Tiny Yet Tremendous
While there is certainly a time for the hustle, bustle and frenetic fun of a trip to the big city, savvy travelers also realize the benefit of visiting our nation’s small towns. Here, you can slow down, get to the know the destination inside-and-out and appreciate all that makes it special. The following are the finest 50 in the land, all with populations under 25,000 people.
At one point during its mining heyday, Bisbee was the biggest town between St. Louis and San Francisco. Those days are long gone, but left in its place is a quirky, artistic town full of Victorian architecture—and surrounded by the Mule Mountains—that is the perfect place to get away for a few days.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Grand historic houses, lush gardens and a downtown full of eateries and attractions make St. Francisville one of the South’s shining stars.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
Surrounded by acres of wonderful woodland, colorful Yellow Springs is home to an eclectic array of independent shops and restaurants in addition to serving as the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the local outdoors. Explore the Little Miami Scenic Trail on bike before making for John Bryan State Park to admire a gorge cut by the Little Miami River.
Virginia City, Nevada
The days of the Comstock Lode may be long over, but Virginia City still offers a bonanza for lovers of small towns. Walk along its wooden sidewalks (stopping at a saloon or two) before touring historic sights and taking a ride on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.
One of America’s most atmospheric seaside towns, Carmel-by-the-Sea is everything a small town should be. Home to scores of art galleries, boutiques and a beach perfect for sunbathing (or circling ’round a campfire), you’ll leave here refreshed and thinking about a return trip.
Located in the far northwest of Illinois, Galena offers a glance back to the past while making the present-day pretty special, too. Walk along the streets full of mint-condition 19th-century homes, learn all about the town’s connection to Ulysses S. Grant and then shop to your heart’s content on what has been recognized as one of America’s best Main Streets.
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Siloam Springs has been working hard to revitalize their downtown for over two decades now and the hard work has most certainly paid off. New openings and old favorites line the streets while the beloved Kayak Park remains the perfect place to get out on the water on a raft or kayak.
One of the prettiest stops along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, this southern Indiana town is surrounded by bluffs and a state park that offers sweeping views of the river. In town, you’ll find historical sights connected to the Underground Railroad, an ornate fountain, antique shops, restaurants and local favorite Mad Paddle Brewery.
This town is the unofficial culinary capital of Texas Hill Country and offers visitors the chance to pair up their plate with some fantastic local wine. You’ll also find a wealth of historic attractions and shopping opportunities on Main Street in addition to beautiful wildflowers near the town in the springtime.
Located in the Missouri Rhineland—a section of the state rich with German heritage and whose topography bears a striking resemblance to the Rhine River Valley—Hermann is surely the finest small town in the Show-Me State. Visit in autumn to “ooh” and “aah” at the fall colors and hear Oompah bands playing at the town’s Oktoberfest celebrations.
Get a feel for “Old Florida” at this town in the often-overlooked Big Bend section of the state. Admire the gorgeous architecture before heading out to the cape to walk the miles of white sand beaches. And for dinner? Well, it has to be the town’s signature local oysters.
Full of both Victorian charm and modern delights, Berlin is consistently ranked among the most atmospheric small towns on the East Coast. Stop by on July 7th to see the quirky Bathtub Races or visit around Christmas when the town turns into a winter wonderland. Regardless, make sure to pencil in some time for sipping at Burley Oak Brewing Company, a top-notch craft outfit.
Any town can slap some alpine architecture up and throw an annual Oktoberfest bash, but Leavenworth stands above the crowd for its ability to truly fill visitors with the heavenly atmosphere of Bavaria. While the timbered buildings with balconies full of flowers will have you reaching for your camera, it’s likely to be the restaurants, breweries and spas that you remember most.
Located on the fringes of Glacier National Park, Whitefish is home to endless opportunities to explore the pristine forests, lakes and waterways of the region. When it comes time to refuel, you’ll find a dining and bar scene that punches well above its weight.
Sitka is rich with history (including time spent as a Russian possession) and just so happens to sit within eyeshot of the majestic Mt Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano that resembles a mini Mt. Fuji. Explore the wilderness of Baranof Island before settling in to watch the sun sink over the local islands.
Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee
While technically considered a village, Leiper’s Fork possesses more than its share of small-town charm. Sunday get-togethers are a signature of the village, with residents from all over Franklin and Nashville flocking to join the lucky few who get to call this place home.
Regardless of if you crave outdoor adventure or just want some pampering and relaxing, you will find it in this seaside village. A major highlight of any trip to Cambria is a visit to the Hearst Castle, a residence which is about as close to a European chateau as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
Red Wing, Minnesota
Located inside an especially scenic bend of the Mississippi, the river town of Red Wing offers one of the Upper Midwest’s best small town escapes. Admire the view and appreciate the history of Barn Bluff (a sacred spot to local Native Americans) then explore the Cannon Valley Trail before settling in for a cocktail at the historic St. James Hotel.
Clinton, New Jersey
The moment Clinton’s signature red mill comes into view, you know you have arrived somewhere special. Combine this with an antique iron bridge, 200-foot-wide waterfall and a Main Street full of galleries, shops and cafes and you’ll see what makes this place so unique.
They like to call themselves the “Jewel of the Coast” and you certainly can’t blame the locals for being a bit boastful about their surroundings. Camden is still home to a working harbor and has become the base for an artistic community that helps foster a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. For the best views of the town, head to the trails and viewpoints of Camden Hills State Park.
Las Vegas, New Mexico
Perhaps nothing sums up the appeal of the “original” Las Vegas quite like its historic Plaza Hotel. The hotel stands in the center of town and like many other addresses in the historic district, has been refurbished to offer a shining glimpse into the past of this outpost of the Wild West.
You could see Ketchum as just a jumping-off point for exploring Sawtooth & Sun Valley, but you’ll be just as charmed by the quaint downtown as anything you find in the countryside—and that’s saying something.
Bristol, Rhode Island
To visit Bristol is to be swept away by the wonderful waterside ambiance of one of New England’s most historic—yet underrated—towns. The town shines especially bright in the summer, when sailing and saluting America (the town hosts the longest-running 4th of July parades in the country) take center stage.
The former territorial capital of Guthrie is home to the largest Historic Preservation District in the country. Chose one of the many bed & breakfasts in town as your base as you spend your days touring the town by trolley and your evening on a chilling (yet fun!) ghost walk.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Tucked into the lovely Lehigh Gorge in the northeastern section of Pennsylvania, Jim Thorpe is home to a downtown that is a pleasure to explore on foot. Once you’ve toured the storefronts and scored your souvenirs, head for the nearby mountains for endless outdoor adventures.
Brevard, North Carolina
Brevard lies at the heart of the Tar Heel State’s Land of Waterfalls, and you’re best to get to this small town before the secret gets out. Serving as the perfect base for outdoor sports enthusiasts, the town has become a hub of arts, dining and nightlife in Transylvania County.
A Southern Belle by the sea, Fairhope is home to parks with sweeping views of Mobile Bay and a downtown stacked with unique boutiques and cafes.
Located on the banks of the Ohio River, Paducah is home to a patchwork of artistic influences that all combine to make it one of the Midwest’s most atmospheric river towns.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Boasting a Main Street complete with live oaks located a stone’s throw from Gulf Coast Beaches, Ocean Springs is as idyllic as its name would suggest. Arts festivals color the yearly calendar here and will compete for your attention with the 200 independent shops, restaurants and galleries spread throughout three distinct entertainment districts.
Home to blocks full of brick sidewalks and characterful 19th-century homes, Dahlonega is as historic as it is handsome. This town in northern Georgia was the site of one of America’s first gold rushes and today it offers a wealth of experiences (everything from local wine tasting to theater) for travelers.
Even those who can’t trace their family tree back to the Netherlands will be smitten with this small town that’s big into its Dutch heritage. Admire the tallest working grain windmill in the USA before popping into the local bakeries that specialize in continental goodies and visiting local recreation hotspot Lake Red Rock.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Oaks cloaked in moss, Antebellum architecture around every corner, rich Lowcountry culture and cuisine: Beaufort is by far the most beguiling destination on the South Carolina coast.
