50 of the Most Charming Small Towns in America
Explore the hidden gems of each state: towns with quaint shops and restaurants, fascinating histories, fun experiences and natural beauty.
Photo By: Tim Goode/Alabama Tourism Dept.
Photo By: Chris Johnson/Unalaska CVB
Photo By: Linda Barker
Photo By: Arkansas Tourism
Photo By: Carol M. Highsmith/Visit California
Photo By: Mesa Verde County
Photo By: Tom Walsh/Connecticut Office of Tourism
Photo By: VisitDelaware.com
Photo By: Discover Crystal River Florida
Photo By: Cartersville-Bartow County CVB
Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority
Photo By: Idaho Tourism
Photo By: Illinois Office of Tourism
Photo By: Kosciusko County CVB
Photo By: Iowa Tourism Office
Photo By: Kansas Tourism
Photo By: JT Crawford/Paducah Life Magazine
Photo By: Louisiana Office of Tourism
Photo By: Nick Cote/Maine Office of Tourism
Photo By: Allegany County Tourism
Photo By: Jamies Holmes/Nantucket Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: Pure Michigan
Photo By: Paul Stafford/Explore Minnesota
Photo By: Missouri Division of Tourism
Photo By: Brian Schott
Photo By: Nebraska Tourism
Photo By: Travel Nevada
Photo By: Christopher Hubble/Littleton Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: The People's Store
Photo By: New Mexico Tourism
Photo By: Tom Dwyer/Visit Syracuse
Photo By: Visit Mississippi
Photo By: VisitNC.com
Photo By: North Dakota Tourism
Photo By: Bruce Wunderlich
Photo By: Lori Duckworth, Oklahoma Tourism
Photo By: Jak Wonderly
Photo By: Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau
Photo By: Explore Bristol
Photo By: LakeMurrayCountry.com
Photo By: South Dakota Dept. of Tourism
Photo By: Alisa Kessler/Tennessee Dept. of Tourist Development
Photo By: Travel Texas
Photo By: Ted Hesser/Utah Office of Tourism
Photo By: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
Photo By: Sarah Hauser
Photo By: Suzanne Rothmeyer/La Conner Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: West Virginia Tourism Office
Photo By: Rachel Hershberger/Travel Wisconsin
Photo By: Sheridan Travel and Tourism
Pretty Fairhope, Alabama, is home to Southern authors Rick Bragg and Fannie Flagg. (Look for their signed books at one of the state's best bookstores, Page & Palette). This Mobile Bay town also boasts its own French Quarter, and the luxurious Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa, named the state’s top hotel and top spa, is just minutes away in Point Clear. Its two golf courses repeatedly make the list of Best Golf Resorts in America.
With a population of around 4,524, the small town of Unalaska, Alaska, is the perfect spot for a quiet getaway. It's starting to attract more visitors, however, as Viking, Windstar and other major cruise lines add it as a destination. Remote and beautiful, Unalaska is accessible only by plane or boat. Its attractions include whale watching, hiking and exploring World War II history at the Aleutian WWII Visitor Center and the Museum of the Aleutians.
This is it: the Winslow, Arizona, you heard about in the Eagles' song Take It Easy. Once a railroad stop on the "Mother Road," Route 66, Winslow is a popular stop with drivers and motorcyclists. La Posada Hotel, designed for the Santa Fe Railroad, still books guests into elegant rooms furnished with Zapotec rugs and Mexican tiles. Outdoor adventurers head north of town, to Homolovi State Park, to hike the trails and look for archaeological sites and Hopi petroglyphs.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Named one of a "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a secluded, peaceful town in the heart of the Ozarks. Magnificent Victorian homes built on cliffsides line its winding streets, while its historic downtown area offers more than 100 shops and art galleries to explore.
Officially known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel is a world-renowned, one-square-mile village on California's central coast. It's beloved for its fairytale-like cottages, as well as its upscale boutiques, art galleries, historic Carmel Mission Basilica, wineries and other attractions. Carmel Beach has been ranked as one of America's top beach towns.
