13 small towns you should visit this summer
America’s finest city offers more than a summer’s respite by fulfilling its sunny dreams of beaches, a strong beer culture and scenic outdoor pursuits. The bustling streets of these small towns feature bustling weekend markets, great art galleries and emerging food scenes, including cute cafes to hide from the sun.
Located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Columbia River, the naturally beautiful and historic town is the perfect base for a coastal road trip or a romantic summer weekend. The first permanent settlement on the country’s Pacific coast, the hilly streets of Astoria are lined with sherbet-colored houses. Stop at the Columbian Café, where every meal is home-cooked, followed by a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Buoy Beer on a pier overlooking the river for a nightcap. The nearby Lewis and Clark National Park with Fort Clatsop, where explorers Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805–06, features great hiking with natural and historical discoveries.
With a population of around 7,000, Ambler is a small town with all the comfort and energy of a big city. After an atmospheric morning in one of the lovely terrace cafes, one can stroll through the sunny streets featuring numerous restaurants, a microbrewery and many cozy pubs worth noting for the evening. Offering a real respite from the steel megacities, there is a local farmers market to browse and stock up on some summer favorites such as fresh local produce. This time of year also sees the city’s favorite music and arts festival, where one can mingle, people watch and recharge while celebrating along the colorful lanes filled with food, drink and of rhythms.
Washington’s northwest coastal hub, Bellingham, is a popular base with plenty to offer before heading out on a ferry cruise to the San Juan Islands or the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Its bustling streets leading downtown are filled with fine dining and shopping establishments, while the historic Fairhaven neighborhood is great for strolling for the architecture and sights. Including an excellent outdoor recreation program during the summer for a natural respite from the big city, there’s killer whale watching and ocean sailing, golf and hiking in the scenic surroundings, as well as great kayaking, river sailing and rafting opportunities in the flowing Skagit River.
Port of Boothbay, Maine
The quaint seaside town is a popular summer destination for getting out of the big city and experiencing laid-back New England style without the rowdy seaside resort vibe. Many beautiful mornings can start with a stroll along the scenic harbor to catch the splashes of the waves on your face while breathing in the salty air. There are endless reasonably priced options to have fresh harbor-caught lobster every day for dinner, while the evening can be spent on the scenic beach, swimming in the still warm waters, or visiting downtown for the authentic taste of New England. For adventurers, the nearby island also offers an even more remote setting to explore.
Cape May, New Jersey
Having hosted wealthy big-city families since the Victorian era for a quiet summer along the beaches, Cape May still offers the same respite without the pretentious Jersey Shore vibe. Comprising a true getaway, you’ll have enough to do for weeks as you settle into one of the charming bed and breakfasts or the famous Palais des Congrès summer resort overlooking the beach. The busy, sunny streets are ideal for strolling and admiring the abundance of Victorian mansions, while a joyful drive through Surrey offers a whole different perspective of the quaint town with Cape May Lighthouse. Closed to traffic, the center has a pedestrianized area of shops and restaurants, including the Washington Street Mall. In addition to the great city beaches, visit the Naval Air Force Base Aviation Museum in Wildwood and see the Jersey Shore alpacas.
The coastal beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea is known as one of the most perfect places in the country to visit in the summer. The picturesque setting of the village, together with the breathtaking landscapes, make it a truly perfect place for a romantic getaway or a weekend on the west coast. It will be easy to stay engaged for days, including local restaurants, wine bars and shops of all kinds to browse. The sprinkling of fairy-tale cottages, along with gardens and secret passageways, give the town a unique and enchanting feel like nowhere else. A summer visit wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Carmel Beach for a refreshing swim, an afternoon of lounging in the sun, or an evening picnic on the soft sands to watch the sun set over the waters. .
