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Big cities have plenty to offer, with the excitement of the hustle and bustle, world-class cuisine that can be enjoyed any time of the day or night, endless shopping, museums, and more. But small towns provide plenty of appeal as well. In fact, many offer just as much when it comes to culture and historical attractions, often with a more laid-back atmosphere and friendly, welcoming people. If you’d like to explore the most charming, the top picks in every state from Magnolia Springs, Alabama to Buffalo, Wyoming just might be the inspiration for your next trip.
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Nestled along the Magnolia River in southern Alabama, just a short drive from the beautiful beaches in Gulf Shores, most people simply pass through Magnolia Springs on their way to soak up the sun and the sand, but it’s well worth a visit of its own. Originally named Magnolia Plantation, its name was changed due to the abundance of magnolias and natural springs. It’s often called the state’s prettiest town, with many homes that have magnolia trees planted in the yards while historic buildings add to the appeal. While you’re here, be sure to dine at the famous Jesse’s Restaurant, a steakhouse that also offers seafood fresh from Gulf waters down the road.
Located at the southern tip of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is a historic fishing village with a picturesque harbor where salmon frequently leap out of the water, surrounded by a setting that includes sparkling lakes, streams, waterfalls, and dense forest. Right in town one can explore a wealth of fun shops, dine at outstanding eateries serving fresh fish and seafood, delve into an award-winning arts scene, and enjoy live music and theater. Opportunities for outdoor adventure are endless, with everything from whale watching tours and fishing charters to zip-lining through towering trees over salmon streams, flightseeing over the Misty Fjords, and hiking to the top of Deer Mountain.
The coolest and quirkiest town in Arizona has to be Bisbee. It’s surrounded by natural beauty, has a fascinating history and fantastic street art. A mining town turned funky artist haven, it sits a mile high in the Mule Mountains not far from the Mexican border, with streets that are lined with Victorian-era homes and buildings nestled precariously on the steep hillsides.
Founded in 1879 as a spa town, Eureka Springs is a picturesque town in the Ozarks that was built into steep hillsides, surrounded by more than 60 natural springs. It’s often acclaimed for its arts scene with a vibrant community of independent art galleries while the downtown area is a historic district filled with magnificent Victorian architecture.
Located in California’s Gold Country, Murphys is known as the “Queen of the Sierras.” One of the most charming towns in California, it boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, enticing eateries, independent shops and boutiques, with a shamrock painted on the pavement revealing its Irish roots. You’ll find intriguing historic sites from its Gold Rush days and all sorts of opportunities for outdoor adventure nearby, including caves that can be explored, scenic hikes, and zip-line rides.
Often considered one of the most picturesque towns in Colorado, Telluride is bordered on three sides by 14,000-feet-high mountain peaks, tucked into a box canyon in southwestern Colorado. A former silver mining town, it was the first in the world to have electric street lights yet it feels like stepping back in time while strolling the historic district with its Greek Revival and Victorian architecture, minus neon signs, billboards, or even stoplights.
If you’ve ever watched “The Gilmore Girls,” Essex will be familiar as it serves as Stars Hollow in the show. Its charms include many historic buildings, including the Egyptian Revival First Baptist Church of Essex, one of just three in the entire country. Visitors can also enjoy a ride on the old-fashioned Essex Stream Train, a scenic waterfront, and opportunities to play on the Long Island Sound or Connecticut River.
A tranquil beach town with a boardwalk, Bethany Beach offers a mile-long stretch of sand and a boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Explore the old-fashioned atmosphere, enjoy Monday night movies on the beach and live music during the fabulous summer concert series. Kick back and relax at one the oceanfront vacation rentals for a serene getaway.
Just off the coast of Cape Coral, Matlacha is located on a tiny land between Pine Island and Pine Island. A waterfront community of fishermen and artisans, it boasts unique homes and buildings painted in a palette of bold colors. A beautiful town in Florida, Matlacha has an enchanting atmosphere minus the gated retirement communities, high-rise condos, and crowds. There’s plenty of fresh seafood to be found along with history and art to explore.
Helen is a recreation of a Bavarian alpine village located in northern Georgia. All of its downtown buildings are built Bavarian style, including restaurants that serve tasty authentic German cuisine. As a former mining town, visitors can test their luck at panning for gold at Outpost Gold & Gem Mining Co. while the surrounding area offers vineyards for wine tasting and recreational activities like hiking and tubing. Cozy cabin rentals in Helen offer a nature retreat.
