Blues Highway Itinerary: 10 Best Spots for a Music History Road Trip

If you’ve had enough scenic tours of mountains and fresh air, head out onto the iconic Blues Highway, the famous Route 61 that leads to Nashville, Memphis, and finally to New Orleans, with the sweet and passionate tunes of Soul, R&B, and Jazz in the air. Drive out into the sunset, feel the wind on your face, and follow the same highway that Otis Redding, Muddy Waters and other hopefuls took on their way out of bleak areas of Mississippi and Georgia. With the open road in front of you, pay homage to the same spots that inspired the beloved classics and paved the way for Elvis and the Beatles.

10. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Nashville, Tennessee

Starting out in Nashville, get into the mood of Music City at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the headquarters for preserving and collecting artifacts that capture the history and traditions of American country music. At the main exhibit, “Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music”, get ready to take in the rich saga of music history that put Nashville on the map. With recorded sound, vintage film footage, and old photographs, visitors can trace the origins of country music and how it had a lasting influence on American culture. After touring the grounds, hop on a vintage tour bus to Music Row and the cherished RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest surviving studio where legends like Dolly Parton and Elvis made music history.

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

9. Grand Ole Opry – Nashville, Tennessee

The Grand Ole Opry is a must-see on your Nashville stop. For 90 years and still going strong, the weekly music venue is known for hosting legends that made country music famous. Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and many others got their start at the Opry with legendary performances. Today, you’ll find a mix of newcomers and stars playing their best songs, that way fans can get a sample of several musicians in one concert. The magic started in 1925 when fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson performed a new show called “The WSM Barn Dance,” which later evolved into a live concert known as the Grand Ole Opry. DeFord Bailey, affectionately known as the Harmonica Wizard, was also a regular performer. Over the years, the famous venue has launched countless music careers. Set against the iconic backdrop of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, it is truly an American cultural landmark.

aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com
aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com

8. The District – Nashville, Tennessee

It’s not just the country music that makes Nashville famous but the rock, jazz, and bluegrass playing at venues in the District, a refurbished area of warehouse-style saloons and bars. Stroll down second avenue with the weeknight party parade and stop by for some authentic bluegrass at Station Inn across the street from the Grand Ole Opry. Then take the party to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to get your honky tonky on at the iconic country music saloon. But the music tour isn’t over until you stop at BB King’s Blues Club, the world famous hotspot for live blues and Southern comfort food. And don’t forget to try the fried green tomatoes and other down home delicacies at the Opry Backstage Grill on Music Valley Drive.

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

7. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music – Memphis, Tennessee

After getting your fill of classic country music in Nashville, head to Memphis and follow the origins of Blues. First stop is The Stax Museum of American Soul Music on East McLemore Ave, which is named after the record label that produced talents like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Wilson Pickett. The Stax sound is passionate and hopeful, giving a voice to the new wave of optimism coming from the Mississippi Delta, a sound as strongly rooted as the old Cyprus trees. In the late 50s and early 60s, something big was happening in music, so epic and transformative that it has its own cherished place in the history of music. In 1960, Stax Records, often considered the birthplace of soul, moved to the old Capitol Theatre and two years later, Otis Redding was discovered and became their biggest star.

Pierre-Jean Durieu / Shutterstock.com
Pierre-Jean Durieu / Shutterstock.com

6. Wild Bill’s – Memphis, Tennessee

After getting an education in blues history at Stax Museum, stop in for a blues jam at Wild Bill’s, a classic juke joint a few miles north of the tourist area of Beale Street. Locals always say there are two reasons to go—when you’re feeling good and when you’re feeling bad. Whatever your mood, the blues will set you free, if you let it. Locals and aficionados swear by it, often joking that it’s cheaper than therapy. Located in Midtown Memphis, Wild Bill’s is a welcome alternative to the tourist clubs downtown and a more authentic blues, soul, and rock sound. From old bands to aspiring indie groups, Wild Bill’s is the spot where musicians sing their hearts out and when back in the day blues evolved into rock ‘n’ roll and soul. The former gas station is like stepping back in time, even hosting the original trumpet player from Otis Redding’s band.

