25 Small Towns That Are About to Become More Popular
Be inspired to travel or make the move to one of these charming small towns around the country. Each offers unique amenities and attractions—and they are all up-and-coming.
America’s hidden gems
Where do you really want to live? That’s the question people are asking themselves as the coronavirus pandemic continues and it’s unclear when life will go back to normal. After all, if you’re working from home, you can live almost anywhere. To that end, many are considering leaving larger cities and escaping to places that offer wide, open spaces, fewer people, and a different lifestyle. This trend is especially prevalent in New York, says Alison Bernstein, founder and president of the Suburban Jungle Group, a real estate technology and advisory firm that assists people in finding their perfect neighborhood. “As a whole, people are leaving the city. Younger families, in particular, are looking for the opposite of what they used to want,” she explains. “It’s no longer about commutability; it’s about quality of life. They want to live where there’s a waterfront or beach or where they can go hiking.”
Of course, it’s not just New Yorkers who are moving. As a result, some of the best-kept secrets around the country are getting some newfound (and well-deserved) attention. If you’re considering a change, find out which small towns might be the best fit for you.
This small town, situated on the Kennebec River in the south-central part of Maine, is home to Colby and Thomas colleges and boasts a dynamic cultural-arts and cinema scene. Here, you’ll find the prestigious Colby College Museum of Art, the largest museum in the state; the independent Railroad Square Cinema, which hosts the annual Maine International Film Festival; and the Waterville Opera House.
Waterville is also proud of its history and has seven downtown structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s a mix of old and new in the downtown district, which has been recently renovated and includes new off-campus housing and services for Colby students, as well as Waterville Creates!, a non-profit that brings arts to the community. Two of the town’s historic mills have also been redeveloped to create space for new businesses and residential housing. Find out the best-kept secret in Maine—and every other state.
Rock Hill, South Carolina
If you love outdoor adventure and activities, this burgeoning recreation-centric town just may be the place for you. It’s located along the Catawba River, approximately 27 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina, making it not too far from city life—but a world away at the same time. In Rock Hill, you can zipline over the river at Canaan Island, catch the waves at SouthTown Wake Park, pick up a game of tennis at Rock Hill Tennis Center, or stroll through beautiful Glencairn Gardens. Cherry Park is an impressive 68-acre state-of-the-art recreational complex that has everything from playing fields to picnic facilities.
When it comes to dining, culinary enthusiasts will appreciate the locally sourced Southern-inspired food and river views from the Pump’s House’s five-story restaurant. Casual bites and brews are also a favorite at Legal Remedy Brewing Co.’s Old Town location and the new Cantina at Riverwalk. Plus, the MyRide Transit System is one of the best ways to get around town to play, dine, and imbibe—and it’s free. While in South Carolina, make sure to order some shrimp and grits, arguably the most delicious food in the state.
This bustling Western town sits at the foot of Casper Mountain in the east-central part of Wyoming, the “Cowboy State.” Outdoor adventure is abundant here, with the fabled North Platte River, Edness Kimball Wilkin’s State Park, Fremont Canyon, and many miles of multi-use trails. Casper is also home to more than a dozen museums, a vibrant performing arts community, unique boutiques, and several annual festivals, such as the Re/Max Balloon Roundup Festival, which brings in balloonists from all across the country.
Casper’s approximately 54,200 residents also enjoy an incredible local dining, craft brewery, and distillery scene. Many people are drawn here because of the year-round outdoor lifestyle, growing family-friendly community, and median home prices of approximately $211,000. According to Oil City News, recent data indicates that “Casper is the sixth most likely location for new business start-ups among small cities in the United States.” Not looking to make a move right now? Get a taste of a different lifestyle by visiting one (or more) of the nicest small towns in America.
Fredericksburg sits at the epicenter of Texas Wine Country with more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms. The town has been called “the prettiest town in Texas” by Southern Living magazine and has received many other accolades, including “The Best Wine Region” in USA Today‘s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by German immigrants, so it’s filled with rich German history, culture, architecture, and authentic German breweries and restaurants.
After the sun goes down, head over to the Enchanted Rock Natural State Area, one of Texas’ International Dark Sky Parks. This park features a dramatic 425-foot pink granite monolith, a wilderness area for hiking, climbing, and camping, and some of the best stargazing in the state. And from mid-May to early August, savor a favorite local treat, as these Texas peaches are not to be missed. If you prefer apples, these are the best places to go apple picking in every state.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This vibrant, artsy town is picturesquely set in the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, approximately 45 miles from Fayetteville. The winding mountainside streets are lined with well-preserved Victorian homes, and the downtown shops house eclectic and unique boutiques, craft emporiums, and galleries. Of the town’s 2,000 residents, more than 300 are working artists, and Eureka Springs has been recognized as one of the top 25 art towns in America by AmericanStyle magazine. But eco-tourism is the primary industry here, and the area has more than 60 natural springs, three lakes, two rivers, and 1,800-plus acres of city park land.
