Small towns are what make America Great.
With their strong sense of community and culture, each town is unique to its region and a product of the people who live there, and the land that forms its borders. However, just because a town is small in terms of population does not mean that is is any less valuable than our bigger cities. In fact, small towns have the ability to capture us in ways that would be impossible to emulate in larger towns and cities.
Captivated by small towns and what they offer to the U.S. we wanted to explore some of the best towns in the country and try to figure out what draws people to these tiny destinations in droves, and how they have captured the hearts of Americans in all 50 states!
While New York and Los Angeles are not in danger of losing their prominence to any of these towns, our top 10 small towns offer many things that our biggest cities could only dream to offer!
To be featured on the list, a town must have a population below 20,000 people, and be at least 30 miles outside of a major metropolitan area (greater than 1,000,000 people). At HudsonWorks, we’re not big fans of rules so this was the only criterion in our search. Well, one further criterion was that these towns had to exude charm and beauty. As we’re sure you’ll see and agree, charm and beauty is something none of these ten towns lack!
Without further ado, here are our top 10 small towns in America!
10: Mystic, Connecticut
First up on our list of the top small towns in the U.S. is Mystic, Connecticut! Located in New London County, Connecticut, Mystic had a population of 4,205 at the 2010 Census Estimate.
For such a small town (3.8 square miles), Mystic has quite a unique political and physical geography. Located within two towns, Groton, which is west of the Mystic River and Stonington, east of the Mystic River, Mystic is technically not a legal municipality because it has no independent government.
Packed with culture, Mystic was originally a Pequot village overlooking the Mystic River, Mystic has been a recored settlement since at least 1637.
Mystic’s growth exploded in the 18th century transforming from an agricultural community to a manufacturing and maritime town.
In the Modern Day, Mystic relies heavily on tourism to fuel the economy, and is one of the largest tourist destinations in the North East of the United States. The Mystic Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions with its famous beluga whales-we’ve been and they’re absolutely adorable!
In addition to the Aquarium, water lovers can head to the Mystic Seaport, founded in 1929, with a collection of over 500 historic ships, galleries, a restored shipyard and even a 19th century village! With four National Historic Landmark ships, the museum is one of the most important maritime museums in the world!
No discussion of Mystic would be complete without mentioning the Mystic Pizza restaurant, the basis for the film Mystic Pizza. The film follows the three main characters, portrayed by Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish and Lili Taylor as they waitress at the Restaurant.
Frozen versions of the famous pizza can be found in grocery stores across the world, to give people a little taste of New England.
With almost four centuries of unique history, adventure, culture and fine dining at every corner, its hard to put many towns above Mystic, and that’s why it has secured the number ten spot on our countdown list!
9: Traverse City, Michigan
Welcome to Cherryland, Traverse City, Michigan.
As the largest cherry producer in the United States, its only right that Traverse City celebrates this title appropriately. The National Cherry Festival has been celebrated during the first week of July since 1931, and originally celebrated in May at the festivals inception in 1925. The switch to summer seems to have worked for Traverse City as the Festival now attracts more than 500,000 people. Once holding the Guinness World Record for baking the world’s largest Cherry Pie at 17 feet and 6 inches in diameter on July 25, 1987, its safe to say this town is crazy for cherries.
With such fertile ground, the area is also widely known for its orchards and vineyards, producing top quality wine.
More than just the largest American producer of the tart fruit (and perhaps the world), Traverse City is the heart of Northern Michigan, and a major resort & destination town in the Midwest. At 8.66 Square Miles and a population of 15,042 at the 2015 Census Estimate, the City anchored a metro area of 144,411 people.
A Historic town, Traverse City was named after the Grand Traverse Bay, originally named by 18th century French explorers and tradesmen meaning “the long crossing”, the first settlement was started in 1839 by Reverend Peter Dougherty.
There are 11 Historical Markers in Traverse City and the surrounding area, with the downtown designated as a historic district. One of the most prominent buildings is the City Opera House, completed in 1892 by E.R. Prall and commissioned by Perry Hannah, Charles Wilhelm, Tony Bartok, and Frank Votruba. The 1200-seat Opera House was the first building in the city to feature electric lights.
