Small towns that are big on charm
The remote town of Sitka, in the far reaches of southern Alaska, is one of the state’s most beautiful. It’s located on the harbor in the foothills of the Three Sisters mountain range, so there are typically plenty of outdoor activities on offer, from boating and kayaking to fishing and hiking. Sitka is also the ancestral home of the Tlingit peoples, whose fascinating heritage can be explored in the town’s museums and National Historical Park. Get up-to-date information on Alaska travel restrictions and protocols here.
One of the last silver-mining boom towns in the Wild West, Tombstone is now a living relic of the old days of cowboys and gunslingers. The streets are lined with red-brick buildings, 20th-century saloons and quirky storefronts. Take a tour of the old courthouse, visit the Gunfighter Hall of Fame and watch battle re-enactments on the streets – the Tombstone tourism website has the latest updates on openings.
Arkansas: Eureka Springs
California: St Helena
Dropped in the hills of California’s most infamous wine region, Napa County, this charming town is surrounded by vineyards and dotted with grand buildings. One of the finest is Rhine House (pictured), home to Beringer winemakers (now open for various tours and tastings). You’ll also find plenty of award-winning restaurants and sleek boutique hotels.
A former silver-mining community, Leadville was once so populous and thriving that it was almost named the capital of Colorado. It was pipped to the post, however, and now the town’s population is below 3,000. Well-preserved Victorian buildings – with more than 50 dating back to the 1870s – and beautiful scenery are its main draws today. It’s also the highest city in the state, and you can typically take a scenic railway tour that chugs through the Rocky Mountains (check for availability). Travel guidance varies by region in Colorado, so visit the tourist website before heading out.
Perhaps best known as the setting for the 1988 film Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts, this southern Connecticut port town has so much more to offer. A stroll through the 18th-century style Olde Mistick Village is a top draw for architecture lovers, while four National Historic Landmark ships make their home at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Travel advisories for visitors to Connecticut can be found here.
Lewes Historic District, the heart of this small city in Sussex County, is a quaint area filled with Victorian architecture, churches, museums, boutiques and several fine restaurants. But the peaceful beaches are the main attraction here. Beach-lovers can take to the coastal trails of Cape Henlopen State Park, where you’ll find military bunkers tucked away in the sand dunes.
Florida: St. Augustine
With over 400 years of history, St. Augustine in Florida is tipped as America’s oldest city. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, the small Historic District is a charming mix of narrow streets, museums and 18th- and 19th-century buildings, some of which are rumored to be haunted. The brooding Castillo de San Marcos (temporarily closed) is a highlight too.
Home to German-style shops, beer gardens and horse-drawn carriages, Helen is a charming recreation of a Bavarian Alpine village, and feels much more like a town on the Continent than one in the American South. The town typically also holds one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the country, with flowing beer and plenty of bratwursts – its official 50th Oktoberfest celebration is postponed to 2021, but check the website for details on other planned festivities this year.
Incredible beaches and spots for fresh seafood fill this charming town on Maui, which is tipped as the Aloha State’s windsurfing capital. Laid-back with a bohemian vibe, pretty Paia gets top points for its colorful coffee shops, yoga studios, surf shacks, street art and the popular Paia Fish Market (check for opening times). Visitors to Hawaii are currently subject to quarantine restrictions – see here for details.
Spread over a leafy pocket in northern Idaho, Wallace is surrounded by forests and there are plenty of ways to enjoy its natural attractions. There’s biking and zip-lining for adventure seekers, or hiking along the Blossom Lakes Trail, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha. The town is also one of the world’s largest producers of silver and is famous for its mining industry. Keep an eye on the Visit Idaho site for changes to travel advisories.
The quirky town of Galena, tucked away in far northwestern Illinois, is full of traditional charm. Its brick-lined streets are studded with historic attractions like the Old Blacksmith Shop and the P.T Murphy Magic Theater, with its old-school magician’s shows. Main Street bursts with boutique stores, antiques shops and restaurants too. Town updates can be found here.
An utterly charming collection of 19th-century buildings, the tiny city of Madison has lots to offer. There are historical sites aplenty (the entire downtown is a National Historic Landmark), plus locally-owned shops, galleries and casual restaurants. It’s a relatively short drive from Louisville, Kentucky; Cincinnati, Ohio; and the Indiana state capital too. Travel advisories vary between counties here – check for updates before planning a trip.
Founded by Dutch immigrants, Pella is affectionately known as “America’s Dutch Treasure”, and its canal, distinct Dutch architecture and traditional windmills make the town feel more like Amsterdam than Iowa. The city’s Dutch heritage is usually also celebrated at the annual Tulip Time Festival with tulip gardens, music, food and daily parades – the next event is scheduled for May 2021, so keep an eye on the website for updates.
Historic Abilene in Kansas is most famous for being the hometown of President Eisenhower, and first-time visitors typically make a beeline for his house at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, where he is now buried – it’s temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but check back for updates. The Georgian-style Seelye Mansion is also a popular attraction.
