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 Must-Visit Small Town In Every State

Time to live at a more leisurely pace.

Romanticizing small towns has been an American tradition for as long as “quaint” and “charming” have been adjectives. We love to idealize tree-lined hamlets populated with four-square homes. We long for a life of unhurried conversations and free parking, where a night out involves seeing actual stars, not dropping $250 on cocktails and cabs. When you fall in love with a small town, you fall hard. And even the most literary among us struggle to find an alternative to “charming.”

We scoured the country for the villages and townships that know how to slowwww dowwwwn: places rich in comfort food, cheap pitchers, sunny parks, quirky festivals, and a limited number of friendly faces (“small town” is relative… 35,000 people is tiny in many states, but a veritable metropolis in Vermont). For road trippers these spots offer a respite from big-city life, and often serve as the gateways to outdoor adventure. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scouring the real-estate listings… probably at a twee little bakery that has excellent scones.

Hangout Music Festival
Hangout Music Festival

Alabama: Gulf Shores

Population: 13,109
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 recently got its first brewery, Big Beach Brewing, and is home to one of the world's best beachside burgers at Pink Pony. -- Matt Meltzer
MORE: It's also surprisingly affordable to live here

Alaska: Homer

Population: 6,008
Homer’s been called a lot of things. “The Cosmic Hamlet By the Sea,” owing both to its beautiful stargazing and northern lights displays, artsy vibe, and land’s-end attitude (the legal cannabis thing help). “The Halibut-Fishing Capital of the World,” owing to its, um, halibut fishing. No matter what you call it, it's a superlative mountain town and a great harbor town, home to one of the world’s greatest dive bars and its coolest old lighthouses, both of which happen to be the Salty Dawg Saloon. Close to Kachemak Bay State Park and a scant hour from Anchorage, this is a place that commingles small town vibes with big country scope, where free spirits, grizzled outdoors folk, and fishermen come together — usually at the Salty Dawg. -- Andy Kryza
MORE: See what other bars made our list of America’s greatest dives 

Arizona: Sedona

Population: 10,301
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

Arkansas: Eureka Springs

Population: 2,107
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
MORE: How Walmart's Arkansas hometown went from small town to curious cultural hub

California: Healdsburg

Population: 12,086
Ginormous California’s got a small town for every taste: Want a trippy desert enclave? Take your pick in the Palm Desert. Got a shitload of money and love the beach? San Luis Obispo is for you. But there’s something just magical about Healdsburg. Tucked into Sonoma County’s wine country, the hamlet looks like somebody took the best version of every small-town trope and conjured it in the middle of the forest. Amid the highly walkable tree-line streets, you’ll find local boutiques and cafes aplenty, markets, wine shops, old-school Airbnbs, and one of California’s most iconic breweries, Bear Republic. It’s so idyllic and pristine, you wouldn’t be surprised if the entire town broke out into a musical number at any given moment. And while it walks right up to the line of bougie, it never teeters over it. Plus, it buts right up against other Sonoma retreats, from the semi-rustic LGBTQ oasis Guerneville to coastal Petaluma. -- AK
MORE: This wine country is also a prime beer destination 

Telluride punches well above its weight in music, film, and culture | Telluride Blues & Brews Festival

Colorado: Telluride

Population: 2,494
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, it's about as sweeping as it gets. 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 Top Chef alum Eliza Gavin. -- Colin St. John

Connecticut: Mystic

Population: 4,221
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 coastal 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? Not bad! -- AK

Delaware: Lewes

Population: 3,353
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 enchanted 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. -- TM Brown

Florida: St. Augustine

Population: 15,072
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 allure 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. -- MM
MORE: St. Augustine is one of Florida's prettiest places. Here are 14 more. 

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. -- MM

Surf's up in Maui | EQRoy/Shutterstock

Hawaii: Paia

Population: 2,412
Your last stop before hitting the Road to Hana should be 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 explosively colorful sunset. -- Ryan MacDonald

Idaho: Driggs/Victor

Population: 1,876/2,388
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 huge moose. 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. One of them owns the place. -- Bruce Northam

Illinois: Galena

Population: 3,103
Drive 10 minutes east of the mighty Mississippi and you'll tap tap right into the quirky small-town vibes of Galena. Once the home of Ulysses S. Grant, Galena boasts 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

Indiana: Nashville

Population: 1,110
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

Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.

