Visiting a big city always makes for an exciting vacation, and there’s plenty to be said for the big attractions that come along with them. But if you want to take a trip somewhere a little more low-key and relaxed, a small town is the way to go. Full of charm and whimsy, small towns across the country are a lot less crowded than a tourist trap and make for the perfect quiet break. They’re also the ideal spot to find locally owned shops and restaurants, maybe a bakery that sells the most delicious pastries you’ve ever had, or a bookstore that carries that rare book you’ve been searching for.
Of course, there are so many small towns throughout the United States that it can feel overwhelming to settle on just one. Do you want to head to a village nestled at the foot of a mountain, or do you want to go somewhere on the coast with a view of the ocean waves? Would you prefer to go somewhere close to a bustling city, or stay in the middle of nowhere? Looking for the best leaf-peeping towns in America, a perfect romantic weekend getaway, or a town with the best main street? The following small towns offer something for everyone, and they all leave behind a big impression.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Located on the coast of the North Atlantic, Boothbay Harbor is a small harbor town that probably features more boats than cars. With a population of about 3,130, this is seriously tiny, but in the best way. The very walkable village is packed with restaurants that serve the most incredible seafood, and there are hiking trails near by. Don’t miss an authentic New England clambake that takes place a ferry ride away on Cabbage Island.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is located only a few hours away from San Francisco and is a short drive from Monterey (think Big Little Lies) and Big Sur. The village looks like something out of a fairytale, with cottages instead of your typical shops. Set in a valley with mountains all around, you’re only minutes away from the Pacific, and super close to the famous 17-mile-drive in Pebble Beach.
St. Marys, Georgia
St. Marys is called the “gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore,” and is a really beautiful coastal city in Camden County, Georgia. Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, and it’s packed with maritime forests and undeveloped beaches, making it perfect for nature lovers. There’s a lot of history and so much to explore, whether you’re biking, going on a fishing charter, or taking a historical walking tour.
Although it’s become a really popular spot, Sedona is still a desert town. Located near Flagstaff, it’s surrounded by the famously beautiful red-rock buttes Arizona is known for, as well as steep canyon walls and pine forests. The mild climate makes it an ideal place to hike and explore nature. Uptown Sedona is an artist’s paradise. If you’re the hiking type, make sure to find some of the vortexes.
This former Victorian mining town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains will basically bring you back in time. With a population of about 2,500, this place is small, but totally worth the trip. There’s a ski and golf resort, as well as lots of hiking and many annual events, like the Bluegrass Festival. It’s also home to Telluride’s Bridal Veil, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Located just across the bridge from Maine, Portsmouth is the most picturesque community right on the coast. The town is packed full of locally owned shops where you can find everything from antiques to books to kid’s toys, and there’s a big selection of small restaurants as well. It’s nice to even just walk through the streets, especially during the holidays, when the Christmas decorations look extra special.
Nasville, Tennessee, might be a huge tourist spot, but Nashville Indiana? There’s barely a population of 1,000 there. The tiny town was once home to American Impressionist painter T.C. Steele, and that history has helped turn it into a true artist’s haven. If that’s what you’re there for, visit the Brown County Art Gallery, where independent artists work.
Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs may be known as a premiere spot for thoroughbred horse racing, but there’s so much more going on. It’s gorgeous throughout the seasons, thanks to the beautiful buildings in the village and the old houses that line the streets. You’ll find adorable shops and delicious restaurants, as well as a lovely spa. If horse racing is your thing, you can’t miss the Saratoga Race Course.
New Hope, Pennsylvania
New Hope is a small, artsy town located on the Delaware River. While it’s great year round, it’s especially magical during the holidays. It’s been called one of the best Christmas towns in America, thanks to the many decorations and attractions, like the North Pole Express, where you can get a visit from Santa and lots of cookies.
A small mountain town in eastern Tennessee, Gatlinburg is super scenic and perfect for nature-lovers. It’s located right alongside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it the perfect stop before or after some hiking. Be sure to check out the Space Needle observation tower and the Sky Lift, an aerial cable car, for some gorgeous views.
Beaufort, North Carolina
There is certainly no shortage of coastal small towns in North Carolina, but Beaufort stands out for how much it offers. With a population of about 4,391, it’s a really special spot. You’ll enjoy open prairies and sun rises over the ocean, and there are opportunities to head out on a boat for dolphin watching. Hang by the beach or go to one of the farmers markets for fresh produce.
If you’re looking for the quintessential New England town, you can’t do much better than Woodstock in Vermont. With a population of barely 3,000 people, it’s small and cozy all yearlong. The streets of the town are lined with gorgeous old Victorian homes, small shops and restaurants, and some beautiful inns. Head to Sugarbush Farm for maple syrup, cheese, and more.
St. Augustine, Florida
Forget Orlando or Miami—St. Augustine is historic and beautiful. It’s the oldest city in the United States and is most known for the Spanish colonial architecture that makes you feel like you’re actually somewhere in Europe. At the same time, though, you get the perfect sandy beaches of the Atlantic. Spend some time at Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th century Spanish stone fortress, in between beach days.
Sitka is a really remote island in Alaska that is only accessible by plane or ferry, and is a nature-lover’s paradise. There is a vast amount of wildlife everywhere, bald eagles, humpback whales, and brown bears. It’s full of Russian history, since it was the former capital of Russian Alaska, which makes it even more interesting. Go hiking and get ready to spot some animals you may not see anywhere else.
New Castle, Delaware
Only ten minutes away from the city of Wilmington, New Castle makes for a great vacation or day trip. It was originally settled in 1651 and now has a population of 5,529, so it feels very old and intimate. The architecture takes you back in time, and many of the buildings are super old, like Traders Cove Coffee Shop, which goes back to 1682. Head to First State National Park for a long walk to really get the feel of the place.
Bluffton, South Carolina
Only a short trip away from popular Hilton Head Island and Tybee Island, Bluffton makes for a very relaxing and beautiful getaway. Located on the May River, it’s full of charming shops and restaurants, and has a really strong creative vibe with plenty of music venues. It’s unique, interesting, and just really special.
This town in Maryland may share the same name as a big city in Germany, but that’s where the similarities end. Berlin is a really cute small town, with a population of about 4,563 that is definitely growing. Like many small towns, it has a flourishing art scene, and on the second Friday of every month, there’s an Art Stroll with live music, exhibits, art on display, and more. Plus, you’re not very far from Assateague Island, where you can see wild horses on the beach.
Only two hours from Nashville and three hours from Louisville, Paducah makes for an interesting and artsy spot that is also full of history. The main street only recently got a multi-million dollar renovation that made it worth visiting, as well as an artist-relocation program. Head to Dry Ground Brewing for craft beers on tap after a day of exploring.
Springdale has a population of about 609, making it one of the smallest towns on this list… so if you’re looking for a seriously small town, this is it! Nestled at the edge of Zion National Park, this is a perfect spot for a view of the mountains while shopping for crystals or geodes.
For history buffs, Galena may be really interesting. The small town is known for its well-reserved 19th century buildings, like Dowling House from 1826. The six-block Main Street makes you feel like you went back in time, and you can go to Horseshoe Mound to get a view of three different states.
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