The 15 Best U.S. Small Towns for a Summer Vacation

Sharita J. Wilson
Very purple sunset at the St. Michaels harbor in Maryland

Very purple sunset at the St. Michaels harbor in Maryland

Mark Dignen/Getty Images

There’s just something about a small town in summer that hits a little differently. Perhaps it’s the community festivals, the breezy nights walking down Main Street, or an ice cream truck rumbling down a suburban road blaring that all too familiar song. Whatever it is, we’ve got love for it. And we bet you do too. Here are 15 small towns that are ideal for a summer getaway right now.

Narrowsburg, New York

The Western Catskills are the place to be when the mercury rises. Perched along the Delaware River, this hamlet of some 269 residents is an excellent headquarters for tubing, kayaking, and canoeing on the river. Half-day and full-day excursions with Lander’s River Trips are a perfect summertime choice. Just make sure to stop by Narrowsburg Proper general store for snacks and sundries before your outing. Head to The Laundrette, The Heron, and the Cochecton Fire Station to refuel at the end of the day. And finally, for your accommodations, head across the river to Pennsylvania and book a stay at the Hotel Darby.

Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Aerial view of Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Aerial view of Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources

You’d be hard-pressed to find a village more classic Americana than Buckeye Lake. With a population of 2,805, it’s a place beloved for its lakes, which are far less crowded than its larger counterparts. For a home away from home, book a few nights in one of its beautiful lakefront cottages.

Then, wake up refreshed and start the day with a jog or power walk along the Buckeye Lake Dam Walking & Biking Trail, preferably with a cup of coffee from Millersport Coffee. Next, it’s into the pristine water you go. Try the new 3XP Tours kayak-biking-brewery expedition that guides you on the lake, trails, and into some of the best breweries (and wineries and restaurants) around town. Or, skip the formal tour and rent a kayak or pontoon for the day and embrace lake life on your own. Then, wind down with a glass of wine at Buckeye Lake Winery, and finish with a nightcap at the beach bars or Weldon’s for ice cream.

Addison, Texas

Downtown green park with lake and small building cabin with trees in Addison

Downtown green park with lake and small building cabin with trees in Addison

krblokhin/Getty Images

Addison is a 4.4-square-mile town with fewer than 16,000 residents — but an impressive 200 restaurants (they claim to have more restaurants per capita than any city in the country). For summer fun, make sure to get there specifically on July 3, for its fireworks show called Addison Kaboom Town!, The festivity draws in some 500,000 spectators spread out throughout the town’s restaurants and 22 hotels, which all host watch parties and offer specials, converting the entire town into one big block party. For your sleeping accommodations, book a stay at either Home2Suites, which provides a stellar view of the fireworks, or the Marriott Addison Quorum, a modern retreat within walking distance to the town’s delicious dining options.

Adairsville, Georgia

Restored downtown area of Adairsville, Georgia

Restored downtown area of Adairsville, Georgia

Atlantagreg/Getty Images

Welcome to Adairsville, Georgia, population: 4,800. When you need a break from the dog days of summer in the Peach State, scope out the antiques and gifts at the 1902 Stock Exchange & Public Square Opera House, followed by lunch and a slice of hummingbird cake at Maggie Mae’s Tea Room. Then, retreat to Barnsley Resort, a paradise for outdoors enthusiasts with horseback riding, clay target shooting, archery, ax throwing, golf, disc golf, and more. The grounds are also home to a spa, fishing on the lake, and a saltwater pool. And don’t miss the city’s newly opened Savoy Automobile Museum, featuring exhibits of Art Deco cars, racing cars, and woodie wagons.

Coronado, California

Hotel Del Coronado Aerial And Navy Housing On Silverstrand, San Diego, California

Hotel Del Coronado Aerial And Navy Housing On Silverstrand, San Diego, California

Manuela Durson/Getty Images

With approximately 20,192 residents, Coronado is the little sibling to San Diego. Though close in proximity, visiting this town will make you feel a universe away from the hustle and bustle of the Southern California city. Here you’ll find gin-clear waters lapping the shores of pristine beaches and a quaint main street (Orange Avenue) that will have you happily distracted for hours with boutiques, eateries, galleries, theaters, and the Coronado Museum of History & Art. And given the town’s compact size, you can walk or bike practically anywhere. FYI: During the summer months, visitors can listen to live music every weekend afternoon at the Ferry Landing.

