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A Spectacular Three-Day Weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 27, 2022
Mississippi Gulf Coast Mature Sunset
Courtesy Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast
With peerless seafood, outdoor activities for every taste and level, and acres of gorgeous golf courses, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast offers a state of perfect relaxation.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a place where visitors can explore at a pace that encourages photography, relaxation, and reconnecting with friends and loved ones in a charming, welcoming environment. With 62 miles of beautiful coastline and 14 coastal communities, there’s plenty to discover. Here, a taste of the incredible food scene, craft breweries, natural wonders, casinos, art, history, and beautiful golf courses of the region.

EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE GULF COAST

For some travelers (including myself), eating is a major part of the fun of a weekend getaway. Options range from the kind of comfort food you might expect, such as the legendary Gulf shrimp; local BBQ joints serving pulled pork, chicken, and ribs; traditional gumbo; and classic red beans and rice to exciting recipes and approaches that may be new to some visitors - get ready to try pond-raised catfish at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish, in Ocean Springs, chargrilled oysters at Bayou Caddy Oyster Bar, in Bay St. Louis, and much more.

Just about anywhere you travel along the Mississippi coast, you’ll have an opportunity to indulge in the tradition of frying fresh-harvested shrimp and oysters and local BBQ recipes that evolved largely out of the Mississippi tradition of community barbecues in which huge amounts of succulent, smoky meat were cooked for hours for hungry party-goers. Perhaps most enticing of all is the fusion of the Gulf Coast’s unique culinary traditions to be found at eateries both small and large across the region: Some tasty examples you’ll want to try include shrimp and crab au gratin, at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, beautifully presented sushi dishes made with fresh Gulf seafood at Ichiban Sushi and Hibachi, in Ocean Springs, and crabmeat-stuffed redfish at Front Porch Cafe, in Pass Christian.

Ready to plan your eating itinerary? Learn more here.

RAISE A GLASS

Of course, with all that great food, visitors will want something to wash it all down. The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s craft brewery scene will reward thirsty travelers with carefully sourced grains, imaginative local brewing processes, and world-class brews on tap.

Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, in Kiln, is Mississippi’s oldest and offers a wide assortment of craft brews, including the lightly refreshing Lazy Saison Belgian-style pale ale, Jefferson Stout, and the adorably named Southern Hops’pitality India pale ale. Biloxi Brewing Company’s award-winning flagship brew is Black Gold, a traditional Irish stout with a super-rich texture and flavor; the company has also introduced a Black Gold Breakfast Blend that gets its eye-catching name from its use of coffee in its unique flavor; for a lighter quaff, try the golden Biloxi Blonde or the Salty Dog, which is flavored with sea salt and coriander. Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, in Gulfport, gets its inspiration from the coast’s warm weather and sunshine; its refreshing Surfside Wheat Ale and Freemason Golden Ale are perfect for waterfront sipping; its darker Curlew’s Toasted Coconut Porter delights the palate with notes of coffee, chocolate, and toffee.

Thirsty? Learn more about the Mississippi coast’s sipping options here.

GET OUT IN NATURE

While not all travelers are hardcore “adrenaline junkies,” there are many exciting yet totally manageable activities that get you out on the beautiful waterways of the Mississippi coast, including private boats, ferries, and kayaks, or, for enjoying the water from shore, bicycle rentals and easy walking tours.

On the Coast, you’ll enjoy the opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, boating, and fishing, and, of course, there is the Gulf Islands National Seashore with its six barrier islands, which offer varying degrees of adventure, each with its own special personality. Want to relax on warm sand beside gentle surf? The string of islands are home to several gorgeous beaches, and the islands serve as a literal barrier, keeping Mississippi’s 62 miles of coastline calm and inviting.

Immerse yourself in the natural history and wildlife of the Coast at the brand-new Pascagoula River Audubon Center, the “gateway” to the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. Here, visitors learn about the local environment and ecology and about the extraordinary river itself, which guides can help you explore on a two-hour boat tour. In fact, nature tours abound along the Coast, with miles of recreational trails that include hiking trails, blueways, nature parks, and boardwalks. To see more on your weekend, rent bicycles or book a boat cruise (options range from historic schooners to shrimp boats to sightseeing ferries). Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking the waterways with an outfitter such as Paddles Up that keeps it easy and fun.

