the best small town to visit in all 50 states
Telluride, Colorado | Blaine Harrington III/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Telluride, Colorado | Blaine Harrington III/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

The Best Small Town to Visit in All 50 States

The paradox of big-city travel is that you never really get a break. You ditch work in New York, LA, or Chicago to go visit your buddies in New York, LA, or Chicago; come Sunday night, you’re exhausted, and why did blowing $250 a day on cocktails and sushi and cabs seem like the smart move?

Say this for small American towns: They know how to slowwww dowwwwn. They’re ideal for young kids and retirees, two groups who favor the chiller things in life: short walks, sunny parks, uncrowded beaches, unhurried conversations. Small-towners also dig on taffy, chicken-fried steak, old-timey train stations, historical markers, quirky festivals, driving barefoot, free parking everywhere, $7 pitchers of Bud heavy, nodding hello to strangers, and other things that never really go out of style.

We searched for small towns with populations under 60k where you can get a glimpse of the good life after the rat race, eat well, see actual stars at night, and still find plenty of activities to keep boredom at bay. Would you want to live there? Probably not -- if everyone did, there’d be a whole city there by now. But do you want to step out of your life for a couple of long, languid days? Yeah, you definitely could stand to visit one of these gems.

Gulf Shores, Alabama | Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Alabama: Gulf Shores

Population: 10,960
In a crown jewel of the Redneck Riviera and home of the annual Hangout Music Festival, there’s a lot more than music and good-ole-boys. This Gulf of Mexico beach town surprisingly boasts one of the best zoos in America, where encounters with animals like lemurs and monkeys are cheaper and last longer than at most. It also borders Gulf State Park, the best state park in Alabama, which lost its iconic zipline but added substantial bike trails. The city also in 2016 got its first brewery, Big Beach Brewing, and is home to one of the world's best beachside burgers at Pink Pony. -- Matt Meltzer, Thrillist contributor

Alaska: Juneau

Population: 32,406
Yes, Juneau is the capital. But almost every Alaska city is small, and when it comes to food none of them -- not even big, bad Anchorage -- has a culinary scene like Juneau. Tracy’s is the outpost of a seafood processing company that plates the freshest king crabs in America. Juneau is also home to three spots from James Beard Award nominee Beau Schooler: Rookery Café, Panhandle Provisions, and In Bocca al Lupo. After stuffing yourself, you’ll have no shortage of places to burn it all off; hiking trails into the Alaskan wilderness literally start in the center of town, with boatloads of excursions out into Alaska’s inner passage. -- M.M.

Sedona, arizona
Sedona | Bill Perry/SHUTTERSTOCK

Arizona: Sedona

Population: 10,280
Arizona’s red rock playground offers seriously breathtaking desert landscapes best enjoyed on a hike or a climb, and a walk around town mingling with kooky-but-kind locals. Then take off your boots and zen out with a massage and a guided meditation session at one of Sedona’s many spas. Binge on top-notch tamales from Tamaliza or gussied-up carne asada at Elote Cafe. When you start itching for a punchier after-hours scene, the very-hip Flagstaff is less than an hour down the road. -- Melissa Kravitz, Thrillist contributor

EUREKA SPRINGS,ARkansas | Sue Stokes/Thrillist

Arkansas: Eureka Springs

Population: 2,100
Perhaps no tiny town in America is more things to more people. Bikers love it as a stop along mountain backroads; hippies love it for its low-key California-transplant vibe. The town has passed some of Arkansas’ most progressive LGBTQ policies; it also contains the state’s two most famous Christian landmarks: a 66-foot-tall, arms-wide-open Jesus statue and architect E. Fay Jones’ nationally celebrated Thorncrown Chapel. The gingerbread architecture of many of the homes complements the stone-and-brick Downtown, which prohibits chain stores from setting up and thus thrums with mom-and-pop restaurants, taverns, and touristy craft shops. Its badass little public library was donated by Andrew Carnegie a century ago. And it’s just a few minutes away from Beaver Lake, a summertime party hangout for boaters and one of the better bass-fishing lakes in the Ozarks. -- Sam Eifling, Travel editor

California: San Luis Obispo

Population: 46,730
In the state with a full 10th of the US population, finding one small city to call “best” is nearly impossible. You’ve got the tiny towns of wine country like Sonoma, Napa, and Buellton. The Scandinavian charm of Solvang. The food in Healdsburg. Turlock.

So what puts SLO on top? Well, the setting for one. Nestled in the hills of California’s fabled Central Coast, it’s only a short trip to Hearst Castle, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Morro Bay, and wine country. But even if you don’t leave the city, there’s plenty to see -- the public art is better than in many large cities, including creatively decorated utility boxes and a 70-foot alley covered in bubblegum. A trip on the first Friday of the month lets you experience Art After Dark, a stroll through SLO’s finest galleries and performance spaces. Go in the summer and you’ll catch a free concert in the Spanish-colonial Mission Plaza. Forty miles of hiking and biking trails extend from the center of Downtown, so you can explore that gorgeous coastline from something other than your car. -- M.M.

