9 Cutest Small Towns in America

Every year, America’s small towns draw tourists—and new residents—to their streets in droves. They are, after all, reminders of a simpler way of life, where mom-and-pop shops are the norm, everybody knows your name, and the pace is slower than the speed of tweets. To help you get away from the breakneck tempo of your daily routine, we rounded up nine of the cutest small towns for an easy weekend escape, from a picturesque New England coastal haven to a romantic Southern getaway that feels untouched by time.

 

1 – Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

With its local wineries and Pacific Coast Highway views, the Northern California town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is as idyllic as its name suggests. Come for the beach, a mile-long swath of white sand from which you can view dolphins and sea lions, then wander around town to shop quirky independent boutiques and see whimsical cottages that look like they came straight out of a fairytale. The atmospheric gardens and chapels at Spanish-colonial Carmel Mission, founded in 1770 and designated a National Historic Landmark, offer worthy spots for reflection, though you’ll find just as much tranquility after a stay in one of the intimate suites at L’Auberge Carmel. For dinner, nab a table at Cultura Comida y Bebida, where chef Michelle Estigoy serves standout chicken tinga tacos and epazote quesadillas inspired by her family’s Mexican heritage.

2 – Sitka, AK

Accessible only by air and sea, the fishing village of Sitka is a remote beauty that anyone who has watched the 2009 Sandra Bullock film The Proposal is sure to recognize (filming took place in Rockport, Massachusetts, but sets were built to resemble this port town). Here, you can indulge in the natural pursuits Alaska is known for, from whale watching and kayaking to hiking up a dormant volcano or strolling through towering spruce trees—spotting bald eagles and totem poles along the way—at Sitka National Historic Park.

  

3 – Taos, NM

It’s easy to see why this high-desert town in the Sangre de Christo Mountains has become a haven for artists, writers, and other creative types. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a feast for the senses thanks to its striking adobe architecture, red-rock canyons, and snow-tipped peaks. Feeling inspired? View works by the likes of Agnes Martin and other local painters at the Harwood Museum of Art and more than 80 other galleries. There are also plenty of activities to keep adrenaline junkies engaged year ‘round. Summer brings hiking and hot air ballooning, while winter offers some of the best skiing in the country.

 

 

4 – Marfa, TX

As art meccas go, Marfa is an unlikely one. Founded in 1883, the tiny Texas town—population under 2,000—has served as a railway headquarters and military training base, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when artist Donald Judd moved there, that it became a cultural destination for the aesthetically informed. View some of his most iconic concrete sculptures on a sunrise tour of the Chinati Foundation, or make like the Insta glitterati and take a selfie in front of Elmgreen and Dragset’s now-famous Prada Marfa installation, off Highway 90.

 

5 – Beaufort, SC

If this Lowcountry fishing village looks straight out of a movie set, that’s because it is: Beaufort was the backdrop for such films as Forrest Gump and The Big Chillthanks to its sprawling antebellum mansions, moss-draped oaks, and picturesque downtown streets. Located on Port Royal Island in South Carolina’s Sea Island chain, the town makes an ideal base for enjoying simple pleasures and all manner of aquatic diversions, including paddle boarding, kayaking, dolphin watching, and crabbing.

 

6 – Galena, IL

The romantic ideal of Main Street is alive and well in this mining town on Illinois’s northwestern border—think of it as the Midwest’s version of Stars Hollow. Trolley cars still cruise down the historic lane, which is lined with 19th-century brick buildings and cute galleries, boutiques, and craft shops that give it a distinctly small-town feel. American history fanatics, however, will be more impressed with Galena’s status as the home of Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant, a fact illuminated at the U.S. president’s namesake museum.

7 –Edgartown, MA

On the southeast tip of Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown is the quintessential New England seaside getaway with classic shingle-style buildings, windswept dunes, and a scenic lighthouse. Though the beaches are the draw, the onetime whaling port brims with storybook charm. Tour the 18th-century homes of whaling captains on foot or bike, then try your hand at sailing like a local. All it takes is a short ferry rideto explore neighboring Chappaquiddick Island, where, during the summer, you can play a round of night golf by the light of the full moon.

 

 

8 – Stowe, VT

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak, making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music, as well as a stellar culinary scene. Don’t miss the grilled cauliflower steak with quinoa at our favorite dinner spot, Plate. Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury.

 

  

9 – St. Augustine, FL

The cobblestone streets of St. Augustine are steeped in history. Founded in 1565 by Spanish conquistadors, the northern Atlantic coast town is studded with colonial architecture, from the 17th-century Castillo de San Marcos fortress to the Victorian antiques–filled Lightner Museum, housed in an 1887 Spanish Renaissance Revival building commissioned by Rockefeller business associate and Florida real estate magnate Henry Flagler. If sun and sand is what you seek, there’s plenty of that, too:Anastasia State Park comprises four miles of wildlife-dotted beach and maritime forests.

