Where should I go in the South if I want to meet people and don't care about tourist spots?
March 20, 2011 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Where should I go in the South if I want to meet people and don't care about tourist spots?

I'm interested in visiting the South this Summer. I'm curious about it and interested in exploring new places and possibly moving permanently away from where I live now. So it's a vacation/exploratory visit.

I'm going to present a fantasy scenario...

I check in to a B&B and go out to a cafe to do some sketching and get a feel for the place. I strike up a conversation with a mid-30's woman sitting at the next table who has dyed black hair with purple streaks, heavy eyeliner, and those stockings with thick stripes on them. She's reading Optic Nerve. She invites me to her poetry reading that night.

If you were interested in having that kind of experience, which city would you go to? Maybe Charlotte? What about Savannah? And then where would you go in that city? Wikipedia isn't very helpful here.

I have a feeling I'm not explaining this well. I'm not saying it has to be exactly like that scenario -- it doesn't matter what color the streaks are in the woman's hair :) Or she could be reading Twilight for all I care. I'm just trying to say that I want the trip to be about meeting people rather than looking at stuff.

I have a good feeling about North Carolina. Maybe that's the place to start?
posted by eeby to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Savannah, Sentient Bean Coffee House, she probably teaches at SCAD.
posted by mareli at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2011

if you're thinking north carolina, charlotte is probably not the city you want to try. hang out in chapel hill, carrboro, durham, parts of raleigh. maybe greensboro.
posted by oog at 4:17 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or Asheville.
posted by mareli at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Asheville. Your 30 year old woman lives in Asheville, and really really really wants you to come to her poetry reading.
posted by greta simone at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, for Asheville: Just go downtown and look around and follow the purple streaks to whichever coffee shop she goes into.
posted by greta simone at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: "...she probably teaches at SCAD." Ha ha. That's great. You see what I'm getting at.

"charlotte is probably not the city you want to try."

Why not??? What's wrong with Charlotte?

Is the Asheville you mean in NC?
posted by eeby at 4:22 PM on March 20, 2011

Not sure if by "the South" you mean only the Old South (i.e. Carolinas, Georgia, etc) but Austin, TX is a great place to meet people, particularly artsy/counter-ish culture (it's hard to "rebel" against a dominantly "rebellious" culture)/young/friendly ones.
posted by telegraph at 4:28 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Seconding Durham, Asheville or Chapel Hill. Some parts of Raleigh. Probably not Charlotte.

I moved down to NC from NYC a couple months ago. Today, I had just the meeting you're hoping to have: met two amazing woman over bloody mary's at Motorco in Durham. Started chatting at 12:30 pm and didn't get home until 6 pm. People talk to you in Durham. People talk to you in Raleigh too but more because it's the "right thing to do" than because they want to.
posted by Siena at 4:28 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Asheville is terrific, and perfect for this kind of experience. It is in the western part of NC, up in the mountains. Nice artsy little town.

Charlotte has a freeway named after Billy Graham and about 18,000 megachurches. And lots of people in the banking industry. And an Ikea! Avoid.

If you are going to try this in the Greensboro area, you might actually be better off in Winston-Salem. But you should probably just skip the Triad altogether and hit Asheville or some of the funkier parts of the Chapel Hill, Carrboro area.
posted by jeoc at 4:29 PM on March 20, 2011

Austin, TX
posted by jchaw at 4:31 PM on March 20, 2011

Nthing Asheville (NC). Having lived across the mountain from it through my childhood, I can confirm that it was the only bastion of cool that I ever knew about. I bought my tied-died prom dress there and discovered Morcheeba. I have fond memories of Asheville!
posted by ukdanae at 4:31 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

something like new orleans frenchmen street? and that damn town is overflowing with awesome food
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 4:34 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: If you're looking to meet people who are part of some sort of subculture, there are really only a few places in the south to do that. You want to be in New Orleans, Austin, Asheville, or maybe Savannah.

Potentially also Chapel Hill or the big college towns like Athens, GA, or Oxford, MS? Still, most southern universities trend mainstream and culturally conservative.

Keep in mind, also, that while people will "talk to you" in a way that they won't in a big northern city, there is a HUGE difference between talking to someone and liking/respecting/wanting to know them, let alone considering them as belonging in your town. My family are considered outsiders in my hometown, basically because my grandmother was from the wrong side of the tracks and married a Yankee. Two generations later, we're still "different." Growing up, I was often asked where I was from. Even though several generations of my family were born within 100 miles.

The "bless your heart!" stereotype is very true. Just because you can take a vacation and have a nice chat in a cafe doesn't mean you would actually be accepted if you were to put down roots. This isn't to say you shouldn't move to the south, but I wouldn't decide to do so based on some fantasy about how friendly/quaint/quirky everyone is.
posted by Sara C. at 5:06 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna go out on a limb and recommend Charleston, SC.

Tons of history, friendly people, fantastic dining, and lots of places for a nice walk.
posted by Sphinx at 5:07 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Durham, you want to go to Fullsteam or maybe Toast or The Fed or Dain's depending on what the purple haired lady studies in grad school.

In Athens, you want to go to Clocked or Five Star Day or The Grit or Jittery Joe's.

I grew up in Charlotte. You do not want to go to Charlotte. Your purple haired lady is not a banker or a NASCAR fan.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:37 PM on March 20, 2011

Asheville, NC; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC. Maybe also Athens, GA, or NOLA.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:45 PM on March 20, 2011

No love for Richmond, Virginia? The former capital of the confederacy is about as Southern as you can get, and Grace Street in RVA is about as chill-out meet-new-folks as you can get.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:47 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I will throw in Wilmington, NC and Southport, NC.

