- Small towns in the US can have just as much culture as big cities.
- Insider looked for the best small town in each state that had a variety of activities for locals and tourists, charm, history, and natural beauty.
- Ranked among our best are Blowing Rock, North Carolina; Hanover, New Hampshire; Los Alamos, California; Port Townsend, Washington; and Eufaula, Alabama.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While cities are known for being culture hubs and centres of entertainment, small towns often have just as much to offer.
All across America, small towns have become art havens, fine dining meccas, and top travel destinations. Researchers even found that people living in small towns are happier than those who live in more urban environments.
Insider went state by state to find small towns with charm, as well as a plethora of activities for both locals and visitors. While some of the towns and villages are tourist destinations, others are quiet suburban communities that are home to only a select few.
From the East Coast to the West Coast, these are the best small towns in the US (all populations according to the US Census Bureau).
The town of Eufaula is situated on the southeastern border of Alabama and Georgia. About 90 miles from Montgomery, the town has sweeping views of Lake Eufaula, which made it a major port for steamboats in the 19th century. Today Eufaula has a southern charm that can be seen in its antebellum homes and historic district. The best way to experience the charm of this town is during the spring when they welcome visitors for the annual Eufaula Pilgrimage, which is a tour of the town’s oldest homes on the National Register.
Sitka is located on Baranof Island, making it only accessible by plane or boat. It’s nestled between mountains and the Pacific Ocean, giving residents magnificent views and even more incredible wildlife. Sitka is a lively and charming small town with restaurants, shops, and even art galleries. From whale watching to incredible hikes, Sitka has everything an adventure traveller needs within a small town setting.
Bisbee sits about 90 miles southeast of Tucson in the Mule Mountains. Nestled in the valley of mountains, this artistic community exudes a free spirit and relaxed vibes. The artsy community also has a historic downtown that is a monument to the 20th century. Bisbee draws tourists who are interested in history, music, museums, antiques, and especially art.
Jasper is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and sits near the Buffalo National River. Its unique placement offers residents stunning views of nature and wildlife. There’s even a quaint festival every year that honours the elk that live in the neighbourhood. Additionally, the small downtown has a number of prehistoric buildings,including the famed Arkansas House Inn, which opened in 1934, and Emma’s Museum of Junk, a unique antique store. Ozark Cafe is another popular spot in this charming small town.
CALIFORNIA: Los Alamos
Los Alamos was founded in 1876, and you still feel that Old West vibe while walking down its streets. While everything looks and feels vintage, Los Alamos has a lively culture, including food, wine, antiques, and arts. At the Los Alamos Third Saturday Stroll in September, the town combines its culture and history by celebrating with a BBQ, car show, and parade. But perhaps the most memorable part of Los Alamos is Union Hotel, which was built in 1880.
COLORADO: Crested Butte
Crested Butte, situated in the Rocky Mountains, is known for its flowers. In fact, the town is dubbed the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado.” One of the town’s most popular seasons is July, when it hosts the Wildflower Festival, which includes hikes, garden tours, and classes. The warmer months also offer 750 miles of biking trails and camping in the Gunnison National Forest. In the winter, Crested Butte becomes a popular skiing destination.
Essex has several claims to fame. Firstly, it is one of only a handful of towns in the US that was attacked by a foreign country. In the War of 1812, England invaded the town and took control. Second, it has one of the oldest inns, The Griswold Inn, and an operating steam train.
DELAWARE: Rehoboth Beach
Rehoboth Beach sits on the coast of Delaware, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, making it an excellent beach town. A boardwalk runs along the coast, which is lined with charming restaurants, shops, and hotels. The town comes to life in the summer, with free concerts and hikes through Cape Henlopen State Park in the north.
FLORIDA: DeFuniak Springs
DeFuniak Springs is in Florida’s panhandle and has an interesting history. The town was founded in the 19th century as a resort for railroad travellers. The town welcomed presidents, poets, writer, and musicians to the charming community as a vacation destination. Today DeFuniak Springs still has its Victorian charm and still welcomes travellers interested in Florida’s rich history and culture. The Walton County Library – the oldest library in the state – is also in town. The Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood is also there, originally a 4,000-seat auditorium in the 19th century. The town is also home to LakeDeFuniak, one of the few naturally occurring lakes that are almost perfectly circular.
