There’s something magical about spending time in a small town. The pace of life slows down and you’re able to relax and soak in the atmosphere around you. Our writers were busy seeking out and exploring charming small towns in all corners of the U.S. this year, including charming villages steeped in history, mountain towns with plenty of adventure, and sleepy beach communities where the only thing on your agenda will be to soak up the sun. The towns that topped our list are certainly all unique, but what they have in common is undeniable charm, a relaxed feel, and beautiful landscapes you’ll dream about visiting again and again.
1. Morro Bay, California
The views in oceanside Morro Bay are dominated by the town’s namesake Morro Rock, a unique volcanic rock formation that sets Morro Bay apart from other California beach towns. The rock can be seen from most points in the town and when you visit Morro Bay, you’ll certainly want to spend all your time outdoors enjoying the pleasant weather and plentiful seaside activities. The calm waters of the bay are perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding and offer opportunities to view sea otters and migratory birds. Morro Bay is also known for its restaurant scene and a collection of quaint beach shops. The town is situated in proximity to two state parks, a state beach, and is also a short drive from the beautiful Paso Robles wine region. Check out even more of our favorite activities in Morro Bay here.
2. Seaside, Oregon
For some, the cloudy, rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest sets the mood for a romantic getaway or weekend spent exploring historical sites, and Seaside, Oregon, is the perfect backdrop for both. The area around Seaside gained prominence as the last stop of the Lewis and Clark expedition and visitors can view historical replicas and sites in Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.
The grand Seaside Promenade features a spot that marks the actual end of the historic expedition and is a photo opportunity you won’t want to miss. The beach is wide and expansive and is perfect for biking, lounging, or kite flying. If the weather keeps you indoors, the Seaside Aquarium, one of the oldest in the U.S., offers opportunities to view and interact with sea life, or you can spend hours hunting for deals at the Seaside Outlets. No matter the weather, Seaside has plenty to offer visitors, and you can check out all of our recommendations here.
3. Whitefish, Montana
A premier ski destination in the winter and relaxing getaway in the summer, beautiful Whitefish, Montana, is a mountain town you won’t want to miss. The area around Whitefish is full of hiking and biking trails that range from rugged and difficult to level and wide. If you’re looking for adventure, at Whitefish Mountain Resort you can fly along Montana’s longest zip line or fly down the mountain on the alpine slide.
The town is also situated near Glacier National Park where visitors can spend even more time outdoors hiking and keeping an eye out for grizzly bears. For a slower, more relaxed pace, you can spend the weekend getting pampered at a spa or exploring a walkable downtown filled with art galleries and shops. Whitefish also has a lively food and drink scene, with local breweries and distilleries to try. For more tips, including the best time to visit Whitefish, check out our guide for things to do here.
4. Cody, Wyoming
If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, you can’t miss a stop in Cody, the “most charming town” in Wyoming. The five separate museums that make up the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum will teach you all you need to know about the development of the town by Buffalo Bill Cody, the Plains Indian people, the types of weapons used in the American West, and more. The feel of the old Western town is even more prominent in the Old Trail Town where over 26 structures were relocated for preservation and enjoyment.
A visit to a true Western town isn’t complete without going to a rodeo and Cody is known as the Rodeo Capital of the World. After getting your fill of history, spend time outdoors exploring Shoshone National Forest or nearby Yellowstone. Cody is a small town packed with adventure, and we have even more tips on how to make the most of your trip here.
5. Ouray, Colorado
While you won’t find skiing in the Colorado mountain town of Ouray, what you will find are hiking trails, mine tours, hot springs, and more. Known as both the “Switzerland of America” and Colorado’s official Outdoor Recreation Capital, Ouray boasts old-world charm in a Wild West setting. The historic main street is lined with Victorian buildings and will make you feel like you stepped back in time. Learn more about the local history of this mining town by taking the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour of the richest gold mine in the area.