Most notably the home of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Clermont is a prominent stop on the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Jim Beam typically offers distillery tours (it’s now open to visitors in a limited capacity – see the website for details), while the nearby Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is perfect for long walks. The whole of Bullitt County is steeped in bourbon history, so there are plenty of other distilleries nearby, too, like Maker’s Mark, which leads tours with advance reservations.
The historic Natchitoches (pronounced nah-codish) was a French colony founded in 1714 and is the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana. Situated on the Cane River, the area has maintained its distinctive French Creole architecture, with elegant townhouses, wrought-iron balconies and brick paths. It’s also home to the 19th-century Oakland Plantation (pictured), a designated National Historic Landmark that was once a cotton farm. Today, it’s possible to visit and be educated about the homes of enslaved workers and learn about the conditions of those who lived here until as recently as the 1970s.
Nicknamed the ‘Jewel of the Maine Coast’, Camden is a quintessential seaside town with a charming harbor, an old lighthouse, jagged rock bays and the opportunity for sunset cruises. Many visitors enjoy hiking up nearby Mount Battie, or indulging in a feast at one of the town’s many coastal restaurants. Some visitors to the state are subject to restrictions – see Visit Maine before you set out.
As well as looking incredibly pretty, the vibrant town of Berlin in Maryland’s Worcester County has a cool, laid-back atmosphere. It has got history too: Main Street has a mix of Victorian and early 20th-century buildings, many of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The town is also dotted with beautiful magnolias and sycamores, and is close to the sandy Assateague Island, where wild horses roam. Check here for the latest travel alerts.
The romantic coastal town of Rockport in Massachusetts, located on the Cape Ann peninsula, is surrounded by beautiful beaches and is home to Motif Number 1 – a red fishing shack often cited as the most-painted building in America. In the center of town, Main Street has quirky art galleries, a pottery studio and gift stores, plus Tuck’s Candy Factory and its delicious salt water taffy. Check here for the latest Massachusetts travel orders.
Known for its Bavarian-style architecture, Frankenmuth is a celebration of the area’s German roots. Settled in 1845 by German Lutheran immigrants, the town is now filled with Bavarian-themed bakeries, restaurants and hotels. A highlight is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland – a Christmas shop that began trading in 1945 and is usually open 361 days a year.
Set on the Mississippi River, the elegant town of Natchez has everything you might expect from a classic Southern town – 18th-century homes, beautiful scenery and traditional down-home cuisine. Here you can walk along the riverbank, hitch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage, or visit the town’s art galleries and museums. The Visit Natchez site has details on individual attractions.
A stone’s throw from the Ozark mountains, Branson, Missouri has plenty going for it. Here you’ll find the quaint Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-themed amusement park with rides, performances and craft demonstrations, now open with some restrictions. Visitors can also hop on the Branson Scenic Railway for a tour through the Ozark foothills between March and December – check the website for updates and availability. When it comes to dining, the White River Fish House is a popular spot for hearty country cooking and seafood dishes.
The cute mountain town of Whitefish is a true all-season spot. During the winter months, it’s a popular ski resort, and at Christmastime, the snow-capped peaks provide the perfect backdrop for the festive markets downtown. In summer, the lakes transform into scenic swimming spots and the mountain trails are overtaken with bikers and hikers. Now check out America’s most glamorous glamping sites.
Nevada: Virginia City
Walking down Virginia City’s main street is like stepping into a Wild West cowboy film, thanks to the kitschy Western-style saloons, restaurants and shops. Once a bustling silver-mining community, which attracted thousands of newcomers including Mark Twain, the quaint town in Nevada is now home to fewer than 900 people. See the Travel Nevada site for state-wide announcements and restrictions, but check individual attractions for opening times.
New Hampshire: Hanover
New Jersey: Cape May
This charming coastal city, which has a population of less than 4,000, is admired for its pristine beaches and the pretty, colorful Victorian buildings along the waterfront. In fact, the preservation of these eye-catching structures helped the city earn its title of National Historic Landmark in 1976. The slew of seafood restaurants and locally owned food and fashion stores are a boon too. See this website for travel updates and advice.
New Mexico: Taos
The beautiful old town of Taos is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in northern New Mexico, and is hailed for its super creative locals and its many art galleries. The desert landscape is also dotted with traditional adobe structures, the most striking of which is the Taos Pueblo (pictured). This community dwelling has belonged to the Puebloans for more than 1,000 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Note that out-of-state travelers to New Mexico are currently required to self-quarantine – check for details.
New York: Lake Placid
Named for shimmering Lake Placid itself, this little town in the Adirondack Mountains is a top spot for outdoorsy types. It’s known as a hub for winter sports, and was most notably the host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Fly-fishing is popular here too: the West Branch of the Ausable River, near Lake Placid, is a well-known year-round fishing destination. Check the latest protocols for travelers on iloveny.com.
