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12 Top-Rated Small Towns in Ohio

Written by Anietra Hamper
Jun 13, 2019

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. 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 from what the big cities have to offer. The quaintness of villages that oftentimes only have one stoplight, or none at all, tap into a nostalgia that creates a memorable experience. This list is a starting point for some of the best small towns to visit in Ohio.

1. Geneva-on-the-Lake

Geneva-on-the-Lake

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 the 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.

2. Marietta

A covered bridge near Marietta

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.

3. Granville

Buxton Inn, Granville | Ohio Redevelopment Projects - ODSA / photo modified

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.

4. Millersburg

Ohio's Amish country

The town of Millersburg is in the heart of Ohio's Amish country. It is one of the most peaceful getaways you can experience in the state, as you share the road with Amish buggies. The quiet landscape is made up of working farms, rolling hills, and fresh laundry drying on the line. Stop at a local orchard to pick apples or find an Amish-made basket or quilt to take home from a roadside Amish vendor.

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

John Bryan State Park

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.

6. Put-in-Bay

Put-in-Bay

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 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.

7. German Village

Colorful flowers in 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. 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.

8. Waynesville

Corwin M. Nixon covered bridge, Waynesville

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.

9. Cambridge

Guernsey County Courthouse at night, Cambridge

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 at 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.

10. Loveland

Loveland Castle

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 flow 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 Valentines greeting cards with heartfelt messages.

11. Mt. Vernon

Woodward Opera House

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.

12. Delaware

Aerial view of Delaware, Ohio

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.

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Where to Stay: Depending on your vacation, you will want to stay in a place that compliments the mood of your visit. If you are visiting a bigger city, you might opt for the convenience of a hotel in Cleveland or Columbus. 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.

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