Whether you’re staying in your southern college town for the summer or heading home to spend time with the fam, the south is one of the best places to live during your months off. From sweet tea and long days in the sun to some of the best food you’ll ever try, there are plenty of items you’ll want to add to your bucket list in order to truly get the southern summer experience. Here are nine essentials to get you started.
1. Experience New Orleans nightlife
Mardi Gras isn’t the only time when it’s amazing to visit New Orleans. If you want something outside the realm of the standard frat parties and college town bars you experience while at school, the nightlife in New Orleans will be the step up from a typical college night out that you’re looking for.
2. Try crawfish
Right underneath fried everything and super sweet iced tea, crawfish is high on the list of foods near and dear to a southerner’s heart. Not to mention summer is prime crawfish time—the season lasts until around mid-July. While eating them can be weirdly intimidating, it’s not much more difficult than peeling shrimp. If you’re already a pro, try hosting your own crawfish boil. Southern Living’s recipe even allows you to do it from the comfort of your own stove—no giant outdoor pot necessary.
3. Explore Charleston
If there were ever a quintessential southern city, it would be Charleston, South Carolina. With plenty of palm trees, rows of colorful buildings and tons of beach access, it’s also the perfect summer destination. For a quick weekend visit, sites like the historic Charleston City Market and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens are spots you won’t want to miss.
4. Make sweet iced tea
Summer in the south gets HOT—which is why sweet iced tea is an essential. While the recipe seems simple enough (just some iced tea and sugar packets, right?), blogger Love Bakes Good Cakes’s recipe will ensure you get this classic right every single time. Her trick? Adding just a tiny bit of baking soda to counteract bitterness. Bonus points if you spring for a flavored recipe, like this Southern Strawberry Sweet Iced Tea.
5. Go boating
Even if you don’t live near the beach, in the south, there’s a good chance that you live near some kind of lake or other body of water. If so, a lazy day spent with friends on a boat is a must. Just don’t forget the SPF!
6. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
With killer hiking and unbelievable views (496 miles of them, to be exact), the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina, takes road trips to the next level. If you’re looking for a cute (and free!) southern summer date idea, this could be one of the most unexpectedly romantic ones.
7. Visit the SCAD galleries
Rainy day? The SCAD Museum of Art is one of the best art museums in the south, with an ever-changing lineup of cool exhibitions including renowned fashion exhibits. Come for the art museum, stay for the cool town of Savannah, Georgia.
8. Host a bonfire
Is there anything better than a night spent outside with friends around a bonfire? Snack on some s’mores and catch up with your besties. To up the ante, see if you can host one on the beach (just make sure to check local regulations first!).
9. Sleep under the stars
If you say camping outside isn’t one of your childhood dreams, you’re probably lying—and luckily, summers in the south make for perfect camping weather, even if you just plan to get a few friends together and sleep in your backyard.
There’s summer, and then there’s a southern summer—this bucket list will ensure you make the most of your summer spent in the south.