The southern United States is a beautifully eclectic mashup of tropical beaches, rich forests, and four seasons of weather. There is an endless amount of history, culture, and scenic views that make this region stand out. It is hard to choose the best towns because there are so many, but there are some towns that are true treasures.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort is a small town on Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina's Sea Islands. The town is known for its antebellum mansions and historic downtown area. The area is surrounded by centuries-old mossy oak trees which enhance the southern charm like a live version of a Pat Conroy novel.
The historic town is considered as a living monument replete with southern hospitality and a seaside charm. Among the many historical sites, the entire downtown area is one of only in a few in America where the whole area is considered a landmark. As you stroll down Bay street, you will find Revolutionary War cannons and the venerable Verdier House Museum tucked behind the gigantic oaks.
St. Augustine, Florida
As the nation's oldest town, St. Augustine does not disappoint in the way of history or attractions. The town itself is a historical monument but other attractions like historic St. George Street will lead the visitor to the nation's oldest schoolhouse and jailhouse. The most historic site is the Castillo de San Marco, the fort that once protected St. Augustine.
The town is best seen by walking; make sure you pass through the world-renowned St. George Street. Many other narrow streets are closed to vehicles and there are shops and bars tucked into the alcoves and alleys that can only be seen by walking by. There are also several historic and romantic bed and breakfast inns that complete the St. Augustine experience. The St. Francis Inn is the nation's longest continuously ran Inn and is located just a few blocks from the heart of historic downtown.
Boone, North Carolina
Boone is a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is sought by adrenaline junkies and outdoor enthusiasts because of the zip lining, fly fishing, kayaking, and more. Boone is primarily known for its proximity to Grandfather Mountain and the Blueridge Parkway, but it also has a thriving art and history culture.
The town is named for Daniel Boone and, in Daniel Boone Park, the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum celebrates the pioneer lifestyle of the 18th century. The Historic Boone guided tour takes visitors past the Jones House, named for one of the town's first physicians. Other historical landmarks include the Banner House Museum and the 1903 Dougherty House. This charming and historic town also has historic inns like the Lovill House Inn which completes the experience.
Historic Gatlinburg is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains and known for its prominent role in the Civil War. Outdoor adventures like white water rafting and ziplining are available as well as a unique Chondola ride that takes visitors to the top of Anakeesta Mountains right from downtown. At the top of the SkyLift is a 680 feet cable bridge, the longest in the United States visitors can walk across but it is not for the faint of heart.
Along with outdoor adventures and historical sites, downtown Gatlinburg also has a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene. The Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery and Ole Red Gatlinburg, owned by country superstar, Blake Shelton, should be at the top of the itinerary. The pure natural beauty of this town has inspired troves of artists and the Cliff Dwellers art gallery showcases Smoky Mountain paintings and sculptures.
Savannah is a historic port town in southern Georgia renowned for its culture, dining, and haunted history. The antebellum architecture, horse drawn carriages, and mossy oak canopy roads lends Savannah a true Southern charm. Nearly 300 years old, Savannah is one of the most historic towns in the south. Among the historical sites are the Bonaventure Cemetery, the Juliette Gordon Lowe House, the birthplace of the Girlscout creator, and the Ralph Marks Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
The cobblestone squares throughout town invite visitors to take a stroll on a sultry summer night. Savannah is also home to the Southeast's oldest art museum, the Davenport House Museum. No trip to Savannah is complete unless one dines at The Grey, a diner inside a converted Greyhound bus terminal.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Orange Beach is a charming town in Alabama that is known as a water sports haven. Along with the plentiful water activities, there is also the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum, Waterfront Park, and the world-famous Flora-Bama bar. Orange Beach is a relaxing locale with beautiful beaches that make for a great family getaway.
Along with the relaxing beaches, visitors can also go hiking on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail or the 6,500 acre Gulf State Park, which really makes Orange Beach stand out. For the brave, there is also the 112 feet Wharf Ferris Wheel, with excellent views of this small coastal town. The culture and nightlife are thriving here, and there are plenty of dining options available like Zeke's and Voyagers.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Speaking of beautiful Gulf Beaches, Ocean Springs, two miles east of Biloxi, is a quaint coastal town with a thriving arts and cultural community. The quaint downtown with its brick facades and massive oak trees, is the hub of the entertainment and dining options.
The Art House is located here and is a cozy converted house that showcases its members' artwork. There is also the Pink House, a fine arts gallery, and The Walter Anderson Museum of Art. After a day of exploring the art scene, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to wind down in. Wilbur's Bar is a speakeasy inspired tavern, Pleasant's BBQ is the oldest restaurant in town, and Knuckleheads offers true Southern fare.
Dahlonega is a jewel of a town in northern Georgia with historic buildings and local vineyards that offer wine tastings downtown around a 19th century town square. Dahlonega Gold Museum, in the 1836 courthouse, documents the history of the mining that put the town on the map. Other historical landmarks include the 1884 Lumpkin County Jail and Museum.
Chattahoochee National Forest runs through part of the county and this part of Georgia is dotted with waterfalls where day hiking is common for visitors wanting to take in the sights and sounds of these majestic falls. There are also several resorts and spa and wellness centers which are perfect for a daytrip.
Highlands, North Carolina
Highlands is a small town perched on a plateau in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. This scenic mountain town is centrally located between several mountain ranges and river gorges dot the scenery along with some of the highest waterfalls in the United States. The quaint downtown area boasts vintage buildings, boutiques, and superb dining options.
The Highlands Heritage Trail offers two versions of a walkable tour through downtown: a 3 block walk and a 20 block walk for a complete tour. The Old Edwards Inn and Spa resides in the heart of downtown and is the quintessential inn to experience the town like no other. It offers a wine garden, spa, and Madison's Restaurant.
Oxford is best known as being the home of the University of Mississippi or "Ole Miss", but there is so much more to see and do. Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner called Oxford home and even used the town as inspiration for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. His home has been restored and visitors are encouraged to visit to catch a glimpse of literary history.
Called the "Cultural Mecca of The South" Oxford has inspired many artists and writers because of its charm. The attractive downtown offers exceptional cuisine from restaurants like Boure` and City Grocery and downtown is a popular foodie destination. The Square is the happening spot for music there is no shortage of live bands to experience in the heart of Oxford.
From breathtaking natural scenery, waterfalls, history, and culinary significance, the South offers something for everyone. The Gulf Coast has some of the prettiest beaches in the world and also amazing hiking adventures while towns like St. Augustine and Savannah are historically important and feel like you are walking back in time. Oxford is perhaps the best spot on the list for a dedicated foodie trip, but all of these small towns offer exquisite cuisine.