Hawi is located on the northern point of the Big Island, providing a tranquil haven that’s best known as the bicycle turnaround for the annual IRONMAN™ World Championship. But it’s also a hub for artists with some fabulous eclectic shops selling artisanal products, including handcrafted jewelry. There are organic food markets, outstanding local eateries, and a candy and ice cream shop that turns into a kava bar at night. Plus, a stay or visit here will put you just minutes from one of the most spectacular spots on the island: Waipio Valley.
The historic mining town of Wallace lies halfway between two ski and recreation areas in northern Idaho’s stunning Silver Valley. One of the best places to visit in Idaho, the spectacular surrounding mountains make it a popular base for outdoor adventure, but it’s a joy to return to afterward with its many historic buildings – each one is on the National Register of Historic Places, housing shops, restaurants, bars, museums, and hotels.
One of the best small towns in the Midwest, Galena offers a trip back in time with historic buildings that date from the pre-Civil War era. There’s lots of history to explore, including museums, the Ulysses S. Grant Home, and even ghost tours if you’re hoping to glimpse some of the residents from the past that might still be lingering. You’ll find unique mom-and-pop shops, tasty eateries, and quaint inns and B&Bs. Plus, it hosts some fun events to plan a visit around, including the Great Galena Balloon Race and the Midwest Garlic Fest.
Located in the heart of Indiana’s Amish Country, Shipshewana is particularly charming and also offers the chance to learn more about the Amish. There’s a museum focused on both the Amish and Mennonites while visitors can take buggy rides to get a glimpse of the lifestyle. Historic buildings are home to aromatic bakeries, craft shops, furniture workshops, art galleries, and restaurants with menus featuring Amish dishes.
Originally settled by Dutch immigrants, Pella has an interesting history that includes being the place where Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp grew up. A top Iowa getaway, it still has quite a bit of Dutch flavor, including Dutch treats that can be enjoyed at Jaarsma Bakery, a historic windmill, and even a picturesque canal. It also hosts an annual Tulip Festival in the spring that’s worth planning your visit around.
Once considered to be the wildest town in the Wild West, with a cast of colorful characters, including gamblers, cowboys, and prostitutes, Dodge City offers plenty of historic charms. Boot Hill Museum focuses on its heritage with entertaining historical exhibits, and there are trolley tours of historic sites, along with mock gunfights complete with costumed cowboys. Grabbing a drink in one of the saloons is a great way to soak up the atmosphere.
Paducah is a mecca for quilters and other fiber-based artists as well as being a scenic town in Kentucky with a location along the banks of the Tennessee and the Ohio rivers. Avid quilters can enjoy the National Quilt Museum while history buffs will enjoy exploring the 20 downtown blocks that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places with fine examples of 19th-century architecture. Lower Town, the oldest neighborhood, is an artsy district with unique boutiques, antique stores, and local indie art galleries. After dark, enjoy live music, theater, independent film, or improvisational comedy.
One of the best places to visit in Lousiana, Natchitoches is a small university town with a 33-city-block area. It’s been designated as a National Historic Landmark with buildings in Queen Anne, Spanish Revival, Art Deco, Federal, Victorian, and French Creole architectural styles. Front Street is paved with cobblestones while store facades feature wrought iron decor giving it an old-world feel. The grand mansions and elegant townhomes overlooking Cane River Lake might look familiar as they were used in the filming of 1989’s “Steel Magnolias.”
The jewel of Maine’s coast, Camden is a small seaside down with sailboats filling Penobscot Bay while waterfront seafood eateries beckon. It’s enjoyable just to wander through the High Street Historic District with its classic New England architecture, but you’ll find ways to get active too, including hikes in Camden Hills State Park. Not surprisingly, it’s been the setting for several films, including 2001’s “In the Bedroom” and the 1957 drama, “Peyton Place.”
Berlin was named Budget Travel‘s “Coolest Small Town in America,” and we agree that it has loads of appeal. A stroll down Main Street with its historic buildings is worth bringing a camera for and you’ll find some fabulous venues for a cold brew, glass of wine, or a delicious meal. Nearby, the Assateague Island National Seashore offers sandy beaches, coastal bays, forests, and a community of wild ponies.
