From California to New York, these are 11 of the best small towns in America.

By Elizabeth Rhodes
February 02, 2021
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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.

Big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles might get all the attention as some of the country's most popular destinations, but the best small towns in America offer their own set of unique, memorable experiences for travelers. From quaint downtown districts to stunning natural scenery, these towns offer something for every type of traveler, and they're ideal for weekend trips and relaxing vacations. We've rounded up some of the best small towns in the United States with under 15,000 residents, so you can plan your next getaway.

Telluride, Colorado

Telluride, Colorado small town with aerial high angle bird's eye view of city cityscape from free gondola to mountain village in summer
Credit: Getty Images

This former mining town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains is a year-round destination perfect for active travelers and history lovers alike. The town's core area is a National Historic Landmark District with Victorian-era buildings, and these days, guests can shop around boutiques and galleries or dine at local restaurants to soak up the small-town feel. The area is also known for incredible skiing at Telluride Ski Resort, but there's plenty to do once the ski season ends — biking, hiking, fly fishing, golfing, river sports, and more are popular choices when the weather warms up.

To Stay: Historic Telluride Studio, airbnb.com

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Street and walkway on Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Credit: Getty Images

This coastal California destination combines a picturesque downtown area with breathtaking scenery, making it the perfect spot for a romantic getaway or West Coast weekend trip. The quaint village has tons of local restaurants, wine bars, fairytale cottages, and secret passageways and gardens, all contributing to the town's unique, enchanting feel. After a day of shopping and wine tasting, visitors will want to head down to Carmel Beach to take in the scenery and watch the sunset.

To Stay: Quintessential Carmel Cottage, airbnb.com

Sedona, Arizona

The painted sky of Sedona Arizona in the fall as the sun drops below the desert horizon
Credit: Curt Apduhan/Getty Images

This beautiful desert town is located about two hours from Grand Canyon National Park and under an hour from Flagstaff, making it an ideal stop on a southwestern road trip. Sedona is surrounded by incredible red rock formations, so it's a popular destination for outdoorsy travelers looking for scenic hikes and wellness seekers wanting unique experiences. The town is filled with galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and more — check out Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village for local, artisanal products and dining.

To Stay: Sedona Suite with Spa, airbnb.com

Hudson, New York

Solid red and striped brick buildings on Warren St in Hudson, New York
Credit: Barry Winiker/Getty Images

Located just over two hours from New York City by train, Hudson, New York, is a perfect small town getaway from the big city. It has everything you could want in a small town: a walkable city center, great shopping and dining, and interesting experiences in a relaxed setting. Once a 1700s whaling port, the city now features a range of historic architectural styles, and it has dozens of antique dealers — just head to Warren Street to start shopping.

To Stay: Historic Hudson Apartment, airbnb.com

Beaufort, South Carolina

View of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort, South Carolina, USA.
Credit: Getty Images

Hilton Head Island and Charleston might get all the acclaim when it comes to South Carolina Lowcountry destinations, but the state has plenty of small towns also worth visiting. Stroll through downtown Beaufort (with a sweet tea in hand), walk along the beach at nearby Hunting Island State Park, and try some fresh seafood at a local restaurant. Learn about the area's history and about Gullah culture with a visit to the recently established Reconstruction Era National Historical Park and the Penn Center.

To Stay: Restored Historic Cottage, airbnb.com

St. Augustine, Florida

Aerial drone view of historic St. Augustine, Florida.
Credit: Getty Images

Dating back hundreds of years, St. Augustine is one of the country's most historic cities, but it's more than just notable sites and museums (although many, like the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, are worth visiting). Shop for local art and crafts along Aviles Street — which claims the title of the oldest street in the country — taste some spirits from the St. Augustine Distillery (one of the nation's best distilleries), or go for a sandy stroll along nearby St. Augustine Beach.

To Stay: The Pink House, airbnb.com

Kennebunkport, Maine

Kennebunk River in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Credit: Getty Images

This southern Maine town calls itself "the place to be all year" and offers a range of activities available in all four seasons. Of course, Kennebunkport is most popular during the summer, when you can visit the beaches, go boating, and eat lobster rolls under the sun, but the town also goes all out for the holidays with its annual Christmas Prelude.

To Stay: Modern Antique Home, airbnb.com

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Grand Marais, Minnesota
Credit: Getty Images

This small, artsy town on Minnesota's North Shore has fewer than 1,500 residents, but visitors love its relaxed, small village feel. Summer is the best time to visit if you hope to hike, bike, canoe, sail, or golf nearby. However, northern lights chasers will want to plan their trip for the winter months to maximize their chances of spotting the phenomenon — Cook County (where Grand Marais is located) is one of the few places in the United States where you may have the opportunity to see the aurora borealis (if conditions are right).

To Stay: Home in Grand Marais, airbnb.com

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Marquette Park viewed from Fort Mackinac in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Credit: Getty Images

If you're looking for a change of pace, Mackinac Island in Michigan certainly has you covered. This small island town is best explored by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage — there are no cars allowed here (with the exception of emergency vehicles, of course). Tour historic sites, like Fort Mackinac (which was founded during the American Revolution), play a round of golf on one of the island's two unique courses, and try some famous Mackinac Island fudge when you visit.

To Stay: Mackinac Island Cottage, airbnb.com

Whitefish, Montana

Whitefish main street in Montana
Credit: Getty Images

Located in the Montana Rocky Mountains, Whitefish is an outdoor adventurer's paradise. The small town is situated near Glacier National Park, so it's the perfect home base for those wanting to explore the park's glaciers, lakes, meadows, and mountains. Whitefish Mountain Resort offers 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, and summer visitors can hike, bike, zip line, and race down the mountain on an alpine slide.

To Stay: House in Downtown Whitefish, airbnb.com

Stowe, Vermont

The charming village of Stowe in Vermont.
Credit: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Located in northern Vermont, Stowe is another mountain town worth visiting year-round. During the spring and summer months, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and biking, and come winter, skiing at Stowe Mountain Resort is a popular choice. Autumn is a particularly beautiful time to visit this charming small town, as the leaves turn vivid shades of red, orange, and gold, making it one of the best places to see fall foliage in the United States.

To Stay: Renovated Villa Cottage, airbnb.com