Whether coastal, mountain, lakefront, or in between, the small towns that speckle the South are brimming with storybook charm and beckoning with history, culture, hospitality, and beauty. If a small map dot isn’t atop your travel bucket list now, these reasons to visit will change your mind.
Whether you crave a romantic escape, a toes-in-the-sand trip, or a destination that does it up at Christmastime, there’s a small town that’s just right for a visit. Heck, you may even be called to put down roots and join the community.
Here, 9 reasons your next vacation should be to a small town:
The Slower Pace
Small towns may have sleepy reputations, but with local festivals, farmers’ markets, and fairs, you can count on a wealth of ways to stay busy. Compared to a buzzing city or overcrowded beach resort, however, the calmer energy of a small town can feel like a balm. With fewer people and less traffic to contend with, you’ll be in for a soothing getaway without the commotion of a bustling destination.
Exploring a quiet place and letting your mind wander, too can be just the escape you need from the daily grind. Just strolling down Aiken, South Carolina’s live oak-lined streets or along Beaufort, North Carolina’s picturesque boardwalks can take you from stressed out to blissed out.
The Reasonable Cost
A weekend in a big city can end up costing you, from high hotel prices to trendy restaurants asking top dollar for entrees and cocktails. In a small town, you can typically get cozy accommodations for a steal, a memorable meal for a fraction of big-city prices, and admission to local attractions for free or a reasonable fee.
The Sense of Discovery
There’s something invigorating about exploring a new place, especially one that’s a bit under the radar. The thrill of seeing a place for the first time, and anticipating the excitement of recounting your adventure with friends back home can spark joy and excitement. The memories made on a quaint getaway will stay with you forever, from tuning in to local blues at a juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to watching hot air balloons take flight over Morgantown, West Virginia during the Balloons over Morgantown festival.
The Proximity to Natural Beauty
With fewer towering buildings and rivers of pavement impeding access to the outdoors, a small town makes a great basecamp for exploring nature. Just about every destination has a natural area it’s known for, whether a scenic park, paddling trail, or meandering hike.
To find the best fresh-air fun, ask for recommendations at the local outdoor shop or your lodging. Apps like AllTrails for hiking and Strava for running, biking, and even paddling routes are also great sources for outdoor adventure inspiration.
Near the quaint mountain town of Abingdon, Virginia, the Appalachian Trail meanders above fields of wild ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park. Fifteen miles from the north Florida town of High Springs is Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where you can explore eight enchanting freshwater springs and float the cypress-lined Ichetucknee River.
The Community Support You’ll Give
We’ve all heard about the importance of tourism dollars in resort towns, but the same is true for any destination. When you open your wallet in a small town, independent businesses reap the rewards and can continue to thrive.
The Celebrations and Festivals
From holiday-themed fetes to arts and crafts celebrations and in between, there are so many delightful small-town shindigs that you could hit one every weekend and still have more to attend.
Local festivals are not only a good time, but because they’re often rooted in history and tradition, they can act as a kind of crash course in getting to know a town. Get your fill of folk art magic at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, across the river from Tuscaloosa in Northport, Alabama; dive headfirst into the holidays at Dahlonega, Georgia’s Hallmark-worthy Old-Fashioned Christmas Festival; or peruse fields, tents, and barns awash in vintage treasures at the Original Round Top Antiques Fair in Round Top, Texas.
The Local Food, Art, and Shopping
Those tangible, tasteable, and wearable tokens of a small town’s character are one of the most poignant draws. The chance to experience cuisine that’s rooted in a place, like Gulf Shores, Alabama’s royal red shrimp, which taste like lobster and scallops, or barrel-aged bourbon in Bardstown, the first stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with 11 distilleries, is one of the most delightful ways to understand and celebrate a place.
The same is true for local artists and artisans, whether you’re window shopping, on the lookout for a memento, or hunting for a forever-piece for your home or closet.
The History of the Place
Getting to know the origin story of your destination may sound a bit textbook-boring, but understanding the roots of a small town can be enlightening and help weave a fuller experience for your getaway. Visiting public spaces, like visitors centers, libraries, post offices, courthouses, and art museums, can give you clues about the town’s evolution. Consider taking a walking tour, whether led by a local pro or self-guided, to get an even deeper sense of place.
The Kindness of Small Town Strangers
There is something about the warm welcome you’ll get in a small town. Just encountering a smiling face can impart a positive spin on your day, and you might even leave town with a new friend or two.
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