In 2021, U.S. travelers are looking for smaller towns to visit. At least for the short term, homey and folksy are in vogue. You can avoid crowds, explore the great outdoors, and experience somewhere new – and aren’t we all in need of a change of scenery these days? In honor of the new year, here are our 21 top small town picks for 2021!
Taos, New Mexico
Taos has a long history of being a place for artists and visionaries. The history and culture is celebrated, through the intersection of Pueblo, Mexican and Spanish peoples. In the 1920’s writers such as D.H. Lawrence settled in Taos, setting in motion a tradition that endures today. Visit Taos Plaza, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Taos Plaza or explore the surrounding mountain communities.
Taos does have an airport, but it only has service for private and charter planes. Santa Fe has limited commercial service, so your best (and most economical) bet is to fly into Albuquerque and rent a car. There is normally shuttle service year round to Taos, but COVID has temporarily put that on pause. Renting a car is inexpensive and the scenic drive will take you through Santa Fe and on to Taos in 2.5 hours.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Rugged, natural beauty is the reason to visit Cannon Beach. It’s a bit out of the way, but we promise you won’t be let down. IN fact, it’s so beautiful that Hollywood regularly uses Cannon Beach for some of its films. The Twilight movies, the Goonies and Point Break were all filmed on the sandy shores of Cannon Beach with the iconic Haystack Rock as background.
Fly into Portland and make the drive yourself. It will take you about 1.5 hours to get there!
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
The little town called “the lake city” or sometimes just “CDA” by locals has so much to recommend it to outdoor enthusiasts. There are many hiking trails and some lovely outdoor public spaces (check out the waterfalls in McEuen Park) to explore. Summer is the main season for festivals, and most of them are family-friendly.
Coeur d’Alene is just 30 minutes drive from Spokane International Airport in Washington.
The little hamlet of Leavenworth is modeled after a Bavarian village. Located in the Cascade Mountains in central Washington, October brings out an authentic-ish Oktoberfest for locals and visitors alike. Beer not your thing? Ospreys and eagles live in Waterfront Park – some majestic bird watching could be in your future.
Leavenworth is about 1.5 hours drive from Seattle Tacoma International Airport.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Nestled in the Ozarks, Eureka Springs is known for its natural hot springs as well as the lovely Victorian buildings in the Historic District. The town itself is designated on the National Register of Historic Places due to the extraordinary architecture.
The two nearest airports are Fayetteville (30 minutes drive) and Little Rock (2-2.5 hours drive).
Finger Lakes, New York
Ok, ok. So technically the Finger Lakes aren’t a town, per se. They are, however, a group of 11 lakes in western New York. Aside from the natural beauty, the Finger Lakes is the largest wine-producing region in New York. If you’re into it you might check out one of the more than 100 wineries and vineyards.
Ithaca is the nearest airport (30 miles) but has limited service. Buffalo International Airport is about 90 miles from the Finger Lakes.
Fernandina Beach, Florida
Fernandina Beach is on lovely little Amelia Island. This is the perfect getaway if you’re just looking to relax and while away the days. If you get tired of lounging, Fernandina Beach also has cute boutiques to shop in and fine dining options for vacationers.
While there is a municipal airport servicing Fernandina Beach, most visitors will want to fly into Jacksonville, which is just a 45 minute drive.
Bring the football fanatic in your life to Canton, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After many years of decline, in recent years, Canton has seen a bit of a renaissance in its downtown area. Now, visitors are treated to a bustling arts and dining scene. Outside of Canton proper, there are many Amish communities who seem to live outside of modern times.
The nearest airport is Cleveland International, which is about an hour away by car.
Situated right on the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi has a long history of being a great place to gamble. There are eight 24-hour casinos/hotels in Biloxi. When and if you tire of the tables, you can experience some of the finest sport fishing along the north coast of the gulf.
The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is just up the road.
Even though Burlington is the most populated city in Vermont, it’s still a quaint little hamlet. Burlington sits on Lake Champlain, and as a college town, has a youthful and bohemian edge. Burlington has a thriving local music and food scene.
