The South now offers far more than charm. These revitalized locales are ready to show off their new twists on Southern hospitality.
This Old South — meets — New South city has a food scene that's on fire. Tantalizing takes on southern cuisine showcase local bounty at L’Opossum, Shagbark and Maple & Pine. New casual stops include Saadia’s JuiceBox and NuVegan Cafe’s soul cafeteria.
In recently revitalized Scott’s Addition, taste barbecue, fondue and elevated southern comfort fare, then sip at breweries, distilleries and cider houses. Bowl in style at River City Roll, then play shuffleboard at Tang & Biscuit, a brightly decorated cavern that serves Tang-based cocktails.
On the James River, paddle America’s only class III and IV urban rapids. Launch downtown, where pedestrian bridges lead to islands such as Belle Isle, a favorite swimming and hiking spot. Pedal along the river on the recently paved 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute for Contemporary Art, the latter housed in a striking glass and zinc structure, opened in April; admission is free. The Richmond Mural Project features 150 murals; sample them on a Segway of Richmond's art tour. Broad Street Arts District and Carytown are hot spots for gifts, vintage clothing, music and small-press books.
Cool lodging abounds. The Quirk Hotel is a marvelous makeover of a century-old department store; the new 16-floor Graduate Richmond has a rooftop bar and pool. The Jefferson Hotel, opened in 1895, just completed a restoration.
GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
This casual cosmopolitan haven, according to U.S. Census data, is the nation’s fourth-fastest-growing city. Downtown’s centerpiece is Falls Park on the Reedy River. The transformed industrial site offers rocky waterfalls that once powered mills, tiered gardens, shade trees and the Liberty Bridge, a curved architectural wonder suspended by a single cable.
The park is surrounded by trendy shops, art studios, award-winning Dark Corner Distillery and chef-driven dining rooms, many on upper levels of renovated buildings overlooking the river.
Bands play outdoors; fun sculptures dot safe, bustling streets. Locals dine out daily to keep up with the explosion of choices such as The Lazy Goat, Southern Pressed Juicery, Pomegranate on Main, and The Anchorage, a James Beard 2018 Best New Restaurant semifinalist. Work off calories bicycling the 21-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, or go autumn leaf-peeping.
A brisk half-mile walk from downtown, the Heritage Green campus offers impressive history, art, children’s and music museums. New lodging includes Aloft Downtown Greenville and soon, a Residence Inn-Springhill Suites combo. The nearby airport and free downtown trolley amp up Greenville’s hospitality quotient.
Hop a nonstop flight from LaGuardia Airport to discover a Civil War town now offering action for every taste. Hang glide and hike at Lookout Mountain, where an underground waterfall called Ruby Falls plunges 145 feet. Paddle the Tennessee River. Climb mountains — or a new Spider-Man -ready wall downtown.
A new $20 million upgrade has turned the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel that began as a train station in 1909, into an entertainment hub anchored by Songbirds, the new guitar museum. New music venues include Songbirds South Stage and The Signal.
On the riverfront, visit ocean and river animals from around the globe at the stunning Tennessee Aquarium. After strolling the half-mile Walnut Street Bridge pedestrian bridge to the cozy-quirky NorthShore community and back, tour Bluff View Art District’s sculpture garden, the fabulous Houston Museum of Decorative Arts and the Hunter Museum of American Art, a modernist wing hitched to an Edwardian-style mansion.
Local-seasonal culinary best bets include Easy Bistro and Old Gilman Grill. For fresh sips, hit starlit cocktail haven in The Dwell Hotel, the urban lounge at OddStory Brewing Co., or Flying Squirrel Bar's gastropub built from 115-year-old barn scrap. Among new lodgings, The Westin Chattanooga’s gleaming tower boasts mountain views, a chic pool deck and rooftop bar, while The Edwin Hotel rises by the river.
Barnsley Resort began as an Italianate manor with boxwood gardens built by a Brit named Godfrey Barnsley in the 1840s. Ransacked during a Civil War battle, damaged by a 1906 tornado, reportedly haunted, the 3,000-acre North Georgia estate was eventually rescued. The original boxwoods were trimmed to revive one of the South’s few remaining antebellum gardens.
The estate features Gothic Revival-style cottages, an 18-hole golf course designed by Jim Fazio, and a new 55-room luxury inn. Wine and dine at the Rice House; relish dishes such as foraged mushroom risotto with pickled blackberries at Woodlands Grill. Golf amid Blue Ridge Mountain foothill views, ride horses, play lawn games, toast s’mores, go fly fishing, join bourbon tastings and refresh at the recently renovated spa and saltwater pool. Try your hand shooting in royal style at two 14-station clays courses. There are shotguns and lessons geared specifically to women.
Barnsley edges Adairsville’s quaint downtown, a great antiquing hamlet. A mural on the wall of the 1890s train depot depicts the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, a train hijacking incident celebrated each October with a festival. Along the hour's drive back to the Atlanta airport, stop in Cartersville to hike Pine Mountain for glorious views.
HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
From chilled melon soup to butternut pasta, the plates overseen by award-winning Le Cordon Bleu alumnus Casey Copeland suggest you’re in a Manhattan bistro. But the smoked cornbread and blue cornmeal catfish remind you you’re in the South — at The Avenue Restaurant, a new dining room in downtown Hot Springs.
Across the street, 700,000 gallons of water averaging 143 degrees Fahrenheit flow from Hot Springs Mountain. The architecturally splendid structures lining nearby Bathhouse Row leveraged this natural resource starting in the late 1800s. The bathhouses have been revived as modern spas, a history museum packed with curious therapeutic devices, and a brewery-distillery using spring water in its beverages.
This walkable downtown, which has been deemed Hot Springs National Park, teems with fresh attractions. The silent-movie feel of The Waters Hotel guest rooms and marble stairway are clues that the building originally served a medical high-rise where physicians prescribed thermal water spa therapies. The grand Arlington Hotel, where Al Capone retained a room (his local operation shipped moonshine in bottles labeled “spring water”) is getting a major makeover. Have a criminally good time at the expanded Gangster Museum of America, then play outdoors on the Ouachita Mountains’ growing network of hiking and biking trails.