“The South” is made up of comfort food, country and blues music, misty blue-hued mountains, distinct politeness, thick verdant green forests, and slow-moving rivers trickling into marshland.
America’s most distinct cultural region wears its pride on its sleeves, beckoning travelers with genuine hospitality and some of the country’s most historic and picturesque cities.
While its “official” boundaries seem to vary from source to source, The South is generally considered to be North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida, Texas, and Maryland are also defined as The American South; however, these states exhibit their own distinct cultural identities, so they aren’t universally associated with the region.
Although this large swath of the U.S. encompasses a variety of landscapes and climates, there’s one common thread — the summers are hot. It’s best to avoid traveling to The South from July through early September, unless you’re used to 90-plus-degree temperatures and significant humidity levels.
Conversely, Southern winters are mild and snow is rare unless you’re in the mountains. Unlike the Rockies, hiking is accessible year-round in The South.
Spring, early summer, and fall are beautiful times to enjoy outdoor pursuits (especially autumn, with the spectacular display of changing foliage!), and visitors can enjoy cities year-round, other than the peak of the scorching late summer.
Now for the fun part. You might have already crossed Charleston and Savannah off the bucket list, but discover even more incredible destinations in the South here.
10 Places to Visit in South USA
Fast-growing Greenville is an outdoor lovers’ paradise nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You don’t even need to leave the downtown core to enjoy natural beauty — spectacular Reedy River Falls cascades over boulders right in the center of town!
And just steps away is the West End, a buzzing cultural district filled with Instagrammable eateries, craft breweries, and eclectic local boutiques.
After spending time in Greenville’s picturesque downtown, head for the mountains. Table Rock State Park, a mere 30 minutes away, features incredible hiking, lakes, and camping set amongst the most dramatic vistas in South Carolina.
Nearby Caesar Head State Park features more jaw-dropping Blue Ridge beauty and an impressive 420-foot waterfall.
Sophisticated Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest city, a fast-paced, bustling metropolis. Stroll through sparkling, modern Uptown for energetic bars and eateries, then head to NoDa for a stark contrast – an artsier, more whimsical side of town.
The city is also home to numerous museums, including the Nascar Hall of Fame, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the thought-provoking Levine Museum of the New South, which centers around racial equality.
Just outside of Charlotte, there are infinite opportunities for outdoor recreation. Go hiking in the stunning, impossibly green Linnville Gorge, rock climb at Rocky Face Mountain National Recreation Area, or experience the thrill of rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Best of all, Charlotte is less than two hours from Greenville! Take a convenient bus from Greenville to Charlotte to discover two of The South’s most impressive highlights in one trip.
Gulf Shores, AL
The South has a ton of spectacular coastline, but this tourist hotspot tempts visitors with the best and softest sand on the Gulf side.
Home to several beaches with blindingly white, sugar-fine powder (bring your sunglasses!), Gulf Shores is all about spending time in or near the water.
The main public beach is busy, especially during the summer, and sprinkled with hotels, vacation rental beach cottages, sea-facing patios, volleyball courts, and lots and lots of umbrellas.
For a quiter, more nature-focused experience, head to nearby Gulf State Park, which protects its shores from development. Enjoy excellent fishing, paddling, or the extensive system of boardwalk trails traversing marine and bird habitats.
Greensboro effortlessly retains small-town hospitality, despite being the third-largest city in the state. The up-and-coming destination is a scenic, fun-loving town that warmly invites visitors to discover its own personal brand of Southern charm.
More laid-back than Charlotte but with many of the same offerings, Greensboro is defined by creative eateries, breweries, museums, and unique outdoor spaces.
For a taste of Greensboro’s quirky side, head to Elsewhere, a former multi-story thrift store transformed into a modern art museum. Ready to imbibe?
Book tickets to the Sip N’ Stroll event, an annual bar and restaurant crawl that hits all the city’s most buzzworthy downtown stops. The next morning, immerse yourself in the woods and lake on the Nat Greene Trail.
After getting your fill of small-town charm, catch a bus from Greensboro to Atlanta for a level up to big-city energy. The South’s largest metropolitan area is red-hot, offering up rich culture and an infectious, fast-moving, trendy city vibe.
Atlanta’s contribution to African-American culture is immense; after all, it was the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visit his home at the MLK National Historic site, which also encompasses several exhibits, monuments, and landmarks in his honor.
Then, continue your education at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a brutally honest, ever-relevant look at American injustices.
Despite its dense urban nature, over one-third of Atlanta is natural green space — namely oak and pine forests. There’s always a convenient moment to escape and unwind amongst the trees!
This is just the start of your exploration of Atlanta, however; hip and happening neighborhoods such as Inman Park and Little Five Points beckon with trendy restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. Choose from the best hotels in Atlanta and start planning your trip today!
St. Augustine, FL
The oldest surviving European settlement in the U.S., St. Augustine is a colorful combination of impressive history, pristine quartz-sand beaches, distilleries, museums, and other intriguing attractions and landmarks from several American eras.
