America's Coolest Small Towns 2013
Budget Travel readers have spoken! The competition was fierce, with towns across the U.S. vying for the 2013 title of Coolest. Did your town make our final list?
Think your town is cool? Well, thousands of Budget Travel readers thought enough of theirs to nominate them in our 2013 Coolest Small Town in America contest. To be considered, all your town needs is a population of fewer than 10,000—and the belief that it offers something that folks won't find anywhere else. After hundreds of nominations, we narrowed down a list of 15 finalists and held a month-long online vote this winter. The results? History, culture, wine, outdoor adventures, and of course great food in 10 sweet spots from Maine to California. Like what you see? Pay these burghs a visit. Got a cool town of your own that isn't (yet!) on our list? Stay tuned—our 2014 contest is just around the corner.
#1 Lititz, Pennsylvania
History, culture, and great food in Lancaster County
Why we love it: You couldn't ask for a more beautiful location, in rural Lancaster County, Penn., with its rolling farmland and traditional Amish communities. Here, you can savor 18th-century history just a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia—a perfect long-weekend destination. What to do: Take a dip into colonial-era history at the Lititz Historical Foundation, the Johannes Mueller House, the Moravian Church, and a cemetery the locals refer to as God's Acre. Stroll through Lititz Springs Park, right in the middle of downtown, to take in the scenery and feed the ducks. Then step into a decidedly 21st-century culinary scene that includes Tomato Pie Café, Café Chocolate, Bulls Head Public House, Appalachian Brewing Company, Savory Gourmet, Olio, and Zest.
#2 Watkins Glen, New York
Gorges, waterfalls, and wine in the Finger Lakes
Why we love it: When a community is situated among some of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S., boasts a world-class race track, and those aren't the major reasons to visit, you know you've got a cool town. Hikers and wine lovers find unparalleled trails and vineyards here, making it easy to fill a day with both sweat and style. What to do: Two amazing parks—Watkins Glen State Park and the Finger Lakes National Forest (the only national forest in New York State) draw visitors for gorges, waterfalls, and endless trails. Thrills of another kind abound at Watkins Glen International Racetrack, with NASCAR and other auto-focused events. And for the wine connoisseur or novice, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail includes 50 local wineries.
#3 Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Beaches, seafood, and art on the Gulf of Mexico
Why we love it: Everybody loves a comeback, and Bay St. Louis has come roaring back from Hurricane Katrina (which made final landfall near this Mississippi Gulf hamlet in 2005). Its Historic Old Town has been chugging along for 300 years (French Canadian explorers first sailed into the bay in 1699), drawing visitors to its warm beaches, first-rate fishing, and friendly vibe. What to do: When a town boasts a street called Beach Boulevard, you know you don't have to look far for fun. If you have trouble finding the beach (you won't), take Main Street straight to the water. Take your own walking tour of 19th-century homes, Creole cottages, and art galleries (the scene is especially lively on Second Saturday Artwalk). Hungry? Try the Mockinburger at Mockingbird Café (it started as a cantina to serve Katrina volunteers).
#4 Greenville, Kentucky
Folk music, classic architecture, and hospitality among rolling hills
Why we love it: That particularly Southern combination of down-home charm and old-fashioned grandeur is old hat in Greenville. Founded in 1799 and settled by Revolutionary War veterans, it grew over the next century into the seat of one of the South's most profitable coal-mining regions. What to do: That history is reflected in the enduring elegance of city landmarks such as the 105-year-old Beaux Arts courthouse and 111-year-old Palace Theater. On Main Street, laid-back locals and mom-and-pop establishments evoke the guitar and harmonica twangs of folk songs. You might even hear John Prine's "Paradise" as you stroll the streets—the renowned singer-songwriter penned some of his most famous lyrics about the coal-mining history of Greenville and the surrounding area. The town's musical legacy lives on at Rockford's Place Café: part eatery, part jam session venue, it adds a little funk to the Greenville scene.