Post up at Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 and now a designated a National Historic Landmark. If you don’t see any ghosts, presidents, royalty, or celebrities during your stay, you can at least tell your friends back at home that you stayed at the hotel that’s widely believed to have been the inspiration for the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Travelers Rest, South Carolina

Course scenic during the fourth and final round BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs held on The Cliffs Valley course in Greenville, South Carolina,

Course scenic during the fourth and final round BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs held on The Cliffs Valley course in Greenville, South Carolina,

Stan Badz/PGA/Getty Images

Travelers Rest is exactly as the name describes. For more than three centuries, the town located in northwest South Carolina has served as a resting place for those making their way over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Now an inviting town of 5,152 inhabitants, “TR” is home to several popular restaurants like Top Soil, Monkey Wrench BBQ, and Tandem Creperie. There is plenty of lodging too, between hotels like Swamp Rabbit Inn TR, a quaint bed and breakfast, and Hotel Domestique, a boutique hotel owned by celebrated cyclist George Hincapie, which happens to come with jaw-dropping vistas of the mountains.

For the active set, hop on the 22-mile Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail for hiking or mountain biking, or try more hiking or camping at Paris Mountain State Park or Jones Gap State Park. When you’re ready to reward yourself for that wilderness romp, raise a glass during the free Music in the Park Series, held each summer at the amphitheater in TR’s Trailblazer Park, a delightful urban green space.

Bardstown, Kentucky

A Catholic Church in Bardstown, Kentucky is made out of red brick with a tall white steeple and pillars

A Catholic Church in Bardstown, Kentucky is made out of red brick with a tall white steeple and pillars

Ryan Hoel/Getty Images

​Bardstown, which comes with an estimated population of 13,567, is the perfect place to grab a dram. Billed as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” aficionados will enjoy venturing to some or all of the 11 distilleries (Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown Bourbon Company, and the newly opened Log Still Distillery are three favorites).

Take the time in town to also explore My Old Kentucky Home State Park and nearby Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, which comes with sculptures scattered throughout the grounds. Maybe enjoy just one more drink at Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest Western Stagecoach stop in America, and the oldest Bourbon bar in the world (it’s also an inn).

For a more curated experience, book the Bourbon Excursion with My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. On the train, you’ll cruise through central Kentucky on a restored 1940s vintage dining car and indulge in a bourbon tasting with a master distiller. To keep the bourbon theme rolling, stay at the Bourbon Manor Bed & Breakfast, or find a little peace at the Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Abilene, Kansas

Carnegie Library in Abilene, Kansas

Carnegie Library in Abilene, Kansas

BOB WESTON/Getty Images

Abilene, population 6,500, is as historic a spot as they come. While in town, visit the new exhibits at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and tour the Seelye Mansion, an “8 Wonders of Kansas” winner in the architecture category, where you can bowl on a bowling alley built in 1905. Keep the historical vibes going by hopping aboard a 100-year-old steam engine on the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad. Before you bid the town adieu, take a spin on a 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel, the oldest operating Parker Carousel still in existence, at the Dickinson County Heritage Center. For a little rest, reserve a room at Abilene’s Victorian Inn Bed & Breakfast or Engle House Bed & Breakfast.

St. Michaels, Maryland

Sunset at Chesapeake Martime Museum in St Michaels Maryland

Sunset at Chesapeake Martime Museum in St Michaels Maryland

ymn/Getty Images

If The Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels looks familiar, you might be a “Wedding Crashers” fan. It just so happens that the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn classic was filmed right here. But, if that isn’t enough to sway you to make the trek to St. Michaels, consider that this town of 1,108 residents is essentially the Hamptons of the mid-Atlantic.

Located on the Miles River, the town dazzles in the warmer months with ample opportunities to sail, kayak, and paddleboard. Pair that with the chance to gorge on Maryland crabs and oysters, chased with water views, and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect summer vacation.

For alternative accommodations, try The Wildset Hotel, the newest property in town. The property and on-site restaurant, Ruse, are well worth planning an entire trip around, as is a simple stroll down Talbot Street with historic homes from the 1600s or an outing to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, about 50 minutes outside of town.

Dewey Beach, Delaware

Dewey Beach is an incorporated coastal town in eastern Sussex County, Delaware

Dewey Beach is an incorporated coastal town in eastern Sussex County, Delaware

DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Though the year-round population of Dewey Beach sits at about 332 residents, its summer crowd is much, much larger. But, even with the throngs of beach-goers, this Southern Delaware destination deserves a spot atop your summertime vacation list. With the ocean on one side and the bay on the other, it’s a watery paradise, making it the ideal spot to book a charter with Boatsetter. Back on dry land, book a stay at Hyatt Place Dewey Beach, located about a mile off the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, and feast at Woody’s Dewey Beach, known for having some of the best crab cakes around.

