Sometimes the best way to relax is to take a trip to a place that runs a bit slower and simpler than you may be used to. For anyone who needs to take a break from their busy, city pace or the occasional monotony of suburban life, a small town can be the perfect place for a summer vacation. If you have been saving up your vacation days or if you have kids who are soon to be on summer break, it may be time to start planning a trip to your new home away from home. Here are 12 cool small towns in the United States that are ready and waiting for your summer visit.
Best Small Towns in the U.S.
If you don’t mind a crowd, Nantucket, the small island off of the Cape Cod Coast, is a classic summer destination. Families will appreciate Surfside Beach, which is popular thanks to its amenities like the snack bar and nearby restrooms. When you have had enough sand and surf, there are plenty of boutique shops to peruse. If you are there for July 4th, don’t miss the free fireworks show on Jetties Beach. Or, if you book your trip for mid-August, you can experience Nantucket Race Week, nine days of regattas and parties.
Santa Cruz is a great vacation spot if you want all the progressiveness of Northern California with an added laidback attitude. It is a perfect hippie town on the beach with an old-fashioned boardwalk amusement park (think the Coney Island of the Left Coast). The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is home to the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in the 1920s, and a variety of other carnival-style rides. Along with amusement park games and snacks to enjoy, you can also hear live, retro musical acts every summer Friday. After you have thoroughly conquered the boardwalk, you can explore the little downtown area, where you are bound to encounter some street side music or other performance that exemplifies the town’s artistic atmosphere.
Lake Geneva is a popular midwestern resort town year-round, but in the summer it really shines since the weather is warm enough to get the most out of the lake and its seven beaches. You can take in the surroundings on a stroll along the 21-mile Shore Path or from a boat tour. Unlike a lot of small towns, Lake Geneva does not completely shut down at night. You can head to Hogs & Kisses for a bar night, or to Champs Sports Bar, which has live music every Friday night and no cover charge.
It may come a surprise to some to learn that New Jersey has award-winning beaches, but that just means that you have never been to Cape May. The beaches are known for being both beautiful and well kept. In addition to typical beach activities like sunbathing and parasailing, during the summer months you can also enjoy free, beachside movie screenings. A great way to get a feel for the city is via one of their trolley tours. You can choose from a variety of tours that suit your particular tastes. Visitors interested in seeing the Victorian mansions may want to choose the Mansions By The Sea Trolley Tour, or, for a unique view of the historic Cape May Lighthouse, you can book a ride on Ghosts of the Lighthouse.
Assuming you do not mind the heat (the locals tell us it’s a “dry heat”), Sedona is a great place for outdoor activities and to explore Arizona’s natural beauty. For the nature buff in you, there are more than one hundred hiking trails featuring some of the area’s more famous red rock formations, such as Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. The scenery offers epic landscapes perfect for those photos that will light up your social media pages and impress your friends. Later, if you’re exhausted from your adventures, you can discover why Sedona is known as a healing center at one of the local spas.
For a place that gives you a quaint, small town feel without all the pressure of “must see” attractions, Exeter, California is an adorable little town where you can truly unwind. One of the highlights is the town’s abundance of hand-painted murals that illustrate the town’s history. The town center is perfect for walking around and visiting shops, or the Courthouse Art Gallery, which displays local artwork on weekends. On July 4th, you can catch the local fireworks display, or there is an even better show on July 3rd in Woodlake, a neighboring town. If you need a more adventurous day, it’s less than thirty miles to Sequoia National Park.
If you have heard of Cooperstown, New York, chances are that’s because it’s home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. For baseball lovers, the museum is an exciting place to visit all year, but Hall of Fame Weekend, when the annual induction ceremony takes place, is mid-summer. Cooperstown is not all sports, though. For your summertime dose of culture, you can attend the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. This fest features performances of famous operas, without the usual stuffy setting, throughout July and August.
Nashville, Indiana is a dream come true for anyone who loves boutique shopping and antiquing. Most notable for its seemingly endless shops, this is the perfect place to find that ideal souvenir or keepsake. Also, this may not be Music City, but Nashville, Indiana does embrace its country music cousin; adopting the nickname “Little Nashville”. There are even weekly line dancing classes at the Dance Barn (yes, that’s really what it’s called). Summer is the best time to visit you will also be able to enjoy the hiking and outdoor activities at Nashville’s Brown County State Park.
A fifteen-minute drive south of San Francisco can bring you to Pacifica, a town located along a six-mile stretch of coastline and the perfect scenic getaway for San Franciscans who want a quick city escape. Like San Francisco, the climate is mild all year, but summer is a great time for surfing at some of Northern California’s best surfing beaches. Rockaway Beach’s notorious giant waves are idyllic for more advanced surfers. It’s also a great time to appreciate the area’s natural beauty with a hike along the coast at Mori Point. You will wind through wildflower fields and can stop at the top to watch for dolphins and whales.
For a glimpse in to the Old West, travel to South Dakota’s Black Hills and stop by Custer. Four Mile Old West Town is open for visitors during the summer season and consists of more than fifty buildings that will make you feel like you are back in the Wild West. If you want to experience some local wildlife, schedule your trip during Custer State Park’s annual Bat Festival, and listen to bats flying overhead using bat detectors. Bats are particularly close to Custer’s heart because it is home to Jewel Cave National Monument, the second longest cave in the world, which is open daily for guided tours during the summer. And, if it happens to be your scene, you probably already know that Custer is home to Sturgis, one of the world’s largest biker rallies held each August.
Whether you are a local New Yorker, or just visiting on your summer vacation, a day or two in the tranquility of Long Beach, will be well worth your while. Located on the southern shore of Long Island, this little beach town is a great place to happily do nothing at all. If you need some excitement after you’re done achieving full Zen mode on the beach, you can rev it back up with the Summer Concert series. During the summer, shows are presented four nights a week on rotating beaches with music from genres ranging everywhere from Latin to 80s.
Fun Fact: Both the novel and film, The Godfather, was partially set here.
For the unique experience of island life mixed with American Southern Accents, head to St. Simon’s Island, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles. This town’s population of less than 13,000 permanent residents swells during the summer as a quarter of the housing there is utilized only for part-time residents and seasonal visitors. From historic lighthouse tours to active nightlife to adventurous kayak tours, there is a bit of something for every type of vacationer here. If you are on a budget, a free day of bird watching or taking yourself on a walking tour of the adorable, pastel beach cottages are great options for completely free activities.
This article was written by Paula Ashlee Berg.