The 25 Best Small Towns in the South 2024

The anatomy of a perfect Southern small town doesn’t come in just one idyllic shape or size, nor does it ever look or act in quite the same way. Some show their personality by way of tiny historic downtowns while others spread out their charm across sprawling parks and rivers.

Forget about size. These 25 Southern towns may be small (some are technically villages) but each one has its own distinct story to tell.

This wide-ranging list captures the wonderful diversity of the region. You’ll find towns by the seaside, in the mountains, outside of big cities, near universities, and more. Some are known for German food (Helen, Georgia; Fredericksburg, Texas), others have thriving art and culture scenes (Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Berea, Kentucky; Boone, North Carolina), many are rich in history (Williamsburg, Virginia; St. Augustine, Florida; Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia) or natural beauty (Beaufort, South Carolina; Blowing Rock, North Carolina). There is a small town for every interest and all of these places are destination-worthy in their own right.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across various media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

2. Sanibel, Florida

This 12-mile-long barrier island on Florida’s west coast is a laid-back slice of paradise and a treasure trove for shell seekers. Sanibel took a major hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 but the beloved getaway is open to visitors and on the mend.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay, he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

4. Beaufort, South Carolina

Wild beauty and Lowcountry allure abound in this South Carolina gem. Get lost among the pines and palmettos of an ancient maritime forest, catch a striking sunset over the Beaufort River, and marvel at the columns and sweeping porches of stately mansions. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Groups love the family-friendly attractions and mountain adventures in this bustling resort town. It’s also an entryway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a hiker’s paradise. Book a campsite to take in the scenery and plenty of fresh air. 

Read more: Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg

6. Blowing Rock, North Carolina

This mountain town is named for its most famous feature, a 4,000-foot cliff that overlooks a spectacular gorge, distant peaks, and dense forests. But Blowing Rock is no one-hit wonder. Expect plenty of High Country characters from a community of talented craftspeople and chefs inspired by their surroundings. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Read more: Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

8. St. Augustine, Florida

In this town founded in 1565, you’ll encounter the past and present around every corner. Step back into the 1600s at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and then enjoy the area’s up-and-coming dining scene and its many craft breweries and distilleries. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Learn more about Mount Dora: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

10. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Folks have been flocking to this resort town since the 19th century thanks to its namesake natural springs. The stunningly preserved Victorian architecture makes downtown a destination unto itself and quirky shops selling everything from kaleidoscopes to quilts can entertain you for hours.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

Although many think of Florida when it comes to great beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach beg to differ. The coastal twins boast the same sparkling turquoise water, white-sand shores, and family-friendly fun. With miles of coastline and easy access, it’s clear why sunseekers love the area. 

Read more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

12. Danville, Kentucky

Often referred to as Kentucky’s city of firsts, Danville’s appeal is due in large part to its long history. Explore spirited Main Street where you can find Renaissance Revival- and Federal-style buildings housing modern eateries; boutiques; and the Art Center of the Bluegrass, a creative hub in the community.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-most popular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

14. Shepherdstown, West Virginia

One of West Virginia’s oldest towns is a prime location to see the splendor John Denver waxed poetic about in Take Me Home, Country Roads. Stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and the meandering Potomac River play a backdrop to centuries-old Victorian houses and an art-filled downtown.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Fredericksburg, Texas

Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg has deep German roots. Its Main Street has always drawn visitors but now people are also making a beeline for the fantastic food scene here (biergartens included) and more than 100 area wineries.

Read more: Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg

16. Folly Beach, South Carolina

If going to a dive bar in flip-flops is your idea of a good time, head to this easygoing seaside town. Book an ocean paddleboard tour, check out the state’s oldest surf shop, or find a spot to sink your toes into the sand on its 6 miles of beaches.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Learn more about Bay St. Louis: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

18. Round Top, Texas

A contender for the award for tiniest town (at less than 1 square mile), Round Top has enough Lone Star spirit and style to more than makeup for its population of just 87. It is situated around three squares: Henkel, Rolland, and Town, and you should complete the trifecta for the full experience in this renowned antiquing destination. 

