5 Charming Small Towns Within a 2-hour Drive of Big Cities

From a tiny island in South Carolina to the rocky cliffs of Maine, these small towns pack a big punch.

It's always fun to travel to a well-known destination, but as tourism picks up, you may prefer an escape that's close to all the action without being in the center of it. These small towns don't just serve as jumping-off points to other places; they are fantastic destinations in and of themselves, offering distinctive options and a charm you likely won't find in their neighboring big cities.

Leiper's Fork, Tennessee

Hilly farmland in Leipers Fork, United States
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Forty minutes south of Nashville in the area known as Nashville's Big Back Yard, this Hallmark movie town has impressive art galleries, wine from Tennessee whiskey barrels, and a honky-tonk with the kind of talent you'd expect from a town so close to Music City. Accommodations here include beautiful cottages with architecture that respects the historic nature of the village while offering a long list of amenities.

To get your culture on, visit The Copper Fox, a gallery with sculptures, paintings, jewelry, handbags, and decorative housewares. Here, you can chat with an artist and go home with a one-of-a-kind treasure. Just a few doors down, Leiper's Creek Gallery manages to balance fantastic pieces of art with an approachable, Southern hospitality. Across the street and a few steps away, quench your thirst at Wines in the Fork. These aren't the fruit wines of many Southern towns; you'll enjoy sophisticated vinos aged in Tennessee whiskey oak barrels. End your day at Puckett's, a former general store that now serves as a music venue and restaurant where the people-watching is top-notch and the music is even better.

Highland Lakes, Texas

Aerial photo over a marina on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas during sunset.
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Just an hour from Austin, the Highland Lakes area is a hamlet of peace and tranquility with plenty of small-town charm. Turquoise water and options for camping and cabin stays make this a romantic getaway with access to everything from wine tastings to the only mountain biking park in Texas. The place to stay on Lake Buchanan is Canyon of the Eagles, a Calibre Resort, where you can sit in a rocking chair on your deck and look out over the water as hawks soar above. The property's Overlook Restaurant is a must, as is the dark-sky gazing from Eagle Eye Observatory — both are part of the resort experience and offerings you won't find in the city.

Meanwhile, adventure-seekers can head to Spider Mountain Bike Park or hit the more sedate trails at Inks Lake State Park for gorgeous views and a study of Texas flora and fauna. Visit Longhorn Cavern for an entirely different type of walk. This massive subterranean wonder will awe you while testing your knowledge of stalactites and stalagmites. And, of course, don't miss the lake itself. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise is a surreal experience floating over an abandoned town, now completely submerged. Tree branches break the surface and reach skyward, as if trying to escape their watery grave.

Cape Neddick and Ogunquit, Maine

A Windy And Cool Autumn Afternoon At Cape Neddick, Maine
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An hour from Portland, the neighboring small towns of Ogunquit and Cape Neddick are the perfect escape if you're looking for outdoor and wellness opportunities (with a side of lobster). To be truly pampered, stay at the Cliff House, a sprawling resort on Bald Head Cliff. The property features private balconies with sweeping ocean views and a spa that draws on nature's elements and embraces all things Maine. Walk on sea-swept trails, golf, swim, bike, and eat gourmet fare at The Tiller, which uses ingredients straight from the on-site garden.

As a guest of the Cliff House, you'll also have access to the unique Volvo Drive Experience, which includes a complimentary Volvo to explore nearby Ogunquit in style. This picturesque coastal town offers easy access to sailing cruises, deep-sea fishing, and beach play. Those who stay in town will enjoy harbor restaurants, boutique shops, a playhouse with Broadway-style shows, and an unmistakable New England vibe.

Fish Creek and Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin

Aerial of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, a small town on the Door Peninsula overlooking Green Bay, Lake Michigan.
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A little over an hour from the Green Bay airport and just a short drive across the peninsula from one another, these two towns are home to state parks, observatories, lighthouses, and casual dining. Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek is a nearly 4,000-acre treasure of recreation, and its new Eagle Tower is Wisconsin's first accessible observation tower with stunning views of Green Bay's water. The park abounds with seasonal activities, offering everything from parasailing to snowshoeing, and camping here makes it easy to get lost in nature and vacation with the whole family affordably.

Venturing just across the peninsula to Baileys Harbor, you are now looking out over Lake Michigan. Make a point of hitching a ride on the hay wagon, which will take you across the causeway to the Cana Island Lighthouse, now a fascinating museum where you can climb to the top. Then, take a naturalist-led hike through The Ridges Sanctuary and learn all about the topography of this unique region.

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Beautiful beach at Haig Point Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
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No list of small towns that pack a big punch would be complete without a tropical getaway. This tiny island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Hilton Head, offers a small-town atmosphere. Arriving at the dock, you'll be surrounded by live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, the gentle rumbling of golf carts (your only mode of transportation other than your two feet), and an awareness that you're now on island time.

Check out the Daufuskie Island Rum Company, owned by a former pharmacist whose knowledge of distilling is only surpassed by his delicious cocktails. Ride horses along the beach with Daufuskie Trail Rides, then hit the local artisan shops and learn all about the Gullah history with Sallie Ann Robinson, a local celebrity cookbook author who leads tours of the island. There's no hustle or bustle here — just untouched beaches, deviled crab, and relaxation. Rent a full home or just a room — either way, you'll feel like you're on your own private island.

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