The town also boasts an impressive arts and festival scene, with live blues, jazz music, opera concerts, and car and antique shows. Culinary enthusiasts will marvel at 80 local restaurants that feature everything from locally inspired cuisine to Czech-German dishes and Thai food. There’s even a brewery! FYI, these are the best American cities for live music (besides Nashville).
This quintessential New England harbor town on the Connecticut River is charming in every way. From the historic waterfront district, you can see the sights and wildlife along the river by kayak or canoe. You can also take a schooner ride or riverboat cruise. For a truly memorable evening, hop aboard the Essex Clipper and dine in an elegantly restored 1920s Pullman car. This scenic journey passes through the Connecticut River Valley, called one of the “last great places on Earth” by the Nature Conservancy.
There’s more to explore at the 184-acre Gillette Castle State Park, beginning with the stone castle, the former home of legendary actor, playwright, and stage manager William Gillette. Essex and its sister villages of Ivorytown and Centerbrook also feature a unique mix of restaurants, boutique shopping, outdoor concerts on the village green, parades, annual festivals, art shows, and musicals at the Tony Award–winning Goodspeed Opera House. If you’re in the area, visit nearby Washington, Connecticut, about an hour and a half away, which landed on our list of the East coast vacations you need to take at least once.
Nestled in Colorado’s foothills in the northern part of the state, Loveland offers 300 days of sunshine a year and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The town sits approximately 25 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park and 52 miles north of Denver, and it is known for its wide, open spaces and recreational spots like Boyd Lake State Park. If you’re wondering why people rave about spots like this, check out these spectacular photographs of America’s national parks and you’ll totally get it.
The Foundry, located across three blocks downtown, is a new mixed-use area with outdoor pavilions, a dine-in movie theater, restaurants, shopping, luxury apartments, and a hotel. The city also has a lively arts and cultural community with the Certified Colorado Creative District, which features several sculpture gardens, parks, art galleries, and performance spaces. The “Sweetheart City” even boasts the country’s largest Love Lock sculpture. And as one of the largest beer producers in the United States, there are plenty of craft breweries to enjoy—10 of them, to be exact.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
At one time, Eau Claire was known as a place where farm kids grew up. Today, this university town at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers in the west-central part of the state is referred to as the Indie Capital of the Midwest. Its residents have an independent and creative spirit that encourages collaboration and entrepreneurism. Many of the UW-Eau Claire students enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Training Program win local economic development competitions, stay, and start businesses in town. What’s more, the city is burgeoning with new facilities, festivals, art installations, parks, trails, and sports events. When it comes to dining, yes, there’s the traditional Wisconsin beer and cheese, but there’s also a focus on locally sourced, fresh ingredients.
Be sure to check out the 30-mile Chippewa River State Trail. This former railroad corridor begins downtown and passes through an interesting mix of landscapes, including prairies, sandstone bluffs, and wetlands.
Nestled in the Mule Mountains at 5,538 feet, Bisbee is approximately 90 miles southeast of Tucson in what’s known as the Sky Islands. A successful mining town in the late 1800s, it was recognized as one of the world’s most productive mineral sites. These days, the city of Bisbee includes several neighborhoods: the historic center, Old Bisbee; Warren, with its landmark Arts and Crafts–style bungalow homes; Lowell, with its funky mid-century-style street that’s been the backdrop in movies; and San Jose, where you’ll find the business district and Arizona’s oldest golf course. The town’s creative spirit, small population (approximately 5,400), current median home prices around $135,000, and cool temperatures (85 to 90 degrees in summer) are a big draw. It’s also an ideal locale for outdoor enthusiasts, birders, hikers, stargazers, and wine enthusiasts. Discover the best small towns in America to retire.
Onancock sits approximately 57 miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland, on the eastern shore of Virginia. The town was chartered as a port in 1608 and has remained a harbor town since that time. There are fewer than 1,500 residents, but Onancock has an impressive arts community with live theater and music, museums, a wealth of local artisans, a movie theater showing international films, boutique shopping, galleries, and award-winning restaurants. Take a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay to historic Tangier Island to see the beauty of the surrounding region and catch a glimpse of local wildlife such as bald eagles, falcons, and osprey. You can also spend long, sunny days on the water kayaking, fishing, and crabbing.
Joani Donohue, longtime resident and executive director of the Historic Onancock School Community & Cultural Center, says the town has a “rich history, walkable downtown, and tree-lined neighborhoods” that welcome residents and visitors to a place where “everyone knows your name—or will very soon.” Check out these small towns that look like they’re frozen in time.
