One of my favorite benefits of living in Charlotte is Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Before you roll your eyes with thoughts of cancelled flights, obscenely slow luggage handling, and the fact that you’ve never, ever been able to score a seat in one of those old-timey rocking chairs, hear me out.
Because CLT is such a major hub for American Airlines, we are spoiled with direct flights to cities that provide a travel experience that offers something a little more authentic than the Strip in Las Vegas or Times Square in NYC.
Over the past few years, I’ve traveled to several off the radar cities direct from CLT that have wowed me with unique flavors and cultural experiences that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Below are some of my favorites.
Whereas Lake Charles is pure Cajun country, Shreveport brings a unique blend of Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. You’re going to want to start your journey in Shreveport at Herby-K’s, the city’s oldest continually operated restaurant. Order the Shrimp Buster, Herby K’s version of a po-boy. The shrimp are pounded and then fried, making them more like a shrimp potato chip, adding an extra layer of crunch to the sandwich. It’s served with a secret sauce that starts with a base of tomato and Worcester.
Belly full, head over to The Agora Borealis for DIY art. The downtown Shreveport artisan market offers up locally made products like jewelry, art, clothing, and home furnishings, with a stress to recycled or reclaimed materials. You never know what you’ll find to decorate yourself or your home.
Shreveport is also a town that likes to party. For one of the wildest parties in town, check out Marilynn’s Place for brunch, where locals often tailgate before the doors open and the party spills into the parking lot.
Unique time to visit – Each October the city of Shreveport welcomes chefs, filmmakers, and musicians from across the city and country to compete in the LA Prize Festival. It’s four days of food demonstrations, thought-provoking films, and genre-spanning music.
I admit that I spent a good bit of time scouring Zillow for real estate after returning from Mobile. The people are friendly, the food is all its own—think southern fried with dashes of French, Spanish, and Cajun—and the party is raging. There’s also a good bit of history given that six national flags have flown over the Azalea City.
Some Mobile musts include a city tour with Gulf Coast Ducks (it’s okay to be a kid again every once in a while), the oyster sampler at Wintzell’s Oyster House (my mouth is watering thinking of the Oysters Bienville smothered in shrimp, crab, and parmesan), and live music at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club (one of the first places Alabama Shakes played).
When you tire of touring historic neighborhoods in central Mobile and bar hopping in the open-container downtown entertainment district, head over to the Gulf Shores for an afternoon of fun on not yet discovered by developer beaches.
Unique time to visit – Sure, New Orleans may receive all the notoriety when it comes to Mardi Gras, but Mobile is where the party originated in the United States. While the general party vibe is still there, it’s on a much more laid-back and family-friendly scale.
Buffalo, New York
Let’s leave the South and head north to Buffalo—after all, you heard so much about the home of the Bills from your neighbor who hasn’t quite realized he doesn’t live there anymore. Is a Rust Belt City worth bragging that much about? Actually, yeah. Buffalo Nation has a lot to be proud. Let’s start with—you guessed it—the food. From authentic chicken wings (ask your neighbor for his favorite joint and go there) to Friday fish fries that take place all year long (Gene McCarthy’s hits the spot) and beef-on-weck sandwiches (Schwabl’s makes a good one).
Then there’s the party scene. While the bars might stay open until 4am, Riverworks is where it’s at when it comes to day drinking. Think zip-lines, rock-climbing walls, roller derby rink, curling, and brewery all wrapped into one package. During warmer months, rent the pub-cycle and paddle along the Buffalo River. There’s also architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House), history (the spot where President Theodore Roosevelt took his oath of office), and plenty of craft beer.
Unique Time to Visit – How about breaking the trend of visiting the other Queen City during the summer and head north in late November for a Bills game and ice bikes on the rink at Canalside.
Much like Buffalo, Milwaukee is another city that’s rebounding in a major way. You know all that brewery talent that used to be employed by the big boys of beer like Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, and Batz? Well, they’re all opening their own breweries or mentoring young brewery owners to do what they always dreamed of doing. The brewery heavy walkable Walker’s Point neighborhood is a good starting point.
Again, much like Buffalo, Milwaukee has a cuisine that’s uniquely its own—Old World European, locally made brats, and plenty of cheese. Join up with one of Milwaukee Food and City Tours’ food tours for a taste of authentic Cream City. Another integral part of the city’s food culture are supper clubs like Five O’clock Steakhouse, where I ate the best steak of my life.
Other Milwaukee musts include a selfie with the Fonz, a ride with motorcycle history at the Harley-Davidson Museum, and an afternoon at the Milwaukee Public Market. Lastly, be sure to visit some old school bars like Wolski’s (stick around until closing and they’ll give you a sticker) and Holler House (home of the oldest sanctioned bowling alley in the country).
Unique time to visit – Help celebrate Milwaukee’s German heritage at Oktoberfest.