Seven Small Towns You Must Visit in the U.S.
This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
New York City—more specifically the neon insanity around Times Square—may be the most popular tourist destination in the United States, but travelers don’t need to navigate the Big Apple to take home a memorable experience. America’s small towns have a lot to offer tourists, from lakeside picnics to golf with a view to carriage rides through cobbled streets. While New York may have many of those options, too, there’s no need to figure out how to work a Metrocard or navigate a ride from JFK Airport in small town America.
Small towns offer a slower pace of life that translates to a truly restful vacation. Make plans for a long weekend or hit the metropolis for the big museums and glitzy theatrical productions, but tack on a side trip to a bucolic smaller city for some true relaxation in a charming environment.
Here are seven small towns to add to your domestic bucket list.
Anacortes was put on the map by salmon fishers and canners who needed a place to drop their hauls. The town has since been transformed into an artsy community of sea lovers. The canneries are dwindling, but the streets have been filled by creative entrepreneurs opening galleries, boutiques, and cafés. Hop the Anacortes ferry in the spring for the Skagit Tulip and Anacortes Arts festivals, or simply wander Washington beach looking in tide pools. Try to come on a clear day, when visitors will be met with spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains, the Puget Sound, and nearby Whidbey Island.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
In summertime, there are few places as idyllic as Grand Marais, found up north in Minnesota’s so-called Arrowhead. A cool breeze blows off of Lake Superior all season long making sure lakeside revelers don’t get overheated while eating the World’s Best Donuts (if they do say so themselves) or watching the Dragon Boats race up and down the lake during the festival held each July. Grand Marais has a lot of small-town action to offer visitors, including several events like the October Moose Madness Festival and the annual Fisherman’s Picnic, which serves up a lot of herring and small town pride.
Hudson, New York
It’s just a two-hour train ride along the Hudson River from New York City to the small burg of Hudson, but it feels like a different world. The former whaling port sits nestled between the mighty river on one side and the mountains on the other, making it easy to take advantage of Valley’s abundant nature and wildlife. The town’s main drag is lined with shops peddling mid-century modern antiques, high-end cosmetics, and sleek housewares. Grab a pint and a book at Spotty Dog Books & Ale, stay at the 12-room guesthouse Wm. Farmer and Sons, and eat at the James Beard Award-winning Fish & Game.
Fernandina Beach, Florida
Situated on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida, the town sits on 13 miles of pristine coastline and boasts an historic downtown full of Southern charm and intriguing shops. There’s a farmer’s market on the weekends, which has helped the local foodie scene blossom. Head to North Beach or Main Beach to practice your surfing or hone your sand castle skills, or camp out on Fort Clinch Beach to get a little further from civilization. Nature fans who don’t want to spoil their walk by toting a golf club, can bike the numerous trails on the island or kayak to Little Talbot Island State Park.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the town is an ideal destination for nature lovers of all stripes. Spend an afternoon at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, walk back through time on the Crested Butte Heritage Walking Tour along Elk Avenue, or drive along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway that runs through mountain vistas and past old mining camps. There’s a farmer’s market that hosts harvest suppers in the fall, and the Montanya distillery produces an incredible rum perfect for whipping up cocktails for any season.
This town has been around as long as its namesake—George Washington. Founded in 1779, the former farming and milling community in Litchfield County embodies New England small town charm. Washington and the nearby village of Washington Depot are rumored to be the inspiration for the quirky town of Stars Hollow where Gilmore Girls is set, although you won’t see an exact replica of the town. Check into the Mayflower Grace to experience classic inn luxury and a good night’s sleep, stroll the streets, pop into the Hickory Stick bookstore, and find a strong cup of coffee at Marty’s Café.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This well-preserved Northern Arkansas town dates back to 1879 and its streets are still lined with remnants of Victorian architecture. The town was settled by people interested in partaking in the purportedly curative powers of the hot springs that bubble out of the Ozark Mountains and gave the town its name. The town’s Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970—it’s easy to see why with gorgeously maintained buildings and period lamp posts. Adding to the charm, the city has a trolley system and horse-drawn carriages making their way up the hills.