering some of the best preserved African-American historical records and artifacts in the South. After you’ve gotten your fill of history, get a literal taste of Gullah cuisine when you drop by Gullah Grub. Owned and operated by Bill Green, a Gullah descendant, you’ll enjoy a variety of delicious traditional Gullah chicken and seafood dishes.
Southern history is a dichotomous one, and Natchez is the perfect example of this reality. Before it was a city, the land was once home to the Natchez Indians until their numbers fell and the nation was absorbed into other nations like the Cherokee and Muskogee. In the 18th and 19th century, the city served as a critical terminus port for traders along the Mississippi River. And although its history is closely intertwined with American slavery and the Civil War, Natchez is also home to several pivotal moments and leaders from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Today, the city embraces its diverse history with over 20 different historical sites. You can discover more about the city ranging from Natchez’s Native American roots at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians to its involvement in the rise of rock ‘n roll and blues at the Delta Music Museum. After exploring the city’s rich history, you can see it through a local’s eyes by shadowing a local business owner. The tourism site, Visit Natchez, campaign “Natchezians and Natchoozians” encourages a featured local to share his or her favorite haunts and what makes the city of Natchez special in their eyes.
When most people think of the South, they focus on the Antebellum period of the lower southern states. But Appalachian culture is also a major part of the South and deserves attention as well. Dahlonega, Georgia, is a historic town in the Peach State that was also the very first gold rush town in the nation. Located an hour north of Atlanta, the town is also a popular stop in Georgia’s wine country. This means you have plenty of excuses to drop by and drink in the local culture — pun intended.
And depending on the time of year, there are a variety of festivals that will help you appreciate the town’s picturesque location and backstory. In the fall you can drop in for the Gold Rush Days Festival that celebrates the town’s historic roots or the Dahlonega Trail Fest that highlights outdoor activities centered around their location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.