Add These 20 Small Towns to Your 2020 Travel List
These towns are small, but mighty and well worth a visit.
Small town living
Sometimes you just need to get out of town. While America’s big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have a lot to offer, they can also be a bit much. With so much to do and so many options, just figuring out what to do can be exhausting. That’s why 2020 is going to be all about visiting small towns and really getting to know a local culture. These places have plenty to keep you busy for a few days without being overwhelming. They’re also full of history, nature, amazing architecture, and some delicious cuisine, making them the ideal break from your everyday life. Here are the small towns you should add to your 2020 travel list. If you’re still looking for suggestions, here are 20 places to visit in 2020.
Clayton, New York
When we think of weekend getaways in upstate New York, it can be hard to look beyond the Catskills and Adirondacks—and for good reason. They’re both amazing and those who go are rewarded with some of the best scenery in the country. But, if you do look outside these two mountainous areas, try the 1000 Islands region. The 1000 Islands (you say it like the salad dressing which yes, was invented here) is a magical place full of antique wooden boats, Gilded Age castles, and miles and miles of gorgeous coastline. Make the small, but well-equipped town of Clayton your home base when exploring the area. Stay at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, which isn’t just comfortable and inviting, but was also built on the site of the old Frink snow plow factory, and—get this—is in the shape of a snow plow. Be sure to visit the Antique Boat Museum and take a cruise on the river in a vintage wooden boat (weather permitting). Solid food options include Bella’s for a tasty lunch and the Wood Boat Brewery for dinner. These are 13 more unusual hotels you’ll want to go out of your way to visit.
Courtesy Kohler Co.
If you think of plumbing when you hear the name Kohler, you’d be right, but there’s so much more to this small town than toilets. Having said that, while you’re there, the Kohler Design Center is well worth the visit. Not only can you see all the newest kitchen and bathroom products, but it’s also home to a fascinating plumbing history museum and the very Instagrammable “great wall of china” featuring color-coordinated plumbing fixtures stacked to the ceiling. If you or anyone you’re traveling with is into manufacturing, then a tour of the Kohler Factory is a must. Take a walk around the historic company town—including a visit to the Austrian replica house and art museum in the Walderhaus—then treat yourself to a hydrotherapy treatment at the Kohler Waters Spa. Then venture into the woods to dine in a log cabin at the River Wildlife Lodge Restaurant before retiring to the American Club—a former dormitory for immigrant factory workers that is now a five-star hotel and full of history and character. Find out 13 small towns that are even more enchanting in winter.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
The town of Eureka Springs is a gem nestled in the Ozarks. A former resort town where people sought the “water cure” from the area’s natural springs, Eureka Springs is still a prime vacation destination. For starters, its entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places, full of stately Victorian buildings. If you’re into outdoor activities, there’s plenty of that, too, including trout fishing is popular on the White River, or water sports, camping, fishing and hiking on Beaver Lake. Those looking for a historic and possibly haunted experience will want to stay in the 1886 Crescent Hotel, which offers regular ghost tours—it’s one of the 24 most haunted hotels in America. For something more modern, visit the striking Thorncrown Chapel, which was chosen in 2001 as one of the Top 10 Designs of the 20th Century by The American Institute of Architecture. If you’re interested in the town’s original attraction— the natural springs—it’s possible to visit several of them or soak in the waters at the Palace Bath House, which is the last remaining Victorian bathhouse still in operation. Aside from all that, Eureka Springs has a strong LGBTQ+ community and regular diversity celebrations.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
Similar to Eureka Springs, Yellow Springs, Ohio was also initially developed around the town’s natural water sources were people went to “take the waters.” The college town is home to both Antioch College and Antioch University Midwest and has a bustling, walkable downtown area full of interesting shops and food options. The Jailhouse Suites is probably the most unique accommodation in Yellow Springs, housed in a former jail that operated from 1878 to 1929. Winds Cafe and Yellow Springs Brewery are two great places to grab a bite to eat and a drink. For outdoor adventures, visit Glen Helen, John Bryan and Clifton Gorge for miles of scenic trails. And no matter what time of year you visit, you’re likely to find a variety of festivals, art openings, theater, live music and other forms of entertainment. Discover 10 more luxe hotels that started out as jails.
