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.
The Happiest States in America
What makes us happy? What is happiness, anyway? The most recent attempt to define and quantify the intangible comes courtesy of financial website WalletHub, which assembled a team of experts to rank the 50 U.S. states in terms of contentment, based on relevant research in three categories: emotional and physical well-being, work environment, and community and environment. Per WalletHub’s Richie Bernardo, “previous studies have found that good economic, emotional, physical, and social health are all key to a well-balanced and fulfilled life,” and this one aimed “to determine where Americans exhibit the best combination of these factors.” You don’t need to relocate to reap the benefits—that sense of satisfaction just might be contagious for visitors. #1 MINNESOTA The Land of 10,000 Lakes ranked in the top five in all three of the survey’s happiness categories for a first-place finish. That fresh water must be cleansing—residents get plenty of sleep, love to volunteer, and report low divorce rates, and the North Star State is the fourth-safest in the country. Minneapolis and its art, culture, and food scenes may grab the headlines, but over the years, Minnesota has been a perennial favorite in our Coolest Small Towns contests, and it also hosts one of the best state fairs in the country. #2 UTAH The Beehive State took top honors in the survey’s work environment category and its community and environment category, bumping it up to second on the list (although it did poorly in the emotional and physical well-being category). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its natural splendor and access to premiere hiking and skiing, it has one of the best sports-participation rates—and the fewest hours worked. Take full advantage of the state’s outdoor amenities and plan an epic road trip to Utah's unparalleled national parks. #3 HAWAII The closest place Americans have to paradise may not have ranked #1 overall, but it shouldn’t come as a shock that Aloha State residents scored highest in emotional and physical well-being, with the lowest rates of adult depression in the U.S. Let that hang-loose, shaka attitude rub off on you as you explore the islands: From volcanoes, beaches, and jungles to shaved-ice and poke stands, there’s something for everyone. And we offer the ultimate Hawaii insider's tips, so take a deep breath and say ahhhh. #4 CALIFORNIA Second only to Hawaii in terms of emotional and physical well-being, the Golden State earns its moniker with low rates of depression and high rates of sports participation—not to mention its multicultural cities, pristine coastline, and gorgeous views. The road trip wasn’t invented with the Pacific Coast Highway in mind, but it may as well have been, with classic routes tailor-made for those with a restless streak. Check out the Ventura County Coast, spend a long weekend in Monterey, or fall in love with San Francisco all over again. #5 NEBRASKA Those Cornhuskers know a thing or two about living a well-balanced life, getting in their 40 winks while juggling volunteer opportunities and steady work, with the state boasting one of the lowest long-term unemployment rates in the country. Thanks to its museums, eateries, sports fandom, and reasonable prices, the city of Lincoln earned a spot on our 2017 list of Best Budget Destinations in America, but there’s more to Nebraska than its capital. Drive through the heartland and visit the Sandhills region, or tour around the state and take in its pioneer history; either way, you’ll be stretching your dollar as far as it’ll go.
Want to Live Overseas? Head to One of These 5 Countries
What traveler hasn’t gone on vacation, fallen just a little bit in love with a new locale, and fantasized about picking up and moving? It’s not hard to see the upside of expat life, but those truly considering taking the leap can’t afford to wear rose-colored glasses—not all destinations were created equal. For insight into what it’s really like to live abroad, this year’s Expat Insider study ranks 65 countries on factors, ranging from feeling welcome to family well-being, based on more than 12,500 expats’ experiences. Here, the five locations that offer the warmest welcome to long-term residents. #1 Bahrain Immigrants make up about half the total population of Bahrain, and they seem to be flocking there for good reason. Expats named this archipelago in the Persian Gulf the best overall destination and the easiest place to settle, even without speaking the language—25 percent of local survey respondents said they started to feel at home right away. With a capital city boasting a mix of avant garde and traditional architecture, a lively food scene, and a dynamic artistic community, it’s a country that extends a warm welcome. Culture vultures should be sure to check out Manama’s postmodern museum or catch a show at the third-largest theater in the Middle East, while those with a historical bent should see Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa, a