As is the case with many historic structures in Midwestern Cities, the Opera House was left abandoned and vacant for more than 40 years, despite being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Thankfully, in 1985 a 30-year $8,500,000 restoration plan commenced and has been completed, brining back the Opera House’s former glory.
Another prominent building in Traverse City is the Traverse City State Hospital. Established in 1881 and opening in 1885 as the Northern Michigan Asylum, the building was designed by architect Gordon D. Wood in a Victorian-Italianate style. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, as the campus expanded and more buildings were added, Traverse City began to grow as well.
Unfortunately, a similar, yet more severe, fate met the hospital and its campus in the 70’s and 80’s as the City Opera House. Many of the buildings were demolished and the Main center wing of building 50 (pictured above) was demolished due to perceived safety hazards, and a modern building, not particularly too pretty, replaced the historic structure. Eventually, the hospital was shut down in 1989 entirely.
However, Traverse City holds dearly to its historic past and understands that it is the key to ensuring it’s success in the future. The site has been redeveloped and restored by the Minervini Group, with almost every building on the campus repurposed to residential, or commercial space.
Traverse City is so special because unlike many other towns that rely on tourism in the U.S, the city is by no means a seasonal town. In the warmer months, there are many beaches and rivers to explore, by kayak or historic ship, along with numerous secret hideaways for fishing, forests and hiking trails. Most notable amongst the open areas of Traverse City is the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Comprised of dozens of miles of hiking trails along the scenic Lake Michigan Shoreline, visitors can take in the abundant biodiversity of the beautiful national park. Strikingly, in the summer months it looks and feels like a Pacific Paradise Island, but is apart of the northern contiguous United States! In the colder months, and it can get quite cold in Northern Michigan, the people of Traverse City head to the slopes for downhill skiing, and other outdoor mountain activities such as cross country skiing and tubing.
Whatever the season, Traverse City is the place to be in Northern Michigan.With a small town atmosphere, yet big city amenities, The Queen City of the North is certainly a must-visit small town.
8: Bar Harbor, Maine
Located on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, Bar Harbor had a population of 5,308 at the 2014 census estimate. Located 175 miles away from Portland, Maine and 281 miles away from Boston, Massachusetts, to visit Bar Harbor is to escape from the world.
A large portion of the Acadia National Park calls Bar Harbor home, and amazingly this small town is packed with thousands of acres of protected park lands. Included in the Park are the Wild Gardens of Acadia, home to over 200 indigenous species of plants, shrubs and trees.
Famous for its waterfront situated on Frenchman Bay, the streets of Bar Harbor are lined with quaint maritime shops. Don’t worry, included in these shops are multiple Lobster shacks and restaurants, a staple of Maine! Along the water is the Shore Path. Created in 1880, it is the best way to interact with Bar Harbor’s waterfront without getting wet. For those who are slightly more adventurous, kayaks and paddle boards are available for rent, and you can kayak just meters away from the whales who migrate to Maine’s coast each summer.
For those looking for activities on land in addition to hiking, Bar Harbor is the Northern Terminus of the Atlantic Coast Bicycle Route ending in Key West, Florida and also the Eastern Terminus of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier Bicycle Route ending in Anacortes, Washington. That’s a lot of biking!
Home to the College of the Atlantic, a school which emphasizes fostering relationships between humans and the environment, there is a palpable connection to the local ecosystems when you are in Bar Harbor. Through various tours, Puffins, Whales, Seals, Seabirds and other animals can be seen in their picturesque natural environment.
Founded in 1796 (fittingly as Eden), Bar Harbor has a wealth of history, and historic architecture to match. Unfortunately, much of this historic architecture was burned to the ground in the 1947 Mount Desert Island Fire, a result of severe drought. According to records, 67 homes on Millionaire’s row were burned down, five historic hotels and 170 homes of year-round permanent residents. While many were forced to leave Bar Harbor because of the fire, the Main Street, called Mount Desert Street, was saved and today thrives as a historic district recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
An international hub for tourists, Bar Harbor caters to many different types of people. From thrill seekers to those in need of a quiet sojourn, this Maine town really has it all.
For more information on Bar Harbor, please visit AcadiaMagic.Com for a more in-depth look at this magnificent Maine town, and more beautiful photos like those featured above.