Iowa: Decorah

Population: 7,338
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 once named best beer IN THE WORLD by RateBeer users. -- MM
MORE: Iowa is so, so much cooler than you think it is

Kansas: Lucas

Population: 383
Dubbed the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas,” the tiny town smack dab in the middle of the state is home to art both compelling and weird, from the downtown’s storied public restroom in Bowl Plaza; sculpture and rock gardens; the five-room, creepy doll-laden Garden of Isis; and the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things, a traveling roadshow dedicated to putting mega roadside attractions in miniature. There are, of course, more traditional small towns all over Kansas. But for a certain set of people, this is paradise. And for the rest of us, it’s an essential stopping point on a cross-country trip. 
MORE: Here’s the full story of the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Version of the World’s Largest Things

Kentucky: Bardstown

Population: 13,206
The so-dubbed Bourbon Capital of the World is not pulling punches when it comes to the brown stuff -- Bardstown is home to Four Roses, Willett, Maker’s Mark, Barton 1792, the Jim Beam American Stillhouse and the Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center, in addition to the oldest bar in Kentucky, Talbott Tavern. Still, you can score hooch anywhere. What sets Bardstown apart is its old-timey southern hospitality, gorgeous landscapes, and an architecturally astounding downtown that's remained strollable and affable since 1780. And also, you know, all that bourbon. -- AK

Louisiana: Abita Springs

Population: 2,646
Back at the turn of the 20th century, New Orleanians with a few bucks used this town just across Lake Pontchartrain as an escape from the city when yellow fever gripped the populace. 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. -- MM

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

Maine: Camden

Population: 3,442
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 locals-filled restaurants 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
MORE: Explore Camden during a lobster-filled Maine road trip

Maryland: Hoopers Island

Population: 441
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. --TE

Massachusetts: Northampton

Population: 25,393
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 for a killer burger 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. -- AL

Traverse City Tourism
Explore one of Michigan's beautiful beach towns, Traverse City | Traverse City Tourism

Michigan: Traverse City

Population: 15,785
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, whose highly walkable downtown and pristine beaches swell with tourists all summer long. 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. Plus, it's the gateway to the Leelanau Peninsula, so even if Traverse City isn't your favorite small town, it's your favorite pitstop en route to your top pick. -- AK

Minnesota: Stillwater

Population: 19,538
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 aptly 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

Mississippi: Ocean Springs

Population: 18,099
Sitting anywhere along Government St in Ocean Springs, you can hear live music -- rock, country, bluegrass, 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. -- MM

Missouri: Boonville

Population: 8,397
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

livingston, montana
Downtown Livingston, Montana is packed with saloons and galleries | MONTANA OFFICE OF TOURISM

Montana: Livingston

Population: 8,150
Livingston is the epicenter of Montana cool, a town that fully embraces its rowdy past, even as it’s become a magnet for artists and laid-back celebs like Jeff Bridges and Michael Keaton. With the iconic Murray Bar standing as the town’s main compass point, Livingston’s central location near the gates of Yellowstone and not far from more booming Bozeman allows it to thrive as an rugged outdoor paradise. Here, world-class fly fishing and rafting is as much a way of life as is sucking down whiskey shots to the soundtrack of a band playing on a flatbed truck. And lest all that sounds very exhausting, it’s also right next to Chico Hot Springs, which have a century’s worth of legacy curing Murray Bar-induced hangovers. 
MORE: Get a closer look at life in Livingston

Nebraska: Valentine

Population: 2,712
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. -- PR
MORE: Nebraska is America's most slept-on Summer destination

Nevada: Elko

Population: 20,467
If you’re not into desert ‘landscapes, 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. -- MM
MORE: Nevada also has a small-town mini-Vegas

New Hampshire: Portsmouth

Population: 22,282
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 and Stoneface among them). 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,

New Jersey: Sea Bright

Population: 1,362
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: SB 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
MORE: This state park is another secret gem of the Jersey shore

Silver City
Dia de los Muertos Street Festival in Silver City | Visit Silver City

New Mexico: Silver City

Population: 9,283
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 keep the town fed, while handcrafted cocktails at at Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery. The next morning, shake them off by losing yourself in the pine trees on a hike in the Gila National Forest. -- RM

New York: Hudson

Population: 5,974
Two hours north of Manhattan sits a town so warm 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. -- MK
MORE: Get a peek at Upstate New York's most beautiful places

North Carolina: Beaufort

Population: 4,403
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 plentiful, 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. -- MM

