The 50 Best Small Towns In The South 2023

The 50 Best Small Towns In The South 2023

Forget about size. These 50 Southern towns may be small (some are technically villages) but each one has its own distinct story to tell. We asked our readers to share their favorites, and this wide-ranging list captures the wonderful diversity of our 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, GA; Fredericksburg, TX), others have thriving art and culture scenes (Ocean Springs, MS; Berea, KY; Boone, NC), many are rich in history (Williamsburg, VA; St. Augustine, FL; Harper’s Ferry, WV) or natural beauty (Beaufort, SC; Blowing Rock, NC). There is a small town for every type of person on this list, and we guarantee that all of these places are destination-worthy in their own right. But be warned: One visit, and you might start packing your bags to start a new small town life. 


50. Opelika, Alabama




You can almost hear the train whistle blowing as you stroll the streets of this former railroad town. Although its big sister Auburn (home to Auburn University) often steals the spotlight, Opelika is making a name for itself with hip hangouts like the coffee shop Side Track; the downtown speakeasy Sneak & Dawdle; and Botanic, a plant nursery, market, and restaurant.


49. 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.


48. 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 backdrop to centuries-old Victorian houses and an art-filled downtown. 


47. 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.


46. Thomasville, Georgia

Redbrick streets and a topnotch restaurant culture add character to the picture-perfect downtown of Thomasville, a community with a strong entrepreneurial bent and plenty of places to grab a tasty bite— Liam’s, Jonah’s Fish & Grits, Sweetgrass Cheese Shop, and Empire Bagel & Delica.


45. Boone, North Carolina

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is known for its creative soul. It’s home to galleries and arts centers, and (thanks to Appalachian State University) it’s also a college town with a notable music scene. Drive to Grandfather Mountain for hairpin turns and incredible views.


44. Jonesborough, Tennessee

As the “storytelling capital of the world,” Tennessee’s oldest town celebrates and preserves the state’s oral history. Visit the International Storytelling Center, or see a show at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.


43. 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 make up 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. 


42. 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.


41. Georgetown, South Carolina

This spot on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast calls itself “the little town you’ve been looking for,” and it’s hard to argue the point. Georgetown has gorgeous old homes, abundant live oaks, a walkable downtown, and the dramatic Waccamaw River Bridge. 


40. Covington, Louisiana

Planted just north of Lake Pontchartrain among three rivers—the Bogue Falaya, Abita, and Tchefuncte— Covington has a city center jam-packed with boutiques, art galleries, bed-and-breakfasts, and antiques shops. Don’t miss a meal at Lola, a local favorite.


39. Dunedin, Florida

Picture an Old Florida beach town, and you’ll likely imagine a place like Dunedin. Locals and visitors love this Clearwater-area spot for its undeniably relaxed atmosphere, sandy shores, lively Main Street shops, and no-frills approach to fresh seafood. Take time to go osprey spotting at Honeymoon Island State Park.


38. 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.


37. 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.


36. Fernandina Beach, Florida

Tucked away on the north end of Florida’s Atlantic coast, this historic town is a down-to-earth foil to the busy resorts along the neighboring shores. Set on Amelia Island, the area’s walkable downtown is full of boutiques offering beachy wares. It’s also home to restaurants such as Timoti’s Seafood Shak, where it’s always a good idea to order the day’s fresh catch. 


35. 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. 


34. Guthrie, Oklahoma

While wandering the nation’s largest contiguous historic district, you won’t have to work hard to picture this Victorianera treasure as it was in the late 1800s. Today, you can learn more about the frontier city’s history at The Oklahoma Territorial Museum (also the site of The Carnegie Library) and at the Oklahoma Frontier Drug Store Museum. 


33. St. Francisville, Louisana

Just northeast of Baton Rouge, positioned along the meandering Mississippi River, is this closeknit community filled with beautifully preserved architecture. Check out Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, and then refuel downtown with the Crawfish Dip and Spicy Shrimp Poboy from Magnolia Cafe.


32. 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.


31. Broken Bow, Oklahoma

To reacquaint yourself with the great outdoors, all you need to do is head to Broken Bow. This nature lover’s paradise is headlined by Beavers Bend State Park, where you can fish for trout on the Lower Mountain Fork River, boat on Broken Bow Lake, or explore miles of trails on foot or horseback.


30. Lewisburg, West Virginia

A lively local culinary scene, shows at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre (West Virginia’s state professional theater), and frequent music festivals are just a few reasons to plan a trip to Lewisburg, a town steeped in American history. Visit in the fall to see the forests papering themselves in reds and golds. 


