There’s more to the Southern states of the USA than Nashville, Austin and New Orleans.
In fact, in recent years, so-called “second-tier” cities in the South have witnessed a massive boom in hotels, restaurants and micro-everythings.
Travel companies agree, too. “With the appeal of an all-American road trip style of travel, famous barbecue cuisine and a rich musical heritage, we’ve seen international bookings to Southern US destinations double in the last year,” says Intrepid Travel’s Director of North America Leigh Barnes.
Their “Southern Comfort USA,” trip – which weaves travelers through Savannah, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond – has experienced a whopping 180% growth. With diverse picks ranging from San Antonio and its old Western feel to post-industrial Birmingham, Alabama, here are our 15 favorite Southern cities flying under the radar.
Use our suggestions as a launching pad, but in true Southern style, do yourself a favor and leave the day up to wherever your Frye boots take you.
1. San Antonio, Texas
A flight of stairs below street level, SA’s River Walk offers plenty of opportunities for dining and nightlife.
Grab a stool at Ocho, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the water, and wash down an order of the huitlacoche quesadillas with a Havana margarita.
Keep the buzz going at Jazz, TX, where on any given night you may catch jazz, Texas Swing or salsa. The tequila-based “For Grit and Glory” cocktail with jicama juice, watermelon and spicy salt foam may be enough to persuade you to sidle up to the mic for your own rendition of the Bob Wills classic “San Antonio Rose.”
The St. Anthony feels haunted in the best way possible. After you’ve gotten the perfunctory shot with the hotel lobby’s grand piano (Billy Joel recently test drove its keys), head to the new Sky Terrace, a hip rooftop scene with live music on Saturdays.
A vibrant city perched on the San Antonio river, the bustling River Walk melds European charm with Tex-Mex flair. In addition to the eateries, there’s shopping, museums and river taxi tours.
Sure, there’s the Alamo, the historic battlegrounds for the famed fights during the Texas Revolution in 1836. But San Antonio has a lot more going for it.
Venture to the Southtown Arts District, on downtown’s southern tip, or scope out The Pearl for its brewery, events, weekly farmers market and more.
2. Birmingham, Alabama
You won’t go hungry in The Magic City. Eat too much swordfish and blistered okra at Hot & Hot Fish Club; drink too many icy cold brews at revered local haunt The Garage Cafe.
Keep the soigné vibrations rolling with a meal at Highlands Bar and Grill, a beloved establishment that doles out Southern grub with a French finesse.
There’s a new food court. Pizitz Food Hall is housed in a former downtown department store, but until crowds fade out, we’d choose Carrigan’s Public House on the outskirts of downtown. There, savor fine bites and killer martinis on their comfortable roof deck.
Sleep it all off at the newly restored Redmont Hotel, with an ambiance that still tips its hat to the roaring ’20s. Meanwhile, the Westin Birmingham has a Todd English restaurant, outdoor pool and free airport shuttle.