The SOUTHS Best Towns From Southern Living

Dated: 03/31/2018

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The South’s Best Tiny Towns

The smaller the town, the bigger the charm.

JAMES T. BLACK

The Ryman Auditorium sees bigger crowds than these picturesque villages. These tiny towns are worth more than their weight in charm, but you might want to pay special attention to the drive—so you don't miss them! Check out the South's best tiny towns you need to visit now. 

 

Mentone, Alabama1 of 19Robbie Caponetto

Mentone, Alabama

Population: 366
You could call it “Alabama’s Aspen.” Set about 50 miles southwest of Chattanooga, near the base of Lookout Mountain, this hidden hamlet and artists’ haven features a large collection of regionally made arts and crafts. A new farm-to-table eatery called Plowshares Bistro recently opened its doors in a former gallery, where you will also find Miracle Pottery. Dine on homemade specialties at the Wildflower Cafe and the Green Leaf Grill—Mentone’s oldest restaurant—where chef Jimmy Rogers serves some of the freshest rainbow trout around. Take a short drive southward to view the tumbling waters at DeSoto State Park; do some serious leaf peeping during a scenic fall color hike at Little River Canyon National Preserve; and plow some powder or swing a club (depending on the season) at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort, the state’s only spot for snowy downhill slipping and sliding during the winter. mentonealabama.gov

Jasper, Arkansas2 of 19Don Johnston/Getty Images

Jasper, Arkansas

Population: 450
Set in the Ozark Mountains, about 60 miles southeast of Eureka Springs, Jasper offers a collection of unique local shops, the famous fare of the Ozark Cafe, and the nearby Cliff House Inn & Restaurant with spectacular views of “Arkansas’ Grand Canyon.” Head south from downtown and follow Scenic Byway 7 (which was named one of the prettiest drives in America) to the hiking trails and rustic cabins of the 1.2 million-acre Ozark National Forest. Or go east to the Buffalo National River, a favorite of anglers, kayakers, and anyone who loves beautiful scenery. theozarkmountains.com

Micanopy, Florida3 of 19Michael Warren/Getty Images

Micanopy, Florida

Population: 638
Tourists are not the only folks who admire Micanopy’s charms—filmmakers love it too. Many of the scenes from the Michael J. Fox hit Doc Hollywood as well as the film version of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoir, Cross Creek, were shot here. This quaint town about 12 miles south of Gainesville and the University of Florida has a variety of shops and restaurants along Cholokka Boulevard, its moss-draped main street. Browse through vintage clothing at Winters Past, and find native plants at the Mosswood Farm Store & Bakehouse. End your afternoon in Micanopy with a Cuban sandwich and a piece of homemade Key lime pie at the Old Florida Cafe. micanopytown.com

Navarre Beach, Florida4 of 19Dan Reynolds/Getty Images

Navarre Beach, Florida

Population: 1,079
Drive east on State 399 from Pensacola Beach, head past the unspoiled sands covering Florida’s stretch of Gulf Islands National Seashore, and you’ll arrive at Navarre Beach. A largely hidden gem, it has snow white sand, a variety of rental condos at Beach Colony Resort, and some of the area’s best restaurants. Soak up the sun while sipping on a cool drink at Juana’s Pagodas and Sailors’ Grill. (If you’re there during fall, turn your chair to the west for an especially dazzling sunset.) Then enjoy Northern Italian cuisine at Bella Luna Italian Bistro. navarrechamber.com

Helen, Georgia5 of 19Robbie Caponetto

Helen, Georgia

Population: 542
Once known as a timber town, this unique mountain getaway about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta began a successful transition from lumber to lederhosen when three businessmen, Jim Wilkins, Pete Hodkinson, and Bob Fowler, gathered at a local restaurant in 1969. They were trying to figure out a way to get tourists to stop instead of just passing through their dwindling downtown. Hodkinson remembered an artist friend, John Kollock, who had been stationed in Germany while serving in the army and had often made comments about similarities between the Bavarian Alps and the Appalachian peaks surrounding Helen. Kollock made some sketches of the villages he remembered; the trio presented them to a group of local business owners; and then Helen was reborn as a Bavarian burg. Today, it features a colorful collection of German-themed eateries like the Bodensee Restaurant and Alpine-inspired accommodations such as The Castle Inn. Many regional artists exhibit their works in the galleries and studios of the Helen Arts & Heritage Center, while some of the state’s best wines are made and offered at Habersham Winery on South Main Street. North of town, you can enjoy a gorgeous lake, zip lines, and mountains glowing with fall color at Unicoi State Park on the edge of Chattahoochee National Forest, where you’ll find the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area. helenga.org

