Autumn sun rays on fall foliage at Glade Creek grist mill at Babcock State Park near Fayetteville WV

8 Great Southern Towns for A Weekend Getaway

BY Matt Meltzer | January 10, 2024

The South has its own special allure. Storied history and a slow pace of life sit among live oak trees and dripping Spanish moss. It’s the kind of aura that lends itself to leisurely weekend escapes. Spend your  days exploring fascinating history, colorful architecture and thick wildernesses, and your evenings sipping beer and bourbon over heavy food and hearty conversations. You’ll find great places all over the southern states, but some small towns showcase the culture unlike the others. Across SEC country, here’s a look at the best towns for a few days away.

Abita Springs, Louisiana
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Abita Springs, Louisiana. Photo via Shutterstock.

Abita Springs, Louisiana

Abita Springs, Louisiana, USA

Most probably know Abita Springs from its namesake brewery, which has been getting Americans tipsy faster than expected with its Andygator Helles Doppelbock for over 30 years. Long before it was a famous brewery, Abita was a 1900s wellness retreat, where city-choked New Orleansians would escape for weekends at posh resorts near the springs’ healing waters. That fell off during the great depression, but later in the century, the Victorian homes and cozy cottages were taken over by hippies who turned the town into a funky bayou getaway.

Perhaps the best example of Abita Springs’ personality is the Abita Mystery House, one of those museums of kitsch filled with cleverly repurposed antiques fashioned into folk art. You can also jump on the Tammany Trace, a rails-to-trails bike bath that runs through most of Lake Ponchatrain’s north shore and equally-adorable towns like Covington and Mandeville.

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Apalachicola, Florida
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Apalachicola, Florida. Photo via Shutterstock.

Apalachicola, Florida

Apalachicola, Florida, USA

The Florida panhandle is best known for its white sand beaches and glimmering waters, but it’s also the most quintessentially southern part of the Sunshine State.  Nowhere in the panhandle encompasses that Gulf South flare quite like Apalachicola, the gateway to St. George Island.  Next to its bevy of beaches is a quaint southern water town, where you can post up at any number of raw bars and slurp oysters straight from the Gulf. It’s also home to Oyster City Brewing Company, whose downtown taproom can easily absorb a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The other part of Apalachicola’s appeal is its proximity to nature, sitting just outside the national forest with the same name. The 938-square-mile woodland is an outdoors paradise of Old Cypress trees and hardwood hammocks, a full immersion into the Floridian wilderness few outside the state are familiar with. Hiking or kayaking through the park, you’ll spot alligators, sure, but also Florida Black Bears, foxes and even the occasional Florida Panther.

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Bentonville, Arkansas United States - March 20, 2009: Sunset over beautiful downtown Bentonville in spring. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Bentonville, Arkansas United States - March 20, 2009: Sunset over beautiful downtown Bentonville in spring. Photo via Shutterstock.

Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas, USA

The home of Walmart has become one of the cultural capitals of the south. That’s thanks in large part to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, an architectural masterpiece incorporating the surrounding wilderness that’s almost as impressive as the art inside. The free museum showcases collections ranging from 18th century watercolors to interactive modern installations. It sits on 120 acres, so if you’ve still got some energy after wandering the galleries, you can stroll through the trails dotted with sculptures.

Beyond the museum, Bentonville is a big time mountain biking destination and you can easily spend an entire weekend exploring the city’s 70 miles of trails. You can also explore the modern art inside the 21C hotel, and for a little history, pop into the Peel Museum and Botanical Gardens, Bentonville’s best example of grand, Civil War era homes.

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Fall colors and mist in the New River Gorge National Park on a fall morning. Fayetteville, West Virginia. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Fall colors and mist in the New River Gorge National Park on a fall morning. Fayetteville, West Virginia. Photo via Shutterstock.

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Fayetteville, West Virginia, USA

A town of 2,800 might seem a tough place to spend an entire weekend. Fayetteville, however, isn’t  cool because of what’s inside the city, but what’s around it. New River Gorge National Park is about five minutes away, meaning its abundance of whitewater rafting, hiking and daredevil antics are at your immediate disposal. Adventures on the Gorge offers a ziplining course, whitewater trips and onsite cabins if you want to stay close to the action.

