The South's Best Small Towns 2022

Beaufort South Carolina
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

There's nothing quite like a small town. With sidewalks to meander, smiling faces to greet, and local shops to browse, it's obvious what gives these cozy communities their appeal—and keeps people visiting year after year. Although the South's best small towns may seem quaint at first glance (or too quiet to keep you entertained for a whole weekend), you needn't be worried about filling the hours. These places are reinventing themselves all the time while still preserving what makes them unique. In our favorite storybook towns, you can choose your own adventure: Relax and recharge or get out and explore. They're filled with vibrant neighborhoods, dynamic businesses, and long-standing traditions that combine the creative and charming to irresistible effect. Whether you're looking for a relaxed location for a weekend getaway or an inviting spot to put down roots, these small towns deserve a place on your must-see list. Regardless of why you're there, you're sure to receive a warm welcome.

20. Lewisburg, West Virginia

Lewisburg, West Virginia

This artsy community has a red-brick downtown that'll tempt you to stop and stare, but trust us, you'll want to explore, too. On your self-guided historic walking tour, make sure to stop into the museums, studios, and galleries (like Lee Street Studios, Cooper Gallery, and Harmony Ridge) along the way. When you're ready to relax, catch a show at Lewisburg's Carnegie Hall , one of only four in the world, or venture into the lush landscape of the Greenbrier Valley with a scenic drive along the Lower Greenbrier River Byway. If you stop for a picnic by the water, you may be rewarded with a dramatic sunset.

Visitor center: 905 Washington Street W, Lewisburg, WV 24901,

19. Easton, Maryland

downtown Easton, Maryland
Talbot County Economic Development and Tourism

Located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, this picturesque small town charms with its brick sidewalks and historic downtown. It's packed with restaurants where you can enjoy fresh Chesapeake catches, art galleries for admiring local work, and shops for browsing fine clothing and jewelry. Take a three-hour "Eating Easton" tour to sample food from the town's top chefs, but make sure you leave room for a delectable cone at Storm & Daughters Ice Cream .

Visitor center: 11 S. Harrison Street, Easton, MD 21601,

18. Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Pawhuska Oklahoma
Lori Duckworth/Oklahoma Tourism

Pawhuska is a place with deep history, some of which you can see at first glance. Many of the downtown buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is the headquarters of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe of the Great Plains. You'll want to explore the tribally-owned Osage Nation Museum, as well as natural wonders like the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the largest protected tallgrass prairie on the continent. Don't forget to stop into The Pioneer Woman Mercantile when you're in town.

Osage Nation Visitors Center: 602 East Main Street, Pawhuska, OK 74056,

16. Covington, Louisiana

Biking in Downtown Covington, LA
Kevin Garrett for

Covington is a small-town hub tucked between three rivers and located on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. All that water means lots of spots to launch a kayak; there's also plenty to do in the registered historic downtown with its boutiques, restaurants, and gathering spots. We're partial to Abita Roasting Co. and nearby Abita Brewing Co., which offers guided tours and a rotating cast of food trucks. Enjoy local music at Columbia Street Taproom and Grill or Louisiana cuisine at LOLA, where the kitchen is housed in a caboose.

Visitor center: 419 N. New Hampshire Street, Covington, LA 70433,

15. Lewes, Delaware

lewes delaware
Delaware Tourism Office

Lewes prides itself on being a walkable town, so be sure to wear your most comfortable shoes when you visit. Packed into only a half-square-mile are museums, inns, restaurants, and a historic district filled with architecture made for marveling. This quaint stop is located on the Delaware Bay, Cape Henlopen, and the Atlantic, which makes for abundant natural wonders, including beaches and bird sanctuaries. Plan outings to Cape Henlopen State Park to see its famous "walking" dunes, the mile-long boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, and the Zwaanendael Museum for a glimpse into local history.

Visitor center: 120 Kings Highway, Lewes, DE 19958,

14. Wetumpka, Alabama

wetumpka alabama
Jamie Martin/Alabama Tourism Department

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).

