â??Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry. Spend time with friends and family. Enjoy the decorations that adorn your city. While so many great Holiday experiences can be found in your own home town, don't forget...the world is a big place and there are a ton of great places throughout the South to consider for some extra holiday cheer. We hope you enjoy a few of our Preferred Holiday vacation destinations. Whether you are planning a holiday escape or just a long weekend, a drive-about is always a good idea. Here are some quirkier destinations that will surely liven up your winter calendar.

Georgia

LIGHTS OF THE SOUTH (Grovetown, Georgia) lightsofthesouth.com If itâ??s a dose of holiday cheer youâ??re seeking, head to Lights of the South in Grovetown, Georgia, just outside of Augusta. Forget the North Pole, this place is Christmas Central. This incredibly merry extravaganza features more than five million lights, a Christmas tree maze, an American flag made of lights, a real Candyland, a train, Santa Claus â?? itâ??s all here. Snack on boiled peanuts and hot chocolate (yum!), take a hayride and climb onto Santaâ??s lap for some face time. THE BEEâ??S KNEES TAPAS RESTAURANT & LOUNGE (Augusta, Georgia) 706.828.3600 beeskneestapas.com Located in Augusta, this multi cultural global tasting experience delivers delicious nibbles like Fried Organic Tempeh doused in a spicy Buffalo sauce, a Spanish-style omelet dubbed Tortilla Española, Goat cheese Bruschetta and large plates of Pad Thai and Market-fresh Fish.  

NORTH CAROLINA

BALSAM MOUNTAIN INN (Balsam, North Carolina) balsaminn.com Need to slow things down and get in touch in a way that doesnâ??t require a smart phone? Point your car towards the grand old Balsam Mountain Inn, located in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, just 40 minutes west of Asheville. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn has a first rate restaurant, excellent wine list and comfy accommodations. At least once a month, the Inn hosts the popular â??Songwriters in the Roundâ? series, an always sold-out event that attracts top musicians like Casey Kelley from Nashville, who plays covers of classic chart topping hits once performed by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West. These are the songwriters whose work is picked up by big names like Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Kathy Mattea and John Michael Montgomery. Thereâ??s always a special New Years Gala Retreat that combines dinner and the show, but youâ??ll want to stay a few nights while youâ??re in the neighborhood.   THE CHEFâ??S TABLE (Waynesville, North Carolina) 828.452.6210 thechefstableofwaynesville.com Try the seasonal Mediterranean specialties at The Chefâ??s Table in nearby Waynesville. Executive Chef and Owner Josh Monroe pairs wine country cuisine with a Wine Spectator Best of list and a menu of fresh pastas, local trout and produce from the his very own 12-acre farm.  

MISSISSIPPI

Hattiesburg, Mississippi www.hattiesburg.org Just an hour north of Gulf Coast casinos and attractions, Hattiesburg is a town full of beautiful historic neighborhoods like the Mobile Street District, with its well-preserved architecture and African American heritage. Thereâ??s also Hub City, North Main and Oaks Historic Districts lined with old growth treed buildings dating back to the 1880s. Donâ??t miss the impressive Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby, the largest National Guard training base in the United States. Military history buffs will also want to visit the African American Military History Museum, a compelling showcase of local African American men and women who have served their country.   206 FRONT Hattiesburg, Mississippi 601.545.5677 206front.com Enjoy a tasty meal at 206 Front, a relaxing downtown spot known for its local artwork, live music, open deck and zesty mix of Italian, Creole and new American cooking. My suggestion? Be sure and try the Parmesan Crusted Salmon.  