Unwind with a soak in one of the famous hot springs, which are even more attractive thanks to the lack of sulfur odor you would find at other hot springs. Ouray also offers the opportunity to get up close to a few beautiful waterfalls and the surrounding mountains offer breathtaking views and hiking opportunities. For more information and recommendations on where to eat, shop, and sleep, check out our guide here.
6. Clarkdale, Arizona
A hidden gem in Arizona’s Verde Valley, the small town of Clarkdale is the perfect day trip or weekend getaway from Phoenix. Clarkdale is Arizona’s first master-planned community and offers a taste of 20th-century Americana with well-preserved neighborhoods you can view on a walking tour. Step even further back in time with a visit to the Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient village on a rugged hilltop that dates back to 1000 A.D. Many of the sites of Clarkdale and the Verde Valley can be enjoyed during a relaxing ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, which harkens back to the early days of train travel. Along Clarkdale’s Main Street you’ll find mainstay restaurants, shopping, breweries, and more to explore. Read more about why we love this charming Arizona town here.
7. Los Alamos, New Mexico
If you’re planning a trip with the whole family, the charming small town of Los Alamos has plenty of activities and history that kids and adults will enjoy. Los Alamos is situated near three national monuments, including a volcanic crater and The Manhattan Project National Historical Park where the atomic bomb was developed. The town is also home to several museums and a nature center where you can participate in a guided hike and learn about local wildlife. The rugged area around Los Alamos is the perfect setting for hiking, biking, or watching a spectacular sunset over the mountains and the Rio Grande Valley. Los Alamos is just a 40-minute drive from Santa Fe, perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway! There’s so much to do and explore in Los Alamos, find all of our recommendations here!
8. Marble Falls, Texas
Tucked into the rolling hills of Texas Hill Country, Marble Falls is surrounded by lakes, state parks, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. Marble Falls is in the middle of the largest chain of lakes in the area and the freshwater lakes and surrounding parks are great for swimming, fishing, boating, or picnicking. Take a scenic drive through the hills to Longhorn Caverns State Park, home to one of the most enduring caves in Texas. You can also enjoy the scenery by taking a wine tour through the Hill Country and visiting several of the local wineries. Don’t miss the Historic Downtown District filled with art galleries, antique shops, restaurants, and more. For all of our tips on what to see and do in Marble Falls, check out our list here.
9. Abilene, Kansas
Most visitors are attracted to Abilene, Kansas, to visit the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, but there’s so much more to do and see in this small town. In addition to presidential history, you can learn about the history of greyhounds and racing at the Greyhound Hall of Fame, where you’ll be greeted by a live greyhound. Visitors can also see the world’s largest spur, a great opportunity for a photo. The spirit of the Wild West can be felt throughout Old Abilene Town where you can explore a saloon, general store, clock shop, and more. After exploring the unique attractions be sure to spend some time hunting for antiques or dining in one of Abilene’s wonderful restaurants. To learn more about Abilene’s attractions, be sure to check out our list of things to see and do here.
10. Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood is a quintessential South Dakota town, with its historic buildings and main street. The town is known for its gold rush history and visitors can see the graves of notorious Wild West figures in Mount Moriah Cemetery. Some believe ghosts can also be found in a few of the town’s historic hotels, including the Historic Fairmont Hotel and the Bullock Hotel. If the paranormal isn’t for you, you can experience history by touring the Adams House, an 1892 Victorian mansion with original features, or take in fossils and huge gold nuggets at the Adams Museum, the oldest museum in the Black Hills. Summer is the best time to explore South Dakota and a road trip is a great way to experience Deadwood and several other small towns that dot the rugged landscape. See the South Dakota road trip itinerary we recommend here!
