Where should you travel when you're looking for a smaller, charming town? We've got a few ideas for every person in your family and every style of travel. Plus, they're all budget friendly. From destinations that are ideal for outdoor lovers to an almost unknown wine region to artsy enclaves, here are 10 small-ish towns in America for every occasion.
For the Outdoors: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
It’s impossible not to think about skiing when it comes to Steamboat Springs, but some of the best – and certainly the most affordable – side of this Colorado mountain town can be found in the spring, summer, and fall months. Plus, there are fewer crowds. First up are the springs for which the town has been named. Old Town Hot Springs, where pools have been for over 100 years, feels more waterpark-like with eight spring-fed pools and a waterslide ($22 for adults). Strawberry Park Hot Springs is nestled into the mountains and feels a bit more rustic ($20 per person). Another fantastic activity here is hiking, and there are trails for all skill levels. Fishcreek Falls is surrounded by thick pine trees and culminates in a 280-foot waterfall ($5 per day). The Gilpin Lake trail, surrounded by wildflowers and a bright blue lake, looks like something out of a storybook (free). Mild weather also makes for the idea time to try a post-hike outdoor happy hour: Aurum Food & Wine has a gorgeous outdoor patio with a firepit and offers a daily happy hour. Besame has incredible tapas, a quaint patio, and a happy hour menu. Steamboat’s off-season lodging can be particularly more affordable with hotels ringing in at under $100 per night; camping that starts at $10 per night, and large home rentals (great for the family) at nearly 50% off seasonal rates.
For the Wine: Livermore, California
There’s never been a better time to travel for wine tasting. Those open vineyards with plenty of fresh air and space make for an ideal socially distancing vacation spot. But there’s more to California wineries than Napa and Sonoma. Livermore is located on the very eastern edge of San Francisco's Bay Area in Alameda County, in the Tri-Valley part of the state. The sunny weather and beautiful rolling hills were originally meant for cattle, but have since become known for its vineyards with nearly 100,000 acres of grapes; the Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights make it a fine growing location. The area is one of California’s oldest wine regions, but still remains unknown to many. More than 50 tasting rooms dot the quaint town, and the vibe is very laid-back. In Livermore, you won’t find flashy tasting rooms or $50 tastings – it feels more like visiting a family friend’s home with outdoor picnics and super affordable wine (tastings average around $15). A few favorites: Three Steves Winery, Wente Vineyards, and Concannon Vineyards. And it’s not all about wine here; Livermore has craft breweries, fantastic restaurants, and a very charming downtown. Lodging ranges from well-known chain hotels to upscale bed and breakfasts like the Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort and Spa, where each room has a fireplace and includes tons of extras like a gathering hour with wine, olive oil tasting, and cheese board each evening. (Rooms can be found for under $200 per night).
For the Beer: Asheville, North Carolina
Gorgeous mountains, incredible hiking, fine dining, and craft breweries? That’s just a skosh of what Asheville offers visitors. The city is ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Swannanoa River and the French Broad River. Known as both “The Land of Sky” and “Beer City USA” the city has been a more recent tourist destination in the South and offers something for pretty much everyone: There are loads of hiking trails, restaurants that range from hip-but-inexpensive Indian fare to fine dining. At last count, Asheville has 33 breweries; among our favorites are Burial, Wedge, and Green Man – but decide for yourself; your own walking brewery tour is not only affordable, but fun. As far as lodging, the Hilton Garden Inn is new, affordable, and has a fantastic rooftop bar, but it’s worth splurging at The Bunn House. And we’d be remiss not to mention the Biltmore Estate, it’s not an affordable ticket, but impressive in every way.
For Art: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This small town that sits in the Arkansas Ozarks is full of surprises. Part of Northwest Arkansas, a fast-growing region of the state, Eureka Springs still feels like you’re stepping back in time. It’s a liberal community, full of artists and makers, where mid century-modern homes and Victorian architecture rest upon the town’s hot springs, which are said to have curative qualities. The town is easily explored on foot, offering loads of charming shops, spas, and restaurants. But perhaps the most inviting quality is that Eureka Springs is surrounded by lakes and parks, and trails – the hiking, boating, fishing, and even caving are spectacular (and free). Devil’s Den State Park and the Buffalo River are particularly impressive. Lodging can be quite affordable, with a smattering of bed and breakfasts like Arsenic and Old Lace, where rooms start at $125 and you can stay in a treetop suite (with a fireplace and whirlpool), surrounded by nature for $160. Alternatively, Eureka Springs is known for the Crescent Hotel and Spa, often touted as one of the most haunted hotels in America. Built in 1886, the luxury property is perched high above the town, and in addition to a spa and restaurant, the hotel plays host to ghost tours, too.
