As someone who lives in a small town, I know why folks tend to be so friendly. In a big city, you might flip someone off for cutting you off in traffic. In small towns, well for one, there’s not much traffic. Our car horns are used to say a quick hello, not to make the driver in front of us aware that the light has turned green. (There’s no rush when you can get across town in 5 minutes.) But the real reason we’re so nice is that everybody knows everybody! And if you don’t know someone, you know someone who knows them. Word travels fast in a small town, and if you want to keep those words nice, you better be friendly!
To find the friendliest small towns in the U.S., we reached out to our readers. You’ll find the results of our 2022 Best of Travel Awards for Friendliest Small Towns in the U.S. below. All of the towns have a population under 20,000. Population data was gathered from the 2020 Decennial Census. We included points of interest, such as attractions, places to eat, and where to stay in case you decide to visit. Now let’s see if you’re friendly small town made the list!
1. Abilene, Kansas (Winner)
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene is no stranger to our Best of Travel Awards. Last year, the charming Kansas town took home the gold for Best U.S. Small Town. Not only do the 6,460 citizens get to keep that title this year, but they also get to add one. TravelAwaits is proud to announce that our readers voted Abilene, Kansas, the Friendliest Small Town In The U.S. 2022.
Full of history and dotted with amazing architecture, this quaint Midwestern town offers plenty of things to do. Visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home then head over to the Seelye Mansion. One of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas,” the stately estate is decked out in poinsettias at Christmastime. Abilene also hosts one of the best small-town Fourth of July celebrations in the Midwest.
Create your own box of chocolates at Russell Stover Chocolates, walk through the giant spur at Rittel’s Western Wear, and pet the retired greyhounds at the Greyhound Hall of Fame. Enjoy a family-style chicken dinner at the James Beard Award-winning Brookville Hotel. Stay at Abilene’s Victorian Inn or camp at Walt’s Four Seasons Campground.
2. Brownsville, Tennessee
One hour north of Memphis on I-40, the town of Brownsville is home to just under 10,000 friendly folks. Like Memphis, Brownsville is a music heritage destination and has award-winning barbecue.
Tour the shotgun home of Blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes, which is part of Tennesse Music Pathways. Brownsville’s West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center & Tina Turner Museum are also featured on this musical trail that winds its way through the state. The Delta Heritage Center celebrates the town’s country blues legacy with the annual Exit 56 Blues Fest. For delicious, authentic barbecue, head over to Helen’s BBQ. One of the few pitmistresses of the South, Helen, has been featured on the Food Network.
Explore the cypress groves and look out for bald eagles while fishing or kayaking on the Hatchie River. For those who like to sleep under the stars, Serendipity: Brownsville’s Venue and Resort was a finalist for Best Glamping in our 2021 Best of Travel Awards.
3. Telluride, Colorado
Tucked away in a box canyon between the forested peaks of the rugged San Juan Mountains, Telluride is a charming small town that sits at the base of a popular ski and golf resort. About 2,607 friendly residents call this Colorado ski spot home. Filled with Victorian homes, boutiques, art galleries, gourmet restaurants, and historic buildings, the former mining boomtown’s Historic District — which makes up most of the town — has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
In addition to its rich history, this Rocky Mountain town serves as a mecca for outdoor activities. Skiers flock to Telluride Ski Resort’s stellar slopes each winter, when the town’s snow-covered streets will make you feel like you’re starring in your own Hallmark Christmas movie. However, there are plenty of things going on for nonskiers any time of year. In the fall, take the free gondola up to Mountain Village to take in fabulous foliage views. Summer weather allows for activities such as fly fishing, hiking, biking, ziplining, horseback riding, rafting, off-roading, golfing, camping, rock climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, and paragliding.
Telluride also plays host to several festivals, such as the Telluride Film Festival. Other attractions include nearby hot springs and Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall.
4. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs is a quaint town in Arkansas with just over 2,100 residents. This vibrant arts community is known for its Victorian architecture, natural springs, and outdoor activities. It is home to numerous historic buildings, such as the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, and the entire downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town became famous because of its natural springs, which are thought to be therapeutic. Unlike Hot Springs, Arkansas, Eureka Springs has 66 cold springs.
Home to some of the state’s best hiking and biking trails and spectacular scenery, Eureka Springs makes for a perfect fall getaway. Unique attractions include Thorncrown Chapel, which is one of the most photographed buildings in America, and the Christ of the Ozarks statue that sits atop Magnetic Mountain just a short drive away.
5. Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
Nestled in one of the most picturesque parts of the country, you can find this hidden gem and its 1,223 friendly occupants on the Lake Michigan side of Door County. Baileys Harbor is enjoying its second consecutive year on our list of Friendliest Small Towns in the U.S.
Baileys Harbor boasts 6,000 acres of public lands, beaches, and parks. The Ridges Sanctuary and Toft Point State Natural Area offer great hiking, bird-watching, and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Head to Anclam Town Park Swimming Beach to take a dip in Lake Michigan. Or swim or paddle over at Kangaroo Lake and explore the trails at the Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve.
Other local attractions include the Cana Island Light Station and the Christina Nilsson shipwreck. Summertime means fun annual festivals, like the Door County Beer Festival and Food Trucks & Floaties. If you find yourself downtown on a Friday night, don’t miss the famous fish fry at Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub. For great dining and a beautiful view, look no further than Florian II Lakeshore Supper Club.
6. Skagway, Alaska
Last year’s Friendliest Small Town winner has slipped a few spots, but Skagway still made the list this year. Nestled between the Coastal Mountain Range and the deepest fjord in North America, this tourist town is home to 1,240 people. However, a million visitors flock to the cruise ship stop each summer for its spectacular scenery, Klondike Gold Rush history, and incredible things to do, including hiking, breathtaking train rides, glacier helicopter tours, and dogsledding tours.
