10 of the best small towns in the US: readers’ travel tips
10 of the best small towns in the US: readers’ travel tips
To get a real feel for the diversity and quirkiness of America, visit its small towns – where fascinating history, regional cuisine and great scenery are just some of the attractions
Winning tip: Helper, Utah
Helper is an old mining town 100 miles or so from Salt Lake City. It had been in decline for years but a steady flow of artists who can’t afford SLC prices are moving in. The old, run-down cinema still displays a poster of the last film shown in the 1960s. Its rich history of immigration and mining, plus its Butch Cassidy links, is reflected in the fascinating contents of its antique shops. The residents were pleased and perplexed to have an English couple turn up in town. We heard stories of the town’s past from a retired actor carrying his three white poodles who had moved in a decade ago from LA. He told of the huge increase in the town’s population when miners came down from the mountains at the weekends, the bars and bordellos doing great business. The town is a sort of living museum and anyone interested in American culture would delight in spending time here, chatting with real characters full of stories and legends. Go before this place disappears. It’s authentic and unforgettable. Pappi
On the Kitsap peninsula 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle, this picturesque little town highlights its Nordic heritage – the town saw a lot of immigration from Norway and Finland particularly – while remaining distinctly American. Grab a coffee and a doughnut from Sluys Bakery and head over to the water to see sail boats drift against the backdrop of the 8,000ft Olympic Mountains. A stroll through town reveals numerous galleries and antique shops. Grab some food at Tizley’s then head over to the Valhöll Brewery to try some excellent local beer. And don’t forget to visit Mora, voted one of the best ice creameries in the US. halfpennybuddha
This is the quintessential small Texan town out in the state’s far west. It has a remarkable art scene with several galleries. It also has the Marfa Lights. It might be desert gas, locals having a laugh or atmospheric conditions reflecting car lights, but it’s been going on for more than a century. People go out and have fun and wait for them to appear. The town is also relatively close (in Texas terms) to the beautiful 8,000ft Davis mountains. Lee Franke
A colonial seaport midway between New York and Boston, Essex embodies every Hollywood cliche about small town New England but does so in the most winning way. There are white clapboard federal-style houses with the Stars and Stripes aflutter, classy boutiques and a corker of a tavern. The Griswold Inn, opened in 1776, making it America’s oldest continuously-serving hostelry. It has a collection of firearms on the walls and serves up delights like lobster pot pie. If it all gets a bit cutesy, wander down to the Connecticut river to inspect the boatyards and yachts. George III’s forces attacked in 1814 and torched 28 ships there, but the cheery locals won’t hold it against British visitors. manofmode
The other Las Vegas, New Mexico
For those interested in the old west, this town (700 miles east of its Nevada namesake) hits the spot. The city museum hosts Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Rider Memorial Collection, full of artefacts from the late 19th century wars in Cuba and beyond. It’s easy to visualise Billy the Kid and Jesse James riding into this town. Bed down at the 1920s Spanish colonial-style El Fidel (doubles from $45, +1 505 425 6761, no website) on Douglas Avenue with ceiling fans and tiled floors that take you to another era. Also on Douglas, drop into Charlie’s Spic and Span for some fine New Mexican food and friendly service. klokan
A stay at the luxurious Rhett House Inn (doubles from $219 B&B), epitomises the glamour of Gone with the Wind. The surrounding streets are lined with grand antebellum mansions shaded by mature oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Strictly speaking, it feels as though we should be over the state line in Georgia but Beaufort is a willing stand-in: much of Forrest Gump was filmed here instead of Alabama. The town, which is on low-lying Port Royal island, was also the setting for The Big Chill movie. The town’s Old Point historic district is a delight; we took a carriage ride with the Sea Island Carriage Company and visited the town’s delightful art galleries before chowing down at a waterfront eateries on Bay Street. Julia Hammond Johnson
Boulder City, Nevada
Built in 1931 to re-house workers on the nearby Hoover Dam from their tented slums, this small town is only a dice roll from Vegas. The Boulder Dam Museum (entry $2) focuses on the social and human cost of that engineering marvel (and is curated by the son of a former Ragtown inhabitant). It is located in the elegant, colonial Boulder Dam Hotel (doubles from $80 B&B), built in 1933 to accommodate VIPs visiting the dam construction site. Bronze statues adorn the quaint streets, depicting the history of this sympathetically planned settlement where spacious parks were integral in providing recreational opportunities for its first citizens. Casino-free, it’s a genteel and friendly antidote to Sin City. rja123
This fascinating town is halfway between Detroit and Chicago, making it a perfect stopover on a road trip. This small town with a population of around 700 people offers a fascinating insight into an alternative strand of American culture: the Amish. The Menno-Hof Amish and Mennonite Centre is the best place to start your visit; guided tours allowing an insight into the culture of the town and its people. A subsequent horse carriage tour around town will let you sit back and learn more about the workings of the place. The bakeries are filled with fresh cinnamon-rolls and the flea market every Wednesday presents a fine array of Americana memorabilia. ID7840980
About 90 minutes’ drive north of San Francisco, you’ll find the laid back town of Guerneville. Charmingly rustic, but with a wonderful food and wine scene thanks to it’s Sonoma county location, since the 1970s the town has become a welcoming resort for the LGBT community. At its heart is the Russian river, with canoes, kayaks, umbrellas and beach chairs available for rent. Check out the excellent bistro Boon Eat + Drink, featuring a menu using local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. Darina1983
• This article was amended on 3 November 2016. An earlier version said Poulsbo is on the Olympic peninsula; it is on the Kitsap peninsula.
On the Kitsap peninsula 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle, this picturesque little town highlights its Nordic heritage
Essex embodies every Hollywood cliche about small town New England but does so in the most winning way. There are white clapboard federal-style houses with the Stars and Stripes aflutter, classy boutiques and a corker of a tavern.
This fascinating town is halfway between Detroit and Chicago, making it a perfect stopover on a road trip.
90 minutes’ drive north of San Francisco,
since the 1970s the town has become a welcoming resort for the LGBT community. At its heart is the Russian river, with canoes, kayaks, umbrellas and beach chairs available for rent.