We have not been to anywhere near enough places in the USA to create a “Best small towns in the USA” list, yet.
I don’t think we’ll ever get to every small town, but we’re doing our best to continue to explore and share them. It would be a great disservice to you if we waited until that happened.
In this new era of travel, you are probably seeking lessor known destinations and small towns that embrace a slow pace away from hordes of hustlers.
Below are small towns we have personally visited and adore in the USA that are perfect for your next weekend trip or getaway.
Think uniqueness, main street charm, historical relevance, close proximity to outdoor adventures, and a respite from big-city life.
What is Small Town USA?
We’re mostly looking at towns from one main street to a few city blocks wide with a population of probably no greater than 50,000.
As mentioned, we have not been everywhere! This post is based upon our own experiences of traveling the USA in-depth for years.
We’re continuing to explore and add to our best of lists. It’s important for you to share what you think are the best small towns to visit in the USA in the comments below.
This will help all the readers coming after you find cool places to visit in the USA – and to introduce us to something new to explore and later share.
As always, our community helps to shape our travels, which we LOVE!
Apex, North Carolina
Only five minutes down the road from where we live in Cary (just outside of Raleigh) is a USA small town that has me saying every time we pop in, “Oh, this main street is so cute. It has so much to offer. I have to include it in my best small towns in America post.”
Founded in the 1860s, Apex, North Carolina is considered one of the most intact turn-of-the-century railroad towns in the area. The Downtown Historic District is centered around Salem Street and is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
The town got its name from a location at the highest point on the old Chatham Railroad and is the reason for its slogan “the peak of good living.”
Downtown Apex is home to colorfully restored antique shops, specialty stores, and restaurants. On weekends, the sidewalks are abuzz with people enjoying the weekly farmer’s markets and the Salem St scene.
We have a blog post on our Raleigh website sharing our favorite things to do in Downtown Apex (check that out). Apex Lake is good for an afternoon stroll, Peak of the Vines Wine Bar is awesome, as is Scratch with their Southern fusion food, craft drinks, and outside seating area.
Speaking of the Town of Cary, Craig and I debated over whether Cary should be included in this list. It’s also a cute historic small USA town that, over the past few years, has blossomed from a sleepy ghost like town to a main street thriving with restaurants, wine and cocktail bars, and one of the USA’s best breweries.
We live in such a cool place equidistant to both Cary and Apex with Raleigh only 15 minutes away!
Are you ready for a little boot scooting fun in one of the coolest small towns in America? It may only be a three street town, but Gruene, Texas oozes historic charm.
The center of community life – back when it was a thriving cotton industry town, and now, that it has been lovingly restored – is the Gruene dance hall.
Since 1878, Gruene Hall has been putting on live music and dance gatherings. Legends such as George Strait, Hal Ketchum, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett have played and even current superstars like Maren Morris.
There is nothing fancy about this place, which is what makes it one of the coolest places in the US to visit. Bring your copyboy hat and boots, let your hair down, mingle with the locals, and have fun.
You can sit down and listen, dance up the back, or even hang outside in the beer garden. Kids will love the space to paly corn-hole or climb some trees.
The streets are filled with boutique and antique stores in old homes, a general store with a soda and ice cream bar, and restaurants.
Watching the colors light up behind the water tower and sunset from your fire pit seat in the Grapevine Winery outdoor garden is something special to enjoy. Even better if there is live music in the background, which in Gruene is a certainty.
This small charming Southern town is full of history, good boutique shopping, and a vibrant music lifestyle.
Downtown Franklin is known as America’s favorite street. This 16-block National Register district has more than 70 shops and restaurants in gorgeous Victorian buildings along brick sidewalks.
It’s a quieter version of Nashville with a happening live music scene, open mics, but without the crowds and crazy party scene.
Many famous musicians live out this way and at nearby Leiper’s Fork; their palatial homes nestled in the rolling green hills surrounding Franklin.
We also visited for an evening of open mic at Puckett’s Groceries – an iconic musical experience in the Nashville region.
Definitely put Franklin on your list of the best small towns in America to visit.
Read more: Things to do in Franklin, TN on a day trip.
Port Townsend, Washington State
I’m not sure what drew me into Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, perhaps it was the cockatoo on a friendly local’s shoulder saying G’day!
Whatever it was, I knew I wanted to come back and explore more. I wish we had longer than just a night or two.
Port Townsend is a pretty and charming historic Victorian seaport bordered by Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and quite close to the Olympic National Park (one of our favorite USA national park). It’s also only a short ferry ride over to Seattle.
Separated by a flight of stairs, Uptown is filled with beautiful Victorian homes, and Downtown has large, ornate brick buildings which house shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums.
You could visit on a day trip from the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park or park your RV at the state fairground or the historic Fort Worden State Park has beautiful camp sites on the water.
Stowe, VT is a charming village in the northern part of Vermont near Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak.
We spent three nights in Stowe on a New England road trip in the Fall.
Around town you have 60+ unique shops and 40+ restaurants, and the church steeples and colonial style houses.
Stowe’s proximity to the mountains means it offers endless opportunities to enjoy hiking, biking, and skiing adventures. So you can enjoy the outdoors any time of the year!
I fell in love with the Southern charm and hospitality of this small town in Florida. I think we knew everyone’s name and background by the end of our two-night stay.
The city of Monticello is in the heart of Natural North Florida and has a population of just over 2,000 people.
This charming, historical town, located 24-miles east of the state capitol, Tallahassee, was founded in 1827 and is the seat of Jefferson County.
