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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Since Asheville is a college town, it’s easy to find local art and culture exhibitions and events to explore and take part in.
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.
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 for film buffs and cyclists should participate in the Nevada City Classic pro cycling race.
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.