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Many travelers get caught up in visiting large, popular cities around the world to sightsee and explore new places. Although often overlooked, small towns often provide the greatest insights into the local culture and enable travelers to engage with locals in uncommon ways.
America was built upon small towns, and fortunately, many of them are still thriving today. From coast to coast and top to bottom, adventurous and open-minded travelers can get a taste of what it’s like to live somewhere completely different or perhaps even startlingly similar to what they’re used to. Whether you have your own car or choose to rent one, small towns are typically best explored on road trips to enjoy the sights at a slower pace. These are some of the most beautiful small towns to visit in the United States.
The state of Maine is full of picturesque small towns, and one of the finest is Camden. This town along the bay has a thriving main street that is welcoming and a joy to explore. Winters in Maine are often harsh, but this is the time of year when you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and very little traffic. But honestly, the best time of year to visit is in the fall, when the leaves transform into brightly colored ornaments hanging on the trees and the fog rolls off the bay in a mysterious fashion.
Cooperstown, New York
New Yorkers are often looking for an easy and tranquil escape from the city, and Cooperstown, New York is one of the best small towns to visit for a weekend getaway. Cooperstown is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, making it a must-see destination for any fan of this All-American pastime. Another highlight is the Ommegang Brewery, which is situated on a vineyard-like estate and offers delicious local brews both indoors and outdoors in a relaxing and refreshing environment.
The Midwest is full of charming small towns to visit, including the picture-perfect town of Holland, Michigan. Visit in the springtime to see fields of tulips in full bloom – much like the Netherlands in Europe, just closer by! Visitors travel here to see the rare windmills and shop at local stores with plenty of friendly charm. Holland is on the border of Lake Michigan, making it a perfect spot for boating and fishing. It’s also perfect for winter sports fans since there are opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, luging, hiking, and ice skating nearby.
There is an art colony in Rockport, Massachusetts that has over 30 galleries and a museum. There’s a performing arts venue that hosts shows year-round in Rockport and also a New England beach that is classically pretty. People most commonly come to this seaside town to explore the art, and it’s a great weekend getaway spot just 40 miles north of Boston. For outdoor recreation in the area, you can choose between sailing, kayaking, swimming, and diving. Meanwhile, the restaurants in town specialize in fresh, local seafood, which you can enjoy with a serene ocean view.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort almost always makes travel experts’ lists of the most charming small towns to visit in the South. The town is full of well-preserved and historic plantation homes, and enormous old trees take travelers back to another time and place. One of the oldest towns in South Carolina, it features inland rivers that meet the sea, a Spanish Moss Trail, and historic downtown with waterfront restaurants. Join a walking tour or dolphin-watching cruise, then dine on sea-to-table cuisine at a local restaurant or stroll the picturesque streets lined with live-oak trees and antebellum-style mansions.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend is a small town in Washington along the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It has a Victorian feel with a distinguished maritime history, yet a modern twist that keeps visitors on their toes. Kayaking and whale watching are popular outdoor recreation activities, and antiquing is a great activity for rainy days. An eclectic mix of artists and musicians call this townhome, and there are diverse ethnic restaurants available to sample here as well.
Chautauqua, New York
Another worthwhile town to visit in New York is Chautauqua, a small town that’s been making a big splash on the local tourism scene. Many people from outside the region haven’t heard of it, but it’s been a summertime retreat for New Yorkers for well over a century. There’s a lovely lake here that serves as the centerpiece for outdoor recreation and many historic mansions to explore and marvel at. Basically, this is a dream vacation for both history buffs and fishermen. Art lovers should make a point to catch a performance by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Opera Company, or the School of Dance.
Buckhannon, West Virginia
Buckhannon, West Virginia has put a lot of effort into revitalizing its tourism scene, and the town emerges at the intersection of history, nature, and cuisine. You can learn about local Civil War history at the Latham House and then take an exciting rafting trip down the Buckhannon River. This is also a great town to find an authentic barbecue for lunch or dinner.
The small town of Fairhope, Alabama is filled with flower-lined streets and local businesses. Located along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, it is a lovely place to visit for parks and panoramic views of Mobile Bay. It’s a charming destination where you can learn about the history and enjoy the sunsets. Many people come here for couples’ getaways and destination weddings. When you visit Fairhope, make sure to check out the art galleries, gift shops, and excellent seafood restaurants. Some recommended hot spots are the Rock Creek Golf Course, Eastern Shore Art Center, Before & After Gallery, and Fairhope Brewing Company.
