Reese Witherspoon's tips for where to eat, shop and listen to music in Nashville, Charleston, Atlanta and more.
If you ask Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, there’s nothing the American South doesn’t have: historic cities, a rich music culture, unbeatable food, and people, she says, who are always cheerful and greet one another with a hug and a smile.
She should know.
Though she lives in Los Angeles, Witherspoon, 40, was born in New Orleans and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. She is so attached to her roots that she bought a house in Nashville a few years ago and a year ago started a fashion, accessory and home goods line, Draper James, that’s inspired by the region (lots of colors and lots of prints). She named it after her grandmother Dorothea Draper and grandfather William James Witherspoon.
Because the brand has its flagship store in Nashville and many of the goods for it are produced in Southern cities — the jeans in Blue Ridge, Ga., and the stationery in Raleigh, N.C,— the venture has Witherspoon visiting the area at least once a month. She reflects on why she thinks the South, a place she still calls home, is an appealing travel destination.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with her.
Q: Nashville is where you grew up and a city you now have a home in. What are your go-to spots there?
A: There’s an area called Charlotte Pike with great thrift stores. I grew up shopping in them and still go back, but my new go-to for shopping is an up-and-coming part of town called 12 South. That’s where Draper James is located along with many cool stores like Emerson Grace, a boutique selling great clothes from lots of different brands.
And I like going to Broadway, which is the heart of the city’s music scene. There’s record stores like Ernest Tubb and bars to hear country music like the Stage, Tootsies and Robert’s Western World.
I also head to Pinewood Social. They have a pool and bowling alley and also serve the best fried chicken and fried broccoli.
Q: Where do you like to eat in Nashville?
A: Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant, Adele’s, has amazing kale salad, roasted chicken and spaghetti.
Hattie B’s is known for the hot chicken. The chicken is coated in some sort of spice before it’s fried. They always have a line out the door. For barbecue like ribs and brisket, it’s Edley’s. The fried okra there reminds me of my grandmother because that’s a dish she used to make every Sunday.
Q: What other cities do you enjoy visiting?
A: Charleston (South Carolina) is a favorite. It’s beautifully preserved. King Street there has great shopping, and the food all over the city is insane — you’ll find spicy fish and shrimp and grits. The best part is that the beach is only around 15 minutes from downtown.
Q: Working on Draper James has taken you to different cities in the South. What discoveries have you made?
A: Blue Ridge in Georgia, where the Draper James jeans are made, is a quaint old mining town that’s worth seeing. There’s a train that still runs through it, and the old bank is now a cute coffee shop, L&L Beanery.
And although I had been to Atlanta before, I’ve made some new discoveries there like Ann Mashburn, a store with the most stylish clothes. Ann’s husband, Sid Mashburn, has his own store in the back of hers where he makes custom shirts for men, and you get a true Southern gentleman experience.
I’ve found some nice restaurants like JCT Kitchen, which has yummy cocktails and cheese sandwiches, and the Optimist, where the seafood is fresh and there is a mini golf course outside. Also, a great to-go spot is Yeah! Burger, where you can get many kinds of burgers along with tasty sides like crispy brussels sprouts.
Q: What are some Southern traditions that travelers should partake in?
A: The Kentucky Derby, for sure. There’s such a pageantry to it with people drinking mint juleps, and women all dressed up and men in their bow ties. Tailgating at the University of Mississippi in Oxford is another must. Football is serious in the South, and people dress up for games. They set up tents for tailgating and serve really good food and use real silverware.
The Jazz Fest in New Orleans is the place to hear fantastic jazz music, and the Spoleto Festival in Charleston is where you can get a flavor of opera and the arts.
Q: Do you have a favorite hotel?
A: The Greenbrier in West Virginia, especially for families and big groups. The resort was styled by Dorothy Draper and is a feast for the eyes. There’s beautiful wallpaper everywhere, a bowling alley, the best golf courses, pools and great service.