7: Bardstown, Kentucky
Bardstown: A downtown so picturesque it seems like it was or is or should be a backdrop for a utopian society in a Disney movie. Located in Nelson County in Central Kentucky, Bardstown had a population of 12,998 at the 2014 Census Estimate. Just 40.6 miles away from the largest city in the state, Louisville, and 60 miles to Lexington (go Cats), Bardstown is in the center of it all.
As the second oldest town in the state of Kentucky (1785), Bardstown’s entire downtown area is located on the National Historic Registry with more than 200 buildings in the historic district listed alone! These 200 buildings are apart of the more than 300 Historically designated buildings in Nelson County.
In addition to the historic buildings along Main Street, Bardstown is also historic in the world of Bourbon. In fact, the gentleman’s drink of choice was discovered in 1789 not far from Bardstown.
As the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown almost has too many distilleries to count, but we’re going to try anyway! Home to Barton 1792, Four Roses Distillery, Heaven Hill Distilleries, The Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Willett Distillery amongst numerous others along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown is the Bourbon drinker’s paradise.
To accommodate the tourism associated with the drink, there are numerous inns specializing as Bourbon Inns, Museums to the beverage, and a myriad of Bourbon Bars. For one week a year The Kentucky Bourbon Festival brings thousands of people together with the distilleries in Bourbon Country for 6 days of Smoky Contemplation and joy.
Voted the Best Small Town in America as a result of a co-sponsored competition by Rand McNally and USA Today, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the fairy tale that is Bardstown, Bourbon, and Beautiful Historic Streets.
However, this Kentucky town is more than just the 3 above-mentioned B’s, there are a couple more to be mentioned as well.
The Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is a 14,000 acre preserve founded by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim in 1929, (who, no surprise, is the predecessor to the I.W. Harper Brand of Bourbon) and opened to the public in 1950 after ingenious design from the incomparable Fredrick Law Olmsted landscape architecture firm of Central Park and Stanley Park fame, amongst numerous other public landscape gifts to society.
With a vision of “No discussion of religion or politics, no trading or trafficking…” and stating “No distinction will be shown between the rich or poor, white or colored.” Bernheim was a revolutionary in 1929, for his social views and desire to connect people with nature on a more intimate level.
Stephen Foster’s famous anti-slavery ballad, “My Old Kentucky Home” which was praised by famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas, is brought to life in the My Old Kentucky Home State Park, a beautifully preserved 18th and 19th century community of homes and land. The Federal Hill Mansion, the Old Kentucky Home, now graces the back of the Kentucky State Quarter.
After sipping Bourbon and singing the songs of Stephen Foster, a trip on My Old Kentucky Dinner train is a perfect way to end a stay in Bardstown. A journey through the picturesque bluegrass state on a train while being served dinner is reminiscent of a time passed, and surely a tradition that will continue into the future.
The B’s of Bardstown: Bourbon, Beautiful Historic Streets, Bernheim and Bluegrass beckon travelers from all over the world. While a little off the beaten path, Bardstown is a destination that shouldn’t be missed by traveler charmed by charm!
6: Jackson, Wyoming
One of the most visually stunning places on Earth, Jackson is the gateway to some of the West’s best parks including the Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and The National Elk Refuge. The beauty of these places is unparalleled and must truly be seen to be believed.
Located in Teton County and nestled in a valley between the Teton and Gros Ventre Mountain Ranges with Snake River running through the middle of town, Jackson had a population of 10,449 at the 2014 Census Estimate, anchoring the 31,464 people in the Jackson, Wyoming Metropolitan Area.
Embodying the Spirit of the Old West, Jackson has strong roots in Cowboy Culture, and was in fact originally settled by mountain men and cattle ranchers (cowboys). This culture can be felt every year at the annual Jackson Hole Rodeo, taking place from May to September. An international event, the rodeo has been held for more than 100 years! For more taste of the Jackson’s Western spirit, head to Jackson in late May for the Old West Days. Celebrating 35 years this May 27th-30th, the Old West Days have many great events such as the Mountain Men Rendezvous, Stagecoach Rides, Historical walking tours, The Jackson Hole Shootout (started in 1957, it is the oldest shootout in the country! Don’t worry though, its not real!), Rodeo, and many more events!