Helen brings the charm of Germany to Georgia. Situated by the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northeast part of the state, Helen is best known for turning itself into a Bavarian alpine town. Although sometimes regarded as a tourist trap, Helen also has great attractions outside of town, including the Chattahoochee River, Chattahoochee National Forest, and Smithgall Woods State Park.
Haleiwa is a small town that sits on the island of Oahu. It’s best known as the surfing capital of the world. From October to April, spectators flock to the beach to watch surfers brave the waves that regularly crash onto the sand. Here, the waves can reach 40 feet high. The town is also known for its Matsumoto Shave Ice competition, which brings more people to the charming area. For those who aren’t into competitions, Haleiwa’s main street has a plethora of restaurants, galleries, and shops.
There’s a reason Ernest Hemingway settled in Ketchum, Idaho, and made it his final home. With the Bald Mountains of Sun Valley towering over the small town and wilderness wrapping itself around the rest, the town has become an idyllic destination for all types of travellers. Once a mining town, Ketchum has become a popular ski destination. The entire town seems like an idyllic ski cabin, perfect for the winter getaways. But residents are also able to hike, hunt, and trail ride during the warmer months.
Although Galena is a small town, it is one of the most visited places in Illinois – and for good reason. Travellers flock to this scenic town for its preserved 19th-century buildings and peaceful charm. Galena was also home to former president Ulysses S. Grant, and his former residence is now a museum. Meanwhile, the Galena River allows residents and tourists to boat, kayak, and canoe. The Apple River Canyon State Park nearby offers great hiking options as well.
INDIANA: Santa Claus
In Santa Claus, Indiana, it’s Christmas all year long. The Santa Claus Museum & Village has a castle and a 22-foot statue of Saint Nick himself. Everything in this small town is holiday themed, including the post office, boutiques, and candy shops. The town is also very popular even outside of the Christmas season, especially with its drive-in theatre. It is also home to the world’s first themed amusement park, Holiday World, which includes a water park.
Pella, Iowa, was founded by the Netherlands, and its Dutch origins are still evident today. The 100,000 square-foot Molengracht Canal is one great attraction because it’s modelled after an authentic Dutch canal. Around the canal, residents can shop at local boutiques, bakeries, and even meat markets. There is even a movie theatre and fine dining options nearby. Another authentic Dutch attraction in Pella is the Vermeer Mill, which has been turned into a museum. The old world Dutch influence can also be seen in the town’s quaint architecture.
There’s a reason that Wamego’s motto is “Small Town. Big Experience.” Many residents and tourists visit the Colombian Theatre, built in 1893, for live entertainment. The town is also home to the No. 1 park in the state, Wamego State Park. In town, there is a Dutch Mill, the Historic Museum, and the Prairie Town Village. The famed Oz Museum is another attraction that draws people to Wamego, with artifacts from the famous musical set in Kansas.
Bardstown, Kentucky, has been named America’s most beautiful small town. Travel + Leisure also says you’ll find “America’s Most Beautiful Town Square” in Bardstown. But the town has so much more to offer than just its picturesque scenery. Bardstown is known for its bourbon and is considered the bourbon capital of the world with six distilleries in the area. Some of these distilleries date back as far as 1776.
LOUISIANA: St. Francisville
St. Francisville, Louisiana, is everything you expect a southern Louisiana town to be. The small town is so idyllic that it even made it to the big screen, becoming the set for movies like Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion” and “The Maze Runner.” Just two hours north of New Orleans, St. Francisville is also home to one of the most haunted hotels in America, Myrtles Plantation. You can explore historic plantations alongside some of the most beautiful scenes you’ll see in the South.The Bluffs is another attraction in town for those who love golf.
