The 20 Friendliest Towns In The South

<p>Kevin Garrett for</p>

Kevin Garrett for

Southerners are known throughout the world for being friendly. If we know you, we'll probably ask about your mama, your job, your kids, and even your dog. And if we don't, we'll chat with you all the same, or at least give you a wave and a smile. That said, some places in our region go above and beyond when it comes to friendliness.

In a recent survey, we asked our readers to share their favorite friendly places, and they responded with thousands of comments about their hometowns and places they've visited. The locations range from the beach, to the mountains, to the Texas hills, but they all have one thing in common: A desire to make everyone feel welcome, no matter where they are from.

How We Picked This List

An online survey was conducted by third-party agency Proof Insights among Southern Living consumers, asking them to name the friendliest people and places in the South. The survey was fielded from July 12 to August 23, 2023, and had more than 20,000 respondents.

20. Fernandina Beach, Florida

csfotoimages/Getty images
csfotoimages/Getty images

According to our readers, Fernandina is a little slice of Old Florida paradise. And, not surprisingly, spending time in paradise tends to put people in a good mood. “Everyone is happy and welcoming, no matter where you encounter them—bars, restaurants, shops, on the street,” said one person. “You meet strangers on the beach and they will take pictures for you and quickly you learn their whole life story,” said another. And all that friendliness can turn visitors into locals. One reader said: “My husband I were born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida but lived away for over 30 years. We decided to move back to Florida and retire. We chose Fernandina for the small town feel, welcoming environment, and a slower paced small town with all the amenities.”

Explore Fernandina Beach

19. Henderson, Kentucky

<p>Henderson Tourist Commission</p>

Henderson Tourist Commission

One reader explained the appeal of Henderson in such a thoughtful way that we will share it in full:

“Stellar summertime sunsets over the Ohio River aren't the only thing keeping Henderson, Kentucky warm—it's the people. A small town with a big heart, crossing from Indiana into Henderson is where hospitality begins and displays of such are easy to find. Each summer, our dot on the map transforms into a festival town, hosting five major music festivals— Summerfest, Porchfest, W.C. Handy Blues & BBQ Fest, Songfest, and Bluegrass in the Park—all entirely planned and executed by volunteers and run on donations. We welcome guests from all over for each of these events. We're also lucky enough to be a port for the American Queen. Each and every guest comments on how genuinely kind our townsfolk are, always ready to lend a hand. Once an out-of-towner, I can honestly say that my adopted hometown is the friendliest I've ever encountered.”

Explore Henderson

18. Paducah, Kentucky

<p>Robbie Caponetto</p>

Robbie Caponetto

Any place that has a designated team of greeters deserves to be on this list. “The Paducah Ambassadors are key to welcoming visitors to our beautiful river town,” said one reader. This group of local volunteers in red jackets not only welcomes people at events around town, they answer their questions and make sure they’re headed in the right direction. “This is the most welcoming town I’ve ever experienced,” another reader said. “I’ve begun calling it ‘the town with no outsiders’ since I learned that the experiences of others match mine.”

Explore Paducah

17. Auburn, Alabama

Photo: Art Meripol
Photo: Art Meripol

College towns with a strong football tradition aren’t always the most welcoming to outsiders, especially if they’re rooting for another team. But readers say that isn’t the case here. “Auburn is a special place—a small college town known for its friendliness,” said a reader. “People frequently exchange ‘hey’ to each other and not just on Auburn University's Hey Day. Rivals from other schools that attend an Auburn game frequently mention the friendliness of the Auburn people.” Another way the town caters to visitors (and locals, too) is through its culinary program, the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, which has an impressive restaurant that’s open to the public, as well as a hotel and spa.

Explore Auburn

16. Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Stephen Devries
Stephen Devries

This coastal town may be small, but it's got a lot of fans. We’ve named it one of the best places to retire, and Mississippi’s best small town, and now it’s one of the South’s friendliest places as well. Readers just love Ocean Springs for its rich arts scene, great food scene, access to nature, and of course, the people. One said: “Absolutely beautiful and the store owners are the friendliest people I have ever met.” Another said the same thing, adding: “Many shops offer coffee or lemonade to customers.” The area is home to many galleries and museums that are staffed by people excited to talk about art no matter your age or background. Just another way Ocean Springs makes people feel at home.

Explore Ocean Springs

15. Williamsburg, Virginia

Peter Frank Edwards
Peter Frank Edwards

Historic Williamsburg is a place where interactions with people come easily, whether it’s learning from historic interpreters in Colonial Williamsburg, or chatting with small business owners in Merchant’s Square, a bustling shopping hub. “Always find helpful and friendly people in Williamsburg willing to share their history and spend time telling stories about the area,” said a reader. While other places may shy away, or even complain about an influx of tourists, that’s not the case here. “Tourism brings in a lot of new people,” said a reader. “We are excited about seeing our city being loved by all."