The most iconic building in Jackson also pays tribute to the town known as “The Last of the Old West”. The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar was originally founded in the 1890’s with its modern name and character deriving from 1937 to the mid 1940’s. The bar pays tribute to the Cowboys who first settled Jackson, and is a must see destination.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is in the center of town, just across the street from George Washington Memorial Park. This park is the central gathering place for all Jacksonites, and the stage where the numerous festivals in Jackson are set.
At each of the four corners of the park are the iconic antler archers. Since 1960, the shed antlers of Elk in the nearby National Elk Refuge have been collected and recycled into these wonderful pieces of art. A truly inspirational message of how cities and the environment can co-exist, and benefit eachother.
With rustic shops dating back to the official formation of the town in 1894, walking around downtown is to be transported a century in the past, truly experiencing “The Last of the Old West.”
Though the town is gorgeous and the surrounding environment is breathtaking, Jackson is known for its world-class skiing. The original ski resort in Jackson, Snow King Mountain Resort has been around since 1939. With much cheaper all day lift-tickets than the other resorts in town ($47 compared to $121) it is the only resort in town and offers a more relaxed, albeit less luxurious experience.
The Second Resort opened near Jackson, Grand Targhee in 1960 in Alta, Wyoming, is approximately 42 miles from Jackson and in fact closer to Driggs, Idaho than Jackson, Wyoming. Averaging over 500 inches of powder a year, Grand Targhee annually receives more snow than any other resort in North America-a wonderful resort for snow lovers!
The most recent ski resort in Jackson is also it’s most famous. The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was built in 1966 in Grand Teton, Wyoming, just 12 miles northwest of the city center. With challenging terrain and some of the highest vertical drops in North America, Jackson Hole is a world class Ski Resort. With 17 current lifts and 116 runs the ski resort is legendary. Jackson Hole’s prowess is so significant that many people who are not familiar with the area assume that The Town of Jackson is in fact the same as Jackson Hole, even though Jackson Hole is not a town.
One of the most beautiful places on Earth, Jackson is an adventure seeker’s paradise. With some of the best skiing and hiking in the world and an Old West Charm with paired with the most luxurious amenities available, Jackson is undoubtedly one of the Top Towns in the U.S, if not the world.
For more information about this incredible town, please Visit JacksonHoleChamber.com, the townofjackson.com and jacksonholenet.com.
5: Nantucket, Massachusetts
The land of Lighthouses, Toggery and and serenity, Nantucket is a summer’s dream.
Located thirty miles south of Cape Cod, and and three and a half hours away from Boston, Nantucket is an island oasis. The town of Nantucket is Coterminous with the Island and County of Nantucket, home to 10,856 year round residents as of the 2014 Census Estimate.
Controversially, many are undecided whether the name Nantucket derives from the Algonquin People or Wampanoag People’s name for the island Nautica or Natocke. In any case, the name means “Far Away Land” fitting for the island dozens of miles off shore.
Nantucket has a rich history, with Native Americans inhabiting the island for an unknown period of time before the 1640’s when Thomas Mayhew came to Nantucket and found 3,000 people living on Nantucket.
In the early 18th century, whaling took off as the predominant industry in Nantucket, further cementing the islanders relationship and dependence on the sea for sustenance.
However, the prosperity that whaling and ship building once brought Nantucket started to wane. With the decline of Maritime industries in Nantucket, the island went through a tough period, declining in population every census from 1830 to 1920, and sustaining further losses into the 1940’s. This decline in population and disinvestment turned around in the 1950’s when developers started to rebrand the island as an upscale destination.
With a newfound vigor and pride, and after decades of being fed up with isolation and neglect and fear of no representation due to redistricting, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard moved to secede from the union in 1977. Although their secession was not recognized, this little known secession movement produced an interesting flag and is the basis for the “I’m going to America” joke whenever residents leave either of the islands.
In the present day, the dreams of the developers of the 1950’s would have come true as Nantucket is an upscale summer oasis for wealthy families. With a population of 50,000 people during the summer months, Nantucket truly comes alive from May to September.
