The South's Best Tiny Towns

Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tiny towns are worth more than their weight in charm. But it isn't just the charm that draws us to them. It's their abundance of independent stores, hidden gem parklands, historic structures and architecture, one-of-a-kind restaurant discoveries, and, of course, slower pace of life that draw us in.

We've compiled a list of tiny Southern towns you should consider visiting. When it's time for vacation again, consider putting those huge cities with their big crowds and tons of commotion out of your mind. Instead, spend some time in one of these hidden treasures. The Ryman Auditorium sees bigger crowds than these picturesque villages. Make sure you pay special attention during the drive because some of them are so small that you might miss them!

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Mentone, Alabama

Mentone, Alabama
Robbie Caponetto

Population: 327
You could call it "Alabama's Aspen." Set about 50 miles southwest of Chattanooga, near the base of Lookout Mountain, this hidden hamlet and artists' haven features a large collection of regionally made arts and crafts. A farm-to-table eatery called Plowshares Bistro located in a former gallery, where you will also find Miracle Pottery. Dine on homemade specialties at the Wildflower Cafe and the Green Leaf Grill—Mentone's oldest restaurant—where chef Jimmy Rogers serves some of the freshest rainbow trout around. Take a short drive southward to view the tumbling waters at DeSoto State Park; do some serious leaf peeping during a scenic fall color hike at Little River Canyon National Preserve; and plow some powder or swing a club at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. mentonealabama.gov

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Jasper, Arkansas

Jasper, Arkansas
Don Johnston/Getty Images

Population: 811
Set in the Ozark Mountains, Jasper offers a collection of unique local shops, the famous fare of the Ozark Cafe, and the nearby Cliff House Inn & Restaurant with spectacular views of "Arkansas' Grand Canyon." Head south from downtown to the hiking trails and rustic cabins of the 1.2 million-acre Ozark National Forest. Or go east to the beautifully scenic Buffalo National River, a favorite of anglers and kayakers.

03 of 18

Micanopy, Florida

Micanopy, Florida
Michael Warren/Getty Images

Population: 493
Tourists and filmmakers alike admire Micanopy's charms. Many of the scenes from the Michael J. Fox hit Doc Hollywood as well as the film version of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' memoir, Cross Creek, were shot here. This quaint town has a variety of shops and restaurants along its moss-draped main street. Browse through vintage clothing at Winters Past, and find native plants at the Mosswood Farm Store & Bakehouse. End your afternoon in Micanopy with a Cuban sandwich and a piece of homemade Key lime pie at the Old Florida Cafe. micanopytown.com

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Helen, Georgia

Helen, Georgia
Robbie Caponetto

Population: 546
Once known as a timber town, this unique mountain getaway began a successful transition from lumber to lederhosen in 1969. Today, it features a colorful collection of German-themed eateries like the Bodensee Restaurant and Alpine-inspired accommodations such as The Castle Inn. Many regional artists exhibit their works in the galleries and studios of the Helen Arts & Heritage Center, while some of the state's best wines are made and offered at Habersham Winery. North of town, you can enjoy a gorgeous lake, zip lines, and mountains glowing with fall color at Unicoi State Park on the edge of Chattahoochee National Forest, where you'll find the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area. helenga.org

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Plains, Georgia

Plains, Georgia
Friedrich Schmidt/Getty Images

Population: 758
As the hometown of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the Mayberry look-alike features President Carter's original campaign headquarters along with his boyhood home at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site on his family farm just outside town. Lining Main Street are mom-and-pop shops, dining spots, and lodging at the Plains Historic Inn & Antiques. You can score plenty of the local legumes—fried, salted, covered in chocolate, or made into brittle—at Jean and Bobby Salter's Plain Peanuts. plainsgeorgia.org

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Rabbit Hash, Kentucky

Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Population: 269
This quaint village was devastated when its landmark building—the 1831 Rabbit Hash General Store—burned down. But determined locals raised enough money to re-create and reopen the store, now filled with original works by Kentucky potters, weavers, and artists. The general store's revival has encouraged other neighboring businesses, such as The Old Hashienda Inn and Verona Vineyards. rabbithash.com

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Convent, Louisiana

Convent, Louisiana
Owaki/Kulla/Getty Images

Population: 415
This Cajun-flavored town on the banks of the Mississippi River is the seat of St. James Parish, home to some of the most historic structures in all of Louisiana. Don't miss the crawfish bisque at Hymel's Seafood Restaurant, a tour of the beautiful architecture in St. Michael's Church Historic District, or an excursion on the famed River Road to visit iconic sites such as Laura Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation in nearby Vacherie. stjamesla.com

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New Market, Maryland

New Market, Maryland
Facebook/Town of New Market

Population: 1,527
The very first antiques shop in this small Maryland town opened more than 80 years ago. Shopkeepers kept on coming here, and today New Market is referred to as the "Antique Capital of Maryland." The historic Old National Pike (now called State 144, which becomes Main Street entering downtown) is lined with about a dozen different shops offering an array of gifts, antiques, and collectibles. Robert Esterly Antiques has long specialized in custom-made furniture and restorations, while Fleshman's Antiques features local period cherry and walnut furniture. Also, check out Native American art and jewelry at Santa Fe Trading Company or playful children's clothing and toys at Happiloo. Afterwards, dine on one of the daily specials at popular spots like Vintage, which describes itself as a community restaurant, and Milo's Pizza & Pasta, known for tasty oven-baked pies. townofnewmarket.org