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Williamsburg, Virginia

The cobbled streets and 18th-century environs have long drawn people to Williamsburg, but these days, there’s much more to discover by way of shops and restaurants. Muststops include The Virginia Beer Co., Merchants Square, and The Cheese Shop. 

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

20. Mountain Home, Arkansas

Waterways like Bull Shoals Lake, Norfork Lake, and the White River surround this small town, which got its start as a resort. It lured folks in with opportunities for fishing and boating, activities that still power tourism here in the southern stretches of the Ozark Mountains.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017 but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Read more: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

22. Paducah, Kentucky

A jewel situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Paducah has an undeniably creative soul and is home to The National Quilt Museum as well as one-of-a-kind businesses like the antiques shop Frenchtown Station and the bourbon palace Barrel & Bond. 

23. Natchitoches, Louisiana

Louisiana’s oldest town has much more to offer than its famous fried meat pies. Visit sites like the National Historic Landmark District (with an array of architectural styles ranging from French Creole to Art Deco) and Melrose Plantation, a stop on the state’s African American Heritage Trail that is home to rare works by folk artist Clementine Hunter.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Wetumpka, Alabama

After a powerful series of tornadoes struck Central Alabama in 2019, Wetumpka worked to recover. Located just northeast of Montgomery, this town sits on the banks of the Coosa River, which has been its claim to fame along with Gold Star Park—until now. In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s wildly popular Home Town reported that they were taking over the entire town known as The City of Natural Beauty for their home-renovation show’s next season.

Learn more about Wetumpka: The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

25. Oxford, Mississippi

In 1837, this town incorporated and named itself after Oxford, England with the hope that it would also be home to a great university one day. About 10 years later, The University of Mississippi opened and in time Oxford became the South’s quintessential college town. Equally celebrated for SEC football and its literary-and-arts scene this place attracts all kinds creating a vibrant community with a refined sense of Southern style. 

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

The Most Charming Southern States (According to Southerners Themselves)

A new survey of 5,000 southerners rated some states higher on southern hospitality than others

Much of the South is known for having a certain charm from quirky roadside attractions and quaint small towns to friendly locals who are sweeter than sweet tea. But which state truly takes the cake when it comes to being the most charming around?

A recent survey of 5,000 Americans commissioned by Oddspedia, a sports and entertainment data and betting site aimed to uncover which states most embody southern hospitality. The top spot on the resulting Southern Hospitality Index went to Tennessee, known for its music capital and other cities full of unique charm like Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Coming in second place just a tenth of a point behind is the big peach state, Georgia, home to the city of southern hospitality, Atlanta, and taking the third spot is coastal South Carolina.

Tied at the bottom of the index as the least charming states are Delaware (which, I’d argue, is Delaware really even the South?) and Florida, the sprawling vacation destination for many. Oddspedia’s ranking was based on charm, politeness, helpfulness, and friendliness of each state. The 5,000 people polled were from the South and were asked to rank their own state and other southern states based on these factors.

Mississippi Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below is the full ranking of southern states according to the Southern Hospitality Index.

1. Tennessee
2. Georgia
3. South Carolina
4. Louisiana
5. North Carolina
6. Kentucky
7. Alabama
8. Virginia
9. Texas
10. Mississippi
11. Arkansas
12. West Virginia
13. Oklahoma
14. Maryland
15. Delaware
16. Florida

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The website also asked respondents to name the most charming celebrities hailing from the South and it’s no surprise that the darling patron saint sweetheart Dolly Parton took the top spot (she also hails from the top charming state as well).

With her signature wit and lovable friendly laugh, Dolly Parton has also embodied helpfulness throughout her long career. Parton has brought awareness and financial aid to a variety of causes such as childhood literacy and in 2022 she received a Courage and Civility award from billionaire Jeff Bezos which gave Parton $100 million to support charitable causes of her choosing.

