Ashland, VA., Lynchburg, TN and Mexico Beach, FLA have a lot to offer

By KELLY WILLIAMS
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 06/15/08

Soon it will be summer — officially, June 21 — and for many people, time for their annual vacations.

Where to go? Miami? Boston? Washington? We have another idea: This year, why not take in the beauty and history of the Southeast’s small towns?

Here are three towns, all with something special to offer no matter what your interests. And most are less than 300 miles from Atlanta.

Ashland, Va.

Fifteen miles north of Richmond, and originally planned by the RF&P (Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac) Railroad as a mineral springs resort for Richmonders, today Ashland in Hanover County offers a rich assortment of historic sites.

Hanover County was the birthplace of Henry Clay (1777-1852), one-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ashland was named after Clay’s Kentucky plantation home to which he moved in 1785.

Hanover County’s other famous son was Virginia’s first governor, Patrick Henry, whose home, Scotchtown, still stands. It is from this plantation house that Henry rode to Richmond’s St. John’s Church to deliver his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death … ” speech in 1775 (although some question whether he used this exact wording in his speech).

How far: 590 miles. Because of Ashland’s reputation as a railroad town, you might consider traveling via Amtrak. $626 round trip; 1-800-872-7245; amtrak.com. Check for rates.

Where to stay

  • Henry Clay Inn. $95-$195 double occupancy; $15 each additional guest. Original building was destroyed by fire in 1946; present inn opened 1992. Offers 14 guest rooms, restaurant, art/gift gallery, parlor and drawing room. 114 N. Railroad Ave. 1-800-343-4565, 804-798-3100; henryclayinn.com.
  • Days Inn of Ashland. $65. Renovated in 2005. Less expensive and a good choice if you can’t leave Fido at home (pets, $10 per day). 806 England St. 804-798-4262, daysinn.com.
  • Hampton Inn Ashland. $139-$159. More expensive, but offers a Kings Dominion package (see What to do). 705 England St. 1-800-426-7866, 804-752-8444; hamptoninn.com.

Where to shop

  • Dresser Drawer. Sells Kincaid and Hickory Hill furniture, accessories and “upscale” consignments. 203 England St. 804-752-1815, thedresserdraweronline.com.
  • Antique Village Shopping complex houses 50 dealers with central checkout area. 10203 Chamberlayne Road, Mechanicsville. 804-746-8914, antiquevillageva.com.
  • Ashland Farmers Market. Local growers hawk their vegetables and fruits; also flowers. Open every Saturday through Oct. 25. Duncan Street, behind Town Hall, 101 Thompson St. 804-798-9219, town.ashland.va.us.

What to do

Ashland is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2008, with many events planned. (See list of events at ashland150.com.)

  • Take a one-mile self-guided walking tour to view historic homes and churches. Pick up a brochure/map at Ashland/Hanover Visitors Center, a renovated 1920s railroad depot. 112 N. Railroad Ave. 804-752-6766, 1-800-897-1479; town.ashland.va.us.
  • Tour Scotchtown, home of Patrick Henry. Built circa 1719. Henry resided here from 1771 to 1777. 16120 Chiswell Lane, Beaverdam. 804-227-3500, apva.org/scotchtown.
  • Tour Historic Hanover Tavern. In 1763, Patrick Henry lived at the tavern, owned by his father-in-law, John Shelton. Although the original building was destroyed, the existing structure was built in 1791. 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road. 804-537-5050, hanovertavern.org.
  • Ride 14 roller coasters at Kings Dominion, a 400-acre theme and water park with more than 60 rides, slides, shows and attractions. Eight miles north of Ashland. I-95 north, Exit 98. 804-876-5000, kingsdominion.com.
  • Taste Hanover County wines at James River Cellars Winery. 11008 Washington Highway, Glen Allen. 804-550-7516, jamesrivercellars.com.

Upcoming events

  • Annual Hanover Tomato Festival & Heritage Fair. Artisans, craftsmen, entertainment, food and tomato contests. July 5, Mechanicsville. 804-779-7948, hanovertomatofestival.com.
  • Ashland Street Parties. Live entertainment by local bands. July 19 and Sept. 20. 804-752-7944, ashlandstreetparties.com.

More information

  • Ashland/Hanover Visitors Center, 112 N. Railroad Ave. 804-752-6766, 1-800-897-1479; town.ashland.va.us.

