Tiny Travelogue: 50 Small Towns to Visit Across the U.S.
Big cities are often hyped as the best tourist destinations in the United States, but many of the nation's small towns are gems. From coast to coast and north to south, cute small towns represent much of what is great about each state or region, just on a smaller scale than larger cities -- and typically at a lower price. With lots of charm, natural beauty, history, and great food, small towns often make the best trips. State by state, here are some of the best ones to visit.
Located in south-central Indiana, Madison offers up beautiful sights and a bustling Main Street. The Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, overlooking the Ohio River and operated by the National Park Service, is open for tours that cost $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for kids. Visitors will also want to pay a visit to Clifty Falls State Park to enjoy scenic views and rolling trails, for a daily entrance fee of $7 for vehicles with Indiana license plates and $9 for vehicles with out-of-state plates.
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, features white sand beaches and several historic spots, including Hulihee Palace, a former summer home for Hawaiian royalty, and Ahuena Heiau, once the residence of King Kamehameha and a sacred religious site. Ahuena sits on a public beach that features calm waters ideal for snorkeling.
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Dahlonega, a cute small town of just over 6,000 people, was the site of the first major gold rush in U.S. history, and much of the town is dedicated to telling the story of that historic time. Visitors can tour gold mines and pan for gold in local creeks. The downtown area is bustling with enough contemporary local shops and restaurants to easily fill an afternoon or an entire day.
Travelers who enjoy odd tourist spots will love Alexandria's Big Ole Viking statue, a symbol of this cute small town's Viking pride and a piece of American kitsch. After some photos, head to the Runestone Museum, home of the Kensington Runestone, which was exhumed by a Minnesota farmer in 1898 and purportedly dates to the 14th century. The museum also offers Native American and Norse history exhibits and a Minnesota wildlife display. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for kids.
The 6,600 residents of Whitefish enjoy some of the most splendid views of the Rocky Mountains anywhere. Whitefish Mountain Resort offers gondola rides, hiking, an alpine slide, and more. Diversions in town include the Alpine Theater Project, which produces musicals and plays. Or check out Whitefish Depot, a restored and still operational rail station and museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With a population under 4,000, Chester fits the very definition of a charming small town, but this unique destination still offers plenty of diversions. Chester's picturesque Main Street is a shopper's delight, offering gifts crafted by local artists and an assortment of eateries. Hop on the Chester/Hadlyme Ferry for a view of Gillette Castle, which sits high above the Connecticut River.
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Kentucky is famous for producing bourbon, and the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown has been in operation for more than 130 years. The distillery sits on 196 acres in the heart of bourbon country and features 29 barrel-aging warehouses. Complimentary tours of the facility are available Monday through Saturday. The Bardstown Art Gallery, which showcases works from regional artists, is a must-see for lovers of art and culture, as is Thomas Merton Books.
Situated on Lake Michigan, Traverse City offers visitors sweeping water views and no shortage of beaches for whiling away the hours. This charming small town is also at the center of Michigan's sweet cherry industry. With that in mind, visitors may want to plan a visit to the Grand Traverse Pie Co. and give the local delicacy a try.
Situated on crystalline Lake Tahoe, Incline Village is one of the most scenic spots to visit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For an exquisite view of the lake, check out Sand Harbor beach in Lake Tahoe State Park, where admission costs $7 per vehicle (Oct. 16 to April 14) and $12 per vehicle (April 15 to Oct. 15). Nevada residents enjoy a $2 discount. Although often a ski destination, the area offers plenty of summer recreational activities, including mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking.
Located on the Columbia River, the city of Hood River offers scenic beauty and a wide variety of activities. A visit to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area will delight any outdoor enthusiast. Hikes bring visitors to gorgeous waterfalls and breathtaking mountain views. Afterward, check out one of the local breweries or Naked Winery, where wine tastings are $15 a flight.
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Gatlinburg is a scenic, small town inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Gatlinburg Scenic Outlook showcases the mountainous terrain. Visitors who enjoy a stiff drink should stop by Sugarlands Distilling Co. to see where moonshine and whiskey are made. A private tour of the facility and a tasting costs $15 a person.
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Carlisle has historical roots dating to the Revolutionary War, giving the town a charming feel of the colonial era. Lovers of antiques will enjoy perusing Carlisle's numerous antique shops, each with its own set of interesting pieces to discover. For a lunchtime or evening thirst-quencher, try Molly Pitcher Brewing Co. The local brewery and taproom serves up 10 different tasty beers.
Buckhannon is a serene small town beside the river of the same name, with a population of fewer than 6,000. Visitors can pick up fresh pastries or pepperoni rolls at the Donut Shop, then take a stroll in historic Pringle Tree Park, site of the first permanent colonial settlement west of the Alleghenies.
Falls Church is a quaint Southern town with a rich history and just over 13,500 people, including a sizable Vietnamese population. The Eden Center mall is a little Saigon teeming with Vietnamese restaurants and markets. In the evening, check out the State Theatre in Falls Church for live music, comedy nights, and laser shows set to rock music.