As a lifelong Southerner, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s plenty to love about this varied region I adore. But I’ll also admit that certain areas of the South are simply overrated. Here’s my list of the ten most overrated destinations in the South.
10. Cherokee, NC
Let me start this entry by admitting that I love Cherokee. Growing up, we went there a lot for camping trips and vacations, and my mom’s family did too a generation before me. There’s a lot to enjoy about Cherokee: the history – especially the Trail of Tears play Unto These Hills – and the breathtaking scenery. But beyond that, most of what Cherokee has to offer is kitschy tourism which has changed little since the mid-20th century.
What has created the hype that has made Cherokee overrated? Harrah’s, of course. Harrah’s promotes Cherokee as some sort of amazing resort destination, but that’s not what Cherokee is. If you’re looking for history, natural beauty, and tacky retro-tourism, Cherokee’s your place. If you want to gamble and party, go to the casino and nothing more, because you’ll come away disappointed.
9. Austin, TX
Nearly every city has a motto – a nice phrase that encapsulates what that city is all about. Austin’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” The capital of Texas clamors to be a hipster paradise, much like a young teen trying on an older sibling’s clothes, and in this case the older sibling is Portland, Seattle, or Nashville.
For some reason Austin desperately wants hipster cred, but the city has two factors working against it. One is the fact that it’s in Texas, a state that doesn’t exactly cotton to the weird. The other is that it’s a state capital, and we all know state capitals have to maintain a modicum of dignity. Both factors make the fight to keep Austin weird a bit more difficult. Plus, it gets hot there in the summer, which makes flannel and skinny jeans difficult to deal with.
Austin does have a great music scene and tasty barbecue, but unless you’re one of the ones who want to help keep Austin weird, you may want to stay away.
8. Helen, GA
Another beautiful spot nestled in the mountains yet sullied by tacky tourism is Helen, Georgia. Helen has several similarities to Cherokee in the sense that it is surrounded by history and exhilarating natural beauty, but instead of ’50s kitsch and a casino, Helen’s cheesy attraction is a faux Alpine village.
Airbrush T-shirt shops, funnel cake establishments, and souvenir trinket stores line the main drag in Helen, and most of them have Alpine puns or misplaced umlauts in their names. On any given warm weekend, the streets crawl with tourists, and of course, the city hosts a huge Oktoberfest every fall.
My family ventures to the area every summer to camp, tube, and visit some of the more interesting sites in the Northeast Georgia mountains. We might make an appearance in Helen, but it’s not worth spending more than an hour or so in the city center, and it’s certainly not worth the hype that surrounds the Alpine Village in Helen.
7. Knoxville, TN
There are plenty of beautiful places in Tennessee – and then there’s Knoxville. For some inexplicable reason, the organizers of the 1982 World’s Fair picked Knoxville, and the fair turned a profit of $57, while leaving the city $46 million in debt.
Knoxville is not a particularly beautiful city – it has always reminded me of a Midwestern industrial town rather than a Southern city. The University of Tennessee is there, but Knoxville doesn’t have a college town vibe like Oxford, Mississippi, or Athens, Georgia, does.
It’s telling that all the tourism ads I’ve seen highlight the environs of Knoxville far more than the city itself. Knoxville has made quite a few lists as a great place to live, but I don’t think I’d want to visit there again.
6. Stone Mountain Park, Stone Mountain, GA
On the east side of metro Atlanta sits a monument you can’t miss. Stone Mountain, a massive quartz monzonite rock, juts 825 feet above the surrounding area. The state of Georgia owns the mountain, and the park surrounding it was once a state park but is now privately run.
Stone Mountain offers beautiful views from its summit, and the Confederate Memorial Carving strikes a unique form on the side of the mountain. The park provides tours of a beautiful Antebellum plantation as well. But Stone Mountain’s claim to fame is its laser show, which runs nightly from March to October.
People from all over the world flock to see the laser show. Yet many of the elements of the show have remained unchanged for over three decades. The show itself is no great shakes, and it’s certainly not worth navigating through the crowds gathering or the traffic afterwards.
It’s quite a shame that a striking place so full of history has been reduced to the canvas for a demonstration of cheesy laser and projection effects.
5. Biloxi, MS
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has its share of quaint, quiet beach towns, but one city along that coast has grown into a major tourist destination, courtesy of the gambling industry, which has also unfortunately led Biloxi to become overrated.
Biloxi was a sleepy beach and military town until the gambling boom of the 1990s. Now, no fewer than nine casinos line the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, making the city a hive of seniors in tour buses hitting the slot machines by the hundreds.
Honestly, Biloxi doesn’t have much to distinguish it from other Gulf Coastal towns other than the casinos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when your city relies so heavily on the gambling industry to gain an edge on other towns, it’s destined to be overrated.
4. Buckhead, Atlanta, GA
Atlanta is one of the most sophisticated cities in the South, and visitors can find plenty of unique experiences all over the metro area. Yet, for some reason, everyone seems to think that the trendy Buckhead area is where all of Atlanta’s excitement lies.
This part of Atlanta started out as the place where you could find the most ritzy homes and neighborhoods. Then the malls came. Then the clubs came. Now Buckhead feels far more like a glorified entertainment district than anything else. Macy’s (formerly Rich’s –and I’ll still call it Rich’s from time to time) even moved the Great Tree at Christmastime from downtown to Buckhead’s Lenox Square Mall.
If you really want to experience Atlanta’s uniqueness, try other neighborhoods like Midtown (just south of Buckhead) and Little Five Points –or do what the natives do and enjoy the suburbs.
3. Panama City Beach, FL
Panama City Beach has earned the nickname “Redneck Riviera” for good reasons. And like most other beach towns, it maintains a dedicated following – I know plenty of families who vacation there year after year and won’t go anywhere else. That’s all well and good, but unless you’re a teenager on spring break, you can do so much better than Panama City.
PCB seems to waver between wanting to be a party town and wanting to be family friendly. We used to take our youth group from church to a conference there at a resort literally next door to the infamous Club La Vela.
The beaches and streets are always crowded – usually with rowdy teens and college kids – and every time I’ve ever been, the water was nasty with seaweed. I can think of several beaches I’d rather visit than the Redneck Riviera any day!
2. Miami, FL
Most people think of Miami as a party town – beautiful people, exciting nightlife … it’s a hedonistic paradise. Unfortunately, that party atmosphere carries with it a reputation for vanity.
I’ve read in several places that the residents of the trendier areas judge everyone on their clothing and accessories and that the culture of vanity compares greatly to Los Angeles. That sort of nightlife only appeals to so many tourists, yet that’s the very notoriety Miami seems to desire.
Miami might not have made this list if it weren’t for the sybaritic vibe it appears to cultivate and promote. The city has more to offer than nightlife, but you wouldn’t know it for all the hype surrounding the party scene. That’s a shame for people who aren’t looking for a club crawl.
1. Asheville, NC
Asheville sounds appealing, doesn’t it? A cosmopolitan – but not too small – city nestled in the mountains with a thriving cultural scene and plenty of natural beauty around it. The tourism ads with the annoying hand drum ringtone lead you to believe that all these beautiful sites are just steps away from the city center.
What the ads don’t tell you is that Asheville is more than a funky city in the mountains – it’s also a hipster mecca. The area is full of residents who play along with every hipster cliché and Leftist cause of the week – and they don’t want you there. You’ll find all sorts of reports on the web of tourists treated rudely by locals. One writer says, “They just don’t seem to be very happy that you’re there, unless you happen to fit a certain mold.”
I’ve heard people refer to Asheville as “the Portland of the Southeast,” which should be enough to keep you away.