Plains, Georgia6 of 19Friedrich Schmidt/Getty Images

Plains, Georgia

Population: 734
Peanuts and politics played a hand in the development of Plains, which is about an hour southeast of Columbus. As the hometown of former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter, the Mayberry look-alike features President Carter’s original campaign headquarters in the Plains Train Depot along with his boyhood home at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site on his family farm just outside town. Lining Main Street are mom-and-pop shops, dining spots, and lodging at the Plains Historic Inn & Antiques. You can score plenty of the local legumes (fried, salted, covered in chocolate, or made into brittle) at Jean and Bobby Salter’s Plain Peanuts. plainsgeorgia.org

Rabbit Hash, Kentucky7 of 19Bloomberg/Getty Images

Rabbit Hash, Kentucky

Population: 426
Located near the Ohio River in northern Kentucky, this quaint village was devastated last year when its landmark building—the 1831 Rabbit Hash General Store—burned down. But determined locals raised enough money to re-create and reopen the store, now filled with original works by Kentucky potters, weavers, and artists. The Rabbit Hash Historical Society helped raise thousands of dollars for the store’s restoration by letting residents and visitors vote for a local canine to serve a term as the town’s unofficial mayor (at $1 a pop per vote). Brynneth Pawltro, a 3-year-old pit bull, won. The general store’s revival has encouraged other neighboring businesses, such as The Old Hashienda inn and Verona Vineyards. rabbithash.com

Convent, Louisiana8 of 19Owaki/Kulla/Getty Images

Convent, Louisiana

Population: 628
This Cajun-flavored town on the banks of the Mississippi River is the seat of St. James Parish, home to some of the most historic structures in all of Louisiana. Don’t miss the crawfish bisque at Hymel’s Seafood Restaurant, a tour of the beautiful architecture in St. Michael’s Church Historic District, or an excursion on the famed River Road to visit iconic sites such as Laura Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation in nearby Vacherie. stjamesla.com

New Market, Maryland9 of 19Facebook/Town of New Market

New Market, Maryland

Population: 704
The very first antiques shop in this small Maryland town (located about 50 miles north of Washington, D.C.) opened more than 80 years ago. Shopkeepers kept on coming here, and today New Market is referred to as the “Antique Capital of Maryland.” The historic Old National Pike (it’s now called State 144 in this area and becomes Main Street as it enters downtown) is lined with about a dozen different shops offering an array of gifts, antiques, and collectibles. Robert Esterly Antiques has long specialized in custom-made furniture and restorations, while Fleshman’s Antiques (which is owned by former New Market mayor Rick Fleshman and open only on weekends) features local period cherry and walnut furniture. But if you aren’t into antiquing, there’s plenty of other retail therapy in this little town to keep you busy. Check out Native American art and jewelry at Santa Fe Trading Company or playful children’s clothing and toys at Happiloo. After working up an appetite from all that walking and browsing, dine on one of the daily specials at popular spots like Vintage, which describes itself as a community restaurant, and Milo’s Pizza & Pasta, known for tasty oven-baked pies. townofnewmarket.org

Eminence, Missouri10 of 19National Park Service/Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Eminence, Missouri

Population: 582
Delightful Eminence sits less than 30 minutes away from the entrance to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a federally protected natural area running 134 miles along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. They’re fed by more than 50 natural springs that offer crystal waters beside rounded bluffs filled with fall color. Rent a mountain cabin, or stay in the Round Spring Retreat’s secluded guesthouse. If you’d prefer lodging in town, the Hawkins House Bed & Breakfast provides four comfortable rooms right on Main Street. Grab a table next door to the B&B at the Ozark Orchard restaurant, and order a steak and a cool drink. visiteminence.com