If there ever was a Southern hospitality icon, it’s Dolly Parton. We’ll always love you and your Southern charm, Dolly!

Looking for more travel inspo?

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most charming southern small towns

The South is peppered with charming small towns. From once-thriving spa meccas to sleepy Smoky Mountain villages, there’s something for every taste. While they vary greatly in history and landscape, there’s one thing all small Southern towns have in common and that’s community. Whether you are planning to visit or are just looking for a dose of that warm Southern charm, there are plenty of hidden gems to go around. Here are the 12 most charming Southern small towns.

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Who doesn’t love a classic country mountain small town? Gatlinburg, Tennessee is set in the heart of the Smoky Mountain range and famous for its spot on the Appalachian Trail and seasonal celebrations. This small community of 4,144 residents also hosts a chili cookoff and Winterfest which are legendary shindigs.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora is the definition of a laid back coastal town. Idyllic beaches, Old Florida living, and tons of gourmet restaurants are just a few things that make it so loveable. The quiet small town is known for its vast variety of antique shops for any of you vintage pickers out there. Here you’ll find just about everything from estate jewellery to rare collectables which only add to the unique atmosphere.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg is the best place in the country to brush up on colonial history. This historic small town is overflowing with colonial finds and rich stories. Not a history buff? No problem. The town is full of other things to do like craft breweries and haunted houses. There are also several opportunities for outdoor activities to keep you busy from cycling to kayaking.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Fairhope, Alabama

This tiny Alabama town founded in 1894 is known for its annual shellfish phenomenon. Each year crabs, flounder, and shrimp flood the shallow bay in what’s referred to as the jubilee. There’s more to Fairbanks than that though; the cosy Alabama gem boasts its own brewery, tons of farmers markets, Museum of History, and nearby Village Point Park Reserve.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fredericksburg, Texas

Tucked within the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find one of the most adorable small towns in the Lone Star State. Fredericksburg is famous for its incredible craft beer and wine scene and great shopping. No chain stores are allowed in the city centre and the town boasts a whopping 150 boutiques alone. Whether you’re going for wine, shopping, or just to soak up the atmosphere, you’ll leave with a smile.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-mostpopular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Seaside, Florida

Seaside is that perfect Florida getaway, especially when you are looking for one of those small towns in the south that feels like a resort community! Known for its urban design, the pastel-colored houses and large porches and fences look like they are truly from a postcard. At Seaside you can enjoy long stretches of sandy beaches, pavilions, and even Grayton Beach State Park which features a variety of trails and a costal dune lake.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Wetumpka, Alabama

The name, Wetumpka, is a Creek Indian word meaning rumbling waters describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceed across the Bridge to the largely residential west side and discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

Road Trip Love: Take a Look at 25 of the Prettiest Little Towns in America

From coastal towns to southern gems, these idylls are worth a visit

I am always dreaming of taking a road trip, somewhere, anywhere. Do you ever find yourself staring out the window and wishing you could hop in the RV and drive away?

When you find yourself having moments like this, where do you imagine yourself driving? Do you envision a desert town or a beachfront campground? Or maybe it’s the drive itself you’re most jazzed about.

One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty small towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.

If that is something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in America. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if you can’t head out on the open road immediately, you can at least make some travel plans so you’re ready to launch when you are.

And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.

OK, here are 25 of the prettiest little towns you ever did see.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 2. Wetumpka, Alabama

Put your finger on the middle of a map of Alabama and you’re likely to land on Wetumpka. Just north of Montgomery, this town is known as the The City of Natural Beauty and it’s easy to see why: Visitors love canoeing and kayaking on the nearby Coosa River and enjoying the green spaces on walks and picnics. Don’t miss Swayback Bridge Trail (for hiking), Corn Creek Park (for birding, fishing, and waterfall watching), and William Bartram Arboretum (to see local flora and fauna).