The spirit of the West is alive and well in Mancos, Colorado, where ranching is still a way of life. This community of about 1,600 sits just east of the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, so it's a great base for nature lovers and adventurers who like to ride horses, bike and hike. More than 150 artists and other creatives live in the area; their galleries line historic Main Street in the creative district. Book lovers, take note: This area was home to the late Western author, Louis L'Amour.
Often called a "storybook village," Essex, Connecticut, is a little-known treasure on the Connecticut River. This historic seaport town has a quaint Main Street filled with the restored homes of sea captains, galleries and boutique shops. Don’t miss the Connecticut River Museum, housed in an 1878 steamboat warehouse. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the only one of its kind still on the river. Train enthusiasts can catch the only steam-train-to-riverboat ride in the U.S. here.
New Castle, Delaware
The cobblestone streets in New Castle, Delaware, are a reminder of the town’s colonial past. Visitors come to see fine townhomes and mansions like the Read House & Gardens or stroll beside the Delaware River in lovely Battery Park. Other popular attractions are tours of period homes and churches like Dutch House, Amstel House and Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green. The downtown courthouse, shown here, is part of the First State National Historical Park.
Crystal River, Florida
Located on Florida's Nature Coast, Crystal River draws visitors who enjoy boating, diving, fishing and eco-touring. It's also the only place in the United States where people are allowed to swim with manatees when accompanied by trained guides. Visitors may also see these beloved "sea cows" when they kayak or paddleboard or walk the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk in Crystal River. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a short drive away.
Discover dinosaurs and fine Western Art in Cartersville, Georgia, located about 50 minutes from Atlanta. Its world-class Tellus Science Museum houses permanent galleries of minerals, fossils, transportation technology and much more, while the Booth Western Art Museum is the world’s largest permanent exhibition space for Western art. After browsing the museums, visit Cartersville’s historic downtown and make a selfie in front of the first painted wall ad for Coca-Cola.
Visitors come to the charming town of Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, for its world-famous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach and the Kahuku Unit of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Downtown Hilo offers a fun mix of shops, restaurants, museums and art galleries to explore. Many of its old, wooden storefronts are on the National Register of Historic Places.
History buffs, take note: The entire town of Wallace, Idaho, is on the National Historic Register. This 1884 mining town, nicknamed "the center of the universe," offers historical sites, museums and outdoor adventures that include the Rails to Trails Hall of Fame Route of the Hiawatha bike trail (shown here), the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the Pulaski Tunnel Trail.
Alton, Illinois, the hometown of jazz musician Miles Davis, is located where Route 66 meets the Great River Road. This quaint river town is known for its limestone bluffs, which make it one of the best spots in the U.S. to see bald eagles. Every January and February, the town kicks off the eagle-watching season with the Alton Audubon Eagle Ice Festival. Alton is reportedly one of the most haunted small towns in America; at least 10 spirits are said to inhabit the McPike Mansion.
Spend a day relaxing by beautiful Winona Lake in Warsaw, Indiana, and leave time to wander through the beautiful, historic Village at Winona. Once a summer retreat, this Northern Indiana destination is now a shopping mecca and a venue for concerts, performances and festivals. The Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Explore your Norwegian heritage in Decorah, Iowa, population 8,127 and home to an annual Nordic Fest and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Even if you're not of Nordic descent, you'll want to ride the popular Trout Run Trail, an 11-mile bike trail that loops around the community, or visit Decorah to fish for trout, shop for fresh produce at the local farmers' market, and buy heirloom seeds at the famous Seed Savers Exchange.
The small town of Lindsborg, often called "Little Sweden USA," is located off Highway I-135 in Kansas. Stop downtown to explore the fine art galleries and unique shops, or stay for a weekend and see how many colorful dala (Swedish folk-art figures of horses) you can find. Plan to visit during a festival to enjoy live Swedish folk dancing.
In 2019, Paducah, Kentucky, celebrates its fifth anniversary as a UNESCO Creative City; it’s one of only nine in the U.S. This riverside town has a blossoming culinary scene (five new eateries in repurposed historic buildings have opened), and its many studios, workshops, galleries and cultural events attract quilters, fiber artists and other creatives.