Oak Bluffs sits along the northeastern shore of Martha’s Vineyard, characterized by its unique, vibrantly colored gingerbread cottages that give the town a storybook feel. It’s also famous for the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest in the country that’s been spinning since 1876. One can easily walk off the ferry and spend the day on foot exploring it and visiting the beaches that face Vineyard Sound. With minimal surf on most days, the water is ideal for wading or swimming.
Marquette is an Upper Peninsula town with a rich history and attractive downtown although the surrounding scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventure are the biggest draw. There are many picturesque lighthouses, some 300 miles of forest, waterfalls, and countless trails for hiking and biking. The Harlow Lake Recreational Area is a great place for a picnic with a postcard-perfect lake view. If you visit in autumn, you’ll enjoy it framed by brilliant gold, orange, and red hues.
Winona boasts an 11-block downtown area filled with 19th-century buildings on the National Register of Historic District. America’s stained glass capital, check out the Winona National Bank with its magnificent stained glass and the Polish-designed Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka. During the warmer months take in a view of the town while on a river cruise, or get out on Lake Winona and paddle around in a canoe or kayak. Lake Park that lies along it has a beach, trails for walking and biking, a rose garden, and a disc golf course.
Located midway between Vicksburg and Natchez, the small town of Port Gibson offers spectacular beauty and a rich history to explore. In fact, its looks are what led General Grant to spare it during the Civil War, claiming it was “too beautiful to burn.” Although this charming Mississippi town is best known for the Windsor Ruins, you’ll find impressive historic architecture, old-fashioned storefronts, battlefields, and historically significant Civil War sites.
Best known for its connection to Mark Twain, in Hannibal visitors can tour Twain’s boyhood home, join a sightseeing cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat, and visit the Mark Twain Cave and Cave Hollow Winery. There are plenty of non-Twain attractions too like the Molly Brown Birthplace Museum, Hannibal History Museum, Big River Train Town & Museum, the historic Rockcliffe Mansion, and the Sawyer’s Creek Family Fun Park. Haunted Hannibal’s Ghost Tours are popular among those with an interest in the paranormal.
Set along the shores of beautiful Whitefish Lake in Flathead County, Whitefish is an outdoor adventure hub that was named one of the Top 25 Ski Towns in the World by National Geographic. Affordable skiing with awe-inspiring views can be enjoyed at Whtie Mountain Resort but when the snow has melted, there are opportunities for scenic hikes, bike rides, and boating. Afterward, you’ll find numerous opportunities for outstanding dining along with a live professional theater.
Ogallala was originally a wild cowtown and today visitors can explore its past by checking out the Great Western Trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Pony Express Trail in Tri-Trails Park where they all intersected. There are can-can shows at the Front Street Steakhouse, and Boot Hill is an early cemetery where one can see the graves of unlucky cowboys who died at the end of the trail during the Texas cattle drive era and were buried with their boots. Nearby there are white sand beaches and watersports to enjoy at Lake McConaughy.
Home to one of the largest historical districts in the country, the discovery of the Comstock Lode in the late 19th-century made Virginia City a booming metropolis with over 25,000 residents. Visiting today you’ll find a unique and authentic Wild West town that’s like walking back through time. In one of Nevada’s most charming small towns, you’ll find authentic boardwalk sidewalks, Old West saloons, and opportunities to join mine tours or embark on a historic train ride.
Hancock is a small town in southern New Hampshire that provides a veritable time machine into the past. The majority of buildings lining its main street are on the National Registry of Historic places, with the 1820 meeting house, known as one of the best Federal-style churches in the state, serving as its hub. The meeting house hosts an authentic Revere & Son’s bell, which chimes on the hour, day and night.
The oldest seaside resort town in the country and a National Historic Landmark, Cape May is a popular destination for a beach getaway. Visitors can enjoy swimming, surfing, kayaking, and sunbathing at places like The Cove and Sunset Beach. It’s also a great spot for taking in local entertainment, art shows, and sampling tasty craft brews.
Nestled in the remote southwest corner of New Mexico, Silver City is a high-country gateway to the beautiful Gila Wilderness and a popular base for soaking in the area’s geothermal hot springs or exploring the famous Gila Cliff Dwellings. In the town itself, you’ll enjoy its Old West charms and a historic district with eateries that serve eclectic fare, coffee houses with a fun bohemian vibe, and the Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery, which has a tasting room and tavern producing house-crafted beers and spirits.
