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Easy day trips for the rest of the summer


July 14, 2015

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    For those whose summers are limited by school schedules, there is only about a month left for the vacation season. That doesn't leave much time for a full-scale, cross-country, Kerouac-ian adventure.
    Instead, squeeze in a few smaller road trips to the underrated gems of the Southeast. From the mountains to the beaches, the modern and the historic, the urban elite and the welcoming comfort of the Lowcountry, you are rarely out of a few hours’ driving distance of something truly beautiful in the South.

 Savannah:
    This one seems like an easy out for this list, but the big perk of Savannah is that it’s close enough for a traveler to enjoy all the touristy stuff and get a local’s taste of the town. And what better way to do it than an unofficial, underground bar crawl?
    It’s self-timed, self-directed and does not include any obnoxious drunk people you didn’t invite yourself. You won’t find any other like it in Savannah, and it only takes four easy steps.
    1. Pick your poison. For strategy’s sake, it’s best to think of one cocktail you wouldn’t mind consuming an awful lot of in one night. You can always branch out when you get to your destination, but for comparison’s sake, you might want to dedicate yourself to one or two.
    2. Pick a starting point. Find a bar you’d like to sample, preferably one off the beaten path. (Yes, we all know Lulu’s Chocolate Bar is simply divine, but be a little more adventurous.) We’d like to suggest Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub on the riverfront or Jen’s & Friends on Bull Street.
    3. Ask the bartender. Order your first drink and then start chatting up the person behind the bar. Ask them: “What’s the best place to get a [insert that chosen drink here]?” More often than not, you’ll end up getting a few insider tips from a local alcohol expert who will direct you to the places you might not find on the TripAdvisor page. Follow your bartender’s instructions to your next location.
    4. Repeat step 3 for as long as your wallet and tolerance allow. And make a list of all the places you tried, because you might not remember them the next morning.

Atlanta:

    Again, this seems like an obvious choice, but most people try to hit up Atlanta for the nightlife. Forget that. Go for the arts.
    While Atlanta does not have the kind of theatre scene New York or other cultural hubs are known for, it’s nothing to turn your nose up at — and it’s considerably more affordable. Atlanta is home to some remarkable community-level theatre groups with high-caliber performers and cozy, intimate venues. To start, try out The Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, a suburb well within Atlanta’s sprawl. Their recent production of the off-Broadway musical Hands on a Hardbody featured “one of the year’s stand-out musical ensembles,” according to ArtsAtl.com, so their upcoming show, Memphis, should be one to see.
    If your tastes tend to be a bit more classic, Atlanta is home to what has been called the best Shakespearean venue this side of the pond: The Shakespeare Tavern, shaped like a miniature Globe Theatre and nestled snugly on Peachtree Street NE in the middle of downtown. The Shakespeare Tavern provides original-practice Shakespeare performances: no gimmicks, no weird themes, just what the Bard intended. Their command of the language is effortless and their interpretation of the text is often hysterical, taking full advantage of all the bawdy humor Shakespeare slipped in there for the groundlings. It’s a blast every time you go, and you can enjoy a pub dinner and a pint while you watch the show. Their current production is A Midsummer Night’s Dream (what else?), and it’s begging you to make the drive to come enjoy it.
    If you take an early drive and spend the day in the city, you can explore the verdant Piedmont Park or stop by the Botanical Gardens for a shady stroll. For lunch, you could always do the Varsity (just to say you’ve done it once), but you might be better off enjoying the Southern cooking at Mary Mac’s Tea Room or, better yet, Gladys Knight’s Signature Chicken and Waffles. Laugh if you want, but the line for Gladys’ consistently stretches out the door and around the block. It’s that good.

Georgia's Golden Isles:

    Georgia’s golden isles aren’t just all golf courses and five-star restaurants. The barrier islands are also great wildlife reserves, letting you get up-close and personal with native fauna you don’t get to encounter very often.
    Start with Jekyll Island, a two-hour drive south of Statesboro. Get there a few hours before sunset for an evening turtle walk ($20 per person through the Georgia Sea Turtle Center). While sea turtle sightings are not guaranteed, going now increases your odds: Georgia turtles are nesting at record rates and the hatching season is just beginning. You may get lucky and witness a nest of tiny turtles making their first journey down to the water.
    Spend the night in the Jekyll area and then head to Cumberland Island, an hour down the coast. While the island itself is a little tricky to get to, requiring passage on a ferry, it’s well worth the trip. The island has plenty of old ruins from plantation days, easily accessed by walking and biking trails. As you explore, keep an eye out for the island’s real wildlife draw: the herds of feral horses. It may take a lot of patience and a pinch of luck, but laying eyes on one of the last remaining wild horse populations in the U.S. is not something to miss.
    The island is remote and exposed to the elements, so make sure to come prepared with sunscreen and snacks. And clean up after yourself. You’d feel awful if some poor pony choked on your Hostess wrapper.

Charleston, South Carolina:
    Charleston was just rocked by a national tragedy, which means a lot of people are keeping a respectful distance — which isn't great for tourism's peak season. Don't feel weird about heading north for the beautiful historical city, which — in addition to a great aquarium and gorgeous downtown area — has plenty of parks and marshland to explore, not to mention some fantastic eatin' in the many, many delicious Lowcountry restaurants.
    But the reason we're including Charleston on the list is its proximity to Folly Beach, which is one of the best surfing spots on the Southeast coast. If you've always wanted to discover your inner Johnny Tsunami, this is the place to do it. There are several gear rental places in the area that also offer surfing lessons, and if you get exhausted from all of your wipe-outs, you can hang out on the beach and watch the pros at work. Best of all, it's only a three-hour drive away — even closer than Atlanta, and (since they're farther north) probably a bit cooler.
    
    Time's a-wastin' and the summer's almost spent. We've given you plenty of options in this issue for a last hurrah of the season or a mini-adventure that won't break the bank. Have fun!


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