21 Nicest Small Towns in America Everyone Should Visit Before They’re 50
Consider this an ode to knowing your neighbors, having the baristas at the coffee shop know your order by heart, and seeing everyone come together to root for the local high school football team on weekends. These are our finest quaint communities—the best small towns in America.
One of the original major cities of the Gold Rush, Jacksonville was founded in the early 1850s by pioneers hoping to strike it rich. The entire town, which has a population of about 2,800, was designated as a U.S. National Landmark in the 1960s, so it’s definitely worth visiting, especially if you’re a history buff. Jacksonville is home to over 100 National Historical buildings sprinkled throughout the community in the heart of Oregon’s wine country and surrounded by gorgeous greenery, so there really is something for everyone. Insider tip: Consider staying in one of the incredibly adorable family-owned bed and breakfasts or inns for an extra small-town feel. We’re told they offer exceptional service and amazing dinning options. Plus, check out the most charming small-town bed and breakfast in every state.
Traverse City, Michigan
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Traverse City is the ultimate outdoor and water activities destination. In the warmer months, you’ll find everyone hiking and biking the numerous trails and participating in the most popular recreational water sports—kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, and paddleboarding. There’s also golfing and bird watching for those who are looking for a more leisurely vacation. July is an especially busy month in Traverse City, as it’s when hundreds of thousands of visitors come in for the National Cherry Festival (the city boasts being the largest producer of tart cherries in the country). And the many farm-to-table dining options, breweries, wineries, and distilleries make it a destination worth visiting even in the winter.
Besides its famous gorgeous red rock geography—which is truly a jaw-dropping natural wonder, Sedona is known for its eclectic art scene, near-perfect weather, and of course, fantastic cuisine and wineries. Sedona truly has it all, whether you’re looking for a girl’s spa weekend, an outdoor family excursion-based trip, or a romantic getaway. Spend a day exploring the 200 plus miles of hiking trails or browsing the local handmade craft shops. You can even enjoy an aerial view of the town via hot air balloon, a widely popular activity, especially with a wine glass in hand. The best part of Sedona? There’s really no bad time to visit because events like art festivals, concerts, and food tastings happen year-round thanks to the fabulous warm weather.
If you’ve got a week or two to spare, consider heading outside of the continental U.S. to Lahaina, Maui. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Lahaina is an historic little town with a population of less than 12,000. The town has a prime oceanfront location just south of the famous K’anapali coast, which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and is home to Maui’s only walkable “downtown” area, lined with shops, eateries, and bars. You can expect lots of gorgeous sunshine-filled days and a dry and mild climate in Lahaina, which is probably why the town is often called “Lele,” meaning “relentless sun” in Hawaiian. And since Lahaina centers around one of Hawaii’s busiest harbors, you can travel among the other islands via ferry for a small fee.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Arkansas isn’t on many people’s radar when it comes to vacation destinations, but Eureka Springs is a small town that shouldn’t be missed. Nicknamed “The Little Switzerland of America” and “The Stairstep Town,” Eureka Springs is a tiny Victorian town nestled in the Ozark Mountains. While the entire city is less than seven square miles, there’s plenty to do and see, like browsing the more than 100 local shops and galleries, visiting historical buildings such as the Thorncrown Chapel, or exploring the underground onyx cave parks. After a busy day, try out one of the town’s multiple award-winning restaurants that serve everything from Indian to Czech-German to Mediterranean fare. Consider heading to the Indian restaurant for dinner and the Czech-German for dessert! Check out America’s best small-town festivals.
About three hours south of our nation’s capitol lies the city of Williamsburg, a tiny town that played a major role in our country’s history. Williamsburg is almost always a stop on every school’s eighth grade Washington D.C. trip, and for good reason. Founded in 1632, the city was the capitol of the colony of Virginia for nearly 80 years. Williamsburg is the ultimate history buff’s paradise, centered around Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum where you’ll see what life was like in the 18th century. You’ll find people dressed in colonial clothing, cobblestone streets lined with blacksmiths and candle makers, and maybe you’ll even catch a ghost tour or witness a witch trial.