Ready to get out there in nature? Learn more here.

CASINOS: GAMING AND SO MUCH MORE

Sure, the Gulf Coast’s 12 casinos offer 24-hour gaming and the fabulous entertainment you’d expect, but they also offer culinary creativity, shopping, and world-class spas. Centered mostly in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, with one in Bay St. Louis and one in D’Iberville, the Coast’s casinos are, for some visitors, the most convenient base of operations thanks to the range of services and attractions all under one roof. Learn more here.

EXPLORE LOCAL ART & HISTORY

Want to take a walking tour of a historic Coast town and drop by the folk and antique museum or the meticulously maintained classic train depot? Bay St. Louis offers that and more. Craving a vibrant art museum named for one of the Coast’s most influential artists? Head to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs for the art and the fun special events that make it a community anchor. Each one of the Gulf Coast’s 14 communities boasts an artistic legacy and heritage that will keep visitors engaged and send them home having learned something new. From the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum to the galleries lining the streets to history tours and the superb Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, the Coast has an alluring institution just waiting for you to discover. Learn more here.

HIT THE LINKS

When it comes to playing golf amidst gorgeous coastal vistas, in close proximity to first-rate watering holes, and in a relaxing environment for both the casual and the serious competitor, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers something for every taste.

It often comes as a surprise to golf enthusiasts who haven’t yet visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but many of the region’s courses were designed by some of the biggest names in the sport, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The area boasts well over a dozen courses with spectacular Gulf Coast views, including ample budget-minded options, with golf packages that include lodgings in local hotels, casinos, and condos starting at well under $100/night.

Ready to dive into the Mississippi Gulf Coast golf scene? Learn more here.

LUXE-FOR-LESS LODGING

Speaking of affordable lodging, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers lodgings that are ideal for couples, families, and groups, ranging from comfy bed-and-breakfasts and inns to luxury hotels, casinos, condo rentals, and golf and spa resorts. From charming small towns to bustling urban centers, learn more here.

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Inspiration

Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2018” Will Surprise and Inspire You

Sure, the New Year doesn’t officially begin until the stroke of midnight on January 1. But when you’re part of the Lonely Planet family of guidebooks, videos, magazines, apps, and online resources, as Budget Travel is, late October feels like the time to pop the cork: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 list was just announced, and we’re already packing our bags. BEST CITIES TO VISIT IN 2018 As always, Lonely Planet’s best cities to visit in 2018 grabbed our attention, with Seville, Spain, topping the list for its vibrant artistic legacy, not to mention its scene-stealing role in Game of Thrones. We were psyched to see one of our favorite American comeback stories, Detroit, grab the no. 2 spot on the list of cities. (For a taste of what the Motor City has to offer, take a spin through the photo essay that Meredith Heuer shot for Budget Travel celebrating the creative residents and new arrivals who are transforming neighborhoods, “See the Incredible Detroit Renaissance!”) Perhaps Lonely Planet’s most noteworthy choice of city is San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is still in the throes of a challenging hurricane recovery effort. LP editors selected San Juan for the 2018 list before Hurricane Maria struck, but research and interviews with Puerto Rico’s tourism officials inspired them to keep the resilient city at no. 8 on the list of 2018 cities. The message to the world’s travelers: Puerto Rico will soon be back in business. BEST REGIONS TO VISIT IN 2018 Because Budget Travel focuses enthusiastically on U.S. domestic travel, we often get most inspired by Lonely Planet’s U.S. and North American recommendations. LP’s Best in Travel list recommends Alaska as one of the world’s top regions for its wild and unparalleled natural beauty, as well as the American South for its upcoming commemorations of the Civil Rights Movement and the 50th anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 300th anniversary of the city of New Orleans. Baja California, Mexico, also made the list of regions for its jaw-dropping beaches, welcoming towns, and great food. Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida, each got a nod as great travel destinations that offer exceptional value and affordability. Pay a visit to our colleagues over at Lonely Planet for the full Best in Travel 2018, and tell us where you’re going next.

Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Telluride, Colorado

Mention Telluride to anyone and chances are they’ll immediately think of an elite ski town full of second homes and all the things hedge fund dreams are made of. But there’s far more to this picturesque village nestled at 8,800 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. Old Western fanatics will tell you that Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here. Architecture junkies will tell you it’s chockablock of Victorian homes and it was illuminated by streetlights before Paris. Entertainment historians will tell you that Lillian Gish played shows there. And scholars of American history will tell you that at the turn of the 20th century, there were more millionaires per capita there than Manhattan. By the 1960s, however, due to the slowdown of the local mining industry, the boom started to go bust. Thanks in large part to entrepreneurial developer and hotelier Joseph Zoline, who leveraged the area’s exquisite mountains and built up the local ski industry in the late 1960s, Telluride underwent a renaissance and got its glitzy groove back. But beyond the allure of its ski runs, Telluride is actually just a small town of about 20 by 15 blocks. In the off-season its population is around 3,000 and it draws all sorts of artists, festival followers, nature lovers, and culinary-minded vacationers, giving it an energy that suits travelers of all stripes. We recently checked in with Eliza Gavin, owner of and chef at 221 South Oak since 2000, to learn a bit about what goes on in town today. She’s the chef owner at 221, a restaurant she’s owned since 2000, but you might recognize her from season 10 of Top Chef, which aired in 2012. As a native of Telluride for 20 years, she's seen the town change and grow. Here's where she recommends you go when you visit.  TRAILS FOR STROLLING, HIKING, AND SKIING Telluride is essentially located in a canyon surrounded by southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, which are as high as 13,000 feet. Waterfalls abound. There’s a tangle of trails across mountains and flatter lands that lure hikers, bikers, and anyone else who loves spending time outdoors. With so many different paths to take, it helps to have someone familiar with the landscape to offer tips. Eliza, who’s done her fair share of exploring, has the low-down on what to expect on different trails.  Beginners and anyone just wanting a casual stroll would be best off on Bear Creek. It’s not strenuous, Eliza says, and it’s manageable to go off-trail if the urge to wander strikes. Anyone seeking more intensity should try Jud Wiebe, a three-mile loop that’s pretty much a straight shot up and a straight shot down. And for a completely different experience, hop in a car and head to Ouray, about 40 minutes away. Those who travel will be richly rewarded with hot springs and waterslides.  And, of course, there are the famous ski trails, which offer world-class terrain regardless of your experience or ability, not to mention different options with regards getting to the top of the mountain via lift or hike. In addition to the slopes, though, Eliza raves about Terrain Park, a veritable winter playground of man-made jumps where kids flips and spins.  Yes, Telluride’s reputation is built largely on adrenaline-fueled afternoons, but plenty of people here snap on skis for a cross-country expedition. It’s so embedded in the local culture, in fact, that there are Nordic tracks in the town park as well as an area known as The Valley Floor, a giant swath of land cut through by a river. Very generous donors paid nearly $50 million to have it condemned so that nothing can ever be built on it. In 2017 it celebrated its ten year anniversary as a public space that locals love for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and elk-spotting.   