13 Great US Small Towns For Big Vacations

Many US small towns offer grand getaways with beaches and vibrant downtowns rivaling a big city. These small towns are great for big vacations in the United States, featuring scenic drives, epicenters of arts and culture, along with wineries and national parks in the vicinity.  

Alexandria, Minnesota

Aerial view of downtown Alexandria, Minnesota
Aerial view of downtown Alexandria, Minnesota. 

Alexandria is a perfect small town in Minnesota to escape the daily grind, featuring a wide array of entertainment and activities. The Alexandria Lakes area is known for natural scenery with deep, tranquil lakes great for fishing, while the historical town comes with a range of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and theaters. The snaking trails through rolling green parks call the explorers, including the Central Lakes Trail suitable for all biking levels and the hike-worthy Lake Carlos State Park. The lake is great for paddleboarding, wakeboarding, kayaking, or sprawling out a picnic on the scenic shores. The Douglas County Courthouse lawn offers free summer evening concerts and staying on under the night skies for some stargazing. One must take an atmospheric morning stroll through the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum & Gardens that please all senses while absorbing some culture. After an eventful day, the La Ferme welcomes one with seasonally-inspired dishes from organic and local produce.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Rocky coast and view of boats in the harbor at Bar Harbor, Maine
Rocky coast and view of boats in the harbor at Bar Harbor, Maine. 

The seaside Bar Harbor presents a quaint and truly New England setting right from a coming-of-age novel with mesmerizing nature around to enjoy the great outdoors. In-town, one will find unforgettable entertainment and food scene worthy of a big city, including the main thoroughfare dotted with ice cream parlors, family-owned shops and eateries, and cozy inns. The terraced cafes call to linger with a cup of coffee for an atmospheric morning surrounded by endless water vistas and pine-covered islands on the horizon. The seafood fare includes fresh lobster, fish, and other marine creatures, the right-off-the boat with a glass of wine, or piping hot chowder on a cool evening with sights of sailboats taking off. Moreover, the charming harbor town is a perfect base proximate to the natural heaven of Acadia National Park, less than five minutes up the road, whose stark beauty includes deep green mountains, dramatic cliffs, and foaming waves beating below, with endless hiking opportunities inland. 

Cayucos, California

Cayucos beach located on the colorful Estero Bay on the Central California coast
Cayucos Beach is located on the colorful Estero Bay on the Central California coast. Editorial credit: HannaTor / Shutterstock.com

Scenically set on California's central coast, Cayucos is a tiny beach enclave with a big personality, boasting status as one of the nation's best small towns. Home to under 3,000 residents, there is more than enough room for visitors to roam the picturesque setting and bask on the crowd-less beaches. Upon choosing an old-time motel to set base, the wide main thoroughfare calls for a stroll into the past with many historic buildings housing boutiques and antique stores to marvel while shopping. To re-energize, one can stop for some free samples at the top-rated Brown Butter Cookie Company and get the namesake feature cookie to-go before heading to the beaches. The long pier adorned with night lights calls for some permit-free fishing and gazing out over the waters where surfers catch waves. Following a sunset stroll along the shore, where the rustic Schooners restaurant welcomes by offering special seafood fare and cocktails.   

Hatteras, North Carolina

Aerial view of Hatteras Island looking North with route 12 in North Carolina
Aerial view of Hatteras Island looking North with route 12 in North Carolina. 

Set on the Hatteras Island in the "Outer Banks" of North Carolina, Hatteras is a small fishing village offering perfect R&R with a mix of scenic discoveries and adventures. Named after the Hatteras Native American tribe's earliest inhabitants of the Outer Banks region, its year-round population comprises around 500 inhabitants. The summer season brings tourists from all around the nation for some big water fun and beautiful beaches, including incredible deep sea fishing, watersports, and deliciously fresh seafood. Set far out in the Atlantic Ocean at the point where the Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream, Hatteras is flooded by surfers as one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast with unbelievable breaks. Separated from the mainland and set opposite the Pamlico Sound, one of the largest estuarine systems in the world, makes Hatteras the perfect spot to set off for windsurfing, kayaking, and kite-boarding.  

