15 Best Small Towns in America
We asked three of our writers who cover destinations across the United States to choose their five favorite small towns and tell us about them. Authors Meagan Drillinger, Michael Law, and Brad Lane share their top picks for travelers looking for small towns to include on their travel itineraries. In no particular order, here is the list of best small towns in America.
1. Bisbee, Arizona
Fun and funky are two words that describe the small town of Bisbee. Located in the far southeastern corner of Arizona, this former copper mining boomtown was a place that people forgot after the mines closed. That is until hippies moved into the abandoned miner's shacks and took up residence. Their presence gave the site a unique vibe, and that continues today.
Eclectic shops, quirky galleries, and cafes line the streets. Enjoy a coffee tasting or spend time hiking in the Mule Mountains surrounding town. From the hilltops views stretch to Mexico. You can also take an underground mine tour and learn a bit about the local history.
The town is walkable, although nothing here is flat, so be prepared for steep uphill sections and many stairs. The town has a yearly event where participants climb 1,000 stairs on a 4.5-mile-long course.
Many of the former miner's cabins that line the hillsides have been renovated and some are available to rent.
Read More: Best Small Towns in Arizona
2. Whitefish, Montana
Whitefish is a recreation destination and a highlight of Northwest Montana. The imposing Whitefish Mountain backdropping the city, formerly known as Big Mountain, is a major skiing and snowboarding destination in Montana throughout the winter. And there aren't enough summer days to explore all the sights at the backdoor of this famous mountain town.
Glacier National Park and the surrounding Flathead National Forest are a significant draw to Whitefish during the summer. It's less than a thirty-mile drive to Apgar Village from Whitefish, where Lake McDonald welcomes visitors to the national park. Other nearby outdoor playgrounds include the Jewel Basin Hiking Area and Flathead Lake - the largest freshwater lake in the American West.
And you don't even have to leave town to find things to do in Whitefish. The Amtrak-inspired Depot Park anchors a charming downtown district filled with local eateries and shops, and in-town attractions like Whitefish City Beach provide ample scenery for a memorable trip.
3. Pismo Beach, California
Pismo Beach is an iconic beach destination in San Luis Obispo County on California's Central Coast, approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A focal point here is the 17-mile Pismo State Beach extending south from the Pismo Beach Pier and Promenade, next to a charming downtown district.
The vast beach offers plenty of room for all types of beach activities. Sunbathing, strolling, and sandcastle building are just a few activities of a Pismo Beach vacation. The area is also famous for Tivela Stultorum, better known as Pismo Clams, which anyone with a fishing license can harvest during certain times of the day.
Several hotels, motels, and motor inns line the 101 near the Pismo Beach Pier and Promenade, offering a wide range of accommodations. These places to stay offer quick access to the beach at sunset, where crowds gather each evening for an impressive display of color.
As you'd expect from the town's name, it also hosts wonderful live music and performance events. Just don't ask the locals where "the concert" was held — it was actually held in Bethel, NY about an hour and a half away.
4. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Hidden in the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs is a treasure trove of Victorian architecture, history, and outdoor adventure. Take a stroll down Spring Street, marvel at the well-preserved buildings, and be tempted to pop into any of the many unusual stores and galleries, recharge with a coffee at a funky café, or grab a bite at one of the restaurants. Of course, don't forget to swing by the springs for a sip of the water that made the town famous.
Just up from downtown, and be forewarned that nothing is flat in Eureka Springs, is the famous Crescent Hotel, said to be one of the most haunted buildings in America. Check-in for the night and see if you can sleep after taking one of their famous ghost tours.
Outside of town is beautiful Lake Leatherwood, a popular lake in Arkansas and one of the best places nearby for a leisurely stroll along mostly level trails. For the more adventurous, bring your mountain bike and take one of the adrenaline-inducing downhill rides. Don't worry about pedaling back to the top; you can catch a shuttle.
5. Woodstock, New York
Nestled in New York State's mid-Hudson Valley, surrounded by the rolling green mountains of the Catskills, Woodstock is one of America's most idyllic small towns. Only two hours from New York City, and yet another world away, the village is steeped in New York State history, from early indigenous tribes and Dutch settlers to 20th-century hippies and modern-day bougie bohemians.
