These small cities are big on excitement.

By Wendy Rose Gould
February 05, 2020

Metropolitan hotspots like New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco certainly offer visitors plenty by way of food, entertainment, and sights. Sometimes, though, a small town getaway is exactly what your wanderlust heart desires. While the lesser-known U.S. destinations on this list might not even pop up in an expanded view on your Google Maps app, a visit to any one of them will give you a chance to break away from the hustle and relish in small town magic. 

1
Beaufort, North Carolina   

A stroll through the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina might just have you feeling as if you’re a character in a romantic novel, and it’s easy to see why. The perennial warm and salty air and mix of Georgian and Colonial architecture lend to the romantic vibe, so much so that famed author Nicholas Sparks set two of his most well-known books here, A Walk to Remember and The Choice.

If you’re keen on living the Sparks life, sign up for A Ride to Remember with Hungry Town Guided Tours, which allows you to peddle through historic Beaufort while a guide calls out notable spots from the books and movies. Afterward, indulge in some of the town’s delicious food. La Perla is a local favorite with a rotating Spanish/Latin menu and Moonrakers provides lunch with a glittering view of the Crystal Coast.

Beaufort is also a great destination for the laid-back adventurer. Try stand up paddle boarding or kayaking to Carrot Island with Beaufort Paddle and you might just catch a glimpse of wild horses and oyster bays along the way. A journey to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, which requires a three-mile boat ride, is also worth it for an up close and personal view of the handsome checkered lighthouse. 

2
Flagstaff, Arizona

While many associate Arizona with sweeping views of a cacti-speckled, dusty terrain, the state actually offers impressive eco-diversity via six of the seven world biomes. In fact, historic Flagstaff, located at the center-north part of the state in the heart of the Coconino National Forest, sits at a 7000-foot elevation. That’s higher than even the “Mile High” city of Denver.  

Winter visitors can spend an entire day at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort, or enjoy a yurt stay in the Arizona Nordic Village, which features roughly 40 kilometers of well-groomed cross country ski and snowshoe trails. Summer visitors can enjoy hiking on the same trails, or challenge themselves to climb Humphrey's Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,635 feet.

Whatever time of year you visit, downtown Flagstaff makes for a particularly delightful stroll. It’s filled with boutique shops, independent eateries—we recommend cozy, dimly lit Pizzicletta for wood-fired pie and Lumberyard Brewing Co. for great views, great food, and great beer—and “haunted” hotels. While you’re in town, check out the Lowell Observatory, which is where Pluto was discovered.

3
Middlebury, Indiana

The Midwest is freckled with small, charming towns, but there’s something extra special about Middlebury, Indiana, nestled along the border of Michigan among plots of corn and soybean fields. Because of its Amish and Mennonite roots, and the existing communities that still call Middlebury home, the 3600-person town provides a “step back in time” that’s hard to come by these days.

Visitors can enjoy authentic Amish fixings at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an authentic butcher experience at Old Hoosier Meats, and dig through vintage goods at Old Creamery Antiques. In addition to fresh air and rolling pastures, the backcountry roads also offer a handful of must-visit places. Drop by the heralded Rise N Roll Bakery for one of its famous Amish donuts, and stop by Heritage Ridge Creamery to watch fresh cheese being made (and to sample and purchase some, of course). Drive far enough—about 10 minutes—and you’ll hit Shipshewana, which delivers even more authentic Amish charm.

4
Stillwater, Minnesota

If you find yourself in Minnesota’s Twin Cities yearning for some small-town appeal, go ahead and take the 30-minute drive into Stillwater and don’t think twice about it. The town, which is consistently voted “the Best Small Town in Minnesota,” sits along the St. Croix River just across from Wisconsin.

Though a mere half-hour away from the hubbub of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Twin City locals will tell you that Stillwater somehow feels like a completely different world. Its historic downtown boasts a thriving foodie scene with over 20 al fresco patio and rooftops, quaint ice creameries, and boutique shopping.

Visitors can also enjoy trolley and bicycle tours, paddlewheel river cruises, scope out the town’s preserved historic mansions, or stop by for a glass at one of the many wineries or breweries. Also, don’t feel like you have to stay in the Twin Cities and drive over; you have your pick from many boutique hotels in Stillwater proper. Though you can visit anytime of the year, we recommend a spring, summer, or fall visit to get the most out of your stay.  

5
Leavenworth, Washington

Those craving a European reprieve—specifically of the German variety—don’t necessarily have to make the hours-long trek across the Atlantic. A visit to the small town of Leavenworth, Washington, located about 80 miles outside of Seattle, might just sate your craving via its Bavarian-inspired village.

Leavenworth’s streets are lined with timber-framed wooden buildings, there’s an authentic maypole in the town square, and an actual beer wagon lingers downtown from spring through fall. If you can’t make it in the warmer months, fret not. Wintertime in Leavenworth is arguably just as magical with its twinkling Christmas tree lighting ceremonies and snow-filled fun. Interestingly, the town isn’t as old as you’d think. It was developed in the '60s in an attempt to foster tourism—and it worked.

In addition to the Bavarian village, Leavenworth offers much by way of adventure. In the winter, visitors can try their hand at backcountry skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, and even go on an authentic sleigh ride. Warm weather brings ample camping, climbing, and hiking, as well as paddleboarding, rafting, river tubing, and fishing.

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