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 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 U.S.
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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 that 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 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 in the area. 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.
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.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend is a town of a little over 9,000 residents 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 town home, 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 offer visitors. Breckenridge is famous for being home to the Breckenridge Brewing Company 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, 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 beaches, outdoor adventure, and party scene. Once you get into town, pretty much everything is in 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
Buckhannon, West Virginia has put a lot of effort into revitalizing its tourism scene, and the town of less than 6,000 residents 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 authentic barbecue for lunch or dinner.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort almost always makes travel experts’ lists of top small towns to visit in America. Why, you ask? The town is full of well-preserved and historic plantation homes and enormous old trees take travelers back to another time and place.
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 Smokey 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.
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 has a population of just over 3,000 residents and is totally off the beaten bath. 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 Nevada City Classic pro cycling race.
For some reason, the Midwest often gets overlooked when discussing the best small towns to visit in America. However, Holland, Michigan is definitely one of the finest in the Midwest. Visit in the springtime to see fields of tulips in full bloom – much like the country of Holland 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.