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15 Best Small Towns for a Summer Vacation

There are many great cities that make for enticing vacation destinations in summer, with museums to explore and plenty of world-class dining and shopping. But if you’re more in the mood for a place that offers a more serene atmosphere with friendly locals, a wealth of outdoor activities, and perhaps some interesting history to explore, it might be time for a small-town escape. Whether you want to be closer to home or discover an exciting spot thousands of miles away, consider one of these towns for an unforgettable summer getaway.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Credit: Steamboat Springs, Colorado by Bigstock.com

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Steamboat Springs is surrounded by mountain peaks in northern Colorado, perhaps best known for its epic ski and snowboarding slopes, but the summer months are ideal for enjoying all sorts of warm weather activities. With a burst of color, summer brings an endless landscape of green dotted with brilliant wildflowers. This is when this Wild West town really comes alive, with visitors enjoying fly fishing, inner tube rides and rafting trips on the Yampa River, endless scenic hiking and mountain biking trails, and natural hot springs that are ideal for soothing sore muscles afterward.

Mendocino, California Mendocino, California
Credit: Mendocino, California by © Pius Lee | Dreamstime.com

Mendocino, California

There’s so many things to do and so much beauty to enjoy in Mendocino; you’d need to spend weeks or even months here to take it all in. This pretty Victorian village was established in the 1850s with streets lined with Victorian-era homes and saltbox cottages, art galleries, antique stores, independent boutiques, and a wide range of eateries. Mendocino Headlands State Park surrounds it on three sides, creating a scene that looks like a painting. There are trails that wind through wildflower-filled meadows, secluded coves, and beaches. Nearby, explore Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, embark on kayak excursions, or go wine tasting.

Cody, Wyoming Cody, Wyoming
Credit: Cody, Wyoming by City of Cody

Cody, Wyoming

One of the best destinations in Wyoming, Cody was recently named the Top Western Town in the U.S. by USA Today. It’s an hour’s drive from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, but it offers plenty of its own. Named after William F. Cody, AKA Buffalo Bill, you’ll see his image throughout as he played a key role in establishing the town. There are many museums, including the Buffalo Bill Historical Center known as the “Smithsonian of the West” which includes five themed museums cumulatively presenting one of the most informative introductions to the American West. Cody is also known as the Rodeo Capital of the World, with prestigious rodeos held throughout the year, many during the summer. At the outskirts of Cody, you’ll find the Old Trail Town, a living museum that includes 26 historic frontier buildings from the late 1800s that were salvaged and moved here from towns across Wyoming and Montana.

Ketchikan, Alaska Ketchikan, Alaska
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Ketchikan, Alaska

Located at the southern tip of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is a colorful town with a picturesque harbor, sparkling lakes, and dense forest. A myriad of outdoor recreational activities is possible in the summer, including fishing. In fact, you’ll often see huge salmon leaping out of the water as you walk by the harbor. Enjoy hikes to the top of Deer Mountain, paddling, boating, and watching the wealth of wildlife, including countless bald eagles, orcas, humpback whales, and sea lions. Ketchikan also offers an award-winning arts scene, a wealth of outstanding eateries, all sorts of shops, live music, and theater.

Portmagee, Ireland Portmagee, Ireland
Credit: Portmagee, Ireland by © David Steele | Dreamstime.com

Portmagee, Ireland

One of the most charming towns in Ireland, Portmagee is a beautiful village just off the famous Ring of Kerry on Ireland’s southwest coast. Despite the tiny population, you’ll find plenty to do here. The main street sits along the waterfront, lined with brightly painted homes and buildings that include the famous Bridge Bar, where live music, perfectly-poured Guinness, and delicious bites can be enjoyed. Just a few miles off the coast is Skellig Michael, with boat tours that will bring you to explore its preserved monastic settlements that date back to the 6th century. The island served as the film setting for the final scene in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” There are scenic trails to hike, a chocolate factory for tours and tastings, and just across from town on Valentia Island (connected by a bridge), are Tetrapod prints that are said to be the world’s most extensive of the four Devonian trackways that exist, believed to be between 350 and 370 million years old.

Cavtat, Croatia Cavtat, Croatia
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Cavtat, Croatia

Located just south of busy Dubrovnik, Cavat offers a more relaxed pace, sometimes compared to St. Tropez before the crowds. It boasts a stunning waterfront promenade that runs along the Adriatic, lined with beautiful beaches, palm trees, museums, boutiques, gift shops, and restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. The historical showpiece in town is the former Rector’s Palace which displays an impressive collection of paintings by Vlaho Bukovac, including a giant canvas depicting the Cavtat Carnival. Be sure to check out the schedule at Cavtat’s Franciscan Monastery – founded in 1484, it regularly hosts concerts in the cloister. It’s easy to explore Dubrovnik from here too, just a 20-minute taxi ride or drive away.

Port Townsend, Washington Port Townsend, Washington
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Port Townsend, Washington

A Victorian seaport town at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend is surrounded by mountains and water. A wide range of outdoor activities can be enjoyed, from hiking and biking scenic trails to kayaking and sailing. There are long, sandy beaches at Fort Worden State Park, just minutes from downtown, and it also offers history to explore as a former military fort. The downtown area is filled with century-old buildings that house art galleries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and coffee houses, while the Concerts on the Dock music series hosts a variety of local and regional bands to celebrate the summer. Lots of music can be enjoyed throughout the summer, including the Olympic Music Festival in July and August, held at Wheeler Theater in Fort Worden State Park.