Beech Mountain, North Carolina11 of 19Robbie Caponetto

Beech Mountain, North Carolina

Population: 321
This small town located in western North Carolina sits at the highest point of any incorporated community east of the Rockies. It’s also up the road from Beech Mountain Resort, one of the South’s few true ski resorts (and a great place to learn the not-so-Southern sport). For ski supplies, a place to stay, or lunch to go, head to Fred’s General Mercantile, which has offered lodging and one-stop shopping for nearly 40 years. Other local favorites hugging the Beech Mountain Parkway as it meanders from downtown to the resort, about 2 miles away, are the Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria and the Alpen Restaurant & Bar in the Beech Alpen Inn. townofbeechmountain.com

Topsail Beach, North Carolina12 of 19Marilyn Nieves/Getty Images

Topsail Beach, North Carolina

Population: 419
Set at the southern end of Topsail Island, about 45 miles northeast of Wilmington, this quaint Atlantic town is a delightful throwback to the seaside getaways of your childhood. The best spot for chilling in a beach chair or watching the sunset is at Serenity Point (where the legendary pirate Blackbeard supposedly stopped for some R & R every now and then). Drop a line or spend the night at the Jolly Roger Oceanfront Inn & Pier near the center of downtown. Dig into a fried seafood platter at the casual Breezeway Restaurant, or choose to dine on plates of authentic Lowcountry cuisine at the Beach Shop and Grill, a popular local restaurant that originally opened as a soda shop over 60 years ago and continues to serve the best burgers around. topsailbeach.org

Gage, Oklahoma13 of 19Wikimedia Commons/Leaflet

Gage, Oklahoma

Population: 426
It’s usually a stroke of bad luck to hit water when drilling for oil, but that wasn’t the case for tiny Gage, located about 160 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Luckily for this rural community, a century ago, a drilling crew happened to strike an underground spring instead of the liquid gold they were looking for, and the Gage Artesian Beach, a one-of-a-kind swimming hole, was formed. The magnesium-rich water was later developed into two small lakes and a huge swimming pool that now features lifeguards, diving boards, a smooth sandy bottom, and cool (some say healing) mineral waters. After jumping in for a refreshing swim, head downtown to local hot spot Charlie’s Bar & Grill for some of the best steaks and burgers in all of Central Oklahoma, or try the homemade mac and cheese and other family favorites at Gusto’s Italian Grill & Pizza on Main Street in nearby Shattuck. travelok.com

McClellanville, South Carolina 14 of 19Richard Ellis/Alamy Stock Photo

McClellanville, South Carolina

Population: 543
A coastal village that was once a winter retreat for wealthy rice and indigo farmers, McClellanville is now a magnet for anglers and nature lovers. It’s situated near the edge of Francis Marion National Forest, so downtown is just a short drive away from miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking as well as dozens of creeks and rivers perfect for fishing and kayaking. Head about 10 miles southeast of town to take an ecotour through the oceanfront Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, which has 7 miles of undeveloped Atlantic beaches. Later, return to McClellanville to browse shops and see the historic homes set along picturesque Pinckney Street. Don’t miss The Cottage, a fascinating gallery run by a group of area artists. For dinner, try T.W. Graham & Co. Seafood Restaurant, a local landmark serving fresh dishes made with the daily catch from the chef’s own crab pots. townofmcclellanville-sc.net

Monetta, South Carolina15 of 19Via Cinema Treasures

Monetta, South Carolina

Population: 234
Do you remember the last time you went to an honest-to-goodness drive-in and watched a movie under the stars? Set on historic U.S. 1, midway between Augusta, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina, the tiny town of Monetta is home to “The Big Mo,” one of the state’s three remaining drive-in theaters. The Mo definitely earns its “big” moniker by offering three outdoor screens that show different (and usually first-run) movies every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. The gates open at 7 p.m., and the flicks start at about 8:15. Admission is $9 for adults, $4 for kids ages 11 and under—and it’s cash only, so be sure to count heads and dollars before you go. If you want to make it dinner and a movie, before motoring to the Mo, stop by the Watson family’s Peaches N Such, a local fruit stand, specialty grocery store, ice-cream shop, and farm-to-table restaurant surrounded by peach orchards. It’s just a couple of miles away from downtown. thebigmo.com