circa 1800 home in Muharraq Island that gives a glimpse of ruling-class life in the time before oil. There’s also Bahrain Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the lesser-visited Arad Fort, built by the Bedouins a hundred years earlier, not to mention mosques, markets, and malls galore. Don’t miss: The Tree of Life, a 400-year-old mesquite thriving in the desert. #2 Costa Rica For folks unwilling to give up a social circle in exchange for warm sun and sandy beaches, Costa Rica is the place to be. Known for its sustainable adventure travel and pura vida perspective, this Central American country claimed the runner-up slot with its gregarious population, a painless acclimatization process, high quality of life, and family-friendly atmosphere. And with greater biodiversity than America and Europe combined, plus environmental protections for more than a quarter of the country, Costa Rica is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. Scope out monkeys, sloths, tropical birds, and frogs in one of the many national parks, or combine your love of animals with a volunteer stint at a rescue center on the Caribbean coast. It’s not all eco-tourism—the capital of San José, with its neoclassical theater and jade museum, provides a respite from all that nature—but there’s no shortage of outdoor endeavors here, from surfing in Pavones to white-water rafting in Turrialba. Don’t miss: Volcán Arenal, a recently active, resting volcano, located in a national park rife with hiking trails and lava fields. #3 Mexico A perennial expat favorite, Mexico has appeared in the survey’s top five since its inception in 2014, and this year, America’s south-of-the-border neighbor takes third place—even with a few points docked for healthcare and safety. With 74 percent reporting general satisfaction with their financial situation, respondents raved about the low cost of living, the ease of settling in, great weather, amazing food, and a welcoming population, all of which are a boon to visitors and residents alike. Check the state department’s advisories before you book, obviously, but try not to let a bad reputation cloud your vision—this geographically diverse country rewards the intrepid traveler. Explore the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City, befriend artists in San Miguel de Allende, take a train through the Copper Canyon, or chill out on the Yucatán Peninsula or the Riviera Maya—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t miss: The ancient temples of Palenque, awe-inspiring Mayan ruins in the middle of the jungle. #4 Taiwan Last year’s winner dropped a few spots in 2017, but Taiwan still ranked second in the overall quality of life index, taking top honors in the health and well-being category, earning great reviews for its transportation infrastructure, and claiming the highest percentage of expats who are completely satisfied with their healthcare. Though its environmental quality is cited as average, thanks to rapid industrialization, this island nation off the coast of China has no shortage of natural beauty. Hike the stunning Taroko Gorge (or for more serious climbers, summit the main peak at Snow Mountain), go diving at Kenting National Park, a reserve spanning the southern tip of the island, or jump in a hot spring in Wulai. And when you’ve had enough of the great outdoors, Taipei awaits. Between temple visits and shopping on Dihua Street, set aside time for the National Palace Museum’s impressive collection of Chinese art, take the elevator up to the 89th-floor observatory of Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building, and grab a snack at the bustling Shillin Night Market. Don’t miss: The 19th-century Dalongdong Baoan Temple, a beautifully restored, UNESCO-recognized archetype of historic Taiwanese architecture. #5 Portugal Crowning the quality of living index for its moderate temperatures and abundance of leisure activities, Portugal rounds out this year’s top five. Expats here are a happy bunch—93 percent of respondents say they’re satisfied with life on the Iberian Peninsula, rating it first in terms of friendliness and feeling welcome, and literally no one had a bad thing to say about the country’s climate or weather. For visitors seeking fun and sun in an approachable atmosphere, that’s good news. In Lisbon, meander through the narrow streets of the Alfama district, hit the beach in Cascais and the wine bars in Bairro Alto (making sure to save room for pastéis de nata, those much-beloved custard tarts found all over the the city, most famously on the Rua de Belém), and cruise the miradouros, a collection of terraces overlooking the city, for unbeatable skyline views; in Porto, gawk at the gold leaf–laden baroque interiors of the Igreja de São Francisco, wander the medieval alleys of Ribeira in the city’s historic center, and tour a port-wine cellar or plan a daytrip to the justly renowned Douro Valley wine region. Don’t miss: Sintra, a dreamy hillside town that’s home to colorful villas, lavish palaces, and the ruins of a 10th-century Moorish castle.
