Close your eyes and picture it: the small-town America of your youth. There are picket fences and healthy storefronts. There’s a barber who knows customers by name and lots of women who could be anyone’s favorite aunt. There are sweet old-timey cafes and bookstores you could get lost in. There are town squares bursting with life. This is, today, the comforting scenario many Americans long for.
Fortunately, you can still find these kinds of small towns across our nation’s amber waves, purple mountains and fruited plains. We’ve culled the many annual lists of quaintest small towns to come up with our own favorites in each region. Enjoy! Clean, pretty and neighborly, any of these places we’d be proud to call “home.”
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Map location: 31 miles east of New Haven
Founded in: 1644
Why we love it: The three residential seaside villages that make up Essex — originally a shipbuilding town — are full of boats and plenty of water sports. For landlubbers, various restaurants, boutiques, concerts, patriotic parades, festivals, art shows, musicals and natural attractions make this picturesque town all the more welcoming. Beauty to boot: The town’s 184-acre Gillette Castle State Park contains a stone castle built by actor and playwright William Gillette.
Cape May, New Jersey
Map location: 48 miles southwest of Atlantic City
Founded in: 1848
Why we love it: Canopied balconies and carefully tended gardens abound in this seaside paradise, one of the oldest vacation destinations in the country. Beautiful estates and mansions have turned into living museums. A long promenade next to the pristine, soft, sandy beach makes for peaceful walks that light up the senses. At Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway, Cape May contains more than 600 Victorian buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Goshen, New York
Map location: 65 miles northwest of New York City
Founded in: 1788
Why we love it: Smack in the middle of Hudson Valley wine country, Goshen is a hamlet that is set for growth thanks to the opening of LEGOLAND New York Resort in 2021, the first major theme park built in the Northeast in more than four decades. Don’t let the coming commercialism deter you. Goshen’s monument-filled main streets, unique shopping and dining options and pedestrian-friendly paths thrive amid a commitment to preservation, including of the Goshen Historic Track, the oldest harness-racing track in the United States.
Map location: 110 miles northwest of Boston, 59 miles north of Springfield, Massachusetts
Founded in: 1753
Why we love it: Four seasons of outdoor recreation include plenty of hiking and skiing trails in state and local parks, where the community’s fidelity with nature is evident, as is its dedication to sustainability. “Locavore” is a household word for diners and shoppers, and downtown’s many dining options and craft breweries feature locally sourced products. Brattleboro is also home to the New England Center for Circus Arts, the nation’s premier circus training school.
Map location: Nine miles west of Ocean City, Maryland
Founded: Around 1790
Why we love it: The charming commercial and residential districts regularly attract visitors headed to and from nearby beaches in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. The town, pronounced BUR-lyn, is the setting for the Julia Roberts hit Runaway Bride and the coming-of-age film Tuck Everlasting. It’s the birthplace of the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, who wrote the inspirational gospel tune “We Shall Overcome.” With galleries, museums, antique shops, fine and casual dining and 47 national historic register buildings built over two centuries, Berlin preserves its rich history, and its main street stands out as one of America’s prettiest.
Map location: 46 miles west of Washington
Founded in: 1787
Why we love it: Middleburg houses the exquisite Salamander Resort in the middle of the Virginia wine trails. Fox hunts and steeplechases earned the town the reputation as the “nation’s horse and hunt capital.” You can walk into a dressage shop on the main strip, then cross the street to sit down at a trendy bistro. Famous for their American Revolutionary roots and positioning in the Gettysburg campaign during the Civil War, the scenic roadsides are lined with dry stack-stone walls. With its 160 buildings on the historic register, the town offers many unique shopping options all within 30 minutes of 20 vineyards.
Map location: 65 miles north of Atlanta
Founded in: 1833
Why we love it: The nation’s first major gold rush occurred in 1829 in the north Georgia mountains surrounding Dahlonega. The rush was so big that the U.S. Treasury set up a branch mint in town that produced gold coins from 1838 until 1861. “Gold City,” as Dahlonega is known, is an oft-used fictional setting for Hallmark Christmas films; in real life, the neoclassical architectural setting is full of restaurants, performing arts and festivals held year-round.