Telluride, colorado
Blues and Brews Festival, Telluride, CO | Erika Goldring/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Colorado: Telluride

Population: 2,370
It’s kind of a pain in the ass to get to Telluride. But, oh, the rewards upon arrival. This former silver mining town hunkers basically in a dead-end valley, its mountains sporting one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the world: Telluride’s Bridal Veil. With peaks great for skiing, mountain biking, or hiking -- picture the scenery from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight because, well, it was filmed around T-Ride. The town has blossomed into one of the best festival sites in the nation, with renowned events like the Bluegrass Festival and Telluride Film Festival. Even if you’re in town when a fest isn’t, you can grab a drink (or better yet, stay) at the historic New Sheridan Hotel, then continue your crawl to the no-frills Last Dollar Saloon before hitting 221 South Oak, a fine-dining spot helmed by Eliza Gavin, a former Top Chef contestant. -- Colin St. John, Thrillist contributor

Connecticut: Mystic

Population: 4,205
The pizza joint might be the most famous thing in Mystic to outsiders, but this old port town has so much more to offer than Julia Roberts references. And while tourists flock to Mystic during the summer to hang out at the wharf, gaze at the quaint architecture, and hit the aquarium, it’s the fact that Mystic is so beautiful and laid-back in the off season -- when the barstools go back to locals and the docks de-clog -- that elevate the centuries-old village. It’s the quintessence of idyllic Rockwellian New England bergs that dot the landscape, here fine-tuned into paradise on the Mystic River. Oh, and the pizza at that Julia Roberts place? It ain't bad. -- Andy Kryza, Senior editor

Delaware: Lewes

Population: 2,940
Unless you grew up on a small stretch of the mid-Atlantic, you probably don’t know about the constellation of beach communities that make up Delaware’s southeastern shores. Hell, I didn’t know the state even had beaches until I fell in love with a Delawarean (yes, they exist) and started spending weekends in places like Dewey and Rehoboth. I was suspicious, being a California beach kid, but one summer in Lewes charmed me for life. It’s the rare town that delivers on the promise of “something for everyone,” made better by the fact that they have a hotel run by the beer savants at Dogfish Head. (Their main brewery is a few miles down the road in Milton.) Local spots like Matt’s Fish Camp are synonymous with summer for Delawareans, and Heirloom would give any farm-to-table spot in Soho or Venice Beach a run for its money. -- T.M. Brown, Thrillist contributor

St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida | Sean Pavone/Thrillist

Florida: St. Augustine

Population: 13,841
Florida isn't known for embracing history above, say, swaths of condominiums. But St. Augustine is the rare patch of the Sunshine State that showcases its roots. The oldest permanent settlement in America is most easily recognized by the Castillo de San Marcos, an epic Spanish fort sitting right on Matanzas Bay, the oldest of its kind in the contiguous States. It’s but a precursor to the charm of the Old City, where 18th- and 19th-century buildings remind us of a time when Florida was but a small southern outpost of the bigger colonies. Now it's filled with bars and restaurants (many of which are rumored to be haunted) that make St. Augustine one of the state’s best destinations for nightlife. And if all that history gets old, it’s still Florida, so white sandy beaches are just a short drive over the Bay. -- M.M.

Georgia: Helen

Population: 526
When you think of wine country and Bavarian towns, one place naturally comes to mind: the Blue Ridge Mountains. No? Well, you, my friend, have never been to Helen, the quirkiest little town in the Peach State. Turning onto the main drag is like apparating from the Deep South to the German Alps in two seconds flat. The street is lined with chocolatiers, biergartens, and souvenir shops that’ll have you thinking you’re in Europe. Outside town are a handful of wineries where visitors learn that “Georgia Wine” isn’t just a nice way of saying moonshine. It’s also set right on the Chattahoochee River, which means plenty of rafting, fishing, and hiking. If you can’t make it in the summer, Oktoberfest here is appropriately huge. -- M.M.

