The South's Prettiest Towns

Fairhope, Alabama
Photo: Photo: Benjamin Callahan

There's not just one thing that makes the South so beautiful. It's the breathtaking mountain vistas, beaches that belong on a screensaver, fields of wildflowers that stretch to the horizon, iconic desert landscapes, and marshes that look like a movie set.

Whether you love the lake or consider yourself a beach person, prefer the mountains or wide-open plains, the South is full of charming small towns representing every type of enchanting scenery you can imagine. From tropical Key West, Florida, to mountainous Cashiers, North Carolina, our small towns are true hidden gems, populated by friendly faces and plenty of reasons to stay longer than a quick pit stop.

In Franklin, Tennessee, you can check out a few of its 70 shops (all within 16 blocks) while escaping the bustle of Nashville. In Madison, Georgia, you can witness the power of tireless historic preservation efforts and take in the glory of old Southern architecture. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Read on for our list of the South's prettiest small towns.

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1. Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Blowing Rock and Blue Ridge
Photo: Courtesy Amanda Lugenbell/Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority

This western North Carolina town is known for its gorgeous fall foliage and offering sweeping vistas of snow-capped peaks, forests, and the Johns River Gorge from the top of legendary Blowing Rock cliff. Read more about Blowing Rock.

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2. Aiken, South Carolina

Aiken, South Carolina
Peter Frank Edwards/Redux

An authentic South Carolina equestrian community, Aiken offers miles of gorgeous wooded trails, a quaint downtown, historic estates, and several grand live oak archways. Read more about Aiken.

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3. Sanibel, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida
Cedric Angeles

At only 33-square-miles, what Sanibel lacks in space, it more than makes up in beauty. With powder-sugar sand beaches, bright turquoise waters, and gorgeous greenery growing right up to the beach, this little slice of heaven looks more like the Caribbean than a barrier island off the coast of Florida. Read more about Sanibel.

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4. Sewanee, Tennessee

Fall Leaves in Yellow at Campus of The University of the South in Sewanee, TN
Robbie Caponetto

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better place for leaf peeping in the South than Sewanee, Tennessee. Each fall, the home to The University of the South becomes awash in fiery crimson, rich gold, and rusty orange. Read more on Sewanee.

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5. Fairhope, Alabama

Fairhope, Alabama
Photo: Benjamin Callahan

Nicknamed the Beauty on the Bay, this Alabama coastal town is as charming as they come. With an impressive collection of Spanish-moss covered live oaks, brilliant bougainvilleas, and stately Southern estates, Fairhope shines at every turn. Its piece de resistance, the sprawling Grand Resort, isn't so bad either. Read more about Fairhope.

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6. Cashiers, North Carolina

Cashiers, North Carolina
Stacy Redmon

Less than 1,000 people live in this teeny tiny North Carolina town. But it's a favorite escape for visiting outdoor enthusiasts hoping to see some truly stunning wildernesses. Whitewater Falls, Gorges State Park, and The High Hampton Inn Historic District are all must visits locations. Read more about Cashiers.

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7. Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina

Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
Robbie Caponetto

Voted the South's Best Tiny Town in 2018, Ocean Isle Beach is the stuff of Atlantic coastal town dreams. Pastel beach homes flank busy waterways buzzing with boats, kayaks, and jet skis. Families dot expansive beaches and marshy patches of grass add a bit of nostalgic charm to the already-magical atmosphere. Read more about Ocean Isle Beach.

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8. Southport, North Carolina

Southport, North Carolina
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Located at the convergence of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Southport is a tiny harbor town with all the traditional trappings of a nautical escape. There are stately captain's homes, two iconic lighthouses, and cozy white cottages galore. There's also water--and vignettes that look like they belong on a vintage postcard--at every turn.

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9. Beaufort, South Carolina

Beaufort, South Carolina
Robbie Caponetto

Voted the South's Best Small Town in 2022, Beaufort is right on Charleston's heels when it comes to favorite destinations in South Carolina. The historic coastal town offers a diverse range of vistas from dense maritime forests to pristine white-sand beaches. Well-manicured streets lined with Antebellum homes beg for a leisurely evening stroll. Read more about Beaufort.

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10. Madison, Georgia

Madison, Georgia
Courtesy of Madison CVB

There's history to uncover in this central Georgia town just an hour east of Atlanta. Its historic downtown is home to more than 50 Antebellum-era buildings. This is the kind of town where the sky seems a little bluer and the grass a little greener. Read more about Madison.

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11. Beech Mountain, North Carolina

Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Robbie Caponetto

Once temperatures drop, this Southern ski resort becomes overrun with skiers and snowboarders hoping for bluebird days. In the off-season, the quaint resort town of less than 1,000 shines with pretty fall color, plus great fishing and hiking. Read more about Beech Mountain.