At first glance, you wouldn’t be remiss for thinking you’ve stepped through a portal directly into Europe. The National Historic Register-listed city center consists of picturesque cobblestone streets, Spanish architecture, and numerous fountains.
Yet, as you venture further into the city, its Southern charm also starts to show; faint accents and local establishments dishing up delicious BBQ and biscuits are proof enough.
Once you’ve explored the Spanish era, head to Fort Mose to learn the important and fascinating details about the first legally free Africans in America.
And for the non-history buffs, there are plenty of great leisure activities in St. Augustine, too – a beautiful beach at Anastasia State Park, excellent golfing, nature trails to enjoy via walking or biking, and superb dining and drinking options.
Baton Rouge, LA
For many, visiting Louisiana means traveling to New Orleans. Further upstream the mighty Mississippi River, though, Baton Rouge delivers its own unique — and very authentic — blend of Cajun charms and Southern hospitality.
As Louisiana’s capital city, Baton Rouge is home to an impressive state legislature building. It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful in the country, and it’s also officially the tallest.
Ascend to the top for far-reaching views of the city, as well as the Mississippi. Art lovers should check out LSU’s Museum of Art and for history buffs, there’s the Rural Life Museum.
There are attractions for outdoor lovers in the Red Stick, too. The Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center protects local wildlife and showcases Louisiana’s unique wetland environment, right within city limits.
And of course, the river and other waterways offer up their own type of recreation, with many opportunities for paddling and fishing. Finish the day throwing dice at a riverboat Casino or sampling delicious oysters and Cajun cuisine downtown.
Blues, BBQ, and Elvis – just a few Memphis highlights that impart its strong, deeply-rooted character. Nashville may take the spotlight as a hotbed of musical culture, but it all started in Memphis. Today, the city still perpetuates its globally-influential legacy.
With a distinct gritty edge and strong community pride, Memphis combines the culture of the Deep South and the Mississippi Delta with its own Tennessee twang.
Learn about the progressive cross-racial creation of American rock at the Smithsonian Rock N’ Soul Museum or Sun Studio.
Confront harrowing history at the National Civil Rights Museum, where MLK, Jr. was fatally shot on his hotel room balcony in 1968. No visit to Memphis is complete without a trip to Beale street, where the wailing of a Blues guitar mirrors the intensity of Memphis’ complex history.
There’s also notable revitalization underway in the city – once-forlorn neighborhoods like South Main and Crosstown are rapidly filling up with innovative eateries and indie boutiques.
Breweries in Memphis, which are sprinkled throughout every corner of the city, are also experiencing a bit of a renaissance well worth seeking out. Memphis sits on an ancient natural underground aquifer that makes the city’s water slightly sweet – and the brews stellar.
Home to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is brimming with youthful energy and outdoor recreation opportunities, set against a laid-back and inclusive backdrop.
Nestled in the beautiful and largely overlooked Ozark Mountains, you don’t even need to head out of town to go on a hike or hop on a mountain bike trail.
The popular Mt. Kessler Loop weaves through dramatic rock chasms, dense forests, and beautiful vistas, especially in the fall when the surrounding foliage turns bright orange.
Fayetteville also has great water activities. Beaver Lake, just an hour away, offers many beaches, kayak routes, and campgrounds surrounded by gently rolling hills.
Back in town, enjoy the perpetually mild evenings by sampling from the city’s booming brewery scene and fill up with cheap creative eats served at food truck pavilions.
Finally, make sure to stop by Terra Studios, a quirky art complex with a labyrinth, wind-powered sculptures, paintings, and music on the weekends.
Easily overlooked and often misunderstood, Jackson, Mississippi, is at the very heart of both the Deep South and the Mississippi Delta.
A lively melting pot of rich history, blues and soul music, classic literature, historical architecture, and iconic Southern food, a visit to this state capital highlights the proud cultural heritage of the region.
The city is home to several incredible museums, especially those highlighting the area’s rather turbulent history. Make sure to visit the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the nearby Museum of History, and the Art Museum for a deeper lens into the region’s roots.
Another noteworthy stop is Eudora Welty’s home, offering informative tours delving deep into the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work. Don’t leave town without sampling the tasty spirits at Cathead Distillery or stopping into Bully’s, a James Beard-awarded Southern restaurant.
Few regions are as iconic as the American South. The entire area beckons visitors with its warm, hospitable embrace, dependably offering friendly smiles, firm handshakes, and calls of, “Y’all come back now.”
The South has no shortage of gems to discover with beautiful nature, vibrant music and arts cultures, legendary food scenes, and a fascinating, albeit complicated history.
Often, the best experiences in The South are found not necessarily at the famous landmarks or attractions, but instead in the most everyday places. So regardless of which destination you visit first, don’t be afraid to stray off of the beaten path and introduce yourself – remember, hospitality is the hallmark of the South.