The best small towns in America are hiding everywhere in the shadows of those bigger towns replete with crowded attractions you already know about—spanning from the Statue of Liberty in New York City to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Thronged destinations like New Orleans’ French Quarter, San Antonio’s Riverwalk, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip are popular for good reason and need no further introduction here.
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But if you’ve been there, tipped the Manhattan or Miami tour guide, and are now looking to explore some smaller urban gems packing oversized charms without all of that big city turmoil, there’s no shortage of worthy places across the country rightfully bidding for attention. The best of them, while compact in size and population, are real finds that are big on fun without the flood of tourists. They’ll keep you entertained with enough first-class wineries, restaurants, outdoor adventure, art, and hospitality to merit several visits.
Sound like your speed this time? Here are nine of the best small towns in America for savvy vacationers to put on their must-visit list.
1. Best for Wine: Healdsburg, CA
With 80 wineries and tasting rooms in this chic Northern California city, you’ll be coming for the vino and definitely sticking around for some memorable meals. Healdsburg offers a Sonoma County special because it’s at the convergence of three wine regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, and Russian River. Sip French-inspired wines at Jordan Vineyards & Winery and Bordeaux-style reds at Aperture Cellars.
Healdsburg’s culinary prowess is made even more impressive as alums of SingleThread, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, open their own concepts in the town of 11,275 that’s anchored by a charming town square. The hottest reservation here right now is at Molte Amici, an Italian spot where you’ll bob your head to ’90s hip hop and play bocce ball while awaiting a homemade pasta dish or wood-fired pizza.
Little Saint is a new-ish gathering space to pair wine with vegetarian dishes and listen to live music. At Barndiva, take a break from wine, and order a craft cocktail. The place could pass for a very cool flower shop with its rows of herbs and blooms lining the bar—all incorporated into inspired libations.
Where to Stay: Rooms and the pool come with vineyard views at Montage Healdsburg, set on 258-acres of rolling vine-striped hills and amid oak tree groves. Award-winning winemaker Jesse Katz leads a team that oversees the resort’s vineyards, which are yielding malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and other varieties for private label releases.
2. Best for National Park Lovers: Jackson, WY
Jackson—and the larger valley of Jackson Hole which the town is part of—is a pretty unbeatable launch pad for national park explorers, who can get a two-for-one of sorts here. With Grand Teton National Park’s spectacular peaks and glacial lakes neighboring the Wyoming city and Yellowstone’s bison herds and famed geysers about 90 minutes up the road, you can experience one of the best small towns in America here and knock off several bucket list park activities in one shot.
In Grand Teton, hike the 7.1-mile loop that encircles Jenny Lake and grab a beer afterwards at Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta Company, which has massive windows and a rooftop patio paying homage to the views of the Tetons and Snake River. In Yellowstone, witness two natural marvels in a single day: Old Faithful’s well-timed eruptions and the otherworldly Grand Prismatic Spring, a steamy, color-saturated hot spring that’s larger than a football field.
Jackson is also a magnet for whitewater rafters and kayakers, skiers and boarders, snowshoers and fat bikers, and other outdoor adventurers. In the off-hours, explore the charming shop-lined town, or shoot some pool like a local at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and grab a pint at Roadhouse Brewing’s Pub and Eatery.
Where to Stay: Hang your hat at The Virginian Lodge, which features modern motor lodge-style rooms, bunk rooms if you’re traveling with kids, and an RV park. There’s also a saloon, all-season pool, fire pits, and a courtyard music series. Definitely try a “sloshie” (frozen vodka cocktails are all the rage in Jackson) from the lodge’s walk-in and drive-thru liquor store.
3. Best for Families: New Paltz, NY
Less than 100 miles and a world apart from New York City, New Paltz’s main tourist draw is Mohonk Mountain House—a Victorian castle resort set on a glacial lake with endless activities geared especially for families. The mountain house (more on the resort below) hosts outdoor movie nights in the summer and has a kids’ club and a junior naturalist program.
If you can peel yourself away from the resort, rent a bike and ride through the scenic Hudson Valley on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, where over-the-top idyllic scenery morphs from stream-lined forests to verdant rolling hills. See contemporary abstract art at the DM Weil Gallery and visit Robibero Winery, a family-friendly spot that hosts live music and a grape-stomping festival.