Settled nearly 10,000 years ago, and once considered Russian territory, Sitka has a rich history and gorgeous geography. Previously named “New Arkhangeisk” or New Archangel, Sitka is a major cruise ship destination that draws tens of thousands of visitors every year. This Baranof Island city and borough is located seaside right on the Pacific Ocean, so there’s plenty of outdoor activities like freshwater fishing, whale watching, hunting, kayaking, and hiking. The nearby Sitka National Historic Park is a great place to brush up on your Russian American history and catch a glimpse of the bald eagles soaring through the sky. Those feeling really adventurous and up for a challenge can hike Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano with an elevation of 3,200 feet. The seafood is excellent and fresh, so seafood lovers will definitely want to try the local cuisine.
Taos, New Mexico
If adobe buildings and Native American culture are of interest to you, you’ll definitely need to spend some time in Taos. The city prides itself on being an “art colony, a world-class ski resort, an ancient community and land of Earthships.” There’s almost everything you could ever possibly want to see and do in this small town. The Taos Pueblo, a community favorite and must-see site, is a living Native American community located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. Just be respectful when visiting, as around 150 people still call the Taos Pueblo home today. There are different activities depending on the season, so plan before you go. In the warmer months, visitors can enjoy balloon rides, hot springs, and river rafting, while the winter offers skiing galore. Find out the best-kept secret in every state.
Beaufort, South Carolina
If you’ve ever watched the legendary movie Forrest Gump, you’ve already seen parts of one of the best small towns in America: Beaufort, South Carolina. As the second-oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort is known for its antebellum mansions and historic downtown district. Since Beaufort is located right on Port Royal Island, there are a ton of popular water sports like fishing and boating, in addition to wonderful, fresh seafood. The city is also known as one of America’s best art towns thanks to its array of museums, film festivals, and art galleries. Bay Street is Beaufort’s main road that borders the harbor where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and local shops.
Cormorant is often overlooked when there are roundups of the best small towns in America, but it should definitely make your list for one reason: The town’s mayor for the past three years has been a beloved 9-year-old Great Pyrenee named Duke. Yes, you read that correctly, the town has a dog for its mayor. The entire town is less than 37 square miles and has a population of around 1,000, but it’s a beautiful place to relax and enjoy some quiet time. Once you meet the mayor, check out the numerous nearby lakes and get to know the locals.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend is one of Washington’s greatest Victorian seaside towns and just one of three historic Victorian seaports in the entire United States. Situated on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll find a nature lover’s paradise with the sea on one side and the Fort Worden Historical State Park on the other. A flourishing art scene seems to be the theme among the greatest small towns in America, and Port Townsend is no different. In addition to the local shops, brightly colored mansions, and historic buildings that line the ocean side streets, Port Townsend puts on award-winning theater productions and hosts a variety of concerts, cultural events, and festivals all year round. You’ll want to visit this maritime town soon, as more and more people are moving there every year.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
In the heart of the Mississippi Gulf Coast lies Ocean Springs, a tiny oceanfront town on the southwestern tip of Mississippi. Dubbed the “City of Discovery,” Ocean Springs has a rich history dating back 300 years, when Native Americans lived on the land before it was formally recognized as a French territory in 1699. Here you’ll find an eclectic art scene and a mix of cultural backgrounds and history, which is why Ocean Springs is home to more than 100 diverse restaurants. The best part: The town’s residents are known for being extremely welcoming and caring, so expect lots of friendly faces.
Yes, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin are major noteworthy Texan cities, but Fredericksburg holds a special place in the Lone Star state. Fredericksburg is one of the most popular towns in the Texas Hill County, but it’s not your typical country Texas town. Founded in 1846 by Prince Frederick of Prussia, the town has strong German roots. Fredericksburg is home to the famous Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome that is 425 feet high and 640 acres wide. It’s a National Natural Landmark and one the National Register of Historic Places that surely can’t be missed. After a day exploring the geography, grab dinner at one of the local restaurants downtown before heading to your quaint bed and breakfast for a good night’s sleep.
Berlin is a tiny little town located in east Maryland that’s often overlooked by people on their way to Ocean City. In fact, Berlin was once nothing more than a rest stop for travelers in the early 20th century. Today, however, this three-square-mile town is still small, but it has a bustling downtown area that is a National Register Historic District stocked with shops, wonderful eateries, and historic buildings from three distinct time periods, Federal, Victorian, and the 20th century. Maryland even designated Berlin as an “Arts and Entertainment District” due to the plethora of galleries, museums, and public art murals found throughout town. Oh, and movie fans rejoice because the majority of the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie, Runaway Bride, was filmed in Berlin, which is reason enough to check it out.