North Carolina: Beaufort
North Dakota: Park River
The former capital of Oklahoma, Guthrie is a small city packed full of history. Architecture buffs will appreciate the Victorian buildings and the 19th-century stone façades, while the downtown district brims with antique stores and cute bed and breakfasts. The area is also home to the Scottish Rite Temple, one of the country’s largest Masonic centers – it’s temporarily closed to visitors, but keep an eye on the website for updates. Ghost hunting tours are typically a crowd favorite here too.
Oregon: Hood River
The beautiful port of Hood River sits in the foothills of the snow-capped Mount Hood on the Columbia River Gorge. Given the small city’s incredible backdrop, it’s not surprising that hiking, snowshoeing, mountain-biking and sailing are all popular here. There’s a good handful of breweries in the area too, so you can reward yourself with a pint after an afternoon’s adventure. The Hood River tourism website has the latest travel updates.
Pennsylvania: Jim Thorpe
Nicknamed “the Switzerland of America”, the Pennsylvanian town of Jim Thorpe is nested in the Pocono Mountains. This Alpine-esque bolthole, with winding streets and Victorian architecture, also sits close to Lehigh Gorge, a spectacular state park with thick woodlands, dramatic waterfalls and a 20-mile (32km) long trail that follows abandoned railroad tracks. Most park facilities are now open, though see the website for updates.
Rhode Island: New Shoreham
New Shoreham on Block Island is the smallest town in the smallest state in America. It’s far quieter than nearby Newport or Narragansett, but it still has bags of quintessential New England charm. Here you’ll find sandy shores, stunning lighthouses and miles of nature trails. Check the Visit Rhode Island site before planning a trip, as some state travel restrictions apply.
South Carolina: Beaufort
Behind dreamy Charleston, Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina. The area is renowned for its stunning Victorian and pre-Civil War era architecture and moss-covered oak trees. Walking tours or horse-drawn carriages typically run throughout the town, and the excellent Beaufort History Museum is worth a stop too. Read on as we reveal the stunning spots to relax in your motorhome this summer.
South Dakota: Deadwood
Many visitors head to Gatlinburg in Tennessee to explore the Great Smoky Mountains, but the town itself is also worth discovering. Head to the Gatlinburg Space Needle (pictured) or jump aboard the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for great views of the leafy surrounds. You’ll also find plenty of charming restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries in the area.
The tiny town of Marfa only has 1,700 residents, but it has become a nationally renowned arts hub, largely down to one man. Artist Donald Judd fell in love with the desert community in the 1970s and transformed the place by creating the Chinati Foundation Gallery (temporarily closed), art installations (like the bold Marfa Prada, pictured here), and film and music festivals. Since then, quirky shops and restaurants have flourished, including the popular Marfa Burritos.
Utah: Park City
Stowe in Vermont is the perfect small town for nature enthusiasts, art lovers and ice cream fans, who’ll find Ben & Jerry’s Waterbury Factory a short drive away – factory tours are on pause for now, but see the website for updates. The town is surrounded by thick forests, rivers and valleys and also the state’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, just to the north. It’s typically host to an annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in July too – though the 2020 event was canceled, it’s hoped that the 2021 festival will go ahead. Check the state travel restrictions before heading to Vermont.
Adorable Chincoteague Island – home to the adorable Chincoteague town – is just seven miles (11km) long and three miles (5km) wide, but bursting with nostalgic charm. The area is dotted with cottages and surrounded by sandy shores and there’s a distinct lack of fancy resorts, high-rises or boardwalks. Wild horses roam the neighboring Assateague Island and the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim offers a chance to watch the animals enjoy a dip in the water – the event was sadly canceled for 2020, but check for updates on next year.
Washington: Port Townsend
West Virginia: Summersville
With the largest clear water lake in the state and the only working lighthouse, Summersville is a unique place to visit in West Virginia. Summersville Lake is perfect for boating and swimming and plenty of biking and walking trails are laced around the water’s edge too. Downtown is home to charming old storefronts and the Neoclassical Revival county courthouse, built in 1895. See here for the latest travel alerts.
Perched on the shore of Lake Superior and surrounded by apple orchards, lavender and strawberry fields, Bayfield in Wisconsin is a wonderful, bucolic escape. For most of the year, it’s home to around 500 people, but thousands of tourists typically visit in the summer to enjoy the scenic waters, galleries and nearby Apostle Islands. Be sure to check in advance for any travel alerts if you’re planning a trip.
Cody in Wyoming was named after William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, and he’s still a mighty presence in the town. Here you’ll find museums and scenic byways dedicated to the famed showman, as well as the Cody Nite Rodeo, which features plenty of lasso-wielding cowboys. For the full Wild West experience, head to the nearby Old Trail Town (pictured) – a living museum with traditional cabins, a saloon and old wagons. Now discover America’s most charming seaside towns.
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