Where to Stay: You could spend a week and still not exhaust all the activities at Mohonk Mountain House, set among 40,000 acres of forest and furnished with 85 miles of trails. Popular activities here include everything from swimming and paddleboarding to tomahawk throwing, s’more toasting, and mulling over 80 treatments at the resort’s famed spa.
4. Best for Couples: Avon, CO
If you’ve done Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, and all those other A-list resort towns in the Colorado Rockies, it’s time to make Avon your next posh-but-adventurous alpine hideout. Home to Beaver Creek, this upscale resort gets pounded with 325 inches of snow each year, beckoning powderhounds with its 2,000 acres of skiable terrain.
The après-scene here isn’t one to miss. Plus there’s a high concentration of top-notch spas and restaurants. Michelin inspectors have been anonymously dining throughout the state for Colorado’s forthcoming and first-ever guide—with Beaver Creek rightfully in their coverage zone.
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The best reservation to nab in town is at Beano’s Cabin, where Chef Mackenzie Nicholson, who grew up hunting and fishing in Colorado, has a game-forward menu. Reach the high-altitude restaurant via a sleigh in the winter or on horseback in the summer months when you just might spot a bear traversing across the meadows from your dining cabin.
Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch is a ski-in, ski-out property and budges right up to the mountain. After clicking out of your snow boots, hit the spa, which has a co-ed, rock-lined grotto. Sakaba, an on-site restaurant, flies in fresh fish—meaning you may very well experience some of the finest sushi of your life in a mountain town.
5. Best for Lake Lovers: Traverse City, MI
Midwesterners have long known Traverse City as one of the best small towns in America—an idyllic vacation town that the rest of the country is starting to discover. Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, this Northern Michigan charmer has a little bit of everything, from wineries to a burgeoning beer scene and—boom!—a forthcoming international fireworks competition.
There’s also freshwater beaches and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where rolling sand dunes meet a lake that, depending on the light, is so blue you could mistake it for Caribbean waters. Huffing up the 300-foot Dune Climb is a tradition (and workout) like no other.
Traverse City also has scenic fall foliage and lakeshore lighthouses to tour, and you can’t leave without having tried at least one slab of cherry pie at a hallowed spot like Grand Traverse Pie Company.
Where to Stay: Alexander Inn is a new, 32-room boutique hotel with front-row coastal views. Tucked on the northern arm of Lake Michigan, the property occupies its own stretch of sand with chaise lounges, plus a rooftop terrace with prime lake gazing.
6. Best for Good Eats: Greenville, SC
Yes, you do want to come to Greenville—and come hungry. There’s a delicious case to be made that this upstate South Carolina town (not to be confused with Greenville, NC, 350 miles northeast near the coast) is the next big food city. Chefs from diverse backgrounds have been busily making their mark on this Southern city, along with epic food festivals like Euphoria (Sept 14-17, 2023), where Michelin-starred toques convene in Greenville for four days of good eats, wine, and live music.
At Keipei, pair Georgian wines with khachapuri, a cheesy bread boat from the country that chefs fill with everything from pork and pomegranate to spicy veggies. Dunk birria quesitacos (quesadilla/taco combo) into consommé at Comal 864. Global, seasonal dishes are divided into “field, sea, and land” categories on the Camp Modern American Eatery menu. Devour oysters on the half-shell and grilled ones at Jones Oyster Co.
While here, it’d be a sin to not try some barbecue. Get yourself acquainted with the local ‘cue scene via a Greenville BBQ Trail Tour.
In between reservations, go for a hike in Caesars Head State Park, which has 60 miles of trails. From the main overlook, witness fall hawk migration from September through November.
Where to Stay: Grand Bohemian Lodge Greenville offers a prime location overlooking Falls Park on the Reedy, where a waterfall tumbles through downtown. Inside, sidle up next to the massive stone fireplace and check out the art gallery showcasing local and international artists.
7. Best Golfing: Palm Springs, CA
With year-round warm weather and courses everywhere designed by legends like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Greg Norman, Palm Springs isn’t one of the best small towns in America for golf purposes only—but that’s a good part of it.
