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While small towns may not have every amenity you’ll find in most big cities, they often make up for that with their big charms. The kind of place you’d might like to think about calling home. These small towns are just the right size to offer plenty to the visitor, going well beyond the usual small town chatter.
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Beaufort, South Carolina
The second oldest town in South Carolina, Beaufort is filled with character and rich history, with some magnificent historic buildings as well as boasting a wealth of historical sites. In 2012, it was even voted America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel readers. Renowned for its antebellum architecture, picturesque waterfront and mouth-watering local cuisine, including fantastic thick and spicy gumbos, you’ll find an ideal mix of southern charms and urban refinement. The walkable downtown is lined with restaurants, antique shops and art galleries, and on nearby Hunting Island, there’s a state park with over three miles of pristine beaches, considered some of the very best in all of South Carolina.
This artists’ colony sits atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and was once used as setting for the popular TV series, “Murder, She Wrote,” in which it doubled as Cabot Cove, Maine due to its New England flavor. Amid the jaw-dropping landscape that includes a rugged shoreline reminiscent of Ireland, is a downtown filled with Victorian homes, all sorts of tasty eateries, B&Bs, a museum, unique boutiques and gift shops. The wildflowers of Mendocino Headlands State Park sit at the edge of town, where quiet trails lead to secluded coves and beaches that serve as an ideal spot for watching the whales and sea lions that pass by.
The quirky, artsy town of Bisbee is one of Arizona’s most alluring towns. A cross between an artist colony and a historic copper mining town, it has a uniquely cool vibe with narrow streets lined with art galleries and funky boutiques, eateries and bars housed in some of the country’s finest vintage architecture. There are lots of interesting attractions to explore, from odd art installations and stunning murals to mining tours and historic sites. The Copper Queen Tour offers the largest and most complete tour of the state’s oldest copper mines that includes a ride on an underground train, going deep inside the mine.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend has also been named among Budget Travel‘s coolest small towns, and it’s frequently ranked by many as one of the prettiest in the nation. The streets are lined with grand Victorian buildings that host a variety of eclectic shops and a quirky arts culture, while being surrounded by water and mountains. The Northwest Maritime Center, Pope Marine Park and Jackson Tidal Park all provide spectacular views of Admiralty Bay and the craggy Olympic Mountains in the distance. Just north of downtown at Fort Worden State Park, you’ll find long, sandy beaches for strolling, more views across the Sound, trails for hiking and kayaks to rent if you want to paddle around the bay.
Nevada City, California
Nevada City is a beautifully cool road trip from Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area, nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The entire town is a historical landmark. In the mid-19th-century, it was the third largest city in the state, established in 1849 when settlers moved out west to search for gold. Today, its home to a population of around 3,000 and hosts an especially enticing historic downtown that’s surrounded by rivers and forests. The streets are lined with romantic B&Bs, classic saloons, antique shops and old-time movie theaters, and both locals and visitors can enjoy its multiple street fairs and holiday parades. It also boasts a thriving arts and music scene, with the Miners Foundry a locals’ favorite when it comes to live tunes.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
The town of Hot Springs, not surprisingly, offers the chance for a relaxing spa getaway, though you’ll find plenty of adventurous pursuits too. For centuries, Native Americans and early European settlers flocked to the area’s natural hot springs for a soak in the healing waters. Today, visitors come from across the globe to enjoy the well-preserved springs, often after a day of play out on one of the many surrounding lakes, like Lake Catherine, popular for fishing, with boat and canoe rentals available at its marina, or Lake Hamilton, a favorite for jet skiing, water skiing, tubing, fishing and boating. The town also happens to host the most music venues per capita and the third most nightlife per capita in all of Arkansas for those who want to play after dark.
This historic town was at its peak as a mining town in the latter part of the 19th century. Today, in a state filled with “cool” towns, it’s one of the coolest, offering multiple attractions from mining for sapphires and catching plays or vaudeville-style shows at the 1891 Opera House Theatre to exploring exhibits at the Granite County Museum which offers an excellent overview of silver mining operations. Learn about the area’s pioneer and homestead era history, check out old photos, real mining equipment, a real miner’s cabin and a realistic simulation of an actual mine. Granite Ghost Town, part of the Montana’s State Park System, is just a short drive away and features relics that remain from the abandoned town, like the Miner’s Union Hall and the Granite Mine Superintendent’s House.
The pretty town of Stowe has long been a popular ski destination in the Northeast, with many of the area activities revolving around the state’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield. But when the snow has melted, it’s a favorite for serene hikes and bike rides. The town itself offers plenty with its postcard-perfect setting that includes covered bridges and church steeples set against the lush Green Mountains. Visitors can stock up on wonderful made-in-Vermont items like cider donuts and maple syrup in addition to sampling delicious cuisine at the many restaurants that line Stowe’s streets. After dark, the Stowe Theatre Guild livens up summer nights with entertaining musicals.