Avalon, California (Population 3,723)
You’ll need to take a helicopter or boat to get to Avalon, California; it’s the only incorporated town on the island of Santa Catalina, just 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach. Once there, visit the striking 1920s Catalina Casino, tour the inner island to catch sight of a herd of wild bison, enjoy a boating excursion, scuba dive, or just bask on the sunny beach.
Virginia City, Montana (Population 221)
Want a taste of life in a 1860s gold rush town? Then consider taking a trip to Virginia City, Montana. This ghost town is an open-air living history museum and National Historic Landmark that offers gold panning lessons, the longest-running summer live theater company in the western United States, ghost tours, and authentic Wild West-era saloons, bawdy houses (family-friendly, of course!), and other entertainments.
Ligonier, Pennsylvania (Population 1,515)
Ample amusements await tourists in this western Pennsylvania borough that hosts Idlewild Park, one of the oldest amusement parks in the country. After you’re finished making a splash in the park’s Soak Zone, dry off at the Summer in Ligonier Arts and Crafts Show or at Fort Ligonier Days, a three-day festival of food and fun commemorating the Battle of Fort Ligonier during the French-Indian War.
Depoe Bay, Oregon (Population 1,483)
The tiny town of Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast is a must-visit spot for anyone who loves all things sea mammal. With a (nearly) year-round resident pod of gray whales, it’s one of the best locations for whale watching along the Pacific Coast. Nature lovers can also spot plenty of sea lions and seabirds along the craggy coastline.
Chincoteague, Virginia (Population 2,879)
Chincoteague, Virginia, is on the island of the same name, right off the Virginia coast. This resort town offers hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and just plain relaxing, but it is nearby Assateague Island—a bridge connects the two islands—that’s the real draw. Every year more than a million visitors travel to Assateague to admire the famous herds of wild ponies that call the island home.
Put-in-Bay, Ohio (Population 136)
Visitors travel by ferry to reach Put-in-Bay, Ohio, which is located on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. Once there, tourists can grab a bus, walk, bike, or rent a golf cart to take in the island's many amusements, including an antique car museum, an aquatic center, a butterfly house, the chocolate museum, wineries, restaurants and bars, and all types of water sports.
Talkeetna, Alaska (Population 876)
Not far from Denali National Park, Talkeetna, Alaska, offers easy access to a variety of hiking, camping, and mountaineering spots as well as more unexpected fare like a pedal-powered bus tour and a zip line that glides over trees and captures splendid mountains views.
Grand Marais, Minnesota (Population 1,340)
Grand Marais, Minnesota, doesn’t just offer beautiful views of Lake Superior—it’s also a renowned art colony. Visitors can spend their days hiking, mountain biking, or fishing, or opt for less outdoorsy pursuits like admiring local art and picking up a sugary snack at local favorite World's Best Donuts.
Hana, Hawaii (Population 1,235)
The remote town of Hana on the island of Maui is reached via the winding, 52-mile Hana Highway that passes waterfalls, rainforests, and spectacular coastline. Visit the Hana Cultural Center and Museum to bone up on Hawaiian history, and then hit the beach to surf, swim, kayak, or just relax.
Strasburg, Pennsylvania (Population 2,983)
Founded in 1693, Strasburg, Pennsylvania, is full of old-time charm and centuries-old log and brick houses. Visitors who want to explore Amish country can take a ride on an authentic Amish horse and buggy. Those who prefer to embrace technology—of the mid-1800s, that is—can head to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania or hop on the Strasburg Rail Road, a heritage steam train. Other family-friendly amusements include ghost tours or the nearby Cherry Crest Adventure Farm.
Ogunquit, Maine (Population 1,181)
Ogunquit means “beautiful place by the sea” in the language of the Abenaki tribe who once resided in this lovely spot on the coast of Maine, and the town still lives up to its name today. Tourists can experience the beauty of Qgunquit by visiting the Marginal Way seaside walking path, the summer theater, the art galleries, and the miles of beaches in this easy-going yet vibrant coastal town.
Rehoboth Beach, Deleware (Population 1,520)
All the fun of a seaside boardwalk but without the crazy crowds—that's Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The mile-long boardwalk is loaded with activities for kids and adults alike, and has loads of restaurants, hotels, shops, and amusements. There’s even a museum and a free summer concert series.
