By Jenny Komenda
From a museum in New Orleans’ French Quarter devoted to the costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians to an architectural driving tour of historic Aberdeen, Mississippi to vibrant street art in what was once Miami’s warehouse district, cruising through the southeastern United States in your 2014 Chevrolet Spark is like taking a cultural world tour. And since your car’s color palette is expressive to say the least (Salsa Red, anyone?), get ready to turn heads. After all, you’re one of the prime attractions in this landscape.
Louisville, KY: The corner of Main Street and Seventh in downtown Louisville is home to 21c, a contemporary art museum and boutique hotel. The building is a renovated tobacco warehouse with 90 quirky yet intimate rooms, all packed with inspirational modern art. For dinner, try 610 Magnolia, a restaurant with themed events such as “Pickles and Smoke.” Though tucked away in an unassuming building in the heart of Old Louisville, 610 Magnolia is anything but, with its perfectly matched marriage of modern refinement and Southern charm. The last Friday of every month, trolleys run along the stunning Historic Frankfort Avenue free of charge. Local boutique, bookstore and restaurant owners happily take part in the merriment with live music, exceptional sales and wide-open doors.
Atlanta and Athens, GA: Take a weekend trip to Georgia for some serious treasure hunting. Starting in Atlanta, check out Scott Antique Market, the world’s largest indoor antique exposition, which brings crowds from all over the United States. Athens—about an hour and a half away by car—is home to the Indie South Fair. Coined “a handmade happening,” this open-air market is filled with local artists, vendors, musicians and craftsmen. Be sure to stop by Agora, a locally-owned antique shop that specializes in mid-century pieces and vintage clothing.
New Orleans, Louisiana and Aberdeen, Mississippi: New Orleans’ Backstreet Cultural Museum was started in a two-car garage by a man who was simply displaying photos he’d taken of the intricate costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians. Soon the garage was full to capacity with donated Mardi Gras costumes and other historical artifacts, so the exhibition relocated to an historical neighborhood near the French Quarter. The man who masterminded it all acts as a dynamic tour guide, introducing you to the culture of Mardi Gras and the incredible craftsmanship behind every handmade costume. Crescent City Cooks! is an open market-type spice and culinary specialty shop that also offers daily seafood and gumbo cooking classes. Unique smells, textures and colors, with stunning natural light as their companion, offer artistic inspiration of a non-typical sort. Then head four hours north to historic Aberdeen, Mississippi, for its Architectural Driving Tour. You’ll see 50 spectacular original and renovated homes that give life to every type of Southern architecture, from antebellum mansions to 1920 bungalows.
Miami, Florida: Plan a trip to Miami in December for Art Basel, a contemporary art show with more than 250 of the world’s best galleries. It’s a citywide event with parties and exhibits held all over the city, and many of the films, shows and talks are free to the public. Wynwood Walls was once Miami’s warehouse district and is now home to some of the most incredible street art in the United States. Murals on nearly every door and warehouse wall make this district a must-see for art lovers. Plan your visit in the afternoon so you can immerse yourself in contemporary urban art while having dinner at Wynwood Kitchen. Indoor and outdoor seating in its open warehouse space gives you the chance to take in a lot of street art all in once place, while enjoying your meal.
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Jenny Komenda is a design blogger and decorator in New York City. Her work has been recognized by Elle Decor, Better Homes and Gardens, Vogue, House and Home, Good Housekeeping and HGTV, among others. She blogs at Little Green Notebook.
Photo by Martha Cooper, courtesy of the artists and Wynwood Walls