Vacations aren’t always about ticking off a checklist of world-famous landmarks or standing in long lines at theme parks. So forget about Disney, Los Angeles and New York for a while because the U.S. is blessed with charming small towns that are ideal for taking the foot off the pedal and slowing things down. From an Alaskan fishing port, to a Bavarian-inspired resort town and mountain hideaways, we’ve got your next trip covered.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Gold Rush towns always have a unique character and Deadwood, set in the shadow of the Black Hills, is no exception. "No rules, no regrets" is the motto of the place that lured a legion of gold-hungry outlaws, such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, back in the late 1800s. Today, you can visit the tombs of these folk heroes at the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Stroll along the lively Main Street, where cruiser motorbikes line up outside authentic saloons; you might even walk into the re-enactment of a cowboy duel.
Although just 30 miles southeast from Cleveland, the nonchalant ambience of Hudson feels worlds away from its big city neighbor. If you like spending your time in the outdoors, then this wealthy suburb boasts 21 beautiful parks covering over 1,148 acres. Within them you’ll find children’s play areas, picnic facilities, fishing ponds and walking trails. The colorful storefronts of the Main Street shopping district are a delight, too.
Tip: Below several of the town’s 19th-century houses are hidden passageways that once belonged to the Underground Railroad.
At the edge of the Cascade Mountains in central Washington is a delightful slice of Bavaria. From bakeries baking spritzkuchen donuts and streusel, to beer-swilling and bratwurst-chomping beerhalls, this is as close to authentic German traditions as you’ll find in the US. For outdoorsy visitors, the nearby Okanogan-Wentatchee National Forest has ski areas, hiking trails, lakes, caves and campgrounds spread over 4 million acres of pristine countryside.
Little Switzerland, North Carolina
European influences continue in Little Switzerland, a quaint nature-lovers paradise nestled amid North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Set yourself up in a cozy mountain cabin and gaze out of the window at landscapes reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. If you want to get active then there’s abundant opportunities to go hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and whitewater rafting. Otherwise, explore miles of motorbike-friendly trails or simply browse the town’s craft stores.
Tip: The 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway visits this town on its way from Cherokee to Afton, Virginia.
Madrid, New Mexico
Anyone traveling New Mexico’s Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway should spend a day or two in artsy Madrid. Founded as a coal-mining town, then all-but abandoned, a close-knit community of around 300 bohemian types now reside here in a melange of brightly painted homes. Along the main road you’ll discover artisan studios, boutiques, galleries and quirky cafes. Horseback riding tours await in Cerillos Hills State Park and there’s excellent hiking in the Ortiz Mountains.
Tip: Music fans should head to The Mine Shaft Tavern for nightly blues gigs and the annual Crawdaddy Blues Fest.
New Shoreham, Rhode Island
Step into a typical New England coastal setting at this port town on the east coast of Block Island. Kick back beneath the brilliant sunshine on miles of golden sand at Crescent Beach and Mansion Beach, the latter a popular surf spot. Soak up the beautiful scenery at North Lighthouse. Then wander the Old Harbor Historic District, where well-preserved buildings from the mid-1800s double up as cafes, diners, ice cream parlors and shops.
Tip: Movie buffs might want to plan a trip in June for the annual Block Island Film Festival.
Colorful clapboard buildings line up along a harbor with snow-capped mountains rising up in the background in this southern Alaskan town. Once a fur-trading town for the U.S. and Russia, then a World War II army base, today Seward is a fishing community with great wildlife watching. Here you can browse independent galleries and spot crabs, seals and puffins at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Being a fishing town, there are plenty of amazing seafood restaurants to try.
Tip: A trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park reveals fjords, kayak around glaciers and black bears and humpback whales.