Bandera, Texas (Population 901)
Billing itself as “the cowboy capital of the world,” Bandera, Texas, is the place to go if you want to channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Dude ranches, horseback riding trails, museums, and barbecue joints all pay homage to the spirit of the Old West.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas (Population 2,091)
With its entire downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places, tiny Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is as charming as ever. It attracts tourists throughout the year for a trolley tour of the town's many Victorian buildings, and in May through October for performances of the Great Passion Play. And that’s just for starters.
Related: 18 Victorian Homes We Love
Mentone, Alabama (Population 368)
Imagine a combination art colony, mountain retreat, and historical small town, and you’ll come up with something like Mentone, Alabama. Its nostalgic look and feel is imbued with today’s sensibilities, and its many delights include farm-to-table eateries, stunning hiking trails, and winter skiing facilities.
Related: 18 Small Towns That Changed America
Lambertville, New Jersey (Population 3,797)
If antiquing is your thing, Lambertville, New Jersey, is your destination. There are antiques shops aplenty in this charming town founded in 1705, but not everything here is old: You’ll also find contemporary art galleries and modern dining.
Cooperstown, New York (Population 1,762)
It’s best known for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but there’s more to Cooperstown, New York, than America’s favorite pastime. Visit the Fenimore Art Museum for a fine collection of folk art, traipse over to the Farmers' Museum to learn about life on an 18th century farm, or head to the local brewery for a cold craft beer.
Galena, Illinois (Population 3,183)
About 160 miles away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago is the slower-paced city of Galena, Illinois. Once a mining town, today Galena is filled with great restaurants, wineries, golf courses, antiques shops, and historical homes. You can also hike, or head over to the Galena River to boat, kayak, or canoe.
Pentwater, Michigan (Population 854)
On the edge of Lake Michigan, Pentwater has volleyball-court-lined beaches, hip and happening bars, a downtown with an everyday-is-summer vibe, and a plethora of boutiques, art galleries, and just-plain-fun shopping. There are also several nearby campgrounds for those who prefer to rough it.
Stearns, Kentucky (Population 1,260)
Take a ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, visit the Barthell Coal Camp mining museum, learn about local history at the McCreary County Museum, and do some hiking in the Daniel Boone National Forest. That's just a small sampling of the activities you can enjoy in the scenic town of Stearns, Kentucky.
flickr.com via Allen Forest
Ridgway, Colorado (Population 1,016)
Mountain vistas, abundant wildlife, world-class fishing, and a wide range of water sports? Check. Outdoor concerts, authentic Mexican food, breweries, and hot-air ballooning? Check. A creative district full of art galleries, theaters, and festivals? Check. Small though it may be, Ridgway, Colorado, has so much on tap that tourists keep coming back for more.
Dyersville, Iowa (Population 4,225)
“If you build it, he will come,” said the prophetic voice in the iconic Kevin Costner film. And if you visit the small town of Dyersville, Iowa, not only will you see the actual cornfield turned baseball diamond from "Field of Dreams," you can also check out the National Farm Toy Museum and the impressive Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, a Gothic Revival-style church built in the late 1800s.
flickr.com via jcsullivan24
Ajo, Arizona (Population 3,525)
Once a mining town, Ajo, Arizona, is becoming a quaint historical destination for artists. Located just 43 miles from the Mexican border and close to the Tohono O’odham Nation, Ajo reflects the region's many cultural influences in its art galleries, restaurants, and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
Franconia, New Hampshire (Population 1,081)
For those who yearn for spectacular hiking and outdoor adventures in New England, Franconia, New Hampshire, is just the ticket. A bit beyond the town limits, tourists have their pick of some of America's most beautiful traversable wilderness—the Appalachian Trail, White Mountain National Forest, and the waterfalls of Flume Gorge.
Ashland, Nebraska (Population 2,588)
Little Ashland, Nebraska, with rows of historical buildings on its brick-lined main street, packs plenty of nostalgic charm. But this friendly town is also home to the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, which houses a unique collection of aircraft and artifacts, as well as the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, which gives visitors an intimate look at some of the region's most impressive native animals.
Related: The 20 Friendliest Cities in America
flickr.com via Chris Devers
North Conway, New Hampshire (Population 2,349)
The so-called “birthplace of American skiing” attracts alpine sports enthusiasts with over a dozen local ski resorts, from Cranmore Mountain Resort to Attitash Resort. North Conway also offers the best vantage point from which to take in the White Mountain National Forest and its vast network of hiking-friendly trails — but beware of black bears!
