10 Tiny Towns For A Cozy, Low-Key Vacation

Photo: Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo.
This post was originally published on November 20, 2015.

Big cities may get most of the attention, but America's small towns have so much to offer travelers, especially at this time of year. They're cozy, charming, relaxing places to get away from it all and experience a pint-sized slice of the good life.

Whether you're looking for a quick weekend getaway or a true winter holiday, we've identified 10 amazing tiny towns that are worth the trip. None of them have more than 9,500 residents — and one even has fewer than 200. But they all have something special, from exceptional local cuisine to magnificent natural wonders to unforgettable cultural experiences. Read on to discover the best of Main Street, USA.
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Photo: Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo.
Skaneateles, NY
Population: 7,209

This lakeside village is especially popular in summer, but it teems with activity year-round. From sailing and polo matches to fall festivals and Dickens Christmas weekends, there's never a shortage of things to do. Don’t forget your camera; the views of fall foliage, sprawling grass, and irresistible 19th-century architecture will instantly beautify your Instagram.

Stop here:
Mirbeau Inn and Spa, where the French-inspired massages and facials are pampering at its best.
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Photo: Mary Ann Chastain / AP Photo.
Travelers Rest, SC
Population: 4,843

As its name suggests, this petite pit stop — which is a hop-skip from Greenville — is the place to go when you need to clear your head. Take a stroll along the 18.7-mile multi-use Swamp Rabbit Trail, or hike up to one of the many nearby state parks, including Caesar’s Head or Chimney Rock. When you reach the top, take a breather while taking in the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Stop here: The Forest Coffeehouse, a hometown staple that sources farmer-direct beans from around the world.
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Photo: Splashdown/REX Shutterstock.
Crystal River, FL
Population: 3,062

Located along central Florida’s "nature coast," Crystal River is one of the few places where a wildlife lover can hop into bright-blue springs to swim or snorkel with giant manatees. If you’d rather look instead of touch, book a glass-bottomed-boat eco tour for an up-close look at scallops and other marine life.

Stop here: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which is a basically a parade of native Florida wildlife, including manatees, black bears, red wolves, bobcats, white-tailed deer, alligators, crocodiles, river otters, and flamingos.
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Photo: Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo.
Leavenworth, WA
Population: 1,992

In the winter, this precious, Bavarian-themed town outside Seattle is blanketed in snow. Go on a sleigh ride, cheer on the racing sled dogs, and ogle at the Christmas tree lights while chugging a minty hot chocolate.

Stop here: The Nutcracker Museum is home to more than 6,000 nutcrackers — which is about three times the number of people who live in the town.
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Photo: Julian Heath/REX Shutterstock.
Waitsfield, VT
Population: 1,719

Home to America’s oldest long-distance hiking trail (the aptly named Long Trail), the Mad River Valley town of Waitsfield is known for gorgeous hiking and skiing, fall foliage, local brews, and a top-notch farm-to-table scene.

Stop here: Peasant, an eclectic little restaurant with especially tasty soup.
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Photo: Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo.
Kittery, ME
Population: 9,490

This small city is perfect for people with big appetites. Though the area is known for its shopping outlets, the dining scene is the real star attraction. Locals and visitors alike flock to Bob's Clam Hut, right off Route 1, for award-winning fresh fried clams. Just across the street is sister restaurant Robert's Maine Grill, known for serving creative twists on Maine seafood classics.

Stop here: Beach Pea Baking Co., where you’ll want to order a “Cowboy Cookie” — or two.
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Photo: James Quine / Alamy Stock Photo.
Put-in-Bay, OH
Population: 137

No, that number is no typo. This Lake Erie island — nicknamed the “Key West of the Midwest” — may be small, but it lays claim to one of best nightlife and foodie scenes in the Midwest. Packed with waterfront restaurants, taverns, and brewpubs serving local Lake Erie flavor, there's plenty for visitors to see, do, and taste. For outdoorsy types, there's kayaking through limestone cliffs, stand-up paddle-boarding, parasailing, guided fishing trips, and camping galore.

Stop here: Stonehenge Estate, for a tour of a charming 1870s farmhouse and 1850s-era wine-press cottage.
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Photo: Paul Street / Alamy Stock Photo.
Shelburne Falls, MA
Population: 1,731

By the time you leave this historic little village, everyone will likely know your name. The downtown area looks something like this: There’s a local pharmacy with a soda fountain, one coffee shop, a trolley museum, two pizza parlors, three bookstores, a newsstand, a grocery store, a natural foods store, a sprinkling of artists' galleries, and one of the oldest bowling alleys in the country — and you'll have plenty of time to visit all of them.

Stop here: The Bridge of Flowers, a gorgeous attraction. Once an unused, weedy trolley bridge, it was transformed in 1929 by the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club.
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Photo: robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo.
Solvang, CA
Population: 5,385

Can’t make it to Sweden or Finland this year? No worries. Book a trip to Solvang, located 125 miles north of L.A. The quaint town looks like a European fairytale, complete with Danish architecture, windmills, and surrey cycles.

Stop here: Paula’s Pancake House, where you can score a variety of Danish pancakes and Belgian waffles.
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Photo: Ron Buskirk / Alamy Stock Photo.
Pigeon Forge, TN
Population: 6,036

This small resort town is located at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Winterfest — with its trolley rides and twinkling lights — lasts for four glorious months. There’s a Titanic attraction where you can experience a life-size version of the doomed ship. And, perhaps most notably, Pigeon Forge is home to Dolly Parton's namesake theme park, Dollywood.

Stop here: Foxfire Mountain is great for adventure-seekers, with zip-lining and bridge-swinging galore.
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