Plenty of charming small towns throughout the country are well worth a visit.
Let's face it: Nobody likes contending with heavy crowds in popular tourist destinations. And while metropolises offer big-city allures, from versatile dining options to beautiful architecture to world-class art and cultural scenes, there are many of places across America brimming with small-town charm and underrated draws, from lesser-visited outdoor attractions to storied historical landmarks to budget-friendly lodging choices. So, if you're looking to discover emerging small towns before they're officially on every globetrotter's map, head to these rising destinations this year.
This lovely Colorado town along the Rocky's San Juan Mountains appeals to outdoorsy types, beer lovers and ski enthusiasts alike. In Durango, you can enjoy kayaking, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and cycling. Plus, ski bunnies will love Durango's proximity to five big ski resorts and areas, and the town itself is great for snow sports and downhill skiing. If you're a craft beer fan, you'll also find a variety of microbrewries in town. Another top draw is Durango's annual Snowdown celebration in February, a festive event that features a parade, contests and a unique theme each year.
Located in southeast Alaska, this picturesque destination along the Inside Passage boasts a population of less than 10,000 residents and draws visitors with its beautiful scenery, isolated location and pristine natural landscapes. Another draw: Sitka boasts an illustrious Alaska Native and Russian history and heritage. Best of all, it's easy to check out top natural attractions, including Sitka National Historical Park. The area is easily walkable, with can't-miss areas and attractions, such as Castle Hill and the Sheldon Jackson Museum, reachable on foot.
St. Augustine's main draw is its rich Spanish Colonial history. You'll find plenty of storied historical sights and areas, including graceful cathedrals, the Colonial Quarter and even the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park. After visiting the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. – the Castillo – you can enjoy lounging along serene sands in Anastasia State Park or grab a memorable meal at Barnacle Bill's, a seafood institution for over 35 years. And to round out the area's historic charm and small-town vibes, you won't find chain restaurants or hotels here.
Astoria, located along the south banks of the Columbia River, is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. Many couples come to Astoria for a romantic escape, complete with captivating mountain scenery, enchanting sunset beach walks and even a taste of history at the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge. Another top enticement for foodies: Astoria's collection of small bakeries and coffee shops, along with breweries and delicatessens. Check out Astoria Coffee House & Bistro for seasonal salads and music on the weekends, and Astoria Brewing Company, which boasts a crowd-pleasing shepard's pie. As for accommodations, consider staying at the Cannery Pier Hotel, a boutique hotel located above the Columbia River, for unrivaled views.
Mississippi has a Cleveland, too, and it's known as a trendy little town in the Mississippi Delta. The town is home to the Grammy Museum Mississippi and is near the Dockery Plantation, said to be the birthplace of blues, where famous Delta blues musician Charley Patton got his start. Cleveland also has a rich civil rights history, where Amzie Moore founded a grocery store, beauty shop and gas station on U.S. Highway 61, while spearheading a civil rights headquarters. Moore's house is now a historical landmark. Cleveland is also home to Delta State University, and offers a college town feel, with urban entertainment and eateries, like Hey Joe's, a popular place for live music.
Baraboo boasts a small but vibrant community with less than 13,000 residents. Every year, Baraboo hosts an annual Big Top Parade and Circus Celebration, where volunteers, students and other participants dress up like members of the circus and raise money for charity. Baraboo has a big love for performance and the circus, as it's home to the Circus World Museum and its renovated 1915 theater. Come for the charm of the historic downtown and stay for the picturesque natural surroundings at Devil's Lake State Park.