Hawaii: Paia

Population: 2,670
Your last stop before hitting the Road to Hana should be here in this former plantation village on the northeast coast of Maui, where laid-back locals and world-class beaches will give you all the aloha feels. Window shoppers will love strolling down the boutique-lined streets and keeping a lookout for celebs like Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson. Along the town’s north shore, aspiring surfers can hang ten at Ho’okipa Beach Park where international windsurfers compete for world champion status. Or maybe it’s better to let the pros do their thing while you chow down on pizza and beer at Flatbread Company -- or hit up Paia Fish Market for ridiculously fresh seafood. Boogie board along the white, sandy shores of Baldwin Beach Park and stick around for the highly Instagramable sunset. -- Ryan MacDonald, Thrillist contributor

Idaho: Driggs/Victor

Population: 1,660/1,945
Affectionately dubbed “Wydaho” denoting its close proximity to Wyoming, the sun-drenched Teton Valley is flanked by parallel mountain ranges, the Tetons and the Big Holes, with two “Downtowns” about 11 minutes apart, Driggs and Victor. Here, cowboys and ranchers wave at each other when they pass on the road and Burger Kings close due to unpopular demand. The Grand Targhee Ski Resort & Bike Park (in Wyoming, but accessed from the Idaho side) beckons winter and summer thrill-seekers. Hike Darby Canyon’s Wind Cave Trail, or float the Teton River in a kayak to behold beavers and yuge moose. On summer Thursdays, the place to be is Music on Main, a free party in Victor with diverse rocking bands. Or meet locals at one of several unofficial town halls -- like Victor’s Wildlife Brewing, an evolved garage brewery with fringe pool tables and world-class pizza, where you’ll hear tales of East Coast refugees transforming into local ski bums. Oh, wait, one of them owns the place. -- Bruce Northam, American Detour

Illinois: Galena

Population: 3,500
A 10-minute drive east of the mighty Mississippi and you’ll tap into the quirky small town vibes of Galena. Once the home of Ulysses S. Grant, Galena boasts charming cobblestone streets and historic mansions, plus an old-school blacksmith shop and the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater. A free trolley ride will drop you downtown, where you can stroll Main Street’s restaurants, antique shops, galleries, and boutiques bursting with kitsch. If you’re feeling active, book a rafting trip, hit up the nearby ski resort, or try the 40-acre Horseshoe Mound, known for its winding bike trails and scenic views all the way to Iowa and Wisconsin. -- Josh Mellin, Thrillist contributor

Nashville, Indiana
Nashville, Indiana | Flickr/Jim Grey

Indiana: Nashville

Population: 1,080
It’s the art, not the music, that defines Indiana’s Nashville. This tiny town near Bloomington was home to American Impressionist painter T.C. Steele, who settled here in 1907. His home is a fascinating walk through his life, art studio, and wife’s well-kept garden. Be sure to visit the Brown County Art Gallery, the original artist collective where independent artists still work and sell Hoosier-made paintings, albeit for a hefty price. If you’re looking for a thrill, stay outside of town at the somewhat creepy Story Inn. One of the rooms is supposedly haunted by a ghost known as the Blue Lady. It’s also a fine place to have a beer -- the bar dates back to Prohibition, and the inn sits adjacent to some of the best hiking in Brown County State Park. -- Tim Ebner, Thrillist contributor

Iowa: Decorah

Population: 7,957
Next time you find yourself trying to break the ice with some statuesque Norwegian at a cocktail party, bust this one out: “You ever been to the National Norwegian-American Museum? No? It’s in Decorah, Iowa, and let me tell you...” Decorah is a jumping-off point for the best wilderness in the Hawkeye State; canoeing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, and bird-watching are a short drive out of town. You’ll also find the Toppling Goliath Brewery here. And while breweries nowadays are about as rare as stoplights, this one produces Kentucky Brunch, an imperial coffee stout aged in whiskey barrels that was named best beer IN THE WORLD by RateBeer users. -- M.M.

Kansas: Salina

Population: 48,000
Right at 1,500 miles from New York City and Los Angeles, Salina is the geographic center of nowhere. Yet among the unending fields of grain, you’ll find several bustling malls, an internationally renowned zoo, and a historic downtown that supports trendy artisanal restaurants and top-notch dives. Plus, there's an impressive music scene: The annual River Festival brings in big-name acts and art exhibits from all over the world, and the recently revamped Fox Stiefel Theatre allows touring bands and comedians to perform for thousands of people, all giggling in an oasis in the plains. -- Brock Wilbur, Thrillist contributor

Covington, Kentucky
Covington, Kentucky | benedek/vetta/getty images

Kentucky: Covington

Population: 40,950
Covington might be considered the hipster enclave of Cincinnati, an impressive collection of cool restaurants, whiskey bars, and lounges set right across the Ohio River. The city boasts a whopping TWELVE historic districts, the most impressive of which is MainStrasse. Here you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Kentucky, like Stephen Williams’ Bouquet and brunch-staple Otto’s, plus two of America’s best bourbon bars at Wiseguy Lounge and Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, and a brand-new cocktail lounge, Hannaford, at the 100-year-old Mutual Building. Covington’s waterfront has blowout views of America’s 10th-best skyline; most notably the Roebling Suspension Bridge, which served as the architectural forerunner of its sister bridge in Brooklyn. -- M.M.

