Underrated Cities In America's South You Shouldn't Skip Visiting, According To Travel Reviews

The American South is home to multiple underrated cities that you should definitely consider for your next trip. The South boasts plenty of history and culture, but one could argue it lacks the "cachet" of other regions. The Northeast is known for its financial and intellectual clout. The Midwest boasts a long industrial history. And the West Coast is dominated by both the culture and technology fields.

But by poring over reviews from Tripadvisor, Google Reviews, and the blogs of expert travelers, we've compiled this list of under-the-radar destinations not to be missed. There's a lot to discover in the region, and word on the South is getting out. According to Statista, as of late 2022, five out of the 10 most traveled-to states were in the South — the most of any U.S. region. So, before the U.S. South is overrun with tourists, hit these 12 underrated American South locales before the crowds rush in.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Taking a ride on a Bricktown Water Taxi is a must to get a glimpse of what Oklahoma City — the most budget-friendly Southern U.S. city — has to offer. That's right, there's water in Oklahoma City, as the Bricktown Canal is just one example of how far OKC has come since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Bricktown is Oklahoma City's old warehouse district but has transformed into a vibrant neighborhood full of restaurants, galleries, and boutiques, about a 10-minute walk south of downtown. Ride OKC offers highly rated bike tours (starts at $39 per person), where you can traipse through downtown admiring the incredible public art, murals, Bricktown ballpark, and the Oklahoma National Memorial & Museum, among other sights.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art ($16.95 for adults, free for kids under 17), a five-minute drive northwest of Bricktown, is also a must-see. The museum holds one of the world's largest collections of artist Dale Chihuly's mind-blowing glasswork. When you're hungry, head to Cheever's Cafe, a meat-and-potatoes kind of place that's also vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. According to one Tripadvisor reviewer, Cheever's deserves all the praise it gets — though it can be a bit noisy. 

For a quiet night's rest, consider the Bradford House, a boutique and colorful hotel and converted historic mansion, located minutes from the Oklahoma State Capitol. Candidate Jimmy Carter stayed here on his first Presidential campaign. Rooms start at $160 per night at Bradford.

Greenville, South Carolina

Before you amble into delightful Greenville, South Carolina, you'll want to experience what the editors of Southern Living Magazine deemed the "#1 Thing Every Southerner Ought To Do!" — raft the Chattooga River's white waters. The film "Deliverance" was filmed on the Chattooga and while that film is terrifying, the rafting is a blast. Hit up the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), operating since 1972 and just over two hours from Greenville. The NOC gets sterling online reviews, with rides starting at $140 per person. According to Tripadvisor, one NOC guide told the reviewing rafter, "This isn't Disney, but that's part of the thrill." Sounds like a blast to us.

Once your rafting adventure is done, head back to Greenville for art, food, and fun. Start by taking in some of Greenville's unique public art installations, including the popular "Untitled 2002-03," known by locals simply as "The Running Man." The Coffee Underground is a great spot to see stand-up comedy and live performances, not to mention outstanding coffee and exquisite desserts, or grab dinner at The Anchorage for Southern dishes showcasing local ingredients. After a day of rafting and exploring, rest your head at dog-friendly The Grand Bohemian, which overlooks Falls Park downtown and boasts a luxury lodge aesthetic.

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham was a pivot point in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement's fight for equality, so the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) should be your first stop in Alabama's biggest city. While rooted in the past, Birmingham is flourishing in the present. After exploring the BCRI, head east to quirky Avondale for a stroll amid the area's craft breweries, trendy coffee shops, and Avondale Park's 36 acres of green space. You could also check out the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which is $20 for adults and $15 for kids. The Barber holds the largest collection of motorcycles (more than 1,000) in the world, along with a ton of other vehicles.