OFF-SEASON DELIGHTS The one thing to know about Telluride before you go is that when people refer to it, they're generally referring to the adjacent towns of Telluride and Mountain Village. Mountain Village is the ski-hub and Telluride is more of the town. A 14-minute free gondola ride shuttles people back and forth between the two. There are also free buses if heights aren't your thing.  A visit in the spring or summer is rewarded with all kinds of outdoor spaces above and beyond the hiking trails, like skate parks and bike trails along the river. "There's so much freedom in the summer," Eliza says. "Everyone walks everywhere. It's really safe."  And then there are the festivals. There's pretty much something every weekend, she says. Among the arts and music happenings, the Bluegrass Festival brings in up to 12,000 music lovers each June. Then there are other events that can't really be classified, like the Nothing Festival, a summer occurrence when everyone bikes through town without clothes. Seriously.  EAT YOUR HEART OUT In addition for being known for its elegant and creative seasonal New American dishes, 221 South Oak, Eliza’s restaurant, is popular for the appetizer and wine and pairing classes she offers on a regular and by-request basis. It’s quite an extravaganza: over the three-hour session, she prepares up to 14 dishes and pairs them with eight or 10 wines. Or cocktails. The options are endless. She explains the different varietals and the philosophies behind which wine compliments what food. But don’t expect your familiar dishes. Eliza prefers to use what she calls “weird ingredients,” like kaffir lime leaves and nutritional yeast. So where does this topnotch chef eat in her off-time? No town where creative people dwell would be complete without tacos. The go-to here is Tacos del Gnar, which Eliza loves for its creative concoctions, like the sloppy joe taco and tater tots with queso. For sushi, it’s Pescato, which, in a quirky turn of events, spotlights Indian food each Wednesday. Even chefs at the world’s highest end fine dining restaurants knows how to appreciate pub grub. In Telluride, Smuggler’s Brew Pub is the name of the game. The staples at this gastropub (which happen to also be Eliza’s top picks on the menu) are the pulled lamb sliders, crawfish mac’n’cheese, and fried pickles. They brew their own beer, she’s quick to note. She also recommends hitting Last Dollar Saloon (AKA: “the Buck"), a “local, lovely corner spot on Main Street with a cozy retro look," she says, complete with lacquered wood, a pressed tin ceiling, pool tables, and foozball. More importantly, though, it boasts the city’s largest beer selection, offering up to 60 beers. Eliza appreciates all those assets, but most impressive of all is the fact that each night, one of the three owners—Moussa, Jay, Michael—can be found working the bar, giving it a truly neighborhood feel. Speaking of beer, Telluride Brewing Company is a must for anyone who loves beer. (And chances are, if you’re the type of person who plans a vacation to Colorado, you likely love beer. There are, after all, 348 in the state as of May 2017. That’s roughly six breweries for every 100,000 people) It’s eight miles outside the city, and more than worth the trip, Eliza ensures. But if you don’t take her word for it, consider the many awards they've won over the years at the annual Great American Beer Festival. They don't have formal tours, she notes, but they always welcome visitors. "You just go in and they're like, 'Hi! You wanna look around? You want a tour?' They’re just very friendly and fun." As further evidence of their obsession with fun, they participate in the Telluride Blues and Brews festival each September.  Right about now it’s worth noting that Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 (with Washington) and its dispensaries have been a tourist attraction since that went into place. When Eliza sees tourists wandering through town staring at their phones, chances are they’re looking for the weed stores. There’s six dispensaries and though Eliza doesn’t partake, she says it’s not hard to find someone in town who can recommend which has a better inventory than the rest.