Louisiana: Abita Springs

Population: 2,365
Back when yellow fever was still a thing, turn-of-the-20th-century New Orleanians with a few bucks used this town just across Lake Pontchartrain as an escape from the diseased city. After the Depression, the colorful hotels where they used to frolic fell into disrepair. In the 1970s a group of enterprising hippies brought them back to life; now they're private homes and B&Bs, lining the streets of the most hippie town on the Bayou. In addition to the cool old architecture, Abita Springs is also home to the regionally renowned Abita Brewing Company, and its “this tastes so good I should probably keep reminding myself it’s 8% ABV” Andygator pilsner. -- M.M.

camden, maine
camden, maine | E.J.Johnson Photography/Shutterstock

Maine: Camden

Population: 4,850
It's hard to choose from the hundreds (thousands?) of plucked-from-a-freaking-storybook towns that dot Maine's rocky shores, but Camden is the pick for a number of reasons: 1) its location right in the heart of the coast, pretty close to both Acadia and Portland, 2) its unbearably photogenic harbor, whose sailboat captains are more than eager to offer you a sunset cruise, and 3) its preponderance of charming restaurants (Natalie's, Rhumb Line, et al.) whose food and friendliness might make you explode, due to fullness or the desire to move here forever. Mount Battie looms large over the town, and the hike up can give you unparalleled views of all of the above. -- Adam Lapetina, Partnerships Editor

Maryland: Hoopers Island

Population: 450
The Eastern Shore’s best-kept secret is this teensy, off-the-beaten-path town where one of Maryland’s biggest crabbing families -- the Phillipses, of the Phillips Seafood empire -- got their start in 1914. Seafood lovers should shell up here for a few days simply because it serves some of the freshest damn seafood in the state. Take a boat tour with Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company and learn how Chesapeake oysters are hatched, raised, and shucked. Or visit Old Salty’s, a Maryland institution with more than a dozen crab dishes on the menu -- crab pretzels, crab nuggets, soft-shell crab sandwiches, the works. Post-crab, check out the tranquil Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, or biking. --T.E.

Massachusetts: Northampton

Population: 28,550
Far away from Boston, Northampton is a low-key paradise full of friendly hippies, college-appetite-appeasing greasy spoons, and gorgeous fall foliage. It lies north of Springfield in a region called the Pioneer Valley, and while the actual pioneers here currently trend toward the politically progressive type, the "Valley" part of that moniker is still instantly apparent when you catch a glimpse of the beautiful rolling hills, river waters, and forests surrounding you. Be sure to hit Local Burger for a killer burger, The Foundry for an extensive beer list, and Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium to fill any gaps left in your stomach. Remember: the more you eat, the more strength you'll have for a hike up nearby Mount Holyoke. -- A.L.

traverse city, michigan
traverse city, michigan | Shriram Patki

Michigan: Traverse City

Population: 15,042
Throw a Petoskey Stone in upper Michigan and you’re bound to hit a great town. For those of us who grew up visiting the shores (inland and Great) of Michigan’s lakes, the best small town is the one you know best. Still, it’s hard to argue against the splendor of Traverse City, which for good reason swells with tourists on its beaches and picturesque Downtown all summer. Those sandy beaches and the Cherry Festival and Film Fest obscure its status as one of America’s best small-town beer destinations, and the region’s vineyards are sneakily pushing out world-class pinots and cutting-edge ice wine. -- A.K.

Minnesota: Stillwater

Population: 18,800
Lodged in the beautiful St. Croix Valley, Stillwater is known for its gorgeous waterfront, solid hikes, and scenic spots for a summer picnic. But there’s a lot more than bluffs and hockey going down. Lift Bridge Brewery -- named after Stillwater’s iconic lift bridge -- is an underappreciated jewel in a state where Surly, Bauhaus, and Bent Paddle hoard the craft brew love. In the summer, Nelson’s Ice Cream and the quaintly named Lumberjack Days food and music festival make the trip worthwhile. In the winter, it’s the massive Ice Castles nestled along the riverbank. Even Smalley’s Caribbean, with its repellant pirate theme, is a must-try. The eye-patch palace has surprisingly good jerk chicken and curried goat. To boot (har!), almost every restaurant downtown touts a patio with a view. -- Dustin Nelson, News writer

Mississippi: Ocean Springs

Population: 17,530
Sitting anywhere along Government St in Ocean Springs, you can hear live music -- rock, country, bluegrass, even hip-hop -- coming from a bar only a few feet away. The small stretch of watering holes along this coastal city’s main drag is a little slice of Austin or Nashville plopped on the Bayou, making a weekend bar crawl here as entertaining as anywhere. Your days are for paddleboarding and kayaking along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and a short boat ride out to the barrier islands finds you on the kind of turquoise, white sand beaches you never knew existed in Mississippi. -- M.M.