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Lynchburg, Tenn.

Most people know Lynchburg as the home of Jack Daniel’s Distillery, the oldest registered distillery in the United States. Except during Prohibition, the distillery has been making sour mash, charcoal-brewed whiskey since 1866.

Lynchburg, 75 miles south of Nashville, prides itself on the fact that it’s a “tiny town in a tiny county,” ranking 94th out of 95 counties in population in the state.

If you’re truly looking for a small town, head to Lynchburg. But beware: There’s no upscale dining, no superstores, no large malls, no high-rises.

What they do have is an appreciation for the Tennessee walking horse and Jack Daniel’s.

How far: 203 miles

Where to stay

  • Maplewood Bed & Breakfast. $95 double occupancy; $85, staying three-plus nights; $20 each additional guest. 1858 antebellum home listed on the National Register of Historic Places offers full Southern breakfast served daily. Pets, smoking and children not allowed. Cash or check only. 686 Motlow Barns Road. 931-759-7010, maplewoodatlynchburg.com.
  • Dream Fields Country Inn. Two rooms, $100-$105; and Romance Cottage, $120. This 1860s farmhouse was once owned by Wiley Daniel, eldest brother of Jack. Includes full country breakfast; see special packages on Web site. 9 Backstreet, Mulberry. 931-632-0336, bbonline.com/tn/dreamfields.
  • Lynchburg Bed & Breakfast. $68-$78. One of the oldest homes in historic Lynchburg; within walking distance of Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Children welcome. 107 Mechanic St. N. 931-759-7158, bbonline.com/tn/lynchburg.

Where to shop

  • Lost & Found Relics. Sells Civil War artifacts (e.g., buttons, bullets) and Jack Daniel’s memorabilia. 211 Main St. 931-759-6949, lostandfoundrelics.com.
  • Lynchburg Pottery & Gift Gallery. Retails wares made by proprietor and local potter Frank Inman; also prints and decorative accessories. 26 Short St. 931-759-5205.
  • Lynchburg Hardware & General Store. 5,000-square-foot specialty store carries Jack Daniel’s licensed items including cookbooks, bar ware and kitchenware. 160 Craig St. 931-759-4200, 1-888-221-5225; jackdaniels.com.
  • B&B Soap Shoppe. Organic soaps, toiletries. 365 Motlow College Road. 931-581-3034, bbsoapshoppe.

What to do

  • Tour Jack Daniel’s Distillery. One-hour guided tour in which visitors view the production of the famous whiskey. Tours begin every 25 minutes. Reservations not required. 182 Lynchburg Highway. 931-759-6357, jackdaniels.com.
  • Take a buggy tour. C&R Buggy & Carriage has one-hour guided tours; includes history of Jack Daniel’s Distillery and Jack Daniel’s grave site. 8 Old Lynchburg Highway. 931-433-8461, blythehousebedandbreakfast.com.
  • Tour the Tennessee Walking Horse Museum. Only gallery in the country dedicated to the history, awards and exhibits of the breed. On Public Square. 931-759-5747.
  • Tour the Moore County Jail. Operated continuously from 1893 to 1990. Exhibits include handcuffs, guns, keys and vintage clothing. 231 Main St. 931-993-1791, lynchburgtn.com.
  • Taste muscadine and berry wines at Tri-Star Vineyards & Winery. Free tours and tastings. 168 Scales Road. 931-294-3062, tristarwinery.com.

Upcoming events

  • Lynchburg Motorcycle Rally. Bike show, music, vendors, Poker Run and prizes. Friday-June 22. 931-759-5544, lynchburgtn.com/motorcycle_rally.html).
  • Frontier Days. Three nights of festivities including a rodeo, street dance, flea market, food and music. June 26-28. 931-759-4111, lynchburgtn.com/frontier_days.html.
  • 70th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. See the world championship show of the elegant Tennessee walking horse. Also features trade fair, barbecue cookout, dog show and equine clinics. Aug. 20-30. Shelbyville, Tenn.; 931-684-5915, twhnc.com.
  • Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational BBQ. Entrants compete with recipes for pork ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket and chicken. Over $25,000 in cash and awards. Oct. 25. Jack Daniel’s Distillery. 931-759-6144, jackdaniels.com.

More information

  • Metropolitan Lynchburg-Moore County Chamber of Commerce, 10 S. Mechanic St. 931-759-4111, lynchburgtn.com.

