The South's Best Neighborhoods 2020

Fan District Row Homes
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

What makes a great neighborhood? Sometimes it's hard to define, but we can all sense it when we see it. All of them share a great sense of place, with a commitment to preservation that leads them to reimagine, rather than destroy, historic structures. They're walkable and welcoming. They'd rather eat, drink, and shop local and value originality and individuality over mass-produced-so-it's-cheaper. Many of them have a distinctive claim to fame. In Austin's South Congress, it's music. Atlanta's Inman Park, like Birmingham's Forest Park, have beautifully preserved historic homes with the kind of porches that invite tea pitchers and bar carts. Our readers' number-one pick, the Starland Historic District in Savannah, has all the calling cards of a dream neighborhood, from historic architecture to great dining and happening nightspots. It makes a statement, even in a city like Savannah, with its supercharged wow factor. If you think you've moved for the last time, visit Starland with caution. You'll be tempted to pull up stakes.

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10. Davis Islands (Tampa, Florida)

Davis Islands
Keir Magoulas

Developer D. P. Davis dreamed of creating a posh and lucrative resort community when he dredged mud from Tampa Bay to expand two natural islands with views of the city in the 1920s. Alas, the Florida land bust ended his plans (and Davis mysteriously disappeared at sea, owing a heap of cash), but the architecturally eclectic historic homes here, along with a collection of shops, restaurants, and bars make Davis Islands one of Tampa's most desirable neighborhoods.

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9. Forest Park (Birmingham, Alabama)

Shoppe Birmingham in Forest Park Neighborhood
Robbie Caponetto

You'll find some of the prettiest homes in Birmingham in this small neighborhood built at the turn of the 20th century. A scattering of shops and restaurants dot Clairmont Avenue, but Forest Park isn't buzzy and doesn't want to be. It's happy with its deep porches and sprawling shade trees, along with convenient access to downtown and the popular Avondale community.

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8. Inman Park (Atlanta, Georgia)

Inman park
Gene Phillips, Courtesy of Atlanta CVB &

Expect striking Victorian architecture and the blessed shade of mature trees in Atlanta's oldest planned suburb. Two miles from downtown, Inman Park was based on other neighborhoods connected to the city center by electric trolley, with spacious lots and manicured parks. Today, Inman Park has a thriving food scene and benefits from its proximity to the BeltLine Eastside Trail, popular with urban walkers, joggers, and bikers.

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7. South Congress (Austin, Texas)

South Congress
Andy Mahr Courtesy of Visit Austin

You might call this music-driven district the birthplace of Austin's wonderful weirdness. Among its many landmarks is the legendary Continental Club, open since 1955—a supper club turned burlesque club turned blue collar bar turned premiere live music venue. You don't often see a coffee shop with alternative brews (the kind with hops), but SoCo has one—Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden. Also, there's only-in-Austin lodging and something called the Cathedral of Junk . . . You get the idea. (BTW, it's worth scooting northeast of "SoCo" just a bit to check out the jazz basement that is the Elephant Room.)

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6. NoDa (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Noda Charlotte
Kate Magee

If we told you this neighborhood has a place called Smelly Cat Coffee House & Roastery, as well as The Dog Bar, where you can sip a brew while your pooch romps on shaded AstroTurf, you'd have a pretty good sense of the NoDa (North Davidson) vibe. This mill town turned arts district has three breweries, lots of shops and galleries, and a quirky sense of fun.

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Check Out The South's Best Neighborhoods

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5. Hampton Park Terrace (Charleston, South Carolina)

Charleston, South Carolina
Peter Frank Edwards

This community is named for an adjoining 60-acre park, which is the Citadel's next-door neighbor. Hampton Park Terrace has over 300 historic homes, some of which have more of a bungalow feel to them, bearing little resemblance to the famous row houses downtown. Shady streets, sidewalks, and front porches give this area lots of warmth, inviting locals and visitors to slow down and socialize.

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4. Virginia-Highland (Atlanta, Georgia)

James Duckworth, Courtesy of ACVB &

Named for the Intersection of Virginia and North Highland Avenues, this community a couple of miles northeast of downtown consistently ranks high among Atlanta neighborhoods. It first boomed in the 1920s and still has beaucoup de bungalows, as well as the 1939 Plaza Theatre and Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar, which has been there since 1922. The treelined streets of historic "VaHi" are peppered with happening restaurants (picture lots of sidewalk/patio tables), trendy shops, and some of Atlanta's most popular bars.

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3. 12 South (Nashville, Tennessee)

12 South
Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

About seven or eight blocks of 12th Avenue South, this trendy, walkable neighborhood is home to the flagship store of Reese Witherspoon's Draper James, as well as White's Mercantile, a stylish, modern general store created by Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr. Foodies flock here for restaurants ranging from upscale Josephine to authentic Lebanese cooking at Epice. Head to Portland Brew for a caffeine fix.

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2. Fan District (Richmond, Virginia)

Fan District Row Homes
Robbie Caponetto

Named for its shape, "the Fan" spreads out from North Belvedere Street into a triangular district bounded by West Broad Street, North Boulevard, and . . . West Main, West Cary, or maybe the downtown expressway, depending on who's drawing the map. The beautifully preserved Victorian neighborhood reportedly has around 2,000 townhomes from that era. Given its proximity to Virginia Commonwealth University, there's no shortage of restaurants, watering holes, and vintage shopping.

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1. Thomas Square (Savannah, Georgia)

Thomas Square
Peter Frank Edwards

Like so many great Southern neighborhoods, the area Savannah locals call "Starland" brings together gorgeous, well-preserved historic architecture, good restaurants (from fine dining to brew pubs), and trendy nightspots. From stalwarts like Elizabeth on 37th and Back in the Day Bakery to places like Green Truck Pub, which helped revitalize Starland, this area has become a food lover's hot spot in Savannah. Don't miss The Vault, an Asian-inspired restaurant in a former bank, and local favorite The Atlantic.

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