The Most Charming Town in Every State Gallery
June 15, 2018
America, the charming
The Most Charming Town in Every State
Although the two words are sometimes used interchangeably, there’s a definite difference between “beauty” and “charm.” While the most beautiful towns in America are simply breathtaking, postcard-worthy destinations, it takes more for a place to truly charm you.
A town has to be more than just a pretty face in order to be considered a charming destination. The dictionary definition of charm is “the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration,” and there are many ways a place can do exactly that. The hometown character of a place comes through in the kinds of small stores that populate its downtown, the festivals and events held throughout the year celebrating its history and heritage, and the unique activities that are available, whether that’s a geothermal spa or spring, mountains to hike and bike, or farmers markets to peruse. Throughout America, you’ll find out all kinds of places worth a visit, but it’s these towns that are the most charming in their state.
Alabama: Magnolia Springs
The name of this beautiful town comes from the old magnolia trees that shade the streets, and the natural springs flowing on both sides of the Magnolia River. The small-town, Southern feel of this area makes for a lovely escape from the metropolitan lifestyle of cities like Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama — both of which are only a short drive away.
The beautiful town of Ketchikan is a popular Alaskan cruise ship port and has been known as a small, scenic tourist destination. There’s a lot of nightlife and entertainment here, however, with plenty of venues as well as lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures such as zip-lining, kayaking, hiking, and fishing. The art scene here is one of Alaska’s most prolific, and Alaska Native art in particular can be found at multiple studios and shops.
Nearly 100 art galleries populate the town of Sedona, which is also home to plenty of other arts and culture events, such as a film festival, arts festival, and jazz festival. Sitting among the Red Rocks, Sedona is a picturesque town perfect for outdoor recreation or even as a wedding venue. Sedona stores specialize in New Age products, as well as arts and crafts by local Native Americans. Visitors to the Grand Canyon popularly stay here to enjoy the city’s views as well as its great dining options.
Arkansas: Hot Springs
The historic bathhouses of Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas, may now all be closed (with the exception of Buckstaff Bathhouse), but the buildings are still kept the way they were in the 1800s and open for tours. You can still enjoy the natural mineral spring water by filling up a water jug at the public fountain on Bathhouse Row on your way to the Historic Downtown Farmers Market. (Newer, more modern bathhouses are also available throughout town.) Hot Springs is also one of the country’s best small arts towns with a thriving fine arts community, as well as a local documentary film festival held every October. The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo has about 200 alligators in addition to many other types of animals, and the Garvan Woodland Gardens are great for botany geeks or for a peaceful walk. Thirteen hotels and four neighborhoods are listed by the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is also home to Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, as well as Hot Springs National Park for the more nature-minded.
Carmel-by-the-Sea — often just referred to as Carmel — is a small yet popular destination in Monterey Bay. It would only take you five minutes to walk across the entire town, but in those five minutes you’d see plenty of art galleries, cafés, inns, and restaurants to explore, including chef Justin Cogley’s Aubergine. You’ll take much longer than five minutes just walking down, though, as the architecture is beautiful in this tiny town known to have numberless houses. Carmel Beach itself is gorgeous, and beaches are often populated with admirers at sunset. It’s also leash-free, so your dog can enjoy running through the white sand with you, after joining you at one of the town’s many canine-friendly restaurants and hotels. You can also enjoy the view by car, as the aptly-named Scenic Drive runs along the beach. Another scenic drive, the 17-Mile Drive, winds through one of California’s most prestigious neighborhoods, and non-residents have to pay $9.50 just to go through the gate.
A favorite of former President Gerald Ford, Vail came into existence as the base village for Vail Ski Resort, the third largest single-mountain ski resort in the country. This Colorado town isn’t just great for winter sports, however; it has an exploding restaurant scene and multiple cultural events throughout the year, celebrating film, music, dance, and food.
Connecticut: New Haven
Home to Yale University, New Haven is of course a city that attracts a lot of young people with its many restaurants, bars, and shops catered specifically to them. With access to the shore and gorgeous hiking trails, New Haven is a great place to enjoy a walk, a bike, or other outdoor recreational activities when you’re not checking out the active nightlife, art galleries, or music shows present throughout the year. One of the best cities for pizza, New Haven’s iconic apizza is sometimes considered separate from the original pizza, as it’s a unique, slightly oblong style of thin-crust deliciousness with a chewy texture and slight char.