Churchill - Manitoba, Canada Canadian Polar Bear walking in the colorful arctic tundra of the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba.
Credit: Canadian Polar Bear walking in the colorful arctic tundra of the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. by © Chbaum | Dreamstime.com

Churchill - Manitoba, Canada

Located at the edge of Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Churchill is famous for its polar bears, but in the summer, visitors can look forward to watching the thousands of beluga whales that inhabit the warmer waters of the Churchill River. They can easily be seen from shore, but there are both zodiac boat and kayaking tours that can bring you out for a closer look at these playful animals that look as if they’re always smiling. If you come in August (and sometimes even July), you might get to see a polar bear or two and even the northern lights once darkness falls.

Bar Harbor, Maine People gathering for Independence Day in Bar Harbor, Maine
Credit: People gathering for Independence Day in Bar Harbor, Maine by © Sphraner - Dreamstime.com

Bar Harbor, Maine

A stunning getaway on Maine’s coast, the historic resort town of Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Its downtown area is filled with spectacular Victorian-era mansions, some of which have been transformed into B&Bs and fine dining eateries. It’s very walkable and bicycle friendly, but one of the most popular things to do is to hit the trails in the park, including a route that leads to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the Atlantic coast. From there, you can take in a jaw-dropping view of Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Porcupine Islands. Kayaking and canoeing are possible too.

Livingston, Montana Livingston, Montana
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Livingston, Montana

Located just an hour’s drive north of Yellowstone National Park on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Livingston is a fun Old West town renowned for some of the world’s best trout fishing. Not only can you enjoy fly fishing and all sorts of activities in the summer, like horseback riding, hiking, and biking, but there are lots of fun festivals and events to attend. Enjoy everything from the Gallery Associated Art Walk to the Summerfest music festival and the 4th of July Rodeo. There are art museums, galleries, shops, and western apparel emporiums to explore along with western saloons that frequently host live music.

Copper Harbor, Michigan Hunters Point Park - Copper Harbor, Michigan.
Credit: Hunters Point Park - Copper Harbor, Michigan. by © Steve Lagreca | Dreamstime.com

Copper Harbor, Michigan

Located at the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, surrounded by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Superior and endless forest, Copper Harbor was named for the area’s rich history of copper mining that dates back thousands of years. The region is still one of the less-visited wild places in the continental U.S. despite its incredible scenery and opportunities for all sorts of outdoor adventure, including hiking, mountain biking, and sea kayaking. Or enjoy a relaxed sunset cruise on the Isle Royale Queen IV. The town is also the gateway to Isle Royale National Park, making it easy to explore from here via ferry.

Tofino - Vancouver Island, British Columbia Aerial view of Tofino, BC, Canada
Credit: Aerial view of Tofino, BC, Canada by © Russ Heinl - Dreamstime.com

Tofino - Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the town of Tofino is surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery with everything from ancient temperate rainforest to windswept beaches, waves ideal for surfing, and countless opportunities for wildlife viewing. It’s a popular destination for bear and whale watching, while fishing, ocean kayaking, and hiking are just a few of the popular outdoor adventures. After a day of play, you’ll even find natural hot springs to soak in.

Adairsville, Georgia Adairsville, Georgia
Credit: Adairsville, Georgia by © Gregory Henry - Dreamstime.com

Adairsville, Georgia

History buffs and foodies searching for delectable Southern flavors should consider charming Adairsville. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s just an hour from Atlanta. Enjoy friendly locals, history, and outdoor adventure. This is the first town in Georgia to be listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s home to an 1847 Railroad Depot, which now serves as the town’s welcome center. The historic district is lined with historic churches and homes, while the 1902 Stock Exchange & Public Square Opera House offers a variety of antiques and gifts.

Saint Anthony - Newfoundland, Canada St. Anthony, Newfoundland
Credit: St. Anthony, Newfoundland by © Weldon Schloneger | Dreamstime.com

Saint Anthony - Newfoundland, Canada

There are many small towns in Newfoundland that would be ideal for a summer vacation, from postcard-perfect Trinity to Rocky Harbour in Gros Morne National Park and well beyond, but if you want to explore Viking history, marvel at glistening icebergs, and watch for whales, head to Saint Anthony early in the season. Often times during the second half of June, the whales will have arrived and there are still icebergs hanging around. There are boat tours for close encounters, while Fishing Point Park offers a jaw-dropping view of the sea, a great spot for watching icebergs and whales during the season. L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, just 25 miles north, is North America’s only authenticated Viking settlement site, and nearby is Norstead, a replicated Viking port where you can try your hand at traditional Norse games, throw an ax, and sit in chieftain’s chair holding a drinking horn and sword.

Mercer County, West Virginia Mercer County, West Virginia
Credit: Mercer County, West Virginia by Visit Mercer County

Mercer County, West Virginia

Located in Southern West Virginia, Mercer County is an under-the-radar destination that you can add to your summer bucket list.  Filled with small-town charm and outdoor adventures, you’ll find plenty of activities the entire family will enjoy. Pick blueberries at Blueberry Hill, hike scenic waterfall trails in one of the many state parks, or cheer on the local team, as Mercy County has a long tradition of baseball. You can also see colorful garden displays at the Bluefield Garden Tour or get a glimpse inside the beautiful Victorian mansions on the Bramwell Tour of Homes. Best of all, Bluefield has a special tradition of serving lemonade in summer that you won’t want to miss. 

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