Courtesy Connecticut Office of Tourism
If you’re looking for the quintessential small New England town, you would be hard-pressed to do better than Ridgefield, Connecticut. Located about 64 miles north of New York City in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, the town of 25,000 residents is known for its old stone walls, picture-perfect leaf-peeping, and quaint Main Street that still houses mom-and-pop shops. Must-sees include the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, an independently-owned museum that spotlights modern artists and their works and the Weir Farm National Historic Site, which was the home of J. Alden Weir who is considered the father or American Impressionism. Make time for a show at the Ridgefield Playhouse which hosts everything from musicals to children’s theater to concerts to podcast recordings. When it’s time to eat, head to Hoo Doo Brown Barbecue which serves authentic Texas-style smoked brisket and crispy smoked chicken that are worth busting your diet for. Speaking of autumn, here are 20 more of the best places to spot fall foliage in America.
Originally a copper mining town in 1880, Bisbee, Arizona has reinvented itself as a center for art and culture. Take a stroll back in time through the well-preserved early-20th-century downtown area, then visit the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Those with an interest in the dark side will find plenty to do in Bisbee, including the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, Bisbee Seance Room, and the Queen Mine Tour (for literal darkness). There is a wide range of accommodation options, ranging from historic hotels and guesthouses to campgrounds and RV parks. For a small town, Bisbee nightlife packs a punch, with a variety of bars, saloons, and breweries. Or, do a DIY art walk among the town’s many art galleries. These are the 25 best small towns for Christmas lights.
Want to go on West Coast wine getaway, but are tired of Napa Valley? Look no further than Jacksonville, Oregon, located in the southern part of the state. Between the charming historic district full of brick and wooden buildings with six different tasting rooms, and the Applegate Valley Wine Trail with 20 intimate wineries, you can sip to your heart’s content. Explore the town on a trolley tour or a haunted history walk. The Jacksonville Inn dates back to 1861 and also houses a wine shop and fine dining restaurant, making it an ideal base for your trip. Better yet, stay a few days and visit nearby Crater Lake and Oregon Caves to get a healthy dose of nature. Jacksonville also made our list of the 21 nicest small towns to visit.
David A. Litman/Shutterstock
Not many small towns can claim a famous mayor, but Carmel-by-the-Sea isn’t your average small-town—legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood was elected mayor in 1986 and 2001. But there’s more to this picturesque seaside hamlet than its notable residents. First of all, it’s home to a stunning beach that offers hiking and surfing, in addition to the usual beach activities. Next, visit the open-air art museum at the Carmel Art Association, which has been exhibiting California artists since 1927. While you’re on your feet, take a self-guided historic walking tour organized by the Carmel Heritage Society. When you work up an appetite, visit one of the town’s many restaurants like Forge in the Forest and Carmel Belle—both of which are also dog-friendly. Want more sand and sun? Here are the best beaches in each state.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
An architectural destination in the middle of Pennsylvania? Yes, it exists, and that place is a town called Jim Thorpe. This Victorian town in the Lehigh Gorge is only an hour and a half-hour from Philadelphia, two hours from New York City and less than three hours from Baltimore, making it an ideal weekend trip. Soak in the history of the area at attractions like the Eckley Miners’ Village, No. 9 Coal & Mine Museum and the Old Jail Museum, or go on a ghost walk, courtesy of the local Rotary Club. Make time for a trip to the Stabin Museum, which houses Victor Stabin’s fascinating modern works of art in a historical building featuring red brick and stone facades, an underground aqueduct and an exposed rock wall at the base of the mountain. Stay in the heart of the historic district at the Inn at Jim Thorpe, which dates back to 1849 and make time to stop at the Rainbow’s End old-fashioned candy shop. Need more proof? Jim Thorpe was named the most charming small town in Pennsylvania.