Jefferson is known as the Keystone County for its unspoiled beauty and mild climate offering the ‘keys to quality living.’
The surrounding region is simply spectacular and offers quiet rural experiences and outdoor adventures.
Read More: 14 Fantastic Things to do in Monticello, FL
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort, South Carolina is an exquisite and serene small historical city and one of the most charming towns in America. It’s immersed in history and in a forest of ancient live oaks and surrounded by marshlands, islands, waterways, and the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the most beautiful Southern neighborhoods I’ve seen is The Old Point neighborhood, just to the east of downtown Beaufort.
It was the residential summer enclave of the wealthy plantation owners, as their island marshland homes became too hot and buggy.
Live Oaks with their dripping Spanish moss drape together to form a canopy of the streets and a cooler place for you to walk and admire the stately antebellum mansion.
Beaufort has a fascinating Civil War History, as it was one of the only towns not burned by Sherman’s advancing army.
After the locals all fled their antebellum mansions in fear, Sherman decided to take them over for this troops and turn them into Union hospitals.
He freed the slaves – of which they far outnumbered the locals – and hired them to work in the hospitals.
Many were able to buy their masters homes as they owed large sums of taxes when they finally returned. They didn’t pay them as they felt they would not have homes to return to.
Beaufort is rich in the Gullah culture of emancipated African-American slaves who have preserved much of their distinctive language, food, and customs.
The city of Stuart Florida has a sublime location on the St Lucie River with 22 miles of undeveloped Atlantic Coast beaches just a short drive away.
That means you have access to endless water activities, delicious seafood, and a laid back Florida charm. Downtown Stuart is charming with art galleries, boutique stores and river front restaurants.
We can understand why it was named Coastal Living’s 2016 “Happiest Seaside Town” as well as several other acknowledgements for it being a beautiful American small town.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Stuart and the surrounding Martin County and Treasure Coast region.
Read More: A perfect winter vacation in Martin County Florida and a unique houseboat vacation rental on the Treasure Coast.
Wallace, Idaho is an intriguing town with its unusual mix of American Colonial revival Queen Anne, and Art Deco buildings and English style cottages. Any wonder it’s one of the few small towns in the USA entirety listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The historical town of Wallace started in 1884 to accommodate the influx of people to the Silver Valley in search of its namesake shiny promise.
For over 100 years it’s been the world’s largest silver producer – over 1.1 billion ounces — making it the richest mining town still in existence.
You’re sure to find your own take home treasure with its antique and specialty stores focused on Idaho silver products and collectibles.
Not only is it an enchanting small USA town, but it’s surrounded by the Bitterroot Mountains and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Wowzers! That was my word arriving into the Jackson Hole Valley in Wyoming.
I knew it was good for skiing, but I never realized how strikingly beautiful this area was with its majestic Teton Mountains rising sharply out of the valley floor and the Snake River winding through the yellow grasslands and cottontails that line its bank.
Jackson is the main town in Jackson Hole (the valley) and is a unique USA cowboy town with a modern Hollywood style.
I loved the vibe of Jackson and want to return to explore more. It offers much in the way of restaurants, cafes, breweries and shops.
Don’t miss The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, established in 1937. It is a landmark watering hole famous for its Western Swing Dance lessons, and live music. The décor will intrigue you.
Ferndale is the town where time stood still.
Meander down the main road to find lamppost-lined blocks of historic Victorian style architecture that houses various artisans from artists to blacksmith, this is small town Americana.
Its location sandwiched between the Lost Coast and ancient redwood forests makes for a beautiful and tranquil base to explore this Humboldt County region.
You can see why this charming town has been the setting for a few Hollywood movies.
There’s an eclectic mix of independent stores alongside small cafes and fine dining. A few we loved browsing: Paintings by Dajota Daetwiler, Ferndale Arts Gallery, Farmer’s daughter, Sweetness and Light, and the Golden Gait Mercantile.
Five minutes from the town of Ferndale is a long wind-swept beach, which is great for walking and playing.
Read More: A Lost Coast California Road Trip
We passed through briefly for lunch driving on the Independence Pass from Snowmass to Denver, Colorado. It is one of the most spectacular drives in the USA passing clear rivers, beautiful valleys, steep peaks, and extensive aspen forests.
At 10,512 feet above sea level is the old mining town of Leadville, the highest incorporated city in North America.
Downtown Leadville has preserved its old wild lawlessness reputation well with its museums and mining-era buildings that now house galleries, boutiques and shops.
Of course, with its location, Leadville offers an incredible amount of outdoor beauty and adventure. It’s on my Colorado bucket list to return and spend more time exploring this cute small mountain town in the USA.
Leavenworth, Washington State
Leavenworth is a tastefully done tourist town with a lot of soul and plenty of reasons to enjoy a little taste of Bavaria. And of course, a few pretzels, bratwurst, and steins – you are welcome to wear lederhosen while doing so!
Leavenworth was once a thriving logging village. When that took a turn for the worst, instead of letting it die, the community decided to use its beautiful setting and turn it into mini-Bavaria.
It’s now one of the most popular places to see in Washington State and a very unique small American town.
In the town, you’ll find Bavarian style architecture that houses restaurants, bars, breweries, cideries’, and local retail stores. Basically, enjoy shopping, eating, and drinking in Leavenworth!
We certainly enjoyed doing that especially after a tube float down the river!
It’s location at the base of the Cascade Mountains and on the Wenatchee River means it’s also a hot spot for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, whitewater rafting or gentle tube floating.
Your turn. What do you think are some of the best small towns in the USA?