I still remember like it was yesterday. But it’s almost two years ago. During one of those typical winter dips, Jan and I decided that we wanted to spend our summer vacation in the United States. Immediately I started looking for plane tickets to all kinds of destinations from which to plan a road trip through the most epic national parks. Unfortunately, we had a limited budget and the prices of plane tickets quickly took off. One day I was home alone and found two very cheap plane tickets to Miami. I had been here before, but Jan not yet. Immediately I started to think of the many places in the south of the United States that were still on our bucket list. That is how the idea of a Deep South Road trip originated.
I quickly called Jan and asked if he was open to a total surprise. He gave me free rein and I booked the tickets. I quickly mapped out a first itinerary and in the evening I surprised him with the destination for our summer vacation. He was really happy! And a few months later we left on a Deep South Road trip.
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The ultimate USA Deep South road trip itinerary
Deep South USA
When I drove from New York City to Miami by car a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by Southern States. Especially the beautiful nature, southern hospitality and the delicious and abundant food made my mouth water for more. The Deep South is an area with its own culture and history. And this is what appeals to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to discover more then. So returning to this fascinating part of the United States was high on my bucket list.
How to get to the Deep South?
From Belgium it’s best to travel by plane to a destination that is on your Deep South road trip itinerary. First, check which destination is best accessible from your place of departure. Within the United States you can always opt for a domestic flight if necessary. We did it the other way around and first chose our flight destination Miami, because of our limited budget and then planned our road trip from here.
You can rent a car from any airport through various car rental companies. But it’s best to book online in advance. We rented a car from Enterprise car rental and were very satisfied with the service.
Another great way to do this Deep South road trip is by renting an RV. This is very popular in this area of the States, since the weather is so amazing here. So if you planning a stay in one of the best RV parks, be sure to book your stay in advance.
Best time to travel the Deep South?
The best time to travel to the Deep South in the US is from November to May. Then the temperatures are the most pleasant for road tripping. In the summer it’s tropically warm and very humid. And yes, we were there during July and can absolutely agree. Besides, it’s also hurricane season from June to November, which means that your trip can be somewhat affected. But all in all, the weather conditions didn’t really affect our road trip. On the contrary, the harsh thunderstorms sometimes provided the most impressive lightning bolts that lit up the whole sky. That was quite special to see. Definitely check the weather before you go and prepare well by packing the right things for your Florida vacation and road trip.
Our USA Deep South itinerary
Stop 1: Miami
We arrived at the Miami airport in the early evening. After we picked up our rental car at Enterprise car rental we left for our stay the Hyde Midtown Miami hotel. We had exceptionally booked a hotel for the first two nights. It was just the weekend of July 4th, the US National Day, and we didn’t want to risk finding decent accommodation at a reasonable price. When we arrived at the hotel we saw the sun set from the roof terrace. We decided to start our vacation with a tropical cocktail in the bar opposite the hotel.
The next day we went out early to discover all the highlights of Miami. We only had one day and I wanted to give Jan the ultimate Miami experience. We started downtown Miami in Wynwood with the Wynwood walls as the main attraction. There we admired the most impressive street art.
Then we went to South Beach where we ended up in an opposite world. From the layed back urban vibe in Wynwood to the unique culture on Ocean Drive where being seen is a real art. But this is exactly what makes Miami such a versatile destination. After a walk in the pastel-colored Art Deco district, we enjoyed happy hour on Ocean Drive. With a view of the sunset over Miami Beach we enjoyed a giant cocktail including a real parade of the most luxurious cars.
Even though we were excited to expierce Miami nightlife after that cocktail, we decided wisely to go to sleep so that we could start our road trip the next day without a headache.
Read more about Miami
Stop 2: Everglades
The next day we were fresh and brisk to really start our Deep South road trip. After a fresh morning dip in the rooftop pool of the Hyde Midtown Miami hotel, we left for The Everglades.
Everyone knows that an airboat tour is the most fun way to admire the fauna and flora of the Everglades. I already had good memories of this from my previous Florida trip. With this thought I convinced Jan that an Everglades airboat tour should definitely not be missing on our Deep South road trip. After a little search on google, I found Jungle Erv’s Airboats that offered airboat tours through the mangrove. I hadn’t done this before and it sounded very promising.