MAINE: Bar Harbour
Bar Harbour is perched atop Mount Desert Island and acts as a gateway to the Acadia National Park. Suffice it to say, the views in this town are jaw-dropping. Cadillac Mountain offers an even more gorgeous landscape as it towers over the small town. The idyllic streets are lined with Victorian homes and cosy porches. Bar Harbour isn’t just known for its scenery, though. Residents enjoy hiking, kayaking, and golfing in the small town.
MARYLAND: St. Michaels
Situated on Maryland’s east shore, St. Michaels is a harbour town that residents enjoy year-round. In fact, USA Today named it one of the top 10 small coastal towns in America. The town has great boutique shopping. It also has delicious restaurants and bistros for every craving, but it specialises in its local seafood. Another thing St. Michaels does well is its water adventures, which include sailing, kayaking, and skipjacking. If you’re a visitor, the town offers some of the best Victorian bed and breakfasts on the East Coast as well.
Provincetown is the northernmost tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and the spot where the Mayflower landed back in 1620. Today the seaside town is home to artists and known for its LGBTQ-friendly environment. While the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum celebrate the town’s history, P-town is celebrated for its lively Commercial Street, which is filled with shops, galleries, and restaurants. Along the main street, visitors and residents are also treated to nightclubs, bars, and cabarets.
While Michigan is home to a number of great small towns, Frankenmuth is unique for its German style and inspiration. The Bavarian-style architecture is a major draw to this small town, which can be seen in the Franconian buildings throughout Frankenmuth. While there are museums that honour the German style, residents can also visit Heritage Park for spectacular views. Also in town is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which is the world’s largest Christmas store.
MINNESOTA: Grand Marais
Minnesota’s small town Grand Marais is on the shores of Lake Superior and has some of the best art galleries, eateries, and hiking trails in the state. Residents of this small harbour village indulge in arts and culture at the old art colony and North House Folk School. With everything Grand Marais has to offer, it’s no surprise that USA Today named it the Best Midwestern Small Town in 2018.
Any history buff would fall in love with Corinth, Mississippi. The small town played a major role in the Civil War, including the siege of Corinth when the Union army occupied the town for a short time. Today you can visit Veranda House, which was the former headquarters of the Confederate army. Fort Williams, General Quarters Inn, and other historic sites downtown are great places to visit. But Corinth is also as rich with culture as it is with history. In fact, you can enjoy old fashion pop at Borroum’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain.
While Kimmswick has fewer than 200 residents and only a few storefronts, the small town in Missouri has so much to offer. The town was founded in 1859, and most of the 20 shops and businesses still occupy the same buildings from when it was created. From bakeries to galleries and antique shops, this town has everything a resident and traveller could need. Kimmswick also usually hosts a number of very popular festivals, including the Strawberry Festival in June and the Apple Butter Festival in October.
While Whitefish, Montana, is known for being a ski town, it has something to offer to every resident and visitor. Whitefish is located near the Glacier National Park, offering the town some of the best views of white-capped mountains during the winter months. The Whitefish Winter Carnival is proof of the town’s charm, as residents participate in snow sculpture competitions and non-stop partying. In the summer, Whitefish has great stream fishing and alpine trail hiking.
It’s easy to understand why Chadron is often named one of the best places to live in Nebraska. The town sits on the edge of the Nebraska National Forest, offering adventurous residents the beauty and activities of the great outdoors. Within driving distance, the Oglala National Grasslands also offer residents more wildlife to take in. The town itself has a village-like feel, making it a charming spot in Nebraska. Founded in 1884 as a fur trading post, history buffs could visit the town’s Museum of Fur Trade and the Fur Trade Days festival in town.
NEVADA: Virginia City
Virginia City became a popular mining town in the 1800s, and it’s still evident today. From the Victorian homes to the stagecoach rides, this charming town is an homage to its past. The Way It Was Museum in town also offers tourists a look into the life of a miner. Virginia City’s history attracts some not for its mining past but for its ghosts. The small town is also home to the Washoe Club and Piper’s Opera Club, both of which are said to be haunted. Beyond its history, Virginia City also offers some of the best restaurants in the area and can’t-miss saloons.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hanover
Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, but it’s so much more than a college town. In fact, CNN once named it one of the top six best places to live in the country. Situated on the Connecticut River, Hanover has some of the most picturesque landscapes a small town could offer. With the Appalachian Trail running right through the town, it’s impossible to miss the natural beauty surrounding this small town. Almost all of the town’s happenings are on Main Street where you can find small shops, restaurants, galleries, and farmers’ markets.
