Discover Small Towns with Big Attractions
I have a love affair with small towns away from the hustle and bustle.
Years ago, I was seeking a vacation place in Maine that is away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy shoreline yet still offers the comforts and conveniences I craved. The state’s tourism office suggested that I visit Rangeley, a town of about 1,100 residents tucked in the western mountains and lakes region.
That started my love affair with tiny towns. I bought a lakeside cabin, where I spend every summer and set out to explore and enjoy other villages throughout the United States.
While I love the excitement and long list of attractions that cities offer, my heart belongs to much smaller enclaves where life in the slow lane is the order of the day, with nearby unspoiled nature. I wrote some of my fondest travel memories here. In addition, they share solitary appeals that can add to the benefits of visiting.
Significant benefits in small towns
Things cost less. From lodgings and meals to admission tickets and shop prices, it’s very likely that you’ll spend less in a tiny town.
Example: The charming, historic Rangeley Inn, which opened as a tavern in 1909, recalls its past with antique furnishings and vintage photographs. A moose head and bear adorning the welcoming lobby represent the abundant wildlife that inhabits the surrounding woodlands. Rates for the renovated, well-appointed guest rooms begin at $125 a night. Beat THAT, New York.
The food is fabulous. Local cuisine becomes part of the immersion in a destination. In Rangeley, the cuisine includes succulent Maine lobster. Down south, it means barbeque and fried green tomatoes. And in California, folks seek out something called mission burritos.
People become part of the experience. It didn’t take long after I arrived in Rangeley for casual acquaintances to become friends. People in small towns seem to be interested in connecting with newcomers and making them feel welcome.
Where the big draw is ponies, birds, and ducks
That was true in Chincoteague, Virginia (population of about 3,000). It gained fame in 1947 with the publication of the Children’s book Misty of Chincoteague, about the annual swim and sale of wild ponies that live free nearby.
After I professed my love of oysters while visiting a shellfish farm there, the proprietor offered to shuck and serve me as many as I craved at no cost. When I admired ornamental bird carvings created by a local artist, he gave me an antique duck decoy as a gift.
I spotted several people intently watching a mother duck waddling across a street followed by her ducklings. When one onlooker explained that they were making sure the traffic stopped, I realized that the locals are as friendly to resident ducks as human visitors.
Architecture from various times and places sets some settings
Architecture rather than animals is the focus of some tiny municipalities. That’s so in Cape May, New Jersey (population 3,400), where visitors step into a Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the 19th century.
The entire town, designated as a National Historic District, boasts nearly 600 well-preserved Victorian-style buildings. It’s the only city of any size in the United States to have won that honor.
Architectural gems also are a big attraction in other small towns. Reminders of the role of Taos, New Mexico (5,800) as a Spanish Colonial outpost and then a frontier settlement abound.
The crown jewel is the Taos Pueblo — a multi-storied earthen structure considered the oldest continuously inhabited place in the country. Life goes on much as it has for some 2,000 years for today's dwellers. They do without electricity or running water and bake bread in traditional outdoor ovens.
The setting and lifestyle are very different in the two towns that conjure up visions of Europe. German immigrants are believed to have settled in Hermann, Missouri (2,200) because its rugged terrain reminded them of the Rhine Valley. They built homes in the traditional style of Germany, more than 150 listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Typical food, music, and dancing are recalled at festivals held throughout the year.
The canton of New Glarus, Switzerland, is replicated in the Wisconsin town which bears that name. It was founded in the mid-19th century by poverty-stricken people seeking a better life and finding it in what then was an untamed wilderness area. Today, flower-bedecked chalets and other relics of Switzerland set the scene for visitors.
Native Americans in North Fork, California
Native Americans, rather than adoptive Americans, were the original settlers of present-day North Fork, California (3,000). They reside near the south entrance to Yosemite National Park at a terminus of the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway. It is an often-overlooked 90-mile loop winding among dramatic granite domes, glaciated peaks, and high mountain meadows.
This compact village, set in the exact geographical center of the state, is the headquarters of the Mono Native American Tribe, one of the largest in California. The Sierra Mono Museum is a treasure trove of Indian baskets, jewelry, tools, and other artifacts and would be very much at home in a large city.
But it’s not. Therein lies the allure of tiny towns throughout the United States that make up in charm, friendly people, and other attributes that they lack in size.
Victor Block retains the travel bug after gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries worldwide and writing about what he sees, does, and learns. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won several writing awards.