Nantucket’s Historic Nature is well preserved, with the whole island being designated a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places under the Nantucket Historic District Designation. The oldest buildings on the island date back to the 17th century, which are mostly built out of wood.
But perhaps the most iconic buildings on the island are the federal style homes of 19th century merchants who displayed their wealth through the construction of stylized and sophisticated dwellings. These can be found in downtown Nantucket, and continue in the tradition of the merchants who previously owned them as many of these mixed-use buildings have retail on the first floor and residences on the second floor.
Although many of the original buildings along Main Street were destroyed in the Fire of 1846, the entire neighborhood was rebuilt in the Greek Revival Style comprising of two and three story stone structures, worthy of designation in and of itself.
Some of the most important buildings on Nantucket which allowed for the island wide historic designation include The Old Mill, St Paul’s Church and the Sankaty Head Light and Brant Point Light. Completed in 1746, The Old Mill is the oldest functioning mill in the United States, and was built by Nathan Wilbur to a height of 50 feet, with four thirty foot vanes. The mill was constructed with oak beams that washed ashore from ship wrecks, and held together by wooden pins and scrap metal,The Old Mill has incredible longevity for a recycled structure!
Nantucket is a wonderful escape from the world, isolated off of Massachusetts’ coast offering a historic and serene retreat for visitors and residents alike. If you ever find yourself in New England, be sure to head to the far away land for what promises to be a magical trip.
4: Hood River, Oregon
For out fourth best small town in the U.S. we’re heading to the Great State of Oregon. Located at the Confluence of the Hood River and the Columbia River in Hood River County Oregon, Hood River is a scenic and serene destination just over 60 miles from the largest city in the state, Portland. With a 2014 Census Estimate estimated population of just 7,476, this small town packs a punch.
Discovered by Lewis and Clark on October 29th, 1805, Hood River was originally called Labeasche River after a waterman on their expedition. Today, the river is a vital part of the city, and plays an important role in supplying activities to the residents of Hood River County giving them some of the highest quality of life in North America.
Hood River is the Wind Surfer Capitol of the World, and takes advantage of a protected area known as “The Hook” along the Columbia River Gorge that allows surfers of all skill levels to try the extreme activity.
If Windsurfing isn’t up your alley, many Hobie Boats are chartered on the Gorge as well. Whatever option you do choose, just be sure to get out on the water when you’re in Hood River!
After you try your hand at Windsurfing, Hobie Boating, or floating down the river in an inner tube, head inland to the orchards and vineyards that make Hood River famous. With dozens of wineries to choose from, the orchards of Hood River County are nothing short of than stunning.
Giving visitors access to the dozens of incredible orchards and vineyards in Hood River County is The Fruit Loop, a 35 mile loop around the scenic valley, the Columbia River Gorge. To inform visitors about the largest pair producing region in the U.S, travelers can experience all stages of the growing process and taste the fruit and wine themselves on their self guided tours-talk about farm to table!
While all of the natural landscapes surrounding Hood River are beautiful, the architecture and design of Hood River is equally stunning. There are 27 places on the National Registry of Historic Places in the county, most notably the Columbia Gorge Hotel. The Hotel was originally developed in 1904 as the Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel, a Native American name for Rushing Water, and received it’s current name in 1920, and fully restored to its former glory in 1977.
The Gorgeous, yet ominous looking mountain, gracefully photobombing almost every shot of Hood River is fittingly called Mount Hood. A potentially active volcano, Mount Hood is the largest peak in Oregon at 11,249 feet tall. This snow capped mountain maternally watches over the lands stretching out beneath it, and its guidance is certainly welcomed by all who visit Hood River.
There are many festivals in town, such as the Harvest Fest, which take advantage of the beautiful downtown and riverfront, showcasing beer from the many local breweries and food from around the area.
With four distinct neighborhoods, Downtown, The Riverfront, The Heights and West Cascade, Hood River is surprisingly quite diverse in its community offerings for such a small town. From upscale and hipster boutiques, shops and galleries, to mountainous enclaves, waterfront living and traditional suburban communities, as cliché as it sounds Hood River really does have somewhere for everyone.
