Hot Springs, Arkansas (©Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)
Ramble down a meandering river, eat a heaping plate of home-cooked food and drive down Main Street in many a Southern town in America to know that the charm of these small towns has never quite faded.
The heart of the South boasts a slower pace where neighbors know each other by name and people wave at each other as they drive by. These are the top small towns throughout South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama, among others. These charming small towns have some of the sweetest hospitality and the prettiest scenery you’ll find anywhere. Stop in for a weekend getaway or a long vacation. The locals will be glad to see you.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
“Bay St. Louis is truly a place apart—it seamlessly blends the coastal charm of the region with a thriving artistic community," said Renee Areng, the Gulf Coast executive director of Visit Mississippi. “Spend a weekend browsing local artwork, attending one of the many unique festivals, checking out historical landmarks and more.”
For getting into nature, take a long walk on Scenic Byways, a 13-mile walking trail throughout the area or relax. Stop into 100 Men Hall to hear blues tunes at the live music venue—part of the Mississippi blues trail—honoring musicians like Big Joe Turner and Etta James who performed there. The hall still hosts traveling and local musicians.
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, Flat Rock is home to local and some national legends—try a visit to Carl Sandburg's house while in town. Flat Rock is known as a friendly village tucked into the Blue Ridge Parkway just 30 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, and 10 minutes down the road from Hendersonville, North Carolina. The area is known for crisp fall colors and Flat Rock has a downtown that's lined with colorful shops and restaurants.
"Taylor [has] an amazing catfish restaurant called Taylor Grocery as well as home to many area artists, painters and sculptors," said Mary Allyn Hedges, Visit Oxford director. "There is a development in Taylor called Plein Air that boasts a chapel, event space, a Southern Living idea home and most recently a new restaurant, Grit."
Beyond decadent dining, Taylor was named outright by William Faulkner in his novels as an idyllic escape from city life. Farming is a major way of life in this small town, with generations of Taylorites who raise families in the area.
Abita Springs, Louisiana
“Abita Springs is a nice little hideaway on what we call the ‘northshore,’ a trendy, borderline eccentric region on the upper side of Lake Pontchartrain about 30 minutes north of greater New Orleans,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. “Abita Springs is another pretty, quiet little place that is a mecca for craft brewers. Louisiana’s largest indigenous brewer, Abita, is located here, offers tours and tastings.”
The town is also known for a mystery house, funky bicycle festival, a whole-town garage sale and the Abita Opry's monthly Cajun dances.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Known for its natural warm springs, this small town is a sauna and spa haven that has held on to its small town charm for decades. From a peaceful retreat for Native Americans to health and wellness clubs of the 1950s, Hot Springs has enjoyed welcoming health-seekers from all corners of the U.S. and the world. The town is also known as a retreat for presidents, professional athletes and everyday travelers.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Just a half-hour north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, St. Francisville's historic roots date before the Antebellum Era. One of the town's major draws is The Myrtles Plantation, which is allegedly one of America's most haunted attractions.
"St. Francisville has a walkable downtown filled with locally owned art galleries and antique shops, and a surprisingly high number of quaint bed and breakfast inns for a town of its size," said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. "A great time to visit St. Francisville is spring, the whole city is seemingly abloom. The town’s annual Audubon Pilgrimage, that showcases the blooms and historic homes and properties, is a must-do to truly experience.”
One of Kentucky's favorite small cities rolls out the carpet for visitors and residents alike with a quaint Main Street lined on either side with colorful shops and galleries.
"Danville is a proud small town that is big on sharing our pastoral beauty with the world," said Jennifer Kirchner, Danville Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director. "We have been making history for hundreds of years and plan to continue for hundreds more."
For the full experience, time a visit with the Kentucky State BBQ Festival held annually in Danville, visit the Pioneer Playhouse or belly up at the Wilderness Road Distillery.
St. Marys, Georgia
Only 45 minutes from Jacksonville, Florida, on the Georgia coastline, St. Marys is a classic Southern getaway.
The small town has a big reputation as the gateway to Cumberland Island, a national treasure seven miles offshore. Take a canoe or kayak out on Crooked River State Park for an afternoon or stop into the free St. Marys Submarine Museum detailing the history of the forces who served at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay just outside of town.
With roughly a dozen thoroughbred farms in the area, Midway is known as a picturesque horse town almost at the center of Kentucky.
“To walk through Midway is to travel through time. Our city is aptly named, not because it is equidistantly located between larger cities, but because it represents our nostalgia for the past and our optimism for the future," said Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. "Quaint but sophisticated, small but big in heart; You never forget Midway.”
Stop into Equus Run winery for samples of regional vintages and sample any one of the prime dining locations in downtown Midway. The Midway Fall Festival is a chance to sample local crafts and treats in addition to hearing the latest news from around town.
Fayetteville, Arkansas, is one of the biggest small towns in the U.S. and serves as home to the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, Lake Fayetteville and other major state attractions.
"[Fayetteville] is rich in the arts, and in history. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, it is a nature-lover’s dream," said Kody Ford, spokesperson for the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau. "‘Local’ gives this community its flavor. There’s always something happening here and everything is an experience.”
Visit the National Cemetery for an afternoon of contemplation and serenity, or spend an afternoon exploring the Downtown Square and Gardens—three days a week the square is where the local farmers market is held.
Bluffton, South Carolina
Take a kayak on the May River that winds through the Old Town Bluffton area, past a quaint downtown area of Bluffton, South Carolina. This coastal town is on the shore facing Hilton Head Island. The Church of the Cross, with its dark-wood exterior clad in palm trees and delicate window details, attracts adventurous visitors and destination wedding parties alike.
This mountain town welcomes travelers looking for exceptional hiking in the summer and spring in addition to superb ski lift views—Cloudmount offers the area's best skiing—in the winter months. Its location, just one hour from Birmingham, Alabama, and two hours from Atlanta, make this small town a welcome escape to the mountain tops.
Stop in to Mentone Market off Highway 117 for an early morning biscuit and a chat with the locals and head up to Desoto Falls, a 104-foot waterfall, or to St. Joseph's on the Mountain, a small log structure built before 1900.