Boonville, missouri
Boonville, missouri | marekuliasz/shutterstock

Missouri: Boonville

Population: 8,320
You can’t walk down a Boonville street without tripping over the raw Americana -- more than 400 registered historic sites smack in the middle of Missouri. You even got slipped a dose of history reading the name, taken from founders and sons of Daniel Boone. Tour the Native American burial grounds and stay across the Missouri River at the Rivercene Mansion bed and breakfast, conceived as an opulent retreat for a rich riverboat captain. The outlaw Jesse James left his boot prints here, and you’re welcome to follow those as you make your way around Civil War landmarks. Want something a bit more recent but just as red, white, and blue? Pop by Warm Springs Ranch, a nearby breeding farm for the Budweiser Clydesdales. -- Peter Rugg, Thrillist contributor

Montana: Bozeman

Population: 39,860
Huge by Montana standards, this is basically Manhattan compared to other great towns like Livingston and Whitefish. That's not to be flip: It’s a cultural hub that includes a college, a gorgeous old movie theater in its oh-so-Western Downtown, great beer, a vibrant bluegrass scene, and some of the best stargazing to be had in any American town. If that sky’s not big enough, well, drive 5 miles in any direction and you’re deep in the wilderness. This is, after all, the gateway to brambly back country, the perfect place to enjoy modern conveniences, then vanish into the wild. -- A.K.

Nebraska: Valentine

Population: 2,740
Locals compare this region to a rain forest misplaced in the Midwest plains. It's almost unfair to the rest of Nebraska how much of the state's natural beauty is hoarded in this town: Six, count 'em, six ecological systems smash together along the Niobrara River. You’ll find sandstone canyons, cliffs, valleys, and Smith Falls State Park, home to the state's tallest waterfall. Or run with the prairie dogs and bison in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. Book a cabin at the Lord Ranch Resort and get the full cowboy tour package. Later, boot-scoot out of the 19th century and over to the Peppermill Restaurant, where you can get a fresh steak without looking it in the eye first. -- Peter Rugg, Thrillist contributor

Nevada: Elko

Population: 18,297
If you’re not into desert ‘scapes, anywhere in Nevada not called Vegas or Tahoe won’t be for you. But if you can appreciate the beauty of vast, sandy plateaus backed by majestic red mountains, Elko might be America’s greatest hidden gem. It’s Nevada’s equivalent of a Rocky Mountain town without the tourists or the painful price tags. The annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering convenes here, because beneath its rough exterior, just like those cowboy poets, Elko has an artistic soul. The streets are lined with shops from artisans hawking crafts, paintings, photographs, and the kinds of wares one would more expect to see in a place like Aspen. It’s also a jumping-off point to the Ruby Mountains and canyons beyond, where extreme hiking, heli-skiing, and off-road ATV-ing are daily adventures. -- M.M.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

New Hampshire: Portsmouth

Population: 21,600
A stone’s throw from the Maine border, Portsmouth was founded in 1623, making it one of the oldest towns in the country. Spend a weekend doing a walking tour of historic homes, taking in the waterfront, hopping a harbor cruise, and strolling Market St -- and pepper that with pit stops at the many top-notch breweries (Smuttynose, Redhook, and Stoneface are all local). If you can, time your visit around the popular annual Chowder Festival or Prescott Park Arts Festival. Don’t even think about leaving without hitting the wonderfully retro The Friendly Toast for brunch. -- Joe McGauley, Senior staff writer

New Jersey: Sea Bright

Population: 1,350
If you want to experience the Jersey Shore sans spray-tanned mooks and barrels of industrial sludge, Sea Bright is a veritable 1.2-square-mile oasis of bars you actually want to visit, beaches where you can find a nook to yourself, and everything else you love about summer, including ice cream. Surrounded by the mighty Navesink River on the west, and the even mightier Atlantic on the east, Sea Bright is filled with membership-only beach clubs for the locals and a swath of public beaches for out-of-towners. Snooki would not feel at home here: S.B. isn’t overwhelmed by kitschy tourist traps and saltwater taffy stands. This is where people from New Jersey go when they go to the Shore. If you’re lucky, you might even spot Bruce Springsteen working on his tan (yes, seriously). -- Wil Fulton, Features staff writer

New Mexico: Silver City

Population: 10,170
With more than 300 days of sunshine and a Wild West vibe, this mining town entertains quirky creative types, outdoor enthusiasts, and brave road-trippers with a slew of year-round festivals and plenty of good grub. Highlights include the Blues Festival every May, a mural-heavy downtown district, and the newly remodeled Silco Theater, built in 1923. A handful of tasty restaurants have put this place on the map -- if you’re lucky enough to score a table at 1zero6 you’ll be served a one-of-kind dinner (no menus are repeated). Throw back handcrafted cocktails at Little Toad Creek Brewery, and in the morning, lose yourself in the pine trees on a hike in the Gila National Forest. -- R.M.

