The South’s Best Small Towns In Every State 2018
When we asked readers to pick the best small town in the South, they had plenty of options to choose from—so many that we thought we should share their top choices from each state. Step back and consider the winners, and you’ll see some common threads. First of all, location, location, location. Many of the South’s best small towns are nestled into the mountains or perched on the coast, overlooking a river or dotting an open prairie. Also, these towns haven’t bulldozed their past but have instead preserved and reimagined it, with historic downtowns that now beckon visitors to art galleries, bookstores, and farm-to-table restaurants. They have genuine character and charm. Perhaps most of all, they have a sense of community and local pride that’s palpable. Places like Fairhope, Alabama, St. Michaels, Maryland, and Guthrie, Oklahoma, are populated by people who love their hometown and can’t wait to share it with the rest of us. Making travel plans? Add some of the South’s best small towns to your itinerary.
See The Winners
Prepare to be charmed by mossdraped trees overlooking Mobile Bay. Initially established as a utopian experiment by a group of outsiders dreaming of a better life, Fairhope maintains its free spirit.
Arkansas: Eureka Springs
Equal parts artsy and outdoorsy, this town has everything from art galleries to bike trails. It’s home to the famous Thorncrown Chapel and to a 50-year-old outdoor drama called The Great Passion Play.
Rumor has it that pirates used to pillage here, and you can still experience the legend of Blackbeard on Lewes Canal or explore the real wreck of a British ship from the 1770s at Roosevelt Inlet.
Florida: St. Augustine
The oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental U.S. still reflects the influence of Gilded Age industrialist Henry Flagler. The architecture that he commissioned—like the Hotel Ponce de Léon, which is now part of Flagler College—helps give The Ancient City its special character. St. Augustine also has the narrowest street and oldest wax museum in the country.
Experience the architecture of the Old South in Madison, known as the town that Sherman forgot (as in, neglected to burn). Find antebellum and Victorian structures along with gorgeous trees that line the streets.
In Bardstown, they like their tales tall, their bourbon strong, and their attractions larger than life—like the World’s Largest Whisky Barrel, for example. Raise a glass at Old Talbott Tavern, in business since the 1780s. The establishment played host to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James (who shot up a wall that still bears the bullet holes).
Pretty enough for the movies, Natchitoches was the location for most of Steel Magnolias. Do a little shopping around the historic district, and be sure to stop by the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile store, founded in 1863.
St. Michaels, Maryland
It might be a small town, but dreamy St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has serious nautical chops. At the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, visitors can apprentice for a day to help with building or restoring bo
It’s no surprise that in William Faulkner’s hometown, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” At the writer’s estate, Rowan Oak, visitors can tour his home and see the grounds, which are still mostly untamed, as he preferred. Don’t miss a trip to Neilson’s, the oldest department store in the South.
You probably already know about Branson’s famous theaters and Silver Dollar City, but how about its unusual museums? Plan a trip to the Titanic Museum Attraction, and explore cabins and parlors that are replicas of those on the famous ship—be sure to get a photo of your group made on the grand staircase.
North Carolina: Blowing Rock
This cool mountain town is named for the famous Blowing Rock, where you can drop a handkerchief and it will either float away or blow right back to you because of an unusual air current.
You might feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set when you see the old train depot and Victorian buildings in Guthrie; it’s a common location choice for Hollywood films. Notice a dustup going on outside? That’s probably The Guthrie Gunfighters, historical re-enactors who perform here on Saturdays.
South Carolina: Aiken
Just about 20 miles from Augusta, Georgia, Aiken is the genuine article: It’s not a gimmicky horse-themed tourist attraction but an authentic South Carolina equestrian community rich in historic charm and tradition. This town is a picture postcard waiting to happen, from the iconic archway of live oaks along South Boundary Avenue and serene Hopelands Gardens to the strong Thoroughbreds you might see warming up in the early-morning light.
This town is nestled in the Smoky Mountains with everything from pancake houses to moonshine tastings along its main drag, the Parkway. Thankfully, those glorious mountains are never out of sight.
Fredericksburg may not be hidden any longer, but it’s still a gem. Consider its selling points: more than 150 shops and galleries, many in fine old stone buildings along Main Street; well-preserved German landmarks; the multitude of inns and bed-and-breakfasts within walking distance of restaurants, live music, and biergartens; and the area’s wineries, several of which rise up from the idyllic pastures alongside U.S. 290.
Famous for its living-history museums and Colonial district, Williamsburg doesn’t disappoint with its 18th-century gardens either. Bring home a cutting or a plant from the Colonial Nursery.
West Virginia: Lewisburg
Here, you’ll find one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world. Step back in time at the General Lewis Inn. Some of its construction dates to 1834, and every room features antiques.