|Even without a polar vortex hitting the Midwest, the beaches of Fort Myers, Florida, beckon winter snowbirds.|
Eat your way down I-75 to Southern warmth
Photos & text by Lisa Meyers McClintick
|The Berea, Ky, rest stop is filled with regional art.|
Had enough of the Midwest’s bone-chilling polar vortex? Follow the snowbirds south. Whether you can stay in Florida for a month or more or don’t want to pay airfare for a shorter visit, chances are you’ll be following Interstate 75 south.
Tugged by the promise of balmy beaches and sunshine, “an estimated $18.6 million snowbirds went to Florida on I-75” in 2012, says Dave Hunter, author of “Along Interstate 75.” He has done the 1,780-mile I-75 trip so many times for more than 20 years, that he’s become the go-to guy for all things I-75.
His book, Along I-75, is now in its 17th edition. It includes detailed maps for finding the best places to stay, to stretch your legs and to dine along the entire route, while a second book, “Along Florida’s Expressways,” includes the best stops once you cross the Sunshine State’s border.
Interstate 75 is wisely tackled over a few days, following the advice of other snowbirds and savvy roadtrippers who know which states have the higher gas prices, what brutal city rush hours to avoid and the best places to take a rest. Here are five of Dave's favorite stops (strategically spaced out). It's a great way to savor America’s melting pot of comfort food.
Swing into a tropical mood with agave margaritas, Columbian seafood stew, sweet rum shrimp, and tapas with a diverse menu from Latin America and Spain. Need to move after driving all day? You could get lucky and snag a dance class.
|Kentucky Artisan Center|
Grab an affordable cafeteria lunch special such as country-fried steak and chicken and dumplings with bourbon bread pudding and derby pie. Stretch your legs admiring folk art, fine art and bluegrass music from hundreds of Kentucky artists. Arrive too late to eat? Head to Berea’s Boone Tavern, a historic hotel with classic Kentucky cuisine.
|Folk art at Kentucky Artisan Center|
Students serve up Kentucky hot browns, Southern fried catfish, steaks, and caramel apple pie in this restaurant at the Cumberland Inn run by the University of the Cumberlands.
|Dave Hunter's in-depth guide to I-75 travel.|
Savor southern comfort foods served with creative elegance: Vidalia onion soup, shrimp and friedgreen tomato Napoleon, crab-stuffed North Carolina trout and grits, and peach and blackberry buckle with bourbon ice cream.
Warm up with black kettle chili or Brunswick stew followed by a sampler feast of oak-smoked ribs, pork and chicken with a side of fried okra.