The 10 Best Places to Avoid Noise, Light, and Air Pollution

Looking to get away from it all? Science has proven that nature travel can improve almost every aspect of your wellbeing, from increasing your attention span to improving your mood. To get the most benefit, it’s worth seeking out places with minimal noise, artificial light, and air pollution.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy. Quiet places are disappearing fast, even in protected areas; nighttime light pollution covers nearly 80 percent of the planet; and there are no places left that are entirely free of air pollution.

Go to These Places to Avoid Noise, Light, and Air Pollution

But there is hope; there are several well-organized resources for finding the darkest, quietest, and cleanest places left on Earth, including dark skies associations, noise experts, and the World Health Organization’s survey of air conditions worldwide. I combined them all to pick 10 of the best places to find clear skies, bright stars, fresh air, and the purest sounds of nature.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff was the first city named an International Dark Sky City by the International Dark Sky Association, and was in the top five for cleanest air in a recent State of the Air survey by the American Lung Association. This small city isn’t particularly quiet, but active civic measures to keep down noise pollution mean that it’s easy enough to find peace in the surrounding areas at places like Meteor Crater and Walnut Canyon.

Roisey, France

Roisey, located in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region of France, has been determined by the World Health Organization to have the cleanest air in the country. Thanks in part to its location in a national park as well as altitude over 4,200 feet in some places, skies are also often very clear. Add to that an official population of just 909 people, and you have a great choice for getting away from it all right in the middle of Europe.

Te Anau, New Zealand

 

Global testing by the World Health Organization has found Te Anau to have some of the cleanest air worldwide. Its location at the entrance to Fiordland National Park makes it a basecamp for hikers and “trampers” who can see night skies so clear that there’s a small cottage industry offering night sky tours in the area. The presence of helicopter touring companies means it might not always be the quietest spot, but if you are hiking into the fjords or along the Kepler or Milford Tracks, you can escape the noise as soon as the heliports shut down each evening.

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve in Mt. Cook National Park is another superb New Zealand option, free of most air pollution and attracting stargazers from around the world.

Campisabalos, Spain

Located about 100 miles north of Madrid, Campisabalos is another city that sits high on WHO’s list of the best air in the world. Dark sky maps put it solidly away from most light pollution; if you want even darker, travel a bit southeast to the Parque Natural de la Serrania to the west of Cuenca, which also includes the Enchanted City, a geological wonder created by natural erosion approximately 90 million years ago.

Mojave Desert, California

Trevor Cox, a professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford and author of a book on natural sound phenomena, recommends the Kelso Dune area in the Mojave Desert. Cox visited the spot specifically because there are interesting sounds—the dunes make a growling or bellowing sound when you move the sand around that gives them the name “singing sands”—but Cox notes that the area is extremely quiet.

“Kelso Dune in the Mojave Desert … has no flights and no cars, and actually no sound at times because there is very little wildlife,” he says. “It is a special place.”

The dunes are also located in a formidable area of dark skies, and the National Park Service’s “half the park is after dark” motto definitely applies here.

Lapland Region, Finland

Way up in the northern Lapland region of Finland, the municipality of Muonio topped WHO’s most recent clean air list. While you pull in the fresh air, you can take in some superb views of the northern lights; Finns often ski or snowshoe into the countryside to see the lights, but VisitFinland.com has put together a list of more comfortable options, including heated tents and glass igloos.

Muonio has the longest snow season in all of Finland, so if you don’t get clear skies right away, strap on some skis while you wait for a good night to see the lights.

San Pedro de Atacama Region, Chile

Clean air, high altitude, and the driest desert in the world combine to put the San Pedro de Atacama region at the top of the list of the darkest, clearest places on Earth. Don’t believe me? Check out this timelapse video. In addition to being free of light and air pollution, the desert environment also offers minimal sound from wildlife.

Grasslands National Park, Canada

Gordon Hempton, founder of One Square Inch of Silence, did an acoustic survey at Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park and found that it has “the quietest, purest sounds,” he said. And much of the park is nearly absent of light pollution, according to Dark Site Finder. You won’t find much air pollution here either; the air in Canada is some of the best in the world, according to WHO.

Canary Islands, Spain

Mountainous geography and a location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean make La Palma and Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands among the purest destinations on the planet. Teide National Park on Tenerife includes the highest peak in the Atlantic Ocean for peak baggers, not to mention stargazers.

Haleakala Summit, Hawaii

Hawaii has some of the most consistently clean air on Earth—even bustling Honolulu gets good marks from WHO—and the ability to get up above the clouds into thinner, cleaner air on top of Haleakala, in Maui, means there is even better stargazing here than at sea level. Visitors can stay overnight to see the stars and take in the sunrise, giving you the best of both worlds. The Mauna Kea observatory on the Big Island is another superb option, although staying overnight is not possible there.