You'll definitely also want to eat in Birmingham. Try the down-home cooking at SAW's BBQ in Avondale for Alabama's take on barbecue. We'd recommend the smoked chicken with Alabama-styled white sauce, an iconic mix of spices, sugar, vinegar, and mayo. To sleep, try to score a room at The John Hand Club & Hotel, a walk of just under 20 minutes from the BCRI. The Hand Club is a six-room boutique hotel, with rooms named after city icons and landmarks. The establishment is located at 20th and 1st Avenue, a corner known as "The Heaviest Corner on Earth." It was named as downtown Birmingham was coming of age, and rooms at the classic revival building start at $269 per night.

Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville has long been an underrated Southern — and Floridian — destination, but it won't be an underdog for long, not least with its gorgeous, quiet, and relatively unspoiled beaches nearby. You'll want to hit Atlantic Beach, a 30-minute drive from downtown, to enjoy this beautiful stretch of sandy-white beach and turquoise blue waters, perfect for kayaking, surfing, or collecting seashells with the kids. Once you're done frolicking in the sand, take a stroll through the Atlantic Beach neighborhood, a charming surfside community that's home to one of the oldest Native American settlements in North America.

Downtown, hop on an electric bike with Art Bikes Jax, a highly-rated tour outfit worthy of 10 stars, according to Julia R. on Google Reviews. You'll take guided architecture and art tours on electric bikes customized by local artists. You'll ride along the St. Johns River, see Jacksonville's stunning collection of historic homes, and view the city's celebrated murals and public art. After all, Jacksonville is one of the best East Coast cities for art lovers! If you don't see it on your tour, be sure to also visit Treaty Oak, a 250-year-old oak tree with a unique history. When you're ready to eat, consider hitting up Silkie's Chicken & Champagne for mouth-watering fried chicken & waffles (and other delights). 

Raleigh, North Carolina

Full of culture, nature, and food, Raleigh is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. When visiting, art enthusiasts should first check out the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA). Founded in 1947 as the first state-funded museum in the country, the NCMA holds one of the biggest collections of Rodin sculptures in the Southeast. If water exploration is more your thing, William B. Umstead State Park, just a 10-minute drive northwest of NCMA, is a great spot to canoe and fish on Big Lake. The kids will also love Pullen Park, a 10-minute drive southeast of the Museum and one of the oldest amusement parks in the country. 

Eating in Raleigh is also "a thing," so high-tail it to the Transfer Company Food Hall, 50,000 square feet of belt-busting delight inside the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shop. Scarf down delicious, Argentine empanadas from Che Empanada — try the yummy Empachori Empanada, filled with chorizo, mozzarella, and chimichurri. Afterward, grab a ginormous ice cream sandwich from Captain Cookie & Milk Man, also located in the food hall. On Google Reviews, Kierstyn M. said, "Perfectly delicious ice cream sandwich!"

After your day of art, food, and nature, consider staying at The Heights House Hotel, an Italianate-style mansion built in 1860 — one of the few pre-Civil War buildings still standing in Raleigh. This bright, airy gem sits in Raleigh's Boylan Heights neighborhood, and rates start at $249 per night.

San Antonio, Texas

Often overlooked by Austin and Dallas, San Antonio is great if you're fond of adventure and history. Of course, you'll want to visit The Alamo, the 18th-century Spanish Mission that played a pivotal role in Texas eventually winning independence from Mexico, and City Sightseeing San Antonio runs hop-on, hop-off bus and boat tours that visit. Both modes of travel are great ways to explore San Antonio's other forts, the city's famed River Walk, the Pearl District, and all manner of food and shops.

Another exploration favorite is the National Bridge Caverns, Texas' largest underground cave system that's full of hidden chambers carved out of limestone. The caverns, a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, were discovered accidentally by four college students in 1960. 

