My family’s winter getaways often involve escaping to warm beach destinations. This year inspired me to try something different. After so much history was made on American soil in 2008, I wanted to show my kids the importance of what had transpired and how much really had changed.
We embarked on a winter road trip that took my family across the Southern United States. My goal was to expose my children to several destinations that have helped shape American History. We began in New Orleans, worked our way north to Charleston and then drove up the Crystal Coast to Atlantic Beach.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Today, New Orleans is most often thought of as the city that Katrina devastated- an event that highlighted economic division, organizational incompetence, and nationwide charity. Long before Katrina though, New Orleans had become a melting pot of cultures with a diverse and expansive history.
The French Quarter has always stood out as one of New Orleans’ star attractions, possessing the mixture of cultural influences, architecture, history, music, and celebration that defines the city. On my recent trip to the Big Easy we had the incredible experience of getting to know the Quarter’s History.
After you get settled, I suggest you get out on your feet and explore some of the history that the French Quarter has to offer. Jackson Square, a beautifully manicured open air park located at the heart of the French Quarter, is a great place to start. Here you can explore 18th century history and architecture by visiting the St. Louis Cathedral, designated a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI. Next to the Cathedral you can also check out The Cabildo Museum, which served as the city’s town hall in the 18th century.
While you are on Rue Chartres, I suggest taking a stroll to enjoy the historic architecture on the street. Here you will find the city’s greatest concentration of preserved colonial era buildings and early 19th century town-houses. Your peaceful walk will also take you by some local shops and cafes scattered along the street.
Where to Stay: With affordability in mind, I booked my lodging through a nifty site called Vacation-Offer.com. Vacation-Offer let me find a discounted New Orleans hotel through a partner resort, based on the stipulation that I go on a 90-minute timeshare tour while I was there. The short tour was harmless and informative, and definitely worth the great price I got while staying at the beautiful Frenchmen Orleans luxury condos. The Frenchmen was located at 519 Frenchmen St, right near the best in history, music, and dining options.
Charleston, South Carolina
Downtown Charleston has often been considered the historic and cultural capital of the south, and deemed by many as a ‘living museum’. The city has been magnificently preserved to allow visitors to experience it’s historic sites as they were in the 18th century- from colonial plantations to churches, cathedrals and downtown marketplaces.
During our stop in Charleston we were only able to partake in several of thousands of historic sites during one all-too-short weekend. Due to the sheer number of historic landmarks, it is often difficult to decide how to allocate your time. I’ve highlighted several of our favorite landmarks to help you enjoy historic Charleston to it’s fullest.
The Charleston Museum is considered America’s first museum, established in 1773. It houses a wide variety of cultural pieces that exhibit the heritage of Charleston and the entire south. One exhibit which we spent much of our time at was ‘From Slave to Sharecropper’, an original that commemorates the bicentennial of the abolition of U.S. and British Slave Trade. The display includes images and objects of the post civil war African-American experiences that are incredible in their diversity and detail. The exhibit runs until February 2009.
The Aiken-Rhett House stands as the city’s ‘most intact urban villa’. It has been conserved and virtually unchanged since 1858, and provides a beautiful portrayal of life as it stood centuries ago. This was a great place to visit with the kids, as they were able to compare the various household objects there to what exists in their house today.
The Patriots Point Naval Museum was a great site to visit because it allowed us to experience the beautiful Charleston harbor. Patriots Point is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world and houses ships such as the destroyer USS Laffey, known as ‘The Ship That Would Not Die’. The boys really enjoyed the gunboats.
Where to Stay: We were able to book a Charleston Hotel online at a very affordable price- the Church Street Inn. Located at the corner of Church and Market Streets where Charleston’s famed market area hums with activity, the Church Street Inn and its plush rooms were elegantly designed in a style reminiscent of a time gone by. We were very pleased with the service and price there.
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
During the heat of the Civil War in 1862, Union Commander Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s forces swept across North Carolina with little resistance. The final bastion of confederate strength resided with Fort Macon, a brick and stone vault erected on the Bogue Banks, housing 400 soldiers who refused to surrender. Fort Macon did not fall until union forces bombarded it with heavy siege guns for 11 hours from offshore gunboats.
Today, this history can be vividly imagined as you walk beside Fort Macon’s restored walls, still standing proudly along the Atlantic Beach Coast. The setting has changed some, as the gunboat artillery blasts have been replaced by children laughing and families picnicking on the pristine surf.
Today, Fort Macon State Park is the most popular tourist destinations in North Carolina, bringing in near to 1.3 million visitors per year. The area possesses a multitude of activities for families and couples, from relaxing on the beach, exploring the history, to taking in the undisturbed natural beauty of Atlantic Beach. Fort Macon Park offers visitors both soundside and surf fishing, nature trails, ranger guided tours, a protected swim area, and a refreshment stand- all with no fees.
My family had a chance to experience Fort Macon during the last leg of our roadtrip. We stayed at the beautiful seaside town of Atlantic Beach, one of the smaller, quainter, communities located along the Crystal Coast. We had a wonderful weekend there, as it was the final destination of our road trip, spending our first day exploring the fort and our second decompressing on the beach. (I guess no matter how lofty my goal was for a historic winter vacation, a little relaxation towards the end was important).
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Peppertree Atlantic Beach, a beautiful surfside oasis with all the best amenities. We found this Atlantic Beach Hotel online for a discounted cost of only $99 for 2 nights.