New York: Hudson

Population: 6,580
Two hours north of Manhattan sits a town so quaint and serene, it’s hard to believe the two coexist on the same river. Hudson is known for its cutesy antique shops, art galleries (Hudson’s relative proximity to NYC makes it a popular part-time refuge for urban creatives), and an impressive café and restaurant scene. Shop at The Spotty Dog (a former firehouse turned indie bookstore and bar), fill up on locally raised pork buns and pulled pork sesame noodles at Hudson Food Studio, and stuff your face at local pizza obsession, Baba Louie’s. -- M.K.

Beaufort, north carolina
Beaufort, north carolina | UniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

North Carolina: Beaufort

Population: 4,195
Coastal North Carolina swarms with idyllic beach towns: Wrightsville Beach, Hatteras Island, Seaside. The best-rounded of them is Beaufort, where antebellum architecture and farmers markets under oak trees meet serene Southern coastline and vast, open prairies. Watch the sun rise over the ocean, then head out deep-sea fishing, dolphin-watching, or driving through fields full of wild horses. The wilderness here is actually wild, and while the houses along the shoreline are quaint, nothing ever feels crowded. When you can end the day with a waterfront sunset in the same spot you watched a waterfront sunrise, it’s a pretty special place. -- M.M.

North Dakota: Grand Forks

Population: 56,000
While Japanese gardens and art museums aren’t exactly what you’d associate with North Dakota, this college town brings a lot of unexpected surprises. Sure, it’s home to one of the most beautiful hockey arenas in the country, and if you find yourself in Grand Forks during hockey season, a UND game is like the college hockey equivalent of Duke's Cameron Indoor. But weather permitting, the Grand Forks Japanese Garden offers an oasis of color in the prairies, a gift from Awano, Japan, as part of its recovery from the 1997 Red River Flood. Grand Forks also boasts the North Dakota Museum of Art -- the state’s first -- set in a 1907-vintage former gymnasium. And if you’re into repurposed structures like that, Urban Stampede is the city’s top coffee shop, set in an old-west saloon. -- M.M.

Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Chagrin Falls, Ohio | Wikimedia Commons

Ohio: Chagrin Falls

Population: 4,040
Somewhere between Cleveland and Akron is the sleepy town of Chagrin Falls, where the bright fall trees and snow-piled winters inspired Bill Watterson as he drew Calvin and Hobbes. It has small wonders otherwise, like the town's actual falls beneath the historic Popcorn Shop that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, and legitimate claims to firsts -- the original Dave's Cosmic Subs and Jeni’s (at least outside of Columbus) are here. Besides the many surrounding walkable nature preserves, the charm mainly comes from the boutique stores (and the cramped bookstore). For food, find Rick's Cafe, open for 35 years strong, and newer hit Umami. If you tire of small-town vibes and colonial homes, northeast Ohio's two major metropolitan areas are scant 40-minute trips away. -- Leanne Butkovic, Features editor

Oklahoma: Bartlesville

Population: 35,837
Home to Frank Lloyd Wright's only realized skyscraper, and the birthplace of Phillips Petroleum (of Phillips 66 fame), Bartlesville embodies the bizarre, often troubled history that makes Oklahoma a sneaky-fun place to visit. The ranch of oil tycoon Frank Phillips, Woolaroc, is now a 3,700-acre wildlife preserve and museum with a virtually unrivaled collection of Native American art and relics of Western expansion. The legacy of oilmen and industrial entrepreneurs making culture come to them continues downtown, where Wright's Price Tower stands 19 stories but looks like 100 against the flat prairie backdrop. Every year the OK Mozart Fest brings world-class classical music to this town an hour north of Tulsa. Yet after taking in The Magic Flute, you'll feel perfectly at home downing a $1 pickleback or $3 locally brewed Marshall IPAs at cozy dive The Solo Club, est. 1955. -- Anthony Schneck, Entertainment editor

Hood River, Oregon
Hood River, Oregon | tusharkoley/shutterstock

Oregon: Hood River

Population: 7,476
With much respect to Cannon Beach and Astoria (love to Chunk and Sloth!) and the high-desert oases Sisters and Bend, no small town captures the beauty of the Pacific Northwest quite like Hood River. The town rises out of the mighty and scenic Columbia River Gorge -- one of the most breathtaking natural areas in the West -- and climbs steadily into the foothills of Mt. Hood. This is a kitesurfing capital thanks to the steady winds, and a gateway to endless wilderness for hiking, snowshoeing, and mountain biking. You can cruise the area’s sea of orchards, called the Fruit Loop, or just stroll by the old buildings that make up the hilly, walkable downtown. Oh, and because it’s Oregon, there’s beer. Lots of beer. Five breweries -- including Full Sail, pFriem, and Double Mountain -- call downtown Hood River home. That’s a brewery per 1,700 residents. No wonder people here are so friendly. -- A.K.