Delaware: Bethany Beach
Just a little under 1,200 people reside in the coastal Delaware town of Bethany Beach, but over 15,000 come to visit them every summer. The area is known for its peacefulness, and for the Bethany Beach boardwalk, a nice, well-kept change from more popular seaside destinations such as Atlantic City. Both golfing and swimming are popular endeavors here, but the town also has cute little cafés and stores for you to peruse. Don’t miss Chief Little Owl, the 24-foot totem pole welcoming you to town, or the town museum, which chronicles the town’s history from its birth as a religious retreat.
Florida: St. Augustine
A cobblestoned town with over 400 years of history, St. Augustine is easily the prettiest town in Florida, and one of the state’s top destinations that aren’t Disney. Check out the oldest masonry fort, pop in and out of the many stores down St. George Street, or stop into one of the restaurants to grab a bite. You’ll quickly fall in love with the city’s ambiance.
Due to the city’s decision to immediately surrender to General Sherman during the Civil War, Savannah is one of the few big Southern cities with its antebellum architecture intact. Visit Forsyth Park for Savannah’s best dining, shopping, and entertainment, as well as the town’s many parks to enjoy Savannah’s more natural beauty. Its plethora of historic squares provide pleasant sites as well as quite a bit of Georgia’s history, and ghost stories are popular, with multiple walking tours centering around haunted locations and ghost hunting in historic parts of town.
Located in West Maui, Lahaina is less of a sightseeing spot than other places in Hawaii and is instead a perfect place for lovers of eating and partying. Check out the Old Lahaina Luau, considered one of the most authentic Hawaiian luaus, where you can enjoy tropical food and drinks along with fire dancing and hula. The award-winning Lahaina Grill is a great culinary stop, located on Front Street where you’ll find the best of Maui’s nightlife and shopping.
Idaho: Coeur d’Alene
Idaho may be considered by many a “flyover” state, but those who fly over are totally missing out on one of the most beautiful towns in America. Coeur d’Alene is home to such natural beauty as Lake Coeur d’Alene, a stunning placid blue lake, where people can take boat rides and practice all manner of water sports, as well as the dense, woodsy, gorgeous Coeur d’Alene National Forest. Make sure to book a room at The Coeur d’Alene Resort, the best hotel in the state.
This Illinois town was named after the mineral that was mined in the area, but is now a beautiful getaway for those looking to step back in time. Galena’s Historic District is even on the National Register of Historic Places. So take a scenic drive through the town’s rolling hills, and take a stroll down the charming Main Street, which overlooks the Galena River.
Indiana: Crown Point
Incorporated in 1868, the charming town of Crown Point is situated in the northwest corner of Indiana. Enjoy the town’s Victorian-era architecture by foot or on the town’s trolley, used during the summer or during special events. The gorgeous Old Lake Country Courthouse stands as the centerpiece of the town square, within which you’ll finds stores and restaurants as well as special events during holidays and a museum on the second floor.
The charming town of Pella, founded in 1847 by Dutch immigrants, is an oasis of bold color in largely rural Iowa. It’s home to Vermeer Mill, the tallest working grain mill in the country, as well as the Tulip Time Festival, a three-day festival in which the town’s Dutch heritage comes to life with Dutch costumes, tulip gardens, music, food, parades, and more.
A quirky town full of Midwestern charm and full to the fedora brim with a rich culture of arts, music, sports, and more, Lawrence benefits from being home to both the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. Check out Lawrence Busker Fest, a huge gathering of street performers, or come for the Free State Festival, an arts and film festival, or the Haskell Indian Art Market. There are also plenty of hipster-friendly hideouts like The Bourgeois Pig, a popular coffeehouse and bar.
Kentucky: Bowling Green
Bowling Green provides some of Kentucky’s best Southern flavor and fun with a strong culinary scene and tons of history. Nearly 100 acres of land are reserved for parks and recreation here, and lovers of the great outdoors have plenty to do here, including golfing, hiking, and all kinds of outdoor exploration. The gorgeous campus of Western Kentucky University resides here, and its student population has given rise to a strong social scene that includes bars, restaurants, and events such as the Bowling Green International Festival which features food, music, dance, and more from around the world.
One of America’s best cities for food, Portland is a quaint, seaside getaway perfect for a weekend of rest and relaxation. That doesn’t mean it’s a sleepy or boring town, however. Portland’s food scene is thriving, having been the smallest city to hold the Feed the 5,000 festival, and its art and history museums offer plenty of sightseeing opportunities, as do its many lighthouses.
Maryland: Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City is a charming small town in Maryland with a population of just over 700, located on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. A beautiful waterfront lined by trees makes this one of the most scenic spots in the mid-Atlantic region, particularly during the fall. You’ll find quite a few buildings and homes dating back to the nineteenth century, many of which have since been converted into restaurants, local history museums, and some of the best bed and breakfasts in America.