Inspiration

The Gourmet Oasis in the Arizona Desert You Have to Taste to Believe

The glorious disorientation of it all first struck me while listening to a young woman exuberantly explain to a room full of about 75 people the differences between late harvest and early harvest olive oils. She passed around samples in itty bitty paper cups and explained how to taste it. (“Pour it all on your tongue and smoosh it on the roof of your mouth.”) She explained then how to assess it with the attention sommeliers pay to every sensory detail of wine. (Is it balanced or robust? Bitter or more buttery?) Just your basic average February afternoon in the blazing sun of the Arizona desert. I was in Queen Creek, Arizona, about half hour southeast of Phoenix. It was only one stop on my two-day spree through the Mesa Fresh Foodie Trail, which, in addition to Mesa, Arizona’s second largest town, includes the neighboring small towns of Queen Creek and Gilbert. Established in 2016 to showcase the area’s culinary bounty, it’s a perfect model of the growing movement in agritourism. And it’s delicious at every turn. BBQ Pulled Pork from Pheonix Public Market Café. (courtesy Phoenix Public Market Café) PHOENIX PUBLIC MARKET Before we embarked on the trail, we fueled up at the Phoenix Public Market Café, a spacious, rustic-chic eatery and bar that opened in May 2013 and offers a wealth of options for carnivores and vegans and vegetarians alike. (See: mesquite-roasted BBQ pulled pork. Also: Superfood Salad) The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, much of which is purchased at the year-round farmers’ market that operates on Saturdays in the neighboring lot, and the emphasis on local fare extends beyond the kitchen to the bar, where local beers rule, the coffee station, and the cute market section. We picked up some fresh locally roasted Cartel Coffee and hit the road.   People come together over true food at Agritopia (@agritopia/Instagram) AGRITOPIA  Agritopia is exactly what its name implies: a 160-acres urban farm, 11 of which are devoted to an organic farming. There are several dozen homes on the property. What started in 1927 as a farm run by homesteaders has grown into a metropolis that now houses Joe’s Farm Grill, a bustling eatery with indoor and outdoor seating that evokes the burger joints of the 1950s, a sleek yet cozy café with cement brick walls, overflowing pastry cases, and shelves of indulgent cupcakes, and an indoor market featuring a beer bar selling local brews, housewares shop, a paper store, and more. Date palms, citrus and olive groves, grapevines, peach orchards, community gardens and much more dot the landscape. Locals buy produce through the honor system in a small 24-hour market space and picking is a pastime that attracts visitors far and wide. “You don’t have to live here to pick, you just have to be excited about it,” says Joe Johnston, whose father bought the farm in 1960. Today Joe, a recovering engineer, oversees the varied operations. We caught him on the premises and he walked us through the property, explaining that the Grill’s dining room is located in a space once occupied by his family’s living room, the date palms are the legacy of Lebanese immigrants who settled here, and the widespread reach of the regional farming. (About 90% of the lettuce in New England comes from Arizona, he says.) Hayden Flour Mills makes crackers and other products with White Sonora, one of the many OG heritage grains. (@haydenflourmills/Instagram) HAYDEN FLOUR MILL  By 2019, Steve Sossaman and his family will celebrate a century of being on the 800 acres that make up Sossaman Farm. Little surprise, then, that he operates the farm using old-world techniques, like crop rotation, a natural method of keeping the ground fertile. The main attraction here is the mill, a business that’s been operating since 1870 (though originally it was located in Tempe.) They use an old-school stone mill to create flour with heritage grains. Steve, a farmer, oversees proceedings here. He waxed poetic (read: geeked out) to me about those ancient grains: Ethiopian Blue, Tibetan purple, Roman Farro. They can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent, so they thrive in Arizona because they don’t need much water. Their deep root systems, he explained, absorb more nutrients and minerals (code for “flavor.”) The intensely earthy flavors of the crackers