Explore Williamsburg

14. Hendersonville, North Carolina

Henderson County Tourism Development Authority
Henderson County Tourism Development Authority

One of our favorite small towns in North Carolina, Henderson is a place that’s easy to love—for people and their canine companions. Several readers noted how dog-friendly it is, especially downtown’s quaint Main Street. “Every person I've met there is so warm, friendly, and accommodating. The downtown area is divine, with each establishment being locally owned and operated,” said one reader. If that doesn’t put you in a good mood, time spent outdoors hiking and boating will. “There are tons of hiking trails, rivers and waterfalls,” said one reader, adding: “The weather is very pleasant, not too hot or cold all year long.”

Explore Henderson

13. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Robbie Caponetto
Robbie Caponetto

When most people think of Gatlinburg, they picture the over-the-top, family-friendly attractions that draw record numbers of vacationers every year. But a tourist destination doesn’t become famous by putt putt courses and roller coasters alone. Gatlinburg might attract people from around the world, but it’s a small town at heart, and the people who live and work there are experts in making people feel right at home. “The entire town is built around hospitality, and that spirit shows in how friendly the workers are in every establishment,” said a reader. “People are always willing to talk a little.”

Explore Gatlinburg

12. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images
Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

This pretty little mountain town is often described as quirky, but perhaps “all-embracing” is a better description. “Open and welcoming to all,” is how one reader put it, and others agree. “Every business there is inclusive of all and pet-friendly. There are events there welcoming every group from bikers to the LGBTQ community,” said another. Offering something for everyone—galleries, shops, an array of dining options, outdoor activities, a year-round calendar of events—is part of the reason why the town attracts a diverse population. But a friendly, open-hearted spirit is what sets Eureka Springs apart from similar towns. As one reader said: “All the locals are welcoming to the masses that visit them each year and really go out of their way to make sure you and yours are enjoying your visit. I think it's partly due to the artsy, bohemian vibe the town embraces; one of peace, tranquility, love, and acceptance. Any and all are welcome.”

Explore Eureka Springs

11. Carolina Beach, North Carolina

<p>LISA CORSON</p> You can reach the shore from any of Carolina Beach’s 44 designated public access points.


You can reach the shore from any of Carolina Beach’s 44 designated public access points.

The sand and surf draws people to this beautiful coastal town, but it’s the community of Carolina Beach that brings them back year after year, and even inspires them to stay and put down roots. And according to readers, that community spirit is apparent in good times and bad. “Community is always willing to help, from looking for a lost pet, to helping people with medical costs, or [if] their home was destroyed,” said one reader. Another resident commented: “We work hard to make our guests feel welcome with family friendly events, concerts, and fireworks for all to enjoy. Making memories is what Carolina Beach is all about.” Another person put it even more simply: “Everyone loves living here, so everyone is friendly.

Explore Carolina Beach

10. Laurel, Mississippi

Cedric Angeles
Cedric Angeles

You may come here for the Home Town experience, but by the time you leave, you’re likely to feel like a local. Downtown Laurel harkens back to a bygone era, with its well-preserved historic buildings, mom-and-pop shops, and a real sense of community that even extends to visitors. You’ll feel at places like Pearl’s Diner, run by local legend Pearl Campbell, who seems to know everyone, or at least makes you feel that way. As one reader said: “The locals are so welcoming to all visitors. They can't wait to tell you all about how great Laurel is, the best place to eat, shop, and the art museum is a must. And that friendliness translates to the visitors as well. Go into a restaurant and by the end of your meal you will have 10 new best friends!” Added another person: “They appreciate everyone that comes to visit. You don’t feel like a tourist. You feel like a guest.”

Explore Laurel

9. Fredericksburg, Texas

<p>Gabriela Herman</p>

Gabriela Herman

A popular getaway from city folks coming from Austin and San Antonio, this Hill Country town welcomes visitors year-round and manages to maintain a steady hold on locals, too. Nearly every comment from readers about Fredericksburg mentioned how friendly everyone is: shop owners, winery employees, restaurant servers, people on the street—even at the grocery store. “Everywhere we went when we were there, the people went out of their way to help us,” said one reader. “At Mamacitas Mexican restaurant, they seemed genuinely happy to be there and made sure we had everything we needed. The store keepers were very pleasant. The RV resort was extremely helpful!”

Explore Fredericksburg

8. St. Augustine, Florida



This Florida favorite is rich in history, nature, and according to readers, friendly people. When it was named The South’s Best city in 2023, writer Valerie Rains visited St. Augustine and let the locals be her guide. As she wrote: “From picturesque brunch spots to windswept beaches, St. Augustine’s fan club never steered me wrong.” Through personal recommendations and helpful tips, she found a gracious place that has loads of appeal way beyond the touristy areas (although those spots have their charms as well). Or as one reader put it: “They make you feel like family. One that gets along.”