11. Galena, Illinois
Tucked into the far northwestern corner of Illinois, the quaint town of Galena offers the perfect midwestern getaway. Galena is a haven for history lovers as it was once the busiest port between Minneapolis and St. Louis and the home of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s historic home is a big visitor attraction, as are the other historic homes and buildings in the Galena Historic District, which will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1860s. The town’s charming, curved Main Street is a sight to behold and is packed with restaurants, shops, art studios, and more. Galena is also a great spot for enjoying the outdoors with options for hiking, golfing, and even skiing in the winter. Galena is a true gem and a great weekend trip from Chicago. See all of our recommendations for your visit here!
12. New Glarus, Wisconsin
Nicknamed “America’s Little Switzerland,” New Glarus mixes Wisconsin charm with traditional Swiss culture. There’s plenty to see around town and a bike ride along the Sugar River State Trail is a great way to start exploring. The trail follows an abandoned railroad line and along the way you can see trestle bridges, a covered bridge, and plenty of wildlife. Back in town keep your eyes peeled for 16 uniquely decorated cows. Part of the “Cow Parade,” the cows are imported from Switzerland and painted by local artists. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the infamous Spotted Cow lager brewed at New Glarus Brewing company, which is only sold in Wisconsin but beloved by beer enthusiasts all over the country. You can take a self-guided tour of the brewery, which is perched on a hilltop and has the feel of a Bavarian village. Learn more about why you should visit this charming Wisconsin town here!
13. Tellico Village, Tennessee
Located in the foothills of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, Tellico Village has become a haven for retirees thanks to its affordability, mild climate, access to world-class healthcare, and great recreational activities. The backdrop of the mountains offers opportunities for hiking, boating, water sports, fishing, and more. The village is also home to three championship golf courses, pickleball courts, tennis complexes, and racketball courts. Additional amenities include on-site injury assessment, art clubs, a public library, and a variety of dining options. For those looking to retire in a place where you can enjoy the great outdoors, stay active, and be part of a community, a trip to visit Tellico Village should be on the top of your list. Learn more about all of the amenities in this retirement destination here!
14. Ellijay, Georgia
Known as the Apple Capital of Georgia, Ellijay is chock full of orchards, vineyards, farm stalls, and more. The many apple houses of the town are connected in one straight line called Apple Alley, and each has family-fun activities and its own unique feel. In addition to plenty of opportunities for munching on apples, Ellijay also boasts nine wine-tasting rooms and vineyards that also host music, activities, and more.
The abundance of local agriculture shows up in force in the numerous delicious restaurants around town. Our writer notes that the sites around Ellijay are very spread out, so be prepared to drive, but luckily the scenery around the town is beautiful. The mountainous, wooded landscape of Ellijay serves as the perfect setting for a romantic getaway or a weekend trip with friends. See all of our recommendations for how to spend the perfect weekend in Ellijay here!
15. Fort Payne, Alabama
Outdoor enthusiasts will want to add Fort Payne, Alabama, to their 2023 travel list because this small town offers an amazing array of outdoor activities. Take in a spectacular waterfall when you visit 45-foot-tall Little River Falls, one of the few waterfalls in the state that doesn’t dry up in the summer. Part of the Little River Canyon Preserve, the falls mark the beginning of one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi. Visitors can drive down the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway for breathtaking views of rock formations, waterfalls, and more.
The canyon offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and other activities. After exploring, be sure to cool off in one of two old-fashioned swimming holes in the area. DeSoto State Park, a 3,502-acre expanse just northeast of town, offers the perfect spot for camping, but be sure to make a reservation early because this popular spot fills up fast! To get more tips to help plan your Fort Payne adventure, check out our article here!
16. Rosemary Beach, Florida
Picture-perfect Rosemary Beach, Florida, is an idyllic small town along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Relax on the gorgeous and clean white sand beaches, which are made from crushed quartz that helps keep them cool and soft even on hot days. The views around Rosemary Beach aren’t obscured by high-rise hotels like in some other Florida towns thanks to the fact that structures over four stories high aren’t allowed in this area. Instead, the town is filled with cottages, cobblestone streets, boardwalks, and other elements that give it a charming, quaint feel.
