When you’re traveling, one of the key things you’re looking to experience is a new culture, as well as a way of life far different than your own, and you don’t have to travel outside the U.S. to experience it. These five small towns have more culture than you can imagine and are nestled right here in the USA.
Each of these quaint, cozy and vibrant towns has fewer than 50,000 people, but don’t mistake that for Podunk. These mini cities are thriving with one-of-a-kind businesses, holiday festivals, unique art museums and galleries, boutique shops, five-star restaurants and resorts. After just a weekend, you’ll find yourself completely smitten with these hidden small-town gems.
Located just an hour outside of Austin in the heart of Texas wine country, this quaint and cozy town is perfect for those craving a small-town getaway. In addition to being home to more than 20 wineries, Fredericksburg has a booming shopping district on Main Street known as the “Magic Mile.” Here you’ll find over 150 shops, including antique markets, clothing retailers, candy and fudge shops, a Christmas market and even a shop all about dogs. If you can, book your stay during the holidays as Fredericksburg has a giant Christmas celebration, complete with a 26-foot Christmas tree.
Friday Harbor, Washington
This darling little island town located in the San Juan Islands of Washington is just a float plane away from the busy city of Seattle, but it truly feels like another country. There are just 2,200 people living on Friday Harbor year round, but it’s hardly sleepy. During the summer and fall seasons, tourists flock to the island eager to catch a glimpse of an orca on a whale-sighting tour or to frolick through the lavender farms picking scents to take home. The other months are busy for the locals, with festivals, a marine biology facility and beautiful views of the mountains and water that change through the seasons.
Sitting right beside two stunning mountain ranges, the Appalachians and Blue Ridge, Staunton, which was once a staging center for the Confederate Army, is now home to more than just Civil War memories. Home to Mary Baldwin College and the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, this city of 23,000 is bursting at the seams with young and excited students. In addition to colleges, this city is a growing cultural hot spot, with places like the Dixie Theater movie house, Mockingbird Roots Music Hall, Heifetz International Music Institute, the outdoor Oak Grove Theater and the American Shakespeare Center. There’s also a cute shopping district and the Red Brick District, which has awesome nightlife and even vaudeville.
Princeton, New Jersey
It’s hard not to be a cultural hotspot when you’re home to Princeton University. The university, which moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in the 1700s, has brought life to the once sleepy town. A tour of the college is a must (it’s absolutely stunning), but there are more than just campus tours that make this town a place you need to visit. The Princeton University Art Museum has one of the most beautiful and richest art collections in the country. The McCarter Theatre Center, which isn’t just for students, produces Broadway-worthy plays and musicals. When college is out, the town puts on an arts festival, bringing in thousands of people for the music, culture and arts. There are some great restaurants here, too, like Elements, which was named by the New York Times as a place not to miss.
Situated right smack in the middle between the hipster town of Portland and the thriving metropolitan city of San Francisco, Ashland is often a stopping point for those making the drive up the West Coast. But Ashland is more than just a stopover on your way to something better. This culturally rich town has a ton to offer thanks to Southern Oregon University and the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has been around since 1935. For the young hipsters coming from Portland, Ashland also has a film festival every year in April. When there’s no festival, locals love to partake in the city’s art walks, which take place every Friday and include many local galleries.