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Eminence, Missouri

Eminence, Missouri
National Park Service/Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Population: 625
Delightful Eminence sits less than 30 minutes away from the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a federally protected natural area. They're fed by more than 50 natural springs that offer crystal waters beside rounded bluffs filled with fall color. Rent a mountain cabin, or stay in the Round Spring Retreat's secluded guesthouse. In town, the Hawkins House Bed & Breakfast provides four comfortable rooms right on Main Street. You can grab a table right next door at the Ozark Orchard restaurant. visiteminence.com

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Beech Mountain, North Carolina

Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Robbie Caponetto

Population: 766
This small town is up the road from Beech Mountain Resort, one of the South's few true ski resorts. For ski supplies, a place to stay, or lunch to go, head to Fred's General Mercantile. Other local favorites hugging the Beech Mountain Parkway as it meanders from downtown to the resort are the Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria and the Alpen Restaurant & Bar in the Beech Alpen Inn. townofbeechmountain.com

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Topsail Beach, North Carolina

Topsail Beach, North Carolina
Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

Population: 466
This quaint Atlantic town is a delightful seaside getaway. One of its best spots is Serenity Point, where the legendary pirate Blackbeard supposedly visited on occasion. Drop a line or spend the night at the Jolly Roger Oceanfront Inn & Pier near the center of downtown. Dig into a fried seafood platter at the casual Breezeway Restaurant, or choose to dine on plates of authentic Lowcountry cuisine at the Beach Shop and Grill, said to serve the best burgers around. topsailbeach.org

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Gage, Oklahoma

Gage, Oklahoma
Wikimedia Commons/Leaflet

Population: 395
Luckily for this rural community, a drilling crew happened to strike an underground spring instead of the liquid gold they were looking for, and the Gage Artesian Beach, a one-of-a-kind swimming hole, was formed. The magnesium-rich water was later developed into two small lakes and a huge swimming pool that now features lifeguards, diving boards, a smooth sandy bottom, and cool (some say healing) mineral waters. After jumping in for a refreshing swim, head downtown to local hot spot Charlie's Bar & Grill for some of the best steaks and burgers in all of Central Oklahoma, or try the homemade mac and cheese and other family favorites at Gusto's Italian Grill & Pizza on Main Street in nearby Shattuck. travelok.com

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McClellanville, South Carolina

McClellanville, South Carolina
Richard Ellis/Alamy Stock Photo

Population: 613
A coastal village that sits near the edge of Francis Marion National Forest, so downtown is just a short drive away from miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking as well as dozens of creeks and rivers perfect for fishing and kayaking. In town, browse shops and see the historic homes set along picturesque Pinckney Street. Don't miss The Cottage, a fascinating gallery run by a group of area artists. For dinner, try T.W. Graham & Co. Seafood Restaurant, a local landmark serving fresh dishes made with the daily catch from the chef's own crab pots. townofmcclellanville-sc.net

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Monetta, South Carolina

Monetta, South Carolina
Via Cinema Treasures

Population: 253
The tiny town of Monetta is home to "The Big Mo," one of the state's three remaining drive-in theaters. The Mo offers three outdoor screens that show different (and usually first-run) movies every weekend. For food, stop by the Watson family's Peaches N Such, a local fruit stand, specialty grocery store, ice-cream shop, and farm-to-table restaurant surrounded by peach orchards. thebigmo.com

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Bell Buckle, Tennessee

Bell Buckle, Tennessee
Via Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce

Population: 647
It's an up-and-coming arts community with interesting gift shops and antiques stores along with locally owned eateries that are found around downtown's Railroad Square. The annual June RC-MoonPie Festival features bluegrass music, dancing, and a parade. And you can enjoy hickory-smoked barbecue and hand-squeezed lemonade any time of year at the Bell Buckle Cafe. townofbellbuckle.com

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Cumberland Gap, Tennessee

Cumberland Gap, Tennessee
Facebook/Whistle Stop Antiques Cumberland Gap

Population: 337
Cumberland Gap was once known as the "Gateway to the West." It is surrounded by the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which features epic mountain views, cascading waterfalls, and the 18.5-mile-long Gap Cave. Shop the nonprofit Cumberland Gap Artists' Co-Op with works by 28 local artisans, and grab a table at Angelo's in the Gap or The Pineapple Tea Room downtown. After checking into The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, head over to the nearby Little Congress Bicycle Museum.townofcumberlandgap.com

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Buffalo Gap, Texas

Buffalo Gap, Texas
Wynn Meyers

Population: 609
Buffalo Gap's Perini Ranch Steakhouse, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant, is housed in a converted hay barn. Take a seat at a backyard picnic table under the shade of cottonwoods, and dig into a Ranch Burger that Texas Monthly and Food & Wine magazines claim is one of the best burgers just about anywhere. Spend the night at the Perini Ranch Guest Quarters, cozy accommodations set in the renovated 1885 Main House and the newer Camp House. Nearby, the Taylor County History Center offers an inside look at the Lone Star State in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It features a collection of over 15 buildings brought from around the area, including an 1879 structure that held the Taylor County Courthouse and jail. You'll also find an early 20th-century doctor's office, railroad depot, post office, and more. traveltexas.com/cities/buffalo-gap

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Middleburg, Virginia

Middleburg, Virginia
JSatterthwaite/Getty Images

Population: 573
Established in 1787, Middleburg became a top spot for fox hunts and steeplechases in the early 1900s, making it known as the "Nation's Horse and Hunt Capital." It has over 160 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which now house a variety of upscale restaurants, antiques stores, boutiques, and equine specialty shops. Browse C. & D. Rigden and Son Country Classics for tailor-made English wear for men and women, stop by Timmie Jane's for vintage women's clothing, and visit The Shaggy Ram for fine antiques and unique home decor. Make a weekend of it and check in at downtown's Red Fox Inn & Tavern, the nearby Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, or the upscale Salamander Resort & Spa. visitmiddleburgva.com

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