Photograph by Jeff Greenberg, Alamy
GPS: 33°12′24″N 87°32′5″W
Some 23,000 University of Alabama coeds flood Tuscaloosa during the school year, but this west-central Alabama river town never feels overrun: It’s small-town Southern, through and through. Plan on hiking Indian ruins during the day and stuffing yourself with fresh banana pudding at night.
Once an ancient settlement of the Mississippian people, Moundville Archeological Park (+1 205 371 2234) maintains the massive mounds that were once Native American nobility's palaces. Hike the area with a park guide for a glimpse of an ancient kingdom. Tuscaloosa is also prime bass fishing territory. Head to the blackwater marshes of the Sipsey River or Lake Lurleen right outside of town. Bikers can tackle 20 miles (32 kilometers) of singletrack on nearby Oak Mountain.
On the southside of town lies a shack. Inside you'll find a roasting pit, a hickory fire, and a crowd of southerners baying for Dreamland BBQ's main menu offering: the pit barbecued ribs, an Alabama must (+1 205 758 8135).
Fall asleep to crickets chirping and an old-fashioned ceiling fan whirring, then wake up to mimosas and croissants at the Brown Byrd House B&B, a log cabin on the edge of a private lake (doubles from $150; +1 205 210 3876).