15 Top-Rated Small Towns in Ohio
Author Anietra Hamper is an Ohio native and has covered stories in every part of the state, with some of her favorite stops being in charming small towns.
Drive along any of the back roads in Ohio, and you will travel through the many small towns and villages that make up the rural fabric of the Buckeye State. While the big cities like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are urban destinations, Ohio's small towns make for nice detours on a weekend or for an impromptu stop on your way to someplace else.
On the northern border of Ohio is historic Geneva-on-the-Lake, which still resembles a 1950s summer resort town on the shores of Lake Erie. On Ohio's southern border is Marietta, a historical town made popular as a sternwheeler stop along the Ohio River, which has the appeal of the water but also adjacent dense forests.
These small towns along Ohio's byways allow for a different kind of getaway than the big cities, offering a variety of things to do. The quaintness of villages that oftentimes only have one stop light, or none at all, tap into a nostalgia that creates a memorable experience.
This list is a starting point for some great places to visit with our list of the best small towns in Ohio.
One of the most charming small towns in Ohio and on Lake Erie is Geneva-on-the-Lake, a 50s-era throwback to the way wholesome vacations used to be. Little has changed in this resort town in the decades since its heyday, which is what makes a visit so much fun.
Along the one-mile stretch through town, you will find donut shops, ice cream stands, and even the original arcade that has entertained generations of families. Take a ride on the small Ferris wheel, play miniature golf, or peruse the antique stores.
Some of the best eats are at Eddie's Grill, which has served up the same menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches, and homemade root beer since 1950.
Geneva-on-the-Lake is 40 miles east of Cleveland but it feels like another world. It is situated along the shores of Lake Erie, so you are never farther than a few steps away from the water. Geneva-on-the-Lake State Park is in the area, which is great for hiking and fishing and has a public beach for swimming.
Lodging is easy, as there are many cottages and campgrounds in the area and rooms at The Lodge at Geneva-On-The-Lake, which is located right on the water and connected to the state park by bike and walking trails.
The small town of Marietta is an old riverboat town along the Ohio River. The area is full of historic elements since it was the first settlement in the Northwest Territory. The Ohio River Museum has exhibits on the area's natural history and the steamboat industry along the river.
The Campus Martius Museum chronicles the role of the Ohio River and Marietta in the westward expansion of American settlements. The small downtown has boutique shops and nice walkable streets.
There are other points of interest in Marietta, like the ancient earthworks of the Quadranou Mound. Another must-see is The Castle for its Gothic Revival architecture. You will see why it earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are plenty of outdoor activities, like kayaking on the Muskingum River Water Trail and hiking in Wayne National Forest.
One of the most spectacular times to visit Marietta is during the annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival on the weekend after Labor Day, when dozens of original sternwheelers come in for a weekend of old-fashioned fun.
There are a number of chain hotels near Marietta, but if you want to theme your visit, you can stay in The Lafayette hotel, where each room is uniquely decorated in Victorian riverboat décor.
Read More: Best Places to Visit in Ohio
The village of Granville is one of the best small towns near Columbus with the feel of New England along its elegant tree-lined streets. It is home to Dennison University, which has historic buildings and a stunning campus that stretches across the Granville landscape.
The rolling hills around Granville make it a popular place for golf and getting outdoors. The TJ Evans Trail is a nice trail in the village for walking, biking, and running.
You can also walk around the quaint downtown area to buy unique gifts in the boutique shops, admire the impeccable landscaping and blooming trees in the summer, and enjoy a bite to eat at one of many small restaurants that serve homemade comfort food.
Granville has a number of bed-and-breakfasts, but you might want to stay at the Historic Buxton Inn or The Granville Inn, which have both been fixtures in the village since the early 19th and 20th centuries.
Read More: Top-Rated Weekend Getaways in Ohio
Stop at a local orchard to pick apples or find an Amish-made basket or quilt to take home from a roadside Amish vendor. Take a tour at a local cheese factory, or stop for a coffee at a bakery to enjoy some homemade Amish pastries.
One of the best ways to experience Millersburg is to spend a few days in the region and explore the adjacent towns of Walnut Creek, Berlin, Sugarcreek, and Charm. All of the small Amish communities near Millersburg are connected, so it is a perfect trip for just taking a drive and stopping when you feel like it.
The Hotel Millersburg is a historic 1847 hotel in the center of town, but there are also many bed-and-breakfasts in the area. The B&Bs can enhance your visit with a homemade breakfast made from fresh local farm ingredients.