With over 130 picturesque courses spread throughout Greater Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, the biggest challenge is just deciding on a place to snag some quality tee time. For starters, you can brush up on your short game and take an on-the-course playing lesson with the PGA-certified instructors at The Palm Desert Golf Academy at Desert Willow Golf Resort.
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The desert oasis is a known wellness destination, with the downtown Spa at Séc-he a destination spa that opened in spring 2023. Here, soak in mineral-rich hot springs water that bubbles up and meets you at the surface after 12,000 years underground—a ritual known as “taking of the waters.” You can also book spa treatments, like one with CBD and another with herbal blends geared toward athletic recovery. The spa has Himalayan salt rooms, float rooms, sound therapy relaxation chairs, and scalp scrub services.
Where to Stay: Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage is a casino hotel with a sprawling palm-lined pool and a lounge where you can pair premium cigars with fine whiskeys. Or, for a quaint stay, book one of the 27 rooms at Les Cactus, which was named after a ‘60s French rock n’ roll ballad and has a hammock garden and bikes to borrow.
8. Best for Art Lovers: Santa Fe, NM
From the 100-plus fine art galleries on bougie, adobe-lined Canyon Road to the trippy neon multiverse at Meow Wolf to an opera season where attendees tailgate in the parking lot in Southwest style (i.e. cowboy boots and turquoise bolos), Santa Fe is a one-of-a-kind destination for art lovers.
While in town, get your fill of New Mexico’s fiery culinary specialties, starting with red or green chili—or do both, by saying “Christmas-style”—alongside tamales, blue corn enchiladas, and Frito Pies. Some local institutions to chow down at include The Shed, Del Charro, and Tomasitas. Wash it all down with a margarita or three along Santa Fe’s very own Margarita Trail, featuring roughly 45 restaurants bringing their agave “A” game.
If you’re heading to the country’s loftiest state capital (perched at nearly 7,200 feet elevation) during winter, hit the slopes at Ski Santa Fe, a favorite local resort tucked in the Sangre Cristo Mountains that’s eons from the nearest lift line. Afterwards, sink into one of the private soaking tubs at Ten Thousand Waves, a super-popular spa modeled after Japan’s onsens—but make an advance reservation.
Where to Stay: Fitting right into downtown Santa Fe, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi—an adobe hotel with sandstone walls, T-shaped doors, and cacti—mirrors Santa Fe’s diverse art scene. The hotel showcases hand-crafted textiles and paintings by Native American and Hispanic artists. Each of the 58 rooms comes with a gas-lit kiva fireplace.
9. Best for Skiing: Park City, UT
Utah’s powder is trademarked “The Greatest Snow on Earth” for a reason. Investigate the claim at Park City Mountain, which hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 2002 and has 7,300 acres of skiable terrain. Enjoy even more superlative skiing at Deer Valley, a skier’s-only resort, and nearby at Sundance Resort, where the lifts stay open on some winter nights, so you can get in runs under the starry skies and feel like you have the whole hill to yourself. About as convenient as it gets for ski tourists, Park city is just a 35-mile commute from Salt Lake City International Airport, meaning you can land at SLC and be in a lift line within an hour or two.
Kick off your skis and you’re in one of the best small towns in America—a storied mountain enclave full of history and charm. Lined with shops, galleries, and top eateries and bars, Park City’s historic Main Street is the perfect place to don a custom cowboy hat made at Burns Cowboy Shop while sampling local bourbon at the famed High West Distillery. Snow sports enthusiasts should swing by Utah Olympic Park. Live out your gold medal dreams by zooming down the bobsled tracks and learn about ski history and snow science at the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
Where to Stay: Check into the unassumingly-named Washington School House in the heart of downtown. The former late-19th-century schoolhouse is now enjoying its long-awaited second act as a luxury boutique hotel.
Or, stay about 35 miles away at Sundance Mountain Resort. The year-round destination offers skiing in the winter, spectacular foliage in the fall (get on the lifts for an aerial view of the autumnal beauty), and fly fishing in the nearby Provo River during the warmer months. Book a reservation at the Tree Room, which was built around the trunk of an actual tree, and features a rotating selection of Indigenous art from Robert Redford’s private collection. Grab a nightcap at the dim-lit Owl Bar, where it feels like you’re listening to live music in your buddy’s living room—but with better cocktails.