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12. Williamsburg, Virginia

College of William and Mary
Dennis Johnson/Getty Images

Best known for Colonial Williamsburg, there's no denying the stately Southern charm of this Virginia town. Scenic bike trails cut through rolling pastures, horses clip-clop on cobblestone streets, and buildings date back for more than a century. Read more about Williamsburg.

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13. St. Michaels, Maryland

St. Michaels, Maryland
Courtesy Josh Gibson/Orient Express

St. Michael's is exactly the place you envision when thinking of the quintessential Eastern coastal town. Sailboats glide over sparkling bay water, American flags hang from shop windows,, and colonial architecture is on full display in this town built on oystering and shipbuilding.

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14. Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, Georgia
Courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority

The southernmost of Georgia's famed Golden Isles, Jekyll Island brims with sea and island life. Explore marshy waters by kayak. Stroll among the giant skeletal remains of trees on Driftwood Beach. There's beauty at every turn on this nature-filled barrier island. Read more about Jekyll Island.

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15. Middleburg, Virginia

Middleburg, Virginia
Peter Frank Edwards

Located in America's horse and hunt county capital, Middleburg is a place of winding back roads and rolling green pastures. With the ever-present shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, it's a picturesque getaway just an hour from our nation's capital.

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16. Beaufort, North Carolina

Charlotte Observer/Getty Images

Not to be confused with "Bew-fert" in South Carolina, North Carolina's "Bow-furt" is an entirely different place with unique beauty of its own. The former fishing village on the southern coast of North Carolina is replete with maritime charm. Wooden boardwalks, full marinas, and historic lighthouses included. Read more about Beaufort.

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17. Mentone, Alabama

Mentone, Alabama
Robbie Caponetto

Nestled in the woodlands of Lookout Mountain, Mentone Alabama is home to Alabama's only ski resort and dude ranch. In the summer, the town becomes a sea of green thanks to the many state parks and preserves it hosts. Read more about Mentone.

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18. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Southern Living

In the heart of the Ozark Mountains is the historic town of Eureka Springs. The picturesque town has been a beloved vacation destination since the 1800s. On a drive around town, you'll quickly become acquainted with scenic rivers, lakes, and springs, including the one for which the town is named.

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19. Islamorada, Florida

Islamorada Beach
Courtesy of The Moorings Village

If you don't know better, you might think Islamorada was the name of some exotic island requiring a passport and an international flight to get to. In reality, it's a grouping of six Florida Keys known for their colorful coral reefs. With aqua water, white-sand beaches, and palm trees gently swaying in the wind, this is paradise on earth. Read more about Islamorada.

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20. Hendersonville, North Carolina

Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images

For unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountain, head to the top of Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville. When you're not admiring the beauty of nature in the town's many state forests and parks, the charming Main Street is just as pleasing to the eye. Read more about Hendersonville.

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21. Key West, Florida

Key West, Florida Sunset
Robbie Caponetto

Key West's reputation proceeds it. The Southern-most point of Florida is the crowned jewel of the Keys and for good reason. Brightly colored buildings, tropical tiki bars, and Old Florida charm give this spunky beachside town all the character it needs. The ridiculously beautiful beaches and otherworldly sunsets are almost an added bonus. Read more about Key West.

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22. Franklin, Tennessee

Courtesy Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Just far enough from the hustle and bustle of the Music City, Franklin is the charming Southern town you'll want to plan a girls' weekend around. The community's allure is strongest on Main Street, a cobblestone city center where locally owned boutiques, historic landmarks, and modern restaurants all share space. Read more about Franklin.

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23. Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia
Peter Frank Edwards/Redux

Charlottesville has several things going for it that have helped it land on our list of prettiest Southern towns. For one, it's home to the gorgeous University of Virginia campus, designed by Thomas Jefferson. The former president's Monticello estate is also in town. Though the capital, the town's pastoral setting and connection to nature as the gateway to Shenandoah National Park make it seem smaller than it is. Read more about Charlottesville.

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24. Brevard, North Carolina

Looking Glass Falls
Education Images/Getty Images

There are 250 waterfalls to explore in this North Carolina mountain town. If the sight of fresh spring water cascading from a cliff in the middle of an ardent green forest isn't enough to make you say "wow," maybe the 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest will. Read more about Brevard.

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25. Fernandina Beach, Florida

Fernandina Beach harbor
Kara Franker

The Old Florida vibes are immaculate in Fernandina Beach, a tiny community at the tip of Amelia Island. From tropical-colored buildings to postcard perfect beaches, there's something for everyone here--even Florida's oldest bar by way of The Palace Saloon. Read more about Fernandina Beach.

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