Growing up in a town whose population fluctuated between 650–700 residents, I appreciate the charm, simplicity, and friendly no-nonsense spirit a small town offers. While the only things drawing folks to my town were a great restaurant, weddings, and funerals, the small towns on our list have everything visitors are looking for in a quaint getaway.
Here are our readers’ 14 best small towns in the U.S.
1. Abilene, Kansas (Winner)
Located in the heart of the Sunflower State, Abilene is home to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home. This may be what pulls hundreds of thousands of visitors off Interstate 70 every year, but the town of about 6,500 is a unique mix of presidential history and Western charm.
Old Abilene Town transports visitors to the Old West with its rail station, log homes, saloon, and general store. During Labor Day weekend, Old Abilene Town honors its past with Chisholm Trail Days. A live cattle drive through town is the highlight for visitors and locals alike.
Rail enthusiasts won’t want to miss a chance to experience Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad’s authentic steam engine and ride the rails to neighboring Enterprise, Kansas.
Scratch that shopping itch in Abilene’s historic downtown where boutique and specialty shops await.
2. Corning, New York
Known as America’s Crystal City, every kitchen in America likely has a piece of this town stored in its cupboards. Corning and Pyrex dishes were invented here.
Corning oozes charm and its experiences far outpace its population of just about 11,000 residents. It’s home to The Corning Museum of Glass, the largest collection of art glass in the world, where you can spend a few hours or a full day experiencing the live demonstrations and being mesmerized by the beautiful glass pieces. The Hands-on Glass Studio in town allows you to create, and take home, your own piece of art.
The Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, exhibits amazing works of art including an impressive collection of Western and Native American Art.
Surrounded by the gorgeous Finger Lakes wine region, spend some time at a local winery or settle in at a local brewery or distillery during your stay.
3. Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City sits on beautiful Grand Traverse Bay, less than 30 miles from Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Known as the World’s Cherry Capital, it’s home to the National Cherry Festival every July, but visitors can enjoy the celebrity fruit throughout the year at local restaurants and bakeries. Eat as many cherry tarts, pies, and turnovers as you’d like.
The area also loves its outdoor activities. Bike the trails, sail on the lakes, and climb Sleeping Bear Dunes. Also home to dozens of wineries, enjoy a few sips and a lovely afternoon in Traverse City.
4. Key West, Florida
The southernmost point in the U.S., Key West exudes laid-back hospitality. It’s famous for Hemingway and his six-toed cats, Truman’s Little White House, key lime pie, amazing sunsets, conch fritters, an abundance of water sports, and beautiful beaches.
Key West is very walkable. In addition to the sites mentioned above, explore the shops, restaurants, and breweries. In fact, author Judy Blome owns a bookstore here. It’s also a great place to find a bench and people watch for a spell.
Looking for a day trip? Take the ferry, or a plane, from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. Reservations are highly recommended.
5. Lindsborg, Kansas
Lindsborg is just 3,500 residents strong and about 1/3 are of Swedish descent. Aptly nicknamed Little Sweden, the town embraces its heritage which can be found in its architecture, food, and festivals.
Lindsborg hosts unique events throughout the year. Don’t miss Svensk Hyllningsfest in October, which celebrates the town’s Swedish culture. You’ll also love the small, colorful horse statues found outside of businesses throughout town. They’re called Dalas, after the Dalecarlian horse, a national symbol of Sweden.
Watch for the Lindsborg Swedish Folk Dancers, a group of high school students that’s been performing at town festivals and other local events since 1963.
6. Sedona, Arizona
Sedona’s gorgeous red rocks and breathtaking views beckon outdoor enthusiasts. It’s simply stunning. Bike or hike the many area trails, but come prepared. Summer can be brutally hot, so start early and bring plenty of water. Once you’re off the trails, browse in the boutiques and wonderful art galleries, then enjoy one of Sedona’s restaurants with an amazing view.
It’s natural to feel pulled to visit Sedona time and again. It’s known for its vortexes which Visit Sedona describes as “swirling centers of energy (within the red rocks) that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration.” You can experience the sites yourself or through a guided tour.
The Grand Canyon is just 2 hours away and makes an easy day trip, just get there early or you’ll likely have to wait in traffic to enter.
7. Newport, Rhode Island
Located at the tip of Aquidneck Island on Narragansett Bay, Newport exudes coastal elegance and southern New England charm. It was once the summer playground of the Vanderbilts, Astors, and others, and you can tour their summer homes today or view them from the Cliff Walk.
Established in 1693, Colonial history is abundant. Visit historic Trinity Church, Truro Synagogue, or White Horse Tavern — one of the oldest in the U.S. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is here as is the church where Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy in 1953.
Walk along Newport’s cobblestone streets, devour the area’s amazing seafood, enjoy a music festival at Fort Adams State Park, sail on the bay, or simply relax on the beach. It’s a perfect long-weekend getaway.
