America's Favorite Towns
Lyn Mettler lives in Indianapolis, but she’s partial to Aspen, CO. “It’s a hippy-chic town with some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the Rockies,” says the travel blogger, who visits regularly. “I love to stroll through Aspen, have dinner, and stop by the park, where you’re just as likely to see a struggling musician honing his skills for cash as you are to see a member of the rich and famous hiding behind sunglasses.”
That mix of glam appeal and down-to-earth authenticity helped Aspen place in the top 10 of towns among Travel + Leisure readers. In the latest America’s Favorite Places survey, readers ranked hundreds of cities and towns in categories including live music scene, bookstores, brunch spots, and even the enthusiasm of local sports fans.
When we analyzed the 25 top-ranking small towns—those with fewer than 50,000 residents—we found a fascinating mix of ski resorts, beach communities, and college towns with history and quirky charm. Tellingly, some of the towns with the overall top scores, including one with a pirate past and another with a long line of Francophiles, specifically ranked well for feeling relaxed.
Myrtle Beach, SC, for example, swells in size during its peak season, drawing loyal fans for its simple pleasures. Dawn Norrod is a small-business owner from Columbus, OH, who makes an annual visit: “Myrtle Beach has a ton of hotels, right on the strip, for just about any price or luxury you want.” Beyond that, she says, “there is always one lasting memory that continues with each trip. It's me, sitting in my chair around 5 p.m. until dusk, just watching the sand snails come in and out of the sand. That, and the sound of the waves.”
Find out which 25 towns won over the T+L community—starting with No. 1 in North Carolina. Have a favorite town that isn’t represented? Vote for it now in the America’s Favorite Places survey.
No. 1 Beaufort, NC
With its quaint, tree-lined downtown and colorful history—populated with plenty of fishermen and even a fair share of pirates—this Inner Banks town won the survey thanks to its heavyweight small-town charm. Readers gave Beaufort high marks as both a relaxing and a romantic destination. You might time your visit to Beaufort’s quirky version of Mardi Gras or just sit by the waterfront and watch for the wild ponies that live on Carrot Island, across Taylor’s Creek. For good water views, have dinner or drinks at the Dockhouse or stay at the 36-room Inlet Inn.
No. 2 Ogunquit, ME
Its name means “beautiful place by the sea,” and indeed Ogunquit offers a relatively rare indulgence amid Maine’s rocky coastline: a long stretch of white sand. Readers commended it for being pedestrian-friendly and for welcoming both girlfriend getaways and LGBT travelers. While summer is the peak season here, some of the great draws last well beyond Labor Day. Visitors can enjoy shows at the renowned summer-stock Ogunquit Playhouse and fresh lobster rolls from local favorite Footbridge Lobster through the end of October. To understand why the town also ranked well for being mellow, book one of the white clapboard cottages at the Dunes on the Waterfront, open from March through October.
No. 3 Lewisburg, WV
This Greenbrier County town was the site of an 1862 battle during the Civil War, and today you can still see remnants of the past, from the graceful 19th-century neighborhoods to still-standing log cabins. Readers loved this town by the Allegheny Mountains because it makes for both good hiking—try the scenic stretch along the Greenbrier River Trail—and shopping. You could spend an afternoon browsing for funky jewelry at Wolf Creek Gallery and glassware and linens at Brick House Antiques, housed in a building that dates back to 1815.
No. 4 Aspen, CO
This A-list ski town makes a big impression on travelers with such hip destinations as hotel Little Nell (and its foodie-magnet restaurant, Element 47) and Jimmy’s, which serves craft cocktails chilled by a BFIC (short for Big @#%$-ing Ice Cube). Aspen also has a surprisingly affordable art scene; the free-admission Aspen Art Museum focuses on international contemporary art. Readers cheered the Rocky Mountain town for its accessible sense of adventure, too. Set out for the scenic Rio Grande Trail, a paved bicycle path that you can take to Snowmass or all the way to Glenwood Springs.
No. 5 Santa Rosa Beach, FL
White sand, blue waters, and a healthy dose of quirkiness add up to a winning combination for this artsy northwestern Florida beach town. Santa Rosa scored near the top of the survey for being family-friendly. Consider the WaterColor Inn and Resort, which offers paddleboarding, kayaking, beach bonfires and outdoor movies. Readers also liked Santa Rosa for its design finds. Shops along Scenic Highway 30A include Bastide, where you can browse sumptuous, beach-house-ready pieces. Set aside time for listening to seashells: readers found that Santa Rosa has plenty of peace and quiet.
No. 6 Charlottesville, VA
Locals in Thomas Jefferson’s hometown struck readers as both brainy and pretty urbane. Given the preponderance of college kids at the University of Virginia, it’s no surprise that Charlottesville distinguished itself for live music and excellent sandwiches—like those at New York–style deli Littlejohn’s, or Revolutionary Soup (which does a chorizo-and-Granny-Smith sandwich), or even the acclaimed Market at Bellair, tucked inside an Exxon station. Still, the town also ranked well for its notable restaurants, including Petit Pois and C&O, which is on the site of an old railroad bunkhouse.
