21 Nicest Small Towns in America Everyone Should Visit Before They’re 50
Consider this an ode to knowing your neighbors, having the baristas at the coffee shop know your order by heart, and seeing everyone come together to root for the local high school football team on weekends. These are our finest quaint communities—the best small towns in America.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend is one of Washington’s greatest Victorian seaside towns and just one of three historic Victorian seaports in the entire United States. Situated on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll find a nature lover’s paradise with the sea on one side and the Fort Worden Historical State Park on the other. A flourishing art scene seems to be the theme among the greatest small towns in America, and Port Townsend is no different. In addition to the local shops, brightly colored mansions, and historic buildings that line the ocean side streets, Port Townsend puts on award-winning theater productions and hosts a variety of concerts, cultural events, and festivals all year round. You’ll want to visit this maritime town soon, as more and more people are moving there every year. Washington is also home to one of the most festive Christmas towns in America.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
In the heart of the Mississippi Gulf Coast lies Ocean Springs, a tiny oceanfront town on the southwestern tip of Mississippi. Dubbed the “City of Discovery,” Ocean Springs has a rich history dating back 300 years, when Native Americans lived on the land before it was formally recognized as a French territory in 1699. Here you’ll find an eclectic art scene and a mix of cultural backgrounds and history, which is why Ocean Springs is home to more than 100 diverse restaurants. The best part: The town’s residents are known for being extremely welcoming and caring, so expect lots of friendly faces.
Yes, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin are major noteworthy Texan cities, but Fredericksburg holds a special place in the Lone Star state. Fredericksburg is one of the most popular towns in the Texas Hill County, but it’s not your typical country Texas town. Founded in 1846 by Prince Frederick of Prussia, the town has strong German roots. Fredericksburg is home to the famous Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome that is 425 feet high and 640 acres wide. It’s a National Natural Landmark and one the National Register of Historic Places that surely can’t be missed. After a day exploring the geography, grab dinner at one of the local restaurants downtown before heading to your quaint bed and breakfast for a good night’s sleep.
Berlin is a tiny little town located in east Maryland that’s often overlooked by people on their way to Ocean City. In fact, Berlin was once nothing more than a rest stop for travelers in the early 20th century. Today, however, this three-square-mile town is still small, but it has a bustling downtown area that is a National Register Historic District stocked with shops, wonderful eateries, and historic buildings from three distinct time periods, Federal, Victorian, and the 20th century. Maryland even designated Berlin as an “Arts and Entertainment District” due to the plethora of galleries, museums, and public art murals found throughout town. Oh, and movie fans rejoice because the majority of the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie, Runaway Bride, was filmed in Berlin, which is reason enough to check it out. These are the most iconic movies filmed in each state.
If you need an escape from the bright lights and country music of Nashville, look no further than Gatlinburg, a mountainous retreat. Gatlinburg is a mountain resort considered the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Incredible views are a given no matter the time of year you go, but there are different activities depending on the season. In the wintertime, you’ll find the majority of folks skiing the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, the only ski resort in the state. The town is especially known for it’s Winterfest Celebration during the December holidays when the entire downtown area is festooned with lights. Hiking and biking the thousands of trails of the Smoky Mountains are popular activities in the summer. There’s an incredible waterfall reward if you can make the journey. And the huge Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum also draws large crowds, no matter the season. Here are some more summer vacations everyone should take before they’re 50.
Keystone, South Dakota
Keystone is home to the Black Hills National Forest, an expansive 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, most famous for Mount Rushmore—you know, the gigantic almost 60-foot granite sculpture that depicts the faces of four U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt. Beyond Mount Rushmore, Keystone boasts a gold mine, a wax museum (kind of creepy, kind of not), and outdoor activities like zip lining, hiking tours, and a tramway that offers an aerial view of the mountains. With a population of just under 350, there’s not a ton to do, but sometimes a quite, relaxing vacation is just what the doctor ordered.
Wineries and vineyards? Check. A historic downtown? Also check. Horseback riding, zoos, and wildlife preserves? Yes, Dahlonega has those too. Basically, it’s a great year-round vacation destination for people of all ages. Right in the center of the North Georgia Mountains lies Daholenga, a tiny town with a big history. It was the first site of the U.S. Gold Rush way back in 1828, 20 years before gold was ever found in California. Today, there are gold mines still operating where you can pan for gold and maybe even strike it rich. The town’s commercial district is on the National Register of Historic Places and centers around Main Street, where you’ll see art galleries, restaurants, and little shops. Wine, live music, and gold…what more could you want?
Utah is often praised as one of the most beautiful states in the country, thanks to its sprawling red and orange sandstone arches and white snow-capped mountains. But there’s so much more to Utah than just Park City or Salt Lake City, like Moab, a town located on the southern edge of the Grand Canyon in eastern Utah. What makes Moab so special? It has not one, but two world-renowned national parks, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, which makes it an extremely popular destination for outdoor adventure seekers. Besides your normal hiking and biking trails, travelers can take advantage of excursions like BASE jumping, white river rafting, slacklining/highlining, and rock climbing. If you need a break from all the adrenaline-pumping activities, you can spend a couple of hours browsing the museums and galleries located in the downtown area. Learn which small American towns have the most millionaires.
Cooperstown, New York
New York City isn’t the only place worth visiting in the great Empire State. About 3 and a half hours north of Manhattan lies the seaside village of Cooperstown. Although tiny, this upstate town has a bunch of things to see and do, like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, a fan favorite among both adults and children. The Brewery Ommegang, which is a local favorite serving craft beers, and the Fenimore Art Museum that houses a large collection of American Folk and American Indian art should also be on your list. If you have the opportunity to see a show at the Glimmerglass Opera, don’t pass it up—it’s considered “world class.” If you want something more outdoorsy, Otsego Lake and Glimmerglass State Park offer spectacular views and an array of activities. These are the American small towns known for the strangest things.
Whitefish is an outdoor lover’s paradise, which makes total sense because the town’s motto is “Montana’s outdoor recreation playground.” Its location, about 25 miles south of Glacier National Park, makes it a major ski resort in the winter. Locals and visitors alike spend their time skiing down the slopes, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and even taking sleigh rides around town. There are biking and hiking tours of the nearby glaciers year-round. The downtown area is a perfect place to relax and meet some of the friendly residents. But don’t let all the activities deter you from visiting Whitefish if you want a slower-paced vacation; the small town vibes make it a fabulous place to catch up on some z’s and enjoy a cup of coffee at the local diner. Plus, there are spas, yoga studios, and massage parlors aplenty in downtown Whitefish.