Midway, Utah (Population 5,257)
In the winter, visitors are drawn to Midway, Utah, for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding, but there’s plenty to do in the summer too. Case in point: The natural lake in Homestead Crater, a popular spot for swimming and snorkeling, is the only warm-water scuba diving destination in the continental United States.
Hill City, South Dakota (Population 1,018)
The self-proclaimed "Heart of the Black Hills,” Hill City, South Dakota, is just a few minutes away from Mount Rushmore. But this picturesque town has much more to offer than proximity to that famous memorial. Check out “Stan,” the most complete T. rex skeleton ever found, visit the railroad museum and take a ride on an 1880s steam train, head to Teddy Bear Town to see the world's largest collection of those cuddly critters, or take in the local art scene.
flickr.com via Aaron Hockley
Lookout Mountain, Georgia (Population 1,566)
Stunning feats of nature abound near Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Tourists flock to the little town every year to check out the world’s tallest underground waterfall on a guided cave tour at nearby Ruby Falls. Others prefer to hike the rock formations and visit the gardens of Rock City, or take a seemingly vertical ride up Lookout Mountain on the Incline Railway in neighboring Chattanooga, Tennessee.
La Conner, Washington (Population 958)
La Conner, Washington, comes alive with color (and tourists) every April during the annual Tulip Festival, when local fields burst into vibrant hues. Even after the bloom is off the tulip, visitors can enjoy the Museum of Northwest Art and the Skagit County Historical Museum, or wander through the many art galleries in this small town on the Swinomish Channel.
St. Michaels, Maryland (Population 1,602)
You don’t have to own a boat to enjoy the bayside town of St. Michaels, Maryland. You can rent one for the day or take a scenic cruise on the Patriot, a 65-foot replica of a 1930s steamboat, and then come ashore to explore the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Virginia City, Nevada (Population 855)
Here's yet another Virginia City of the old Wild West, but this one's in Nevada. Ghost tours, stagecoach rides, and mine tours await eager visitors at any time of year, but it's only in September that they can enjoy the annual International Camel and Ostrich Races.
Medora, North Dakota (Population 128)
Medora, North Dakota, may be tiny, but there's lots to keep both residents and visitors entertained. In the summer, watch the Medora Musical, a celebration of all things western, but first be sure to hit the buffet at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. At any time of year, tourists can visit the Cowboy Hall of Fame, golf on the acclaimed Bully Pulpit Golf Course, or do some hiking in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Leavenworth, Washington (Population 2,010)
Don’t have the budget for a trip to Bavaria? Don your lederhosen and oompah your way to this stateside Bavarian-style village in the heart of Washington. An authentic glimpse of Germany is assured whether you’re polishing off a bratwurst and ice-cold German beer during the town’s Oktoberfest, perusing thousands of centuries-old nutcrackers at The Nutcracker Museum, or catching a show at the Leavenworth Summer Theater.
San Simeon, California (Population 462)
The small Central California town of San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle, the former residence of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The buildings on the estate, which is a National Historic Landmark, encompass 90,000 square feet and are open for tours daily. Visitors can marvel at the gorgeous architecture, opulent furnishings, artwork, gardens, and a small herd of zebra, the remnants of Hearst’s private zoo.
Marfa, Texas (Population 1,515)
Located in the desert of West Texas, this tiny town founded as a watering hole is known for museums like the Chinati Foundation, paranormal sightings like the Marfa lights, and minimalist indoor and outdoor installations. The most buzzworthy of the latter is undoubtedly Prada Marfa, a pop art exhibit resembling a real Prada store—high-end handbags, shoes, and all.
Stowe, Vermont (Population 4,314)
Ski fiends head to this city in northern Vermont dubbed the “The Ski Capital of the East” to have their pick of primo slopes in winter. If you haven’t quite perfected your Ollie, hike the 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path or slip off your snowshoes and take shelter from the cold in the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum or the Trapp Family Lodge, former home of the Trapp family fictionalized in “The Sound of Music.”