A popular escape in New York, Hudson offers picturesque views of the Hudson River and a charming downtown area with lots of antique stores, boutiques, and shops selling artisan goods. It also boasts a fantastic culinary scene with many farm-to-table eateries while history buffs can visit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Just a few miles away across the river, it includes the home and the studio of painter Thomas Cole while offering breathtaking mountain views from the porch.
Named after American explorer Daniel Boone, Boone is steeped in history while nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains providing scenic views and opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, biking, and walks across the High Swinging Bridge to Grandfather Mountain. In Daniel Boone Park, the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum recreates 1700s homestead life. The lively downtown is home to Mast General Store’s Old Boone Mercantile, a 1913 emporium that adds lots of charm with creaky wooden floors, a candy barrel, and a variety of goods, including old-time housewares and quality outdoor gear. You’ll find art to explore and plenty of venues for enjoying a cold brew or a glass of wine with a tasty meal too.
Located where the Badlands meet the Great Plains, Medora is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its tranquil prairies, painted canyons, and abundant wildlife like bison and prairie dogs. The town itself is home to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Harold Schafer Heritage Center, and the famous Pitchfork Steak Fondue, offering an interactive dining experience that includes a unique dish served by chefs in cowboy hats.
The small town of Yellow Springs was named for a nearby spring that’s rich in minerals. Called a “post-utopian bubble in the middle of Ohio” by Matador Network, a publication that named it the coolest small town in the country, it was founded as a utopian community in 1825. While it’s no longer a commune, residents here are still open-minded and the community is dedicated to harmony between people from all walks of life. It has the largest LGBTQ+ population of any town in Ohio along with eye-catching architecture, a brewery, and an art-centric pizza joint.
Pawnee is located in a lush, hilly region of Oklahoma, best known as the home to the showplace of world-famous Wild West Show entertainer Gordon William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie. Visitors can enjoy attractions at the Pawnee Bill Ranch, which sits across 500 acres and includes the Lillie family’s 14-room mansion. Completely furnished with its original belongings, including family memorabilia, photos, and original artwork. A museum features exhibits related to the Pawnees and their shows, while the grounds feature the ranch’s original blacksmith shop, a 1903 log cabin, a large barn, and some 40 buffalo. A large Dick Tracy mural in town reveals that this was also the hometown of Chester Gould, the creator of the comic strip.
One of Oregon’s most picturesque towns, the tiny village of Yachats sits at the foot of Cape Perpetua on the northern coast, which is one of the world’s most breathtaking coastlines. It’s a great place to explore tide pools and watch for migrating whales, but it’s most famous for Thor’s Well, a gaping sinkhole and natural wonder in the sea that never seems to fill despite the continuous water that drains into it. Especially impressive at high tide, or during storms when waves violently wash over the rocks before falling back through the hole, it makes an ideal photo-op for your Instagram feed.
Lititz is a small town gem in Pennsylvania with lots to offer, including a lively downtown and gorgeous neighborhoods with historic homes and buildings dating back to the time of its original settlement in the 1720s. Learn more about its history at the Lititz Historical Foundation & Museum. Many visitors come to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and lessons in pretzel twisting, as this was the country’s very first commercial pretzel bakery. When your sweet tooth is calling, head to Wilbur Chocolate, famous for its delectable treats.
The only town on Block Island, New Shoreham’s ferry dock is right in the center making it easy to hop off and explore shops and restaurants. Enjoy a lazy day sipping your favorite beverage while people watching, head to one of the beaches for a swim, or climb to the top of Mohegan Bluffs for an awe-inspiring ocean view. There are lighthouses to visit for the quintessential New England experience too, including the Southeast Lighthouse and North Lighthouse where you can learn about the local maritime history.
One of the oldest towns in South Carolina, Southern Living Magazine voted Beaufort the “Small Town We Love” and it’s often named among the most charming places in the country with inland rivers that meet the sea, a historic downtown with waterfront eateries, and the Spanish Moss Trail. There are walking tours for exploring the area, tranquil streets with live oak trees and antebellum mansions, dolphin-watching cruises, and restaurants serving sea-to-table cuisine.
