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In a win for the Hill Country, Fredericksburg was the only Texas town to make the top 10 best small towns in Southern Living’s seventh annual South’s Best Awards. In the Alabama-headquartered magazine’s upcoming April issue, they tabulated the top 50 best Southern small towns, cities, hotels, state parks, and barbecue restaurants.

In the past, Fredericksburg has earned praise for being one of the best Texas towns for retirees. In last year's 2022 South's Best Awards, Fredericksburg ranked as the No. 4 best small town and San Antonio was named one of the best family getaways.

"In a year when more people than ever are traveling and moving to the South, we wanted to put a spotlight on small towns in this year's South's Best Awards,” declared Sid Evans, the editor in chief of Southern Living in a release. “These are the hidden gems our readers picked for their character, charm, and unmistakable southerness.”

St. Augustine, Florida was named the No. 1 best southern small town, with Beaufort, South Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee coming in at No. 2 and No. 3. Other cities on the best small towns list hail from Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama.

The top 10 out of 50 Best Small Towns include:

  • No. 1 – St. Augustine, Florida
  • No. 2 – Beaufort, South Carolina
  • No. 3 – Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • No. 4 – Dahlonega, Georgia
  • No. 5 – Blowing Rock, North Carolina
  • No. 6 – Fairhope, Alabama
  • No. 7 – Tybee Island, Georgia
  • No. 8 – Sanibel, Florida
  • No 9 – Folly Beach, South Carolina
  • No 10 – Fredericksburg

Texas' capital city also earned some impressive recognition as one of the best southern cities overall, according to Southern Living's rankings. We already know Austin is one of the best cities for entrepreneurs, filmmakers, family-friendly vacations, remote workers, and retirees.

Austin ranked No. 10 in the South’s Best Cities list, with cities in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee ranking higher than the Lone Star State. Charleston, South Carolina was ranked the South’s best city, with Savannah, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina respectively ranked in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.

Featured on the magazine’s first-ever celebrity cover is Hoda Kotb, an NBC Today co-anchor. The cover spotlights her connection to New Orleans, which was ranked the No. 6 best southern city.

Evans shared his excitement to have Kotb share her “longtime connection” to Louisiana’s most famous city.

“This whole issue is about the places we love, and in Hoda's case, the city clearly loves her back,” he said.

The top 10 South’s Best Cities list includes:

  • No. 1 – Charleston, South Carolina
  • No. 2 – Savannah, Georgia
  • No. 3 – Asheville, North Carolina
  • No. 4 – Atlanta
  • No. 5 – Nashville
  • No. 6 – New Orleans
  • No. 7 – Greenville, South Carolina
  • No. 8 – Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • No. 9 – Alpharetta, Georgia
  • No. 10 – Austin

In the category for the best barbecue by state, Austin’s own Franklin Barbecue was declared the best in Texas.

Southern Living’s Top Barbecue by state rankings are:

  • Alabama – Saw’s BBQ in Birmingham
  • Arkansas – Wright’s Barbecue in Fayetteville
  • Florida – Tropical Smokehouse in West Palm Beach
  • Georgia – Fox Brother’s Bar-B-Que in Atlanta
  • Kentucky – Moonlite Bar-B-B Inn in Owensboro
  • Louisiana – The Joint in New Orleans
  • Mississippi – The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs
  • North Carolina – Lexington Barbecue in Lexington
  • Oklahoma – Leo’s BBQ in Oklahoma City
  • South Carolina – Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston
  • Tennessee – Peg Leg Porker in Nashville
  • Texas – Franklin Barbecue in Austin
  • Virginia – Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que in Williamsburg
  • West Virginia – Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill in Charleston

Southern Living’s April issue goes on sale March 17.

The full list of Southern Living’s survey and its methodology can be found on SouthernLiving.com.

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Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is ridiculous and fun at the same time

Movie Review

The Transformers series has been one marked by near universal derision by the critics and (mostly) massive box office, highlighting the divide between those who watch movies for a living and those who just go for fun. Given that history, it seemed unlikely that the latest film, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, would unite the two factions.

Like the last film, Bumblebee, Rise of the Beasts is a prequel to the Transformers films directed by Michael Bay from 2007-2017 (Bay remains as a producer). Set in 1994, it features a way-too-complicated story involving something called the Transwarp device prized by three separate groups of Transformers: The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen); the Maximals, animal-esque bots led by Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman); and the Terrorbots, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage). One guess as to which of those groups is the evil one.

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is a former soldier in Manhattan who can’t find a job and tries his best to take care of his sickly brother, Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) works at a museum on Ellis Island, where she encounters an artifact with unusual markings. Through a series of unlikely but still fun events, both of them are dragged into the conflict between the Transformers, with nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. and written by a team of five writers, the film is as ridiculous as any of the previous iterations, and yet somehow it becomes the most entertaining entry yet. Some of this has to do with the human characters, who are given engaging scenes outside of the ones with Transformers, allowing them to be relatable instead of just pawns in the robot battles.

The trifecta of Transformer groups turn out to be actually interesting, rather than an excuse to fill the screen with CGI nonsense. The Autobots, as usual, are the main heroes, and with Bumblebee using movie quotes to talk and Mirage (Pete Davidson) lobbing wisecracks constantly, they’re rarely unentertaining. Having the animal-like Maximals on board gives a new dimension, and the seemingly unstoppable Scourge makes for an intimidating villain.