Additionally, Hood River partakes in the Sister Cities program and is paired with Tsruta, Japan in an annual cultural exchange. This is just one of many reasons why Hood River is such a unique and sought-out destination by thousands of people.
Thank you to Blaine Franger at BeautifulHoodRiver.com Check out the site for more amazing pictures! Also be sure to visit hoodriver.org, ci.hood-river.or.us, and the hoodriverfruitloop.com for more information on this picturesque town!
3: Park City, Utah
Park City: Where the stars come to ski, enjoy the outdoors and share their best passion projects.
Located in Summit County, a 40 minute drive from Salt Lake City, Park City had a population of 8,058 at the 2014 Census Estimate. Formerly a mining town, Park City has been reborn as a both cultural and tourist hotspot, bringing in well over $500,000,000 a year to the economy as a result of tourism.
Park City is notorious for its skiing, and with two of the best resorts in the country, Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, its no wonder why. Because of these high quality resorts, Park City played host to the 2002 Winter Olympics and is the home to the United States Ski Team, as well as training grounds for other National teams such as Australia
In addition to great mountains and the olympics, Park City is home to the largest independent film festival in the U.S, The Sundance Film Festival. Founded in 1978, Sundance features 200 films and attracts more than 50,000 people to watch the independent films shown. As a result of this, Park City has been featured prominently in pop culture, including cameos in Entourage, One Tree Hill and Gilmore Girls. With a stated goal of “Celebrating independence, creativity and risk-taking, the Sundance Film Festival plays a vital role in identifying emerging international talent and connecting them with audiences and industry in the United States,” Sundance is the place to be during the last week of January each Winter.
As a result of the mining boom that originally brought people to Park City, hundreds of millions of dollars were mined creating dozens of millionaires in the 19th century, who subsequently invested back into the city creating a truly gorgeous Historic Main Street. Lined with 64 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the history of these buildings as well as the mining and skiing history of Park City is on display at the Park City Museum. With more than 250 shops, museums and attractions, Main Street is certainly the center of it all!
In the summer, residents of Park City gather every Sunday from June to September for the Park Silly Sunday Market, where the streets are lined with vendors, performers, a farmers market and much more. According to it’s mission statement, The Park Silly Sunday Market is “an ecofriendly open air market, street festival and commUnity forum where neighbors and friends come together to celebrate our commUnity of fun and funky Park Sillians.” and “to grow and expand the experience of the inclusive quality of commUnity. To create worldwide recognition of Park City, Utah as the place where local, national and international causes are brought to light and addressed in the spirit of celebration and connectedness.”
With art galleries and food tours as well, life is never boring in Park City-it is full of adventure!! The culture, adventurous lifestyle and historic beauty and charm of Park City allows it to crack the top 3 of our countdown!
2: Aspen, Colorado
One of the most beautiful and exclusive places in the country, Aspen is a luxurious mountain escape full of history and adventure.
With a 2015 Census Estimate counting the 3.5 square mile city’s year-round population at 6,882, the Population explodes in the Winter Months, bringing tens of thousands of seasonal owners and visitors to Pitkin County, only 3 hours away from Denver.
Originally founded as Ute city in 1879, before adopting the name Aspen in 1880, this Colorado city came to prominence as a silver mining district-the most productive in the nation. With this mining boom, thousands of people hoping to strike it rich flocked to Aspen and built much of the historic center of town that can be seen today. However, the town’s mines were closed leading to a mass exodus out of the city following the Panic of 1893.
Aspen’s tough times began to turn around post World War II when the Aspen Skiing Corporation was founded, bringing life back into the then-almost ghost city. Since the foundation of the Aspen Skiing Corporation, five ski resorts call The Roaring Fork Valley home including Aspen Mountain, the successor to the Aspen Skiing Corporation, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass and Sunlight.
The Proliferation of Skiing in Pitkin County has lead to Aspen’s reputation as one of the most expensive and luxurious small cites on Earth. Anchored by an abundance Historic Architecture including 29 sites on the National Register of Historic Places and hundreds more on the Aspen Inventory of Historic Landmark Sites and Structures, the city has utilized it’s historic building stock excellently to create a vibrant modern town with high end fashion houses and local restaurants.
