America's Coolest Small Towns
Every now and then, you stumble upon a town that's gotten everything right—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. These 10 spots have it all, in perfectly small doses.
TUBAC, ARIZONA (pop. 1,900)
galleries are framed by mountain views
Over the years, everyone from Spanish missionaries to maverick cowboys has called this high-desert town—25 miles north of the Mexican border—home. These days, you're most likely to find artists roaming the streets of Tubac, where dozens of galleries are framed by rugged-mountain views. "Not only is there no traffic, there's no traffic lights," says Dennis Rowden, who runs Spanish-meets-Western housewares store Pancho's with his interior decorator wife, Lorraine (Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, panchosdesign.com). While the Western charm is obvious, Tubac's sophistication is a subtler surprise. "People underestimate us," says jeweler Martita Foss, who moved to Tubac last year from southern California to work at the Tubac Center of the Arts, a 4,000-square-foot space for concerts, lectures, and gallery shows (9 Plaza Rd., tubacarts.org). "They may say, 'Oh, it's just an old historic town,' but we're really pretty hip." Foss discovered Tubac on a road trip with friends. "The light is amazing, and the sunsets are phenomenal," she says. The long wooden porch at the five-room Tubac Country Inn (13 Burruel St., tubaccountryinn.com, from $85) is the perfect place to see the orange-and-red-streaked sky at sundown as it casts its shadow on the area's cacti. Notes Foss: "It's not hard to see why painters and photographers have been drawn here." —Keith Mulvihill
WALLACE, IDAHO (pop. 1,000)
a place that mines its own history
Preservation and industriousness are key in Wallace, a former mining town in northwest Idaho where every single building (including a brothel that closed its doors in 1988 after pressure from the Feds) is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Oasis Bordello Museum remains trapped in time, from a bra air-drying on a lamp to the list of previously available services (605 Cedar St., 208/753-0801, guided tour $5). Bicyclists setting off on the roughly 87 miles of area trails fuel up on huckleberry shakes at Red Light Garage, a café decorated with vintage musical instruments (302 5th St., redlightgarage.com, shake $4.50). The café is run by musician turned contractor Jamie Baker and his wife, Barbara, who have made a second career out of restoring Wallace's 100-year-old buildings. Their latest, Hercules Inn, opened to visitors this summer, and each of the four units has a kitchen (15 2nd St., 208/556-0575, from $75). "Some folks would call this retirement," says Chase Sanborn, who ran a snowboarding-apparel company before opening Wallace Brewing Company, where you'll find him filling kegs seven days a week (610 Bank St., wallacebrewing.com, pints $3). True to the town's roots, he gives the drafts names like Dirty Blond and the Red Light. —Jason Cohen
SAUGERTIES, NEW YORK (pop. 5,000)
shop owners extend the welcome mat
Don't be surprised if you're invited into someone's house the minute you set foot in Saugerties, 100 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Richard Frisbie operates Hope Farm Press & Bookshop out of his converted living room (15 Jane St., hopefarm.com). "We're the book capital of the Hudson Valley," says Frisbie, who often shares anecdotes from some of his 3,500 books, which focus on the region. It's not uncommon for other shop owners to extend the welcome mat, too. In their two-story 1826 building, chef-owners Marc Propper and Michelle Silver serve homemade brown-sugar ice cream at long, wooden farm tables downstairs at Miss Lucy's Kitchen; upstairs they rent out two warmly inviting apartments, each with a kitchenette (90 Partition St., misslucyskitchen.com, rooms from $150, desserts $7). Saugerties can feel so much like home for weekenders that some have made it official. On a mushroom-foraging trip in the Hudson Valley, friends Mark Grusell and Juan Romero decided to plant themselves for good and opened Love Bites Cafe, a cozy, 16-seat café with an open kitchen that serves dishes like coconut-carrot French toast with vanilla-citrus butter (85 Partition St., 845/246-1795, $7). —Thisbe Nissen
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