Every spring, Ponchatoula, Louisiana, celebrates its delicious berry crop with a Strawberry Festival held in beautiful, historic Memorial Park. The town is known as America's Antique City, thanks to the many restored shops in the downtown area where you can purchase antiques, handcrafted items and artwork. Wondering about the town's name? It comes from a Choctaw Indian word meaning "hair to hang," which refers to the Spanish moss that hangs from the local trees.
Once a shipbuilding center, Kennebunkport, Maine, became a summer retreat by the late 1800s; affluent vacationers flocked to the grand hotels and mansions along its coastline. Visitors still come each summer to relax on the beaches and stroll around the town. Don't miss Dock Square, a popular shopping area in a village setting, and drive along Ocean Avenue for spectacular coastal views.
Cumberland, Maryland, was known as the "Gateway to the West" for its vital roads, rails and canals. Today, it draws bikers who connect through the town to two legendary bike trails, the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath. History buffs and nature lovers come to ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and drive the Historic National Road scenic byway. Cumberland is also a shopping destination for great local, regional and national works of art.
The seaport of Nantucket, Massachusetts, lies just 26 miles south of Cape Cod. Visitors come to stroll its cobblestone streets and weather-beaten wharves and explore its charming Main Street, known for its fascinating architecture, boutiques and shops, galleries, restaurants and museums. The entire 50-square-mile island is a National Historic Landmark. Sailors once called it the "Little Grey Lady of the Sea," and National Geographic has ranked it as the world's best island. Shown here: a view from Cliffside Beach Club.
Picturesque Houghton, in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, is surrounded by inland lakes and streams. Its 233 miles of snowmobile trails and world-class biking opportunities attract adventurers, and history buffs come to explore its colorful mining past. The sunsets on Lake Superior are stunning, and in the winter, McLain State Park, shown here, invites visitors to hike, enjoy its spectacular ice formations, cross-country ski and snowshoe.
Park Rapids, Minnesota
Go ahead. Park in the middle of Main Avenue in Park Rapids, Minnesota. (It's okay to park on the sides, too. The shops and restaurants here are so popular, the town built extra-wide streets.) Vacationers come to enjoy the lake and stay at nearby resorts or campgrounds; Park Rapids is a gateway to the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park. Pick up some buttery caramels at Aunt Belle's Confectionary, browse the craft and quilt stores, or shop for cabin decor and other items.
Hannibal, Missouri, celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2019. Author Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived in this Mississippi River town as a boy. In his honor, it offers a variety of shops, museums, riverboat rides and other experiences, many based on his characters. A week-long Tom Sawyer Days Festival is held each year. A new Big River Steampunk Festival has been drawing visitors, too, many of whom dress in Victorian-era costumes.
National Geographic once named Whitefish, Montana, one of the "Top 25 Ski Towns in the World," but this small town on the shores of Whitefish Lake offers even more to do and see. Visitors come to snowboard, hike, boat, bike and enjoy live, professional theater and fine dining. For nature lovers, Glacier National Park is a short drive away.
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Home to the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center, and a former station on the Underground Railroad, Nebraska City, Nebraska, is especially lovely in the fall. The changing colors of the trees, u-pick apple orchards and cozy lodgings draw visitors. Don't miss Arbor Day Farm, where you can take a ride through the trees, and stop to pick apples at Kimmel Orchard to eat fresh or turn into pies.
Carson City, Nevada
Carson City, Nevada, dates back to the 1850s, when the discovery of silver in nearby Comstock Lode made it a boom town. Today, Victorian-era homes still stand in the historic downtown area and along the popular Kit Carson Trail. History buffs will find plenty to explore here, including the Nevada State Railroad Museum. The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum is scheduled to open in spring 2019.
Littleton, New Hampshire
Some 5,937 people reside in Littleton, nestled in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. This lovely, walkable town, settled in 1770, draws visitors with old-fashioned shops like Chutters, home to the world’s longest candy counter. (It offers 112 feet of jellybeans, chocolates and other popular and nostalgic treats.) Littleton also boasts America’s oldest ski shop, Lahout’s, and elegant, historic lodgings like Thayers Inn.
