The United States is massive. The scale of it is pretty difficult to wrap your head around until you actually get out to see the country, but the variety is absolutely astounding. From the small, historic states on the East Coast to the massive city clusters on the West to the ridiculously high amounts of corn in the flyover states (just try driving through Iowa) and the beautiful snowy lands of the Northern states, the U.S. really does have it all. For today, we want to focus on the small towns that make up a large amount of the land in this massive country.
This list will focus on 10 super small towns with populations under 5,000, and the somewhat small towns/cities reaching up to about 150,000. I have also decided to narrow this list down to a single town per state, otherwise it would all be the West coast because, let’s face it—it’s one of the most gorgeous places in the world.
The towns in this list range from secluded islands in the Alaskan wilderness to the Chicago suburbs, small historic Southern towns to beach towns on the West coast. Let this be an inspiration to you to get out and see more of this beautiful country of ours (unless you’re not from the States, in which case, come for a visit!). At least one of these should be within driving distance of just about anywhere in the country, and there are hundreds if not thousands of towns just as beautiful as the ones listed below. These are just my personal choices for the most beautiful and interesting in the country.
20 Trinidad, California (Population: 311)
Trinidad is best known for its surrounding area, commonly tagged as the place where the ‘Redwoods meet the sea.’ This tiny California town located just South of the Oregon border is primarily a fishing village and has several unique seabird species, such as tufted puffins or fork-tailed storm-petral, making it one of the most diverse seabird colonies in the country. It’s also a great place for seafood. There are many catch-of-the-day restaurants like Katy’s Smokehouse or Larrupin’s Café. The whole coast is known for great breweries and seafood, and Trinidad definitely lives up to its neighbors in both of these areas.
19 Oceanside, Oregon (Population: 361)
Oceanside is one of many small towns across the Oregon coast and honestly, most of them could probably stand in for this spot. The coast is a beautiful area of the country and is littered with small towns just like this one with gorgeous scenery and small town amenities aplenty. Oceanside is known for its beach and the giant hill overlooking the coast. The tides greatly shift how much of the beach is walkable, so a small tunnel was built into the hillside so you can cross to the other side of town during high tide. The hill is covered in beautiful homes and there are a good handful of shops and restaurants in the town as well.
18 Grafton, Vermont (Population: 679)
The historical town of Grafton in Vermont is also one of the most beautiful locations on the East Coast. The town still has many historic buildings throughout, including the Grafton Inn which has been standing since 1801 and is one of the oldest operational hotels in the country. The small Village sits right in the mountains so skiing is a popular activity for people visiting the town. The Windham Foundation has been working to restore many of the old buildings in the village. Since then, the population has slowly been growing as residents from nearby cities have moved in to enjoy the quiet village.
17 Ocracoke, North Carolina (Population: 948)
This coastal town is probably best known for the annual Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree—a festival celebrating all things pirate-in-nature. Ocracoke is a small village located around the Ocracoke Harbor. The lighthouse is one of the most popular destinations in the town along with the fresh 1718 Brewery, serving some of the best pints in North Carolina. There are plenty of historical sites throughout and nearby the town, but even more importantly, there are sea turtles and wild ponies. Cute animals, historical sites, and pirates. What more could you want out of a small town in the United States?
16 Eureka Springs, Arkansas (Population: 2,114)
Filled with over 100 shops and galleries, spas, a wildlife refuge, zip line through Ozark Mountain, a steam train, and a ghost hotel, there is an oddly high number of things to do in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. At just over 2,000 people, Eureka Springs is filled to the brim with unique sights and activities. The town draws its name from its natural spring waters that still draw in tourists. There are also a variety of options for performance art, ranging from an interactive sound-creating sculpture park to a variety of LGBT festivals and a UFO conference; you likely won’t run out of things to do in this tiny town.
15 North Conway, New Hampshire (Population: 2,349)
North Conway sits right on the border between New Hampshire and Maine and is well-known for several geographical locales popular with tourists. The White Mountain National Forest surrounds the Northwest of the town and Cathedral Ledge is a popular spot for climbers. Beyond those sights, there is also the Echo Lake State Park and Mount Cranmore. The town is most visited in September and October when Autumn begins and the forests begin to change colors, or in the Winter when skiing and snowboarding become the main attraction of the town.
14 Pa'ia, Hawaii (Population: 2,668)
The island of Maui in Hawaii is full of small towns and Pa’ia might be the most attractive one to stop in for a few days. This fairly small town lies on Maui’s North Shore. This beach town is able to show off both sides of its identities through its many shops, restaurants, and other attractions. If you’re in Maui, there are a number of interesting foods that you should try—especially a spam burger. I know. But it’s delicious. And I hear the coffee there is amazing too. I almost wish I could drink coffee just to try some Pa’ia Bay blends.
13 Chelan, Washington (Population: 4,060)
Chelan is perhaps the best town in what is perhaps the best state in the United States (no, I’m not from Washington. It’s just an awesome state). The town has over 50 miles of lakefront land, sitting on the edge of the Wenatchee National Forest in central Washington. There are also 20 wineries in or directly near the town, so this would also be an ideal location for a winery tour. Outside of those, Chelan is just a beautiful, small town with a great downtown district full of great restaurants and cute shops. Visit in the winter for the most scenic views of the town and lake.
12 Madison, Georgia (Population: 4,060)
Madison is a small town in Georgia that has invested quite a bit in preserving its history. The architecture in the town is still largely original 19th century colonial buildings and houses. It’s also a part of Georgia’s Antebellum Train, which weaves through several small towns with similar backgrounds. So if this would be the kind of place that you’re interested in, there are plenty of towns just like it. Madison is also notable for having over 150 antique shops in the town. So if you’re interested in browsing through the past of the South or just want a nice, beautiful town to spend the weekend in, Madison might be the place for you.
11 Tucumcari, New Mexico (Population: 4,975)
Clocking in at just under 5,000 people, Tucumcari marks the last of the super small towns on this list. The town in northern New Mexico is known for its rich history and hot, desert conditions. The mountain that gives Tucumcari its name holds a folk legend about an Apapche Chief. Whether the legend is true or not, the story is great and the town which lies on the historic Route 66 is a great little place to visit.
10 Salida, Colorado (Population: 5,581)
The small town of Salida, Colorado, at only about 2.5 square miles, definitely qualifies as tiny. It’s also packed full of cute shops and family diners and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful spots in the country. The Arkansas River runs straight through the town and the Sawatch Range and Sangre de Cristo Mountains make this town a popular destination for tourists road tripping around the country. The town is also located right off of U.S. Route 50 and features some of the best whitewater rafting and biking in the country, as well as holding its own natural hot springs.
9 Brighton, Michigan (Population: 7,611)
Sitting in one of the wealthiest areas of Michigan, Brighton retains a lot of the small town charm that you would expect in a town half the size. The town is popular for skiing as well as having a small arts district in its downtown area. There have been recent revitalization efforts in the town as well, including public art, primarily from local artists. This cute town is definitely worth a visit and would be a nice, relaxing spot for a Midwest vacation. There are also several art galleries in downtown Brighton that are certainly worth a visit as well, such as the excellent Artisan’s Bench.
8 Sitka, Alaska (Population: 8,881)
Sitka lies on a series of islands in Southern Alaska and is well-known for only being accessible by boat or plane. The majority of the town lies within walking distance of the downtown area but there is also public transportation in case you wander away from downtown Sitka. The town still holds a lot of its history in its architecture and public attractions, reflecting its native identities. Obviously being in Alaska, the town is beautiful and there are a variety of National Parks nearby (and the 3,200-foot Mount Edgecumbe can be seen from the downtown on a clear day).
7 Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (Population: 8,910)
Door County is probably the most beautiful place in all of the Midwest United States (although there isn’t much in the way of competition...) and Sturgeon Bay is the biggest small town in the area. Like the rest of the area, there is a significant population shift from the cold, snowy winters and the warm, inviting summers. Visitors from all over the region make Door County one of the most popular locations in Wisconsin. The town has a single movie theater and the Third Avenue Playhouse, filling in the small-town aesthetic. There are a number of smaller towns just up the highway that are just as beautiful.
6 Corning, New York (Population: 10,812)
Upstate New York is full of small towns full of kind folks and beautiful landscapes, but perhaps the most well-known of them all is Corning. With a population of right around 10,000, this town has several geographical locations nearby that are worth a visit like the Chimney Rocks, Bloody Run, and the living history museum of Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes. The town is probably best known for glassblowing though, as the downtown district is named after it, and you can visit the Corning Museum of Glass or see the mobile GlassBarge, which both show off the ‘Crystal City’s’ main export.
5 Dover, Delaware (Population: 37,786)
Dover is one of the biggest towns in the state of Delaware, but it still only has a population of around 38,000 people. Despite its relatively small size, the town is known for hosting NASCAR races at the Dover International Speedway along with the Firefly Music Festival. There are also plenty of events hosted in the town throughout the year such as the Delaware Wine and Beer festival. There is also a bit of Amish Country around Dover as well, so if you’re interested in going 10 mph behind a horse-drawn buggy, then be my guest. Other than that, the small town has a lot to offer.
4 Framingham, Massachusetts (Population: 68,318)
The town of Framingham, Massachusetts just celebrated their transition to becoming a city in 2018. The city has a variety of outdoor attractions including the Cochituate State Park, the Garden in the Woods, and the Callahan State Park. Cochituate State Park is situated on the lake and is a popular place for swimming and sailing. There are a variety of interesting restaurants as well, including Green Leaf, a great vegetarian and vegan restaurant. This is one of a handful of large towns situated on the East Coast that would certainly make a great stop on any road trip on the coast.
3 Carmel, Indiana (Population: 92,198)
If you’ve ever seen Parks & Rec, then you probably remember Pawnee’s rival town, Eagleton. Notable for being completely over the top with wealth (the air smells like vanilla, too), this Indiana town is a lot like the real-world town of Carmel. This town has frequently topped ‘best place to live’ lists in the country for several years now, which isn’t much of a surprise. The Indy suburb is full of solid restaurants and shops, especially in the downtown Arts and Design district. If you ever visit, you’ll probably know you’re in Carmel pretty quickly because of the roundabouts. These traffic circles take up nearly every intersection throughout the city now, having almost completely replaced traffic lights.
2 Boulder, Colorado (Population: 97,385)
Boulder sits near the middle of Colorado and is surrounded by beautiful mountains like many other towns in the state. The Flatirons are the most well-known and recognizable feature of the town. Besides being gorgeous, the town is known for holding the University of Colorado, as well as receiving consistently high rankings in art, health, education, well-being, and quality of life. This town is certainly worth a visit in its own right, but if you’re in Colorado, there are plenty more sights to see.
1 Naperville, Illinois (Population: 147,122)
As far as places to live goes, Naperville might be at the top of this list. The town generally has a high median income and some of the best schools and public infrastructure in the country. It is also notable for being one of the safest spots in the whole country. There is also a major Children’s museum in the town. Besides all of that, the town is full of solid restaurants, shops, and coffee shops and would definitely make a great stop if you’re out visiting nearby Chicago. There are many great suburbs around the Chicago area—Naperville is just the largest and most well-known out of the Chicagoland area.