Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
Filled with charm and plenty of friendly locals, small towns are synonymous with American life. To help you decide which towns are worthy of a vacation, U.S. News narrowed it down to places with a population of fewer than 50,000 that offer plenty of restaurants and attractions, plus have a unique character all their own. So ditch the city crowds and start planning your small-town getaway, and don't forget to vote for your favorite destination to help us determine next year's list.
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This Colorado town woos visitors with its captivating scenery and delightful Mountain Village. Skiers flock to Telluride's slopes for more than 2,000 acres of terrain, plus ample après-ski spots and an impressive 300 inches of snow and more than 200 days of sun annually. Year-round, the town hosts numerous festivals and cultural events, and travelers can hike, bike and golf when the weather warms. Plan to set aside a day to hop in the car for a road trip along the San Juan Skyway, too.
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Jackson Hole has made a name for itself thanks to its 400-some inches of annual snowfall and 2,500 acres of skiable terrain. But it's more than a top ski spot: Visitors return to this Wyoming valley year after year for its picturesque scenery and proximity to Grand Teton National Park, as well as Jackson's collection of local breweries, concert venues and access to outdoor activities like biking, paragliding and whitewater rafting. What's more, you can even view elk at the nearby National Elk Refuge.
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This lake that straddles the California-Nevada state line lets visitors pick their adventure. Ski at the intimate, cozy Homewood Mountain Resort in the winter or soak up the sun and swim at Kings Beach State Recreation Area in the summer. Olympics enthusiasts should check out Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 winter games. And travelers can tempt Lady Luck at various local casinos year-round.
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You'll find the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation in this Arizona small town. The 100-plus hiking trails are great for nature lovers, while the vortexes draw holistic enthusiasts and the luxe spas cater to visitors looking to unwind. For a bit of retail therapy, head to Tlaquepaque arts village. Conclude your day with a visit to one of the local wineries for a tasting and to purchase a bottle of wine.
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Bar Harbor#5 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
Small-town Maine at its finest, Bar Harbor is a relaxing East Coast retreat filled with bed-and-breakfast accommodations and plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. Boat tours, history tours and culinary tours are just a few ways travelers can get better acquainted with Bar Harbor. What's more, the town is a gateway to Acadia National Park, where visitors can hike and kayak. Plus, travelers should come hungry: Lobstering is still an important contributor to Bar Harbor's economy, which means local restaurants have plenty of lobster on the menu.
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Located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, this Tennessee town offers both wild adventures and down-home charm. Gatlinburg boasts three different entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the 150-plus hiking trails are sure to please hikers of all skill levels. After a day of hiking, stroll along the Historic Arts & Crafts Trail to browse a variety of handmade goods or take the kids to the Pinball Museum to play the classic game on antique machines.
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A popular California vacation destination, Monterey offers something for everyone. Golfers can hit the links at Pebble Beach, bookworms can visit the nearby National Steinbeck Center and history buffs can explore one of several missions. If you need a rainy day activity, take a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to visit otters, whales, penguins and other sea critters. Pencil in some time to relax on the beach, too: Monterey is known for its stunning shoreline.
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Along the banks of Yampa River, this northern Colorado town offers excellent ski conditions, a community of friendly locals and geothermal hot springs that are perfect after a long day spent on the slopes. Travel to Steamboat in the spring for free concerts in Gondola Square or in the summer to enjoy the Yampa River Botanic Park's flora and free concerts. Meanwhile, the whole family will enjoy rides on the Outlaw Mountain Coaster and a relaxing tubing trip down the Yampa River.
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This quaint Virginia town boasts a Colonial district where visitors can see gunsmiths, milliners and more at work, all of whom wear period clothing. You can also visit several historic buildings, including the Governor's Palace. Not a history buff? Take a stroll through Merchant's Square for specialty and chain shops. You can also fill your need for speed at Busch Gardens on one of its exciting roller coasters.
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Moab#10 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. The town itself hosts countless festivals, including the Moab Folk Festival, the Moab ArtWalk and the Moab Trashion Show, where participants create fashionable clothes from recycled materials. Plus, you can explore the city's prehistoric history by visiting dinosaur-themed attractions like the Moab Giants Museum & Dinosaur Park.
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Stowe makes for a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes), a fun fall trip (thanks to its kaleidoscopic foliage) and an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its various outdoor offerings and events). This quaint Vermont town is set in a valley and backed by mountains, which means exploring Mother Nature by foot, bike, ski or zip line is top priority for most travelers. When it's time to wind down, visit one of the area's breweries.
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Although it's the capital city of Alaska, with a population of about 32,000, Juneau can still be considered America's "Last Frontier." Nowhere else in the country can you spot whales and glaciers – including the incredible Mendenhall Glacier – in the same trip. If you'd rather explore Juneau on foot, you're in luck: The city features more than 250 miles of hiking trails. Once you get your fill of the great outdoors, head to the Alaskan Brewing Company for a tour and tasting of local beers.