If you’d rather stay in town, the Morris Harvey House is the city’s most historic home, and also serves as its best bed and breakfast. From there, it’s a short walk to explore out-there pizzas and craft beers at Pies and Pints or some Appalachian barbecue at Firecreek BBQ and Steaks.

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Downtown Franklin, Tenn. Aerial Shot of the Square.
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Downtown Franklin, Tenn. Aerial Shot of the Square. Photo via Shutterstock.

Franklin, Tennessee

Franklin, Tennessee, USA

Though it’s now effectively a Nashville suburb, Franklin has an interesting history all its own. During the Battle of Franklin, 8,500 casualties were amassed in about five hours, one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War’s history. You’ll learn all about it at Carnton, an historic home that served as a hospital after the battle. You can also visit the onsite confederate cemetery to get a sense of the scope of the battle’s destruction.

Franklin’s soaring popularity isn’t all due to its history, though the downtown has been immaculately preserved and now has fantastic modern American restaurants like Cork and Cow and Grays on Main in centuries-old structures. Franklin has also made its mark on the American music scene, home to Justin Timberlake’s Pilgrimage Music Festival and the First Bank Amphitheater. You can also make a stop at The Factory at Franklin, a onetime manufacturing plant that’s now a multi-use space with shops, restaurants, and a huge central bar.

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Greenville, South Carolina
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A scenic view of Liberty Bridge and Reedy Falls in Greenville, South Carolina. Photo via Shutterstock.

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, South Carolina, USA

Greenville is a “town” on the cusp of becoming a “city,” so best to explore it now before it gets too big. Home to one of the best downtown Main Street districts in the country, Greenville’s commercial center is a walkable cornucopia of award-winning restaurants, rooftop bars and even an old-style mercantile. Here, 21st century businesses exist in an old-world setting: you can peruse books at M. Judson’s inside the old county courthouse, then savor some of the best food in the south at Smoke on the Water, Tupelo Honey or Nose Dive.

At the end of Main Street sits Falls Park, a great example of an urban green space where you can jog, hike, and picnic by a waterfall. That park also houses the Grand Bohemian Lodge, a very cool new hotel that feels like staying in a German ski lodge in the center of town.  Just outside downtown, try a bourbon and chocolate pairing at LaRue Fine Chocolate, an experience that is absolutely worth the sugar-and-whiskey hangover.

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Natchez, Mississippi. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Natchez, Mississippi. Photo via Shutterstock.

Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez, Mississippi, USA

Natchez was a true Mississippi riverboat town. Once upon a time nomadic traders and gamblers would hop off here for a night or two of raising hell. That free-partying spirit remains in the Under-the-Hill historic neighborhood, where the eponymous Under The Hill Saloon stays open late right next to the river. You can also grab upscale southern cuisine at Magnolia Grill or head a little further out and indulge in enchiladas at Fat Mama’s Tamales.

Atop the bluffs, you’ll find a treasure trove of Southern history, where antebellum mansions draw visitors each year for the annual pilgrimage tours. That’s when private residences open their doors to the public, and you can marvel at the opulence the money in the Old South could buy. Natchez leans into the tough side of its history, too. A stop into downtown’s Natchez Museum of African-American Culture tells of the city’s past as a hub for the domestic slave trade.

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Dunaway Gardens in Newnan, Georgia. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Dunaway Gardens in Newnan, Georgia. Photo via Shutterstock.

Newnan, Georgia

Newnan, Georgia, USA

The “City of Homes” isn’t overselling itself with its nickname. A drive through the blocks surrounding Newnan’s historic downtown brings you by some of the most stately manors in the south. Because Newnan was a “hospital city” during the Civil war, most of its grand old homes were spared, making the city’s six National Historic Places districts like outdoor museums of architecture. Of course, a city needs more than other people’s houses to be worth a weekend, and Newnan also packs an incredible culinary punch for a city with a population just shy of 50,000. You can dine outside on elevated bar food at an old service station at RPM Full Service or enjoy an oversized creative hamburger at Meat N Greet.

Right outside town you can rent a full-service cabin inside Chattahoochee Bend State Park, and experience the region’s rolling hills along a meandering river. The “cabins” are more like two bedroom homes, and you can pick up gourmet meats and fresh ingredients to make dinner at the Cleaver and Cork Gourmet Market in town. Once you’ve tired of the forest, return to the historic courthouse square and tuck into the Alamo Theater or the hidden Pharmacy speakeasy for a taste of the town’s nightlife.

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