Georgetown, South Carolina
Located in the center of South Carolina’s beautiful Hammock Coast, USA Today Georgetown is brimming with history and hospitality as “America’s Best Small Coastal Town,” according to USA Today. Bounded by scenic plantations, the town is a definition of Southern charm with streets shaded by sun oaks lined with 250 quaint two-century-old homes for a feast for the eyes. There are 60 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the downtown area, as well as five museums on “Front Street”. The Harborwalk is a delightful scene of shopping and award-winning restaurants for a taste of authentic coastal living, while many unspoilt beaches are a short drive away.
Hudson, New York
Accessible via a two-hour scenic train ride from the Big Apple, Hudson encompasses the perfect small-town getaway and summer respite away from the city. A whaling port in the 1700s, Hudson offers a range of interesting experiences in a relaxed setting with all modern conveniences that will make you feel at home in no time. The sun-kissed streets of the heavily walkable downtown area have a quaint atmosphere full of great shopping and delicious restaurants. Picturesque Warren Street is known for its historic architecture of varying styles, as well as a dozen antique shops for a day full of curiosities and intrigue.
Los Olivos, California
A dream come true summer vacation destination bursting with wine, Los Olivos is a town like no other. Located on the rolling hills of the famous Santa Ynez Valley, the picturesque vineyards invite scenic walks in the summer, while the paddocks dotted with horses and cows give a real feeling of being in the heart of the countryside. A day starts with renting a bike to mark the nearby quiet roads for morning exercise can be followed by an early dinner at the famous SY Kitchen with farm-to-table dining. One can also pack a picnic for a scenic setting or check out the collection of antique horse-drawn carriages at the local museum.
With many people believing Mystic to be the best small town in Connecticut, it’s definitely worth visiting this summer. The nation’s darling since starring in Beloved Mystical Pizza film in 1988, it is an ideal destination for foodies, with an eclectic scene of sustainably sourced produce and clean food. The unique, laid-back atmosphere feels like you’re in the movie as you stroll along the nostalgic sidewalks with plenty of farm-to-table dining establishments and cheese shops. To cool off after fully exploring the historic downtown district, one can head straight to the waters or to a great brewery for a real taste of the region.
Located about two hours from Grand Canyon National Park, the desert town’s beautiful location is a must-see when visiting Arizona this summer. Truly one of a kind, Sedona is surrounded by incredible red rock formations that attract countless outdoor travelers, wellness enthusiasts, and photographers each year. An ideal stopover on a Southwest road trip, the city offers unique experiences and scenic hikes for a respite from the big city. Among the many galleries, shops and restaurants, the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village is a known hangout for those looking to buy or browse, filled with local and artisan products and restaurants.
A booming seaport during the Yukon Gold Rush, Skagway is a hidden gem to visit this summer as one of the most unique towns in the country. Nestled in the Alaskan panhandle, this small and quaint offbeat community attracts millions of tourists each year with unique experiences, architecture and culture. Much of Skagway is protected by the National Park Service to preserve the area’s historical significance, while hiking via the famous Chilkoot Trail follows the path of prospectors to find the Klondike Goldfields. For more varied adventures, one can explore the rugged region on their own or take a scenic train journey through the serene glacial valley.
One will feel completely at ease and at peace strolling the quaint streets of Wellfleet lined with clapboard houses topped with bursts of hydrangeas. Just two miles wide, the Perfect City boasts a handful of art galleries across the main street, including the cutting-edge contemporary Gaa Gallery for a true cultural flourish. Retaining its quaint local vibe thanks to the outer Cape Cod setting, the town is also bounded by the bay and the Atlantic at either end, for a while crowd-free at one of the stunning beaches. For the perfect weekend, one can start the morning with a coffee and a bite to eat from newcomer PB Boulangerie & Bistro run by Daniel Boulud ex-Philippe Rispoli, followed by the beach and an evening of oyster feasting with a glass of some fresh thing.
More low-key than other resort destinations, these small towns allow for all the exciting summer opportunities without the crowds that spoil the scenic views. Offering respite, one is sure to find a private beach, leisurely browse local produce markets and secure a table at an excellent restaurant without the hustle and bustle on a wholesome summer visit.