An hour later we were on the airboat speeding through the mangrove. Unfortunately we couldn’t spot much wildlife. Our captain was an excellent boat driver, but as a guide he was rather quiet and we didn’t learn much about the mangroves of the Everglades. Afterwards we were invited to an alligator show where alligators were exhibited to the visitors. They were tied around their mouths so visitors could touch them. I could hardly hide my dislike.
Even though this airboat tour was a bit disappointing, I recommend that you definitely include one. But go for an organization that focuses more on the beautiful fauna and flora of the Everglades.
A little disappointed we went looking for a place to have lunch. That’s how we ended up at Joanie’s blue crab café where you can enjoy local dishes in an authentic setting. Especially the delicious, refreshing key lime pie put me back in a cheerful mood. And good, because it was already time to continue our road trip to our next destination Orlando.
Read more about The Everglades
Stop 3: Universal studios Orlando
This was Jan’s day! As a digital artist within a theme park in Belgium, he had to visit a theme park at all costs. And where better than Orlando, the theme park paradise? His choice was quickly made. Universal Studios had been on his bucket list for a long time.
We bought our tickets online the night before. We left for the park an hour before opening time. When we arrived at Universal studios, everything went very smoothly. Everything was very well marked. We quickly found a parking space and walked to the entrance without any problems. There we had to wait until opening time.
First we went to the beautiful themed wizarding world of Harry Potter, where we got to go on the first ride of the day on Harry Potter’s forbiden journey inside Hogwarts. This attraction was truly phenomenal. Then we strolled through the recreated village where you can find the best souvenir shops. Then we wanted to go on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, unfortunately this attraction remained closed all day.
To be honest, I found the wizarding world of Harry Potter to be the most impressive part of the park. There are still a lot of cool attractions, but some parts of the park are a bit outdated. It was also very busy that day, so we had trouble finding a place to have lunch during the afternoon. But Jan thought it was a fantastic day and happy hubby, happy life? Isn’t it?
Orlando is of course known for it’s many theme parks, but this city has so much more to offer. There are so many fun things to do in Orlando. So don’t forget to make time to explore more of Orlando during your road trip. Check out the best Orlando deals from Getyourguide below.
Stop 4: Herlong Mansion Micanopy
After a day of fun in Universal Studios, we went to the heart of Florida. I really wanted to visit the natural springs where I had already seen beautiful photos from on instagram. The Ginnie Springs were at the top of my list. So I started looking for a place to stay nearby. This way I found B&B the Herlong Mansion in Micanopy. Yes, we stayed in this beautiful, authentic mansion. Just like that one from “The Notebook” with those impressive oak trees in the front.
When we arrived in Micanopy, I was immediately charmed by the small, sleeping town. By the way, The Herlong Mansion fitted that picture perfectly. The entire house was decorated in Victorian style. That made our stay an experience in itself. We decided that day to just enjoy the beautiful mansion and take a walk through the mysterious town of Micanopy, which is also known for its many antique shops. This was the ideal place to relax and really enjoy the southern hospitality in a local setting.
The nearest town is Gainsville about a 20 minutes drive from The Herlong Mansion. Definitely recommended if you prefer a more vibrant area to stay. In this student city you will find lots of pleasant bars and eateries.
Read more about our stay in The Herlong Mansion
Stop 5: Ginnie springs
After a short night at the Herlong Mansion, we woke up early to visit Ginnie Springs. We had heard that it could be very busy, so we wanted to be the first there at opening time. No sooner said than done, after an hour’s drive we were the first visitors of Ginnie Springs that day. We rented a tube and went to all sources on the domain to take pictures. Yes, that is also part of the job. And fortunately, because there were already a lot of visitors in the late morning.
After taking 1001 photos, we decided it was time to relax. On our couple tube we floated down the Santa Fé river while enjoying the beautiful nature, the blissful weather with an occasional refreshing dip. Definitely a top activity on our Deep South road trip.