Hermann, Missouri

Black Shire Distillery in Hermann, Missouri
Black Shire Distillery in Hermann, Missouri. Editorial credit: RellMade / Shutterstock.com

Known as the crown jewel of the Missouri River Valley, Hermann is set on the rolling hills of the state of Missouri, surrounded by 360-degree unbelievable scenery. Established in 1837 by German settlers, the town of some 2,400 residents is home to stunning German architecture, with The Cottage known for its three tree houses offering views of the lush landscape. For history and culture, there is the Deutschheim State Historic Site with two well-preserved homes, as well as the Hermann Farm offering a grand tram tour and a guided experience to the 1847 Teubner-Husmann home. Set in the very heart of the Missouri wine country, the wine aficionados will appreciate visiting the top picks of local wineries such as Stone Hill Winery, Adam Puchta Winery, Black Shire Distillery, and Martin Brothers Mead.

McCall, Idaho

Snow covered mountain town of McCall, Idaho with main street in view
The snow-covered mountain town of McCall, Idaho, with the main street in view. 

A picturesque home to 3,200 residents, McCall also allegedly houses Sharlie, a 35-feet long lake monster with a dinosaur-type head, pronounced jaw, camel-like humps, and shelled skin, living in the Payette Lake. The brave and curious visitors will rejoice in the big-city amenities and a myriad of recreational opportunities within Idaho's breathtaking West Central Mountains. There are endless hiking, biking, and horseback-riding opportunities, while the lake comes with some of the best waterskiing, white-water rafting, paddle-boarding, and sunset vistas. Locals and tourists enjoy bird-watching and dinner cruises, followed by a raucous get-together at the popular Salmon River Brewery downtown. Its rooftop beer garden offers an atmospheric set-up where the eye cannot help but linger on the expansive views of Payette Lake. For dining, the terraced Clubhouse Restaurant at Jug Mountain Ranch is known as the best spot in town to catch the sunset.

Moab, Utah

Aerial view of the Moab city center and historic buildings during summer
Aerial view of the Moab city center and historic buildings during summer. 

Known for outdoor recreation, many come to Moab to set base as a getaway for adventures in the surrounding national parks. The town is just five miles away from the world-known Arches National Park, 30 miles from the Canyonlands National Park, and 33 miles from the Dead Horse State Park. The superb local opportunities include rock climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, and jeep rides, along with white water rafting and jet boat tours. To explore the vicinity on foot, one can take the excellent Corona Arch trail or a short hike to Faux Falls. The laid-back vibe with all the amenities, bountiful dining, and shopping spots, including a food truck park, equal a great small-town getaway. Offering a wide range of accommodations, there is also “glamping” within a stunning setting at the in-town tent campsite and nearby RV sites. 

Pismo Beach, California

Sun setting on the Pismo Beach pier in Pismo Beach, California
Sun is setting on the Pismo Beach pier in Pismo Beach, California. 

Set along the famous Pacific Coast, the beautiful town of Pismo Beach comes with marvelous white-sanded beaches breaking the waves and a patchwork of scenic vineyards from superb wineries around. The perfect weather calls one to explore the many nearby parks via trails featuring picnic spots and playgrounds. One can also spend days-on basking on the shores in between swimming, surfing, and snorkeling the cobalt-blue waters of the Pacific. Great for a big family vacation, there is the Children's Museum with interactive exhibits for learning through play, and the oceanfront Dinosaur Caves Park showcasing dinosaur eggs, concrete dolphins, and Oreo the Orca Whale. While the dads fish in the shallows, the crew can enjoy a few games at the Pismo Bowling Alley and regroup after for dinner at Gino's Pizza. For a great stay, there is the elegant Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa with gourmet dining.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico, downtown skyline at dusk
Santa Fe, New Mexico, downtown skyline at dusk. 

