Explore Charleston

As the temperatures go south, consider doing the same: these southern cities are high in temperatures, appeal, and charm.

October 08, 2015

As temperatures start heading south in most of the country, maybe you should do the same. As it so often goes with planning a vacation, choosing a destination the entire family will enjoy can be the most daunting task. Cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and Charleston are easy to get to and ooze a brand of charm and charisma that are unique to the American South.

Charleston, South Carolina

Discovering the plantations and historical nooks and crannies of this genteel city will have you thinking you entered an antebellum wrinkle in time.

What to do: Hit the beach followed up with a visit to one of the city’s many elegant plantations—we recommend Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place. Tour the Hayward-Washington House, a mansion once inhabited by both George Washington and Thomas Hayward. Meander through Waterfront Park (be sure to hop into the famous Pineapple Fountain) and finish the day with a horse-drawn carriage ride through the time capsule that is downtown Charleston.

Stay: Restoration on King. A suite at Restoration on King is walking distance to many of the most popular attractions. Bonus: they offer an apartment-like set up with full sized kitchen.

Nashville, Tennessee

The electric combination of university town and a mega watt music scene is a home run for culture loving families. 

What to do: Pop into the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum for a crash course on country music. Need more convincing? It’s got a new Taylor Swift Education Center. Partake in a family program at the Nashville Symphony Orchestra or spend a few hours immersed in hands-on workshops a the Adventure Science Center. Visit Hermitage Mansion and Grounds (Andrew Jackson’s Home), More must-visits: Take in some tunes at Bluebird Cafe and Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, iconic eateries that allow listeners to get up close and personal with singer/ songwriters. 

Stay: Loews Vanderbilt. This just-renovated hotel has a kid (and teen) amenity program and is close to most attractions.

Florida Keys (Key Largo)

Its proximity to the only living barrier reef and the Everglades make a Key Largo vacation heaven for ocean-obsessed families.

What to do: Explore the Florida Reef by snorkel, scuba ,or glass bottom boat at John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park. Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove and rent a sailboat for the day. Looking for a little group activity? Enroll the family in a stand up paddleboard class, take a guided tour of the everglades, or check out the shipwreck at Spiegel Grove.

Stay: Hilton Key Largo. Beachfront and close to all attractions, the property offers access to all the water sports you can imagine. Pro tip: Make sure to ask about family promotions.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The electric, Creole-tinged energy of The Big Easy is just as magical for kids. Just leave Bourbon Street out of the itinerary this time around.

What to do: Hit the French Quarter market for a stroll with a side of shopping. Looking for an afternoon snack? Have a beignet pick-me-up at Cafe du Monde and head over to Jackson Square to watch the street performers. Take in the sights on a St. Charles streetcar or a daytime jazz cruise down the Mississippi River aboard the Steamboat Natchez. Adventurers should head to the Bayou for a wildlife swamp tour and visit a Cajun Village with Cajun Encounters. At night, book a spooky Ghost Mystery horse and carriage tour.

Stay: The Ritz New Orleans. It’s French Quarter adjacent and emanates prewar chic and historic charm. 

Memphis, Tennessee

The birthplace of the blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll has a crazy-cool culture that will both entertain and inspire the whole family.

What to do: Your kids may be clueless about Elvis, Jonny Cash, and Roy Orbison, but after visiting the Stax Museum of American Music and taking a quick tour of the cooler-than-thou Sun Records, they may be rethink their allegiance to the more modern pop princesses. The National Civil Rights Museum is another must for exhibit junkies. Located at the Lorraine Museum—the very sight of MLK assassination—visitors walk through history as they interact with artifacts that shaped the civil rights movement. Looking for an adrenaline rush? You can’t go wrong with zip lining and a visit to the Memphis Zoo. Cap off the day with a test drive of Memphis’ killer barbecue.

Stay: The Peabody Hotel, Memphis. Cool rooms, indoor pool, and a duck parade in the lobby every day at 11am and 5pm makes for the kind of things kids’ dreams are made of.

Amy Tara Koch is on the family and Chicago beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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