You need only have watched a couple of romantic comedies to know that there is something pretty special about America’s small towns. But even before Hollywood swooped in with its wide lens cameras and hot shot directors, America has long carried a torch for its historic hamlets, bucolic main streets and charming town squares. Because when you fall for America’s small towns, you fall hard. Whether it be the call of the Rocky Mountains, which frame Telluride’s downtown so perfectly they look as if they were made to order by Ansel Adams, or Sitka’s impossibly serene waterfront that even humpback whales, sea otters and brown bears can’t resist, small town USA is worth a stopover, at the very least. Read on for our round-up of the best small towns in the USA…
- Telluride, Colorado
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
- Magnolia Springs, Alabama
- Sitka, Alaska
- Beaufort, South Carolina
- Hudson, New York
- Saugatuck, Michigan
Let us introduce you to Telluride, perhaps the country’s most quintessential offering of small town USA. Set in a world of its own thanks to the towering peaks that surround it, Telluride is the USA’s answer to Swiss mountain living. Even after finding itself surrounded by souped-up ski resorts, this once-upon-a-time mining town has successfully managed to retain its bohemian alpine charm. From the clapboard storefronts and colourful Victorian-era homes to the distinctly western-style restaurants that pepper its all-American Main Street, Telluride is more than happy to share its traditions. Grab a whiskey on the rocks at the Last Dollar Saloon, stop by the first building Butch Cassidy ever robbed and party like a local at the town’s beloved Bluegrass festival.
Carmel-by-the-Sea doesn’t just sound cool, it is cool. Attracting artists, writers and entertainers (including former mayor Clint Eastwood) since 1902, it is no surprise that this town, perfectly perched on the Monterey Peninsula, feels like one great big art exhibition. From its European-style cottages and charming inns, such as L’Auberge Carmel - which offers a masterclass in intimate 19th century elegance, to the 100 art galleries that saturate the downtown’s Comstock cottage-lined streets, Carmel feels like something straight out of a fairy-tale. Not forgetting its historic Mission and myriad trails along Carmel River State Beach and beyond and you’ve got one of California’s quirkiest, kitschiest and cutest coastal towns.
Believe it or not, Magnolia Springs isn’t the name of the newest teen Netflix drama. Rather, it is the name of the sweeter-than-apple-pie town on the Magnolia River, just off Alabama’s Bon Secour Bay. Awash with Antebellum architecture flanked by majestic canopies of giant oak trees and – of course – magnolia blossoms, and home to just over 700 people, Magnolia Springs has long been considered one of the USA’s most quintessential small southern towns. Add on the fact it is the only town in the country to post and receive its mail via river boat and it’s no wonder that the likes of Harper Lee and Mark Childress found inspiration in this sleepy yet soulful town.
Reached only by seaplane or ferry, with a once starring role in the 2004 romcom The Proposal, Sitka is small town USA at its finest. Its harbour side is quaint and compact, the ‘Sisters’ mountains are the perfect backdrop and its wildlife speaks for itself (not literally, of course – you aren’t actually stepping into a movie). When you’re not trying to decipher if you’ve just spotted John Wayne appear reincarnated out of the town’s flat-fronted watering hole, you’ll find yourself heading for the hills. Equally beautiful in winter and summer, it is beloved amongst hikers and hunters. Follow locals on their daily spin up the Totem Trail or head up Mount Verstovia for a day of uninterrupted silence and views over the Gulf of Alaska.
Oh beautiful Beaufort. Located on Port Royal Island, smack bang in between Charleston and Savannah’s Lowcountry, Beaufort is where all your small town USA dreams will come true. From its Antebellum mansions framed by drooping oaks to its boardwalk and observation tower, where you’ll be sure to get shots of shorebirds and playful dolphins, Beaufort is where you go when you want time to simply stop. Feel the inimitable southern hospitality alive in its local’s bones as you sit down for wasabi devilled eggs at the Old Bull Tavern, wander round the town’s ample art galleries and experience the region’s unique Gullah culture at the local Gullah Festival of South Carolina.
Not strictly a town, we know, but Hudson’s vibe is so unequivocally small-town chic that we felt it would be wrong to exclude it. Just two hours north of restless New York, Hudson is its mellow antidote. It is where burnt out Manhattanites go to reset and boho Brooklynites go for long weekends – and end up staying forever. Filled with artsy antique shops, boutique stores and lip-smacking restaurants, it’s not difficult to see why. In fact, Hudson is the kind of place you want to linger in. It’s nearby valley and highlands, on the other hand, are where you’ll feel simply compelled to give your shiny new walking boots their test run. You’ll soon see why we couldn’t resist sneaking this city onto our list of the best small towns in the USA.
An easy (and exquisite) drive from Chicago, Saugatuck has quickly found itself the go-to town for northern coastal living, and an obvious addition to our round-up of the best small towns in the USA. A former port turned lively lakeside, Saugatuck is now home to numerous farm-to-fork hotspots, modern galleries and one of the top 25 beaches in the world (according to Conde Nast Traveller) - Oval Beach. But Saugatuck has never lost sight of its lowly lumber roots. Beside James Beard-recognised restaurants sit family-owned fried chicken joints; opposite luxurious lake shore resorts are historic lighthouses and next to swish houseboats is the last remaining cable ferry in the country, which pulls locals across the Kalamazoo River for just $2 a pop. You may not have heard of Saugatuck before you arrive, but you’ll most definitely leave your heart in it.