When our annual South’s Best poll came around this year, our editors couldn’t help but get in on the fun. While our readers’ casted votes for their favorite barbecue joints , state parks , locally-owned restaurants , and more, our editors chimed in with love letters to their favorite places in the towns and cities where they grew up. Thanks to their passionate input, we now have local’s guides to Charleston , Birmingham , Knoxville , Mobile , Thomasville , and West Palm Beach . In each guide, you’ll find all the beloved places that make our editors nostalgic for home. These are the spots they frequent when they’re home and the ones they dream about when they’re away. Here we share a few of their top picks for restaurants, parks, and attractions in their hometowns.
Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop (Charleston, SC)
Everyone loves Charleston, but few have such intimate insight into the Southern jewel as our Homes & Features Editor Betsy Cribb. When she’s showing first-timers around, Leon’s is always her first stop. Says Cribb, “For me, no other place in town captures so well the relaxed ease that seems woven into Charleston’s very DNA.” The restaurant is known for its fried chicken and oysters, but Cribb has a special place in her heart for the scalloped potatoes.
Railroad Park (Birmingham, AL)
For Travel & Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay, no place in Birmingham feels more like home than Railroad Park . The park sprawls out over 19 acres in the center of downtown and serves as a gathering space for everything from weekend playground visits to food festivals. Says McCay, “This is Birmingham’s backyard, where everyone comes together to celebrate a sunny day, to take a lunchtime stroll, or to attend a free evening yoga class.”
The Tomato Head (Knoxville, TN)
Assistant Homes Editor Cameron Beall grew up frequenting The Tomato Head in Knoxville for everything from birthday celebrations to post soccer game meals. The restaurant is known for its pizza and sandwiches, but part of what makes this place beloved is its commitment to fostering community. The Tomato Head doubles as venue space for musical acts, poetry readings, performance art, and visual art exhibits. Beall also recommends not missing their prized chocolate peanut butter pie.
West Palm Beach Greenmarket (West Palm Beach, FL)
Saturdays in West Palm Beach should always include a trip to Centennial Square for the West Palm Beach Greenmarket, according to Deputy Editor Lisa Cericola. Open from October through April, the market is your own-stop-shop for everything from local produce to potted plants to baked goods. “Hang out on the large green lawn and enjoy the breeze from the Intracoastal Waterway, which is right across the street,” Cericola advises.
Firefly (Thomasville, GA)
When it comes to shopping, Assistant General Manager Anna Price Olson says downtown Thomasville is one of her favorite destinations. On her visits back home, she loves browsing Firefly for jewelry, home goods, and gifts for friends and family. They also offer "the prettiest complimentary gift wrapping around," says Olson.
Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea (Mobile, AL)
Located in a historic home in the heart of Mobile’s Spring Hill neighborhood, Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea is the type of neighborhood coffee shop where you can sit and stay for a spell. “My mom and I have made countless ‘Carpe runs’ in my lifetime, and I can promise you’ll enjoy whatever you order and feel right at home,” says Associate Digital Editor Mary Shannon Wells. She recommends posting up with a cup of joe and a cinnamon roll on Carpe Diem’s charming front porch.
Bottega Cafe (Birmingham, AL)
Often referred to as the Godfather Fine of Dining in Birmingham, Chef Frank Stitt is about as close as it gets to royalty in the Magic City. Though Highlands Bar & Grill gets most of the national attention, our Travel & Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay is partial to their more casual sister restaurant. “When I’m looking for a date night spot, few places match Bottega Café’s quality, service, and value,” McCay says. “The Southern-Italian menu means you can slurp up a plate of perfect spaghetti carbonara or marvel at the masterpiece of a well-cooked pork chop with collards, polenta, and a seasonal fruit relish.”
World’s Fair Park (Knoxville, TN)
On a sunny afternoon in Knoxville, you can find Assistant Homes Editor Cameron Beall relaxing on the greens at World’s Fair Park . The park lies halfway between the University of Tennessee campus and the city’s thriving downtown, which means it’s fair ground for locals of all ages and from all walks of life. If it's your first visit, Beall recommends paying the $5 admission fee to see the view from the fourth-level observation deck of the iconic Sunsphere .
The Dew Drop Inn (Mobile, AL)
The bright-red hot dogs at The Dew Drop Inn look and taste like home to Associate Digital Editor Mary Shannon Wells. “Even if you’re not from Mobile, stepping into this restaurant will feel like a time machine back to your childhood via the décor, the classic comfort food, and the staff’s Southern hospitality.”
Havana Restaurant (West Palm Beach, FL)
You can’t leave West Palm Beach without eating a Cuban sandwich, and Deputy Editor Lisa Cericola’s favorite place to get one is Havana Restaurant . The West Palm Beach institution has undergone several renovations over the past two decades, but its most recent update added a 24-hour walkup window. Locals can't resist stopping by to cure late-night empanada cravings.
Jonah's (Thomasville, GA)
For the best shrimp and grits around, Assistant General Manager Anna Price Olson says you can't beat Jonah's on E. Jackson Street. Since Thomasville is just a short drive from the Gulf of Mexico, there are many great seafood dining options around town. Jonah's is one of Olson's favorites, and warns they don't accept reservations and there's always a line out the door (yes, it's that good!), so follow her advice and put your name on the list, and stroll around downtown while you wait for your table.
Sullivan’s Island (Charleston, SC)
When she wants to escape the hustle and bustle of Charleston in peak tourist season, Homes & Features Editor Betsy Cribb opts for a day on Sullivan’s Island , a small barrier island located 10 miles from downtown. “There’s not a trace of touristy kitsch in this bitty beach town, where historic homes line oak-shaded streets and storybook cottages invite passersby to stop and smell rose-wrapped trellises,” she says.