The main drag is Tinker Street, along which you'll find art galleries, boutiques, vintage clothing stores and antiques, delightful restaurants, and cafes. A lively flea market springs up downtown every weekend when the streets are humming with city slickers looking for a slice of country life. Of course, the Woodstock and Catskill region is known for its fabulous hiking, waterfalls, and winter cross-country skiing trails.
6. Breckenridge, Colorado
Situated at an elevation just shy of 10,000 feet, Breckenridge's combination of spectacular alpine scenery and thin air will take your breath away. Long known as one of Colorado's top ski resorts, Breck, as it's known locally, has nearly 200 runs and almost 3,000 acres of snowy fun to enjoy.
But it's not all about skiing here; Breckenridge is a year-round destination with spectacular hiking trails, including the renowned Hoosier Pass Loop and the more difficult Quandry Peak. For those who like to explore from the comfort of a car, take the 22-mile-long Boreas Pass, where you'll ascend to 11,481 feet.
Breckenridge's historic main street from 1859 is full of lively restaurants, cafes, ski shops, fashion boutiques, and galleries. Take a stroll here after a day of skiing or hiking and grab a bite to eat, recap your adventures, and begin planning your return trip.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Breckenridge
7. Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth is a charming mountain town in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Community efforts transformed this former logging town into an authentic Bavarian village in the 70s, and today, the entire town comprises colorful buildings and storefronts reminiscent of a European alpine village. The towering Cascade Mountains add to this effect, visible from almost every street corner.
Signature annual events like Maifest and a wintertime Village of Lights attract thousands of visitors to Leavenworth each year, many from Seattle, located two hours west on Highway 2. And even without these yearly traditions adding a lively chatter to the streets, any visit entails sample German dishes, alphorn recitals, and at least one person wearing lederhosen.
Leavenworth is also a top spot for outdoor recreation. Icicle Road, off Highway 2 on the town's west end, dives deep into Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The aptly named Enchantments, part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, is one of many remarkable hiking areas off Icicle Road.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Leavenworth
8. Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley is a Rocky Mountain vacation destination in Central Idaho. It has a long history as America's First Destination Ski Resort, attracting celebrities and out-of-towners since the 1930s. Perhaps most notably, Ernest Hemingway's legacy is found throughout the surrounding Wood River Valley.
The skiing and snowboarding at Sun Valley are still legendary, and this is one of the top ski destinations in America. The mountain combines Wild West appeal with an Alps-inspired European vacation, offering rugged but accessible downhill adventures. And with a wide variety of runs, the mountain caters to all levels of downhill enthusiasts. A stay at the legendary Sun Valley Lodge really caps a winter visit.
Sun Valley is just as popular in the summer. Hiking boots and mountain bicycles replace the skis and snowboards throughout the warmer season on the mountain, and the entire region is alive with adventure. Sawtooth National Forest surrounds much of the area, offering craggy mountain appeal in every direction.
9. Moab, Utah
Perfectly positioned along the Colorado River, Moab is a sightseeing and adventure destination like no other. Some of the finest hiking, mountain biking, and touring in the USA are minutes away.
In nearby Arches National Park, enjoy the famous Delicate Arch hiking trail; following that take a stroll down Park Avenue and be awed by the incredible sandstone towers. Later in the day, let your car do the hard work and ascend to Dead Horse State Park, where you'll be treated to views over a bizarre landscape of serpentine rivers, mesas, and canyons. Also in the vicinity is Canyonlands National Park, with some of the best vistas in the state.
Moab is world-famous as a mountain biking destination. The nearby Slick Rock Bike Trail is like catnip to bikers for its thrilling yet technical offerings. Other mountain biking trails that are less busy but equally spectacular include the wide-open Bartlett Wash and the Bar M trail network.
In the town itself are fun restaurants and plenty of accommodation options. You won't have any problem finding great places to chill at the end of your day of sightseeing.
10. Astoria, Oregon
This seaside town in northwest Oregon with a storied legacy. Its location near the mouth of the Columbia River was a magnet for early explorers, including Lewis and Clark. Later, Astoria was poised to be a major port city on the West Coast, and although that didn't go as planned, the town still wears the title of "Little San Francisco."
But don't put Astoria in a box. The town's history, creativity, and maritime culture combine for a unique blend of charm that makes any visit feel like an adventure. This enterprising spirit is especially apparent in the city's central district at places like the Captain George Flavel House Museum or the Oregon Film Museum next door.