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Mexico Beach, Fla.

If it’s salt and sand you crave, but not a fast-paced, glittery hot spot such as Myrtle Beach, this is the place.

Mexico Beach in Bay County is a quiet beach community on Florida’s Panhandle, an area often referred to as the state’s “Forgotten Coast.”

The pace here is slooow. There are no traffic lights in Mexico Beach; you’ll find a three-mile beach.

The town can trace its roots to 1900, when Felix DuPont purchased land to produce turpentine. In 1946, several men formed the Mexico Beach Corp., purchased the land for $65,000 and began developing the beach. The town was finally incorporated in 1966.

How far: 311 miles

Where to stay

  • El Governor Motel. $50-$250. 120 beachfront rooms and RV park; also poolside bar. 1701 U.S. 98. 1-888-648-5757, 850-648-5757; mexicobeach.com/elgovnor.
  • Driftwood Inn. From April to September, $140-$155 double-occupancy rooms Sundays-Thursdays; $155-$170 Fridays-Saturdays or weekly rate of $980-$1,085; add $10 per night for each additional guest; $15 per night per pet; rates lower in fall and winter. Located on the beach, it has rooms and Victorian cottages for rent. Children must be at least 3 years old. 2105 U.S. 98. 850-648-5126, driftwoodinn.com.
  • Motel Buena Vista. May 25-Labor Day $125, plus tax. Four newly renovated units facing the ocean. Small pets allowed; nonsmoking. Note: Local law prohibits pets on the beach. 903 U.S. 98. 850-648-5323. motelbuenavista.com.

Where to shop

  • Prickly Pears Gourmet Gallery. Retails gourmet foods, local art, chocolates, cheeses, wines, microbrewed beers, cigars and jewelry. Espresso bar. Offers cooking classes, wine tastings and monthly art events. 101 S. 36th St. 850-648-1115, pricklypears.net.
  • The Port Fine Wine & Spirits. Offers beer, wine, liquor and cigars. 202 U.S. 98, Port St. Joe. 850-229-2977, theportfinewine.com.
  • Beachwalk Clothing and Gifts. Also carries wine inventory. 3102 U.S. 98, Port St. Joe. 850-648-4200.
  • Frost’s Pottery Garden. Sells candles, wineglasses, birdhouses, knickknacks, and, of course, pottery. 2950 U.S. 98, Port St. Joe. 850-229-1221, frostpotterygarden.com.

What to do

  • Eat ice cream. Scoops Up! Ice Cream Cafe. Also hot dogs, chili dogs, barbecue. Free Internet access. 2802-A U.S. 98. 850-648-5118.
  • Go scuba diving or snorkeling. For information and a list of artificial reefs, see mbara.org, the Web site of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the area’s artificial reef, or call 850-648-4354.
  • Go sport fishing. Charter a boat from Miss Mary’s Charters and hook a line for Spanish mackerel, sharks and other fish. A little pricey, but how often can you say you went shark fishing in the Gulf of Mexico? Prices depend on trip length. An example: Four hours of shark fishing is $500. Also offers sightseeing tours for $75 an hour. 850-527-6272, charterboat-missmary.com. Anglers preferring to go it alone can fish on Mexico Beach’s public fishing pier on 37th Street.
  • Enjoy a specialty frozen drink on the beachside patio at Toucan’s Restaurant and Bar. Also offers lunch and dinner menus. 812 U.S. 98. 850-648-8207, toucansmexicobeach.com.
  • Attend free concerts in the park every Thursday in September. Bring a chair and picnic and enjoy the weekly concert. Music varies. Sunset Park, beside El Governor Motel.

Upcoming events

  • 12th annual Scallop Festival. Features cooked and frozen scallops, arts and crafts, entertainment, kids’ zone, food court. Aug. 2-3. 850-227-1223, gulfchamber.org.
  • 12th annual Kingfishe Tournament. Largest fishing tournament in the area; king mackerel top prize is $4,000. Entry fee: $150 per boat. Aug. 23. 850-648-4354, mbara.org.
  • 10th annual Art & Wine Festival. Wine tasting and silent art auction. Artists and photographers display their wares. Oct. 18. Driftwood Inn, 1701 U.S. 98. 850-648-5126, driftwoodinn.com.

More information

  • Welcome Center, 102 Canal Parkway. 1-888-723-2546, mexicobeach.com.