Big cities have a lot of buzz with massive sightseeing opportunities, five-star restaurants and the excitement created by throngs of gleeful tourists. But sometimes you want to slow things down and discover quieter, more eclectic destinations that don’t have such big crowds or such a hectic pace, yet still offer the promise of adventure.
From Asbury Park, New Jersey, to Indianola, Mississippi, Budget Travel suggests adding these destinations to your travel itinerary. Editors recently culled through reader suggestions and photos to come up with this list of the 10 coolest small towns in America.
1. Asbury Park, New Jersey
If you’re heading to New York or Philadelphia, consider a road trip to Asbury Park (above), the top town on the list. Budget Traveler lauds the coastal town for its revitalized boardwalk, which offers great shopping, dining and views of one of the East Coast’s loveliest beaches.
Asbury Park helped launch Bruce Springsteen’s career, so it’s no surprise that the beach town has plenty of music to offer. There’s the famous Stone Pony, as well as the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall, among other musical venues.
The editors say, “We love Asbury Park’s cultural diversity, welcoming vibe, and year-round calendar of events: Fourth of July fireworks, Oysterfest, Zombie Walk, and so much more.”
2. Bisbee, Arizona
Located 90 miles southeast of Tucson in the Mule Mountains, Bisbee is a former mining town that’s now an eclectic artists’ community. A convenient home base for nearby birding, hiking, winery and other explorations, the relatively tiny city (population 5,360) has several museums and lots of galleries and restaurants.
Bisbee “beckons bohemian types with its small-town charm, eccentric character, and picturesque mountainside perch,” Fodor’s Travel writes. “Here, colorful turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Victorian-style buildings have been creatively reimagined as an eclectic mix of galleries, boutiques, eateries, bars, and B&Bs, while the free-spirited, fringe-culture vibe here sets Bisbee’s no-rush, no-fuss rhythm.”
3. Nevada City, California
Called California’s best preserved Gold Rush town, Nevada City still thrives on its rich history. The Miners Foundry Cultural Center, an old firehouse and a railroad museum are tributes to the past.
Sitting at the gateway to Tahoe National Forest and nestled in a basin on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada, the town is an ideal base for outdoor recreation. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, gold panning as well as an array of winter sports.
4. Chatham, Massachusetts
Bordering both the Atlantic Ocean and the Nantucket Sound, this seaside town is located at the southeastern tip of Cape Cod. Not surprisingly, Chatham is best known for its miles of white beaches and outdoor activities. There’s a large seal population (which often attracts great white sharks) and the Fish Pier where people gather to watch the day’s catch come in.
There are abundant museums, historical areas and natural paths. For hiking and biking, there’s the Old Colony Rail Trail, a side trip off the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and coastal exploration in the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
5. Mountain View, Arkansas
Located deep in the Ozarks, Mountain View was established in the 1870s and is known for preserving customs and traditional music. The Arkansas Folk Festival was founded in the historic town in the 1960s and the Ozark Folk Center State Park opened about a decade later. When the weather is warm enough, musicians join local neighbors and friends to play around the town square.
In addition to the strong musical scene, the town is home to the state’s largest craft cooperative, the Arkansas Craft Guild, as well as lots of antique shops and restaurants.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, “The first time, you visit. The second time, you move here.”
6. Cannon Beach, Oregon
National Geographic named Cannon Beach as one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world in 2013. The editors quoted explorer William Clark, who looked down at Cannon Beach and said it was, “the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.”
One obvious highlight is Haystack Rock, above, which towers on the shoreline. If you can tear yourself away from the water, the city itself has galleries, boutiques, restaurants and lodgings that overlook the sparkling water.
7. Philipsburg, Montana
Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Philipsburg is located halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Outdoor adventures are of course a big deal here, ranging from snowmobiling and fishing to hiking and skiing. But drawing on its past and current history, the town is big on mining for Montana sapphires, a practice that dates back about 120 years.
The Philipsburg area is also home to several ghost towns, as well as the oldest operating theater in the state of Montana.
8. Milford, Pennsylvania
Milford is no stranger to the “cool towns” title. Budget Travel named it one of the coolest towns in Pennsylvania a decade ago. About 70 miles from New York City, Milford if popular for its Victorian houses. A town beautification effort in 1997 resulted in the upscale Hotel Fauchère, and an array of festivals including the Milford Music Festival, the Winter Lights Festival, the Black Bear Film Festival and the Festival of Wood. (In fact, pictured here is the historic Milford Theatre surrounded by decorated bears, a fundraiser for the Black Bear Film Festival.)
For nature lovers, there’s the nearby 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for mountain biking, hiking and swimming in waterfalls.
9. Glens Falls, New York
Steeped in history, Glens Falls has two historic districts and was the site of several battles during the French and Indian and the Revolutionary wars. But these days, the town bills itself as ” small, but sophisticated” with plenty of museums, festivals, concerts, restaurants, shopping and outdoor recreation.
10. Indianola, Mississippi
Located in Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta, Indianola is home to a strong musical heritage. Blues legend B.B. King grew up in the town and now has an annual festival and museum dedicated to him.