The best drive in America leads travelers to some of the best meals in America. Local and regional delicacies can be found up and down the river, fueling travelers with dishes that are entwined with the region’s culture and people. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find on the Great River Road.
The Dairy State loves its cheese and that will be clear when you stop into a Wisconsin restaurant on the Great River Road. Brew pubs, fast food restaurants and upscale establishments all have something in common on the menu: cheese curds. You’ll find them breaded, deep fried and served with a side of ranch salad dressing. Enjoy! This summer, be sure to check out the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival.
Memphis declares itself the Barbecue Capital of the World for good reason—its ribs are in a class of their own. There’s an ongoing debate on where to find the best ribs, but one place that has legions of fans is a downtown restaurant called Rendezvous. As one Great River Road foodie put it, “Best. Ribs. In. The. World.”
This Latin American classic has been an Arkansas food staple for generations. Filling and portable, Tamales were once common lunches in the cotton fields. Today you’ll find delicious versions along the Great River Road. One favorite spot: Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, on the shore of Lake Chicot.
You can’t visit New Orleans without sampling this classic French doughnut, which happens to be the state doughnut of Louisiana. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar, these are best enjoyed hot and fresh with some chicory coffee. One famous place to sample this delicacy is Café Du Monde. One traveler said she recently waited 40 minutes in the rain to get her beignet.
“Worth it,” she reported.
Feeling hungry? Find more traveler tips on where to eat on the Great River Road here.
Some of the best places to see the national bird of the United States can be found along the Great River Road. Travelers on northern stretches of the Great River Road are treated to a majestic sight as the birds spend time in winter hunting grounds along the Mississippi. The prime season for viewing these majestic birds runs from December through March, so now is the perfect time to take in the spectacle. Here are some great places to see bald eagles.
This interpretive center is one of the best places in the country to learn about eagles. At the center you can watch wild bald eagles in comfort—the center has a wide bank of windows overlooking a pool on the Mississippi River. You can also see live bald eagles up close during daily educational programs at the center. Exhibits provide information about the bald eagle’s behavior, nesting habits, diet and history.
This interpretive center offers a beautiful vista of the Mississippi River Valley—on winter days, you might see a few eagles soaring on the wind currents. Inside the center you’ll find a life-size eagle’s nest and other exhibits that give you a sense of the majesty of this impressive bird.
Eagles are a common sight around the Quad Cities, and a good place to see them is the Mississippi River Visitor Center on the Rock Island Arsenal. Located in Rock Island at Lock & Dam #15, the center provides a good viewing spot of the bald eagles that travel to the locks and dams of the Mississippi to feed during the winter. In early spring, the river opens to commercial navigation and visitors come to the locks to see boats pass by.
This 2,526-acre park contains more than 200 ceremonial earthen mounds constructed in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtles and panthers. Some of these mounds were built more than 1,400 years ago. On Feb 22-23, the park will hold Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, a chance to see and celebrate this beautiful birds at an incredible riverside location.
There’s no better place for a driving adventure than the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, the best scenic drive in America. There’s so much to take in—the 3,000-mile route travels through 10 states, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some tools to help you plan the perfect trip.
An ideal resource for navigating the byway fits in your pocket. The Drive the Great River Road app is available for Apple and Android devices and includes scenic overlooks, museums, historical sites and more.
The byway has a network of more than 70 museums and historic sites that showcase fascinating stories of the Mississippi River. Make plans to visit some of these centers to learn about the river and find useful travel information. See the full listing of interpretive centers.
A tour on the Great River Road in Arkansas will take you through a land with a long and rich history. Official Interpretive Centers on the route will help you experience this past, with exhibits and information that will take you back to earlier days in region. Here are some Interpretive Centers to visit in Arkansas and a sample of what you can explore.
This National Historic Landmark protects the site of a Mississippian Period American Indian village that occupied this location on the St. Francis River from A.D. 1000 to 1600. Archeologists have uncovered evidence that Hernando de Soto visited this site in 1541. A visitor center at the site houses artifacts and interesting exhibits.
