The South is well-known for its warm hospitality that comes to life in towns like St. Augustine and Fairhope.

The American South is also more complex, shaped by a collection of factors, spanning from a multifaceted series of historical events to its rich cultural and architectural heritage.Even the layout of the land has shaped the towns and peoples. Antebellum architecture, trees draped in Spanish moss, and the gentle hum of crickets at night remind visitors of a peaceful day down by the water.

These towns represent the essence and charm of the South, showcasing some of the finest communities in the region.


Beaufort, South Carolina

Businesses on Bay Street near the waterfront in the historic district of downtown Beaufort
Businesses on Bay Street near the waterfront in the historic district of downtown Beaufort, via Stephen B. Goodwin /

Some towns have physical beauty. Some towns have character. Beaufort has it all.

This small but striking harbor town is found on Port Royal Island in South Carolina and has well-preserved antebellum architecture. The entire downtown area is designated as a historic district.

The town comes with a lot of history, as Beaufort was one of the first towns captured by Union forces during the Civil War.

The town also has a long, deep connection to Gullah culture, with a heritage that’s influenced by West African traditions, particularly in language, crafts, and cuisine.

You might have seen Beaufort in a movie, with its lush marshes and barrier islands. Beaufort has served as the backdrop for movies like ‘The Big Chill’ and ‘Forrest Gump,’ showing off its distinct look for a worldwide audience.

St. Augustine, Florida

Shops and inns line St. George in St. Augustine, Florida
Shops and inns line St. George in St. Augustine, Florida, via Sean Pavone /

St. Augustine holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the country, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers.

With two beautiful bodies of water nearby, the Matanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean, there are plenty of scenic waterfront views.

As you can imagine, the town is ripe with historical landmarks, including the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fortress. The site is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., with stunning coquina stone architecture.

Waterfront view in St. Augustine, Florida
Waterfront view in St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine is full of historic Spanish colonial architecture, with that same coquina stone look. The town has winding narrow streets, red-tiled roofs, and standout structures like the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse.

This 18th-century schoolhouse was made from bald cypress and red cedar logs. Nowadays, visitors can come in to look inside and learn about the daily life of colonial school children.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Street view of popular tourist city of Gatlinburg Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains
Street view of Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains, via littlenySTOCK /

The perfect time to see the beauty of Gatlinburg is in fall, as the breathtaking foliage turns an assortment of reds, yellows, and oranges.

On three sides of town, the nearby Great Smoky Mountains are painted with the vibrant colors of fall.

Standing at 407 feet tall, the Gatlinburg Space Needle is an iconic observation tower in town. It has a 360-degree viewing platform and high-powered telescopes for great views of the surrounding areas.

To immerse yourself in the splendor of the nearby mountains, make sure to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park spans the border between Tennessee and North Carolina and boasts an array of over 19,000 documented species.

It also holds over 800 miles of trails, including a segment of the Appalachian Trail, so grab your backpack and hiking boots and get exploring.

Fairhope, Alabama

Beautiful evening view of Fairhope, Alabama
Beautiful evening view of Fairhope, Alabama

One of the first things you might notice about Fairhope is the iconic pier, stretching out into the yawning Mobile Bay.

Fairhope’s bayfront, along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, provides an unobstructed view of the peaceful water.

It is a great spot for quiet night strolls, or even pulling out the binoculars to see some of the resident birds passing by. Nearby moss-covered oak trees provide good canopies to walk under.

The downtown streets are lined with flowers and works of art, as the town has a long connection with the artistic community.

If you are going for a walk, make sure to visit Fairhope’s French Quarter, full of cobblestone courtyards to walk through.

The town also has Alabama’s largest crape myrtle, a small tree cultivated for its vibrant and long-lasting summer blooms.

Oxford, Mississippi

Downtown in Oxford, Mississippi
Downtown in Oxford, Mississippi, via Feng Cheng /

While this Oxford might not be as famous as its English namesake, this town is warmly known as the ‘Cultural Mecca of the South.’

The University Museum and Historic Houses offer a compelling glimpse into the region’s artistic heritage.

Meanwhile, the Double Decker Arts Festival. stands as a center of local creativity and offers dynamic captivating visual and performing arts.

The town has made a commitment to preserving its antebellum and Victorian-era architecture, giving the area a timeless feel.

Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi, an educational institution known colloquially as ‘Ole Miss.’

Another local treat is Rowan Oak, the former home of Nobel laureate William Faulkner. The building is surrounded by beautiful gardens and woodlands and makes for a pleasant area to stroll through.