Lambertville, New Jersey
"The Antiques Capital of New Jersey," Lambertville is home to a variety of talented artists and crafters whose shops and galleries sit alongside the scenic Delaware River. This town of 4,000 residents, founded in 1705, also boasts federal townhouses and Victorian homes, a restored 19th-century train depot, Zagat-rated restaurants and award-winning hotels and B&Bs. Shoppers can find treasures at The People’s Store Antiques and Design Center and other shops on Bridge, Main and Union Streets.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is a small gem of a town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico. Known for its historic adobe architecture and Taos Pueblo, a village continuously inhabited for more than a thousand years, it's rich in Hispanic and Native American history. Look for regional artwork in the town's many galleries and museums.
Skaneateles, New York
Celebrities and former presidents discovered charming Skaneateles, New York, years ago. Like other visitors, they’ve come for live performances at the gazebo on Skaneateles Lake, the farm-to-table restaurants, tour boat cruises and racetrack, and to admire the beautiful waterfalls and restored buildings dating back to 1796. This four-season destination hosts festivals, art shows and other events throughout the year.
Book lovers know Oxford, Mississippi, as the home of world-famous author William Faulkner. It was also once the home of contemporary author John Grisham. Nicknamed the "Cultural Mecca of the South," Oxford attracts artists, musicians and prominent chefs like James Beard Award winner John Currence. The town square, with its decades-old bookstore, boutiques, vinyl record shop and more, is a don't-miss.
Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Residents of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, like to say their town is the "cure for the common beach." The beach is accessible by ferry and sits beside Silver Lake, a scenic harbor. It's popular for its shops and restaurants, historic British cemetery, and its light station, the oldest still operating in the state. Like a good scare? Take a ghost walk with a descendant of Blackbeard's quartermaster, or catch a short boat ride to Portsmouth Island's so-called ghost village.
Medora, North Dakota
Find your inner cowboy in Medora, located in North Dakota's Badlands. This historic city offers lots of Old West charm, thanks to its proximity to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the non-motorized Maah Daah Hey Trail System, 144 miles of breathtakingly scenic trails. Buy tickets for the Medora Musical, a western-style show dedicated to Roosevelt's legacy, and gaze up at the dark sky at night; visitors sometimes see the Northern Lights.
Every year, the riverboat community of Marietta, Ohio, which sits along the convergence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, celebrates with a Sternwheel Festival. From its beginnings as the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory, Marietta has become a thriving town, and its revitalized, historic downtown boasts art galleries, a music hall, museums and unique shops.
Medicine Park, Oklahoma
Medicine Park feels almost hidden in the Wichita Mountains in Southwestern Oklahoma. But that’s part of its charm, along with its many shops and restaurants built in old cobblestone structures made from locally quarried granite. In fair weather, visitors congregate at Bath Lake, a restored "swimming hole," mountain bike on the Lawtonka trail system, paddle board or just relax in comfortable rental cabins.
Historic Jacksonville, Oregon, is in Southern Oregon's wine country and a gateway to the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Come in the summer to enjoy the Britt Music & Arts Festival, the Pacific Northwest's premier outdoor summer performing arts event, or explore the town's independently owned shops, restaurants and hiking and biking trails year-round. Jacksonville has been called one of America's 10 "coolest small towns."
Recently listed in Smithsonian Magazine as one of "The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2018," Latrobe, Pennsylvania, honors its native son, TV pioneer Fred Rogers, with the new Fred Rogers Trail. Tourists can stop at the Latrobe Brewery (the original home of Rolling Rock beer) and Saint Vincent College (home of the summer training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers), or just head to a local ice cream shop to celebrate Latrobe as the birthplace of the banana split.
Bristol, Rhode Island
One of Rhode Island’s most picturesque towns, Bristol is still largely unknown to many travelers. They’re missing its fine cuisine, fascinating history and architecture, and the many different waterfront activities offered along its miles of coastline. Visitors can explore a historic saltwater farm and oceanfront wildlife refuge, tour the Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame, enjoy Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum (called one of New England's top five public gardens by Yankee Magazine), or stroll the pedestrian-friendly downtown area.
Newberry, South Carolina
Newberry, South Carolina, is a college town with lots of extras: lovely architecture, a historic Opera House, a winery where rocking chairs beckon from a big porch and world-class dining and drinking experiences. Nicknamed the "City of Friendly Folks," it's been called one of the 100 best small towns in America.