To learn more about Wetumpka, read The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Aztec, New Mexico

Known by the Navajo as Kinteel (wide horse), this town’s names come from Escalante’s misguided notion during his visit to the San Juan Basin. He stumbled across the ruins of the Aztec National Monument and thought it was built by the Aztec Indians (though they were built by the Anasazi). 

History lives here at Aztec, especially along its downtown core which is complete with a host of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, this San Juan County community is packed with natural wonders and historical monuments, perfect for activities such as fishing, mountain biking, or hiking.

To learn more about Aztec National Monument, you can read The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Schulenburg, Texas

Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.

Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches (I recommend Kountry Bakery) or German schnitzel.

Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!

One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.

To learn more about Schulenburg, read Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 5. Murphys, California

In California’s historic Gold Country, Murphys is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutiques. The picturesque town park is a popular place to have a creekside picnic after visiting several of the town’s historic sites where you can delve into the history of the Gold Rush. Don’t miss the Murphys Hotel whose famous guests have included writer Mark Twain. 

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a funky artist haven with copper mining town roots. It sits nearly a mile high in the Mule Mountains which means it’s 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the summer here than it is in Arizona’s major cities. Victorian homes and buildings are perched precariously on the town’s steep mountainside which has over 350 staircases carved right into it for access.  

Discover Bisbee’s past by visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and taking the Queen Mine Tour. The tour will bring visitors underground to explore the mine on an ore ride while they learn more about the stories of the miners who worked here. Those who have an interest in the paranormal can book one of several ghost tours in Bisbee to hear the eerily fascinating reports of unexplained happenings and even sightings of spirits donning Victorian attire. Public art features prominently throughout town, from colorful murals and mosaic walls to cars that have been transformed into unique works of art.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Roswell, New Mexico

Chaves County’s community of Roswell is known among tourists for the reported site of an extraterrestrial sighting and spacecraft crash in 1947. Believers of the extraterrestrial flock to Roswell every July for the UFO Encounter Festival.

Visitors can admire the extensive UFO memorabilia and related activities at Roswell including exhibits at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the souvenirs at the Invasion Station Gift Shop. 

Besides being famous as an alien town, Roswell is also a hub of cultural activities and local history given it was once the original homeland of the Mescalero Apaches and the Comanche’s hunting grounds.

To learn more about Roswell and the UFO Festival you can read What Really Happened at Roswell? and A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mesilla, New Mexico

While Mesilla exists as a small New Mexico town today, it was once a major stop for traveling between San Antonio and San Diego. Once visitors step into Mesilla they will feel like they stepped in time as the town remains mostly unchanged since its heyday in the 1800s! 

Explore the San Albino Church in the town plaza, which stands as Mesilla Valley’s oldest (and still active) church. This town is also lively thanks to its offerings of unique boutiques, galleries, wineries, and specialty eateries!

To learn more about Mesilla, read La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience and Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown. 

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

There are many reasons to visit Fairhope, especially in the off-season. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with historic homes on streets lined with live oaks and a charming, walkable downtown. Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg which comes in at fewer than 4,000 residents escapes many travelers. Despite the high-season influxes, it’s the area’s homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of the visitors here in the first place. The village has continued to evolve with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries. 

To learn more on Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, read Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg and Springtime in the Smokies.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Helen, Georgia

The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of fairytale dreams but sits in the mountains of Georgia.

Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and beer from September through October. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday through September and daily from September 28 to October 29, 2023.

Alamogordo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Alamogordo, New Mexico

Nestled in the high desert on the base of the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County, this southern New Mexico community gets an average of 287 days of sun giving visitors plenty of sunlight to enjoy a collection of thrilling activities.

Play a round of golf at the Desert Lake Golf Course, admire the mechanics of the F-117 Nighthawk at the Holloman Air Force Base, or feel the soft sands at the nearby White Sands National Park. This New Mexico destination is also home to several family-friendly attractions, including the Alameda Park Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. 