8. Clear Lake, Iowa
Clear Lake is infamous. Just ask any music-history buff, or anyone of a certain age. The town’s Surf Ballroom hosted what would be Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper’s final concert in 1959 before their plane crashed, killing everyone on board. Today, the ballroom features big bands and other performances multiple times a month. The site of the crash is also in Clear Lake.
Many activities in town revolve around the lake of the same name; boat, waterski, fish, or just hang at the beach. Nearby, spend a lovely day taking in the beauty of the Central Gardens of Northern Iowa. If you’re hardy enough to venture to northern Iowa in February, you’ll love its Come Fly a Kite Festival — the largest winter kite festival in the Midwest.
With all this activity, you won’t go hungry in Clear Lake. Don’t miss a chance to eat lunch at Starboard Market.
9. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs is a quaint town nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains and, as its name implies, is home to dozens of natural springs. Visit several of the springs while exploring the historic downtown and its Victorian-era buildings — home to boutiques, art galleries, and antique shops.
Eureka Springs is a charming place to spend a weekend. Famous for its Arts Festival and Ozark Folk Festival, you can also take a ride on the historic Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, enjoy a performance of The Great Passion Play, and marvel at the beautiful Thorncrown Chapel.
Outdoor lovers will also enjoy hiking and the many water activities on the area’s lakes and rivers.
10. Bardstown, Kentucky
Known as the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown is where pastor Elijah Craig created the spirit in 1789. That’s likely reason enough for many to book their trip to Bardstown, but if you need more than the 11 historic distilleries within 16 miles of town, you’re in luck.
Bardstown’s historic district is as delightful as it comes with art galleries, antique stores, and boutique shops. A hearty southern dinner is a must after a day of bourbon sampling and there are plenty of great restaurants from which to choose.
Something you may not expect, explore the Abbey of Gethsemani — a Trappist monastery where you can take in the beautiful gardens and attend a prayer service.
It doesn’t get more Kentucky than being home to My Old Kentucky Home State Park, the inspiration for the official state song. Tour the mansion, golf, or camp during your visit.
11. Taos, New Mexico
Known to many for its wonderful skiing, Taos is a historic, four-season destination. Its UNESCO World Heritage Site, Taos Pueblo, is made up of multi-level adobe buildings that have been inhabited for 1,000 years. During a guided tour, visitors can meet a few of the 150 residents who still live there today.
Another important piece of history is San Francisco de Asis Church. Built in the early 1800s, it’s one of a few original adobe buildings still standing in the area and continues to have regular religious services.
During your visit, don’t miss the Millicent Rogers Museum showcasing Native American art and culture. You can’t visit Taos without indulging in delicious southwestern cuisine. Just be sure to know the answer to this question: “Green, red, or Christmas?” They’re referring to chili sauce, and in New Mexico, “Christmas” is a combo of the red and green sauces.
12. Lahaina, Hawaii
On an island with amazing sunsets, standing out is a challenge. Lahaina is loved by visitors and locals alike as one of the best places to watch the sunset on Maui. This small town, located on the west side of the island, also has a wonderful historic district; explore Wo Hing Temple, Baldwin Home Museum, and Lahaina Fort. Lahaina is also known for its banyan trees and you can find one in Lahaina Banyan Court Park.
Experiencing an authentic luau is definitely a treat and makes for a wonderful evening.
Once you’re satisfied on land, explore the exquisite turquoise waters. Go whale watching from December through April, take a harbor cruise, or go fishing, snorkeling, or kayaking.
13. Kalispell, Montana
Located just 40 minutes from the west entrance of Glacier National Park, Kalispell is surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. Of course, Glacier is fantastic, but if you don’t have a reservation to enter, explore one, or all, of the six state parks in and around Flathead Lake just south of town. You can hike around, boat, swim, or fish in the beautifully clear lake.
Downtown Kalispell is home to unique shops and delicious restaurants. Leave looking like a true Montanan after you browse the more than 2,500 pairs of boots and 1,500 hats at Western Outdoor. Don’t miss Moose’s Saloon and be prepared to get some sawdust on your new boots after you walk through the swinging doors. Don’t worry, you can bring the kids; Moose’s is known for their great pizza!
14. Pismo Beach, California
It’s obvious from its name, but worth restating, Pismo Beach is a quintessential California beach town. Located near San Luis Obispo, it’s a perfect spot to spend the night if you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway.
Pismo Beach is known for its miles of beautiful beaches, stately sand dunes, and the Pismo Clam. You can try clamming any time of year with a permit and you’ll need to leave the ones that are less than 4.5 inches in diameter. Another great option, hop in a kayak to explore the area’s unique caves and cliffs. If you prefer to stay above the water, walk the beautiful Pismo Beach Pier. You can’t miss it.
From late October through February, visit Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove where thousands of the beautiful, migrating orange and black insects spend the winter.
Finally, Pismo Beach has no shortage of delicious restaurants, many featuring amazing seafood fresh from the Pacific.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.