The South’s Best Small Towns 2019
Sure, there are great small towns in other parts of the country, but in terms of history, character, scenic beauty, and local color (i.e., quirky but in a good way), the South is tough to beat. Small Southern towns make great getaways because they’re manageable, just by virtue of their size. They also tend to be pedestrian friendly because they date back to a time when sidewalks and front porches made it easy for us to talk to each other, and there was no such thing as “big box” because everybody shopped local. We ate local, too—and these towns still do. You’ll find unique shops and restaurants that give you the true local flavor of each place. And there’s no end to the diversity represented here. This year’s best small towns run the gamut from mountain hamlets to coastal villages, all loaded with personality and charm. Put them on your must-see list because they’re worth it.
These Lovely Towns Come in Small Packages
1. Beaufort, North Carolina
Pronounced “BOW-furt,” this waterfront town of just over 4,000 has picturesque docks, a beautiful historic district, and enough local shops and restaurants to make exploring fun. Find it tucked behind barrier islands on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, making Beaufort a great watery playground. Read More.
2. Beaufort, South Carolina
Picture a historic riverfront town shaded by live oaks and loaded with locally owned shops and restaurants, just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean and South Carolina’s Sea Islands. Beaufort (“BUE-furt”) is a Lowcountry dream, easily drivable from Hilton Head or Charleston, South Carolina. Read More.
3. St. Augustine, Florida
Founded by the Spanish in 1565, the “Ancient City” is an architectural jewel on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, roughly midway between Jacksonville and Daytona. You can see Flagler’s influence all over the city, from his spectacular Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College, to other hotels and churches he built in the Spanish Renaissance style. Read more.
4. Aiken, South Carolina
Horses always have the right-of-way in this equestrian-centered, picture postcard of a town. From the tunnel of live oaks along South Boundary to a walkable downtown with one-of-a-kind finds and serious food, Aiken is one small Southern town that knows how to live large. Read more.
5. Fairhope, Alabama
Good luck finding a prettier town. Perched on Mobile Bay, Fairhope is a vision in live oaks and Spanish moss, with beautiful architecture (and equally beautiful waterfront views). The venerable Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa at nearby Point Clear completed a spectacular renovation last year. Read more.
6. Columbia, Tennessee
Less than an hour south of Nashville, with just over 37,000 locals, Columbia calls itself “The Classic Southern Town with a Kick,” a nod to its annual Mule Day celebration, which began in the 1830s. Columbia does indeed have a classic Southern courthouse square, plus a great Main Street, lots of local shops and restaurants, and outdoor recreation. So yeah—it’s got a kick. Read more.
7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
You can still order up a stack at the Pancake Pantry, but these days, you can also sidle up to a “sippin’ post” for a moonshine flight, enjoy mountaintop fun at Anakeesta, or blow out your flip-flop at the new Margaritaville Resort. Read more.
8. Bluffton, South Carolina
Between the moss-draped oaks and historic homes, the May River views and stunning Church of the Cross, Bluffton is one of the prettiest dots on the South Carolina map. Just a few miles from Hilton Head, it offers great dining and shopping—including the flagship store of Daufuskie Island-inspired Spartina 449. Read More.
9. Cleveland, Mississippi
Home of the Delta State University Fighting Okra—and to the only GRAMMY Museum outside Los Angeles—this Mississippi Delta town of 12,000 or so has the kind of Main Street that makes you envision locals “coming into town” on a Saturday back in the day. Thanks to its downtown offerings, Cleveland is still a good choice for a Saturday afternoon. Read More.
10. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
A mountain village right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blowing Rock offers more restaurants, retail, and outdoor adventure than you would ever expect from a town with just over 1,200 residents. Blue Ridge vistas abound—including the view from The Blowing Rock, a peak for which the town was named. Read More.