No. 7 Breckenridge, CO
Readers rated Breckenridge a top ski destination, but year round they also found it highly walkable—or, really, hikable. One great outing is the three-mile roundtrip along the Spruce Creek Trail to Upper Mohawk Lake, with views of Continental Falls as it cascades down a rocky face. Afterward, treat yourself to one of the town’s highly ranked craft beers, such as the Avalanche Ale at Breckenridge Brewery or a Belgian wit—with coriander and orange notes—from newcomer Broken Compass Brewing Company. Perhaps thanks to its high density of ski bums, Breckenridge also scored well for its vivid people-watching.
No. 8 Myrtle Beach, SC
This beach town may not feel small if you come during spring break or the height of summer—it ranked near the top for its wild weekend potential—but during the rest of the year you’ll find fewer crowds and an old-school vibe. Readers no doubt loved the revamped boardwalk (where you’ll find the kitsch-rich gift shop Gay Dolphin Gift Cove) and some of its other retro charms. Sample lightly battered, deep-fried fare at the Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood Buffet or house-made cinnamon rolls at the Hot Diggity Diner.
No. 9 Paso Robles, CA
In the early days, this Central Coast town attracted pioneers and those seeking the restorative natural springs. More recently, Paso Robles has become a magnet for lovers of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Without the crowds (and perhaps attitude) found in Napa, the town offers both down-to-earth bravado—classic dive bar Pine Street Saloon counts country singer Merle Haggard as a fan—and serious wineries like Bianchi Winery and Tobin James Cellars, which has a picnic area on the winery grounds. Olive tastings are also available at gourmet market We Olive. Paso, as most locals call it, was also popular with readers as a girlfriend getaway destination.
No. 10 Tybee Island, GA
Just across the bridge from the civilized squares of Savannah, this island town embraces a flip-flop-wearing mind-set—and placed in the top five for being quirky. Indeed, annual events include a citywide yard sale and, each May, the Beach Bum Parade, where float-riders douse spectators with buckets of water and spectators are invited to bring their own water pistols. Tybee ranked No. 3 for being a great beach getaway and also impressed readers for its affordability. Even in summer, the beachside seven-room Georgianne Inn starts at $125 per night.
No. 11 Bayfield, WI
With a scenic position on Lake Superior, Bayfield ranked highly for all kinds of getaways: family trips, adventure, and romance. The latter is especially true if you swoon at the thought of great salmon, trout, or walleye fishing. While readers loved the parks and gardens in Bayfield, “gardens” here may be best defined as the waters and sea caves around the Apostle Islands, which make for excellent kayaking. Afterward, refuel at one of the high-scoring bakeries: rhubarb pie at Judy’s Gourmet Garage or the “wine breads” at the Candy Shoppe.
No. 12 Traverse City, MI
This little town on the northeastern side of Lake Michigan claims to be the tart cherry capital of the world, but readers loved it even more for its grapes—as in, the good local wineries. Check out Left Foot Charley, known for its Pinot Gris, Rieslings, and another fruity spirit, a Vietnamese-cinnamon-accented hard cider. Readers also gave Traverse City credit for throwing good parties like summer’s National Cherry Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival, founded by filmmaker Michael Moore. To explore the town’s active side, head to the 2.8-mile Sleeping Bear Point trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, which has a “ghost forest” of cool-looking dead trees and sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
No. 13 Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth has been exuding positive energy since at least 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a peace deal here between Russia and Japan. Today, you can still see why the New England small town scores well for history by strolling its preserved downtown or peeking into St. John's Episcopal Church, which has the nation’s oldest operating pipe organ. Portsmouth also scored well for cool bookstores like RiverRun, an indie shop with both new and gently used reads. Locals struck survey voters as being a little intellectual, but pleasantly unsnobby.
No. 14 Pawleys Island, SC
Lowcountry translates into seriously low-key on this slender barrier island, which was first settled by vacationing rice planters trying to escape summer’s mosquitoes. Readers applauded the little town (with scarcely more than 100 full-time residents) for feeling friendly, being welcoming to families, and appearing to be quite tidy—despite the island’s cheeky motto of “arrogantly shabby.” Pawleys Island has only a few hotels, among them the waterfront Pelican Inn, but it does have one solid industry: rope hammocks, supposedly first created here in the late 1800s. You can test-drive and take home a classic from the Original Hammock Shop.
No. 15 Glenwood Springs, CO
Thanks to its mineral hot springs pool—purportedly the world’s largest—this Rocky Mountain town scored well with readers for spa vacations, with an old-fashioned twist. The best way to make the most of the healing waters is still with a dip in the pool, which is a quick walk from the grande dame Hotel Colorado. Locals impressed readers for being athletic; one of the most popular local hikes is the steep one-mile trail to Hanging Lake. As a reward, treat yourself to one of the town’s highly rated burgers, either a classic at Vicco’s Charcoalburger Drive-In, which started in 1953, or a grass-fed-local-beef version from Grind.