NC is awesome (coming from former Mid-westerner).
posted by foxhat10 at 6:11 PM on March 20, 2011

Asheville's mostly a white hippy mountain town. It's not really classically "Southern" in the way that you're thinking. Definitely not Charlotte. Durham is awesome and it's pretty easy to meet people and get summer housing. Not Carrboro or Chapel Hill.

Part of what I'm understanding from your question is that you want to meet white artsy folks in a Southern small town. Is that about right? Because Asheville and New Orleans and Savannah and Charleston and Durham are gonna give you different kinds of folks. Of course there is some cross-over, but yeah, I wouldn't go to Asheville for any kind of introduction to Southern culture (which of course is debatable in and of itself!).
posted by barnone at 6:27 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: You want to go to Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, North Carolina. But the 30-something woman won't be asking you to her poetry reading; she'll ask you to go to the show at the Cat's Cradle that night.

If you hit the bars in town, you'd be more likely to meet early 20-something college students, and I don't think that's what you want.

Asheville is another good choice.

Also, psst, it's going to be grossly hot and humid in the summer in many of these places except Asheville. So, yeah, don't look for stockings!
posted by bluedaisy at 6:32 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Atlanta you've got the bohemian area of East Atlanta. Decatur can be kind of this way. Little Five Points and Midtown may still be this way to a degree but are more gentrified than they once were. Cabbagetown maybe.
posted by Askr at 6:39 PM on March 20, 2011

I agree that Charlotte is mostly business and suburbs, but Amelie's sounds like it would be right up your alley. Be sure to have a salted caramel brownie!

Downtown Greenville SC is another alternative.
posted by JaneL at 7:12 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Hmmm... it lost the link!


posted by JaneL at 7:13 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Asheville, yes, but keep in mind that it is a tourist hot spot. So is Charleston, my other hometown and my other recommendation. In both of them, if you want to meet locals, you might have better luck away from downtown. In Asheville, West Asheville is probably where you want to go - although if you're downtown, check out Izzy's coffee on Lexington and then possibly the Vault or definitely Bobos. I am not as up on the current Charleston scene but west Ashley seems to have a lot going on these days.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:23 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Chattanooga, TN, is a quirky southern town with not a huge art scene but personality. Athens, Ga., is another good one (home of REM and the Indigo Girls!). Asheville is good--check out its tiny suburb of Black Mountain, which is a little less young and trendy. I've heard good things about Fairhope, Alabama, across the bay from Mobile. (We're going to Mobile in a couple of weeks--it's supposed to be a mini New Orleans and I'm psyched.) For that matter, New Orleans (the French Quarter is fun and all, but you want to hit up Frenchman Street in the Marigny for a more gritty local experience, and the Garden District for a bit more upscale cafe/boutique culture). I've heard that Tallahassee, Florida, also has a decent quirk factor. Wilmington, N.C., has a budding film industry. Louisville, Ky., has a good music scene. Charlottesville, Va., is more historic and ivory tower-ish, but super beautiful and charming. Knoxville, TN, is home to UT, so you will find a gazillion undergrads, but also a lot of grad students and young faculty.

Any larger city will have a population like that--Nashville (find the Five Points area of East Nashville); Atlanta for sure (also Five Points, coincidentally). Charlotte is a bit notorious for having no culture, but this is probably unwarranted. It's a fairly corporate town, though.

Charleston and Savannah are good, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:05 PM on March 20, 2011

And then there's Florida, even further south. Check out Tampa and St. Pete, for an idea of possibilities there listen to community radio WMNF.org
posted by mareli at 8:59 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: I was in Austin, TX last month and the people there were the friendliest and chattiest I've met just about anywhere in the world (except maybe Halifax NS). Shopkeepers, people in line for restaurants, dudes at indie rock clubs, people waiting for buses. But we tend to avoid sitting near the sort of people who look like they would attend poetry readings, so YMMV.
posted by Gortuk at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2011

I haven't spent a lot of time in Tampa, but from what I know if it, it's definitely not what OP is looking for. Everyone I know who has lived there has described it as the sort of soulless corporate exurbia hellhole that folks are making Charlotte out to be.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2011

Best answer: I get that you're aiming for the quirky, artsy South but a lot of these recommendations sound like Southern cities full of Northerners trying to somehow mimic the southern living experience (of which there are actually many) Plus they are very pricey if you're thinking of moving. For cheaper, more authentically artsy places, you should check out the Fondren neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi. It's full on interesting art events and coffeehouses run by people who are actually from the state. The Satori coffeehouse in Mobile, Alabama is a trip, and a couple hours away is Pensacola, Florida which mixes a weird mix of military, Southern tourists and artsy/outdoorsy/writerly types. The co-op organic market downtown is a good place to come across notices of cultural events and classes. If you're looking more inland, Eureka Springs, Arkansas is an amazing cultural mix of gay and lesbian artists who more or less, get along with a large population of Christian evangelicals. The town is absolutely gorgeous, set in the Ozark mountains and full of quirky winding roads. Nearly everyone is making art, writing books, creating music. It's very, very tiny but packs a lot into a small space.
posted by caveatz at 10:13 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers. There is some really helpful info. I'm going to leave this open for a little while longer.

Most frequently mentioned cities so far appear to be Asheville, NC, which I'd never even heard of before; Savannah, GA; Durham, NC; and Austin, TX.

I've been to Austin a couple times. It's great. Who doesn't love Austin? I'll go back again at some point.
posted by eeby at 12:43 PM on March 21, 2011

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