TENNESSEE

Memphis, Tennessee memphistravel.com Memphis is roots, rock and roll, and barbecue all rolled into one dynamic destination. Visit Memphis and youâ??re guaranteed to get barbecue sauce on your face, smoke in your eyes and a groove in your soul. Soak up only-in-Memphis culture by day, including a trip to Graceland, a music tour of the famed Sun Studios and check out the Stax Museum of American Soul. African American history permeates the Memphis landscape. Home to the National Civil Rights Museum, constructed on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, the museum is the nationâ??s first dedicated to documenting the complete history of the American civil rights movement. The museum is a must-see for visitors of every age, but young children may find the copy-heavy exhibits a bit overwhelming. Instead, a trip to the Childrenâ??s Museum of Memphis will give youngsters a chance to play and interact with exhibits like Garage, where they can â??driveâ? a minivan, Going Places which features a flight simulator, hot air balloon and a real airplane cockpit, and Kidâ??s Market, where theyâ??ll shop for groceries, scan the items themselves and learn about healthy food choices.   Memphis is also home to the Burkie Estate/Slavehaven, an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Other historic sites include the home of W.C. Handy, who wrote â??Memphis Bluesâ? in 1909, Beale Street Baptist Church, the first brick constructed multi-story church for African Americans, and Church Park, a recreational area dedicated to African Americans, founded in 1899 by Robert Church, the first African American millionaire in the South.   Music lovers may want to organize a juke joint blues safari with tour guide Tad Pierson. Pierson takes clients beyond Beale Street to the clubs that are really off the beaten track, like the Hard Luck Cafe and Wild Billâ??s, which lay down a scene that can only be branded â??the Memphis Sound.â? Visit americandreamsafari.com for more details. For tourist information about Memphis, visit Memphistravel.com.   RENDEZVOUS Barbecue  Memphis, Tennessee 901.523.2746 hogsfly.com Rendezvous is where locals take out-of-towners for true downhome cooking. Famous for its dry-rub of secret spices, the slabs of rib are huge, the pulled pork sandwiches are divine and the crowd is always friendly.  

NORTH CAROLINA

Gloria Joyner Johnson had one wish for her birthday. She wanted to go to Mayberry. So Gloria and her friend Addie Lisby traveled 100 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina to Mount Airy, Andy Griffithâ??s hometown, which inspired The Andy Griffith Show. â??I have every DVD, but I still watch the reruns,â? said Gloria. â??The show captures a more peaceful time. Mayberry was a real neighborly place, a place where funny things happened, but there wasnâ??t ever any cussinâ?? or real problems. Andy practiced â??do unto others,â?? which is something I believe in.â?   The show, which celebrated its 53rd anniversary on October 3, inspires a cult following with a regular stream of pilgrims fueling Mt. Airy tourism. Visitors can take a Mayberry squad car tour in a black and white Galaxy police car, stopping at landmarks like Wallyâ??s Fillinâ?? Station, Floyds Barber shop, Snappy Lunch and the Griffithâ??s homestead. The Andy Griffith Museum features an impressive array of memorabilia collected for more than a quarter century by Andyâ??s schoolmate and life-long friend, Emmett Forrest. The collection includes Sheriff Andy Taylorâ??s original office set, one of Barney Fifeâ??s dandy suits and the keys to the town jail. In front of the museum, a statue of Andy and his son Opie (played by a young Ron Howard) is a popular place for photo opps.   Addie and Gloria were lucky enough to have run into Betty Lynn, the retired actress who played Thelma Lou, Barney Fifeâ??s girlfriend from 1960-65. Lynn, whose resume includes June Bride with Bette Davis and Cheaper by the Dozen with Myrna Loy, moved to Mount Airy from Hollywood a few years ago. â??I was tired of all the craziness. Here, I have a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I like small town life. Everybody still calls me Betty Lou, but I really donâ??t mind.â?   For visitor information about Mayberry, visit Visitmayberry.com   THE SNAPPY LUNCH Mount Airy, North Carolina 336.786.4931 Thesnappylunch.com When it comes to visiting Mayberry, you wonâ??t want to pass up the famous pork chop sandwich at the classic landmark, Snappy Lunch. TRIO RESTAURANT Mount Airy, North Carolina 336.719.0131 triorestaurantandbar.com For dinner, itâ??s all about Trio Restaurant, a lively spot with a fine selection of craft brews, wine and innovate dishes like the Bacon-Egg-Avocado Salad, Warm Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart, Grilled Angus Flank Steak, and Leek & Bacon Stuffed Roasted Pork Loin.   Wherever you choose to spend the holidays, itâ??s a great time to jump in the car and explore the beautiful South on a family road trip.   BY BETH Dâ??ADDONO