that are made with theses flours are intriguing, to be sure, but the stories behind them are even more captivating. Roman Farro is referred to as “Jesus wheat” because it’s been around nearly that long; white Sonora was brought to the US around 1700 from Spain by a priest who used it to convert Indians because at the time it was that you could only take communion with a wheat wafer. His is one of the handful of mills to make crackers and other products. I was thrilled to find them in Whole Foods when I returned home to New York. The stone mill from Italy's Calabria region of Italy offers a glimpse of olive-making history at Queen Creek Olive Mill. (Courtesy Queen Creek Olive Mill) QUEEN CREEK OLIVE MILL  “We’re here today to learn about extra virgin olive oil,” announced the animated young woman standing in front of a flowchart mapping out olive oil production. “What’s the big deal? Why does Rachel Ray always rave about EVOO? For one thing, it’s full of good things: polyphenols, antioxidants, omega threes, vitamins. It’s the best fat you can put into your body. And it’s delicious.” She quickly launched into a salvo of astounding trivia: Olive oil dates back to before time of Christ. Ancient Romans have references to it in their writings. Olive trees can live to be up to 3000 years old.  At the Mill, everything you assume about EVOO’s European identity will be blown to smithereens. Founded by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, they presently grow 16 varietals of olives—Italian, Greek and Spanish—onsite. There’s a stone mill outside, a showpiece, that comes from Italy’s Calabria region. Inside, is the mill from Turkey that’s used to make the product. It’s referred to by the sleek name of Olive Max 33 and the Reas were the first to bring one to the US. At the mill, you learn that each tree can produce anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds of fruit and the Olive Max 33 can process 2.5 tons of olives per hour. Roughly speaking, for every ton (2000 pounds) of olives yields approximately 30 to 45 gallons of oil. In the desert.  It was the tail end of about an hour-long tour ($7) and after the tasting, the crowd was let loose into what can only be described as a gourmet bazaar and food court. At one end was an enclave selling olive oil body products and candles. Aisles of foodstuff include the farm’s products--tapenade, chocolate, vinegars, and, of course, olive oil—as well as goods from area producers, like pasta sauce, drink mixers, and picked vegetables. Along the periphery of the space, people lined up at food stalls for artisanal coffee, bruschetta, panini, and antipasti, most of which is made from local produce, hormone-free meat, and plenty of olive oil.  Schnepf Farm, a fourth-generation-owned family farm, counts peaches as one of its many specialty crops. (Courtesy Visit Mesa) SCHNEPF FARM The largest organic peach orchard in Arizona is on Schnepf Farm. They’ve been growing them on the property since 1960 and today they grow ten varieties. Little wonder, then, that crowds descend here for a weekend each May for the Annual Peach Festival. Actually, crowds appear at this fourth-generation-owned 600-acre farm at different points throughout the year for various reasons: the acres of flowering trees on display each February for the Peach Blossom Celebration; The Pumpkin and Chile Party, a multi-weekend jamboree throughout each October with hayrides, a petting zoo, races, and a ton of other games and rides. There have been years where visitors top 100,000 in October alone. But reasons to spend time here extend far beyond the seasonal occasions. The farm is owned by Mark Schnepf and his wife Carrie. Mark’s grandfather bought the 640 acres for $25/acre in 1941. Framed newspaper clippings and photos of the whole family, from his father showcasing the airplanes he once owned to Mark and Carrie's wedding day, line the wall of what was once the original farmhouse, which his parents built in the 1960s. The property is massive, but the room is a constant reminder of its wholesome soul.  Today, if there isn't a festival, visitors still come en mass for seasonal you-pick-it opportunities. Or you could just spend a quiet afternoon at the the country store-style bakery. Spend an afternoon lingering over a slice of fresh, warm peach pie and tea, then be sure to grab some homemade honeys and jams on your way out.

Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Tennessee's Small Towns

America is summed up by many things: Baseball, mom and apple pie; stars and stripes; rock and roll; and, of course, the countless brands of food and drink that started ages ago and are familiar now as they were then. (Think: Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, and so on.) Not least among them is Jack Daniel’s, the now iconic Tennessee whiskey that was founded in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in the south-central part of the state, in 1875. The distillery and the live old-timey, down-to-earth vibe of Lynchburg have made the town a celebrated tourist attraction, but if you’re among the 275,000 or so people who head there annually, it’s worth tacking on an extra day or two to explore the surrounding area. We caught up with Jeff Arnett, master distiller at Jack Daniel’s, who tipped us off on what to see, eat and do in the area's various small towns, each its own unique portrait of America.      TULLAHOMA IS FOR FOODIES Thirteen miles northeast of Lynchburg, Tullahoma sits adjacent to Arnold Air Force Base, home to the world’s largest wind tunnel where most US military aircrafts are tested. But the area’s military history is even more intriguing, as it was the site of Camp Forest, where German and Italian POWs were taken during World War II; General Patton trained troops on the grounds between here and Lynchburg. Against that historic backdrop today is a rejuvenated downtown, home to restaurants, like One 22 West, which is located in a former department store. It’s been serving locally minded classic American fare since 1997. The lively bar puts a premium on local beer and spirits, so you better believe that means plenty of Jack Daniel’s to go around. Another spot Jeff recommends for good eats is Emil's Bistro, a longstanding cottage-style restaurant with a long oak bar for classy yet casual meals. It's right next door to the Grand Lux, a homey inn in a refurbished old house, which comes highly recommended by Arnett if you're looking to spend the night in the area.   And if you’re a nature lover, then stay you should. Tullahoma’s Rutledge Falls, a tucked-away 40-foot waterfall is a destination for hikes, nature walks and swimming. Short Springs, a mere three miles northeast from Tullahoma, is a 420-acre landscape where the vibrant wildflower blossoms are said to be the best in the state. Its biodiversity is mind-boggling (think: springs, waterfalls, forest, ravines.) There are the natural wonders that are easy to find, like Machine Falls, which has a 60-foot cascade, as well as the hidden gems that Jeff is partial to, like various pop-up springs. But perhaps the town is most widely known by aviation enthusiasts who make pilgrimages here to see the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, which boasts an unparalleled collection of vintage aircrafts and aviation curios. Jeff notes that once a year, people who own staggerwings, those quaint, if rickety-looking planes that ruled the skies in the 1930s, fly to Tullahoma from all over the U.S. for a competition, of sorts. "It’s truly amazing how many people get into it," he says.  SHELBYVILLE IS FOR EQUESTRIANS  Louisville has the Derby, Boston has its marathon, and Park City has the Sundance Film Festival, but Shelbyville, about 70 miles south of Nashville and 16 miles north of Lynchburg, becomes a destination every August for a very particular kind of equestrian showcase. Once known as the Pencil City for its role in pencil manufacturing, today it’s the Walking Horse Capital of the World and hosts the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration each August. The event is an opportunity to witness horses move like they’re up on their back legs, shunning the laws of nature and physics. As they kick and flail their front legs, the rider manages to look like he’s hardly moving. “It’s like they’re on a magic carpet,” Jeff explains. “The horse puts on quite a show.”   FAYETTEVILLE IS FOR TIME TRAVELERS Fifteen miles west of Shelbyville is Fayettville, the county seat of Lincoln county, which means it boasts a beautiful old courthouse square, complete with official Main Street District designation and an historic theater. Going into the Lincoln Theater “is like going back in time,” Jeff says, even though they play the latest film releases. Much of the décor, like the lush velvet curtains, are kept in good repair. While you’re in a vintage frame of mind, you can swing by one of the several antique stores in the area or at the Antique Mall that's located on the Square. The sprawling emporium, located in an historic building, features furniture, art, jewelry, home goods, It’s not all time capsules, though. The old town jail has been transformed into a homey restaurant called Cahoots, which dishes out familiar pub grub. There’s also Honey’s, a country diner-style joint, complete with a counter overlooking the stoves, that Jeff is partial to. He advises—rather, insists—on ordering the slaw burger, which involves a mustard- and vinegar-heavy slaw. “Everyone always argues that they make the best barbecue. In Tennessee, it’s mostly pulled pork and it’s known to have vinegar-based sauces. This burger concoction morphed from the slaw that people were putting on pulled pork,” he explains. “So catch a movie, shop for antiques, and grab a burger and I’d say you made a good day of Fayetteville.”  WINCHESTER HAS OLD-WORLD CHARM Winchester, which 20 miles southeast of Lynchburg, is also a county seat, so, like Fayetteville, it boasts a lovely court square. Businesses around the square have a distinctly old-world charm, The Oldham Theatre, which first opened in 1950, plays new releases in a vintage setting; John T’s BBQ is a barbecue restaurant retrofitted into an old furniture store with brick walls and wood panel walls. The eatery’s own furniture, like tables with receipts from the old shop displayed under glass, pays homage to that past. But at its core, Winchester is a quaint lakeside town with lots of enticements for outdoorsy types. (Trout fishing, anyone?) Arnett has a lake house here, so he’s well acquainted to its many virtues, the crystal-clear water of the rocky-bottom Tims Ford Lake not least among them. Part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, it’s a 20 to 25-mile ride from one end to the other and its many channels lend themselves to lots of exploration in any number of kinda of boats. (Rent one at one of the three marinas.) The town claims one of the more unusually situated restaurants in the region: To reach Bluegrill Grill requires walking across the single gangway that connects it to land. Makes sense, then, that many approach by boat. Its hours are seasonal. Back on land you find a state park with 20 modern cabins and Bear Trace, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

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