Photo by: Wild Bill's Memphis
Photo by: Wild Bill’s Memphis

5. Rendezvous – Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis might be world famous because of its blues heritage and Elvis, but it also some of the best barbeque this side of the Delta. With over 100 barbecue joints in the city, the competition is fierce and Rendezvous downtown is no exception with its famous dry ribs. The secret is in the charcoal, which was Charles Vergo’s special cooking method, and of course, the sauce. It is considered by many to be the best barbecue in the Delta. Just ask the several 1,000 people that line up outside on a Saturday to sink their teeth into a slab of ribs, a classic Memphis favorite. The joint is still in the family, with Charlie’s kids running the place. It might be all about the ribs, but you can still order the same ham and cheese sandwiches that Charlie cooked up when he started out in 1948. Their sauces are top secret, but you can take a bottle home for some serious backyard grilling sessions.

Photo by: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Photo by: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous

4. Madison Hotel – Memphis, Tennessee

Built in 1905, the 14-story former Tennessee Trust building is one of the oldest skyscrapers in the Delta. Standing out with its ornate classical detailing, the Madison Hotel still regains its former glory with the original façade. After years of neglect, the Unison Hotel Company rescued the deteriorating structure in 2002 and converted the interior into an ultra-modern, sleek boutique hotel with 110 rooms. After long hours in the car, treat yourself to luxuries fit for royalty like Egyptian cotton sheets, an award-winning restaurant, and an enchanting evening on the Twilight Sky Terrace overlooking downtown. It might have a posh, European flair, but Madison Hotel still has a warm, Southern charm. Located on Madison Avenue, the hotel is near the historic Beale Street filled with blues clubs, restaurants, and recording studios.

Photo by: Madison Hotel
Photo by: Madison Hotel

3. Gateway to the Blues Museum -Tunica, Mississippi

A good place to start a Mississippi blues tour is Gateway to the Blues Museum in Tunica, a historical wonderland filled with stories of the very origins of blues that had a lasting influence on American music, especially soul, R&B, and rock n roll. It all started in the fields of the Delta, a place of pain and hope, and blues was just the thing to give a voice to the heartache and suffering of a dark time in US history. You’ll also get a chance to channel your inner rock star with interactive exhibits that teach the blues basics and even lets you record a song in the onsite recording studio. Music history buffs will revel in the guitar display with over 20 guitars of all kinds that were played by the legends themselves. Try out the lap steel guitar or diddley bow and play your heart out.

Photo by: Tunica Travel
Photo by: Tunica Travel

2. Ground Zero Blues Club – Clarksdale, Mississippi

For blues fans and music historians, Clarksdale, Mississippi is considered the “Ground Zero” for blues around the world. Established in 2001, the venue was opened to celebrate the area’s rich blues heritage with roots as strong  and ancient as the Delta. With the help of Morgan Freeman and locals Bill Luckett and Howard Stovall, the blues club has been a hotspot for an authentic blues experience. Although big acts come through from time to time, most musicians come from the Delta and follow in the traditions of legends like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Located on Blues Alley in the heart of historic Clarksdale, the world’s most beloved musicians play Wednesday through Saturday, keeping the blues tradition alive and well. Ground Zero Blues Club is also a good spot to try some Southern comfort food like crispy catfish and slow-cooked Mississippi barbeque.

Ground Zero Blues Club
Photo by: Ground Zero Blues Club

1. The French Quarter – New Orleans, Louisiana

As people fled the dismal areas from Georgia to Mississippi during the Great Depression, they brought with them the bittersweet blues, a new kind of sound that brought a voice to a newfound passion and hope. Many stopped in New Orleans, Louisiana, a meeting place for musicians, artists, and writers. Among them were the world’s best blues musicians, the cherished legends who led the way for jazz and now take a prominent place in the evolution of American music. With its slightly leaning buildings, old streets, and original cafes and bars, the charm of New Orleans is still going strong. Holding onto its French and Spanish immigrant roots, the historic French Quarter is still the stomping grounds for the best musicians in the world and on any given day an impromptu brass band might joyfully stop traffic. The best time to go is during festival season, which starts in April.

IrinaK / Shutterstock.com
IrinaK / Shutterstock.com

5 of the South’s Best Finger-Licking-Good Barbecue Joints

Whether you douse your meat in a tangy vinegar concoction or a sweet molasses-based sauce, nothing beats good old-fashioned smoked barbecue. And where do you find the best barbecue? Down South, of course! If you’re planning a trip south of the Mason-Dixon sometime soon, make sure you mark an “x” on the map for the following locations — they’re serving up some of the South’s best barbecue (and many of these joints have been doing so for decades). Just don’t forget extra napkins; we have a feeling you’re going to need them.

5. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q -Decatur, Alabama

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama is famous for its tangy, peppery, and oh-so-good white barbecue sauce. Drench some of Big Bob’s tender barbecued chicken in it and you’ll soon be claiming that a new sauce is boss. This famed southern barbecue joint has been around since 1925, started by 300-pound, 6’4” Gibson himself — now you know how he got the nickname “Big Bob”. The barbecue joint has been a family operation for four generations, and winning is in the family blood; Big Bob’s Bar-B-Q has won 10 world championship barbecue competitions. If you can’t make it down to Alabama for a taste of Big Bob’s incredible smoked chicken or pork, you might be able to try some of the restaurant’s famous white sauce at home — the sauce is sold in bottles at over 2,000 grocery stores across nine states in the U.S.

Photo by: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que
Photo by: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que

4. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn -Owensboro, Kentucky

The folks at this Kentucky institution take great pride in serving up only the tastiest eats; after all, their slogan is “When Only the Best Will Do … Moonlite Bar-B-Q”. The Barbecue at Moonlite is full of smoky hickory flavor, since the BBQ pros here stick to the Kentucky tradition of slowly smoking their meats in custom-built hickory fired pits, the results are all-off-the-bone good barbecue. Moonlite Bar-B-Q has a pretty unique menu, and a lot of focus is given to its mutton and beef brisket. Catherine and Pappy Bosley purchased the Moonlite Inn way back in 1963, when it was just a 30-seat restaurant. Today, the Moonlite is a 350-seat hoppin’ barbecue joint, with over 120 employees, its own processing plant, and an always-busy catering department. Still, it’s still the perfect place to slow down and enjoy some slow-smoked, scrumptious barbecue.

Photo by: Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
Photo by: Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

3. The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint -Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Who knew that a big shed made out of a bunch of junk found during dumpster-diving adventures would be serving up some of the best barbecue and blues music this side of the Mason-Dixon? As improbable as it sounds, that’s exactly what you’ll find at The Shed, whose original location is in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Started by Ole Miss grad Brad and his family, The Shed has morphed from a 300-square-foot building constructed out of Brad’s thrifted findings to a full-fledged barbecue joint and music space with indoor and outdoor seating for more than 500 people (and two other locations to boot). The ambience here is one of a kind, and so is the barbecue. The Shed’s pit masters douse their baby back ribs in a special rub and then slather them with a BBQ sauce made from top-secret, time-tested recipe.

Photo by: The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint
Photo by: The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint

2. Skylight Inn BBQ -Ayden, North Carolina

You won’t be left searching for good barbecue in North Carolina, but if you want the best of the best, then you need to head to Skylight Inn. Pete Jones opened his barbecue joint in Ayden, North Carolina in 1947, when he was just 17 years old. Dedicated to roasting whole hogs the old-fashioned way over wood, word soon got out that some of the best barbecue around was being served up at the Skylight. Soon word reached all the way to National Geographic, which cited Skylight Inn as one of the best places to grab barbecue in the country. Before Pete passed away, he got the chance to serve barbecue to presidents and see his joint written about in magazines like People, GQ, and Southern Living. The barbecue served at Skylight Inn today still lives up to the hype; just sink your teeth into one of their overflowing barbecue sandwiches and we think you’ll agree.

Photo by: kowarski via Flickr
Photo by: kowarski via Flickr

1. Fresh Air Bar-B-Que -Macon, Georgia

Fresh Air Bar-B-Que has been around since 1929, and Georgia’s the better for it. The pit masters at Fresh Air smoke their hams whole over indirect heat overnight, then slather the meat in a savory tomato-and-vinegar barbecue sauce that is the definition of “finger-licking good”. Make sure you try a side of Brunswick Stew too, a Georgia specialty that’s a savory blend of vegetables, roast beef, and fragrant southern spices. Fresh Air still uses a family recipe first developed in the 1890’s, so you know it’s time-tested! And with locations in both Macon and Jackson, Georgia, hopefully you’ll get a chance to stop by for some slow-smoked goodness soon.

Photo by: Fresh Air Bar-B-Que
Photo by: Fresh Air Bar-B-Que

8 Best American Highways for Road Trips

Sometimes it’s the getting there that’s the best part of the trip, especially when it comes to these 8 famous American Highways. Whether you’re headed down the Pacific Coast or traveling cross-country on the iconic Route 66, check out these historic highways for some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and historic landmarks.

8. Alligator Alley

If you’re looking for a more authentic Florida experience, jump on Alligator Alley, the historic highway that leads civilization to the Everglades. Baby boomers or film buffs will recognize the famous highway from a scene in Clambake, the 1967 musical featuring a crooning Elvis driving to the swamp in a red Corvette. Since then, the highway has been updated with a merging of I-75, a fast track to the swamp. From Sarasota, head west to reach the Everglades Skyway for an airboat tour and local delicacies like fried alligator and frog legs. On the way back, take Tamiami Trail, a scenic highway dating back to the 1920’s for the road less traveled.

