10 of the Best Small Towns on the East Coast
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
These days, small towns in America are having a moment in the spotlight. Travelers are looking beyond the bright lights of cities like Boston and New York City and seeking out places with a lower concentration of visitors and easier access to the outdoors. With this shift, folks are experiencing an entirely other side of the country — one with plenty of elbow room.
So, whether you're looking for an accessible domestic destination or a new town to call home, we've compiled some of the best small towns on the East Coast to make your search a little easier.
Aurora, New York
It doesn't get much smaller — or more beautiful — than Aurora. With a year-round population of less than 700 people, this tiny village on Cayuga Lake is just over four hours from New York City and Philadelphia.
If you're here to put up your feet and relax lakeside, head to The Inns of Aurora, a luxury boutique resort with in-room fireplaces, private balconies, and stunning views of the lake. Here, you can kayak, book a private yoga class, or sip a glass of wine in an Adirondack chair overlooking the water. When you're ready to check out the local area, make your way north to the town of Union Springs and book a wine tasting at Heart & Hands Wine Company, or explore downtown Aurora and grab a bite and beer at Fargo Bar & Grill.
Martha's Vineyard Towns, Massachusetts
Only accessible by boat and air, this island off the coast of Massachusetts is no stranger to visitors — and once you arrive, you'll see why. The island is home to six small towns and plenty of things to do. Spend the day lounging by the water at South Beach or exploring Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge — a barrier reef with a sandy shoreline, plenty of hiking, and the historic Cape Poge Lighthouse.
There's something thrilling about standing on the battleground that led to a turning point in the Civil War or imagining Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address to war-weary soldiers. That's all the norm in Gettysburg, arguably one of the most historically significant towns in the U.S.
But just because you're not a history buff, doesn't mean Gettysburg shouldn't be on your travel wish list. Book a stay at the downtown James Gettys Hotel and load up on their in-room breakfast buffet before you start the day. Then, after some exploration, wind down with a craft cocktail at the Mason Dixon Distillery.
This seaside town sits right on the Atlantic Ocean, and as you'd expect, fully celebrates and embraces their maritime way of life. You can rent a paddleboard and enjoy views of Mystic from the water or take a cruise up the river in a classic wooden motorboat. When the sun starts to set, walk along the river park, then tuck into a plate of seafood at Red 36, a waterfront restaurant with a fantastic outdoor patio.
This coastal town sees more visitors in the summer months, but it's the sort of place you can visit throughout the year. On a warm day, hit the long sandy shores at Goose Rocks Beach or Arundel Beach, or ride one of the restored vintage streetcars at the Seashore Trolley Museum when the weather drops off. Either way, top it off with a lobster roll and stroll through the town's shops and galleries.
Beaufort, South Carolina
South Carolina's Hilton Head Island gets all the attention, but the lesser-known Port Royal Island is just as beautiful. Namely, the island town of Beaufort has a historic district worth a visit. After you've had your fill of sightseeing, grab dinner at Saltus River Grill, followed by ice cream at YoYo's and a walk through Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
Hot Springs, North Carolina
As its name suggests, this small town is all about the area's natural hot springs. Book a cabin at Broadwing Farm Cabins and spend your day oscillating between soaking in the mineral water and exploring the organic farmland. When you've had enough soaking, lace up your hiking boots and hit part of the Appalachian Trail or walk around Hot Springs' tiny downtown area and grab a beer at the Iron Horse Station.
Cape May, New Jersey
This seaside resort town at the tip of southern New Jersey's Cape May peninsula is all about the beach. But before you post up, check out the town's old Victorian houses and wander around the Washington Street Mall for beach day provisions. Before you leave, dedicate a morning to climbing the 199 steps to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse. We promise, the panoramic views are well worth the effort.
Meredith, New Hampshire
Meredith is one of those unbearably cute East Coast towns — especially in the autumn, when the fall colors pop. But this lakefront community has a lot more going for it than beautiful fall foliage. The town is nestled on Lake Winnipesaukee in the foothills of the White Mountains and is home to the iconic paddle steamer, M/S Mount Washington. For a perfect Meredith day, kayak to the nearby Stonedam Island and book a sunset dinner cruise on the paddle steamer.
When it comes to coastal living, Marathon is hard to top. Not only is the town spread across 13 islands (how dreamy is that?), but it has direct access to the barrier reef, renowned deep-sea fishing, and a string of waterfront restaurants. As you might expect from a marine town, Marathon has a Dolphin Research Center and beaches known for welcoming nesting loggerhead turtles.