Besides Ginnie Springs there is still a lot to do in Central Florida such as the impressive Ocala forest. There are many other beautiful springs in this region as well. You can even swim with manatees in various places! Unfortunately we couldn’t stay longer and I regret that a bit now.
After our tube adventure, we spent another night in The Herlong Mansion. The next day we slept a little longer and started our day with a delicious mimosa breakfast. Then we left for Savannah.
Before leaving Florida we paid a visit to a super cool retro diner in Jacksonville where we enjoyed a delicious Key Lime milkshake. If you want to stay a bit longer in Jacksonville be sure to check out Jacksonville beach which is one of Florida’s best beaches for surfing.
Read more about Ginnie Springs
Stop 6: Savannah
Arriving in picturesque Savannah, we checked into the beautiful hotel The Alida. It was already noon so we went straight out. We walked along River Street, one of the best things to do in Savannah. And enjoyed the hustle and bustle here. The historic setting of old industrial warehouses along the river, now transformed into local boutiques, immediately brought me back to my first visit to Savannah years ago. I really love this town.
It was very hot so we decided to go back to The Alida for a refreshing dip in the pool. That evening we enjoyed the delicious Southern cuisine with a culinary twist at Rhett. This restaurant is located on the ground floor of The Alida and is highly recommended. For a nightcap we went to the amazing rooftop bar The Lost Square on the roof of The Alida. From here you have a magical view of Savannah!
The next morning we took a walk to Forsyth park. One of the many amazing historical sites in Savannah. Even though it was still early, there were already quite a few visitors in the park. The dazzling, centrally located fountain attracts not only many admirers, but also many artists who want to immortalize this image on the canvas. Around the park you will also find numerous beautiful houses built during the Victorian era.
Then we drove on to Wormsloe plantation, known for its long driveway between two rows of impressive ancient oak trees. And its reputation certainly lives up to it. The ruins of the plantation house were less impressive, but you can take beautiful walks on the domain.
After a hearty lunch in the diner on Abercorn, an authentic diner from the 50ties, we left for our next stop. Too bad we ran out of time to discover more of Savannah.
Read more about Savannah and our stay in the Alida
Stop 7: Charleston
We arrived in Charleston early in the evening and had only a few hours to discover this town. We lost a lot of time because of our visit to Wormsloe plantation. And because we had just a few hours we decided to just walk as much as possible.
We passed the famous Rainbow Row, a row of historic houses in all colors of the rainbow. Then we walked along the coast through the beautiful waterfront Park and finally ended at the city market where we found numerous stalls with local products and nice souvenirs.
At that point we were so tired that we decided to go to sleep. Our plan was to leave early the next day and drive all the way to New Orleans. So we hadn’t really been able to experience Charleston as we initially planned. Unfortunately, you have to make choices every now and then while traveling. Despite our short visit, we found Charleston to be a very nice and pleasant city. Definitely worth a visit while doing a Deep South road trip.
Driving day: Charleston – New Orleans
With an 11-hour drive ahead of us, we woke up early again. We didn’t have time for breakfast. We hopped into the car towards New Orleans and decided to have lunch in Atlanta. In the meantime, we had made it our mission to find nice American diners while driving. In Atlanta we stopped at OK Cafe. We were a bit shocked when we saw a line of people queuing to eat there, but that means it had to be good! We decided to join the queue and after 20 minutes we sat at a table, feasting on a delicious sandwich.
I do regret not staying a bit longer to discover Atlanta. I heard such great things about this city. But we were on a tight schedule. When we left Atlanta the weather became more and more turbulent. Hurricane Barry had just crossed New Orleans. And we had to pay the price along the way. Many heavy rain showers followed each other, which resulted in a lot of delay. We arrived in New Orleans very late. Fortunately, we were very well received by Hotel Indigo Nola Garden District.
Read more about our stay in Hotel Indigo Nola Garden District
Stop 8: New Orleans
I had been looking forward to this for so long! Finally I was in bustling New Orleans. Maybe a little less vibrant now since Hurricane Barry had just passed. After a delicious breakfast in bed at hotel Indoga Nola Garden District we went straight out to explore the streets of the French Quarter. I admired the beautiful architecture, a mix of American and Creole town houses and cottages. After a walk it was time for a coffee break at Cafe du Monde. Of course when you’re there you have to taste a typical, local beignet. Delicious btw!
