If you love to explore new places, you probably agree that traveling is one of the best ways to spend your hard-earned money. But what less of us consider is that we don't always have to spend a fortune venturing across the globe to get outside of our comfort zones, see beautiful sites, meet interesting people, discover new things, and unwind away from home. In fact, sometimes we don't even need to go more than a couple of hours away from where we live to do so.
To make traveling feel a little more accessible—and to stroke our own inner travel bugs—we're spotlighting continental destinations south of the Mason-Dixon line. Read on below to get a taste of the eight best Southern cities to explore on your next vacation, plus eight extra to pass through while you're in the region. From personality-packed and historically significant port cities to large metropolises, and smaller destinations with an international flair, the hardest part will be choosing which one you want to visit first since each beautiful Southern destination deserves a spot on your bucket list.
Of course, don't forget to leave room for hushpuppies, beignets, hot fried chicken, and plenty of seafood.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This coastal city sits right where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. During the warmer summer months, the boardwalk is bustling with people and sun worshippers, though it's much smaller than other Southern beach hubs, like Miami. It feels much more suburban and family-friendly, too, featuring charming residential streets lined with beach houses and historic colonial sites (it's actually known as America's "first region").
Next Southern City Stops: Alexandria and Richmond, Virginia
Okay, wow. If you didn't already have this coastal Southern city on your travel bucket list, the visual above is all the convincing you'll need. Whether you're meandering through the many lovely, well-maintained parks cloaked in dramatic weeping willows and Spanish moss, the alluring cobblestone streets bustling with horse-drawn carriages, or the streets dotted by hauntingly beautiful Gothic Revival architecture, there is so much beauty to take in. In fact, it's probably the most picturesque city in the country.
If also happens to be full of more history and dark romanticism than a Southern Gothic novel, adding to the allure of the region.
Next Southern City Stop: Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina
San Antonio, Texas
The second-largest city in Texas, San Antonio is a mecca of culture and history, founded as a Spanish mission in 1718. It has some of the most famous frontier and Spanish Colonial era missions in the country, including The Alamo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The picturesque River Walk is a must. While you're strolling along this pedestrian-only riverfront street, pop into the many boutiques and grab a bite to eat. Oh, and definitely catch a performance at the San Antonio River Theater, an outdoor arena with operas and music shows on the water (it's pictured above).
Next Southern City Stop: Austin and Dallas, Texas, and Chattanooga, Tennessee
St. Augustine, Florida
Easily one of the most beautiful cities in the country (and arguably the world), St. Augustine, Florida, is definitely a hidden gem worth visiting. With tons of Spanish Colonial–style architecture, it feels more like being in the South of Spain or France than the southeast coast of Florida. It was officially founded in 1565 by the Spanish and served as the capital of Spanish Florida for 200 years, later ceding to the U.S. in 1819. Its rich history is palpable throughout the city; for example, it has the oldest brick fort in the U.S, Castillo de San Marcos.
Sidenote: If pastels are your thing, be sure to check out the Colonial Quarter and Bridge of Lions will truly transport you to Lyon, France.
Next Southern City Stop: Naples, Florida, and Gulf Shores, Alabama
World-famous music venues, legendary restaurants, charming neighborhoods, and an interesting mix of old and new architecture are only a few reasons Nashville, Tennessee, is at the top of our travel bucket list. Since the best way to immerse yourself in a new place is to shadow a local, we decided to tap a Nashville-based style blogger to show us around this exciting Southern city.
Next Southern City Stop: Memphis, Tennessee and Chattanooga, Tennessee
Charleston, South Carolina
With its pastel-painted buildings and important history, Charleston is one of the most idyllic cities in the U.S. The city dates back to the Colonial era (hence the fusion of Southern American, British, French, and Afro-Caribbean cultural influences), so there's plenty to do and see. Start at the Gibbes Museum of Art and then walk around the Battery, a Civil War landmark. Or, if you don't feel like walking, look into booking a horse-drawn carriage ride with a tour guide.
Next Southern City Stop: Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina
Whether you want to shop, lounge in the sun, check out the colorful Art Deco architecture, enjoy Cuban cuisine, or art gallery hop, there's no shortage of excitement and beauty in this Sunshine State locale. As both a tropical paradise and a multicultural metropolis, Miami is brimming with opportunities and sites around every corner. Not to mention, it's easily one of the most beautiful and unique cities in the country.
Next Southern City Stop: Sarasota and St. Petersburg, Florida
New Orleans, Louisiana
Bursting with personality and character, New Orleans is perhaps the most unique and culturally distinct city in the country. Enjoy delicious Creole cuisine and beignets, jazz performances, Disneyland-esque architecture in the French Quarter, and rich history on every colorful street. Then, head out to the charming oak-shaded Garden District to see the ornate mansions and gardens and to a get a taste of the city's past.
Next Southern City Stop: Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Oxford, Mississippi