Photo by: Spin A Globe
Photo by: Spin A Globe

7. A1A

For the complete Florida experience, start in Jacksonville on A1A to begin the journey south along the Atlantic coast. Along the way, you’ll pass by St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country. It’s worth an afternoon of sightseeing in the historic old town with quaint shops on cobblestoned streets and Spanish forts from the 17th century. Then continue on the famous beach highway for a stop in Daytona for a walk on their renovated boardwalk and to experience Florida’s epic biker culture. Continuing on the scenic and historic coastal highway, you’ll reach Ft. Lauderdale, a sprawling metropolis among a concrete jungle. After recharging with shopping and dining on Las Olas, head to Miami and Key West via US 1 for the final leg of the road trip.

Serenethos / Shutterstock.com
Serenethos / Shutterstock.com

6. Overseas Highway

The Overseas Highway is the only way off Florida’s mainland to the Keys and the southernmost point of US 1. The “magic carpet” dates back to 1912 and Henry Flagler’s expansion of the Florida East Coast Railroad from Miami to Key West. Now all that’s left is a few crumbling railroads from the old days. Fuel up the wally wagon, get the camera ready, and head out onto the Seven Mile Bridge. The first stop is Key Largo for snorkeling in the reefs at John Pennekamp State Park. Keep going and you’ll end up at Key Islamorada, a great spot for boating, fishing, and water sports. After you’ve had enough nature and fresh air, head to the final stop, Key West, a lively strip of restaurants, bars, and French colonial mansions.

Overseas Highway

5. Blues Highway

Starting in Nashville on US Route 61, stop at all the hotspots for blues, classic country, and Rock n Roll and end up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Along the way, make a pitstop for the afternoon and indulge in Southern comfort food and Music City’s many live venues with crooning legends and homegrown sounds. Then stop in Memphis, the birthplace of Rock n Roll, and tour Sun Studio where Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis made their start. Keep heading south and you’ll reach Tunica, Mississippi, also known as “The Gateway to the Blues.” Discover the best of the Delta Blues landmarks and then head to Clarksdale for live blues at Ground Zero Blues Club, a celebrity owned venue. Finally, you’ll reach New Orleans where you can wander around the funky, historic French Quarter and find music on every corner.

Photo by: Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Photo by: Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM

4. Blue Ridge Parkway

During the peak season for the changing colors of the leaves (mid October), the purple, red, and orange hues can be seen from space, so it’s no wonder that this spectacular scenery inspired “purple mountain majesties.” Starting at Afton Mountain in the Ridge District and continuing onto Rockfish Gap, experience ridge-top driving, magnificent views of the Appalachian forests, and vistas of the Great Valley of Virginia. If you want to see the expansive vistas of Roanoke Valley, head to the Plateau District and Milepost 120, the peak area of the Blue Ridge landscape. Stop by the quaint rural towns for local Bluegrass, Southern comfort food, and red barn photo ops.

Blue Ridge Parkway

3. Red Rock Scenic Byway

Starting at the National Forest of Sedona, explore the unique redrock banks of Oak Creek, the canyons, and rock formations of the magnetic vortexes. The natural beauty causes quite a stir so it’s no surprise that Sedona is one of the most widely photographed areas in the country. The area is often packed with sightseers soaking up the view and artists and photographers capturing the breathtaking scene. Then, head to Bell Rock Vista and Courthouse Butte, two glorious redrocks from the magnetic vortexes. If you still have enough energy, channel your ‘Last of the Mohicans’ spirit and hike the Little Horse Trail further down the parkway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

2. Route 66

Get ready for roadside nostalgia and kitsch from the days of classic muscle cars and the American Dream. Also called the “Mother Road”, Route 66 was popular after World War II among motorists heading out in Chevys to the Pacific coast. Starting in St. Louis, stop in for a treat at Ted Drewes Frozen Yogurt before touring the monuments. Then, Route 66 parallels with I-41 from Afton to Tulsa. Along the way, try some comfort food at Clanton’s Café in Vinita. Continuing west, you’ll pass the world’s largest totem pole near Foyil. Here you can pay your respects to Will Rogers in his hometown of Claremore, and then stop in Oklahoma City for cowboy regalia at Stockyards City. Finally, continue 63 miles west to Tucumcari for bohemian coffee shops, old school neon, and historic landmarks on Central Ave.