This plantation produced cotton for nearly a century. The plantation house, a Greek Revival house built in 1859, is the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. It serves as a museum telling the story of plantation life in the Mississippi delta.
This local history museum housed in a former library today was founded with the help of Mark Twain. Today it houses American Indian Artifacts, a collection of Thomas Edison’s works, information about the Civil War Battle of Helena and more.
This museum preserves the history and heritage of the 17,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly evacuated from their homes and interned at camps in Jerome and Rohwer from 1942-45. During the war, more than 8,000 Japanese Americans were interned at this camp, which was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. A self-guided walking tour takes visitors along the southern boundary of the original camp.
September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a celebration of America’s greatest drive. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from the northwoods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
There are many reasons to explore one of the country’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byways, and September is a great time to do so. Here are just a few reasons you should travel the Great River Road this month.
Beautiful scenery. September is the start of fall color season. Drivers on the northern portion of the Great River Road will marvel at the eye-popping views they’ll encounter along the route. Click here to find scenic stops along the Great River Road.
Fall festivals, farmers markets and more. Fall is harvest season, and there’s no shortage of events and attractions highlighting local produce along the route. Click here to find agritourism attractions along the Great River Road.
Museums and historical sites. The story of the Mississippi River is a fascinating one. Learn about the region’s history and culture at more than 70 Interpretive Centers. See descriptions of the Interpretive Centers here.
It’s our birthday! The Great River Road is celebrating its 80th year in 2018, and there’s no better time to take a trip to help us celebrate.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting or ending your Great River Road trip in Louisiana—the Bayou State will provide you with some of the best food you’ll find along the entire Mississippi River. From shrimp and crawfish to pralines and beignets, there’s enough deliciousness here to make any food fan happy. Here’s a look at just a few of Louisiana’s famous dishes (and some of the best spots to find them):
Seafood, Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital is a great place to find some classic seafood fresh from the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico, including oysters, crawfish, and shrimp. Popular dining spots include Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant, Acme Oyster House (which has restaurants throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast), Roux 61 and Hot Tails (a short drive from Baton Rouge, but it’s operated by the Food Network’s “Cajun Aces” stars Cody & Samantha Carroll). Side trip: Head to Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens.
Southern fare, St. Francisville. Francisville sits just north of Baton Rouge at a bend in the Mississippi River, and this small town oozes Southern charm. You’ll find great food here, too—stop by The Francis Southern Table & Bar for oysters, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalya and other Louisiana classics. Or, take in the down-home vibe (and enjoy some live music) at the Magnolia Café. Side trip: Pay a visit to the Myrtles Plantation, one of America’s most haunted homes.
Cocktails, New Orleans. New Orleans claims it invented the cocktail, and with options this delicious, it’s hard to argue. Time-honored drinks like the Sazerac, brandy milk punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane were all conceived in the Crescent City, and you’ll find plenty of places that are happy to serve them up. If you’re looking for an iconic New Orleans bar, don’t miss the (revolving!) Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone or Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, a James Beard award-winning classic. Side trip: Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street? Head next door to Frenchman Street, which houses a collection of energetic live music venues, quirky shops and (of course) delicious dining.
Dessert, New Orleans. New Orleans gets all the fun accolades when it comes to eating and drinking—it’s the home of the cocktail, as well as home to some of the best desserts you’ve ever had. Be sure to sample some beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde. Touristy? Sure—but there’s a reason there’s always a line for these delicious, doughy, sugar-topped pastries. Then, head down to the French Market to pick up some Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Side trip: Travel west out of the Crescent City to discover the marvelous antebellum homes of New Orleans Plantation Country.
With the longest section of the Great River Road, Illinois offers something for every traveler, whether you’re interested in exploring historical sites or discovering charming small towns along the Mississippi River.
Got an appetite? Illinois’ section of the Great River Road has plenty to fill your menu. Just take a look.
You’re in the Midwest, so why not partake in some farm-to-table deliciousness? In Galena, head to One Eleven Main for delectable dishes filled with local flavor. When you’re in Quincy, don’t miss the unique local plates at Thyme Square.