Hurricane Help From Airbnb and HomeAway
The immediate danger posed by Hurricane Harvey may have passed, but the regional crisis in Texas and Louisiana is far from over, and Hurricane Irma is approaching Florida and the Caribbean. As the shelters in the Houston area empty out, many residents are returning home to discover that their onetime sanctuaries have been damaged beyond repair, and the devastation runs deep: Thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana have been displaced, with FEMA-funded hotel rooms in short supply and renters in a particularly precarious situation. (In the past week alone, hundreds in the Houston area have been served with eviction notices.) Help often comes from unexpected sources, though, and vacation-rental sites such as Airbnb are stepping into the breach. Hundreds of hosts from Corpus Christi to New Orleans are opening their doors to evacuees and relief workers—and they’re doing it for free. Under a disaster-response policy implemented in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb is encouraging hosts in the affected and surrounding areas to list their homes at $0 until September 25, and in return, the company is waiving all booking fees. Nearly 1,000 properties have been offered to date, and demand is high, with many vacancies filled soon after they’re posted. At last count, some 500 urgent accommodations were available on the website’s dedicated page. “We are proud to see our Airbnb community coming together to help their neighbors in need,” says Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s head of global disaster response and relief. The hurricane hit close to home for the Texas-based HomeAway, and in response, the site is giving its property owners and managers the option of renting to survivors for free or at a discount through the end of the month, waiving service and booking fees in the process. The company, which also runs VRBO and VacationRentals.com, has set up a temporary-housing page for those who want to make their homes available, and so far, more than 100 have opted in. For good samaritans who may not be able to pitch in physically or monetarily, offering up their space is tangible way to offer a helping hand. “I personally don’t have the financial funds to donate as much as I’d like to,” Austin resident and Airbnb host Edith Flores told The New York Times on Sunday. “This is one thing I can do.”
5 Reasons Why We Love Southwest's September Fare Sale
Are you inspired by our recent fall travel chat on Facebook and ready to pack up and go? Southwest’s current fare sale (good for travel through December if you book by Sept. 21) will enable that urge. Don’t expect to fly around the major holidays, but if you’re in the market for a weekend getaway, you may be in luck—cheap flights to some of our favorite destinations are up for grabs. Here, five especially great deals we love. Chicago to Austin, from $94 Like a booster shot for seasonal affective disorder, a serious dose of sunshine at the beginning of the season can help ward off the February blues, so head south and soak up some vitamin D before that Chicago winter really kicks in. Check out the Austin City Limits Music Festival at the beginning of October, or go on a five-hour meat binge with the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest on Nov. 5. If you’re not willing to plan your trip around a one-off day of carnivorous consumption, that’s OK—it’s always taco weather in this food-crazy town. Dallas to Boston, from $78 When the Texas heat has you dreaming of colorful leaves and crisp autumn air, consider New England. Boston makes a great jumping-off point for a fall-foliage tour, and the city is a destination in its own right. Catch a game at Fenway Park, channel your inner history nerd and play colonial-landmark bingo, have a bowl of clam chowder at Yankee Lobster, and mingle with the college crowd in Cambridge. We like dem apples very much, thank you. Indianapolis to NYC, from $89 For those who can’t get enough of that noel, New York in December is a must-do trip. Rockefeller Center’s tree-lighting ceremony kicks off the festivities on November 29, and the Fifth Avenue department-store window displays appear soon after, leaving holiday lovers with plenty of non-blackout dates to explore a city that feels just a wee bit softer under those twinkling lights. You won’t escape the cold, but you’ll definitely get into the spirit of the season. Los Angeles to Denver, from $93 Endless summer bumming you out? Swap sand for slopes with a stint in the Mile High City, a veritable paradise for outdoor-adventure enthusiasts. Denver boasts miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails, white-water rafting excursions, and, of course, ample opportunities to ski and snowboard in the nearby Rockies. There are even disc-golf courses for those who want to take it a little easier. If indoor activities are more your thing, may we suggest the Great American Beer Festival in early October? With 3,800 beers from 800 breweries, you’ll be sure to find something to wet your whistle. Washington, D.C., to Orlando, from $92 Orlando’s amusement parks hit peak capacity around the holidays, but if you absolutely have to plan a family vacation around the kids’ school schedules, at least you’ll get to Florida at a discount. When you book in December, do so knowing that the crowds will be nuts, and embrace the chaos. Our Disney survival tips are your secret weapon—they’ll help you keep your sanity on the ground, so don’t forget to bookmark and read before you go. All rates are starting prices, one-way, as quoted on southwest.com.