For History: Jackson, Mississippi
Named for President Andrew Jackson, this small-scale capital makes for a lovely (and historical) destination. In 2017, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened alongside the Museum of Mississippi History, which explores the state from prehistoric times to present day through its many galleries. The Civil Rights Museum unpacks the state’s complicated past and highlights the struggle for equality and freedom. On the flip side, the dining scene in Jackson is top-notch, with everything from hole-in-the-wall gems to white-tablecloth restaurants, often found in Jackson’s Fondren district. It might be best known for Brent’s Drugs, an old-school luncheonette that was featured in The Help. Or — come sundown — for its evening persona: Brent’s Apothecary, where you’ll slip into the back of the building to find a swanky cocktail bar. Just across the street is Saltine — located in an old schoolhouse, serving a fine selection of oysters and ramen. There are bakeries, coffee shops, and tony boutiques, too. Plus, a beloved favorite: Walker’s Drive-In — which isn’t a drive-in at all, but a restaurant that’s known to serve some of the best food in town. Meanwhile, a testament to Jackson’s growth can be found at The Westin Jackson, which is first Westin in the state, and home to a fine spa and nods to Mississippi’s music heritage; legendary guitars of famous musicians line the walls that guests can rent. There’s also the Fairview Inn — the quintessential Southern mansion — its Library Lounge has a fantastic cocktail list with Mississippi literary ties throughout.
For the Beach: St. Petersburg, Florida
While St. Petersburg often gets lumped in with Tampa (it’s technically a suburb) the two places feel worlds apart. While Tampa feels big city, St. Pete (as it’s called by locals) has a laid-back surfer vibe; which makes sense: the city has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The white-sugar-sand and bright blue waters can be found for free, many of which are dog friendly (Fort De Soto Park is a favorite), with plenty of open air to roam, surf, swim, picnic, and even camp. Downtown St. Pete has an artsy-boho feel with cute local shops, restaurants, and craft breweries. The city is also a hidden gem for art lovers. There’s the Dali Museum, with surrealist works; the Museum of Fine Arts; the super-impressive Chihuly Collection; and the Imagine Museum. There are loads of incredible murals too. Allegiant Air offers incredibly low rates and flies directly into the St. Petersburg, Clearwater Airport.
For Music: Memphis, Tennessee
If you recommended Memphis as a travel destination fifteen or even ten years ago, you might have gotten some skeptical looks (or even a question about Graceland, the area’s most well-known attraction). But a new energy is humming in this southern city, all while it retains the things that made it great in the first place — a deep-rooted sense of history, live music everywhere, and startlingly good restaurants that go way beyond barbecue (though, that's great, too). Whether it’s impeccably prepared Italian at Catherine and Mary’s, or themed cocktails in the plush upstairs speakeasy Dodici, or just the classic brisket at Central Barbecue, eating and drinking here is its own transportive experience, and for far less than in Nashville or New Orleans. A spate of hotels, too, are newly opened or gearing up to open, led by the boutique Hotel Napoleon, which is situated in a historic building that dates back to 1902. Next up is a candy-colored Hotel Indigo, which is opening in January, and The Central Station, which Hilton is developing in Memphis’ historic train station. All of these are situated close to Beale Street, but the latter is next to another storied local attraction: Ernestine and Hazel’s, a classic dive bar among dive bars, complete with memorabilia from the days when Ray Charles and B.B. King were invited to the after-party. There are also several resident ghosts.
For Design: Providence, RI
New England has no shortage of postcard-perfect destinations, but these days we're particularly excited about artsy Providence. The Dean Hotel -- once a former brothel -- opened to much fanfare, celebrating modern design along with its seedier roots. The stylish property fits perfectly into the town’s high culture. After all, Providence is the home of the famed Rhode Island School of Design presence, whose own museum is a 91,000-object heaven for art lovers, and The Arcade, a newly refreshed 1828 shopping mall with a unique “designer collective” and various local eats. Other top attractions include WaterFire, a stunning river parade of floating bonfires (free); the Providence Children’s Film Festival, offering puppet workshops that the young-at-heart adults love; and the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales Museum, with 25,000 square feet of food-related exhibits. The best part? Given that the train station lies in the heart of downtown, where all this is within walking distance, Providence is as convenient as it is affordable.
For Families: Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach has long been on our radar for vacations that don’t break the bank. From free and low-cost activities to diverse lodging and dining scenes, a trip here can fit any budget, big or small. With more than 200 hotels in the area – ranging from upscale and boutique resorts to small, clean mom-and-pop digs to condos – inexpensive options abound. For peak-season stays, it’s never too hard to find a one-bedroom suite or fully equipped apartment for less than $100.
For Pottery (and the Beach): Coastal Mississippi
The Gulf Coast of Mississippi, which has 26 miles of white-sand beaches, feels like a good secret. We love that each coastal community across the region has a different feel, from artsy Ocean Springs to charming Bay St. Louis. With loads of inexpensive lodging options, guests can stay in beachside boutique hotels, luxury casino resorts (and for much less than in, say, Vegas), and coastal inns. This wallet-friendly stretch of coastline lets you kayak, hop on a standup paddle board, or go boating and fishing for less than in higher-profile beaches in Florida or Texas. If you prefer museums and art, check out the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, or the Walter Anderson Museum of Art or Shearwater Pottery Workshop and Showroom in Ocean Springs. A range of the area’s attractions can be found in the Coastal Mississippi Attractions Pass, which includes one cost of entry to eight must-see attractions, all for the wallet-friendly price of $45. and it never expires. Plan a visit around one of the region’s free festivals held throughout the year, which showcase local crafts, fresh seafood, and live music.