According to Realtor.com, Aspen is the fourth least affordable ski town in America behind Vail and Telluride, Colorado (#1 and #3 on the list respectively) and Park City, Utah at #2 on the list. With a median listing price of $5,081,388 in 2015 (Trulia), it is prohibitively expensive to own a home or condo in Aspen unless you are apart of the World’s One Percent. Though it’s hard to argue a median listing price north of 5 million dollars in a small city is justified, Aspen makes quite the case.
More than just a pretty city surrounded by Ski Resorts, Aspen is a global destination for Culture, hiking and other outdoor activities. Home to the World Famous Wheeler Opera House (bt. 1889, r.o. 1950), the Aspen Art Museum and special pop-up events such as Art Aspen, Aspen is luxurious, cultured, historic and beautiful.
1: Cape May, New Jersey
Topping on our list of the top small towns in the U.S. is Cape May, New Jersey!
Located at the Southern Tip of New Jersey in Cape May County, Cape May had a population of 3,535 at the 2014 Census Estimate, however this population expands to 50,000 in the summer months.
Named for Dutch captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey who explored the area in the early 17th century (1611-1614), Cape May has always had strong ties to the Explorative and Naval industries. During World War II, a dozen U.S. Navy facilities were stationed in the greater Cape May area, greatly aiding the war effort.
As one of the oldest vacation destinations in the country (some say the oldest in the country), Cape May has plenty of attractions and charm to keep vacationers coming back year after year.
With one of the largest concentrations of Victorian Houses in North America, the entire city of Cape May (including 600 buildings, though there are more than 600 buildings in the city) is designated a National Historic Landmark under the Cape May Historic District. Many of these quaint victorians host Bed & Breakfasts along the beach, or along narrow streets with dense tree cover, making you feel as if you’re in The Berkshires as opposed to the beach.
With one of the few vibrant Pedestrian-Only Malls in America, the Washington Street Mall is a hub of open-air shopping and activities. Complementing the Mall is the Boardwalk of Cape May. While it is not fully a commercial boardwalk like its neighbors in Wildwood, Ocean City and Atlantic City, it offers a great promenade along the beach and small pockets of classic boardwalk attractions.
Another architectural gem of the city is the Cape May Lighthouse. Constructed in 1859 after two previous renditions in 1823 and 1847, the Lighthouse still functions today. Standing 157 feet tall (48 meters) the 199 steps of the building’s spiraling staircase can be ascended to take in the view of the surrounding State Park, Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.
Cape May’s strong Arts Culture has inspired many over the years and is home to The Cape May Jazz, Music and Film Festivals, in addition to many local Community Arts initiatives.
World Famous for the annual bird migration that occurs over the skies of the city, more than 400 birds have been recorded flying over the area including Hawks, Swallows and Eagles. This culminates in the Cape May Spring and Fall Festivals held by the Cape May Bird Observatory. For those who can’t wait for the annual bird migrations, the Cape May Zoo is a great alternative. With Lions, Snow Leopards, Tigers, Giraffes and more, the zoo offers a taste of the exotic in Southern New Jersey.
Cape May’s location lends visitors and locals alike the ability to try some of the freshest seafood available, and many take advantage of this ability at local institutions such as the Lobster House, The Blue Pig or Tisha’s. The Trolley Tours, cobbled streets and dozens of old victorian Bed and Breakfasts, Cape May transports visitors to another era of time.
While there are certainly hundreds of amazing small towns all across the United States Worthy of Being on this list, these 10 stood out the most to us!
Do you agree with our list? Think your town should have been included? Leave us a comment below and it may be featured in our regional roundup, or next year’s edition of the Top Small Town’s in the US!
Editor’s Note: You made it all the way down here? That’s quite the accomplishment, and I thank you for taking the time to read all the way through! While making this list, I originally intended for it to be a short list of the best small towns in the States with some nice pictures to go along with it. However, as I began researching, and in fact visiting these towns, this list turned into a manifesto of sorts singing the praises of small town America. At about 6,000 words long, this was the first post I ever endeavored to publish, but was hit with many delays, other projects and a compulsive desire to say everything about these great towns as I could! If you enjoyed this, be on the lookout for many other lists, but easier to digest!