I’m still waiting for three things from the future: a flying car, a jet pack, and a time machine. And while I think we’re getting closer on the first two, time travel remains frustratingly elusive. So, what are we to do if we really want to experience what life was like in a different era or century? Luckily, you don’t need a DeLorean or flux capacitor because there are several small towns around the U.S. where you’re welcome to travel back in time.
1. Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Located 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, this picturesque town is known for its two glorious waterfalls along the Chagrin River. But what visitors find as they take in the natural falls is a throwback Main Street that will remind you of a Hallmark Christmas movie set.
The anchor of this town’s charm is the Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop, built in 1875. The store overlooks the falls and serves up tasty popcorn, custard, locally roasted coffee, and old fashioned candies and chocolates. The quaint Americana feeling continues as you roll down Main Street, where you’ll find charming boutiques, historic architecture, a growing restaurant scene, interesting antique shopping, and art galleries supporting a vibrant arts community.
2. Cody, Wyoming
Called the “Wild West way into Yellowstone,” Cody is an old cowboy town, founded by the real “Buffalo Bill,” William F. Cody. Today, Cody is where you can come to experience the Wild West with gunfight reenactments, cowboy music, and more at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
The highlight of your “stuck in time” experience is Old Trail Town where you’ll find authentic frontier buildings from the 1890s. It was here that William Cody laid out the original town. Today it's one of the best places to experience our rich Western history. Look for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s cabin and a Wyoming saloon frequented by their “Hole-In-The-Wall” gang. Also on the site is the log cabin home of “Curley,” the Crow Indian scout who helped guide General George Custer’s army to the battle of Little Bighorn.
Cody is just 50 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park and is also home to other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, horseback adventures, and great fishing.
3. Cooperstown, New York
While Cooperstown appears to have stopped aging the year Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball, the town’s history is much more than baseball.
Located 70 miles from Albany and 45 miles from Utica, Cooperstown is small-town living at its core. Main Street, filled with throw-back shops, art galleries, museums, and restaurants, contains only one stoplight and is reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Main Street also leads you to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the anchor of the town. When you enter, you don’t lose the small-town feel of Main Street, rather the world-famous institution compliments it, as you’ll find multiple baseball memorabilia shops nearby that support the Hall of Fame. Want to visit? Pack up for our Picturesque New York Road Trip: Corning To Cooperstown.
4. Mackinac Island, Michigan
No cars and no chain restaurants, stores, or hotels, just a small island town gem located in Lake Huron. Mackinac Island is special in many ways. Yes, it is true that there are no cars (they were banned in 1898) and that is just part of how the town has kept its Victorian-era charm.
There are two ways to reach the island: boat and plane. You can find ferry connections at St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, or take SkyWest’s 15-mile flight to and from the island. But once you arrive, you really will feel like time has stood still. Horse-drawn carriages are a popular and fun mode of transportation on the island, and they share the roads with bikers and thousands on foot.
The island is small, just 8-miles around, and offers a view of America replete with pristine Victorian-era mansions, many inhabited by families who’ve lived here for generations.
5. Tombstone, Arizona
In 1881, gunfire rang out on Fremont Street. The gunfight would soon be known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday faced off against the McLaurys and Clantons. In 24 seconds, 30 shots were fired, and Tombstone would forever become a part of American history.
Known as the “Town Too Tough To Die,” Tombstone, Arizona, is all that and more. Today’s Tombstone gives you a real idea of what life was like back in the 1860s, with pretty much the entire town dedicated to preserving its history. Museums, walking tours, stagecoach rides, and ghost town tours combine with enjoyable travel experiences including fine dining and shopping, all while you’re waiting for a gunfight reenactment to break out.
The dusty, saloon-lined streets feature many original buildings from the era, including the Bird Cage Theatre, which was once described by the New York Times as the “wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” We recommend you take the nightly ghost tours of the theater, where it’s said 26 cowboys were killed.
6. Cape May, New Jersey
Driving the New Jersey shore is an epic trip itself, but as you drive south, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a town where the Victorian era of America put a pin in itself and stood pat while the rest of the country grew up.
While the area that is Cape May is a quintessential beach town, it has also become a mecca of sorts for architecture fans, who come to see the living history on display amid the 380 acres and 600 historic Victorian dwellings, some as many as 150 years old.
Pitched roofs, ornate porches, and brightly colored paint make each home stand out, each with an equally compelling story to tell. The styles of homes vary from Queen Anne, Medieval Revival, and Bungalow, but the American Italianate style of the Levy-Neafie House makes it a popular lodging option. The Eldridge Johnson House, known as the Pink House, is internationally noted as having the most “decorative porch in Cape May” and is listed as a historical home by the United States Library of Congress.
7. Solvang, California
Now this town is a bit different from the rest on our list. Solvang, which is just a 40-minute drive northwest of Santa Barbara, is a town where time has stood still, except in Denmark. Yes, Solvang was settled by Danish and Dutch settlers, who were dogged and determined to maintain their heritage. They succeeded.
Solvang’s main attraction is the town’s European heritage and architecture, which transports you to the heart of Europe.
A walking town, Solvang is a wonderful day trip from the bustle of Los Angeles. Here you’ll find a quaint downtown area filled with antique and unique shops. Find yourself a table at one of the cafes or small restaurants where you can enjoy delicious food with European influences.