29. Middleburg, Virginia

America’s “horse and hunt capital” is characterized by winding roads, scenic countryside, and an especially busy calendar of equestrian events. The expansive farmland provides fertile soil for the area’s 30 vineyards, including two in Middleburg.


28. Wimberly, Texas

Natural wonders abound in Wimberley, a minuscule Hill Country locale just under an hour outside Austin. When summer arrives in this part of the state, people plunge into swimming holes like the ones at Blue Hole Regional Park and Jacob’s Well Natural Area. Try exploring the landscape on long drives and easygoing horseback rides. 


27. Leipers Fork, Tennessee

“Quality over quantity” could be the motto for this tiny place. Technically a village, Leipers Fork has a main drag with only one stoplight. But the friendly residents and the fine art galleries, shops, and restaurants ensure it’s worth a trip. Rolling pastures, horse farms, and winding roads make getting there a pleasure too. 


26. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the “folk arts & 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. 


25. Laurel, Mississippi

Stars of HGTV’s Home Town Erin and Ben Napier put this place on the cultural map in 2016. Since then, it’s become a Southern hot spot. Spend an afternoon meeting locals who have revitalized downtown Laurel, and stop by the Napiers’ flagship store, Laurel Mercantile Co., to buy pretty and practical home goods.


24. 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.


23. Chincoteague, Virginia

This coastal Virginia town shares its name with the famed wild horses that roam the serene shores nearby. The area teems with ample opportunities for fishing, hiking, and biking—all of which are more memorable when surrounded by unspoiled nature.


22. 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. 


21. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The Appalachian Trail runs directly through the main thoroughfare of this pretty town (population about 300) on the West Virginia-MarylandVirginia borders. The area is designated as a national historical park thanks to its mountain and river views galore and its role in sparking the Civil War. 


20. 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 antiques shops. 


19. Hot Springs, Arkansas

Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, this town gets its name from the area’s geothermal wonders—hot springs at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to Bathhouse Row, there are plenty of local shops and restaurants to enjoy. You can also visit the University of Arkansas’ Garvan Woodland Gardens, a pine-shaded botanical wonderland.  


18. Ocean Springs, Mississippi

A thriving arts community, vibrant entertainment districts, and the beauty of the Gulf Coast are just a few reasons this is a great place to live and visit. Delicious food doesn’t hurt either. Go old-school at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant (with a speakeasy in the cellar), or have a fancy night out at Vestige, an award-winning restaurant with a five-course tasting menu. 


17. 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.


16. Bluffton, South Carolina

Consider Bluffton the poster child for the Carolina Lowcountry. With tranquil marshland, elegant homes, a colorful art scene, and palmettos everywhere you turn, this enclave on the May River has everything to love about South Carolina all in one place. 


15. 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. 


14. 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. 


13. Abingdon, Virginia

Any time of year is glorious in this part of the South, but Abingdon shines especially bright when the weather begins to cool. In autumn, plan a bicycle ride along the brilliantly colorful Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail. And when the holiday season arrives, nothing’s more festive than the tree-lined brick streets downtown. 


12. Hendersonville, North Carolina

An all-seasons mountain escape, Hendersonville is always worth a trip. In the spring, you can summit Blue Ridge Mountain peaks. During the summer, cool off in a swimming hole. In the fall, go apple picking at a picturesque orchard. Come winter, cozy up to a delicious meal with a local beer or cider. 


11. Beaufort, North Carolina

North Carolina’s third-oldest town has kept its low-key allure as a former fishing village while offering plenty to see and do. Stroll the shops and restaurants on Front Street, pedal to the shoreline, or take a ferry to a nearby barrier island.


10. 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.


9. Folly Beach, South Carolina

If going to a dive bar in flipflops 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.


8. 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. 


7. Tybee Island, Georgia

You’ll find several of Georgia’s best beaches on Tybee Island, near Savannah. This bikeable escape’s calling cards are salty breezes and freshly caught seafood. Outdoor activities close by include birding in a nature preserve and kayaking tranquil waterways. 


6. 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. 


5. 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 character from a community of talented craftspeople and chefs inspired by their surroundings. 


4. Dahlonega, Georgia

Georgia’s gold rush happened here almost two centuries ago. Today, it’s a destination for waterfalls and wineries in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, though if you’re feeling lucky, you can still go panning for nuggets of gleaming ore. You can also search for treasures in the many quaint shops.


3. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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


2. 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. 


1. 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. 


Source: The 50 Best Small Towns In The South 2023 Southern Living (April 12, 2023) Southern Living Editors