Best known for the Salem Witch Trials, the town of Salem, Massachusetts, is ripe with history, also serving as the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard. Your first stop should, of course, be at the Salem Witch Museum, Witch History Museum, and Witch Dungeon Museum, but also noteworthy are the New England Pirate Museum, Salem Toy Museum, and the Peabody/Essex Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Asian export art and some of the largest collections of maritime art. Salem also has beautiful architecture in the Federal, Georgian, Greek-Revival, post-medieval, and Victorian styles. Historic trails include Paranormal Salem, a ghost hunting experience, and the Salem Smugglers’ Tour, which takes you through some of the most haunted spots in town while teaching you about its smuggling tunnels.
Michigan: Mackinac Island
Pronounced “MAK-i-naw,” Macinac Island is the hidden gem of Michigan with its Victorian charm and fun activities for the entire family. The island is a three-in-one destination: You can visit Active Mackinac for a more outdoorsy time with biking, hiking, horse-riding, and paddling; Grand Mackinac for a more upper-class experience at the Grand Hotel resort; or Fudgie Mackinac to indulge your sweet tooth with the island’s famous fudge amid historic and shopping sites. Tours of the island are available on foot, bike, or even via kayak or stand-up paddle board, both of which are available for rentals. We also recommend bringing your own bicycle; Mackinac is known for its island-wide motor vehicle ban.
It seems much of the Midwest knows something about Duluth that the rest of the country is missing out on. A popular travel spot for the region, the Minnesota city has a fantastic view of Lake Superior and tons of outdoor recreation, as well as activities for the whole family, from restaurants and shops to a thriving local art scene. The country’s only all-freshwater aquarium, the Great Lakes Aquarium, is in Duluth, as is the world’s longest freshwater baymouth sandbar, Minnesota Point, which stretches for 6 miles.
Natchez’s prosperity prior to the Civil War has left it with a plethora of antebellum homes. Year-round tours can take you through the homes and Southern history. The town’s visitor center has pamphlets and maps to help guide you through both driving and walking tours of Natchez’s beautiful historic district, and horse-drawn carriage tours are available as well. The local King’s Tavern is worth a visit, deemed one of the most haunted places in not just Mississippi, but the entire country.
Missouri is one of quite a few states many people don’t realize make wine, and the town of Hermann lies right in the middle of the state’s wine country, often referred to as the Missouri Rhineland. The beautiful brick architecture, as well as the town’s self-proclaimed status as the sausage-making capital of Missouri hint at its German roots, as do its impressive celebrations of both Maifest and Oktoberfest.
Hamilton is a small town that’s quickly growing in population, but still manages to maintain its charm. Surrounded by the mountains and forests of the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, Hamilton is a great spot to enjoy the great outdoors, but it also has much to offer within the town. Visit Main Street where you’ll find delicious eateries and charming small shops, as well as western Montana artwork, souvenirs, furnishings, and other trinkets unique to the area. While you’re there, check out their breweries: Bitter Root Brewing and Higherground Brewery.
Officially designated by Congress as “America’s Official Fourth of July City – Small Town USA,” Seward is well-known for its Independence Day celebration in which the small town of about 6,000 hosts approximately 40,000 people, a tradition that goes back to 1868. The town is still worth a visit throughout the rest of the year, however, particularly its downtown area which is full of shops and restaurants, as well as Seward City Park which is perfect for a picnic or scenic stroll.
Nevada: Boulder City
Located about 26 miles outside of Las Vegas, Boulder City is actually one of just two cities in Nevada that prohibits gambling, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a trip. A cute, historic downtown hosts antique stores, an ice cream shop, and a diner, as well as a historic hotel where you’ll also find a museum dedicated to the town and the nearby Hoover Dam.
New Hampshire: Exeter
Located in southeastern New Hampshire, Exeter is one of New England’s most charming towns. Its historic downtown has beautiful buildings with art galleries, restaurants, shops, and more. Situated where the Exeter River feeds the Squamscott River, Exeter has a scenic waterfront and is a great spot for outdoor activities such as boating, biking, and hiking.
New Jersey: Princeton
The town of Princeton’s significance doesn’t just stem from its Ivy League university, but also from its involvement in the country’s fight for independence during the Battle of Princeton. Today, it is a quaint college town full of many historic sites and scenic views. Nassau Hall at Princeton University — incidentally one of the nation's best universities for food lover's — once served a brief term as capitol building for the nation and is worth a visit, as are the former residences of Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. A university tour will take you through beautiful architecture, and Princeton Cemetery holds historic graves, including that of former President Grover Cleveland and former Vice President Aaron Burr. You can also visit the Princeton Battlefield where the revolutionary battle took place.
New Mexico: Taos
Two hours from Santa Fe, you can discover the lesser-known destination of Taos, a fantastic destination in New Mexico that’s great for an affordable family summer vacation. You can go any time of year, however; Taos is great for skiing and art, and the Taos Ski Valley is a must for anyone wanting to try out the Southwestern slopes. You can also make a trip to visit the Taos Pueblo, a Native American community just north of town that’s open to visitors as long as you’re respectful. The Rio Grande also means plenty of available river adventures, and the Enchanted Circle is a self-guided driving tour taken by many visitors through the scenic surroundings of Taos.
New York: Saratoga Springs
A quaint town in upstate New York, Sartoga Springs has a lot of beauty and history. Well-known as the home of the Saratoga Race Course, it's a major spot for thoroughbred racing, but it's the mineral springs here that have made Saratoga Springs a popular resort town for the last 200 years. You'll find beautiful archards and expansive farms here, as well as plenty of hiking and biking opportunities. It's not just a relaxing getaway for tourists either; locals often rent cottages on the shores of Saratoga Lake in the summer so that they, too, can enjoy the beauty of the Adirondacks in their backyard.
North Carolina: Beaufort
There’s clearly something romantic about Beaufort. The setting of both Nicholas Sparks’ novels A Walk to Remember and The Choice, this seaside town lies all the way on the eastern end of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast in the Outer Banks. Check out the Boardwalk Café while strolling along the pier and enjoying the gorgeous maritime scenery. Beaufort is known for its multitude of historic homes, the oldest of which is the Hammock House of 1698, once an inn where it is said the infamous pirate Blackbeard was a regular customer. In fact, Beaufort’s bigger claim to fame is the 1996 discovery of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship, under 20 feet of water in the Beaufort Inlet. Restoration and retrieval of artifacts are still underway, and while much of it remains underwater, visitors can still visit the site and enjoy many activities relating to the notorious swashbuckler.
North Dakota: Grand Forks
Grand Forks is wonderful for a small town weekend stay, and summertime is the best time to visit. Get a bite of the local specialty, wild chokecherry mini-pies, at the Town Square Farmer’s Market or a taco at Red Pepper before heading over to the Grand Forks Japanese Garden at Sertoma Park, a gift from the town’s sister city of Awano, Japan. Hunting is also a favored endeavor for residents and visitors, and anglers shouldn’t fear if they’ve missed the summer season — ice fishing is popular in the wintertime too.
Ohio: Yellow Springs
Yellow Springs is a lovely, art-centric village in Ohio that you’ll undoubtedly fall in love with on your first visit. The downtown area is bustling with a unique assortment of local boutiques, galleries, eateries, and pubs that have vibrant and colorful storefronts. It’s also home to the oldest bar in the state, Ye Olde Trail Tavern.
Oklahoma: Medicine Park
The vintage cobblestone of Medicine Park makes this town of just around 400 a lovely sight that will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a time capsule. Hit Cobblestone Row to visit the quaint shops and marvel at the many buildings made of naturally-formed red granite cobblestones indigenous to the surrounding Wichita Mountains. If that’s not enchanting enough, a small river runs through the town as well, making nature’s presence here known.
Oregon: Cannon Beach
Although the coastal Oregon town of Cannon Beach has a population of only around 1,700 people, more than 750,000 visit every year to enjoy an affordable yet totally Instagrammable vacation. Photos of its shore often feature the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, said to be the third largest intertidal monolith — meaning a rock that stands alone in the area where the land meets the sea — in the world. Low tide reveals starfish and other marine life living near the base of the rock. You can also find even more natural beauty at Ecola State Park, a favorite of many hikers and campers for its great views of the coast, and charming little shops line the streets in town.
Pennsylvania: Jim Thorpe
The architecture and scenery of Jim Thorpe has lent itself to being called the “Switzerland of America” and the “Gateway to Poconos.” This romantic, Victorian town is located in the Lehigh Gorge in eastern Pennsylvania and offers visitors everything — from an adventurous experience exploring Pocono Mountains to a quiet weekend away enjoying live entertainment and strolls through the downtown area.
Rhode Island: Newport
The seaside views of Newport, Rhode Island, make this one of the most popular Northeastern summertime destinations, and it's still a great East Coast beach town to visit in the fall. Newport’s famous cliff walk, a three-and-a-half-mile public walkway, holds some of the most beautiful views on the Eastern Seaboard. Witness wildlife and beautiful mansions that run alongside the walkway, the latter of which can also be visited for their own history. If you’re not up for a walk, take your car down the Ocean Drive, a 10-mile drive along the shore that will take you past some of Newport’s best sights.
South Carolina: Charleston
Yet another great destination for Southern history and culture, visitors to charming Charleston can enjoy the city’s centuries-old homes, historic streets, beautiful gardens, and Revolutionary and Civil War-era sites. A height restriction ordinance has kept the skyline low in South Carolina’s largest city, and so it is populated with the city’s many churches, as well as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The nation’s history of slavery is particularly apparent here, and one can visit the sites of old slave markets as well as former slave plantations. In addition to walking tours, there are also carriage tours available for those wishing to experience Charleston without putting in quite as much physical effort.
South Dakota: Deadwood
The hometown (and now resting place) of both Old West folk hero Wild Bill Hickock and famous frontierswoman Calamity Jane, Deadwood is an American city full of history — so much so that the entire city is a National Historic Landmark District, thanks to the still-standing Gold Rush-era architecture there. The South Dakota city is also home to the Buffalo Bodega Gaming Complex, the oldest bar in the state.
Old factories and warehouses have been converted into apartment complexes in Knoxville, ushering in a generation of young people who are bringing Knoxville back to life. Once the setting of the 1982 World’s Fair, Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and is only about 30 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A variety of restaurants and fascinating shops and boutiques line the downtown Market Square — home to one of the country’s best farmers markets — and visitors can head to the Old City for a varied nightlife with something for everyone.
Wimberley is a quaint and beautiful small town in central Texas with much to do. The most exciting entertainments in Wimberley include attending their weekly “Bluegrass Jam” event and losing track of time at the Blue Hole — a gorgeous swimming hole surrounded by cypress trees and park area.
Located in the Heber Valley of Utah, Midway is a town that was settled in the 18th century, largely by Swiss immigrants — a fact that is celebrated in a big way in an annual festival called “Swiss Days,” which thousands attend. Take a tip in the Homestead Caldera, a natural geothermal hot pool in the town that’s over 40 feet deep and has a nice, hot temperature of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit all year. Beautiful architecture against a stunning backdrop of mountains makes this hidden gem a great getaway.
The capital of Vermont is a small town that makes you feel like you’re in Europe. Named after a town in France, Montpelier has plenty of quirky cafés, charming boutiques, and beautiful rolling green hills that make it seem like you’re right in the French countryside.
The charming small town of Roanoke is a great getaway for a beautiful Southern weekend. Roanoke’s City Market is the largest continuously running open-air market on the East Coast and offers great finds all year round. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, perfect for hiking, and visitors can also go camping, boating, and fishing. Roanoke also has plenty of clubs, restaurants, shops, and theaters. Located in the Roanoke Valley, the Virginia town is also nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, making it a prime spot for scenic drives and fall foliage.
Alpine-style buildings cover this Bavarian-inspired town in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. The Pacific Northwestern town of Leavenworth sits in between a gorgeous mountain range and has buildings and houses that will make you feel as though you have been transported to a little German town. Plus, Leavenworth is a prime place to go horseback riding and see some of the town’s ethereal landscape of rivers, lakes, mountains, and forests.
West Virginia: Fayetteville
Known as the “Gateway to the New River Gorge,” Fayetteville is a small town with fantastic scenery and great opportunities for river and outdoor activities. While you can do some horseback riding, you may be more intrigued by the llama treks that are popular here. The waters, rivers, mountains, and landscapes of Fayetteville draw many visitors for scenic hiking, drives, and different river expeditions, most notably rafting. Make sure to check out the Appalachian arts and crafts available in local shops, as well as the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market.
Wisconsin: Lake Geneva
The town of Lake Geneva in southeastern Wisconsin has a wonderful law that states that all lakefront properties must allow for a bit of their land to be used as part of a path that encircles the entire lake. Bikes are banned, which allows for you to go for a nice, tranquil walk, untroubled by cyclists moving at a more frantic pace. You can also rent a boat and actually get on the lake for sailing or parasailing. Cute little stores offer all kinds of trinkets and goods for tourists to take home.
Many people confuse Jackson with Jackson Hole, the latter being a region which happens to be one of the best weekend getaways in America. The city of Jackson is a part of Jackson Hole, but very much its own entity. A small town with only approximately 6,000 year-round residents, Jackson is a beautiful place to be in either the winter or summer, depending on your preferences. Hit up the town square for some interesting and quaint shops, galleries, or eateries, such as Lotus Organic Restaurant & Bakery, or to watch street performers act out a skit in the summers. The winter months turn this town into a hopping ski resort, and the healing arts are big here all year round, with some high-quality day spas. If that kind of vacation is what you’re after, check out our list of the 101 best all-inclusive resorts in the world.
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