Plan some time exploring the immediate area surrounding Astoria. The reconstructed Fort Clatsop living history museum is within a fifteen-minute drive, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Also nearby is Fort Stevens State Park, one of the largest state parks on the Oregon Coast.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Astoria
11. Manchester, Vermont
Surrounded by Vermont's Green Mountains Manchester shows off its charm all year round, whether it's bursting with flowers and greenery in the spring and summer, brushed with fiery autumnal colors in the fall, or swirling with snow as a wintry wonderland.
The village was founded in the 18th century and still retains that historic aesthetic, with its white church steeples, brick buildings, and town square. Still, Manchester is very much at home in the 21st century, with luxurious accommodations, spa facilities, golf courses, dining, shopping, and wellness activities.
If you are arriving in the fall, you'll want to take a ride on the lift up Bromley Mountain for a bird's eye view of the spectacular swath of colors.
12. Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Massachusetts' Berkshires region is one of the state's most beloved areas. This corner of western Massachusetts is made up of a collection of historic, charming towns, linked by lakes, hiking trails, and mountain ridges. Stockbridge is one of the Berkshires' best towns.
Stockbridge was a popular summer retreat for the wealthy during the 19th century. The elite from Boston and New York would head to the mountains for fresh air and lovely scenery. Today it's still a popular hot spot for city-dwellers looking for an escape. While in town, don't miss the beautiful examples of historic Gilded Age architecture.
Perhaps most iconic to Stockbridge is its most famous resident, artist Norman Rockwell. You can pop into his former home and studio, which has been turned into the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell certainly helped cement the town's reputation for art. A quick stroll down Main Street reveals lovely art galleries, as well as restaurants, cafes, and quaint boutiques.
13. Beaufort, South Carolina
There is a magic to Beaufort, South Carolina that is usually reserved for storybooks about the South. One of the most beautiful towns in South Carolina, Beaufort is a harbor town on Port Royal Island known for its thick oak trees draped with Spanish moss, antebellum architecture, cobblestone streets, and endless marshes teeming with birds and other wildlife.
Beaufort's entire downtown has been designated as a historic district, so it's worth a wander down the leafy streets to admire the architecture. While you're walking, you may want to meander down the Spanish Moss Trail, which is a 10-mile greenway that connects the marshy areas with paths that weave their way through groves of moss-draped trees.
Life in Beaufort centers around the water, whether it's fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, or taking a boat cruise to spot the resident dolphins. Speaking of the outdoors, a visit to Hunting Island State Park is a must. Here you'll find white sand beaches, groves of palm trees, lagoons, and the 19th-century Hunting Island Lighthouse.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Beaufort
14. Destin, Florida
One of Florida's favorite small towns, Destin, is a sun-seeker's paradise. One of the best beaches along the Florida Gulf Coast, the spectacular coastline of Henderson Beach State Park is mere minutes from town. This must-visit attraction is home to white sands lapped by crystal-clear water. Pack a BBQ picnic and all your beach toys for a perfect family day by the ocean.
Closer to town, be sure to check out the in-water frivolities at Crab Island, which technically isn't an island but a submerged sandbar that attracts pleasure boaters from miles around.
Off the beach, stroll the kitschy yet fun Destin Harbor Boardwalk. The quarter-mile-long area is full of restaurants, quirky shops, and fun things to do, especially at the eastern end, with a slight carnival feel.
Another attraction of Destin is that it is a major sport fishing destination, and the charter boat fleet is more than happy to take you out into the Gulf of Mexico to let you test your skills against the denizens of the deep.
15. Petoskey, Michigan
Petoskey is a stunning town overlooking Little Traverse Bay on the northwest coast of Michigan's lower peninsula. With roots dating back to the early 19th century, Petoskey is a beautiful spot to slip away for a taste of small-town living.
Make no mistake, though, Petoskey is loaded with things to do. In fact, it was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite getaway spots and its reputation for art, culture, and outdoor adventure has sustained throughout the decades. You can visit some of Hemingway's most beloved spots in modern-day Petoskey, including Stafford's Perry Hotel and Pennsylvania Park.
Don't miss the Gaslight District — the historic downtown of Petoskey, filled with restaurants and shops, which is still illuminated at night by Victorian-era gas lamps. For outdoor adventure, Petoskey State Park has 300 acres to play in, from swimming and cross-country skiing to hiking and biking.