For the seventh year running, we're on a mission to uncover the top ten standout communities across the country. Does your hometown or favorite getaway have what it takes to make the cut? Nominate it by October 15th to find out!
BUDGET TRAVEL VACATION IDEAS
10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2012
We logged 368,000 votes in our seventh annual contest to choose the best hometown escapes in America. This year's twist? A nail-biter of a finish that crashed our website (temporarily, of course!) and resulted in our first-ever tie for first place.
It's tempting to say that there's something in the water, but Hammondsport's passion for the past really comes via the wine. The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, opened in 1860, was the first in the Finger Lakes region (8260 Pleasant Valley Rd., pleasantvalleywine.com, bottles from $6). In 1962, a Ukrainian viticulturist further transformed the local wine industry at his Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by successfully planting European grapes in the colder New York climate (9749 Middle Rd., drfrankwines.com, bottles from $9). Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. That's literally true of Dr. Frank's, which sits on an impossibly green piece of land overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. The vineyard is run by Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson. "I enjoy hearing stories about children sitting on my grandfather's knee 40 years ago," says Fred. "That's very rewarding."
Also rewarding: After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank's are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are. Sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back on the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro-though do spring for one of the plus-size meals, such as linguini and clam sauce (31 Shethar St., unionblockitalian.com, linguini with clam sauce $19). "We're pretty darn proud of what we've built here," says Mayor Emery Cummings, who has lived in Hammondsport for every one of his 54 years, "and we're hoping to keep it the way it's always been."
Getting there: Elmira Corning Regional Airport (40 miles); Greater Rochester International Airport (87 miles)
#3 Weaverville, Calif.: Pop. 3,600
Far East meets Old West
You expect certain trappings in any Gold Rush town. A saloon, a main street, maybe a hitching post. Also a 138-year-old working Chinese temple. No? You'll find one in Weaverville, where the Joss House State Historic Park is a testament to the town's unsung history of tolerance (630 Main St., parks.ca.gov, admission $4). Chinese immigrants, facing discrimination in ports such as San Francisco, were welcomed here and ultimately accounted for up to 25 percent of the Rush-era population. "Some of our staff looks at this place as a museum piece you just have to keep clean and take care of," says guide Jack Frost. "But Chinese people who work in the parks system say it's a national treasure."
Maybe it's the mining connection, but Weaverville is a place where you often strike it rich in unexpected places. The 1854 drugstore and bank are now home to the La Grange Cafe, which features a wildly creative menu of boar, rabbit, and buffalo-as well as an impressive wine cellar in the old bank vault (520 Main St., 530/623-5325, buffalo burger $11). Mamma Llama Eatery & Cafe hosts a surprisingly funky roster of live musicians: Gypsy jazz, junkyard percussion, even didgeridoo (490 Main St., mammallama.com, hoagie $5.75). One place that hews to a more period Old West experience is the 132-year-old Weaverville Hotel, which features four-poster beds, clawfoot tubs, and a peaceful Victorian library (481 Main St., weavervillehotel.com, doubles from $99).
Getting there: Redding Municipal Airport (55 miles); Sacramento International Airport (198 miles)
#4 Damascus, Va.: Pop. 814
The perfect trailside pit stop
If you decide to drive to Damascus, you’ll likely be in the minority. This is hiking and cycling heaven, where seven major trails intersect, including the undulating Virginia Creeper and the granddaddy of them all: the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail.
In a nifty bit of irony, six of the seven trails converge in a parking lot, at Mojoes Trailside Coffee House (331 Douglas Dr., mojoestrailsidecoffee.com, lattes from $3.50), where most mornings you’ll find a clutch of locals and through-hikers chatting about travel plans. Breakfast is the big meal in town, and the more energy-boosting calories the better. That’s one reason why the Lazy Fox Inn is famous less for its trailside location than for its legendary country breakfast that includes cheese grits, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and sausage (133 Imboden St., lazyfoxinn.com, doubles with private bath from $85).