There are countless country songs about small town southern life—pickup trucks, beer, girls in Daisy Dukes, Friday night football under the lights—but there’s so much more to America’s small towns, so much variety, in so many different parts of the country. When you leave the big city lights behind for small town main streets, there are pleasures a plenty to be had. Here are some of our favorites small U.S. towns to visit.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
And…here’s one of those southern small towns that folks write songs about. Fayetteville has everything you want in a small town—a charming downtown filled with the kind of delightful, homegrown shops that feature prominently in Hallmark movies, and equally delightful restaurants. But it’s what’s just outside of Fayetteville that makes this a must-visit—the New and Gauley Rivers. These two thundering waterways offer some of the best white water rafting in the entire world, through spectacular scenery. Take in the heart-stopping view from the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge, one of the world’s longest. There are plenty of river guides to put you on the water, along with enough rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and fishing to thrill every outdoor adventure enthusiast. Did we mention pie? You can get a great slice of pie in Fayetteville.
Hood River, Oregon
Speaking of pie, what is it about small towns and great pie? The Apple Valley Country Store just outside of Hood River features hand rolled fruit pies worth crossing the country for. This jewel of the Pacific Northwest is a port on the mighty Columbia River, with a highly walkable downtown that’s made for strolling from one fun, quirky shop to the next. Because this is Oregon, enjoy your choice of craft breweries and outstanding farm-to-table restaurants. Tour the many orchards that circle the town in the perfectly named Fruit Loop. And also because this is Oregon, be prepared to get your outdoor groove on, with hiking, mountain biking, snow shoeing, and some of the best kitesurfing in the entire world. Visit Panorama Point County Park in the spring and look out over the fruit trees in full bloom, the awe-inspiring Hood River Valley, and the heights of Mount Hood towering in the distance.
What is a vortex? Glad you asked! A vortex is a center of energy rising from the earth, a place for healing and meditation. The picturesque town of Sedona, nestled among spectacularly colorful red rocks, sandstone buttes, and rock formations, is home to four vortexes that draw those seeking spiritual self-awareness to this desert oasis. Along with these vortexes come numerous spas to pamper the body and the soul. Sedona is also a haven for artists and art lovers—the Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village is a sprawling collection of world-class galleries and shops with something for every taste. Find even more galleries, along with fine restaurants and funky shops, in the Sedona Main Street District. If outdoor fun is more your speed, strap on your hiking boots and hit the Sonoran desert trails, home to a multitude of Saguaro cactus, and journey into the ancient past as you visit the Palatki cliff dwelling ruins. If hiking’s not your speed, schedule a rugged jeep tour.
Bonus: Pay a visit to Jerome, Arizona, not far from Sedona—a genuine ghost town with a fascinating, and blood-drenched, past. Take a ghost tour, and stop by the Haunted Hamburger for a spooky good burger.
Bar Harbor, Maine
When you see the phrase small town in Maine, what do you picture? Chances are, it’s something very much like Bar Harbor. A rough and rocky coastline pounded by the white-capped waves of Frenchman Bay; a colorful and charming harbor filled with salt-sprayed clapboard storefronts that hold shops, restaurants, and bars. Not surprisingly, fresh, local lobster is the dish of the day, and whether it’s a whole lobster with all the fixings at a white-tablecloth restaurant, or a lobster roll from a seaside shack, it doesn’t get any better. If you have an adventurous spirit, Bar Harbor is locally known as the gateway to the wild and wondrous Acadia National Park, along with the Cranberry Islands, and Cadillac Mountain. Stroll the pier as the ships come in, and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
You’d be forgiven if, while meandering past the quaint, historical brick buildings that line Main Street in Galena, you thought you had somehow wandered onto the set of Mayberry. It’s that kind of place, a quintessential midwestern small town where life moves at a leisurely pace that’s just right to recharge your batteries and recenter your psyche. The locally owned shops are exactly what you’d want them to be, and the locally owned diners and restaurants offer simple, soul-satisfying food. Don’t miss the American Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor—there’s really nothing better than a double-scoop cone to accompany your slow downtown amble. When you’re ready for a little more fresh air, you can golf, hike, or even kayak on the mighty Mississippi. And speaking of the Mississippi, just across it from Galena is the Ulysses S. Grant Home. The expansive grounds afford a wonderful view of the town.
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