Bell Buckle, Tennessee16 of 19Via Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce

Bell Buckle, Tennessee

Population: 519
Delightful Bell Buckle, about 55 miles southeast of Nashville, offers a quiet haven for harried city dwellers. Locals still debate the origin of its unusual name, but the most common story is that pioneers entering the area found a carving shaped like a cowbell and buckle on a tree by a creek. So the stream became known as Bell Buckle Creek, and the charming village that sprung up on its banks took that name. Today, it’s an up-and-coming arts community with interesting gift shops and antiques stores along with locally owned eateries that are found around downtown’s Railroad Square. Bell Buckle also loves to throw a party—the annual RC-MoonPie Festival, held in June, features bluegrass music, dancing, and a parade. And you can enjoy hickory-smoked barbecue and hand-squeezed lemonade any time of year at the Bell Buckle Cafe. If you’re visiting over a weekend, stick around the cafe for the live radio show recorded there on Saturday afternoons. townofbellbuckle.com

Cumberland Gap, Tennessee17 of 19Facebook/Whistle Stop Antiques Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Gap, Tennessee

Population: 494
Nestled at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains about an hour and a half north of Knoxville (near the spot where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet), the town of Cumberland Gap was at one time known as the “Gateway to the West.” It is surrounded by the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which stretches into all three states and features some beautiful mountain views, cascading waterfalls, and the 18.5-mile-long Gap Cave. This tiny hamlet offers a variety of outdoor and indoor attractions. Shop the nonprofit Cumberland Gap Artists’ Co-Op with works by 28 local artisans, and grab a table at Angelo’s in the Gap or The Pineapple Tea Room. You’ll find them on the few blocks that make up downtown. After checking into The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, head over to the nearby Little Congress Bicycle Museum. Founded by R.E. McClanahan II—a rather eccentric local historian, movie theater operator, judge, and (of course) bicycle enthusiast—the museum contains his unique collection of two-wheelers dating from the early 1800s. townofcumberlandgap.com

Buffalo Gap, Texas18 of 19Wynn Meyers

Buffalo Gap, Texas

Population: 494
Just south of Abilene lies a small town that a pair of ranchers and restaurateurs, Lisa and Tom Perini, helped put on the nation’s culinary map. Perini Ranch Steakhouse, their James Beard Award-winning restaurant, is housed in a converted hay barn. Take a seat at a backyard picnic table under the shade of cottonwoods, and dig into a Ranch Burger (acclaimed by Texas Monthly and Food & Wine magazines as one of the best burgers just about anywhere). Spend the night at the Perini Ranch Guest Quarters, cozy accommodations set in the renovated 1885 Main House and the new Camp House. Nearby, the Taylor County History Center (an open-air museum) offers an inside look at the Lone Star State in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It features a collection of over 15 buildings brought from around the area, including an 1879 structure that held the Taylor County Courthouse and jail. You’ll also find an early 20th-century doctor’s office, railroad depot, post office, and more. traveltexas.com/cities/buffalo-gap

Middleburg, Virginia19 of 19JSatterthwaite/Getty Images

Middleburg, Virginia

Population: 828
Horses may outnumber humans in this charming town about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. Established in 1787, Middleburg (supposedly named because it’s about halfway between Alexandria and Winchester) became a top spot for fox hunts and steeplechases in the early 1900s, making it known as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital.” It has over 160 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which now house a variety of upscale restaurants, antiques stores, boutiques, and equine specialty shops. Browse C. & D. Rigden and Son Country Classics for tailor-made English wear for men and women, stop by Timmie Jane’s for vintage women’s clothing, and visit The Shaggy Ram for fine antiques and unique home decor. Make a weekend of it and check in at downtown’s Red Fox Inn & Tavern, the nearby Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, or the upscale Salamander Resort & Spa. visitmiddleburgva.com

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