North Dakota: Jamestown

Population: 15,310
It’s very, very easy to live rurally and comfortably in North Dakota, one of the country’s most criminally misunderstood states. But Jamestown offers up a solid compromise: Located at the midpoint between capital Bismarck and the surprisingly bustling cultural hub of Fargo, it’s on the cusp (at least by North Dakota standards) of city and town. All the amenities you’d expect from a county seat are present -- solid restaurants, a downtown that seems untouched since Western boom times -- with extra flourishes like a thriving arts community and ample opportunities to explore the outdoors. Its river-valley geography is the polar opposite of NoDak’s stereotyped flatlands, and its fishing and disc-golf game is strong. It’s also home to the world’s largest buffalo statue, which sits next to the National Buffalo Museum. Not that locals frequent those, but it’s extremely important to note. 
MORE: North Dakota's beer scene is heating up

Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Chagrin Falls, Ohio | Wikimedia Commons

Ohio: Chagrin Falls

Population: 3,917
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 allure 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

Oklahoma: Bartlesville

Population: 36,341
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

Oregon: Hood River

Population: 8,096
With much respect to the Oregon coast and high desert hamlets, 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, including heavy hitters pFriem and Double Mountain. And here, you're allowed to stroll the esplanade with beer in hand, provided the wind doesn't blow it all over your shirt. -- AK
MORE:pFriem might just be the best brewery in Oregon... which is really saying something

Pennsylvania: Ambler

Population: 6,486
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: 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

Newport Harbour
Newport Harbour, Rhode island | Michael Denning/Unsplash

Rhode Island: Newport

Population: 24,238
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. -- MM

South Carolina: Beaufort

Population: 13,425
The South Carolina Lowcountry has no shortage of coastal appeal, 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. -- MM

South Dakota: Spearfish

Population: 12,084
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 Street 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. -- MM

Tennessee: Bell Buckle

Population: 553
Located a mere 54 miles from trendy Nashville, Bell Buckle feels more like a trip down memory lane than I-24. You’d assume the most scenic portion of town, a welcoming 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

El Cosmico
A luxury trailer at Marfa's El Cosmico | Nick Simonite

Texas: Marfa

Population: 1,672
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

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, an ultra-chill town 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. -- MM
MORE: All of Utah is basically one huge national park

Vermont: Woodstock

Population: 2,937
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 lovely 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. -- TS

Virginia: Sperryville

Population: 244
In the foothills of the Shenandoahs, no-stoplights Sperryville is as steeped in old-time Americana 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. --TE

Leavenworth is tucked away within the mountains of central Washington | Visit Leavenworth WA

Washington: Leavenworth

Population: 2,032
Come Christmastime. Leavenworth becomes one big tourist trap: Tucked deep in the mountainous forests of central Washington, the town fully exaggerates its alpine aesthetics, with a Nutcracker museum, live reindeer, and enough lederhosen to populate the world’s largest Sound of Music flash mob. But come any other time of year, and you’re in a veritable mountain paradise, one that’s often overshadowed, especially in warmer months, by Washington’s glimmering coasts. This is peak mountain town, with heavy German vibes spilling into the raucous bier halls and schnitzel emporiums, where climbers from the world over flock to scale its ample crags and explore the dense forests. The holidays try their hardest to manufacture magic. But once the throngs have dissipated, that same magic comes naturally in this Bavarian Brigadoon. -- AK

West Virginia: Fayetteville

Population: 2,670
Located just outside the New River Gorge, Fayetville completely bulldozes all preconceived notions of West Virginia living, unless your preconceived notions paint it as an outdoor destination with artsy vibes and great food. Fayetville’s rock climbing and mountain biking are nigh unmatched, and it offers up some of the best rafting in the east. The creative spirit that its nature-loving citizens have instilled in the place give it a homey vibe, one where Ridge Brewing fills grateful growlers and Secret Sandwich Society feeds happy masses. Things get a little livelier during Bridge Days, when hundreds of BASE jumpers leap off the New River Gorge Bridge while nearly 80,000 people gawk, but outside of that, this is a place to quietly embrace and tempt nature.  -- AK

Wisconsin: Chippewa Falls

Population: 14,294
More enchanting and less busy than its larger neighbor, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls feels like a village with some city amenities. Leinenkugel's Brewery is located here, and you can tour its Northwoods-themed visitor's center and taproom. Lovers of the outdoors who may or may not be Bon Ever will appreciate 40 public boat landings in the county, 35 miles of ATV routes, the Hickory Ridge mountain biking trail, and about a million lakes nearby for fishing. On the south end of Lake Wissota lies County Highway X, lined with taverns, restaurants, and supper clubs with stunning lake views. -- Lacey Muszynski 

Wyoming: Centennial

Population: 276
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

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