With coastline that hugs the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico; low, coastal plains, from Virginia to Louisiana, filled with wetlands and swamps; hills, mountains, plateaus and valleys in the northernmost reaches; and beaches that are easy on the eyes (and good for the soul), the Southeastern United States afford highly varied geology and wildlife, fascinating ecosystems and breathtaking biodiversity.
Just take its aquatic life as an example — the region’s waters support a whopping 493 species of fish (62 percent of U.S. fish population); at least 269 types of mussels (91 percent of the country’s species); and 241 kinds of dragonflies and damselflies (48 percent of all those found in North America). Ready for another fun fact? The American Southeast harbors about two million wild boars.
Naturally, it doesn’t stop there. A flora lover’s dream, the Southeast is punctuated by swaying coconut palms along the Gulf Coast; fragrant Southern Magnolias from Virginia to central Florida, and west to east Texas; and shrubby mountain laurel in higher elevations.
Given all that variance, the weather is — as one might expect — mixed. As such, a diverse wardrobe may be de rigueur. Areas of the Southeast see extreme summer heat and winter cold; sub-freezing temperatures have been known to zap the northern Southeast states. Of course, things get more temperate — even steamy — the further south you go. Whether you prefer the mountains of the Southern Appalachians or South Florida’s powdery, white sand beaches, the American Southeast offers possibilities galore.
Considering exploring the region or even making a move? Here are a few things to know.
Hitting the Great Outdoors
When it comes to outdoor activities, the Southeast has something for everyone, whether it’s whitewater rafting in the Smokies, a hike through fall foliage, paddling down the undammed Buffalo National River or kayaking crystalline sea water on a glass-bottom boat.
What’s more, the region boasts 10 national parks:
- Biscayne National Park (FL)
- Dry Tortugas National Park (FL)
- Congaree National Park (SC)
- Everglades National Park (FL)
- Mammoth Cave National Park (KY)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC, TN)
- Shenandoah National Park (VA)
- Hot Springs National Park (AR)
- New River Gorge National Park (WV)
- Virgin Islands National Park (VI)
Have kids between the ages of seven and 12? Sign them up for the NPS’ Junior Ranger program.
Looking for romance? Board a seaplane to Fort Jefferson, nestled amid coral reefs and uninhabited islets. At the end of the day, the only question is, how much time can you spare?
Getting a Culture Fix
Even today, Southerners maintain — and nurture — an identity all their own. With a literary history that runs deep, the Southeast cultivated the likes of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.
Meanwhile, art lovers will appreciate Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art and Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Fancy good food? New Orleans’ Museum of Food and Beverage is not to be missed.
Whether you take in the sounds of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra or a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, there are plenty of immersive, inspiring cultural experiences to be had.
Known for its comforting, rich dishes, fare from the country’s Southeast sees its fair share of Native American influences. Look no further than grits, corn fritters, cornbread and Brunswick stew for proof.
Then there’s the matter of barbecue. From the Atlantic to the Gulf, bordered by west Texas and Kansas City, the United States’ “barbecue belt” touts four distinct takes — Carolina, Texas, Kansas City and Memphis — all of which can be traced back to Caribbean-style cooking, which was introduced by Spanish conquistadors before moving west with settlers. They then inflected it with European touches.
Be prepared to also encounter Tex-Mex cuisine, as well as rib-sticking soul food, the latter on account of the region’s rich, important Black history and African roots. Storied staples include fried chicken; slow-simmered, southern-style greens; and chicken and dumplings. Furthering the region’s African influence, Cajun and Creole fare put Louisiana on the culinary map.
Careers in the Southeast
A wide range of industries are found the Southeastern U.S., among them coal mining, crude oil extraction, steelmaking and lumber.
Given the fastest-growing tech hubs are mid-sized cities, systems analysts will find themselves right at home, with Nashville, Tennessee, and Raleigh, North Carolina, offering opportunities galore.
Market research analysts — who turn consumer data into sales leads, market forecasts and marketing promotions — will also find a fast-growing field. Meanwhile, many companies have relocated their manufacturing plants here; machinists are a large part of the region’s industrial workforce.
Because the southern U.S. is home to a large aging population with specific needs, there is always a call for in-home healthcare. Not surprisingly, there is a need for professionals who maintain and repair medical equipment, too.
Landmarks Worth Experiencing Firsthand
Narrowing down the Southeast’s most iconic destinations is no easy feat. However, a few spots immediately come to mind.
Graceland — set on a 13.8-acre estate in Memphis, Tennessee — was once owned by singer and actor Elvis Presley, opening to the public as a museum in 1982. Of course, country music fans will delight in Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum, as well as the aforementioned Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Need more Dolly in your life? Head a few hours east of Nashville to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
Of course, history buffs won’t want to miss Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. Meanwhile, the Mexican Cultural Institute in San Antonio celebrates Mexican traditions and culture through exhibitions, performances and other events, and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis traces the history of the civil rights movement in the United States from the 17th century to today. As for space enthusiasts, topping the list of to-dos is a visit to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Not to be overlooked, there’s the grand, Château-like Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. A historic house museum built for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, it clocks in at a sprawling 178,926 square feet.
Have a case of wanderlust? Be sure to hit the United States’ Southernmost Point. Located at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets in Key West, Florida, it’s the perfect place to gaze at the ocean beyond.
Considering a move to one of these southeastern states? Recently moved and in the process of settling in? Mayflower is here to help you Every Step of the Way®. Click here to get the ball rolling, and be sure to check out our blog for helpful moving tips — not to mention advice on making your house feel like a home.