Mount Airy, North Carolina
Map location: 36 miles northwest of Winston-Salem
Founded in: 1885
Why we love it: Though Mount Airy’s history dates much further back, the original Mayberry hasn’t lost its sense of wonder since The Andy Griffith Show aired from 1960-1968. The town has carefully preserved the scenes from its famous television roots and makes them accessible by trolley tours. A true Southern town at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mount Airy has a diverse business scene with artists, live music, shopping, expansive dining options and gracious hospitality, all close to Yadkin Valley, known as the “Napa of the East.”
Summerville, South Carolina
Map location: 26 miles northwest of Charleston
Founded in: 1847
Why we love it: “The Flower Town in the Pines” is a beautiful bedroom community near regal Charleston, with all the amenities, including abundant hospitality and plenty of blooms. In the heart of the Lowcountry, Summerville is the birthplace of sweet tea, which it takes very seriously. The Sweet Tea Trail was created for visitors to have fun and explore the shops, sites, sips and bites among the glorious gardens, parks and nearby plantations.
Map location: 176 miles north of Grand Rapids
Founded in: 1852
Why we love it: Traversing Lake Charlevoix and the mighty Lake Michigan, the isthmus of Charlevoix boasts beaches, boating and B&Bs in the warm seasons and skiing, sledding and skating during winter. The stomping grounds for a young Ernest Hemingway, Charlevoix is famed for its unique stone mushroom houses designed by architect Earl Young.
Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Map location: 52 miles southeast of Madison
Founded in: 1827
Why we love it: Lead, and later zinc, mining put Mineral Point on the map. Prospectors and adventurers who dug out the minerals and created crude, temporary caves for homes that resembled badger holes gave Wisconsin its moniker as “the Badger State.” The Pendarvis historic site, where stone and log houses from the 1800s are preserved, is the centerpiece of architectural tours. With numerous city and state parks and a vibrant artisan community, this cozy town offers visitors several options for outdoor activities and warm cottages.
Map location: 21 miles south of Nashville
Founded in: 1799
Why we love it: Named after Benjamin Franklin, a good friend of Hugh Williamson, the namesake of the county where the town sits, Franklin was a wealthy town pre-Civil War but devastated during the Battle of Franklin. It took more than a century for Franklin to recover, but it is now one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Nonetheless, the remaining Antebellum and Victorian properties help the city maintain its small-town charm, and the rebirth includes ample dining and shopping, as well as voluminous musical entertainment just a stone’s throw from Nashville.
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Map location: 10 miles east of Martinsburg, West Virginia
Founded in: 1730
Why we love it: A small college town with the prominent Bavarian Inn overlooking the Potomac River, Shepherdstown offers a delectable selection of dining options and great shopping, as well as kayaking, tubing and canoeing on the Potomac. Near the Civil War sites of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Sharpsburg, Maryland, Shepherdstown is known as one of the most haunted towns in America.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Map location: 39 miles east of Bentonville, Arkansas; 51 south of Springfield, Missouri
Founded in: 1879
Why we love it: The beauty of the Ozarks area is enhanced by 60 natural springs, three lakes and two rivers. There are more than 300 working artists in this resort town, which possesses impressive festival, music and dining scenes, as well as Christ of the Ozarks, a 65-foot modernist white statue of Jesus that is visible from almost everywhere in town.
Map location: 75 miles southeast of Shreveport
Founded in: 1714
Why we love it: One of the best-known qualities of Louisiana is the difference between the way people pronounce and spell local names. That’s the case for Natchitoches, pronounced Nack-a-tish, in central Louisiana. Lovingly remembered for the stunning and sweet 1989 film Steel Magnolias, Natchitoches is known as the “City of Lights” and is Louisiana’s bed and breakfast capital. Retaining the charm of its European roots with beautiful architecture and landscaping, Natchitoches hosts tours and events throughout the year, capped by its annual Christmas Festival on the first Saturday in December.
Map location: 78 miles west of Austin
Founded in: 1846
Why we love it: At the center of Texas wine country are lots of German history, culture, architecture and dining. Fredericksburg boasts its historical significance as the birthplace of Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in World War II. It also was the backyard for a young Lyndon B. Johnson, whose ranch and burial plot is 20 minutes away. Main Street is lit up with 150 shops and cultural and dining options, and visitors can go stargazing at the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, one of Texas’ International Dark Sky Parks.