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 destinations are the best small towns to visit in the USA, U.S. News evaluated places with a population of less than 50,000 people 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. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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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 309 inches of snow and 300 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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Bar Harbor#2 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
Bar Harbor is small-town Maine at its finest. This relaxing East Coast retreat is 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 fresh lobster on the menu.
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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 such, expect outdoor activities galore, including biking, paragliding and whitewater rafting. What's more, you can even view wild elk at the nearby National Elk Refuge.
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This lake that straddles the California-Nevada state line lets visitors choose their own adventure. Ski at the intimate, cozy Homewood Mountain Resort in winter or soak up some sun and swim at Kings Beach State Recreation Area in summer. Olympics enthusiasts should check out Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, while those with extra money to spend can tempt Lady Luck at various local casinos.
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You'll find the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation in this small Arizona 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 & Crafts Village. Conclude your day with a visit to one of the local wineries for a tasting and to purchase a bottle or two of wine.
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Moab#6 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 Moab Giants, a dinosaur museum and park.
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Situated along the banks of the Yampa River, this northern Colorado town offers excellent skiing 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 fall for brilliant foliage found in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, or come in spring to get an eyeful of Fish Creek Falls. 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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Full of history and unspoiled beaches, this Florida town beckons to 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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Cannon Beach#9 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, which include show stoppers like Ecola State Park, Hug Point State Recreation Site and Oswald West State Park. Before you head home, be sure to catch a glimpse of the area's tufted puffins.
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Located in the heart of one of America's best winemaking regions, this Northern California town boasts all of 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, restaurants and wineries along the 8-acre Sonoma Plaza. Conclude your trip with a visit to Sonoma Coast State Park for beautiful coastal views and numerous hiking opportunities.
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You'll find stunning Colorado mountain vistas year-round in this former Gold Rush town. Winter is when powder hounds flock to Breckenridge's ski resorts to shred powder on their slopes. Once the weather warms up, other outdoor pursuits like hiking and biking the Vail Pass Path and Boreas Pass Road become the main things to do. Regardless of when you visit, you'll discover plenty of breweries and a distillery to unwind at after a busy day on the trails or slopes.
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A popular California vacation destination, Monterey is known for its stunning coastal setting. The best ways to get an eyeful of the region's geography are to ride along the 17-mile drive and hike through beautiful Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If you're a golfer, don't miss the chance to hit the links at Pebble Beach, which is widely considered one of the most beautiful courses in the country. You'll also want to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium and explore the wharf's candy shops if you're traveling with kids.
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Taos, NM#13 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
This New Mexico town draws in visitors with its adobe architecture and diverse mix of things to do. Here, you'll find Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community with UNESCO World Heritage Site status and a National Historic Landmark designation, as well as the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the second-highest bridge on America's highway system. Plus, Taos boasts an adobe-filled historic district that hosts seasonal outdoor concerts and is home to various shops and art galleries. If you decide to visit in winter, you'll enjoy proximity to powder-covered mountains known for their excellent ski slopes.
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Located in the heart of the Smokies, this Tennessee town offers both wild adventures and down-home charm. Gatlinburg is home to one of three entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you'll find 150 hiking trails that will surely please hikers of all skill levels. Arrive in fall to also get an eyeful of stunning foliage while riding the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway or venturing to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle. After admiring the scenery, learn about craftsmanship at the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community or take the kids to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.
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This quaint Virginia town boasts a Colonial district where visitors can transport themselves back to the olden days as they interact with actors in period clothing and learn more about life during the Revolutionary War. Williamsburg also sits close to Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield, giving travelers additional opportunities to educate themselves about America's past. For those who need a break from the area's rich history, there are Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, two amusement parks where families will find all kinds of fun thrills.
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Stowe makes for a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes), a fun fall trip (thanks to its famously vibrant foliage) and an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its various outdoor offerings and events). This charming 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, vacationers can visit one of the area's breweries or enjoy a scoop of ice cream at the Ben & Jerry's Waterbury Factory.
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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 activities, including kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. When you've had enough fun in the sun, visit the colorful cottages in Oak Bluffs or check out the Island Alpaca Company.
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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 to sunbathers to paddleboarders. If you have young children or love to scuba dive or snorkel, check out relaxed Diver's Cove, which boasts 300 feet of shoreline and is protected from larger waves.
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With a population of about 7,500 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. Soak up some rays on Bowman's Beach or Blind Pass Beach, then plan a trip to flora- and fauna-filled J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where you'll find manatees, alligators and lots of birds.
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Although it's the capital of Alaska, with a population of less than 32,000 people, 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 town 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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Hood River#21 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
Hood River, Oregon, is the gateway to both the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Range, giving you seemingly endless opportunities to spend time outdoors. What's more, the surrounding area is considered a budding wine region, so you can get your fill of vino during your visit. While here, don't forget to save time for checking out nearby natural wonders like Multnomah Falls and Mount Hood, the latter of which is always covered with snow on its peak.
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This famous Bush family hideaway is more than just a retreat for the rich and famous. Kennebunkport, Maine, is an ideal getaway for all kinds of travelers thanks to its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful coastal landscape and family-friendly beaches. Must-dos here include soaking up some sun at Gooch's Beach and signing up for a boat tour to enjoy everything from sunset views to lessons in how to catch lobsters. No visit would be complete without browsing the shops and art galleries in Dock Square.
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Famous for its bevy of Civil War sites, Gettysburg certainly won't disappoint those with a penchant for history. However, the Pennsylvania town's slower pace of life and overall charm will certainly satisfy those looking to recharge and unwind. In addition to its main attraction, Gettysburg National Military Park, the town features a variety of inns, local shops and farm-to-table restaurants, many of which line Gettysburg's central Main Street.
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Beaufort#24 in Best Small Towns to Visit in the USA
Southern charm is available everywhere you turn in this South Carolina town. While visiting beautiful Beaufort, you'll discover moss-laden trees, superb waterfront views and gorgeous architecture. Take a leisurely stroll by the water in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, or rent a bike and admire the flora along the Spanish Moss Trail. Also set aside some time for a daytrip to stunning Hunting Island State Park, which is located 17 miles southeast of Beaufort.
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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 and participating in boat tours. Once you've gotten your fill of outdoor adventures, meet some of the creatures who call South Carolina home at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge before ending your day in the quaint Harbour Town area.
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