Explore St. Augustine

7. Round Top, Texas

Wynn Myers
Wynn Myers

Tiny towns aren’t always the most welcoming of outsiders, but that’s certainly not the case here. “Round Top is like coming to the table at granny’s house,” said one reader. “You can’t wait to get there and share stories, slow porch swings, and the best food. You never want to leave!” It’s hard to beat an endorsement like that, but other readers chimed in with other accolades about this tiny town (the population hovers around 100), especially about its famous antiquing, which draws people from all over the world. “On weekends, holidays, and the famous antique week, it grows to a hustling, busy mecca but the locals still treat you as a local.” Added another: “They get hordes of people in for the antique fair, and they keep their composure through it all.”

Explore Round Top

6. Southport, North Carolina

<p>City of Southport, North Carolina</p>

City of Southport, North Carolina

It’s easy to be friendly when you’re having a good time. When readers described this coastal town, the word “fun” came up again and again. One person said: “The locals and the tourists all come together to make Southport one of the most fun towns in the South. From the state Fourth of July celebration to daily gatherings in swings by the waterfront, Southport is a relaxing little historic seaport town that just makes people feel relaxed and happy to be there!” It doesn’t hurt that it’s incredibly beautiful, too. Named one of our favorite beach towns in North Carolina, Southport has been described as something out of a postcard. One reader said it was “like being in a Hallmark movie” and that not only are visitors welcome, your pets are too.

Explore Southport

5. Oxford, Mississippi

Robbie Caponetto
Robbie Caponetto

Whether you’re a life-long resident, just passing through for an afternoon, or a newcomer to town, it’s hard to deny the charm of this college town. The University of Mississippi is central to life here, and even if you have no connection to the school, it brings in a steady supply of fresh, creative energy, which you can feel wherever you go. “The downtown shops greet you like old-time acquaintances, even if they have never seen you before. Ask a question, and you will get a full and clear answer—no snooty looks or attitudes,” said one reader. Due to the nature of it being a college town, Oxford is a place where people come and go, but if you choose to stay, you’ll receive a warm welcome. Said one reader, who moved to Oxford in 2017: “The reception for a new member of the community was tremendous. New neighbors visiting, offering information about the city. Offers of assistance in getting around the city and info on places to shop were abundant.”

Explore Oxford

4. Spartanburg, South Carolina

OneSpartanburg, Inc.
OneSpartanburg, Inc.

Spartanburg made our 2024 Best Cities On The Rise list, not only for its notable growth, but for a slew of new development projects on the horizon. There’s a simple reason for this population boom: It’s a really nice place to live, according to readers. As one person said, “They have great shopping downtown and friendly staff. The library is fantastic and worth visiting to look around. The staff there is also helpful with local history. Everybody says hello on their walking trail, families stop to chat and let their kids play on the trail. All around great experience.” Another reader noted that city employees are very helpful and friendly, and city services are well managed and effective. Another simply said: “We moved here for retirement and have been warmly welcomed at every turn!

Explore Spartanburg

3. Fairhope, Alabama

Benjamin Callahan
Benjamin Callahan

Fairhope has a laid-back vibe that puts people at ease. It’s the kind of place that’s made for strolling, whether you’re popping in and out of stores in the French Quarter or walking along the Beach Park Tree Trail near the waterfront, you’ll feel a sense of relaxation wash over you. “It is possible to have a sense of belonging almost instantly.  People welcome tourists and are more than willing to share local information,” said one reader. Author and contributing writer Rick Bragg, who has called Fairhope home for decades, said it best: “The foothills of the Appalachians will always be my home, but in this calm town where I had no ghosts or history, I believed that I could catch my breath. It is hard to keep something this special a secret. But now, 20 years later, I wish that I had tried.”

Explore Fairhope

2. Beaufort, South Carolina

Peter Frank Edwards
Peter Frank Edwards

This Lowcountry gem has made our annual South’s Best Awards list for several years running. And if you’ve ever been here, it’s easy to get swept up in the town’s historic architecture, pristine beaches, and adorable restaurants and shops. But if you spend any time there, you’ll know that the locals are the key to the town’s success. As one reader put it: “I’d prefer to keep it a secret, but y’all have let that cat out of the bag. The city itself is like a warm hug, her people are icing on the cake. Folks greet each other on the street, share stories over ice cream cones on benches, kids play and engage in the riverfront park, folks will scooch over a seat or two to make room for others. It’s just a lovely corner of home in this crazy world.”

Explore Beaufort

1. Covington, Louisiana

<p>Kevin Garrett for</p>

Kevin Garrett for

The secret’s out about this lovely little town. Not only was it voted the best small town in Louisiana in our 2024 South’s Best Awards survey, readers also named it one of the friendliest towns in the state. From Mayor Mark Johnson, who makes a point to engage with visitors and constituents (he even leads free Zumba classes), to welcoming business owners, to public events that give people a reason to gather, Covington has created a new definition of Southern hospitality. As one reader said: “It is not unusual for people to dance with strangers at some of the outdoor music concerts. It seems like everyone is looking for ways to make sure everyone is having a good time.”

Explore Covington

Related: The 50 Best Small Towns In The South 2023

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