There is nothing more American than strolling down the main street of a small town, soaking in the unique character and charm while learning the ins and outs from locals. Our readers were tasked with voting for their favorite travel destinations in this year’s TravelAwaits Best of Travel Awards, and they did not disappoint. In a year during which travel came to a screeching halt, small-town getaways were in high demand, with locals taking more time to appreciate the towns within a short drive of home.
With towns from across the country — including Alaska — making the cut, you are sure to find a great place near you to explore on your next outing. I will highlight our readers’ top three choices as well as other towns that received many votes. We hope they will make their way into your travel plans for this summer.
Winner: Abilene, Kansas
As the hometown of the World War II Supreme Allied Commander and 34th president of the United States, Abilene is steeped in political and military history. While a visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home would be reason enough to spend a few days here, this charming Kansas town has far more to see and do.
Located 150 miles west of Kansas City just off Interstate 70, Abilene will welcome you with open arms. While you’re there, learn about the town’s Wild West roots, take a journey on a century-old classic steam-powered locomotive, or stroll the streets of downtown looking for antiques, good books, or aromatic arrangements from a local flower shop. Top it all off with a hearty dinner at a farmhouse serving up country-style meals on a hillside, and you will understand why this quiet Kansas town is this year’s Best of Travel winner.
Finalist: Boothbay Harbor, Maine
One of this year’s Best of Travel finalists, the quaint seaside community of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, is just a 3-hour drive from the Boston area, a manageable and worthwhile drive for anyone desiring to experience a more laid-back New England vacation farther from the mayhem of boisterous Beantown.
While in Boothbay, dine on fresh-caught lobster from the harbor, get out and feel the spray of saltwater on your face as you cut through the waves, or journey to a nearby island for an even more remote adventure. Boothbay Harbor offers visitors an authentic taste of New England.
Finalist: Skagway, Alaska
The quiet town of Skagway, Alaska, may fly under the radar, but our readers were loud and clear when they named it one of this year’s finalists for best small town. Nestled in the panhandle of Alaska, Skagway was once a booming seaport during the Yukon Gold Rush. Much of the town is protected by the National Park Service to preserve the historic significance of the area.
Stroll through town and experience the unique architecture and culture that draw millions of tourists year after year. Take a journey by train through the serene glaciated valley, or hike the renowned Chilkoot Trail on foot, following the path many hopeful prospectors did on their way to the goldfields of the Klondike. Whether you come by cruise ship or by car, you will want to carve out a few days to truly experience this hidden gem.
Congratulations to Abilene for securing the top spot this year, and to Skagway and Boothbay Harbor for making it an incredibly tight race. But those three weren’t the only towns to get our readers excited: Here are the others that round out our list of the best small towns in the country.
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
Tucked away on the Lake Michigan coast in Door County, Baileys Harbor welcomes those seeking to connect with nature. Enjoy the water on Kangaroo Lake or spend time at one of the many natural areas, like The Ridges Sanctuary, set aside to ensure the region remains beautiful for years to come. During your time in town, savor the smells and flavors of the local fare at Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub, one of Door County’s hidden gems.
Beaufort, South Carolina
For a winning combination of Southern and coastal charm, look no further than Beaufort, South Carolina, set along an inlet of the nearby Atlantic. You may not experience the rhythmic pounding of the surf, but you are just a stone’s throw away from beautiful beaches, including Hilton Head. This off-the-beaten-path town would make a great stop on an East Coast road trip — it’s located halfway between Savannah and Charleston near the southern border of South Carolina.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Meander along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you will stumble upon the majestic mountain hideaway of Blowing Rock. While there, make time for the age-old rock outcropping a few miles outside of town that gave the town its name, and enjoy the scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Stroll through the downtown area and enjoy the many shops and eateries that await in this charming mountain town.
Charlevoix is a water lover’s paradise. It’s wedged between its namesake Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, so you will find no shortage of water fun here! From sand and surf to unique homes, this small town has something for everyone, so make plans to visit this charming lakeside retreat on your next trip through northern Michigan.
Corning, New York
The glass is never half empty in Corning, home of the Corning Museum of Glass. Enjoy the beautiful works of art in the museum, and then explore the 100-plus shops, galleries, and storefronts in the five-block Gaffer District. Come for the art, take the time to learn about the town’s rich history and its connection to the light bulb, and then relax in one of the many area bed and breakfasts for a charming end to an eventful day.
One of the oldest towns in all of Washington state, Coupeville sits on Whidbey Island, about a 2-hour drive from Seattle. Take in the history of the 100-year-old buildings and iconic wharf that helped make this seaport a memorable stop. While the town itself has a lot to offer, make sure to look toward the horizon for the gorgeous views of the nearby mountains. For those who have trouble choosing between the beach and the mountains, Coupeville is the perfect compromise.