Discover delicious desserts and a true slice of Americana at Lagomarcino’s in Moline, where four generations of the Lagomarcino family have been serving up chocolates, candy and homemade ice cream. Are baked treats more your thing? Visit Kruta Bakery in Collinsville or Nauvoo Mill & Bakery.
(Photos courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)
Mississippi offers something for every traveler. From its music scene to its rich history, its Delta culture to its beautiful magnolias, the state doesn’t disappoint. And when it comes to food? Boy, does Mississippi deliver.
Here are a few spots to explore when you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Mississippi.
Clarksdale: A blues lover’s mecca, Clarksdale is the site of much of the iconic music that came out of the Delta—you’ll find attractions like the Crossroads (the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent) and the Delta Blues Museum. Explore the downtown to discover more unique shops and music venues, including the Bluesberry Café, where you can get a side of live blues with your breakfast, or the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, where you can find great music and another Mississippi delicacy: fried green tomatoes.
Cleveland: Another great stop for music lovers, Cleveland is home to the only other GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles. But if you’re looking for some Southern comfort food, don’t miss Airport Grocery, which serves up generous helpings of tamales, crawfish, BBQ and more in a restaurant adorned with classic signage and curios.
Vicksburg: In Mississippi, fried is always better. This rule goes for just about anything including pickles, okra, and seafood. One of Mississippi’s unique contributions to the culinary world is its twist on the po’ boy sandwich. Originating from Louisiana, the po’ boy usually comes stuffed with roast beef. But in Mississippi, it’s decked with fried shrimp, crawfish, crab and other Gulf specialties. Try it at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill in Vicksburg.
Natchez: Get a scenic view of the Mississippi River or enjoy a dinner on the site of beautiful antebellum homes in the historic city of Natchez, which was founded more than 300 years ago. Historic properties like Dunleith and Stanton Hall have restaurants on site, and you can discover scenic dining at The Pilot House or 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill.
Southern cooking is famous for a reason. Visit Mississippi, and you’ll find out why.
Exploring the Great River Road in Missouri will take you alongside scenic bluffs, through historic towns and into the bustling metropolis of St. Louis. It’s enough to make anyone hungry—here are some places to find some uniquely Missouri food in the Gateway City and beyond.
Hot Salami Sandwich
During the 20th century, St. Louis’s Italian neighborhood, The Hill, was a go-to for anyone looking for authentic cuisine d’Italia. Gioia’s Deli, one of the few remaining odes to The Hill’s glory days, opened its doors in 1918 and became famous for the hot salami sandwich. It’s no wonder this tried-and-true favorite has been named best sandwich in the city for years, as it’s served on a delicious garlic cheese bread and finished off with a spicy giardiniera. Get a taste of St. Louis’ cultural history and the famous hot salami sandwich during your visit and you’ll be a Gioia’s fan for life.
Gooey Butter Cake
It’s safe to say gooey butter cake is one of history’s tastiest mistakes. In the 1930s, a new employee at a St. Louis bakery accidentally swapped proportions of flour and butter in a cake recipe, and gooey butter cake was the result. Surprisingly, the dessert became a local favorite and bakeries around the city began mimicking the recipe. Try it at Park Avenue Coffee, a local chain that offers over 70 flavors of gooey butter cake.
St. Louis-style pizza
A trip to St. Louis requires trying the city’s rendition of pizza. St. Louis-style pizza is in a league of its own with a dense, cracker-like crust and a sweet sauce inspired by the area’s Sicilian immigrants. What really makes it unique is Provel cheese, a trademark combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar that is difficult to find anywhere outside St. Louis. Head to Imo’s for one of the best renditions of this quirky twist on a universally loved dish.
If you’re headed south on Missouri’s Great River Road, don’t miss the dining options in the charming towns of Ste. Genevieve (which also has several wineries nearby) and Cape Girardeau. Headed north, you can find tasty restaurants, breweries and more in Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
Whether St. Louis is the only destination on your itinerary, or you’re passing through on a trek down the Mississippi, the city is home to culinary quirks and combinations of culture that are worth making a stop.
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