One lone bank anchors the six blocks of downtown, which have been designated a National Historic District. Pop into the Red Onion Saloon for a brothel tour, gawk at Arctic Brotherhood Hall’s driftwood-covered facade, and then stroll down to Skagway Brewing Company for an ice-cold Spruce Tip Ale.
7. Saugatuck, Michigan
Nestled on the sands of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is a quaint Michigan beach town. The city itself has a population of 865, while the greater township area is home to 3,443 friendly nature enthusiasts, art lovers, and foodies.
Home to one of the best beaches in Michigan, Oval Beach, Saugatuck offers miles of beaches and plenty of water activities. Enjoy a sunset cruise on Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Dunes State Park features one of the best hikes in Michigan. Along with the adjoining village of Douglas, it is known as Michigan’s Art Coast. Art lovers will find dozens of DIY experiences and art studios, galleries, and shops here.
Foodies will enjoy farm-fresh food from award-winning chefs. The Wickwood Inn, a bed and breakfast owned by Julee Rosso, author of The Silver Palate Cookbook, is the perfect place for a gourmet to stay or dine.
8. Cape May, New Jersey
Situated on the southernmost tip of New Jersey, right where the land hooks into the sea, Cape May is one of the oldest resort towns in the country. New Jersey’s best-kept secret is home to 2,768 affable inhabitants. However, this historic Jersey Shore town’s golden sand beaches and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean attract millions of visitors a year.
Filled with colorful Victorian homes and cobblestone streets, Cape May’s Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Many of the town’s incredibly well-preserved “painted ladies” have been transformed into bed and breakfasts and eateries. Check out the perennially popular front porch of The Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar for decadent pancakes.
This friendly New Jersey town can also be quite romantic. Stroll down the scenic 2-mile boardwalk to the Cape May Lighthouse. Ride a horse and carriage past glowing gas lamps at Christmas. Enjoy a seafood dinner overlooking the ocean at the Pier House.
9. Mystic, Connecticut
Nestled along the New England coast, beautiful Mystic, Connecticut has a population of 4,348. Founded in 1654, the village is situated on both sides of the Mystic River and connected by a drawbridge.
The 1988 movie Mystic Pizza put Julia Roberts and Mystic on the map, and visitors can grab a slice at the real Mystic Pizza. Nautical historians will appreciate the Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum while stargazers will love the Treworgy Planetarium. Mystic Aquarium is home to everything from Steller sea lions to beluga whales. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center offers 350 acres of woods, wetlands, and meadows that are perfect for hiking. During the summer this seaside town offers water adventures and hosts the annual Mystic Outdoor Art Festival.
10. Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Just a couple of miles from Biloxi, this charming coastal Mississippi town also made last year’s list of friendliest small towns. Popular with retirees and snowbirds, beautiful Ocean Springs is home to 18,429 kind residents. This charming coastal city is also home to pristine white-sand beaches, centuries-old live oaks, a vibrant art and music scene, world-class dining, and cute boutiques.
Warm Gulf Coast waters make watersports, shrimping trips, and sailing on schooners a possibility year-round. This laidback, historic coastal town is affordable and full of fun things to do. If you can’t get enough of the famous Mississippi painter’s work that decorates the city, tour the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Ocean Springs also hosts the largest annual fine arts festival in the state — the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival.
The community is quite walkable. Shop and listen to live music along Government Street in the downtown district. Many of the great live music venues also have incredible food. Try the spicy jerk fried shrimp po’ boy at The Government Street Grocery. For tapas, live entertainment, and cocktails, check out Mosaic.
Stay downtown at The Roost Boutique Hotel, rent a cottage by the beach, or camp out at the Davis Bayou Campground.
11. Natchitoches, Louisiana
Pronounced NAK-uh-tish, Louisiana’s oldest city is home to 18,039 friendly residents. Founded in 1714, Natchitoches is a historic town brimming with culture, shopping, recreation, and Creole and Cajun cuisine. It is famous for its meat pies and was where Julia Roberts’ 1989 hit movie Steel Magnolias was filmed. It also happens to be a fine place to celebrate the holidays.
Shop and dine in the National Historic Landmark District. TravelAwaits writer Janie Pace recommends staying at the Judge Porter House Bed and Breakfast. Along the beautiful Cane River, you’ll find the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, museums, and Creole plantations. This is also where the annual Meat Pie Festival is held. Try a meat pie at Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant.
12. Grand Marais, Minnesota
Picturesque Grand Marais, population 1,337, is no stranger to accolades. In 2015, it won Budget Travel‘s 10th annual contest for America’s Coolest Small Town.
Hugging Lake Superior, The Cook County community on Minnesota’s North Shore could easily be mistaken for a coastal New England town. Park your car and enjoy a walk along the main drag, with shops, galleries, and eateries, and then venture toward the lake and its attractions.
TravelAwaits writer Tim Trudell suggests staying at The Mayhew Inn, which has a great view of Lake Superior, or the lodge-like Mangy Moose Motel.
While you’re in the area, hike to Eagle Point, the highest point in Minnesota, or to Kadunce River Wayside Falls.
- 14 Charming Small Towns To Visit In 2022
- 25 Best U.S. Small Towns To Visit This Summer (2021)
- 11 Best International Small Towns (2021)
It’s imperative to feel comfortable and safe while traveling. Medjet provides premier air medical transport, travel security, and crisis response memberships, providing peace of mind for an affordable price.