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Laguna Beach#13 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
The main draw of this Southern California town is its 7 miles of pristine coastline. Laguna Beach comprises several beaches: Main Beach, Thousand Steps Beach and Aliso Beach are a few that are popular with everyone from surfers and volleyball players to families. If you have young children or love to scuba dive, check out the relaxed Diver's Cove, which has 300 feet of shoreline and is protected from larger waves. Laguna is also a great jumping-off point for exploring other Orange County beach towns, such as Huntington Beach or Seal Beach, or venturing to star-studded Los Angeles.
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At the heart of one of America's best winemaking regions, this Northern California town boasts all the charms of a rustic yet refined locale without the crowds and high price tags of its larger neighbor, Napa. Before heading to the wineries, spend the day exploring the shops and restaurants along the 8-acre Sonoma Plaza. Conclude your trip with a visit to Sonoma Coast State Park for outdoor activities like swimming, hiking and geocaching.
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Sure, you'll find plenty of fellow powder hounds on the slopes of nearby ski resorts along with stunning mountain vistas year-round, but this Colorado town also packs a historic punch thanks to its 19th-century gold rush roots. Other outdoor pursuits like hiking and biking are popular when the weather warms up, and plenty of breweries and distilleries around town occupy travelers off the trails.
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With a population of fewer than 8,000 year-round residents, Sanibel Island is still one of Florida's best kept secrets. Sanibel Island exudes a laid-back vibe, perfect for travelers looking to chill on the beach and find some beautiful shells. After soaking up the rays, visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Or, stroll through town to check out the surf shops, boutiques and casual restaurants. Plus, this Florida vacation spot offers ample lodging options, ranging from hotels to small inns to vacation rentals.
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Though long believed to be a vacation spot for just the rich and famous, Martha's Vineyard is home to numerous bed-and-breakfast accommodations, vacation rentals, hotels and campgrounds (if you're so inclined) that can accommodate any budget. Pristine beaches outline the island, which makes it tough to pick just one beach to bask on for a day. Martha's Vineyard also offers a variety of water sports, including kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. When you've had enough fun in the sun, visit the Cottage Museum and the colorful cottages in Oak Bluffs or check out the Island Alpaca Company.
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Hilton Head offers 12 miles of wide beaches for kids to play on and for parents to relax on. Golf and tennis are popular pursuits in this South Carolina vacation spot, but so are biking around town, kayaking and paddleboarding in the calm creek waters. Once you've gotten your fill of sporty outdoor adventures, meet some of the creatures who call South Carolina home at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. What's more, accommodation options abound, with top-notch hotels, vacation rentals and smaller bed-and-breakfast accommodations to choose from.
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Full of history and unspoiled beaches, this Florida town draws visitors with its links to Spanish colonial landmarks. After strolling along St. George Street and through the Colonial Quarter, check out the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. Then, head to the shore to relax and wade in the calm ocean waters. Alternatively, you can attempt to reclaim your adolescence at Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth.
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Perched along the Gulf of Mexico on Florida's Emerald Coast, Destin is all about the water. Families can set sail on a boat tour or fishing charter, swim with dolphins or stingrays at The Gulfarium or pack a picnic and enjoy a day on the beach swimming and sunbathing. As "the world's luckiest fishing village," Destin offers abundant and fresh seafood, making it the perfect dinner after a day of fun in the sun.
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Located on the Grand Strand, which has 60 miles of coastline, this South Carolina town is well-known for its beaches. Families flock to the area every summer to enjoy swimming, sunbathing and hunting for seashells and fossils. When you need a break from the sun, check out the NASCAR Racing experience, play miniature golf at one of 50 courses in the city or explore Broadway at the Beach, which has enough shops, restaurants and activities to cover more than 350 acres.
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This Maryland beach town is a popular getaway for Washington, D.C.-, Virginia- and Maryland-area natives for its 10 miles of sandy beaches and active nightlife. The town's wooden boardwalk features a variety of shops, bars, restaurants and a 117-year-old carousel. Don't leave without trying famous Maryland crabs, whether you eat them steamed, as a crabcake or in a soup. For some extra local flavor, stop by Backshore Brewing Company to try one of its craft beers or moonshine cocktails.
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Cannon Beach#23 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
This town's main draw is its nearly 4-mile-long scenic stretch of sand along the Oregon coastline that's interrupted by towering rock formations. A vacation here should include relaxing on the beach, viewing one of the many tide pools and exploring the area's parks. Visitors should also experience the local cultural activities, such as one of the local arts festivals and live theater. Before you head home, be sure to catch a glimpse of the area's Tufted Puffins.
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Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville's main claim to fame is that it's home to the University of Virginia. But visitors and nonacademic locals love this town for its proximity to Shenandoah National Park, which has 500 miles of trails, and its local wineries, cideries and breweries. Chalottesville is also steeped in Virginia and national history, as Thomas Jefferson built his homestead, Monticello, here.
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Cape May#25 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
A seaside retreat in New Jersey, Cape May invites travelers to take it easy. You'll want to spend time meandering through the historic district to admire the Victorian homes and enjoying fresh seafood at the oceanfront restaurants. You'll want to spend a few days fully enjoying the local beaches, which offer opportunities for volleyball, fishing, surfing and swimming. Plus, the shore welcomes more than just people: Several beaches welcome dogs, so no family member misses out on the fun.
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