In the afternoon we decided to return to hotel Indigo to further explore the Garden District from there. Once again we saw real architectural gems. In the evening we ventured into the nightlife of New Orleans. For this we wisely hired an uber. We were introduced to the famous drink “the hand grenate” on Bourbon Street and enjoyed a musical dance evening.
The day after, we decided to take a day trip from New Orleans to get to know the surrounding Louisiana countryside better. In the morning we took a swamp tour with Cayun Encounters. In contrast to our Everglades airboat tour, we could spot a lot of wildlife here. The guide was also able to tell a lot about this region, but also his personal experiences with Hurricane Katrina. This tour is highly recommended!
In the afternoon we visited Oak Alley Plantation where we got a better insight of life on a sugar cane plantation during the early 19th century. Very interesting was that you gained insight into the perspective of the masters and the slaves. Besides that Oak Alley Plantation is a very beautiful domain to visit.
Read more about our adventures in New orleans
Driving day: New Orleans – Sanibel eiland
After two days it was time to say goodbye to New Orleans. I would have liked to spend a little more time here as well. That day we returned to Florida. We decided to take one full day to drive to Sanibel Island. It was a long drive and we decided to have dinner at Joes New York diner in Tampa in the evening to keep our diner tradition alive.
We didn’t really have the time to explore more of Tampa. But if you’re in the neighborhood you should definitely plan a visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. I’ve heard so many great things about it. So that’s definitely on my bucket list for when I visit Florida again.
The further south we moved, the more turbulent the weather became again. At sunset we were treated to a tropical storm with the most impressive lightning bolts.
Stop 9 Sanibel eiland
The next morning we woke up on the beautiful island of Sanibel, where we would spend three days. Before we left home, we wanted to relax for a while. We had chosen Sanibel Island as our last destination, because we had heard that it’s much quieter than in other coastal towns and because this island has some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida . The following days we did nothing but go from beach to beach. That’s how we discovered the most beautiful beaches on Sanibel Island.
Very strange that we could quickly switch our rhythm from a busy road trip to the peaceful vibe of the island. We were now completely relaxed to travel back home.
Discover the most beautiful beaches on Sanibel
Stop 10 Miami
Since we had an early morning flight, we decided to spend the night in Miami one more time. So we spent the last afternoon of our trip on South Beach.
But we obviously didn’t do this without visiting the 11th Street diner first.
You can imagine that during this trip I gained some weight. But it was totally worth it!
After a short night we left for the airport where we said goodbye to our trusty rental car that had guided us safely through all weather conditions.
Where to stay during a Deep South road trip?
Because we don’t want to be limited during a road trip, we usually don’t book stays in advance. If we want to stay longer in one destination, or have to skip another due to time constraints, we can do this without having to worry about canceling a stay.
That’s why we use the booking.com app. Very useful is that you can make last minute reservations for the same day. You immediately see which hotels are still available. And the reservation literally takes just one minute.
If you would like to book your stay in advance, you can use the booking.com app as well. But check till when you can cancel your reservation free of charge. If you want to adjust your travel schedule, you still can before that expire date.
Below you can find the direct links via booking.com to all the locations we visited on our Deep South road trip.
Extend your road trip
If we had more time for this Deep South road trip, we would first of all travel a bit slower and definitely spend more time in the Everglades, Central Florida, Savannah and Charleston. Secondly I would also add a few more destinations. Key West, the Great Smokey Mountains, Nashville and Memphis are still on my bucket list. These destinations are also perfect to add to this Deep South road trip itinerary.
Our Deep South road trip was a really great experience. The variation between big, vibrant cities and picturesque towns, beautiful nature ranging from tropical beaches to the most magical forests with natural springs, fun day trips alternating with cultural activities and last but not least fhe delicious southern cuisine, made this one of the most memorable trips ever.
Don’t forget to check out my favorite travel guides that will help you plan an unforgettable Deep South road trip.
Would be a Deep South road trip be something you would like to do? Let me know in the comments below.
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