Edenton, North Carolina
Situated on the calmer waters of the Albemarle Sound, separated from the Atlantic by the Outer Banks communities of Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, you will find the decidedly Southern town of Edenton, North Carolina. Edenton is known for its warmth — both in terms of heat and hospitality — and you will find that many of the homes in town feature large porches adorned with porch swings and rocking chairs. Make sure to take the trolley tour to learn more about this historic town.
Elkins, West Virginia
Walking through Elkins is like stepping onto the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie, so it’s no wonder that the town is a remarkable place to enjoy the holidays. However, the natural beauty of this town set in the Appalachian Mountains is a treat at any time of the year. This hidden gem is just 2.5 hours south of Pittsburgh and 4 hours from Washington, D.C., making it a great choice for a retreat from the big city.
Nestled in the serene Texas Hill Country is the lively town of Fredericksburg. You will find the area bedecked in colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer. And since the town was established by Germans, there is no shortage of fine wine and hearty brews to raise your spirits. You will find this lovely town just 1.5 hours west of Austin. You could go for a quick day trip, but you should really plan for a whole weekend to experience all that Fredericksburg has to offer.
Globe is a great starting point for a trip through the scenic Salt River Canyon, and it is only 1.5 hours east of Phoenix. The area once had a booming silver and copper mine. Avoid the heat of summer, and make plans to “travel the Globe” when the weather is less severe.
Grand Lake, Colorado
Grand Lake is a nature lover’s dream: It sits near the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park and crowns both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake, making it a great base camp for adventures on water or in the mountains. Enjoy the charm of Grand Avenue in town, where you can fortify yourself at one of the many eateries before embarking on a hike or boat ride.
La Conner, Washington
Located in the Skagit Valley and offering stunning views of the Cascade Mountains, La Conner is the perfect seaside stop. Just an hour north of Seattle, and near the bridge to Fidalgo Island with access to Whidbey from there, La Conner makes a great day trip from the city and a wonderful spot from which to explore the rest of the valley.
Was your trip to Scandinavia canceled because of the pandemic? Or have you always wanted to visit, but the cost just put the trip out of reach? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might want to consider a trip to Lindsborg, Kansas, also known as Little Sweden. Experience a little bit of Scandinavia in the Midwest in this town, with its unique buildings and authentic dining options.
Medora, North Dakota
Medora is a must if you are traveling to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, or even just passing through North Dakota. The community has truly embraced its status as gateway to the park, welcoming visitors with open arms. The area is remote, but those lucky enough to venture along Interstate 94 are in for a treat: You will find Medora just off the highway a little over 25 miles from the state’s western border.
Pacific Grove, California
Located near Monterey just 2 hours from the Bay Area, Pacific Grove is a lovely location where you can enjoy the beach without the Monterey or Pebble Beach price tag. Marvel at the beauty of the undeveloped shore and the immaculate views of the Pacific. But don’t let the ocean views keep you from enjoying the Victorian buildings and charm of the town itself! You will fall in love and want to return year after year.
Pawhuska is either a town you have never heard of or a must-see destination, and it doesn’t take long to move those in the first category into the second. Food blogger Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman helped put this small northern Oklahoma town on the map. Regardless of your motivation, make time for this rustic town of 4,000 — you won’t regret it.
The Strawberry Festival held each spring is a big draw to this quiet town an hour outside of New Orleans. While in Ponchatoula, enjoy the strawberry jam as well as many other craft goods, including quilts, and then consider a journey along the Louisiana Northshore Quilt Trail.
Villa Rica, Georgia
You only have to drive 30 minutes west of the Atlanta area to arrive in the small town of Villa Rica. Learn about the Georgia Gold Rush, and then walk through downtown to enjoy the shops and eateries. Villa Rica is an ideal getaway for history and nature lovers living in the South.
Warwick, New York
I think TravelAwaits‘ Melissa Klurman said it best when she wrote, “Warwick is the place I go to most often, but it’s also the spot I mention least to other people because I’m jealously guarding what I consider the cutest and quaintest destination south of New England.” But don’t just take her word for it: Discover the charm of this New York gem for yourself!
Located just an hour west of St. Louis along the Missouri River, the quaint town of Washington is a place my wife and I regularly talk about moving to one day — seriously. From an endearing riverfront walk past an active train depot, to friendly locals pointing you in the right direction, Washington embodies small-town Missouri for us, and we were more than thrilled to see it on this list.
For a tantalizing taste of New England, make your way to Waterbury and sample such treats as cider donuts and authentic maple syrup. Embark on a self-guided tour of the area to learn more about its rich history. As a bonus, arrive in the fall to enjoy the beautiful changing of the leaves.
The gateway to Glacier National Park, the town of Whitefish will draw you in. Peruse the downtown area and enjoy all of the great food options that abound. Whitefish is a destination in and of itself, even if you don’t have plans to enjoy Glacier, so stop in the next time you are in the area.