Waynesville, North Carolina

Aerial view of Waynesville, North Carolina
Aerial view of Waynesville, North Carolina

When you are visiting Waynesville, all you have to do to see the lush, rolling hills of the Great Smoky Mountain is step outside. While Waynesville is surrounded by the timeless look of the Appalachians, the town’s downtown area also is a must-see, and features several scenic buildings that contribute to its charm.

The Haywood County Courthouse, constructed in neoclassical style, stands as a prominent landmark with its huge columns and grand exterior. Another landmark is the Mast General Store, housed in a historic brick building, giving you a glimpse of the town’s past.

Visitors looking for some splendor and some history should see the Shelton House, a preserved Victorian mansion turned museum.

For something with an international flavor, in July, Waynesville welcomes the world for Folkmoot USA International Day. This festival fills downtown with local and international arts and crafts, and a huge variety of international cuisine.

Natchez, Mississippi

The Waterfront Gazebo in Natchez National Historic, via
The Waterfront Gazebo in Natchez National Historic, via fdastudillo /

Established in 1716, Natchez is a historic city on the banks of the Mississippi River. The town boasts well-preserved antebellum architecture, with elegant mansions like Longwood and Stanton Hall.

For a characteristically Southern experience, Natchez has many overlooks on the Mississippi River, giving memorable views of the river, especially when the sun is setting.

Natchez is on the Natchez Trace Parkway,  a 444-mile scenic road spanning Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. It traces an ancient Native American trade route and offers travelers unique views and historic sites.

For a dose of important local history, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is a carefully reconstructed Native American village. It provides an immersive setting for exploring the history and culture of the Natchez people.

The town does not turn away from its ties with the dark past of the country, evident in its heritage sites like the Forks of the Road Slave Market.

Helen, Georgia

Bavarian style architecture in Helen, Georgia
Bavarian-style architecture in Helen, Georgia, via Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock.comImagine an inviting Bavarian-themed town hidden away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Now think about timber-framed buildings, colorful facades, and the Chattahoochee River running nearby.That image in your head is Helen, Georgia.

In the 1960s, Helen faced hard economic times due to the decline of the timber industry. However, its residents were resilient and worked to convert the town into a Bavarian-inspired village. Today, Helen is the state’s third most popular tourist destination.

The Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds Helen and has a collection of weaving trails and paths to tackle.

A highlight of the park is Ruby Falls, a twin waterfall formed by Curtis Creek and York Creek converging on the same spot.

Over the course of a year, the park’s visitor center hosts an array of activities, from night sky observation to witnessing the Foxfire – a bioluminescent insect larva that glows in the dark.

Abingdon, Virginia

Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia, via Joel Carillet /
Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia, via Joel Carillet / iStock.comrick-lined streets and colonial gardens welcome visitors who find their way to Abingdon.The town’s 20-block historic district has a variety of architecture from over two centuries. This includes buildings like The Tavern, one of Abingdon’s oldest buildings, all the way to classic small-town American storefronts.

Right in the middle of this district is the Barter Theatre, with its attractive brick facade. Established in 1933, Barter Theatre holds the title of the State Theatre of Virginia. Today, it welcomes over 160,000 visitors annually.

The theatre has seen famous actors like Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Spacey, and many other famous entertainers.

If you are in the mood for the great outdoors, Abingdon is a starting point for the Virginia Creeper Trail. This 34-mile multi-use trail winds through abundant forests crosses trestle bridges and offers memorable views of the Appalachian Mountains.

Dahlonega, Georgia

Aerial view of the Dahlonega Gold Museum in the central square of the town
Aerial view of the Dahlonega Gold Museum in the central square of the town, via Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.comDahlonega’s landscape showcases the allure of the North Georgia mountains, characterized by its rolling terrain, richly wooded forests, and clear streams.Close by, the Chattahoochee National Forest offers a great location to explore, with opportunities for hiking, backcountry camping, or just gazing at the wildlife.

Originally, Dahlonega gained fame in the 1820s for the discovery of gold, sparking the Georgia Gold Rush. Nowadays, people can explore the landmark Gold Museum, formerly the 1836 Courthouse, which is adjacent to the University of North Georgia’s campus.

Dahlonega’s historic downtown, dating back to the 19th century, thrives as the area’s tourism hub. In fact, Dahlonega’s entire Downtown District is listed on the National Register.

Shaded brick sidewalks lead to shops, galleries, and more. Musicians play, artists sketch, and the district truly feels vibrant and alive.

The Takeaway

In these American South towns, history comes alive through the preserved architecture and a distinct cultural heritage. From Beaufort’s Gullah roots to St. Augustine’s Spanish colonial charm, each town offers a window into the storied past of the South.

The area resonates with the echoes of African, European, and Native American traditions, and these towns paint a portrait of the South’s storied culture.