5. Yellow Springs
When you drive through Yellow Springs, you feel like you have entered another era. The town feels as though it is a slice of life from the 1960s, from the vibe and décor to the signage of local businesses.
There is a cultural diversity that makes it an exciting small town to visit. Spend some time walking through the shops and art galleries, where you can buy original artwork and jewelry. Eateries range from cafes to burger restaurants. Everything in Yellow Springs is casual, so come as you are.
Yellow Springs hosts many community events throughout the year, from festivals to flea markets. There is always something interesting happening in this town that supports the arts.
On the fringe of Yellow Springs are opportunities for outdoor activities. A rails-to-trails bike path runs right through town, and there is a bike rental station available if you do not come with your own. The town is also close to some of the best hiking trails in Ohio at John Bryan State Park and the Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve.
Read More: Best Waterfalls in Ohio
The town of Put-in-Bay is easily one of the most popular getaways in the state, especially in the summer, but it is a place that takes a little more effort to get to. Put-in-Bay is on South Bass Island, surrounded by Lake Erie.
To get there, you can catch the Jet Express from Port Clinton and take the short ferry ride over to the island. There are many bed-and-breakfasts on the island, or you can just visit for the day and stay on the mainland.
The best way to get around Put-in-Bay is by renting a golf cart, so you can easily access all sides of the island. Take your time to visit South Bass Island State Park, Perry's Monument, Perry's Cave tourist attractions, and all of the restaurants.
Put-in-Bay is where summer lovers come to play, so you can rent Jet Skis and kayaks or take in a round of golf while watching the waves roll in on the Lake Erie shoreline.
- Read More: Top Attractions & Things to Do in Put-in-Bay
7. German Village
German Village is one of the most historic and popular villages near Columbus. The small town is best experienced on foot, so you can enjoy the impeccable homes and landscaping in the residential area and the brick streets in the back neighborhoods.
The heart of German Village is reminiscent of the German settlers who began their new lives in the United States and helped establish Columbus. Enjoy a coffee on an outdoor café patio or dive into a delicious cream puff from Schmidt's, an iconic restaurant in the area.
A memorable stop in German Village is the Book Loft. It is one of the largest independent bookstores in the United States, with 32 rooms to explore and a beautiful outdoor patio where you can sit and enjoy a new read.
German Village is known for its regular community events and home and garden tours. Be on the lookout for one of these opportunities to go inside the local historic homes when you visit.
There are several unique delis and boutique shops. Be sure to take a picnic lunch to Schiller Park, where you can sit beneath a shade tree in one of the oldest parks in the city or watch an outdoor Shakespeare play in the summer.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ohio
Waynesville in southwest Ohio is known for two things: antique stores and sauerkraut. The tiny village coins itself as the "antiques capital of the Midwest," and for good reason. There are several dozen independent antique stores in the small section that runs through town. You can park and walk to all of them.
A visit in the winter is especially enjoyable, when the village is decorated in vintage holiday décor, and you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride as the snow falls around you.
The village is also known for its annual sauerkraut festival, which fills Main Street with food, visitors, and vendors each year with this tradition that has taken place for more than 50 years. Join the 350,000 people who come out for the festival to celebrate sauerkraut.
The heart of Cambridge in eastern Ohio sits along U.S. Route 40, which was one of the first highways from east to west in the United States. Cambridge has a small downtown, which is fun to explore on foot as you sample homemade pastries from the local bakery and stop into antique shops that now reside in the renovated historic buildings.
Some of the top places to visit in Cambridge include a tour of the Mosser Glass company and the National Museum of Cambridge Glass. Kids will enjoy the Great American Steam Locomotive Museum and the Wooden Toy Company. They can learn about Ohio's native white-tailed deer and other wildlife at the Deerassic Park Education Center.
One of the best times to visit Cambridge is in the winter for the Dickens Victorian Village display. Dozens of life-size figurines are placed throughout the downtown, turning it into a 1950s-era English holiday scene.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Ohio
The small town of Loveland, Ohio has a unique combination of appealing factors. It has a rustic and historic 1800s charm with its architecture and feel. It has the comfort food and homemade pies you would expect from small mom-and-pop eateries. And, it has a few quirky elements like the Loveland Castle, a must-see attraction in the area with a royal history of knights and combat.
Loveland has an outdoor appeal, too, with the Little Miami State and National Scenic River that flows through the area. There are hiking trails, spots to swim, and kayaking opportunities.