Once you've taken in San Antonio, stay at The Menger Hotel — but keep one eye open, as the hotel is rumored to be haunted. However, on Google Reviews, one very happy guest reported that the Menger's ghosts are friendly, so you can sleep tight. Oh, and if that isn't frightening enough, future-president Teddy Roosevelt used to use the Menger's bar as recruiting grounds for his Rough Riders outfit around the time of the Spanish-American War. Rumor has it Roosevelt's ghost still hangs out at The Menger's bar. Cheers!

Richmond, Virginia

History lovers will love that Richmond, one of the oldest cities in the country, is still relatively underrated (nearby Roanoke is also a great vacation spot). At the American Civil War Museum, visitors can learn about this nation-defining conflict, then explore the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia ($10 for adults, $5 for kids), which is dedicated to providing a deeper understanding of black history and culture throughout Virginia's history. You can also visit The White House of the Confederacy ($18 for adults, $9 for kids). Built in 1818, it served as both a working and living space for Confederate leaders during the Civil War. All three museums are within easy driving distance of each other.

After your walk through history, check out Carytown, or "The Mile of Style," a hip section of Richmond and a five-minute drive west of the Civil War Museum. Explore and taste Carytown on foot on a Carytown Food Tour, which is a top-rated activity on Tripadvisor. You'll hit up to six stops on the tour, at both well-known and underrated establishments. The tour may include a stop at Can-Can for French cuisine and New York Deli, the oldest restaurant in the city. Sleep all that food and history away at Quirk Hotel, a charming boutique hotel housed in the historic, circa-1916 J.B. Mosby & Co. Department Store building. Rates at Quirk start at $149 per night.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, an 1800s-era Victorian spa town, offers art, nature, fantastic biking at Marble Flats and Lake Leatherwood, as well as a little otherworldliness, too. Three and a half hours northwest of Little Rock, Eureka Springs may be a surprising spot to find creatives, but this Ozark Mountain town has been an artist magnet for decades. Grab a selfie by the Rainbow Stairs, painted by a muralist and some local high school students, then to get a full picture of the town, consider taking a Eureka Springs Tram Tour ($17 for adults, $8 for kids), where you'll see historic homes, healing springs, and a bustling main street home to galleries and restaurants.

There are several places to stay, including the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a rehabilitation and rescue center for bears, big cats, and other exotic animals. You can spend the night at the Refuge — rest assured, you won't have to share a room with a bear — and fall asleep listening to the roars of wild animals in the distance. 

If sleeping near big cats isn't scary enough, book a stay at 1886 Crescent Hotel, situated on a lush 15 acres above town. This former Victorian spa is considered to be one of the most haunted hotels in America. Guests have reported ghosts and spirits roaming the halls and even feeling the ghost of Morris the Cat, the hotel's "house cat" who passed away in 1994, brushing up against their feet. The Crescent's rate starts at around $150 per night.

Lafayette, Louisiana

If you're a foodie, make your way to Lafayette, an underrated Southern locale offering up some of the best Cajun food you'll find anywhere. Cajun Food Tours offers a highly-rated Original Cajun Food Tour that has locals singing its praises. The Original tour starts at $57 and takes you through five quintessential Cajun eateries. Expect to chow down on all sorts of Cajun grub, from gumbo to crawfish etouffee to king cake and a whole lot more. The same company also offers a Full-Day Cajun Experience, which gets you the food tour along with a swamp tour (either of Lake Martin or the Atchafalaya Basin), a tour of the Historic Vermilionville Village, and of course some Cajun dance lessons. The Full-Day Cajun Experience (starting at $175) isn't offered in July and August — it gets really hot in Lafayette.

If food isn't your thing, check out the aforementioned Historic Vermilionville Village, painstakingly recreated to give visitors a taste of what life was like during the 18th century (not easy). Artisans demonstrate how Acadians (French-Canadian settlers), Creoles, and Native Americans hunted and trapped, prepared hides, told stories, and made crafts on the Bayou. Admission is $10 for adults and free for kids five and under. Finally, take a load off at the Maison Morton B&B, an historic, 1800s-era mansion sitting on a lush property amid drooping Cypress and Oak trees, in Lafayette's historic Sterling Grove neighborhood. Rates start at $159 per night.