Before you leave Alamogordo, don’t forget to stop by the world’s largest pistachio which is located near the world’s largest gypsum dune.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Bardstown, Kentucky

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the Most Beautiful Small Town in America. But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face. This Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama, one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

 If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

Learn more about Bardstown by reading Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories and Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Tours and samples are available for a small fee. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

To learn more about Shiner and Spoetzel Brewery, read A Toast to Texas History.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. This strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

To learn more about this charming town, read Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Marietta, Ohio

The oldest town in Ohio, Marrieta gets its name from the infamous Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Marietta was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory which was all of the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the establishment of this territory in 1787.

A group of pioneers settled and founded Marietta in 1788. The town was easy to access by boat due to its placement on the banks of two major rivers. One of the early industries of the area was boat-building. Boats built in Marietta made their way down to New Orleans and often into the Gulf of Mexico. The town also made steamboats and furniture but much of their industry began to focus on brickmaking, sawmills, iron mills, and, eventually foundries.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Stowe, Vermont

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, but it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music.

Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury. Be sure to book a maple syrup tasting at one of the local sugar farms to get a real sense of Vermont’s long and storied maple sugaring industry.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Enjoy the quaint yet lively Breaux Bridge. Known as the Crawfish Capital of the World, the small town of Breaux Bridge offers rich history, world-class restaurants, and a very lively Cajun and Zydeco music and art industry.

Breaux Bridge is also home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival which is celebrated every May (May 5-7, 2023). This is to pay homage to the sea creature that brought fame and wealth to the town.

Aside from being a popular stopover, you might also want to stay in the quaint town for a couple of days.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The quaint New England village of Woods Hole lies at the far southwestern tip of Cape Cod with Buzzards Bay to its west and Vineyard Sound to its east. Because of its excellent harbor, Woods Hole became a center for whaling, shipping, and fishing before its dominance today through tourism and marine research.

Woods Hole is a small village and is easily strolled. The village is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It houses two large, private organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A total of 49 Nobel Laureates have taught, taken courses, or done research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Woodstock, New York

To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival would be a major blunder—the festivities weren’t even held within city limits. In reality, Woodstock is a quaint little Catskills oasis where residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft and visitors can tour the grounds and see where magic was made.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Medora, North Dakota

One would think getting Broadway-quality performers to spend their summers in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota would be tough. But it’s barely a chore when you’re drawing them to quaint Medora, home of the Medora Musical and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The once-depressed cattle town was brought back to life when businessman Harold Shafer sunk millions into it turning it into an Old West Revival that avoids being too campy. Saloons and steakhouses offer stellar food; day hikes along the Pancratz Trail, just outside the Badlands Motel offer sweeping views; and a trip to the Burning Hills Amphitheater—a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands—is a must for musicals and steak-on-a-pitchfork dinner. The entire town obliterates expectations of what one would expect to find in North Dakota.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Jacksonville, Oregon

Life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jacksonville. Steeped in history, the entire town of Jacksonville is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley and haunted history tours. A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places in Washington State that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village.

This riverfront town has a lovely setting located on the Swinomish Channel overlooking Fidalgo Island with plenty of waterfront restaurants.

Downtown La Conner has a wonderfully preserved Historic District with 27 vintage buildings from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Many of these were constructed during La Conner’s heyday in the 1890s when it was a major steamboat hub between Seattle and Bellingham.  

Get more tips for visiting La Conner: La Conner: Charming, Picturesque & Quaint.

Worth Pondering…

I say half your life is spent trying to get out of a small town and the other half trying to get back to one.

—Anon

The Ultimate Coastal South Road Trip: From New Orleans to Savannah

Discover the sights, sounds, and tastes along this Coastal South road trip

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah.

Cajun cuisine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast—balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic, and breweries—as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through America’s warmest (both in climate and culture) region awaits.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and with deep French, Spanish, and African roots culturally distinctive cities. As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street—the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music, and local characters.