Rosemary Beach is a very walkable town and it’s also easy to rent bikes and explore the many shops, restaurants, and beautiful neighborhoods by foot. If you are up for a drive, Rosemary Beach is located on the iconic Scenic Highway 30A, one of the prettiest drives in the U.S., which can connect you to other nearby towns. Find more information about Rosemary Beach and other nearby beach towns here!
17. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Located 25 miles south of Charleston, Kiawah Island is a breathtaking barrier island with an incredible ecosystem teeming with local wildlife. The island includes 10 miles of pristine beach, marshes, forests, and brackish waterways, making the whole area a beautifully preserved nature sanctuary. Nature programs abound in Kiawah, and there’s something for everyone, including options like fishing excursions, surf camps, and yoga on the beach.
Kiawah’s beaches consistently rank among the best in the world, and thanks to the east-west orientation, you can enjoy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Kiawah is home to world-class public golf courses and a tennis center. Visitors can also rent bikes to explore 30 miles of paved bike trails or take a ride on the beach. One of our favorite things about Kiawah is its proximity to Charleston, one of the oldest and most romantic cities in the country to visit. Learn more about why you should add Kiawah to your 2023 travel plans here!
18. Sleepy Hollow, New York
The setting of a Halloween favorite The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Sleepy Hollow, New York, is a town you won’t want to miss during your fall travels. Fans of Washington Irving’s tale can trace the route of Ichabod Crane and visit many of the places referenced in the story, including Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (where Irving is buried), the historic Dutch Reform Church, and the Headless Horseman Bridge. Enthusiasts can also tour Washington Irving’s Sunnyside Estate as well as Kykuit, an estate formerly owned by the Rockefeller family.
The Rockefeller family’s influence can be seen at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, which contains a rose window that was Henri Matisse’s last work before he died. With so many historic haunts and legendary sites, Sleepy Hollow is a must-visit during October or at any time of year during an extended stay in the charming Hudson Valley. Learn more about a visit to this literary haven here!
19. Narragansett, Rhode Island
A popular summer destination since the late 1800s, Narragansett features beautiful beaches, amazing food, and a friendly atmosphere. The town used to be a haven for gamblers and party-goers and visitors can see a reminder of the bygone days at The Towers, stone towers that served as the gate to Narragansett Pier Casino. Modern-day visitors won’t find as lively of nightlife, but the numerous relaxing beaches around town offer plenty to do during the day.
The area around Narragansett is fairly flat and there are several easy hikes that showcase Rhode Island’s rocky coastline. If you’d rather be out on the water, schedule a fishing charter out of Narragansett Harbor to test your luck reeling in cod, sea bass, or squid. A trip to “gansett,” as the locals call it, wouldn’t be complete without sampling the stellar seafood, including oysters and clam cakes. This charming town is a water lover’s dream vacation, and we have even more tips to make the most of your trip here!
20. Quechee, Vermont
New England is studded with charming small towns, but Quechee, Vermont, stands out from the crowd thanks to the untouched natural beauty of the area. Situated in Vermont’s Green Mountains, you’ll find everything you want here — classic covered bridges, a beautiful waterfall, and outstanding foliage in the fall. Quechee State Park offers spectacular views of the Quechee Gorge, a 165-foot drop down to the Ottauquechee River, and spots for camping, trout fishing, and hiking.
Back in town, you can find locally-owned shops where you can hunt for antiques, snack on delicious Vermont cheeses, and sample unique spirits at the Vermont Spirits Distilling Company. Quechee is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year, and while it is a popular spot, you’ll still be able to slow down, relax, and enjoy Vermont’s natural wonders. Explore all of our tips for visiting this gorgeous New England town here!
We think all of these charming small towns are worth a visit, but if you need even more inspiration, don’t miss our list from last year!