Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Southern Souvenirs

Most people love bringing home something from their travels to remind them of a trip. Some souvenir shops are full of tchotchkes like keychains and coffee mugs, but discerning travelers will want to bring home something that truly represents the places your group has visited. 

Across the South, makers offer souvenirs that have true value: They incorporate a destination’s history or a unique artwork. Visiting their workshops or creative spaces is much better than a gift shop because it offers memorable experiences groups can participate in before bringing a slice of the encounter home. 

Here are some places throughout the South where groups can have authentic artisan encounters and come home with distinctive souvenirs.

Bluebird of Happiness

Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 1975, the Ward family opened Terra Studios as a glass and pottery studio in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Inspired by the Eastern Bluebird seen in the area, they created the Bluebird of Happiness, and today over 8 million of the little glass birds have been sold. This success allowed them to make the studio a wonderland to explore, with art installations by more than 200 artists. In 2007, artist and musician James Ulick bought Terra Studios and transformed it into a nonprofit bringing art to the world.

“We have so much to offer,” said Laura Ehrke, executive director at Terra Studios. “We have an art gallery focused on regional art, an art park spread over six acres that people can walk through with an outdoor gallery, a mural garden, a sculpture garden, flower gardens, and a large chess and checkerboard. We have live music and live art demonstrations, and we do festivals with food trucks and activities for all ages.”

Groups can explore the property independently or with a guide; take an art class and make everything from a hand-dyed silk scarf to a clay sculpture; or enjoy a luxe catered picnic from their partner Tier 1 Picnics. With the aim to make the world a better place through art, Terra Studios has turned an off-the-beaten-path locale into a destination, wowing everyone who escapes the grind and discovers their acres of eclectic art.

Pine Needle Baskets

Helen, Florida

Florida’s early pioneers learned how to make pine needle baskets from women of the Seminole tribe. Using the needles of the Southern Long Leaf Pine, they fashioned the baskets for storage of food and other household items. The baskets are made by layering the needles, which can grow up to 17 inches long, and stitching them together. Twenty years ago, when Diane Moore retired from her career as a teacher for Volusia County Schools, she started creating traditional pine needle baskets as a hobby. 

“I love baskets; I love history; and I thought it would be a great hobby,” said Moore. “My friends encouraged me to teach them to make pine needle baskets, and it was so successful that we thought there would be other people out there who wanted to learn, too.”

Fast-forward to today, and Moore’s studio, Southern Pine Basket Studio in Helen, welcomes small groups to take part in its basket-making workshops. Moore’s daylong classes are available by request and feature hands-on instruction, so each student is successful regardless of their artistic ability. Students can take home their creations, shop for some of Moore’s exquisite baskets, and keep the memory of a unique experience that helps keep an ancient tradition alive.

Georgia Peaches

Fort Valley, Georgia 

Nothing says Georgia like peaches. Groups can visit the largest peach and pecan producer in the U.S. and take something delicious home at Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley. Wendy Barton, the orchard’s marketing director, points out the farm is ideally located right off of Interstate 75, making it a great stop while on the road. 

“Guests can sit on a rocking chair on the front porch and enjoy lunch at the Peachtree Cafe, where we serve peach cobbler and barbecue,” said Barton. “They can watch peach packing through a window on the line and buy peaches at the roadside market, along with jams, pecans and other goods.”

Lane Southern Orchards has been in business since 1908, cultivates over 11,000 acres of pecan and peach orchards and welcomes roughly 425,000 visitors per year. Visitors can explore the farmers market, stroll the grounds, and enjoy breakfast, lunch or a hearty snack at the Peachtree Cafe. At the roadside farmers market, visitors can find fresh produce, fresh and preserved peaches, jellies, jams, syrups, salsas and all kinds of pecans. 

Lane Southern Orchards also offers you-pick strawberries, a playground, a fall corn maze and various events throughout the year.

Kentucky Bourbon

Sparta, Kentucky

Bourbon is synonymous with Kentucky; the state’s bourbon country features almost 100 distilleries. Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta is a craft operation with one of the state’s youngest distillers at the helm. Royce Neeley started the distillery in 2015 at just 23 years old, but his family’s history with moonshine dates back 11 generations to 1740, when James John Neeley emigrated from Ireland, bringing his copper still along with him. 

Bringing home a bottle of the good stuff is a no-brainer, but groups can tour the distillery, have a tasting and then actually fill their own bottle directly from the still. 

“People get to taste straight from the barrel just as the master distiller created it, and then bottle the whiskey themselves,” said Neeley. “Sometimes people get char from the barrel that we normally take out in the bottling process, so every bottle people make is unique.”

The distillery also has family heirlooms on display, including historic stills, moonshine jugs and pistols. Neeley Family Distillery is close to the Kentucky Speedway, making a tour, tasting and bottling experience a great way to round out a day.

Blenko Glass

Milton, West Virginia 

Halfway between Huntington (home of Marshall University) and Charleston (the state capital), Milton, West Virginia, is a town with just over 2,000 residents — and one of the country’s oldest glass-making studios, Blenko Glass. Started in 1893, the family-owned company has been creating hand-blown glass for five generations. 

“We’ re looking forward to the future and growing for the first time in decades,” said Odana Chaney, director of customer experience at Blenko Glass. “Our guides really know their stuff — the tours are about an hour and are pretty exhaustive, information-wise, so you’ll come away learning something new about glassblowing, Blenko, our culture and heritage, and our role in the glass industry.”

Groups can visit Blenko and take a tour that includes watching glass production and interacting with the blower; a visit to the Blenko Glass Museum, which has more than a century of their glasswork on display; and a stop at the gift shop, where they can pick up unique items to bring home. The scenic property includes a pond where groups can picnic.  

Wolfe Ceramics

Jackson, Mississippi

Groups traveling in Jackson, Mississippi, will want to pay a visit to the Wolfe Studio, home of the famed Wolfe Bird and other beautiful ceramic artworks. Founded by Karl Wolfe and Mildred Nugester Wolfe in the 1940s, the studio was expanded and is run by their daughter Bebe today. Employing roughly 10 ceramic artists who hand-paint the range of figurines produced at the studio, the ceramic works include various species of birds, many types of animals, from turtles to fish, and nativity sets. Since each artwork is created by hand, no two are alike, and each bears the style of its maker.

“We approach ceramics from a painterly standpoint,” said Wolfe. “Everyone has their own experiments and explorations of layering glazes, and it’s really quite beautiful. We work collaboratively and share our discoveries, and everyone builds off one another and goes in their own direction. The unique thing is the work won’t be the same from year to year.”

Groups can visit the studio, a grouping of buildings, and get a guided tour from Bebe herself, during which she’ll cover everything from the studio’s origins to the process of creating the ceramic pieces from clay to glazing.