Culture and beauty are often thought to reside in large cities—but not always. From coast to coast, many towns of less than 10,000 residents prove that America is filled with magnificent microcultures.
Beauty in the form of lakes, historic main streets, forests, architectural splendor, and beaches are what the lucky residents of these 50 towns call home. From Kennebunkport in Maine to Washington’s San Juan Islands—plush inland communities along lakes and within forests—here are the 50 most beautiful small towns in America.
When developing this list, we looked at easy access to nature, the presence of historic or design districts, and topography that’s appealing in its own right—whether it’s a beach or mountains, or maybe a riverside perch.
What do you think?
1 Springdale, Utah
Despite its size, this gateway to Zion National Park is brimming with an emerging restaurant scene (King’s Landing Bistro is a locals’ favorite), boutique shopping, and art galleries. But the natural surroundings—sandstone cliffs and splendid hiking trails—nearly trump all of that.
2 Big Sky, Montana
This Southern Montana community in the Rocky Mountains is not called Big Sky for nothing: Stargazing is among the country’s best because of no light pollution and the absence of any metropolis. Skiing—both Nordic and downhill—is a huge draw.
3 Deadwood, South Dakota
This Black Hills town’s Main Street appears to be trapped in a time where life stands still (that’s a good thing). While many decades removed from the gold rush, the somewhat recent HBO series Deadwoodrenewed interest in the town’s National Historic Landmark status.
4 Alys Beach, Florida
This design-centric, New Urbanism village along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s Panhandle region debuted in 2003, with whitewashed buildings and Bermuda-style architecture with courtyards, fountains, pools, and popped-out shutters.
5 Jackson, Wyoming
A cultural mecca for innovative food, the arts (spot a Warhol at the National Museum of Wildlife Art) and, of course, downhill skiing in this town a half hour south of Grand Teton National Park keeps throngs of visitors coming. Locals enamored with the great outdoors love it here, too.
6 Hanaeli, Hawaii
Kauai’s blissful North Shore—including the town of Hanalei—is known for its shaved ice at Wishing Well (don’t knock it if you haven’t had it) and beaches, but also the relaxed and colorful vibe. From “the little green church” to the beach where South Pacific was filmed in 1957 (Haena Beach), this is a popular vacation spot for a reason.
7 Stockbridge, Massachusetts
If this Berkshires town looks familiar, then you’ve probably seen it depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings. A canal (the Housatonic River) runs through downtown, where shops and galleries along Main Street (the subject of Rockwell’s 1967 painting Main Street, Stockbridge at Christmas) feature everything from Victorian-era antique jewelry to contemporary glass. This town hits all three indicators of beauty: architecture, nature, and culture, including the Norman Rockwell Museum. And, most importantly, for a small town (the population is just under 2,000), there are cultural events year-round ranging from America's longest-running international dance festival (Jacob's Pillow, from mid June to late August) and Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (a full weekend in early December that includes vintage cars and house tours). It's quintessential small-town America at its peak.
8 Sedona, Arizona
Red-rock formations such as Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock rim this mystic Northern Arizona town where locals believe the natural vortexes have healing qualities. Dining, lodging, and spa jaunts are top-notch, too, including Auberge de Sedona’s creekside cottages and apothecary-tinged spa
9 Grand Marais, Minnesota
This gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—which spans Minnesota’s Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada—is rich in the arts, which are quite robust for a tiny harbor town along the deepest Great Lake (Lake Superior). This includes the North House Folk School, offering classes in crafts like lace- and soap-making.
10 Incline Village, Nevada
Along the north shore of North America’s largest alpine lake (Lake Tahoe), and named for the incline loggers built here in 1878, Incline Village’s residents include tech billionaires and musicians. Sand Harbor, inside Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, is a great swimming and kayaking spot on warm days.