Burlington has its own International Airport.
Asheville, North Carolina
With every passing year it gets harder and harder to put Asheville in the small town category. Asheville has become quite a popular destination in recent years due to its beautiful backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains and thriving arts and microbrew scene.
Greenville-Spartanburg Airport is about a 1.5-2 hour drive from Asheville.
Portland is an awesome place to visit, especially in the summer. It’s a wonderful base for touring Casco Bay. Ferry service will allow you to explore some of the surrounding islands, and there are many great places to experience local seafood.
Portland is about a two hour drive from Boston’s Logan Airport.
History buffs who want to get a firsthand look at where the American experiment began will adore Plymouth. Along with some of the standard New England staples – quaint downtown, charming locals, lots of seafood – you’ll be treated to a full-size replica of the Mayflower in Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Come for the history, stay for the good vibes.
Boston’s Logan Airport is about 30 minutes from Plymouth by car.
Monterey was once the center of the sardine-packing industry, as immortalized in John Steinbeck’s novella, “Cannery Row.” These days, it’s a great spot to bring the whole family. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the foremost aquariums in the U.S., and the dining options are varied and plentiful.
Monterey is virtually surrounded by good airport options. San Jose is under an hour away, with San Francisco and Oakland airports right around 1.5 to 2 hours from the town (depending on traffic).
Colorado Springs, Colorado
A lot of other Colorado cities may be flashier and trendier, but Colorado Springs has much to recommend it, much of it in the nature surrounding the town. Colorado Springs is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. A few of the must-visit spots include Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods Park, and the Broadmoor Seven Falls.
Colorado Springs does have a small airport, but Denver International Airport is the most economical way to get to the town and it’s only about an hour’s drive away.
This popular city with the cruise crowd faces the “Inside Passage,” which is a series of glaciers and stunning scenery. The town is also notable for the many totem poles throughout, as well as its rich wildlife – bears, wolves and bald eagles.
There is an airport in Ketchikan with service to other Alaskan cities and some cities in the lower 48 as well.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Known for its beautiful “sugar” beaches and world class golf resorts, Hilton Head is a great spot for families and couples. There are seven beaches on Hilton Head island, but by far the most popular is Coligny Beach, which has a ton of shopping and dining options. Aside from the beaches you can rent bicycles or visit one of the island’s wildlife preserves.
While Hilton Head does have a small airport, more people fly into Savannah (about a 45 minute drive away).
This little town only has about 13,000 residents so it definitely retains a classic small town vibe. What to do in this classic small town? Visit one of the spots on the National Register of Historic Places if you like. Otherwise, just rest, relax and wander.
Fort Wayne is the closest airport to Warsaw. You can get there by car in a little under an hour or so. Chicago Midway is about 1.5-2 hours from the town.
Kanab sits just over the border from Arizona on Kanab Creek and has some amazing natural scenery, including towering sandstone cliffs. The town is also just 45 minutes from the spectacular Bryce Canyon and is just outside the east entrance to Zion National Park. It’s a great base to explore places like Page, Arizona, the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon and even the Grand Canyon if you want to head a bit further south.
Kanab is a remote location. McCarren Airport in Las Vegas is the closest airport and it’s about a 2.5 hour drive.
Lake Tahoe, California
This destination truly does have something for everyone. In the summer there’s water sports, hiking and cycling. In the winter, arguably the best skiing in California. And throughout all seasons – casinos for those of us who like to roll the dice.
Lake Tahoe is equidistant from Sacramento or Reno International airports. So take your pick! It’s about an hour and a half from each.
Key West, Florida
Romantic Key West is a colorful, whimsical little town at the tip of the southernmost point of the continental United States (technically Hawaii gets the award for the most southern point). Key West is inhabited by a cast of characters straight out of a novel – everyone is a little wild and a little weird. We love Key West for just these reasons – it’s fun, it’s a little off kilter and you can’t beat the views.
Though Key West does have its own international airport, we recommend flying into Miami International Airport and driving down on the stunning Overseas Highways, for a once in a lifetime experience.