No. 16 Lake Placid, NY
This former Olympic host was one of the few smaller towns in the survey that scored highly for its resident sports fans—though here, such fans might follow luge standings as much as football. And while readers ranked Lake Placid well for ski trips, they also gave it high scores for romance. At the elegant Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, couples can enjoy winter sports like ice skating or snowshoeing right out front. Readers also liked the bars and craft beers; the award-winning Lake Placid Pub & Brewery is best known for its red English-style Strong Ale.
No. 17 San Luis Obispo, CA
San Luis Obispo, a college town on California’s Central Coast, is just far enough from L.A. to give it a calm vibe, further enriched by the easy access to vineyards and dune-covered beaches. Readers ranked the town highly for its wine (do some sampling at 1,100-acre Edna Valley Vineyard) and its specialty food shopping like the beloved 120-vendor-long Thursday Night Farmers' Market. SLO, as locals call it, also got points for its barbecue, specifically Santa Maria–style tri-tip, with excellent examples found at Old San Luis BBQ Co. and the dive-bar-meets-steakhouse Jocko’s, down the 101 in Nipomo.
No. 18 Bar Harbor, ME
It’s no surprise that this town on Mount Desert Island scored well for its parks—namely, Acadia National Park, where you can witness the first American sunrise of the day, every day, from Cadillac Mountain. Afterward, indulge in a crustacean-rich breakfast at the Lazy Lobster, by way of lobster omelettes or lobster Benedict. Bar Harbor also ranked highly for its sense of history: you can check out the Native American artifacts at the Abbe Museum, which is the only museum in Maine affiliated with the Smithsonian.
No. 19 Gulf Shores, AL
Because this Gulf Coast town ranked well for festivals, you might be inspired to plan your trip around your preferred kind of party. October brings the National Shrimp Festival; November offers the celebrity-chef-studded Oyster Cook-Off; and in May you can join the Hangout Music Festival on the public beach. Gulf Shores also scored well for free attractions, one of which is periodically supplied by Mother Nature: during a “jubilee,” crab, shrimp, and other fish wash ashore in droves for easy catching. You can spot more animals at neighboring Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
No. 20 Sonoma, CA
Sonoma has an irresistibly beautiful location in northern California’s wine country complete with a historic central plaza. And readers also loved it for the notable farm-to-table dining, from the Girl and the Fig (with a French countrified menu) to the Hot Box Grill, where the specialty is a buttermilk-braised, deep-fried Cornish game hen. Sonoma also ranked well for its great brunches. You might start your day with Niman Ranch steak and eggs or apple-oat cakes with caramelized apples and crème fraîche at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s Big 3 Diner.
No. 21 Hood River, OR
This Oregon town is a no-brainer for families: depending on the season, driving the 35-mile Fruit Loop provides the chance to pick and eat your weight in cherries, blueberries, and apples. Hood River also scored well as an adventure travel destination, thanks in part to prime kiteboarding along the Columbia River Gorge. Readers also applauded local craft beers like the longtime favorite, hop-rich Full Sail Brewing Co., and the more recent arrival, Logsdon Farmhouse Organic Ales, which operates out of a red barn.
No. 22 Estes Park, CO
Rocky Mountain National Park deserves some credit for this Colorado town’s top scores for fresh, clean air and peace and quiet. During spring, the nearly century-old national park bursts with wildflowers; in the fall, you can see elk rolling in the mud as part of their mating ritual. The best places to stay include the Stanley Hotel—which has fun with its notoriety of inspiring horror film The Shining—and the recently opened Arts and Crafts–style Golden Leaf Inn. For a warming drink on a chilly day, head to Moon Kats Tea Shoppe.
No. 23 Park City, UT
The population’s only 8,000, yet Park City has outsize appeal, from the top-notch skiing to elegant lodging (Washington School House Hotel) to its famed film festival. It can also boast about High West Distillery and Saloon, the first distillery to open in Utah since Prohibition ended. The ski-friendly town won raves from readers for its holiday celebrations, such as Christmas Eve’s torchlight parade down Park City Mountain, led by a certain bearded man in a red suit. The locals, meanwhile, ranked as both smart and polite.
No. 24 La Jolla, CA
La Jolla, a posh enclave in the San Diego area, is so removed from typical SoCal sprawl that it feels rather like a Mediterranean village (you can even get your gelato fix at Bobboi on Girard Avenue). Locals earned high marks for their sense of style, and the boutiques and galleries back it up—from 1950s haberdashery Ascot Shop to art gallery Legends, which features unique and grown-up-humored prints by one-time denizen Dr. Seuss. While La Jolla isn’t the most affordable seaside destination, chatting with the town’s resident sea lions, just down the hill from famous pink hotel La Valencia, is always free.
No. 25 St. Augustine, FL
This northern Florida city boasts of being the oldest town in the U.S., first settled by the Spanish in 1565, with the fort to prove it. Readers love St. Augustine for its interesting architecture and art scene. There was even an artists’ colony based here, and you can see examples of the Lost Colony’s work at the St. Augustine Art Association, in the historic district. If you’re exploring where to stay, complimentary evening desserts like cream puffs, cherry tarts, and German chocolate cake make a persuasive case for the St. Francis Inn, which has welcomed visitors since 1791.