Route 66

1. Pacific Coast Highway

With 850 miles of magnificent, sparkling coastal views, redwood forests, and small beach towns, Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most popular scenic highways in the country. Also known as US 1, it’s more scenic than its faster more practical neighbor US 101. Starting in San Diego, take I-5 to North County and take advantage of warmer ocean temperatures with a swim after a seaside lunch. Then continue on to Huntington Beach to recharge and see the sights before the final leg to Long Beach for a ride on the famous Queen Mary ocean liner. You could also take the highway from the north starting at the cliffs of Fort Bragg and Mendocino, then finally to the bustling San Francisco and the coastal gems of Big Sur.

Pacific Coast Highway Bixby Bridge Big Sur

7 Quirky Pickle Flavors You Can Find in America

As the perfect sidekick to any sandwich, the pickle has really made a name for itself. Not only in the U.S., but well beyond. European countries serve them, as do Americanized restaurants across the entire globe. They’re serve as a crunchy, flavorful way to add to a meal. But in recent years, pickles have gone well beyond sidekick fare and upped their game even further, landing themselves a spot as one of our favorite snacks. That’s right, it’s ok to eat a pickle by itself, and it’s delicious. Now adding even more variety to the mix with different flavors – whether that be homemade or bought directly from the store. No matter where you’re located, the United States is home to some incredible pickle techniques. Consider making your next vacation snack-focused and making your way across the globe with these briny treats in mind. It’s worth the extra miles for any true pickle fan.

7. The Classics

Dill and garlic pickles are always among crowd favorites. As are sweet versions (nix the garlic and add sugar), or spicy fare (add red peppers or jalapenos – the more, the spicier they get). Each of which comes in multiple versions on store shelves and in home canners. There’s a reason there are so many of these classics, however; they’re delicious. And as many agree, the crispier, the better. Stock up on these flavors as you travel, with extra attention to test out restaurant recipes for an accurate representation of each region and how they take their pickles. Because what’s a regional trip without testing out the pickles as you go?

dill pickles

6. Bread and Butter

Though we’re not sure where they got their name – these things taste nothing like actual bread and butter – these sweet and sour pickles are often controversial. Either you love them or you hate them. Either way their allegiance is strong. These can be found all over, especially in the Northeast, where pickles are plentiful. Try different versions as you travel and let us know which ones you like best!

Bread and butter pickles

5. Red Beet Pickles

When heading South, this is the pickle to try. Strange in color but unique in taste, it’s a pickle you won’t soon forget. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also try red beet eggs to get the full experience. Just be sure to bring along a toothbrush … we’re guessing you’ll need it. Both come in spicy and sweet versions.

pickled beets

4. Lemon Pickles

Available along the West Coast, try your hand at a citrus-themed pickle. It’s the perfect way to draw in local produce with a nationwide favorite. Most are tart – like any traditional pickle – some versions come with sugar for more of a lemonade theme, depending on what part of the coast you’re venturing. They’re much more delicious than they actually sound, we swear. Mix it up and try cauliflower versions, too.

3. Carrot and Mint Pickles

This might be one of the strangest versions we’ve found yet, and it’s found all throughout the Southwest. Some restaurants serve straight from a jar – so the pickles and carrots can intermingle – while others remove carrots for a more pickle-centric dish. Try either way and let us know your favorite, especially for those nervous about the twist of mint, which serves as an avid refresher.

carrot pickles

2. Boozy Pickles

They need vinegar to pickle … and then to ferment, they need booze. Popular in trendy bar scene towns (we’ve heard of availability in Chicago, L.A., and New York City), alcohol soaked pickles are an up-and-coming treat. Check out those sold online like from the Nevada Brining Company, or take the step even further at home and make pickle wine (there are beer versions too; talk to your liquor store guy about a special order), or let the pros do what they do best and opt for a pickle, err, drink instead.

Photo by: Nevada Brining Company
Photo by: Nevada Brining Company

1. Kool-Aid Pickles

Yep, you read that right. People are now putting packs of Kool-Aid into pickles. They just dump the whole packet in, trying different flavors as they go. And as weird as it sounds, it’s actually getting rave reviews. Because there’s so much sugar, the step actually helps cancel out the traditional vinegar brine, and offers something sweet instead. If you can’t find a place that sells it, this is an easy at-home test. Though the trend is popping up at street fairs and food trucks across the U.S. Don’t worry, we’re keeping our eyes open. Surely something this weird won’t go away any time soon.