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Located in northern Iowa, approximately 88 miles northeast of Des Moines, this vibrant college town is home to the University of Northern Iowa and an active cultural community. The historic downtown district features more than 30 shops and boutiques, as well as more than 20 cafés and restaurants, that are all locally owned. Take a stroll down Main Street, which is lined with flowers, benches, historic street lamps, and public art displays. Downtown continues to grow and attract residents with new housing options, collaborative workspaces, and an event plaza that sits along the banks of the Cedar River. There are also 100 miles of trails around town for outdoor recreation. If you’re a student, own a business, or work from home, Cedar Falls Utilities offers Internet speeds that rank among the fastest in the world at 10 gigabits per second.
This town of approximately 12,000 residents in southern Vermont is situated 10 miles north of Massachusetts’ border, where the West and Connecticut rivers converge. Brattleboro has a small-town ethic and unique vibe that’s a direct result of its blue-collar heritage and the people who settled here during the agrarian movement in the 1960s and ’70s. The town’s vibrant performing-arts community is home to the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) and the New England Youth Theater. Downtown, you’ll be treated to a lively nightlife scene with live music, as well as breweries, ethnic eateries, and restaurants focused on sourcing local ingredients. The Saturday Brattleboro Area Farmers Market runs from May to October and features locally grown and handmade products, including Vermont maple syrup. What’s more, year-round outdoor activities are abundant on the rivers and trails and in the state and local parks.
Braselton is located approximately 48 miles northeast of Atlanta and 32 miles northwest of Athens, the home of the University of Georgia. It’s also situated in north Georgia’s foothills, where you’ll find the 3,500-acre Château Élan Winery and Resort, a European-inspired property with vineyards and a full-production winery that resembles what you’d find in the French countryside.
Braselton’s historic downtown district is undergoing a redevelopment plan that will revitalize the area but still retain its small-town charm. The downtown area hosts community events like outdoor concerts, Movies Under the Stars, antique and garden festivals, and a farmers market. There’s even a complimentary trolley that runs from the winery to downtown. And that’s not all. Race fans will enjoy watching motorsports events like the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta or visiting the Panoz Museum, which features an impressive collection of Panoz sports cars and memorabilia. According to Safewise.com, this small town has under 12,000 residents and is listed as the #1 Safest City in Georgia.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Located in western South Dakota, Rapid City is known as the Gateway to Mount Rushmore. With a quaint small-town feel, the historic downtown is the perfect place to begin exploring a slice of Americana, including the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Tourism is a leading industry, with new restaurants, breweries, and museums opening every year, but the city is also growing with permanent residents. From 2013 to 2018, according to the Black Hills Community Economic Development, there was a 4.5 percent growth in population (increasing by 4,274), and millennials make up 20 percent of the population. Before you pack up and move, you’ll want to find out the 15 things no one ever tells you about what living in a small town is really like.
Goshen, New York
The quiet Hudson Valley village of Goshen is in for a wild ride in 2021 with the grand opening of the LEGOLAND New York Resort. The first major theme park to grace the Northeast in more than four decades, the 150-acre park will be home to seven themed lands, more than 50 rides, shows, and attractions, and will offer never-before-seen experiences such as the global debut of the LEGO Factory Adventure Ride. This large-scale attraction just outside a village with fewer than 5,500 residents will be a significant lifestyle change for the area, as the 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel will open in the same year as the park, making Goshen a popular multiday destination for families with children ages two through 12. Residents of Goshen can expect more job opportunities and people relocating to be part of the growth.
New Albany, Ohio
This master-planned community, located less than 20 minutes from downtown Columbus, was named the Best Suburb in 2015 by Business Insider and, in 2020, the best city to live in Ohio by 24/7 Wall Street. The New Albany International Business Park is home to major corporations, including Abercrombie & Fitch, American Electric Power (AEP), Discover Financial Services, Facebook, and Google. Scott McAfee, the spokesperson for the City of New Albany, says that even with its continued growth, the town offers a high quality of life, is affordable, and that 20 percent of the land remains green space.
The quaint Village Center, with restaurants, shops, and beautiful Georgian and early American architecture, is the core of the community, and 53-plus miles of trails connect the Village Center to neighborhoods, the school campus, and the business park. New Albany is also known as the last stop on Pelotonia’s cycling route, one of America’s most significant fundraising events for cancer.
Berlin is located just minutes from Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore on the Delmarva Peninsula. The town was recognized as “The Best Small Town for Shopping” by USA Today and “The Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel. The historic downtown is charming, and 47 of the buildings are listed on the National Historic Register. Main Street’s burgeoning businesses include boutiques, restaurants, and art and antique galleries. Ivy Wells, Director of Economic and Community Development, says that home values have increased 25 percent in the last five years and there have been 20 new businesses and an additional six new restaurants. People come for a visit as a change of pace from the busy resort area and then decide to stay.