If you visit Loveland any time before Valentine's Day, stop into the Loveland post office, where you will see a handful of volunteers hand-stamping more than 100,000 Valentine's greeting cards with heartfelt messages.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Ohio
11. Mt. Vernon
The city of Mt. Vernon is about an hour northeast of Columbus, and while it is a growing city, it still maintains its small-town feel. It only takes one loop around the town square to embrace the history and agriculture that defines the area.
Stop into the Knox County Agricultural Museum, which is dedicated to Ohio's farming history, showcasing tools and the lifestyle that was central to this area since the 1800s.
For a special treat, catch a performance at the historic Woodward Opera House, a restored theater believed to be the oldest 19th-century theater in existence. For a bit of outdoor adventure in Mt.Vernon, you can try a guided raft trip on the Kokosing River.
The city of Delaware is just a few minutes outside of Columbus but it is far enough away to enjoy the small-town feel. Walk around the historic downtown, where the old building facades now house modern tenants like small restaurants and gift shops.
If you want a little bit of historic adventure visit the Olentangy Indian Caverns, where you go underground into the winding caves to learn about the stalactites and stalagmites that are forming in the natural environment.
Stargaze at the Perkins Observatory during an evening program as you learn about the solar system and astronomy at this prized educational institution. Fill your day with a round of golf at one of the nearby manicured golf courses or with hiking at Alum Creek State Park. Plan for an evening performance at the historic Strand Theatre, restored to its elegant 1916 presence.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails near Columbus, OH
While Circleville is a charming small town to enjoy any time of the year, many people know it for the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show held in the fall, which started in 1903. Located less than a half-hour south of Columbus, this small town is fun to walk and soak in some of the Ohio history that is here.
The town's name, Circleville, comes from the Hopewell American Indian earthworks that remain an archaeological treasure. Plan time to visit the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, one of the top National and State Parks in Ohio, and see some of these 2000-year-old mounds.
Continue exploring local history at the Ted Lewis Museum (free admission), which showcases the life and history of one of Ohio's most celebrated vaudeville entertainers. Walk the downtown area to peruse local shops and eateries and pick up dessert at Wittich's candy shop, which has been in business for over 183 years.
If you want to enjoy the outdoors, plan a picnic and hike at the A.W. Marion State Park, which has several trails and fishing available at Hargus Lake.
Read More: Best Fishing Lakes in Ohio
Ashtabula is a small Ohio town that features both agriculture in the countryside and a beautiful harbor district, giving you a hint at its past as an important port in the iron ore industry. The town sits at the junction where the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie connect.
The harbor area is where to start your visit and experience some of the port buildings and warehouses that have been renovated into restaurants and shops. You can stop into the Ashtabula Maritime Museum to find out more about the area's history with Lake Erie shipping.
If you would rather be in the water than admire it, you can go to Walnut Beach, which is a comfortable swimming beach in the town, with white sand and great views of Lake Erie.
Besides the history to uncover in Ashtabula, be sure to go for a drive because it is considered the Covered Bridge Capital of Ohio, with 19 covered bridges in the area.
The most notable claim to fame for the small town of Milan is as the birthplace of Thomas Edison. You will see tributes to Edison throughout the town and opportunities to learn more about his young life in Ohio.
You can visit the Edison Birthplace, a small museum dedicated to the inventor, which has photographs and information about Edison's time in Milan as a youth. History buffs will also enjoy visiting the Milan Historical Museum, which has a seven-building campus with artifacts and hands-on exhibits focusing on early American life. This museum has seasonal hours, so be sure to check opening times before your visit.
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Where to Stay: If you are staying near Lake Erie for a waterfront vacation, consider one of the top resorts near Sandusky or have a read through our article on the best resorts in Ohio if you are traveling to a different part of the state.
Outdoor Adventure: If you want to tackle some of Ohio's natural landscapes during your visit, be sure to hit some of the great trails in the national and state parks or try some of the outdoor adventures in the state, like ziplining or kayaking.
As you explore some of the back roads in the state visiting small towns, you will pass a few of the best fishing lakes in Ohio, which are often stocked by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Looking for a place to swim? There are quite a few beaches in Ohio, located in state parks and along the shores of Lake Erie, that can make a nice day trip during your visit, so be sure to pack your swimsuit.
Big Cities in Ohio: Once you visit some of the small towns in Ohio, you might want to spend an extra day or a weekend getaway enjoying some of what the bigger cities have to offer.
The capital city of Columbus has everything from the statehouse to sports and shopping. The Ohio River town of Cincinnati has dozens of small neighborhoods to explore and a fun food scene. The Rock & Roll home of Cleveland has a diverse music scene and many historic neighborhoods.