NEW JERSEY: Cape May
At the tip of south New Jersey is a seaside town known as Cape May. While most come to enjoy its beach, visitors and residents also appreciate Cape May’s elaborate Victorian homes – many of which have been turned into B&Bs and hotels. Cape May is also known for its shopping and restaurants that are open along the boardwalk and Washington Street.
NEW MEXICO: Taos
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is known for its breathtaking scenery. The gorgeous views have even inspired famous artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, both of which came to the town. As further proof of the town’s beauty, Travel + Leisure magazine named Taos one of the World’s Prettiest Mountain Towns. The scenery continues to inspire artists today with the Taos Art Museum, while the Taos Pueblo –which dates back 1,000 years – has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. If art isn’t your thing, there are four ski resorts nearby.
NEW YORK: Shelter Island
Nestled between Long Island’s North and South forks, Shelter Island is a great getaway town for city dwellers and an even greater alternative to the uber-popular Hamptons. The island town is known for its outdoor activities, which include first-rate beaches. Shelter Island also has the Mashomack Preserve, which is a protected area with wetlands and woods that you can explore at your own leisure.
NORTH CAROLINA: Blowing Rock
Blowing Rock, North Carolina, truly has something for everyone. From fly fishing and rafting to bouldering and rock climbing, Blowing Rock has every outdoor activity you can imagine. But the town’s real charm is its downtown, where you can find over 100 small shops and restaurants. With sweeping mountain views, this small town seems to be right out of a storybook.
NORTH DAKOTA: Garrison
Garrison, North Dakota, is located on one of the largest man-made lakes in the US. This unique location has turned Garrison into a fishing town where residents and visitors try to score record-breaking walleye, pike, and bass. The small town has so much more to offer than just fishing, though. Its Heritage Park Museum pays homage to the 20th century and the town’s annual Dickens Village Festival turns garrison into a Victorian village with parades, costumes, and carriage tours.
Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Marblehead is a charming town with breathtaking views of Sandusky Bay. Its main street is the epitome of small-town America, as shops and businesses line the quaint streets. Residents are even greeted by parades down Main Street on special occasions and events. The Marblehead Lighthouse is another noteworthy draw to the waterfront town. Additionally, the East Harbour State Park allows you to get close to the shores of Lake Erie while also enjoying the small town vibes from Marblehead.
OKLAHOMA: Medicine Park
Medicine Park is perfectly located in the Wichita Mountains and near the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, so this small town is surrounded by natural beauty. Because of its unique location,residents and guests can enjoy fishing, hiking, bike trails, and swimming in the river that runs through town. The cobblestone streets give a quaint small town feel that just adds to the natural charm. Budget Travel even named Medicine Park one of America’s Coolest Small Towns.
OREGON: Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay is on the coast of Oregon, sitting on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The town is best known for being one of the best places to catch a sighting of whales because the waters around the town are home to a pod of grey whales. Residents and visitors flock to the shores to watch the sea creatures get close to town. In town, you can shop, dine, and explore the beautiful small town with constant views of the oceans.
About an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh, you’ll find a charming town named Volant. Although the town is home to mostly the Amish, it’s a perfect place to visit and experience the Amish lifestyle and quaint community. As you tour, horse-drawn carriages will prance past, while each shop you enter will be stocked with Amish goods such as fabrics, spices, and jams. You can even get tours of Amish schoolhouses and farms. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, the town also hosts a Harry Potter festival.