Yankton, South Dakota
Settlers moving West often stopped along the Missouri River at what is now Yankton, South Dakota, and riverboat captains once built their large Victorian homes there. Today, the town draws history buffs and water sports enthusiasts. Visitors can kayak, sail, fish or canoe on the Missouri National Recreational River, which runs along Yankton's historic waterfront, or on Lake Yankton or Lewis and Clark Lake. Landlubbers can enjoy beautiful Riverside Park and Meridian Bridge, a converted railroad bridge that leads into Nebraska.
Home to a 70-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, Tennessee, draws visitors to its historic district and winery. It's also known for hosting the World's Biggest Fish Fry, where the town serves more than five tons of catfish every year. Reel in your own catch at Paris Landing State Park, shown here, or golf, swim and camp. An annual Christmas festival, Heritage Center and dozens of seasonal events are other big draws.
The original buildings in Gruene, Texas, built circa 1800 to 1900s, almost fell to developers until an architecture student from the University of Texas at Austin saved the day. His efforts helped land the town on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, residents and visitors shop at local boutiques and Old Gruene Market Days, tube the Comal River and dance at Gruene Hall, built in 1878. The town is about a 45-minute drive from Austin and an hour from San Antonio.
Home to the largest animal sanctuary in the U.S., Kanab, Utah, combines the spectacular geography of the Rocky Mountains with the Desert Southwest. It's also the gateway to the south entrance of Zion National Park and a short drive away from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Lake Powell and other don't-miss stops. Dozens of Westerns have been filmed in or near the town, earning its nickname, "Little Hollywood."
It's the smallest state capital in the U.S., but Montpelier, Vermont, has a thriving arts and music scene, and it's rich in history and natural beauty. It's also home to the New England Culinary Institute, so visitors come for its diverse cuisine and fine restaurants. Wintertime brings snowshoeing, ice fishing, ice climbing, skiing and other outdoor sports to enjoy.
One side of the main street in downtown Bristol lies in Virginia; the other is in Tennesee. This lovely Appalachian Mountains town is a destination for music lovers and history buffs. Check out the Smithsonian-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and hear live music nightly at venues or events around town. Bristol also boasts art galleries, great local dining spots and live dance and theatrical performances. It's a designated Arts & Entertainment District.
La Conner, Washington
Visitors often come to La Conner, Washington, a small town on the waterfront, for some "retail therapy" at its galleries, needlecraft and quilt stores, gift shops and wine bars. It’s also known for its delicious eateries and, for travelers, its easy access to Interstate 5 and the ferry to the San Juan Islands. Each spring, La Conner hosts its popular Daffodil Festival, where thousands of cheerful daffs open against the backdrop of Mt. Baker. More tulips, iris and daffodil bulbs are produced in La Conner than any other county in the U.S.
Thomas, West Virginia
Wear your comfortable shoes for a self-guided walking tour around Thomas, West Virginia, where you'll find more than 50 homes and sites on the National Historic Register. Along the way, stop for a cuppa at a coffee shop or browse the town's unique art galleries and antique shops. The Purple Fiddle and Fiddler's Roost Guesthouse are located on historic Front Street in this lovely mountain town, overlooking the North Fork on the Blackwater River.
Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Arts and outdoor adventures meet in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, in the northern Door County Peninsula. This walkable town offers hundreds of miles of scenic trails and shoreline. In warm weather, visit the local apple and cherry orchards and wineries, bike or hike in Peninsula State Park, play on the beaches or enjoy live entertainment. In the winter, book a cozy cabin, visit the charming shops and play in the snow.
Think "New West" when you visit Sheridan, Wyoming. Neon signs line its historic Main Street, where legendary outlaws once roamed. Town highlights include the Sheridan Inn (once the home of Buffalo Bill), the Brinton Museum (dedicated to 19th, 20th and 21st century Western and American Indian art) and the Mint Bar, the oldest bar in town. Ride into the foothills to explore local ranches and enjoy the stunning beauty, or hike the canyons of the Bighorn Mountains.