Exploring the character and charm of small town America
Looking for a good road trip this summer? Check out these 10 small US towns. Each has everything you need to have a memorable vacation; from outstanding lodging options, culinary delights, sensational scenery to fun activities.
Whitefish, Montana is located in the north-western part of the state. It has a wonderful walkable downtown with an abundance of shopping and dining options. Whitefish Ski Resort is just minutes away and provides a plethora of fun summer activities. Whitefish Lake is a beautiful body of water for all kinds of sporting activities…and, you can rent just about anything you need from the lLodge at Whitefish Lake. Speaking of the Lodge, it also offers outstanding accommodations with a wonderful restaurant and patio overlooking the lake. Additionally, there is a number of high quality B&B’s in the area. Glacier National Park is a mere 45 minute drive to the east.
Port Orford, Oregon is so small, that if you blink, you might just pass right through town and not even know it. Regardless of its small stature, the coastal community of Port Orford has a lot to offer. There are more than half a dozen galleries; from the whimsical, to the ultra-modern. There are several lovely B&Bs in town, like WildSpring Guest Habitat, offering individual romantic cabins in a tranquil setting, to say nothing of the ocean views from its huge signature hot tub. You will also find several tasty places to eat, from the hi-end RedFish, to the eccentric Paula’s Bistro, to Crazy Norwegians for casual dining. You won’t get bored either. Heads State Park is a great place for hiking and unobstructed ocean views. Or, head over to Agate Beach to fly a kite, take a romantic stroll, or lie out on a warm summer day. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the Cape Blanco Lighthouse.
Lewiston, New York is also a small community, but with big heart. This is one of the friendliest communities I’ve ever visited. Lewiston is also big on culture with a great deal of fantastic restaurants, and, an ‘ArtPark’ providing numerous musical and cultural events each month. Located along the Niagara River, there are lots of fun activities, from Jet Boat rides, strolls along the embankment, to kayaking. Of course the infamous Niagara Falls is not far away either, which offers its own host of activities.
Taos, New Mexico is located about an hour north of Santa Fe and offers a more relaxed and equally impressive array of amenities. I’ve stayed in several B&Bs, all of which provide great accommodations and service. The dining options are impressive and can rival bigger cities with innovative creations and overall selection. Taos is also well known for its art scene - it’s actually a way of life, and has been for centuries. If perusing galleries isn’t your thing, there are many outdoor activities to enjoy; from skiing in the winter, to white-water rafting in the summer. There’s also fishing the many streams, hot air ballooning, as well as biking and horseback riding.
Sequim, Washington is located in the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest part of the state. If you’re familiar with ‘Dungeness Crab’, Sequim is where it come from. The Dungeness Spit and surrounding park is a great place to explore, hike or camp. Sequim is also well known for its lavender, and associated festival, which photographers will particularly enjoy. There are at least half a dozen top-notch B&B/Inns located at the water’s edge overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and nearby Victoria, Canada, which is just a short ferry ride away. Also nearby is the famed Olympic National Park, where on a clear day Hurricane Ridge provides views as far as the eye can see.
Bardstown, Kentucky might be best known for being the bourbon spirits capital of the world, but it was recently named ‘Most Beautiful’ small town in America by Rand McNally and USA Today. Bardstown was said to be as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside by ‘Best of the Road’s’ Two for the Road judges, Nikki and Dusty. For more than 225 years the southern hospitality, historic surroundings, fine restaurants and friendly accommodations in Bardstown have made folks feel right at home. Area attractions include the My Old Kentucky Home State Park; the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater and The Kentucky Railway Museum.
Walla Walla, Washington is well known for its uniquely ‘sweet’ onions, and is fast becoming a serious contender in the wine industry, followed by an amazing culinary scene. In just a short decade the area has gone from about two dozen vineyards to nearly 150. For lodging, there are a number of quality B&Bs, vacation rentals and the stunningly historic Marcus Whitman Hotel. The downtown area is charming and the people extremely friendly. As a matter of fact, Walla Walla was crowned ‘Most Friendly’ small town in America last year by Rand McNally and USA Today. The surrounding area with rolling wheat fields butting next to contrasting crops make for some remarkable landscape scenes.
Moab, Utah can rival any place in the country for its copious natural beauty. There are so many outdoor activities that you’ll want to come back again and again to try something new. Regarding beauty, there are two distinctly different, both equally awe-inspiring National Parks: Canyonlands and Arches. Both will leave you speechless. As far as activities, you’ll find everything from mountain bike riding, white-water rafting, ATVing, 4×4 off-roading, hiking, fishing, sightseeing and so much more. Moab is an outdoor mecca of fun activities. I have only been to the area once, so I can’t speak to its culinary or lodging offerings (I was there to be one with nature and so I camped under the brilliant star-filled sky).
Charlottesville, Virgina has had a long and illustrious existence, while continuing to maintain its charm and small town feel. Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, called Charlottesville home—his presence still felt, remembered and revered. The focal point of the community is the Downtown Mall, where on Saturdays you’ll find a farmer’s market in which many of the local restaurateurs get their ingredients. The soil in Virginia is very fertile and the ‘farm-to-fork’ movement is fully embraced. Apparently there are more restaurants per capita than in New York City. Speaking of the culinary scene, it’s second to none; here are my five favorites. When it comes to lodging, be sure to check out the ‘Boar’s Head Inn’ (no relation to my favourite cold cut company!).
Mendocino, California is located along scenic coastal Hwy 1, just south of Fort Bragg. This relatively rural part of Northern California has a laid back feel with a thriving art scene. Wine and culinary delights are also a big draw, as too are the superb Inns like Brewery Gulch. Combining the majestic outdoors with the finest aspects of coastal living, Mendocino embodies the very best that California and Mother Nature has to offer. Explore the redwoods or a vineyard. Play some golf or stroll along the beach. Fantastic dining and boutique shopping await you in this magical little village.
Words and pictures by Mike Shubic of Mike's Road Trip.
Taos is also well known for its art scene - it's actually a way of life
"I haven't been everywhere, but it’s on my list" - Susan Sontag