Ellijay, Georgia

The small town of Ellijay, Georgia, sitting just west of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests and an hour-and-a-half drive north from Atlanta, is a prime apple-picking and fall foliage locale — but there is plenty to do year-round in Ellijay. Hike at nearby Tallulah Gorge State Park to gawk at the 1,000-foot-deep gorge and waterfall, and see the towers used by Karl Wallenda to tight-rope across the gorge in 1970. Exceptional mountain biking can also be had at Amicalola Falls State Park, known as "The Mountain Bike Capital of Georgia."

If you're in Ellijay during the fall, apple picking is a must. Red Apple Barn is the place to pick'em right off the tree, and you'll get a tractor ride to the field, too. Just outside Ellijay, don't miss The Sasquatch Museum ($8 for adults, $6 for kids), and pay homage to everyone's favorite hairy hominid. Once you've decided that Sasquatches aren't real (or ... are?), break bread over fresh, hand-made dishes at Back Porch Bistro, located in Ellijay's historic downtown. 

If you're up for it, grab an Uber or a designated driver and head to Reece's Cider Company, a 12-minute drive from the Bistro, for delicious hard cider, then stay the night at Ellijay River House B&B. Rated a top Travelers' Choice by Tripadvisor, the charming, circa-1915 luxury home features outdoor decks by the river, a stocked library, and a romantic bottle room. Rates start around $150 per night.

Houston, Texas

Austin and Dallas may suck all the tourist oxygen out of Texas, but not for long. Houston, America's most diverse city and one of the best U.S. cities for theater, has a ton to offer. Since it's Space City, you should definitely check out Space Center Houston and take a VIP tour. Both morning (Mission Control) and afternoon (Astronaut Training) tours are offered, so be sure to pick the right tour for you. Both tours get you inside access to NASA's facilities. While unlikely, these facilities may close to the public at a moment's notice, as NASA has, like, important work to do. 

Houston offers much more beyond all that space business, and a city tour is the best way to get a feel for the fourth-most populated U.S. city. Hit up Astroville ($40) to take a tour that locals love, with highlights including the famous Astrodome, Houston's Museum District, River Oaks mansions, and downtown architecture. Astroville also gives tours of Houston's Tunnel System, the largest subterranean expanse in the country, starting at $26.95. 

After that, enjoy some of Houston's global character by dining at Da Gama Canteen, an Indian establishment serving piri paratha tacos, samosas, and delicious cocktails like the Goa Sunset. If you're here to explore Houston's great museums, consider staying at the Hotel ZaZa Museum District, located near the Houston Museum of Art, for a chic and sophisticated stay. 

Athens, Georgia

More than just a quirky college town, Athens punches way above its weight when it comes to history, culture, and food. The Historic Athens Welcome Center is the perfect place to start, offering all manner of tours to discover this unique city. Through the Welcome Center, you can check out downtown and the University of Georgia's gorgeous campus on an hour-and-a-half walking tour ($15 per person), and there's also a two-hour shuttle tour that takes you through the Classic City to see pre-Civil War homes, Athens' historic neighborhoods, and the Double-Barrelled Cannon landmark. Music buffs will also love the music history tour ($25 per person), which takes you through famous Athens spots in a city that has birthed legendary acts such as R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic, and more.

When it's time to eat, head to South Kitchen & Bar, housed inside the historic Georgian Hotel, for southern grits, fried green tomatoes, and collard greens, then grab a drink atop the famous Georgia Theatre on its fabulous rooftop bar or grab a locally-sourced brew at Creature Comforts. After touring and tasting the town, stay at The Rushmore. Located near the UGA campus, the artsy, boutique hotel features individually decorated rooms, and on Google Reviews, one former guest described the hotel as an "absolute treasure."