That’s not to say, of course, that the film doesn’t devolve into chaos on multiple occasions. Several of the battles, including the final sequence, seem designed to be almost incomprehensible. But Caple and the visual effects team appear to have understood that clarity makes for a better moviegoing experience, and so even as bedlam reigns, there’s a level of focus to the film that other films in the series have not had.

Even though his character isn’t fully fleshed out, Ramos brings a kind of streetwise energy to the role that makes him stand out. Fishback is not given as much to do, but she’s still highly enjoyable. Cullen, who’s been voicing Optimus Prime since the 1980s, is still a commanding presence, allowing Davidson, Michelle Yeoh, Perlman, and more to bring their own unique flair to their characters.

It may be a low bar to jump, but Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the best film so far in the series, cracking the code of pairing humans with robots for a (semi)intelligible story. A late movie teaser will have fans geeking out over the future, but it’s best to enjoy this film for being as good as it is.


Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in theaters on June 9.

San Antonio had the 3rd largest population increase in the U.S., new Census report says


We already know things are changing in Texas at large, but how about San Antonio? Now, six out of the 15 most populous cities in the United States are in the Lone Star State, and the Alamo City had one of the largest numeric population increases in the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest findings add more validity to reports that less people are interested in living in the city proper, and are seeking residence in the suburbs.

San Antonio added nearly 18,900 new residents between July 2021 to July 2022, bringing the city's total population to nearly 1,473,000. That put San Antonio at No. 3 on the list of numerical increases (as opposed to proportional growth). For scale, the report lists Austin at 1.0 million. Fort Worth took the top spot with its gain of 19,170 residents, and Phoenix, Arizona earned No. 2 after adding 19,053 to its population count.

The top 10 cities with the largest numeric population increases are:

  • No. 1 – Fort Worth, Texas
  • No. 2 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 3 – San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 4 – Seattle, Washington
  • No. 5 – Charlotte, North Carolina
  • No. 6 – Jacksonville, Florida
  • No. 7 – Port St. Lucie, Florida
  • No. 8 – Cape Coral, Florida
  • No. 9 – Houston, Texas
  • No. 10 – Georgetown, Texas

New Braunfels also earned a nod in the report for being the No. 13 fastest growing city in 2022, and crossing the 100,000 population threshold. The city grew by 5.7 percent, adding up to 104,707 residents.

In an overall analysis of the 15 largest American cities in 2022, San Antonio ranked No. 7. Houston was the only Texas city that ranked higher at No. 4 with its population of over 2.3 million people. Dallas came in at No. 9 with a population of just under 1.3 million, and Austin barely made it into the top 10 with a population of 974,447 residents. Fort Worth ranked outside the top 10 at No. 13, with a population of 956,709.

The top 10 most populous American cities are:

  • No. 1 – New York City, New York
  • No. 2 – Los Angeles, California
  • No. 3 – Chicago, Illinois
  • No. 4 – Houston, Texas
  • No. 5 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 6 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • No. 7 – San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 8 – San Diego, California
  • No. 9 – Dallas, Texas
  • No. 10 – Austin, Texas

The report additionally discovered that housing inventory skyrocketed by 1.6 million units between 2021 and 2022. Texas had the third fastest housing growth with a rate of 2.3 percent, versus Utah, which had the fastest growth at 3.3 percent.

San Antonio didn't make the cut in the list of the 10 most populous U.S. metro areas (as opposed to the cities, themselves), but Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranked No. 4, and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land ranked No. 5.

The full report can be found on census.gov.

The Disney Immersive Experience is now offering sensory-friendly viewings

A whole new world

The Disney Immersive Experience at Lighthouse ArtSpace San Antonio has found a way to be extra inclusive for Disney fans.

Starting on Saturday, June 17, there will be three sensory friendly viewings of the Disney Immersive Experience (you can purchase tickets for the specific sensory friendly performances here).

So what does a sensory friendly viewing entail exactly? For starters, the volume of the show is reduced for a more comfortable viewing experience for guests with special needs.

Other accommodations for the sensory friendly viewing include comfortable gallery lighting (and there will be no blackouts like there are in the regular showings), reduced guest capacity, sensitivity warnings at certain potentially agitating moments in the show, and quiet areas outside of the gallery (where the show takes place) so guests can take a break if the noise is too overwhelming.

After the first sensory friendly viewing on Saturday, June 17, the remaining two sensory friendly performances will take place on Sunday, July 16, and Sunday, August 13.

Every sensory friendly viewing will take place at 10 am. Make sure to select the correct time slot when booking tickets (the sensory friendly performances are also marked 'sensory show' on the online booking calendar.) The sensory friendly viewings are also priced exactly the same as the regular viewings.

The Disney Immersive Experience will be housed at Lighthouse ArtSpace until August 13, 2023, and tickets are still available for regular showings as well as the sensory friendly viewings.

:Inclusion is important to us with all of our offerings, but all the more so with Immersive Disney Animation, which is truly an exhibit where everyone should feel welcome," says Lighthouse Immersive producer Corey Ross via release. "These viewings reduce the sensory output of the show to offer a relaxed environment and judgment-free zone where the wonderful worlds and characters of Disney Animation Studios can be enjoyed by all.”