Pennsylvania: Ambler

Population: 6,500
Old brick buildings, pubs, boutiques, a dance company, painting studio, and a playhouse that puts on spectacular live productions -- Ambler has the quintessential small-town Main St, only better. The Ambler Theatre, located in an old-school building with a hidden gargoyle on the roof, regularly plays old movies and new indie flicks (I just saw Jaws and Citizen Kane there). The restaurants are incredible: Trax is in an old train station; Forest & Main transformed an old house into a microbrewery; and the The Lucky Well has some of the best BBQ around (I have recurring dreams about its cornbread). You’ll find a delightful community of folks who gather regularly for the summer farmers market, the Ambler summer Arts & Music Festival, and the Dog Days of Summer (seriously, a giant dog parade). Throw in a hilariously quirky town history that involves a train wreck and an asbestos empire and you’ve got yourself one heck of a town, of any size. -- Erin Weaver, Senior Social Media Editor

Rhode Island: Newport

Population: 26,214
Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, a coastal town set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century. The must-do activity here is, obviously, touring the Newport Mansions, but that’s far from the only draw. Newport also hosts the annual Newport Regatta, one of the biggest sailing races in America bringing with it the best sailing parties. Held in July, the Regatta is the ideal time of year to visit, but even if you miss it there are still plenty of wide, sandy beaches to lounge on for the day, and a surprisingly good wine region just on the outskirts of town. -- M.M.

Beaufort, south carolina
Beaufort, south carolina | Marc Romanelli/Blend Images/Getty Images

South Carolina: Beaufort

Population: 13,130
The South Carolina Lowcountry has no shortage of coastal charm, but some areas can get a little oversaturated. Not Beaufort, a town with all the historical allure of Charleston at a slower, easy-going pace. The beauty isn’t limited to its streets: Head out to the barrier islands, like Saint Helena, where rural simplicity, fragrant marshes, and live oaks draped in Spanish moss make for instant relaxation. Experience the Gullah culture of emancipated African-American slaves who moved to these islands centuries ago and have preserved much of their distinctive language, food, and customs. Then boat out to the isolated Daufuskie Island, a car-less escape stocked with colorful characters. If you’d like to see where Marines are made, you can visit the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, also the setting for the first half of Full Metal Jacket. -- M.M.

South Dakota: Spearfish

Population: 11,107
Western South Dakota, with its Black Hills, Badlands, and Elk Mountains, might be the most overlooked scenery in America. The best place to take it all in is Spearfish, nestled at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon. Main St here is classic Old West, but venturing out of town is a must, whether hiking deep into Spearfish Canyon to see some of the most staggering cliff faces in America, or to Sturgis and its famous bike rally, or the casinos in Deadwood. If you must, hit Mt. Rushmore. None of it is too far for a short day trip, which may be part of the reason the most expensive real estate in SoDak can be found in Spearfish. -- M.M.

Tennessee: Bell Buckle

Population: 512
Located a mere 54 miles from the trendy enclaves of Nashville, Bell Buckle feels more like a trip down memory lane than I-24. You’d assume the most scenic portion of town, a quaint row of mom-and-pop shops, has been untouched by time aside maybe from an eco-friendly Prius parked over the town’s literal street art -- an old timey quilt painted on the road. For dinner, twice-fried pork chops await at the Bell Buckle Cafe, followed by an evening sitting in handcrafted rockers watching trains pass and sucking down a malt from the Bluebird Antiques & Ice Cream Parlor. To catch the town in its prime, head down in June for the RC-MoonPie Festival, a day of crafts, shopping, Moon Pie Olympics (it’s exactly what it sounds like), and the annual cutting of the world’s largest moon pie. -- Tanner Saunders, Production Assistant

Texas: Marfa

Population: 1,800
When modern artist Donald Judd fell in love with this desert community in the 1970s, he ended up changing it forever, transforming it into an art hub renowned for its galleries and yearly film and music festivals. Judd’s Chinati Foundation is a necessary pilgrimage for any art aficionado (the drive here is no joke), in addition to the oft-Instagrammed Prada Marfa and amazing restaurants right in the middle of nowhere. After the sun falls, set up a folding chair at the Marfa Lights Viewing Area and watch for flashes (extraterrestrials, maybe?) dancing in the Texas sky. Enjoy a heavy pour of cheap whiskey at Lost Horse Saloon, then lay your head down in a yurt at the oh-so-trendy El Cosmico. -- Kelli McDonald, Thrillist contributor

Utah: Moab

Population: 5,140
Utah is one of the most unquestionably beautiful states in America. The mountains up north offer plenty of scenery and skiing in towns like Park City, but for the out-there desert experience, look south to Moab, the most hippie town in Utah and a gateway to the vast wilderness of the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. With organic restaurants aplenty, the food options are more distinct than elsewhere in the state, and the people here are much more desert than they are Deseret. You’ll find a sizable collection of artists, wanderers, and adventurers who all have an interesting story to tell. -- M.M.

Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock, Vermont | Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Vermont: Woodstock

Population: 3,050
Imagine the fictional Stars Hollow, but instead of an inn, Lorelai Gilmore runs an upscale dairy farm-turned-museum that dates back to the mid-19th century. There, you're in Woodstock. In fact, this charming oasis at the foot of the Green Mountains is so picture-perfect, the town buried its telephone wires to attract more Hollywood productions (you might recognize locations around town from Forrest Gump). Take your obligatory snapshots at one of the city’s historic covered bridges, eat fresh pie at the Woodstock Farmers Market, and visit the historic Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion. Then meander to one of the other adorable towns in the Upper Valley -- Barnard boasts a general store dating to 1832 and a fun summer farmers market with live music every Thursday night. -- T.S.

Virginia: Sperryville

Population: 342
We see you, Charlottesville. But in the foothills of the Shenandoahs, no-stoplights Sperryville is as quaint as they come. Plan to stay at Hopkins Ordinary Bed & Breakfast, a B&B with an on-site brewery, one of several sources of top-notch brews. Pen Druid is a wild new fermentation brewery famous for Golden Swan, made from wild yeast strains found in Sperryville’s wildflowers. Locals opt for Rudy's Pizza or farm-fresh sandwiches at Before & After, but just up the road in Washington is the two-Michelin-starred The Inn at Little Washington. Diners book months in advance and come from near and far to try chef Patrick O'Connell's menu. Just make sure to get to bed early -- Old Rag Mountain beckons. This 9-mile hike is a safe bet for some mind-alerting views, especially at sunrise, when you’ll find few other hikers on the trail. --T.E.

Washington: Edmonds

Population: 40,896
Obligatory shout-out to trendy college town Bellingham in the north and Bavarian-themed Leavenworth in the mountains. But for a combo of breathtaking waterfront scenery, first-rate food, and loads of great watering holes, Edmonds gets our vote. Known to many Seattleites as simply “that place to get the ferry,” Edmonds has grown into a destination town in its own right, with spots like Salt & Iron and Bar Dojo anchoring a downtown long on big-city-worthy dining options. Enjoy a summer sunset over Puget Sound with a cocktail at Rory’s, or sip a famous northwest latte at Walnut Street Coffee. And outside Seattle, the state might not have a finer performing arts center than the Edmonds Center, which hosts theater and ballet all year long. -- M.M.

West Virginia: Morgantown

Population: 31,073
No small town in WVA is more worthy of a visit than the home of West Virginia University. Game days in Mo-Town are no joke, and the bar scene here rivals any major-conference college town. Suds and sports aside, Morgantown sits near the Cheat River, one of the premiere whitewater destinations in America. And a hike to the top of Coopers Rock gives you a jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing peek into the 1,200ft gorge below. -- M.M.

Wisconsin: Eau Claire

Population: 67,680
It's a hair over our 60k population cap, but Eau Claire is still one hell of a spot to spend a low-key weekend. Bon Iver frontman and Eau Claire native Justin Vernon chose this city to set up camp for the Eaux Claires Music Festival -- head there in June to see the likes of Feist, Wilco, and Chance the Rapper. Two hip boutique hotels just opened downtown, our favorite being the The Oxbow, with locally sourced grub at The Lakely, a stage, and an art gallery -- plus, every room has a phonograph with free vinyl records to rent at the front desk. But don’t hole up in your room. Surrounded by lush farmlands, Eau Claire earned its name for its crystal-clear waters, so take advantage of the stunning river trails and over 1,000 acres of parks. At the relatively new Phoenix Park, you can hit the farmers market, then cross the river to Lazy Monk Brewing for craft beer flights (the rye IPA is awesome). -- D.N. and Josh Mellin, Thrillist contributor

Wyoming: Centennial

Population: 270
This tiny outpost features all the best things about Wyoming -- friendly bars, wide-open spaces, great music, and access to some of the most starkly beautiful outdoor recreation you'll find anywhere. Sitting 8,000ft up, 30 miles outside of Laramie at the foot of the Medicine Bow mountain range, Centennial consists mainly of a couple hotels and bars/music venues that play host to hikers, campers, skiers, and snowmobilers on their way into or out of the mountains. On a given weekend the town is liable to turn into a party, especially when the right bands are passing through, and it's the home of the most truly great winter party you'll ever find: The annual Poker Run (see the video above), where a few hundred well-lubricated skiers tumble down the mountain and crash-land in Centennial's welcoming arms. -- Bison Messink, Executive Editor

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.