A road trip is one of the great American travel traditions. The size of the this country means that there are many locations that should be visited that are spaced relatively far apart. Since public transportation is not always available to conveniently connect each of these locations, especially the smaller towns and more remote parks, a road trip becomes the most practical way to see this side of the USA. A few summers ago, my wife and I took a trip across the Southeast. We started in Lafayette, Louisiana which was our home at the time and took off East, stopping at charming southern towns and enjoying great seafood along the way.
Our first stop on our trip was Mobile, Alabama. At the time of our trip, we often watched many food based travel shows with my personal favorite being Man Vs Food with Adam Richmond. One goal of this trip was to make several stops that were seen on his show with the first being Wintzel’s Oyster House in Mobile. This restaurant’s claim to fame is their oyster eating challenge which requires a contestant to beat the current standing record, which stands at several hundred oysters eaten in an hour. While we had no hope of even attempting this feat; we were here for oysters. On this trip, we enjoyed their oyster sampler platter which included Monterrey, Bienville, Rockefeller, and Chargrilled oysters. All great options that gave us a filling lunch before we spent a few hours strolling the rest of the downtown Mobile. One of the highlights was a privately owned bookstore that offered a great selection of books with shelves overflowing with books from the floor to the ceiling. By mid-afternoon, we were back in our car and continuing our road trip further north towards Atlanta, Georgia. We found a hotel room for the night on the outskirts of the city so that we could wake up bright and early to head towards our primary target in Atlanta for this trip: the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. To this date, this is the most impressive aquarium I have seen. The sheer size of the aquarium allows it to house an incredible variety of fish from around the world in addition to larger animals such as the Beluga Whales in their Polar Seas exhibit. But the main attraction within this amazing institution is their central tank which houses 3 fully grown Whale Sharks, in addition to several Manta Rays. Being able to see these 50 foot long creatures up close is a site to behold. It is simply impossible to appreciate living animals of this size without seeing them for yourself in person. While there was more we wanted to see in Atlanta, the aquarium had so much to see that we were there until closing in late afternoon. After that, it was time to get back on the road and keep the road trip going.
Our next stop was South Carolina where we would spend the day in Congaree National Park. This National Park is relatively small in size but it centered around swamp environment with the primary path being an elevated wooden boardwalk that traverses through the swampland. This allows visitors to see the vegetation and fauna that call this environment home, including a large variety of birds. Kayaking through this National Park is another popular activity here however we were not able to do that on this trip since we arrived during the dry season when the water level was too low to accommodate kayaking. Despite this, this park was well worth the stop and provided for a fun way to pass the day, enjoy some fresh air, and stretch our legs after being in the car for many hours the day prior. As the sun was beginning to go down, we headed out of the park and towards our next stop where we would spend the next several days: Savanah, Georgia.
We spent a few days downtown in the Savanah Historic District. This was a former industrial section of the city located on the river that has since been revitalized and repurposed into a charming section of town that is filled with boutique shops and restaurants while still retaining the original buildings and architecture. As with many southern cities, Savanah is filled with small parks dotted around downtown that break up the shops and buildings with classic statues being central within these parks. These parks allow for greenery among the busy downtown section of the city and an excellent place to sit and relax with a cup of coffee after strolling among the shops for several hours. As with Mobile, we took more inspiration from Man vs. Food when eating here. This time our target was Tubby’s Tank House. A local dining establishment that serves a variety of seafood. We choose one of the popular dinner options in the southeast: the low country boil. This is a collection of seafood and appetizers that has all been steamed together and includes staples such as crab, muscles, clams, shrimp, sausage, and potatoes. An excellent dinner before we kicked off the night enjoying the city’s nightlife that is filled with smalls bars with a laid back atmosphere. After a couple of nights in Savannah, it was time to continue along with our next destination on this road trip: the beach town of Panama City Beach, Florida.
Panama is a popular spring break town that is filled with dance clubs, white sand beaches, and blue oceans. One thing that we learned quickly during our stay here is to minimize driving, there are many people who visit the town regularly but the small streets near the beach quickly become congested with gridlock traffic. Luckily, we were able to secure a comfortable hotel on the beach which allowed us to walk to most areas that we needed too. In addition to the nightly and spending days lounging on the beach, another activity that we enjoyed doing was booking a boat tour to see dolphins as well as some of the out lying and more secluded beaches in Panama. Although we did not take any leads from Man vs. Food this time, we kept the seafood dining theme of our trip going at Captain Anderson’s Marina were we enjoyed ocean views while dining on oysters of the half shell that were washed down with a few pina coladas. After we had our fill of fun in the sun, it was time to head back home to Lafayette. We did make sure to take the scenic route along the roads running along the gulf coast so we could enjoy a beach view and quant towns along our drive back home. We did make one final stop of note for some food in Gulfport, Mississippi were dined at a restaurant called Half Shell Oyster house for (you guessed it) even more oysters. We were enamored with the amazing seafood at this restaurant and were thrilled a few years later when they opened a location in our home in Lafayette. This is a seafood restaurant that was inspired by a New Orleans culinary theme.
This was my first major road trip that I took following graduating from school and I look forward to taking even more in the coming years. A cross country trip that would take me from coast to coast is one of the items on my bucket list and I look forward to sharing stories from those upcoming trips. But those are stories for another day…