Leiper's Fork, Tennessee (Population 650)
Celebrity residents the likes of Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, and Ashley Judd have heightened the profile of this rural retreat located along the historic forest trail known as The Natchez Trace. But between the antique stores, the mouth-watering menu of Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant, and local events such as turkey shoots and the Almost Famous Leiper's Fork Christmas Parade, Leiper’s Fork has plenty of star power in its own right.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (Population 3,859)
Step inside a fairytale by whisking away to this storybook coastal hamlet on the Monterey Peninsula overlooking Carmel Bay, replete with old cottages and historic architecture like the Carmel Mission Basilica as well as modern attractions. Hike on over to Carmel Beach to surf, soak up local color on a wine tour or at an art museum in the city center, or shop or people-watch on the town’s main street, Ocean Avenue.
Breckenridge, Colorado (Population 5,020)
Hopeful panners flocked to this mining town for gold during the Gold Rush, but now its most precious commodity is the premier Breckenridge Ski Resort. Off the slopes, there’s plenty of fun to be had fly-fishing in the Blue River, boating across Lake Dillon, or catching a flick at the Breckenridge Festival of Film.
Edgartown, Massachusetts (Population 4,292)
Formerly a major whaling port, this town on Martha’s Vineyard is dotted with quaint farm-fresh produce stands, breweries, and dreamy old dwellings built by whaling captains of old, most notably on Water Street. On the end of the street, you’ll find Edgartown Harbor Light, one of the earliest lighthouses in the area, and a large harbor that’s ripe for boat or yacht trips. For sun and surf, head to South Beach—the Edgartown Great Pond and Oyster Pond sections are low on tourists.
Ketchum, Idaho (Population 2,827)
Ketchum’s motto of “Small Town, Big Life” is apt for the central Idahoan town that tempts tourists with world-renowned ski resorts along with fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and art galleries galore. Waking up to the natural beauty of Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain isn’t half bad, either, but if you’re not content spying the mountain from afar, settle in to one of 13 chairlifts or 65 runs for grand, up-close views.
Mystic, Connecticut (Population 4,205)
Named after the Pequot word "missi-tuk" describing a large river, this southeastern Connecticut town is a prime stop for water worshippers, featuring such maritime haunts as the Mystic Seaport Museum, the schooner ARGIA, and the Mystic Aquarium. But don’t leaving without strolling through Olde Mistick Village or chomping down on a slice at Mystic Pizza, the joint in Julia Roberts’ 1988 sleeper hit “Mystic Pizza.”
Provincetown, Massachusetts (Population 2,952)
Formerly the site of the Mayflower landing in 1620, this beach town at the northern tip of Cape Cod is home to must-see landmarks like the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument and pioneering residents ranging from artists to cabaret dancers. As you might expect of a hub for creatives, Provincetown is chockablock with eclectic attractions ranging from art galleries and theaters to fisherman’s pubs and high-end restaurants.
Big Sky, Montana (Population 2,308)
Big Sky’s location smack dab in between West Yellowstone and Bozeman puts it in close proximity to the bucket-list destination of Yellowstone National Park. But the biggest draws within town limits remains the Big Sky Resort, a refuge for skiers; the Gallatin River, a top spot for whitewater rafting and fly-fishing; and the Gallatin National Forest, a camper’s dream destination.
Hanapepe, Hawaii (Population 2,638)
Not to be confused with Hana on Maui, this teacup-sized town on the island of Kauai draws film buffs around the country due to its status as a filming location for “Jurassic Park.” Along with iconic spots featured in the movie, most notably the soaring Manawaiopuna Falls shown in the opening scene, tourists will find other larger-than-life attractions nearby. The historic Swinging Bridge and the Salt Pond Beach Park, home to manmade salt flats, remain icons of “Kauai's Biggest Little Town.”
Related: The 21 Wildest Places in America
Trinidad, California (Population 357)
Aptly dubbed the town where the “redwoods meet the sea,” Trinidad lives on a cliff overlooking the Trinidad Bay, bounded by old-growth redwood and spruce trees. Its seaside locale makes it a prime spot for fishing, crabbing, local events like the Clam Beach Run, and spotting over a dozen species of seabirds. For the best views of Trinidad’s marine life, head to the Trinidad trailhead or the Trinidad Harbor to glimpse a majestic colony of gray whales.
Alcova, Wyoming (Population 76)
Alcova, Wyoming, may be short on residents, but it’s certainly not short on fish. Anglers from cities all around travel here to reel in trout, salmon, and walleye from Alcova Lake, or to try their hand at fly-fishing in the North Platte River.
flickr.com via Josh Hallett
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