Nestled cozily in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo range, Santa Fe is a vibrant town with Southwestern architecture, colorful building facades, and unique sights. The adventures in the vicinity include hiking, mountain biking, as well as year-round ice-skating, and swimming at the Genoveva Chavez Center. The park at the Santa Fe Railyard is a popular gathering spot with free seasonal events, while the Santa Fe School of Cooking offers to teach the art of delicious Mexican fare. For more wholesome fun, there are free family art programs at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and interactive exhibits at the Santa Fe Children's Museum. The Harroll House of Natural Oddities and Bug Museum has a display of dinosaur bones and also offers one to feed live tarantulas. To re-energize, one of the most popular eateries in town, Cowgirl, can appease any palette with its BBQ dishes, regional American cuisine, and delicious desserts.

Saugatuck, Michigan

The Kalamazoo River running through Saugatuck, Michigan
The Kalamazoo River runs through Saugatuck, Michigan. 

Among the many dreamy locales set along Michigan's 3,000-some miles worth of coastline, Saugatuck stands out in a big way, entrancing visitors at first sight. Reachable from Chicago, Indianapolis, or Detroit via a gorgeous seaside drive, the town is the epicenter of the "Art Coast," overflowing with galleries and an LGBTQ haven of resorts, bars, and a cabaret. The charmer is also a paradise for foodies with farm-to-table hotspots like The Southerner, and the Pennyroyal for the James Beard fans, along with down-to-Earth mom & pop breakfast joints and atmospheric motels for a truly laidback getaway. Whether one comes for the old or the new, they all leave reminiscing about the dunes and the dazzling beaches with white, wind-swept sands and breathtaking views of lighthouses and amber sunsets. 

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona, downtown and mountains
Sedona, Arizona, downtown, and mountains. 

Sedona is a quintessentially beautiful town set within Arizona's red-rock playground and breathtaking desert landscapes. Comprising a perfect stop during a south-western road trip, it is just two hours from Grand Canyon National Park and under an hour from Flagstaff. With big guns to offer, those seeking unique sights and experiences will find their fill in the surroundings of the incredible red rock formations, also beloved by photography enthusiasts. Popular among the outdoorsy travelers and wellness seekers, here are endless scenic hikes and opportunities to relax, meditate, and get inspired within the unconventional setting. In-town comes a-brimming with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and many spas, while the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village offers local, artisanal products and dining. After a rock-climbing session, one must go to Tamaliza for the best tamales or the Elote Cafe for carne asada.

Spring Green, Wisconsin

A view of Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Spring Green, Wisconsin
A view of Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Editorial credit: Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.com

Home to the world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the quaint village comes with big charm and deep heritage bursting with historical sights and interesting attractions. Some of the must-visits include the breathtaking House on the Rock and the Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark featuring fossil digs, a gemstone mine, and interactive butterfly gardens. For arts and culture in the outdoors, one must visit the natural amphitheater at the American Players Theater for a Shakespearean play or a summer concert by local and international artists. The active will enjoy bountiful hiking, biking, horse riding, and mountain biking in the vicinity, while the Wisconsin River is perfect for a cooling dip on a hot afternoon, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. One can stay at the Round Barn Lodge with an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a Game Room or choose to camp out and go exploring the Lower Wisconsin floodplains, home to an array of wildlife and birds.

St. Michaels, Maryland

Autumn colors, the Chesapeake Bay Shore and Harbor in St. Michaels, Maryland
Autumn colors, the Chesapeake Bay Shore, and Harbor in St. Michaels, Maryland. 

Located on the Miles River, the town of 1,100-some comprises a big summer vacation, often regarded as the Hamptons of the mid-Atlantic. The setting for the "Wedding Crashers," one can stay at the famous Inn at Perry Cabin or choose the new Wildset Hotel, with its already renowned on-site restaurant, Ruse. The dazzling beaches call to spend days-on swimming, sailing, kayaking, and paddle-boarding, while the famous Maryland food scene comprises crabs and oysters, chased with water views. During an atmospheric stroll through the historic mid-town, one must turn into the Talbot Street, lined with homes from the 1600s. For more wholesome family discoveries, the marvelous Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park is under an hour away from town. 

These small towns are known for dazzling beaches and vibrant downtowns with a food scene to remember to comprise a recipe for a perfect summer vacation. Upon enjoying all of the amenities and entertainment within, there are more beaches, berry-laden hills, and mountain tops to catch sunset views just a short hike away.