Related article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Dine at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants—perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, or Galatoire’s.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. I recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Interstate 10.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the revelry of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Muddy Waters. The current owner, Rachel Dangermond continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars, and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis. Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious “royal reds,” deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Be sure to start the morning with a coffee and plate of biscuits at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner.

Related article: The Underrated Coast

Boasting a dozen well-known casinos, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biloxi, Mississippi

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters, and crabs of its warm waters Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking. If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists’ colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee, and nightlife. It’s sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and the old French influence is palpable.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark. Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don’t leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90—it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Interstate 10 as noted previously.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with New Orleans, Biloxi, and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that’s already garnering national awards.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a sports fan be sure to pay homage to one of the great ones at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour southeast of Mobile. With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently. What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries, and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns. As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries, and youthful verve.

Amelia Island near Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2½ hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It’s also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the characteristic form of the Florida beach—that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water—is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville’s beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach near downtown Jacksonville.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South. Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches—some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy. Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact as the Historic District—with its stately fountains, mansions, and lush public parks—is a national treasure.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

St. Marys, Georgia (just north of the Florida/Georgia state line) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine, or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida, and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Winter

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your winter adventure

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best small towns to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by nature, set in the midst of 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails, the park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas of mountains and desert. Anza-Borrego is an International Dark Sky Park, and the town of Borrego Springs is a Dark Sky Community, offering opportunities for exploring the star-filled night sky.

Aransas Pass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas Pass, Texas

Aransas Pass offers cool breezes and unique, crystal clear waters, beautiful seagrass, and excellent bay fishing. There are many marinas and boat ramps available with the largest at the historic Conn Brown Harbor. This picturesque harbor setting is a favorite spot for photographers and a preferred location to buy fresh seafood right off the boat. Nearly 500 species of birds pass through Aransas Pass. Some of the best birding is found in the Aransas Pass Nature Park within the 36-acre Aransas Pass Community Park bordering Redfish Bay. This area is a haven for migrating and regional birds. Another favorite site, Newberry Park is a 1.2-acre mall central city park landscaped to attract birds and butterflies.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, who also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small-town ambiance with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo, Texas

Alamo’s claim to fame as the “Refuge to the Valley” illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draws birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadee, and chachalacas. After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places. Home to 4,000 people and only one stoplight, Ajo is a place to slow down and enjoy life. You could say it’s a small town with a huge backyard.

Related Article: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek, Arizona

Located in Maricopa County, Cave Creek is conveniently located 27 miles northeast of Phoenix so you’ll never be too far away from a big city even if you’d never know it by the relaxed pace of life here. Not to be confused with the Cave Creek town that is tucked away in the Chiricahua Mountains, this one is said to have been the original town of Cave Creek and therefore has a true claim to the charm of the name. Be sure to bring your walking shoes so you can hike at Cave Creek Regional Park or head out to Bartlett Lake. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and fishing gear for Bartlett. Enjoy getting back to nature without feeling like you’ve spent forever in travel.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Summer

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the “Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast” for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing. The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is centered around its pristine waterway, Kings Bay, and is the self-proclaimed “Home of the Manatee”. The small town of approximately 3,200 residents welcomes hundreds of manatees each winter to its many warm springs including the famous Three Sisters Springs. Together with neighboring Homosassa, the Crystal River is the site of the largest gathering of manatees in North America. Located along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” the waters of Crystal River have the only legal “swim-with” Manatee program in the Country meaning visitors can passively observe the mammals in their natural habitat. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making the water attractive to all sorts of swimmers.  

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Best known as a mecca for Texas artists, Rockport is also home to the Maritime Museum, prime saltwater fishing, and tons of outdoor activities. The area is popular for being a great place for bird-watching due to its small crowds and vibrant natural landscape, and visitors often come from all over the Texas coast to see the flocks of coastal birds that call the region home.  

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden