In terms of size, the United States is the fourth-largest country in the world. It spans 2,800 miles east to west, and includes Arctic, tropical, alpine and desert climates. It’s also a melting pot of cultures, with various parts of the country reflecting the influences of all the different people who settled there. This geographical and cultural diversity means there is unique beauty to be found in each of the 50 states. These smaller cities in particular have special combinations of natural surroundings, history, architecture and art that make them the prettiest town in their state.
Nicknamed “the jewel of the Eastern Shore,” Fairhope is a postcard-worthy town of around 20,000 people on the Gulf Coast. Its antebellum homes, live oaks draped in Spanish moss and walkable downtown and French Quarter shopping area create a classic, relaxed Southern atmosphere. Picnic by the shore, stroll down Fairhope Municipal Pier or take a trek through Weeks Bay Reserve or Meaher State Park.
Located on the harbor between the Sisters mountain range and the Gulf of Alaska, Sitka is one of Alaska’s less-traveled gems. This remote town with a population of 9,000 still has traces of its Russian heritage in its architecture as well as more than 20 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Sitka is a gorgeous destination for any outdoor adventurer who loves to hike, boat, kayak or climb. The city is also a great destination for animal lovers as it has a boardwalk for viewing humpback whales, offers many whale-watching cruises and is home to the Alaska Raptor Center and Fortress of the Bear, a habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs.
Many vacationers flock to the romantic, relaxing getaway of Sedona, Arizona. This Southwestern city's red rock formations make an otherworldly backdrop for hiking, biking and horseback riding along more than 300 miles of trails. Take a moonlight hike to first see the rocks glow at sunset and then see the sky illuminated with stars around this official Dark Sky City.
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 late 19th and early 20th centuries and open for tours. You can take in the town’s history before enjoying one of the newer, more modern bathhouses or spas in town. Multiple buildings and districts are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is also home to Hot Springs National Park, which has multiple scenic hiking trails.
Carmel-by-the-Sea — often just referred to as Carmel — is a small yet popular destination in Monterey Bay, California. It only takes a few minutes to walk across the entire town, but along the way are plenty of art galleries, cafes, shops, restaurants and adorable homes that look like a storybook come to life. Carmel Beach itself is gorgeous and often populated with visitors catching a picturesque sunset or building a cozy fire. You can also enjoy the views by car as the aptly-named Scenic Drive runs along the beach.
Telluride is a Victorian mining town turned charming ski village nestling in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. In the wintertime, the city looks like a scene from a snowglobe. The ski resort is one of the top skiing vacation destinations in the country and hosts one of the most magical holiday season celebrations. In the warmer months, Telluride is great for hiking, biking, fly fishing and more.
Mystic is a picturesque village of a little over 4,000 people, but it’s a popular tourist spot in Connecticut due to its scenic marinas, shopping and aquarium. The Mystic Seaport Museum is the country’s largest maritime museum and home to the world’s last remaining wooden whaleship, making it a perfect stop for maritime history buffs. Olde Mistick Village is an outdoor shopping experience complete with stores, food and entertainment for the entire family.
Just a little over 1,200 people reside in the coastal Delaware town of Bethany Beach, but thousands of visitors come every summer. The area is known for its peacefulness and for the beautiful views along the Bethany Beach boardwalk, which will take you back in time. Golfing and swimming are popular endeavors here, but the town also has cute little cafes and stores.
St. Augustine is one of the state’s top destinations that proves Florida has so much more to offer than Disney World. This Spanish settlement is actually America’s oldest city and its historic buildings include military forts, castles and Gilded-Age hotels. Climb the more than 200 steps to the top of St. Augustine Lighthouse for amazing views of the city and ocean.
Savannah was spared from destruction by General Sherman and his forces during the Civil War, which is why it is one of the few big Southern cities with its antebellum architecture intact. Despite its larger size, its variety of historic squares lined with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are lovely places to linger and relax. There are multiple tours of the city’s historic buildings and homes, including ghost tours centered around haunted locations related to the city’s more sordid past.
Located on the island of Maui, Lahaina is the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its 19th-century buildings are preserved as part of the Lahaina Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Take a self-guided tour of more than 60 sites along the Lahaina Historic Trail, and then experience Hawaiian culture at a luau or by taking a seafaring canoe trip. In the winter, the Lahaina, one of the most beautiful coastal cities in the country, is an ideal place to go whale watching.
In 1936, Sun Valley became the first destination ski resort in the United States. Thanks to its debut of the world’s first chairlift, Sun Valley helped popularize skiing as an American vacation activity, and the beauty of Sun Valley and its sister city of Ketchum continues to captivate visitors no matter the season. The mountain slopes make for fabulous skiing and snowboarding in the winter and offer great hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing and more in the autumn, spring and summer. Sun Valley Resort also has one of the only outdoor, year-round ice skating rinks in the world. The towns themselves are small and quaint but host a variety of cultural activities.
This Illinois town was originally named for 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 on the National Register of Historic Places and includes more than 1,400 structures showcasing Late Victorian architecture. Enjoy a scenic drive through the town’s rolling hills, and take a stroll down the charming Main Street, which overlooks the Galena River.
Located southwest of Indianapolis and home to Indiana University, Bloomington makes for an ideal weekend retreat thanks to its college-town charm, arts and dining and proximity to outdoor fun. Stroll through the colorful, lively downtown district, and visit art galleries and historic homes. Enjoy the surrounding trees and rolling hills on 200 miles of hiking and cycling trails. Canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard or fish on nearby Lake Lemon, Griffy Lake or Monroe Lake, the state's largest inland lake. Updated May 28, 2020, at 2:10 p.m.: Due to a reporting error an earlier version of this slideshow incorrectly stated the University of Indiana is in Bloomington, it is Indiana University.
One of Iowa’s top vacation destinations, Okoboji is located along part of the Iowa Great Lakes with spring-fed, crystal blue waters. Fish, swim, boat and enjoy water sports or hit the more-than-14-mile Iowa Great Lakes Trail to walk, run, bike or cross-country ski.
Nicknamed “Little Sweden,” Lindsborg is an underrated small town that seems lifted straight from Scandinavia and dropped in the middle of Kansas. The city’s Swedish Pavilion was actually relocated from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Stroll along a self-guided tour of the city’s other historic homes that span 100 years of architectural styles. Visit around a traditional Swedish-American festival or around the holidays to see these buildings and residents decked out to celebrate.
Bardstown is the second-oldest town in Kentucky and it’s a vacation spot with rich history. Hundreds of its historic buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including My Old Kentucky Home, a 200-year-old plantation named after the abolitionist-inspired ballad “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” It’s also home to more than half a dozen distilleries and hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, making it the perfect place to experience Kentucky’s bourbon scene.
While New Orleans is one of the country’s top culinary destinations, the town of Breaux Bridge is both the Crawfish Capital of the World and the prettiest town in Louisiana. Settled by French-Canadians in the 1700s and steeped in Cajun culture, Breaux Bridge is home to the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Nearby Lake Martin and the Atchafalaya Basin have ample opportunities to fish, canoe and more in the bayou.
This coastal town in Maine has plenty of local shops and restaurants to keep visitors busy, but there are also the Camden Hills to explore. Hit the water and go sailing in the harbor, the entrance of which is marked by the picturesque Curtis Island Lighthouse, or go mountain biking or hiking in a beautiful state park at Camden Hills. The Mount Battie Trail takes explorers up to the mountain’s 780-foot summit, where a stone lookout tower offers amazing 360-degree views of the region below.
The small, charming coastal town of St. Michaels, Maryland, sits along Chesapeake Bay and offers old-world history and modern amenities. The historic downtown is dotted with adorable shops, while the harbor is a lovely place to cruise or sail. Trails for hiking, biking, kayaking and more also wind in and around St. Michaels.
The largest community on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown is a beautiful, classic New England town that has preserved homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Stroll and shop along well-manicured streets, go boating on Katama Bay, passing the charming Edgartown Lighthouse, or head to Norton Point Beach to fish, swim and sunbathe.
With its Victorian buildings and island-wide motor vehicle ban, Mackinac Island feels like stepping back in time. In fact, Mackinac Island is home to the only state highway in the country that doesn’t allow motor vehicles. Enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, golfing, stand-up paddleboarding and more. Take a carriage ride through town or kick back in a rocking chair on the porch of the historic Grand Hotel and take in the view. And no visit to Mackinac Island would be complete without sampling its famous fudge.
Lanesboro is a small, isolated town in southeastern Minnesota with a population of less than 1,000 where you won’t find any wine bars or large chain stores. Its small-town charm, relaxing pace and arts scene make it a great Midwestern weekend getaway. To get your blood pumping, there are trails for cross-country skiing in winter and hiking and biking, trout fishing, and canoeing the Root River in the warmer months.
Natchez’s prosperity prior to the Civil War led to a plethora of antebellum homes that survived the war and today are a testament to Southern history. You can take both driving and walking tours of Natchez’s beautiful historic district or even take a horse-drawn carriage tour. The Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. It runs through 450 miles of protected land from Natchez through Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee.
A village in the Missouri River Valley, Hermann has multiple wineries and craft distilleries tucked into the town’s rolling hills. Established by Germans in the 19th century, this old Missouri town has a cozy, old-fashioned atmosphere with vintage brick buildings that line the sidewalks. The nearby Katy Trail is a hiking, biking and horseback riding trail converted from a railroad line.
Whitefish serves as the gateway to Montana’s breathtaking Glacier National Park and also offers access to the skiing and mountain biking trails of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Take in the surrounding natural beauty by driving the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, hike along the Highline Trail to Grinnell Glacier, and boat or paddleboard on Whitefish Lake for amazing views.
Visitors often fall in love when they visit Valentine, Nebraska. The small town of less than 3,000 people is the perfect base camp for all sorts of outdoor adventures. The 72,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge includes nine lakes with year-round fishing, and Merritt Reservoir has sandy beaches and some of the state’s best fishing. Smith Falls State Park is home to Nebraska's tallest waterfall, the Niobrara River is great for kayaking, canoeing and tubing, and Valentine is the terminus of the 195-mile Cowboy Trail, a hiking and biking trail made from converted railroad tracks.
The town of Genoa is the oldest permanent settlement in the state of Nevada. Amazingly, it’s retained that Western frontier feel even 150 years later. Surrounded by pine forests and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Genoa is particularly magical in the winter under a coat of fluffy white snow. Genoa is a great ski vacation destination with multiple resorts as well as a lovely location for hiking, boating and more in the warmer months.
One of the oldest cities in the country, the area that is now Portsmouth was settled in 1623 and its downtown features many historic, charming buildings. Strawbery Banke Museum is a living history museum that preserves 32 historic buildings and 10 heirloom gardens. Enjoy unique maritime adventures like whale watching and lobster fishing, or relax on a steamboat cruise or casual stroll along the 10-acre waterfront of Prescott Park. Due to a reporting error an earlier version of this slideshow incorrectly stated when Portsmouth was settled. The correct year is 1623.
On the southernmost tip of New Jersey lies the coastal city of Cape May, home to America’s oldest seaside resort. Declared a national landmark in 1976, Cape May is known for its Victorian architecture, fantastic beaches and access to water sports. Climb the 199 steps of its iconic lighthouse for fabulous views of the charming town and shore.
Despite being a small town with about 5,000 residents, Taos is quintessentially New Mexico with something for every type of traveler. The Taos Ski Valley is a must for anyone wanting to try out the Southwestern slopes. The nearby Rio Grande makes for fun river adventures, while the Enchanted Circle is a National Forest Scenic Byway that winds through the area’s beautiful scenery. The nearby Taos Pueblo is a beautifully preserved Native American community. It is home to the 200-year-old St. Francisco de Asis church as well as other amazing adobe structures.
Located in central New York’s Finger Lakes region, Ithaca is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College, which have some of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. The town lies at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, and the gorges, waterfalls and hills make a great backdrop for hiking and biking. In the autumn, this is a prime spot to enjoy fall foliage.
While it might not be a hidden gem anymore, the hip and happening mountain town of Asheville is still a gorgeous, must-visit destination in North Carolina. Asheville has something to offer in any season, but it’s particularly breathtaking in the fall due to the flaming colors that cover the surrounding slopes of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. The city itself has one of the most comprehensive collections of 20th-century architecture in the U.S., including Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Spanish Romanesque buildings. The most notable landmark of Asheville, however, is actually just a few minutes outside of the city: the Biltmore Estate. Influenced by French Renaissance architecture, the beautiful chateau has over 250 rooms and is the largest privately owned house in the world.
North Dakota’s top tourist destination, Medora is surrounded by the stunning badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is located within the Little Missouri National Grassland, the largest grassland in the country. Explore the park on foot, horse or mountain bike along the Maah Daah Hey Trail. Check out the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and rustle up some local grub in town before catching a performance of the Medora Musical, a Wild West-themed show that runs each summer in an open-air amphitheater.
The village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, is a quaint, artistic community that is next to lovely natural surroundings. Nearby John Bryan State Park, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and Little Miami State and National Scenic River are outdoor playgrounds no matter the season, with spots to fish, rock climb, hike and more. The downtown area is bustling with a unique assortment of local boutiques, galleries, eateries and pubs featuring colorful storefronts.
Tishomingo is a quaint town that is home to Murray State College and just over 3,000 residents. It’s the former capital city of the Chickasaw Nation and the Chickasaw Council House and Museum preserves the town’s Native American history, art and culture. Tishomingo is surrounded by scenic locations, such as the Blue River, known for its trout fishing and kayaking, and the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, a peaceful place to hike, hunt, fish and spot wildlife.
Although the coastal Oregon town of Cannon Beach has a population of only around 1,700 people, more than 750,000 people visit every year to enjoy its iconic scenery. Perhaps its most famous landmark is the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, the third largest intertidal monolith — meaning a rock that stands alone in the area where the land meets the sea — in the world. You can also find even more natural beauty at nearby Ecola State Park, a favorite of many hikers and campers for its great views of the coast. The park is just minutes from the quaint seaside village with shops, breweries, distilleries and more.
The architecture and scenery of Jim Thorpe has earned it the nickname “the Switzerland of America.” This romantic, Victorian town is located in eastern Pennsylvania and offers visitors everything — from outdoor adventures exploring the Pocono Mountains to a quiet, quaint downtown area. Take in the lush scenery from a train ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, or spend time in nature hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, skiing and more.
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 offseason as well. Newport’s famous cliff walk, a 3.5-mile public walkway, provides some of the most beautiful views on the Eastern Seaboard. See both wildlife and beautiful mansions that run alongside the walkway or take your car down the Ocean Drive, a 10-mile road along the shore that will take you past some of Newport’s best sights.
Located on Port Royal Island, Beaufort is the most beautiful town in South Carolina thanks to its historic antebellum mansions framed by moss-draped live oak trees. On top of enjoying the ambiance on a stroll near the waterfront in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park or a horse-drawn carriage ride through town, visitors can explore Beaufort’s waterways by canoe, kayak and boat. Visit the Spanish Moss trail or Hunting Island lighthouse for amazing views of the water.
The great outdoors can be experienced in full in and around Sioux Falls, which still has small-town charm despite being South Dakota’s second-largest city. The crown jewel of Falls Park near downtown is the famous falls of the Big Sioux River. The park also boasts almost 30 miles of biking and walking trails but is just one of the city’s more than 80 parks. Rock climbers can work their way up 50-foot quartzite cliffs at nearby Palisades State Park, while Newton Hills State Park offers opportunities for swimming, fishing and wildlife viewing.
Sewanee is an idyllic mountain top village that is home to The University of the South and is surrounded by the lush, rugged landscape of Middle Tennessee. The highlight of the campus’s architecture is All Saints Chapel, which has vaulted ceilings and stunning stained glass windows. Outside of campus are more than 50 miles of trails, including 10 different hiking routes within the 20-mile university Perimeter Trail and five miles of hiking and biking trails made from abandoned portions of the Mountain Goat Railroad. Landmarks along the trails include Sewanee Natural Bridge, the WWI Memorial Cross and Bridal Veil Falls.
Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country not far from Austin and San Antonio, Fredericksburg is a German town with a historic, charming downtown area, more than a dozen wineries, cozy B&Bs, a European-style painted church and access to outdoor activities. Nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has 8.4 miles of hiking trails and rock climbing areas. Fredericksburg is also a great place to see the Texas hills blossom with thousands of bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes and more in the spring. Stroll through the colorful fields at Wildseed Farms, the nation’s largest wildflower farm, where you can actually pick your own bouquet.
While Utah is home to bustling big cities and lovely ski towns, Moab is absolutely stunning thanks to its location amid the state’s fantastical red rock formations. The city is near both Arches National Park, home to the iconic Delicate Arch, and Canyonlands National Park as well as the underrated Dead Horse Point State Park, known for its 2,000-foot-high overlook of the breathtaking scenery and the Colorado River. The area is also worth seeing at night as Moab has some of the darkest skies in the contiguous U.S., making thousands of stars visible in the night sky.
Stowe is a quintessential small New England ski town that’s home to the Vermont Ski Museum. But it has much more to offer. The Trapp Family Lodge draws fans of “The Sound of Music” and fits right in among the town’s other alpine-inspired chalets and mountain scenery, including Mount Mansfield, the state's highest peak. Stowe’s natural beauty shines in every season, though many visitors come here for scenic walks and drives to see the changing leaves in autumn.
A destination every history buff should visit, Williamsburg, Virginia is home to the living history museum at Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestowne and the preserved Yorktown Battlefield. After immersing yourself in history and appreciating the architecture of 18th-century buildings, enjoy the natural surroundings with a drive down Colonial Parkway, a canoe or kayak trip at York River State Park or Powhatan Creek Park, or a bike ride along the Virginia Capital Trail, one of the first inland routes in North America.
Washington state has many charming coastal communities, but its prettiest town is actually located on an island off the coast. Part of the San Juan Island, Friday Harbor is a dreamy destination for a weekend getaway thanks to its historic wooden buildings and beautiful views of the surrounding waters and mountains. Explore the area on a sunset cruise, whale-watching trip to see wild orcas or a kayak safari along rugged shorelines.
Located on the rim of the New River Gorge, Fayetteville is a small town with fantastic scenery and great opportunities for river and outdoor activities. The town’s charming Historic District includes 75 historic homes and buildings. The New River is a top destination for whitewater rafting, rock climbing and fishing, and trails around the area include numerous scenic overlooks. For one-of-a-kind views, visitors can take a guided walk along the catwalk beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, one of the longest single-span arch bridges in the world, or a stunt flight over the gorge in a vintage biplane.
The adorable village of Ephraim in Door County, located along the northern shores of Lake Michigan, is one of the most photogenic places in Wisconsin. Settled in 1853 by Norwegian Moravians, the village has preserved many of its historic European-style buildings. Ephraim has a waterfront path that is the perfect place to watch the sunset over Peninsula State Park. Stop for a scoop at the town’s century-old ice cream parlor or partake in an authentic Door County fish boil.
For a true taste of authentic cowboy culture and history in the Cowboy State, visit the charming Western town of Sheridan, Wyoming. The town is surrounded by the Bighorn Mountains, an alpine playground for hiking, biking, camping, boating, fishing and photographing wildlife. Bighorn National Forest has more than 1,200 miles of trails and includes the majestic Cloud Peak Wilderness area. The small town has plenty of watering holes, including a local brewery and the more-than-100-year-old Mint Bar. It’s also home to the Sheridan Inn, which was originally built and run by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1893. Wyoming is also known for its meat, and one of its restaurants is among America's best inexpensive steakhouses.
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