If you need an escape from the bright lights and country music of Nashville, look no further than Gatlinburg, a mountainous retreat. Gatlinburg is a mountain resort considered the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Incredible views are a given no matter the time of year you go, but there are different activities depending on the season. In the wintertime, you’ll find the majority of folks skiing the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, the only ski resort in the state. The town is especially known for it’s Winterfest Celebration during the December holidays when the entire downtown area is festooned with lights. Hiking and biking the thousands of trails of the Smoky Mountains are popular activities in the summer. There’s an incredible waterfall reward if you can make the journey. And the huge Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum also draws large crowds, no matter the season. Here are some more summer vacations everyone should take before they’re 50.
Keystone, South Dakota
Keystone is home to the Black Hills National Forest, an expansive 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, most famous for Mount Rushmore—you know, the gigantic almost 60-foot granite sculpture that depicts the faces of four U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt. Beyond Mount Rushmore, Keystone boasts a gold mine, a wax museum (kind of creepy, kind of not), and outdoor activities like zip lining, hiking tours, and a tramway that offers an aerial view of the mountains. With a population of just under 350, there’s not a ton to do, but sometimes a quite, relaxing vacation is just what the doctor ordered.
Wineries and vineyards? Check. A historic downtown? Also check. Horseback riding, zoos, and wildlife preserves? Yes, Dahlonega has those too. Basically, it’s a great year-round vacation destination for people of all ages. Right in the center of the North Georgia Mountains lies Daholenga, a tiny town with a big history. It was the first site of the U.S. Gold Rush way back in 1828, 20 years before gold was ever found in California. Today, there are gold mines still operating where you can pan for gold and maybe even strike it rich. The town’s commercial district is on the National Register of Historic Places and centers around Main Street, where you’ll see art galleries, restaurants, and little shops. Wine, live music, and gold…what more could you want?
Utah is often praised as one of the most beautiful states in the country, thanks to its sprawling red and orange sandstone arches and white snow-capped mountains. But there’s so much more to Utah than just Park City or Salt Lake City, like Moab, a town located on the southern edge of the Grand Canyon in eastern Utah. What makes Moab so special? It has not one, but two world-renowned national parks, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, which makes it an extremely popular destination for outdoor adventure seekers. Besides your normal hiking and biking trails, travelers can take advantage of excursions like BASE jumping, white river rafting, slacklining/highlining, and rock climbing. If you need a break from all the adrenaline-pumping activities, you can spend a couple of hours browsing the museums and galleries located in the downtown area.
Cooperstown, New York
New York City isn’t the only place worth visiting in the great Empire State. About 3 and a half hours north of Manhattan lies the seaside village of Cooperstown. Although tiny, this upstate town has a bunch of things to see and do, like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, a fan favorite among both adults and children. The Brewery Ommegang, which is a local favorite serving craft beers, and the Fenimore Art Museum that houses a large collection of American Folk and American Indian art should also be on your list. If you have the opportunity to see a show at the Glimmerglass Opera, don’t pass it up—it’s considered “world class.” If you want something more outdoorsy, Otsego Lake and Glimmerglass State Park offer spectacular views and an array of activities. These are the American small towns known for the strangest things.
Whitefish is an outdoor lover’s paradise, which makes total sense because the town’s motto is “Montana’s outdoor recreation playground.” Its location, about 25 miles south of Glacier National Park, makes it a major ski resort in the winter. Locals and visitors alike spend their time skiing down the slopes, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and even taking sleigh rides around town. There are biking and hiking tours of the nearby glaciers year-round. The downtown area is a perfect place to relax and meet some of the friendly residents. But don’t let all the activities deter you from visiting Whitefish if you want a slower-paced vacation; the small town vibes make it a fabulous place to catch up on some z’s and enjoy a cup of coffee at the local diner. Plus, there are spas, yoga studios, and massage parlors aplenty in downtown Whitefish.
Put-In-Bay is a small village located on the South Bass Island of Ohio. Most people don’t even know that Ohio has islands, and that’s probably because Put-In-Bay’s population is under 150, making it an easy town to miss on a map. But just because the town is small doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. Put-In-Bay played a huge role in the war of 1812, helping America fight the British, which is why you’ll see many historical sites like Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Perry’s Cave, and the Stonehenge Estate, when you visit. Today, the village is a popular summer destination due to it being right on the shores of Lake Erie, with options for boating, fishing, and water sports. Just note that in order to get to Put-In-Bay you have to take a ferry to the island. Read on for the most charming small town in every state.