13 Small Towns You Should Visit This Summer

The best of the American towns offer more than a summertime respite by fulfilling one's sunny dreams of beaches, a solid beer culture, and scenic outdoor pursuits. These small towns' vibrant streets feature lively weekend markets, great art galleries, and emerging food scenes, including cute cafes to hide from the sun. 

Astoria, Oregon

Astoria, oregon
The marina in Astoria, Oregon.

Peninsula-set at the mouth of the Columbia River, the naturally beautiful and historic town is the perfect base for a coastal road trip or a romantic summertime weekend. The first permanent settlement on the Pacific Coast of the nation, Astoria's hilly streets are covered with sherbet-colored homes. One must stop at the Columbian Café, where every meal is made from scratch, followed by a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the Buoy Beer on a pier overlooking the river for a nightcap. The nearby Lewis and Clark National Park with Fort Clatsop, where explorers Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805–06, comprises a great trek with natural and historical discoveries. 

Ambler, Pennsylvania

With a population of around 7,000, Ambler is a small town with all the comforts and energy of a big city. Following an atmospheric morning at one of the cute terraced cafes, one can stroll around the sun-kissed streets comprising restaurants galore, a microbrewery, and many cozy pubs to note for the evening. Offering a real respite from the steel megalopolises, there is a local farmers market to peruse and stock up on some summertime favorites such as the region's fresh produce. This time of year also sees the favorite music and arts festival in town, where one can mingle, people-watch, and recharge while celebrating along the colorful alleys filled with food, drinks, and beats.

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, washington
A photo of Mount Baker with a sailboat and houses in the Bellingham town area.

The coastal hub of north-western Washington, Bellingham, is a known base with much to offer before taking off on a ferry cruise to the San Juan Islands or the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Its lively streets leading to the central core are filled with fine dining and shopping establishments, while the historic Fairhaven district is great to wander around for the architecture and the sights. Comprising a great outdoor recreational agenda during summer for a natural respite from the big city, there's orca whale-watching and sailing in the ocean, golf, and hiking in the scenic vicinity, as well as great kayaking, river-sailing, and rafting opportunities in the Skagit River flowing by.

Boothbay Harbor, Maine

boothbay harbor
Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Editorial credit: Bob Pool / Shutterstock.com

The quaint seaside town is a beloved summertime destination to get out of the big city and experience the laid-back New England-style sans the boisterous resort-town vibe. Many great mornings can be started with a stroll along the scenic harbor to catch the wave splashes on the face while breathing in the salty air. There are endless fair-priced options to have freshly caught lobster from the harbor every day for dinner, while evening-time can be spent on the quaint beach, swimming in the still-warm waters, or visiting the town center for the authentic taste of New England. For the adventurous, the nearby island also offers an even-more remote setting to explore. 

Cape May, New Jersey

cape may
Cape May, New Jersey.

Having welcomed wealthy families from the big cities since the Victorian era for a quiet summer along the beaches, Cape May still offers the same respite sans the pretentious Jersey Shore vibe. Comprising a real getaway, one will have enough activities for weeks upon setting base at one of the charming bed and breakfasts or the famed Congress Hall leading summer resort overlooking the beach. The lively sun-kissed streets are great for strolling to admire the abundance of Victorian mansions, while a joyful surrey ride offers a whole other perspective of the scenic town along with the Cape May Light House. Closed to traffic, the center comes with a pedestrian shopping and dining district, including the Washington Street Mall. Aside from the great city beaches, one must visit the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum and see the Jersey Shore Alpacas.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

carmel by the sea
The Cottage of Sweets - a traditional British-style sweets shop located in the quaint little town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Editorial credit: jejim / Shutterstock.com

The coastal beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea is known as one of the nation's most picture-perfect locales to visit during summer. The quaint-village setting, along with the breathtaking scenery, make it a really perfect spot for a romantic getaway or West Coast weekend trip. One will find it easy to keep engaged for days, including local restaurants, wine bars, and shops of various kinds to peruse. The sprinkling of fairy-tale cottages throughout, along with the gardens and secret passageways, give the town a unique, enchanting feel like nowhere else. A summertime visit would not be complete without stopping by the Carmel Beach for a cooling dip, an afternoon of basking in the sun, or an evening picnic on the soft sands to watch the sunset over the waters.

Georgetown, South Carolina

Georgetown, South Carolina.
Aerial view of Georgetown, South Carolina.

