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The 27 Prettiest American Small Towns

We scoured the country to find those with undiminished charm

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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.

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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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NORTHEAST

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Essex, Connecticut

Population: 6,733

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

Population: 2,768

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

Population: 5,500

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.

Brattleboro, Vermont

Population: 12,000

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.  

MID-ATLANTIC

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Berlin, Maryland

Population: 5,064

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. 

Middleburg, Virginia

Population: 669

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.  

SOUTHEAST

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Dahlonega, Georgia

Population: 6,654

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

Population: 10,551

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

Population: 51,216 

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. 

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NORTH CENTRAL

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Charlevoix, Michigan

Population: 2,347

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

Population: 2,565

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. 

EAST CENTRAL

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Franklin, Tennessee

Population: 85,429

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

Population: 1,494

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. 

SOUTH CENTRAL

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Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Population: 2,171

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.  

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Population: 17,662

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. 

Fredericksburg, Texas

Population: 11,072

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.

CENTRAL WEST

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Dyersville, Iowa

Population: 4,509

Map location: 65 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids

Founded in: 1849

Why we love it: The city has come a ways since the wagon wheel dropped Bavarian settlers in the valley, though the German influence remains strong. Known as the “Farm Toy Capital of the World,” Dyersville is home to the National Farm Toy Museum. The city is also a stop on every baseball lovers’ national tour as home to the “Field of Dreams,” where the movie starring Kevin Costner was filmed. Visitors can even stay in the farmhouse named after the film. 

Lindsborg, Kansas

Population: 3,473

Map location: 72 miles north of Wichita

Founded in: 1869

Why we love it: If you can’t get to Sweden proper, take a step into Little Sweden in Lindsborg, home of the Wild Dala horses and a veritable treasure chest of nostalgia hearkening back to the old country. There are ample historical sites, near-monthly festivals and a healthy dose of good humor. While you’re there, visit the famous Coronado Heights, named after Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, the 16th century Spanish explorer who never made it to Sweden but did make it to the Smoky Valley. 

MOUNTAIN WEST

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Durango, Colorado

Population: 19,223

Map location: 215 miles northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Founded in: 1881

Why we love it: With majestic mountain views and nearly 300 days of sunshine each year, Durango is a year-round destination for those looking for clean air, outdoor recreation and plenty of great dining, shopping and music. Located 6,512 feet up in the San Juan Mountains, Durango takes pride in its educated workforce while keeping it real at its summer rodeo.

Park City, Utah

Population: 8,457

Map location: 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City

Founded in: 1868 

Why we love it: Made famous by the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and the annual Sundance Film Festival, Park City started out as a destination for silver miners looking to find their fortune. With its beautiful vistas, manageable winters and proximity to Salt Lake Valley, this mountain town has staked its claim as a top destination for skiing, culture, arts festivals and a famous July Fourth parade. 

Cody, Wyoming

Population: 10,174

Map location: 107 miles south of Billings, Montana

Founded in: 1896

Why we love it: Founded by soldier and showman William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the town of Cody prospered during the 20th century with the help of the railroads, federal reclamation projects that made ranchers wealthy and the discovery of oil in Elk Basin. Once the town was connected by road to Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance, the deal was sealed, and the “Wild West” became more than a legend. 

WEST

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Pacific Grove, California

Population: 14,988

Map location: 74 miles south of San Jose

Founded in: 1875

Why we love it: Surrounded by the city of Monterey, Monterey Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the Del Monte Forest, Pacific Grove is known as the “sanctuary by the sea.” Resplendent with nature and originally a Christian seaside resort, the summertime tent city eventually incorporated. Its Victorian-style architecture is carefully preserved, and the town supports human and nature with an aquarium, a natural history museum, a Monarch butterfly sanctuary and the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.  

Solvang, California

Population: 6,048

Map location: 34 miles northwest of Santa Barbara

Founded in: 1911

Why we love it: The “Danish Capital of America” — windmills, thatched roofs and all — may look familiar to fans of Sideways. It’s where much of the film was shot. Solvang sits in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley in north Santa Barbara wine country and features European-style bakeries (featuring, you guessed it, danishes), shopping and dining and 120 nearby wineries and vineyards. Take a walk or catch the Solvang trolley for a tour around town and drop off to visit its many shops, restaurants and Danish history museums.

Virginia City, Nevada

Population: 661

Map location: 26 miles south of Reno

Founded in: 1859

Why we love it: The financial fortunes of many American barons came from the silver and gold found in the Comstock Lode of 1859, which put Virginia City on the map. On the ground above, saloons proliferated to meet the droves of wannabe millionaires. That, in turn, attracted artists and musicians, and Virginia City became known as a destination for performers. Though the miners are gone, the mystique lives on, and you can step back in time in this city to catch many a musician and muse.

Bisbee, Arizona

Population: 4,911

Map location: 90 miles southeast of Tucson

Founded in: 1880

Why we love it: Creativity thrives in Bisbee thanks to eclectic artists, an array of architectural styles, a diverse population and a temperate climate that makes outdoor attractions abundant. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Bisbee was one of the most productive mineral mining towns in the nation. Visitors can tour the old copper mines or stay above ground and enjoy the walkability through the Tombstone Canyon or the well-preserved downtown area.

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