After more than a year filled with uncertainties both big and small, there is nothing more exhilarating than the thought of traveling. As we started planning our sixth annual South's Best awards, the editors agreed that this needed to be our most comprehensive list yet. And when we surveyed you, our readers, it was clear that you were excited to weigh in. We introduced new categories— family getaways , local favorites, lake towns —that appeal to a wider variety of interests. Our lists also grew longer and deeper, allowing us to feature even more towns and cities, must-visit destinations experiencing new energy while holding tight to their Southern soul. We were also eager to capture the natural beauty of the region, sharing the top state parks and scenic drives for weekend trips and once-in-a-lifetime adventures. (Yes, if you need that extra nudge, this is the year to make that spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway journey.)
In this year's lists, we hope you'll be inspired to explore new hidden gems and rediscover old favorites that have proven their resilience during challenging times. Join us in celebrating the people, places, and communities that make the South—our home—more vibrant than ever.
Join Us as We Celebrate Our Region
City: Charleston, South Carolina
There are countless reasons Charleston continues to top the list of the South's best cities. Year after year, readers extol the city's incredible architecture, world-class restaurants, and vibrant arts scene. Whether you're searching for fresh oysters on the half shell, ambling waterfront parks and quiet sidewalks, or spending your afternoons gallery and museum hopping, this city has an adventure waiting for you.
City on the Rise: Greenville, South Carolina
This South Carolina city has been on the rise for years, and it just keeps getting better. With fantastic parks and trails—like Falls Park on the Reedy; Paris Mountain State Park; the Swamp Rabbit Trail; and the new Unity Park, which is currently under construction—a visit to Greenville is an invitation to get outside and explore. Add that to great restaurants, breweries, and food halls, and you have a city with an exciting future.
Small Town: Beaufort, South Carolina
This Lowcountry gem has coastal charm in spades. Sidewalks lined with mossy oaks wind past small-town sights, while area waterways invite fishing, kayaking, and paddling. Don't miss the Spanish Moss Trail, a perfect place to wander.
Mountain Town: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Head to the mountains to enjoy all that Gatlinburg, a gateway to the Smokies, has to offer. Book a stay in a rustic log cabin, set out on mountain hikes, see the sights from the Space Needle observation tower, and explore the family fun of downtown Gatlinburg.
Beach Town: Hilton Head, South Carolina
With twelve miles of shoreline, breezy golf courses, and natural beauty aplenty—including salt marshes, wildlife refuges, and pristine gardens—this Lowcountry beach town is more than its shores, though those are certainly some of the best on the Atlantic. A vacation on the Hilton Head seashore is an opportunity to enjoy the sun and the sand, so rent a bike, take a stroll, or just settle on the beach and listen to the waves.
College Town: Athens, Georgia
When it comes to college towns, Athens takes the top spot this year. With a vibrant downtown, fantastic restaurants and breweries, beautiful parks, and rocking music venues, you'll find there's never a dull moment in this collegiate hub.
Lake Town: Lake Lure, North Carolina
Nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills is Lake Lure, this year's favorite lake town. The man-made lake beckons vacationers to fish, kayak, and swim in its placid waters, and the small town that shares its name is a charming spot that will outfit you for adventure—and invite you to stay awhile.
Family Getaway: Orlando, Florida
Kids and adults alike love Orlando, a fact that regularly launches it into the top spots on annual lists of great family getaways. The city's resorts and theme parks invite visitors to make memories among the attractions, both the nostalgic and the new, though there's plenty to do, see, and enjoy beyond the park walls too.
Resort: Biltmore, North Carolina
It's no surprise that Biltmore—America's largest home and the 8000-acre estate that surrounds it—has taken the top spot in this year's list of the South's best resorts. Take a tour, book a tasting at the Winery, explore the gardens and grounds, enjoy a meal at one of the seven Biltmore restaurants, and you'll soon see why guests have been making repeat visits for decades.
Scenic Drive: Blue Ridge Parkway
Those who have found themselves on the Blue Ridge Parkway know that of all the drives in the South, this one is extra special. In between the charming small towns, inviting inns, and bed-and-breakfasts that lie along the route from North Carolina to Virginia, there are also panoramic vistas over the hazy mountains that will encourage you to stop and marvel—and take a photo or two.
State Park: Grandfather Mountain
Topping this year's list of the South's best state parks is Grandfather Mountain, which is located near Linville, North Carolina, and at 5,946 feet, stands higher than any other peak in the area. Grandfather Mountain State Park encompasses almost 4,000 acres, while the neighboring private Grandfather Mountain tourist attraction is run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation and includes the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, which has fantastic vistas that stretch over 100 miles on clear days.
Museum: U.S. Space & Rocket Center
For those of us who dream about what it's like up there among the stars, Huntsville, Alabama, has the answer. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, this year's winner among the South's best museums, invites visitors to explore the history of the U.S. space program and learn about America's journey to space. Take a spin on a simulator, marvel at virtual reality programs, and sign up your budding astronauts for space camp, which has hosted a million trainees since it began in 1982.
Bakery: Back in the Day Bakery
Another repeat winner is Back in the Day Bakery, a beloved Savannah, Georgia, institution that's been owned and operated by Cheryl and Griff Day since 2002. The bakery's menus are filled with handmade baked goods with a Southern spirit, and regulars flock to the Bull Street location for delectable pies and biscuits. Even if you can't visit, you can still enjoy the bakery's flavors thanks to the Days' fantastic cookbooks .
Brewery: Palmetto Brewing Company
Located in Charleston, South Carolina, Palmetto Brewing Company is a spot with a long history stretching back to 1888. In recent years, it has become a favorite—and this year's best brewery—thanks to its dynamic range of craft brews, speakeasy-style taproom, inviting courtyard, and calendar of live music and events.