Sheridan, Wyoming

Sheridan County courthouse in Sheridan Wyoming

Sheridan County courthouse in Sheridan Wyoming

Education Images/Getty Images

Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, making it no surprise that it’s home to more than its fair share of spectacular small towns. Sheridan (population 17,844) just so happens to be one of its best. Stop into town to catch a show at the WYO Theater, see a Polo match at the Big Horn Equestrian Center, or see the cowboys and cowgirls show off their moves at the Sheridan County Rodeo. During your time here, brush up on Sheridan’s history and cowboy culture at the Don King Museum, Fort Phil Kearny, and the Museum at the Big Horns. And, take in the sounds of summer at Concerts in the Park, which puts on a show every Tuesday. You can also partake in the fun and games at the 3rd Thursday street festival, and load up your tote bags at the weekly Farmers Markets.

When you’re ready to hang up your cowboy hat, get a room at Sheridan Inn, built way back in 1892 and conceptualized by Buffalo Bill Cody. Or, head to the Mill Inn, a former flour mill at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains.

Hermann, Missouri

Hermannhoff Inn and Winery, Hermann, Missouri

Hermannhoff Inn and Winery, Hermann, Missouri

Jumping Rocks/Getty Images

Willkommen to Hermann, the crown jewel of the Missouri River Valley, which comes with plenty of picturesque German architecture. The spot to be amongst the region’s rolling hills is at The Cottage, specifically in one of the property’s three treehouses that provide stunning views of the lush landscape. This community of approximately 2,400 people, originally established in 1837 by German immigrants, is the heart of the state’s wine country. A few of our top picks for local wineries include Stone Hill Winery, Adam Puchta Winery, Black Shire Distillery, and Martin Brothers Mead.

Other worthwhile pitstops in town include the Deutschheim State Historic Site for a guided tour of two wonderfully preserved homes and Hermann Farm for the grand tram tour, which includes a guided experience to the 1847 Teubner-Husmann home.

New Paltz, New York

Aerial view of Mohonk Mountain House, located in upstate New York in the Shawangunk Mountains

Aerial view of Mohonk Mountain House, located in upstate New York in the Shawangunk Mountains

Ruth Peterkin/Getty Images

New Paltz, a town of 7,165 residents, delivers on the picture-perfect summer escape. Wander along Main Street for some boutique shopping and Water Street Market, an open-air shopping village filled with antiques, art, and many unique finds. You can also choose to either pump up your adrenaline hiking through the River-to-Ridge Trail or sit back and be served at one of the twelve wineries found along the Shawangunk Wine Trail.

When you’re ready for a rest, head to Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian castle resort that’s been owned and operated by the Smiley family since its founding in 1869. You could easily spend an entire vacation just on the property playing tennis, taking a horseback ride, or indulging in the spa.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

John Sinal/Courtesy of Omni Mount Washington Resort

Surround yourself in summer’s glory with a visit to the charming New England town of Bretton Woods, population just 91. The village actually sits in the “larger” town of Caroll (population: 820), with the Omni Mount Washington Resort serving as the center of the action. During your stay, you’ll enjoy award-winning dining and recreational pursuits ranging from a classic Donald Ross-designed golf course to taking to the sky via nine high-flying zip lines.

Other must-see attractions close by include hopping on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway that carries thrill-seekers to the top of the Northeast’s highest peak, Mount Washington, at 6,288 feet. There’s also Crawford Notch State Park, which is an ideal place for fishing, wildlife viewing, waterfall chasing, and otherworldly mountain vistas.

McCall, Idaho

Sparkling lights of small vacation town McCall, Idaho, reflected in calm waters of Payette Lake at sunset on autumn evening

Sparkling lights of small vacation town McCall, Idaho, reflected in calm waters of Payette Lake at sunset on autumn evening

Anna Gorin/Getty Images

It’s important to keep your mind open to the possibilities during a visit to McCall, a locale home to 3,200 residents. That’s because, in McCall, you’ll find Payette Lake, which is reportedly home to Sharlie, a lake monster, which has been described as a creature “…at least 35 feet long, with a dinosaur-type head, pronounced jaw, humps like a camel, and shell-like skin.”

Lake monsters aside, McCall is a pretty welcoming place. Located in the awe-inspiring West Central Mountains of Idaho, this is a place to pack your activewear as you’re likely going to spend your days hiking and horseback riding or mountain biking and waterskiing until the sun goes down. (Bird-watching, dinner cruises, whitewater rafting, and paddleboarding are all big local draws, too.)After a long day of working up a sweat, kick back at Salmon River Brewery. Specifically, head up to its rooftop beer garden that affords the best view of Payette Lake from downtown. Book dinner at the Clubhouse Restaurant at Jug Mountain Ranch, which has a patio dining setup ideal for sunset dining. Come nap time, book the upmarket Shore Lodge or Hotel McCall, both of which will keep you safe from lake monsters all night long.

Perri Ormont Blumberg is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. She’s based in New York City, but is always dreaming of the Catskill mountains. Follow her on Twitter @66PerriStreet.

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