No welcome center,

13. LaGrange, Georgia

hills and dales estate georgia
Visit LaGrange

Suspend everything you think you know about small towns before you visit LaGrange . This western Georgia destination can hardly be called dull with its great music, ballets, museum exhibitions, sporting events, and wineries. Nearby Callaway Gardens offers golfing, biking, and educational programs. We suggest their course on birds of prey, which lets you witness several of them flying overhead.

Visitor center: 206 Ridley Ave, LaGrange, GA 30240,

12. Travelers Rest, South Carolina

travelers rest south carolina
City of Travelers Rest

A breezy small town located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Travelers Rest served long ago as a stopover for weary travelers, but we're guessing you'll want to do more than relax there (though that's highly recommended). From biking the 22-mile Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail to hiking the hills in search of views, there's never a dull moment in the Palmetto State outdoors. Fun boutiques for browsing and several great restaurants (including some right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail) round out the downtown offerings.

Local history museum: 3 Edwards Street, Travelers Rest, SC 29690,

11. Paducah, Kentucky

Paducah Kentucky
Lorraine Boogich/Getty Images

This Kentucky town lies at the intersection of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. Perhaps something artsy is in the water: A vibrant creative city, Paducah has been named a UNESCO Creative City in honor of its history and industry of craft and folk art. With this prestigious designation, it's no surprise that Paducah is noted for its galleries, festivals, arts centers, and museums (including the engaging National Quilt Museum). Take in public art with a stroll past the Paducah Floodwall Murals, a series of paintings depicting local history, with the floodwalls as their canvas.

Welcome center: 1845 Lone Oak Road (I-24 Exit 7), Paducah, KY 42001,

10. Aiken, South Carolina

aiken south carolina
Visit Aiken

The equestrian town of Aiken could pass for a postcard. Home to the Aiken Horse Show, which has been running for over a century, this South Carolina spot is made for saddling up and going for a trail ride, cozying up in gracious inns and bed-and-breakfasts, and enjoying the splendor of lush parks. There's the Aiken Art Annex; Boyd Pond; Aiken Arboretum Trail; Center for African American History, Arts, and Culture; Hitchcock Woods; Henderson Heritage Preserve; DuPont Planetarium—we could go on and on. Hop aboard an electric bike rental, or take your seat on an Aiken trolley tour for an introduction to the town.

Visitor center: 406 Park Avenue SE, Aiken, SC, 29801,

9. Decatur, Georgia

Decatur, Georgia
Hector Amador

Welcoming, walkable Decatur's downtown is packed with restaurants that will entice you to extend your visit a while longer. Don't miss The Iberian Pig, The Deer and the Dove, Chai Pani, No. 246, Revival, and The White Bull for always-memorable meals. Any time of day, take a leisurely jaunt through the shops and parks peppered around town, particularly in the 15-block central square. Look up and around while you stroll: A public-art initiative has decorated light poles and traffic signal boxes, while the Decatur Artway features a rotating collection of sculptures.

Visitor center: 113 Clairemont Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030,

8. Natchez, Mississippi

Longwood Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi
Robbie Caponetto

Planted along the Mississippi River, Natchez makes the most of the rambling waters that border it. Take a walk along the Natchez Trail for nature views, or launch into a waterway to see the sights up close. As one of the best paddling towns in the state, Natchez offers several guided tours that will escort you through the area's picturesque swamps, creeks, and lakes. Visit the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture to learn about African Americans' role in Natchez's past, or tour one of the many historic homes for a peek into how life here used to be lived.

Visitor center: 640 South Canal Street, Natchez, MS 39120,

17. St. Francisville, Louisiana

St. Francisville Louisiana
Town of St. Francisville

A tiny town situated north of Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River, St. Francisville is a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it stop. (It's sometimes called "the town two miles wide and two yards long.") Despite its modest size, it was once the capital of a short-lived independent nation, the Republic of West Florida. Here, you'll find a number of sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the downtown, as well as easy access to nature. St. Francisville is a stone's throw from Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge and Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area, where you can go horseback riding and hiking.