RHODE ISLAND: Little Compton
Located on the Massachusetts and Rhode Island state border, Little Compton is the most idyllic small town one can dream of. Situated next to the Sakonnet River, the town has houses that date back to the 17th century. With a mixture of farms and expansive landscapes, it is known for being the birthplace of the Rhode Island Red hen.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Beaufort
After colonists settled the famous Charleston, they created the town of Beaufort, which still exists today. As the second oldest settlement in South Carolina, Beaufort is rich with history and is alive with historical sites from the time of the United States’ birth. Beyond its history, Beaufort is also known for its idyllic waterfront on the Beaufort River. The small town also stands out for its antebellum mansions that residents still live in today.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Custer
Custer, South Dakota, is notable for its nature and wildlife, specifically its buffalo. Located in the breathtaking Black Hills National Forest, this mountain town is perfect for any nature lover. To catch a glimpse of free-roaming buffalo, residents and tourists head over to the majestic Custer State Park. For those more interested in history, the historic downtown features restaurants, shops, and galleries. The 1881 Courthouse Museum is also located downtown and was built in 1881.
Historic Gatlinburg could not be in a better location, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. The small town welcomes travellers interested in whitewater rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter. There’s also scenic hikes and wildlife all over Gatlinburg to enjoy, as well as wineries and distilleries.
TEXAS: Dripping Springs
West of Austin, Texas there’s a small town called Dripping Springs, and its small charm and idyllic nature are must-sees. With prairies and rolling hills, Dripping Springs is a beautiful small town with parks, wildlife, and wide-open spaces. But the biggest attraction to this town is Hamilton Pool Preserve. This natural swimming pool was created thousands of years ago when a river underground collapsed.
UTAH: Green River
Just three hours east of Salt Lake City, Green River is an idyllic small town great for escaping city life. Most come to Green River to raft down Desolation and Grey Canyons, but there’s still so much more to see and do. The Green River State Park has a nine-hole golf course, and Goblin Valley is perfect for cave hunters. The small town is also known for its exquisite melons, which they celebrate during Melon Days Festival every September.
Chester, Vermont, is best known for its iconic Stone Village and Chester Village Historic Districts. Both of these attractions are on the National Register of Historic Places, bringing thousands to visit them every year. Stone Village is special for its granite houses, while Chester Village has a beautiful colonial aesthetic. And the inns, shops, galleries, and restaurants are also all proof of Chester’s legacy in Vermont.
Lexington, Virginia, was named after the infamous Battle of Lexington and Concord, which started the American Revolution. The town’s history doesn’t end there, though. In Lexington, you can find the burial sites of Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. While steeped in history and relics, Lexington’s also got beautiful scenery to take in all year around.
WASHINGTON: Port Townsend
Port Townsend was born out of a mistake. In the 19th century, people thought the town would boom as a shipping port, so they built the town up with Victorian mansions. But when the railroads connected to Seattle instead, Port Townsend was bypassed. Instead of taking defeat, the town has redefined itself as an art and culture hub in Washington state. The historic buildings with large bay windows still stand in this quirky arts village. For the more adventurous people, there is Fort Worden State Park nearby, where you can find sandy beaches and kayaking.
WEST VIRGINIA: Lewisburg
Like many small towns, Lewisburg, West Virginia, has a rich history, and it takes great pride in celebrating its past. Ahistoric walking tour will take you through downtown and highlight all of the small town’s most historically important buildings and architecture. The streets are also lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants. But the best attraction in Lewisburg is the Lost World Caverns, which is an underground network of caverns registered as a National Natural Landmark. The ominous caves are worth the trip.
Tucked away along the Mississippi River, Stockholm, Wisconsin, has remained relatively untouched over the years. With just over 60 residents, Stockholm has no chain stores or restaurants in town, proving it has been saved from urbanisation. Its local businesses still attract travellers, though, especially its famous pie shop, Stockholm Pie and General Store. Along with its locality, the town was able to preserve its Swedish heritage, which can still be seen in the architecture throughout Stockholm.
In the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, you can find the historic small town of Buffalo. The town is surrounded by sweeping natural beauty, while its downtown district is filled with history and old Midwest architecture. For example, guests can stay at the Occidental Hotel, which is over 130 years old. The Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, which opened in 1900, is another popular destination. There are even ranches and mountain lodges for guests and residents of this historic mountain town.