Artists have a knack of discovering special destinations before the rest of us and Rockport is home to one of America’s oldest art colonies. Once you experience the atmospheric light shining on the harbor and local beaches, you’ll see why they fell in love with the place and may even be inspired to pick up a paintbrush yourself.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
The shining jewel of the Greenbrier Valley, Lewisburg boasts an eclectic art and social scene that one would expect of a town five times its size. Spend your morning exploring the gorgeous Green River Trail and then head back downtown for antiques, boutiques and gourmet eats.
Surrounded by the splendor of the Green Mountains and the babbling waters of the Ottauquechee River, Woodstock is the small New England town you’ve always wanted in your life. Shopping, dining and antiquing are popular pursuits, as are admiring the nearby covered bridges.
This town has gained international acclaim for its artistic community (most famously manifested in the Prada Marfa sculptural art installation 20 miles out of town), but the town offers an array of reasons to visit. Hit the links on the highest golf course in Texas before settling in for a gourmet meal and trying to spot the mysterious “Marfa Lights” in the night sky.
Nebraska City, Nebraska
From the vintage advertisements painted on the sides of the buildings downtown to the retro architecture of the Pioneer Theater, Nebraska City offers a step back in time. The town also offers the chance to follow in the footsteps and learn about explorers Lewis & Clark and the founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Martin.
Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Door County has long been regarded as Wisconsin’s most heavenly region and Fish Creek shows off the finest characteristics of the area. Here, wonderful shopping and dining opportunities sit beside town beaches, lakesides and hundreds of miles of scenic trails.
Council Grove, Kansas
Located on the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and the famous Sante Fe Trail, Council Grove is home to 25 historic sites and its own special brand of Kansan hospitality.
Set alongside the St. Croix River, Stillwater is the “Birthplace of Minnesota” and possesses one of the most fetching main streets in the Midwest. Full of cute shops and restaurants, the street is also home to the only outlet of German Christmas decoration store Käthe Wohlfahrt anywhere in America.
Hood River, Oregon
You may come to Hood River for the Columbia River kiteboarding, but you’re bound to end up falling head-over-heels for the attractions on dry land, too. That’s because foodies, hikers, and lovers of beer, spirits and wine are as well-looked-after as the adrenaline junkies around here.
Set among coastal bluffs, the community of Mendocino offers a wealth of warm welcome to visitors and has a bounty of outdoor activities on its doorstep. Base yourself in one of the many bed & breakfasts in town to fully explore the gastronomic scene and the winding pathways of Mendocino Headlands State Park.
The Big Island’s answer to small towns on the mainland, Hilo has all you need for a magical escape. Downtown Hilo wraps around a scenic bay and is home to shops, galleries and a renowned farmer’s market. Natural attractions like waterfalls and The Liliuokalani Gardens also beckon.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
You could be forgiven for getting so distracted by the wide expanse of sand and dramatic rock formations on the beach that you overlook all the artistic charm of the town of Cannon Beach itself. But not you, you’ve been warned.
Spearfish, South Dakota
Located on the doorstep of the Black Hills, Spearfish owns an atmospheric downtown loaded with cute shops, bars and cafes and is the gateway to endless outdoor pursuits.
Ouray calls itself the “Switzerland of America” and you won’t have to spend much time in this small town to find out why. Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains (and sitting at the end of the scenic Million Dollar Highway) the town is the perfect base for which to explore the mountains or to just luxuriate in the local hot springs.
Park City, Utah
This world-renowned ski town will impress you whether you take to the slopes or not. Home to a level of arts and dining you would expect in a metropolis, you might just want to extend your vacay into a permanent stay.
Perhaps nowhere on the list exemplifies the enduring appeal of small-town America quite like Stowe. From the steeple of the community church to the views of the surrounding Green Mountains, this town will make you wonder why they ever invented big cities in the first place.
While parts of historic downtown Truckee feel like it is frozen in time, modern life bubbles through in the form of excellent eateries, art galleries, boutiques and hip home furnishing stores.
Yes, this is the coastal town from the movie The Truman Show and yes, it is just as dreamy in real life as it was on the big screen. Located at the heart of South Walton, Florida the name of the town says it all but you’ll need to visit to find out why its location is just the start of what makes it special.
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