Visitor center: 11757 Ferdinand Street, St. Francisville, LA 70775,

7. Leiper's Fork, Tennessee

Leipers Fork TN
Matthew Maxey

This tiny town in Middle Tennessee is situated along the Harpeth River and Dobbins Branch, about 45 minutes outside of Nashville. Downtown you'll discover great restaurants as well as spots for browsing antiques and sipping wine. Don't miss breakfast at The Country Boy Restaurant; a leisurely tour of Leiper's Fork Distillery; and lots of inspiring art at Copper Fox Gallery, David Arms Gallery, and Leiper's Creek Gallery. Drive the lushly beautiful Natchez Trace, then settle in for the night at Millville, a rental property that began as a creative space for Justin Timberlake's brand, William Rast.

Visitor center: 400 Main Street #130, Franklin, TN 37064,

6. Stuart, Florida

stuart florida
Martin County Office of Tourism & Marketing

Florida's Atlantic Coast has lots to recommend it, including relaxed beach towns with rich histories. North of Miami and West Palm Beach is one such spot: Stuart is located along the St. Lucie River and is known for one of its downtown institutions, The House of Refuge at Gilbert's Bar, a turn-of-the-century haunt for shipwrecked sailors. Don't miss the town's heritage museum to learn about local history, and make sure you soak in the outdoors, either on the beach or at parks. We recommend the Seabranch Preserve State Park and St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park.

101 SW Flagler Avenue, Stuart, FL 34994,

5. Beaufort, North Carolina

Beaufort North Carolina
Getty Images

Along the southern end of North Carolina's coast—on a stretch known as the Crystal Coast—is a walkable and bikeable small town that invites you to relax and stay awhile. The fishing village of Beaufort is filled with cute cottages, a winning boardwalk, lovely shops, and a bevy of nautical scenes, including Atlantic sunrises and boat masts bobbling along the water.

Visitor center: 130 Turner Street, Beaufort, NC 28516,

4. Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg Texas
Rhiannon Taylor

This Texas Hill Country treasure seamlessly blends its German roots with Texas traditions. Grab a drink at a biergarten (including Altdorf Biergarten and The Auslander) or one of the local wineries (more than 100 and counting!), and peruse the town's bustling Main Street and museums. If you're up for a challenge, hike to the top of Enchanted Rock, a pink granite mountain less than 20 miles from town.

Visitor center: 302 E Austin Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624,

3. Fairhope, Alabama

Fairhope, Alabama
Robbie Caponetto

One of the most charming small towns in the state of Alabama, Fairhope is perched atop bluffs overlooking Mobile Bay. Within minutes of arriving, we're guessing you'll be breathing a little deeper. You can bike oak-lined sidewalks, watch watercolor sunsets, and browse inspired shops, including Page & Palette bookstore and other businesses in the town's French Quarter near the water. Explore the piers and meander the parks and beaches—if you're lucky, you'll witness the summer jubilee, when sea creatures wash up on the beaches by the bucketful.

Welcome center: 20 N Section Street, Fairhope, AL 36532,

2. Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia
Courtesy of The Williamsburg Inn

No visit here is complete without spending time at Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum where you can peek into the America of centuries past. But what's happening in contemporary Williamsburg is just as interesting. It's an active community with a respectable roster of things to do and places to explore. Don't miss sandwiches at The Cheese Shop; the boutiques and taprooms at Merchants Square; and brews from Precarious Beer Project, Amber Ox Public House, and The Virginia Beer Company.

Visitor center: 101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, VA 23185,

1. Beaufort, South Carolina

Beaufort South Carolina
Peter Frank Edwards

No, we're not repeating ourselves. This is Beaufort, South Carolina , located on Port Royal Island between Hilton Head Island and Charleston. This lowcountry gem is studded with moss-hung oaks and overflows with coastal charm and history, thanks to spots like the Penn Center (an African-American cultural institution), the Pat Conroy Literary Center (a writer's paradise), and Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Go kayaking, paddling, boating, and fishing along local waterways, or if you prefer to bike, walk, or skate, hit the Spanish Moss Trail. This 10-mile paved path runs along the Whale Branch River, connecting Beaufort and Port Royal; feel free to bring your pet along for the journey.

Visitor center: 713 Craven Street, Beaufort, SC 29902,

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