Located in the heart of Missouri’s wine country, Hermann is a quaint historic village situated along the Missouri River. Its small population of 2,600 is growing as more visitors come to experience this part of the state. According to Tammy Bruckerhoff, Tourism and Economic Development Director for the City of Hermann, the past five years have seen small, entrepreneurial businesses, including new restaurants, shops, and galleries, fill the storefronts of the historic downtown area. Nearby Katy Trail State Park brings tourists to hike and cycle on the longest rail-trail in the country. The area is also home to 12 wineries, distilleries, and breweries. There are festivals and events throughout the year, including the German-inspired Maifest, Oktoberfest, and Wurstfest.
Winter Park, Florida
Winter Park’s proximity to Orlando makes it an attractive place to live or visit. The upscale enclave is close to its big-city sister but seems worlds away. Park Avenue is canopied with trees and lined with boutiques and restaurants. Museums, parks, lakes, and cultural activities abound. The appeal of the town has caused recent growth and expansion and, ultimately, the need for the Winter Park Land Trust, whose goal is to work with the city and developers to preserve Winter Park’s beautiful green spaces. Speaking of the Sunshine State, these are the best Florida beaches locals want to keep secret.
Located in the center of the state, Lewistown offers a four-season climate and opportunities for year-round outdoor adventure. There are approximately 5,800 residents in this community who enjoy a rural Western lifestyle surrounded by the natural beauty of Big Sky Country and fertile farm and ranch lands. The spring-fed Big Spring Creek runs through the town and the surrounding mountain ranges, where you can go horseback riding and fly fishing in the summer or skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
Lewistown is also home to several annual events, including the Central Montana Fair, Chokecherry Festival (named for the dark red berries that grow in the area), and the Montana Winter Fair. Downtown, you’ll find eclectic shops and boutiques featuring Montana-made goods and artwork, as well as an exciting mix of locally-owned restaurants, bars, and breweries. According to several recent articles, many people are moving to Montana right now, so housing prices are on the rise.
Marquette is located on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This small town is home to Northern Michigan University and was named the “Top Small Town for Adventure” in 2018 by USA Today‘s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Outdoor activities include everything from biking and hiking on the city’s trails year-round to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding on Marquette Mountain in the winter. Marquette has award-winning craft breweries, an exciting local restaurant scene, and a thriving arts scene. It’s also a great place to see the northern lights. Recent growth in private investment includes mixed-use developments, affordable housing, and hotels. With an average home price of $219,000, moderate winters, and individuals wanting to get back to a simpler life, watch out for Marquette.
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville sits 30 miles north of Charlotte and is adjacent to beautiful Lake Norman State Park. NASCAR fans will know Mooresville as Race City USA, and there are many activities and museums to explore related to the sport. The area is also ideal for outdoor adventures like kayaking, boating, and hiking. Mooresville was founded in the 1850s as a railroad town and retains its historic charm in the downtown area. New industries creating jobs and bringing growth to the area include the engineering firm Corvid Technologies, German-based Tristone Flowtech USA Inc., and health care manufacturer BestCo.
Auburn’s population of approximately 14,200 has grown 6.64 percent in the past 10 years. This picturesque town situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is known for its “Gold Crush,” the fast-growing winemaking industry in Placer County. The town has a vibrant historic, arts, music, culinary, and brewery scene and a multitude of outdoor adventures. Local tech company Riskalyze has attracted young creative professionals. In addition, the City of Auburn’s Economic Development Department states that Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) increased by 51.2 percent between 2015 to 2018. Home prices decreased over the past year, but Zillow predicts that they will soon rise with the trending growth of the town.
Park City, Utah
Park City is known as one of the most iconic ski spots in the United States, but it’s also quickly becoming a hot destination for summer tourism. As the seasons change, the town becomes more accessible and affordable. There are myriad outdoor adventure activities, local culture, top-notch art festivals, and one of the country’s best small-town July 4th parades. According to the Park City Chamber of Commerce and DestiMetrics, summer occupancy (from May to October) has grown 8 percent annually during the eight years between 2011 and 2019. That translates to an almost doubled (70 percent) occupancy rate over the last eight years that’s expected to continue.
Ashland is located near the California border at the base of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges in the lower half of Oregon. The town is home to approximately 21,300 residents but hosts almost 300,000 tourists each year. You may be familiar with Ashland for its world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and it was recognized in the top 10 of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America” for its vibrant arts and cultural scene. The town is also home to Southern Oregon University. Visit to experience Oregon’s natural beauty, top-notch skiing at Mt. Ashland Ski Area, great dining, excellent wines, and more. Looking for something a little closer to home? Read on to find out the most gorgeous small town in your state.