According to USA Today, set dead-center on South Carolina's beautiful Hammock Coast, Georgetown is brimful with history and hospitality as "America's Best Coastal Small Town," according to USA Today. Bounded by scenic plantations, the town is a definition of Southern charm with oak-shaded streets from the sun lined with 250-some picturesque two-century-old homes for some eye-candy to feast on. There are 60 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in the downtown area, along with five museums on "Front Street." The Harborwalk is a delightful shopping and award-winning restaurant scene for a taste of the authentic coastal life, while many unspoiled beaches are just a short drive away. 

Hudson, New York

Hudson, new york
Victorian townhouse historic building with bay windows located at 512-516 Warren St in Hudson. Editorial credit: Alizada Studios / Shutterstock.com

Reached via a scenic two-hour train ride from the Big Apple, Hudson comprises a perfect small-town getaway and a summer respite away from the city. A whaling port in the 1700s, Hudson features a range of interesting experiences in a relaxed setting with all the modern comforts where one will feel at home in no time. The sunny streets of the highly-walkable city center emanate a quaint atmosphere full of great shopping and delicious dining. The scenic Warren Street is known for historic architecture of various styles, as well as dozen-some antique dealers for a day full of sights and intrigues. 

Los Olivos, California

A vineyard in Santa Ynez, California
A vineyard in Santa Ynez, California

A dream-come-true, wine-drenched summer vacation destination, Los Olivos is a town like no other. Set on the rolling hills of the famed Santa Ynez Valley, the quaint vineyards call for summertime scenic strolls, while the paddocks studded with horses and cows give a real feeling of being deep in the countryside. A day starts with renting a bike to mark the quiet roads in the vicinity for the morning exercise can be followed by an early dinner at the renowned S.Y. Kitchen with a farm-to-table meal. One can also pack a picnic for a scenic setting or check out the antique horse-drawn carriage collection at the local museum.

Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic, connecticut
The Joseph Conrad at Mystic Seaport at Mystic.

With many believing Mystic to be Connecticut's best small town, it is definitely worth a visit this summer. The nation's darling since starring in the beloved Mystic Pizza film in 1988, it is an ideal destination for the foodies, with an eclectic scene of sustainably-sourced products and clean eating. The unique, laid-back atmosphere makes one feel right in the movie strolling along the nostalgic sidewalks with many farm-to-table dining establishments and cheese shops. To cool off following the full exploration of the historic downtown district, one can head straight for the waters or to a great brewery for a real taste of the region.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona
The spectacular settings of Sedona, Arizona.

Set about two hours from Grand Canyon National Park, the beautiful desert town location is a definite must when in Arizona this summer. A true one-of-a-kind, Sedona is surrounded by incredible red rock formations that call out countless outdoorsy travelers, wellness seekers, and photographers each year. The ideal stop on a south-western road trip, the town comes with unique experiences and scenic hikes for a respite from the big city. Among the many galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village is a known mingling spot for those looking to buy or browse, filled with local, artisanal products and dining.

Skagway, Alaska

skagway, alaska
Historic buildings in Skagway.

A booming seaport during the Yukon Gold Rush, Skagway is a hidden gem must visit this summer as one of the nation's most unique towns. Nestled in the panhandle of Alaska, the off-the-radar small and quaint locale draws millions of tourists each year with unique experiences, architecture, and culture. Much of Skagway is protected under the National Park Service to preserve the historical significance of the area, while the hike via the renowned Chilkoot Trail follows the path of the prospectors to find the goldfields of the Klondike. For more varied adventures, one can explore the rugged region on their own or take a scenic train journey through the serene glaciated valley. 

Wellfleet, Massachusetts

wellfleet
Wellfleet Marina.

One will feel completely at ease and peace while strolling along the scenic Wellfleet's streets lined with clapboard houses overtaken by bursts of hydrangea. Only two miles wide, the picture-perfect town comes with a smattering of art galleries across the main street, including the cutting-edge contemporary Gaa Gallery for a real cultural fulfillment. Retaining its quaint local vibe thanks to the outer Cape Cod setting, the town is also bounded by the Bay and the Atlantic at each end, for some crowd-less time at one of the stunning beaches. For a perfect weekend hideaway, one can start the morning with a coffee and a bite from the newcomer PB Boulangerie & Bistro run by Daniel Boulud alum Philippe Rispoli, followed by the beach and an evening of feasting on oysters with a glass of something chilled. 

More low-key than other resort-town destinations, these small towns let one enjoy all of the exciting summer opportunities sans the crowds that mar the scenic views. Offering respite, one is sure to find a private beach spot, leisurely browse the local produce markets, and get a table at a great restaurant without jostling during a wholesome summer visit.

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