People visit Sitka, Alaska for excellent hiking trails, amazing scenery, and a quaint community by the sea. This is a beautiful small town to visit if you love kayaking, fishing, and hiking while you are surrounded by native wildlife. The town is rich in Tlingit culture and Russian heritage, and it has a downtown area that is filled with art galleries, a bookstore, gift shops, and lodging. Other things to do on a trip to Sitka include attending music festivals during the summer, trying the local seafood, and checking out the historic sites. Whale watching and fishing charters are popular here, and the town is only accessible by water and air.
Key West, Florida
Key West is one of the most unique small towns in all of the United States. If you’re coming from the Miami area by car, you’ve got a beautiful drive ahead of you through the various keys until you reach the last one – Key West. This is the southernmost city in the United States, known for its beautiful beaches, outdoor adventure, and party scene. Once you get into town, pretty much everything is within walking distance, so you can shop, eat, drink, and relax to your heart’s content. Temperatures stay warm pretty much all year long, making this a perfect road for a winter getaway.
Carmel-By-The-Sea, California is a European-style village that is romantic, artsy, and naturally beautiful. There are white, sandy beaches here, as well as art performances, art galleries, and hundreds of shops. This is a top place to visit for wine enthusiasts because there are over a dozen wine-tasting rooms in the area. Dog lovers also enjoy it here because Carmel Beach is a dog-friendly beach that pups can plan on too.
You might be familiar with Breckenridge, Colorado for its massive ski and snowboard resort that draws hoards of winter sport enthusiasts each year. But even after you leave the resort, the town of Breckenridge still has lots of things to do. Breckenridge is famous for being home to the Breckenridge Brewery and lots of adorable winter-wear shops and restaurants. With a prime location in the majestic Rocky Mountains, this town is absolutely beautiful to visit during all four seasons.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
With beautiful views and a fun beach to hang out on, Cannon Beach is one of the top places to visit in the Pacific Northwest. Here you’ll find a small village by the sea and an art town that you can explore at a relaxed pace. The area is famous for the iconic Haystack Rock and for being home to the stunning scenery of Ecola State Park. There are about four miles of sandy beach area that stretches in both directions of downtown Cannon Beach. Treat yourself to oceanfront lodging during your visit to maximize your beach time.
If you’ve already visited the major cities in Texas, it’s time to take some back roads and explore tiny Texas towns along the way. One of the most unique small towns in Texas is Marfa, which is best known for its quirky and clever art installations. Marfa is a haven for artists in southwestern Texas, and one famous collection in town is held by the Chinati Foundation. The art here is often minimalist in style, and there are some eclectic and unexpected restaurants in town as well.
Nevada City, California
Most people who travel to California stick to the popular itineraries of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Napa Valley. However, there are so many small California towns that barely even resemble their more popular neighbors. One such town is Nevada City, which is totally off the beaten path. It’s about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and known for its outdoor recreation and arts scene. The Wild and Scenic Film Festival is perfect for film buffs and cyclists can participate in the Heart of Gold Gravel Ride.
Asheville, North Carolina
While you’re in the Carolinas, make a point to drive through Asheville, North Carolina, a beautiful small town just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This town enjoys lovely views of the mountains and has a lot of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. While it’s easily North Carolina’s most beautiful mountain town, Asheville is also loved for its buzzing craft beer scene, locally-owned downtown shops, and historic attractions such as the opulent Biltmore Estate.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is a unique small town in New Mexico that is filled with art, culture, music, outdoor recreation, and history. On a visit to Taos, you can visit the Taos Pueblo, the Gorge Bridge, and the ultra-sustainable Earthship community. There are lots of art museums and galleries to browse here, as well as excellent Southwest restaurants for dining. In the winter, you can go skiing or snowboarding at Taos Ski Valley, and during the other months of the year, there are lots of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and camping. There are often events and live music performances at the downtown plaza to check out as well.
Located in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, Ouray is known as the recreation capital of the state and a beautiful place to visit. It is a high alpine community that is at 7,800 feet in elevation. You’ll find steep mountainsides and jagged peaks here for dramatic views. There are trails to hike, hot springs to soak in, and a unique Main Street with shops to check out in Ouray. Camping and ice climbing are other memorable things to do on your trip. For lodging, you can find historic hotels, cozy cabins, charming bed and breakfasts, and standard motels here.
Known for its iconic red rock formations and healing, spiritual vortexes, Sedona is one of the most beautiful towns in America. A trip to Sedona can be filled with epic outdoor recreation because the town is surrounded by approximately two million acres of national forest land. There are also many highly-rated restaurants in Sedona, plus art galleries, crystal shops, and Native American cultural sites. There are also wineries in the Sedona area that offer tastings and tours. For lodging, you can camp overnight for a low-budget and outdoorsy trip, stay in a vacation rental property for a local vibe, or splurge on a fancy resort to really treat yourself.