Tucked into the Black Hills, Deadwood is one of the country’s most famous Old West towns. It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery while its historic streets are lined with homes and buildings dating from its early days. In the 1870s, thousands arrived hoping to strike it rich or make money off those who did. There are many historic attractions and visitors can still see the hand that Wild Bill Hickok was playing when he was shot in the back by Jack McCall during a poker game in the summer of ’76. Discover the interesting exhibits at Adams Museum, pan for gold at the Broken Boot Gold Mine, and watch old-fashioned shootouts, with a cast of talented entertainers reenacting historic events on Main Street throughout the summer months.
A small town that’s big on charms, Jonesborough is just west of the Cherokee National Forest near Johnson City. It has a picturesque tree-lined downtown with a main street that’s lined with historic red brick buildings that house shops, cafes, restaurants, and more. You’ll also find plenty of ways to enjoy the arts, including the repertory theater, the McKinney Center, and Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts. Plus, Jimmy Neil Smith Park offers serene paths for strolling.
Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is famous for its surrounding landscape that’s bursting with colorful wildflowers in the spring. One of the most popular small towns in Texas for a reason, its historic district reveals its impressive heritage while offering opportunities for wine tasting, shopping, dining, and more. It has lots of German influence, complete with the Altdorf Biergarten and the Auslander serving tasty German foods. Visitors can also tour and enjoy samples at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company.
Lying along the southern border between St. George and Lake Powell, Kanab bills itself as a “western classic” and it lives up to the name, set against the dramatic backdrop of red rock. Hollywood fell in love with the surrounding landscape which has been featured in more than 100 films and TV shows, with its heritage revealed at the Frontier Movie Town & Museum which features old movie sets. The town also makes a great base for exploring unique rock formations and ruins while enjoying outdoor adventures like hiking, horseback riding, rafting, and 4-wheeling.
Set along the banks of the Ottauquechee River, Woodstock overflows with charm and is often considered one of the most picturesque towns in New England. Beautiful in every season, autumn brings brilliant color to its winding streets, quintessential covered bridge, picturesque parks, old country farms, and restored Greek Revival, Federal and Georgian homes. During the winter it becomes a magical snow globe as a postcard-perfect Christmas town.
Culpeper is filled with Victorian- and colonial-era homes, antique shops, art galleries, and retailers that sell one-of-a-kind items and handcrafted goods. You’ll find world-class restaurants and classic diners for fueling your exploits, and if you like wine, Main Street even hosts wineries, along with the only legal moonshine distillery in the state, Belmont Farm Distillery. There’s plenty of rich history to explore at the Museum of Culpeper History, battlefields, and numerous other sites too.
A historic waterfront town in the Skagit Valley, La Conner is renowned for its annual tulip festival but there are many other reasons to visit. While it’s home to a population of under a thousand, it’s jam-packed with things to do. Enjoy everything from numerous art galleries and notable museums like the Museum of Northwest Art and the Skagit County Historical Museum to culinary hot spots and venues for wine tasting. Incredibly scenic, discover endless photo-ops, including views of the Swinomish Channel. On a clear day by walking across the Rainbow Bridge you can get a great shot of soaring Mount Baker.
White Sulphur Springs traces its origins to the 1770s when a woman’s arthritis was said to be miraculously cured after bathing in the local springs. A resort was established, and ever since presidents, royalty, celebrities, and the general public have been coming to enjoy the healing waters. The luxurious Greenbrier Resort is now an iconic landmark, here for nearly 250 years, providing striking manmade beauty while the gorgeous surrounds are popular for activities like hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing.
Located along the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, Osceola is famous for its falls, with Cascade Falls flowing in the heart of the town, providing beauty while supporting the local mill and brewery. Established in the mid-19th-century, the buildings downtown date to 1880 providing historic charms while housing shops that are fun to browse. Visitors can also hop on a historic train, riding in a vintage car via the Osceola & St. Crois Valley Railway that travels 20 miles along the sandstone bluffs of the St. Croix River.
Historic Buffalo is tucked into the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming, surrounded by magnificent scenery. The downtown district is appealing too, with historic buildings like the nearly 140-year-old Occidental Hotel which has housed many notable guests over the years like Butch Cassidy and President Teddy Roosevelt. At the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum view more than 15,000 artifacts from the American Old West. Nearby, there are opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing, skiing, and more.