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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.

Yet the carbo-loading, hard-core trekkers you’ll find in Damascus don’t always look as you’d expect. “Mamaw B.” (her adopted trail name) was in town beginning her usual 15- to 18-mile hike. She’s 71 and has been backpacking for 31 years. “The secret to good health is to remain active and to always have something to look forward to,” she says, as she sets off from Mojoes toward—where, exactly? She just smiles and points north.

Getting there: Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Blountville, Tenn. (46 miles); Charlotte Douglas International Airport (134 miles)

#5 Nashville, Ind.: Pop. 803

A music mecca that lives up to its namesake

Nashville didn't start out as a music town-not this Nashville, anyway. For 100 years, this southern Indiana village did just fine as a turn-of-the-century Midwest artists' colony. Galleries and crafts studios still line the streets, the legacy of landscape painters such as T.C. Steele, who moved here in the early 1900s for the "purple haze" over the Brown County hills. The 23-room Artists Colony Inn even has palette-shaped key rings and works from the town's creative founders on its walls (105 S. Van Buren St., artistscolonyinn.com, doubles from $92).

The first artists were also drawn to Nashville's remoteness from urban distractions-which is just what lured singer-songwriter Cari Ray in 2011. Ray was looking for a quiet place to work on her second record, but she ultimately found more stimulation than solitude. "There's so much energy and hidden talent here," she says. "And such a collaborative spirit. Everybody just wants to jam together." True to form, Ray can often be found performing with other area musicians at the once-abandoned Brown County Playhouse (70 S. Van Buren St., browncountyplayhouse.org, tickets from $15).

Supply and demand for homegrown performances has spiked ever since the town's Little Nashville Opry, the only venue big enough to host touring acts, burned down in 2009. Just like that, "local musicians started filling in the gaps," says Eric "Wavy" Rose, who works at the Weed Patch Music Company, a custom guitar and banjo shop (58 E. Main St., weedpatchmusic.com, guitars from $90). After all, who needs an Opry when you can harmonize on a sidewalk, in a wine bar, or even at the go-to breakfast spot-funky, Mexican-leaning Muddy Boots Cafe (136 N. Van Buren St., muddybootscafe.com, sandwiches from $6)?

Getting there: Indianapolis International Airport (55 miles); Louisville International Airport (95 miles)

#6 Port Townsend, Wash.: Pop. 9,113

A foodie find on the shores of the rugged Olympic Coast

Back in the late 1800s, Port Townsend was poised to become America's largest West Coast harbor, nicknamed The City of Dreams. Unfortunately, when the economic Panic of 1893 cut the town off from the expanding rail network, these grand plans went bust. And yet the Victorian-era seaport is still plenty dreamy. Thanks to its rich geographical blessings (mountains ripe for foraging, teeming fishing grounds, fertile farmlands), the region has spawned its own culinary movement: Olympic Coast Cuisine.

Extremely fresh seafood-pulled from the labyrinthine bays that carve into the peninsula-shows up on most menus here. The terrace at Fins Coastal Cuisine offers a front-row seat to the harbor, a perfect perch from which to try their take on chowder-heaping bowls of local Manila clams in their shells with a white wine and thyme broth (1019 Water St., finscoastal.com, chowder $13.50).

In addition to French-style Camemberts and spreadable fromage blancs, Matt Day and Ryan Trail of Mt. Townsend Creamery create a slate of uniquely Northwestern cheeses, with additions like alderwood smoke and Seattle-brewed Scotch ale (338 Sherman St., mttownsendcreamery.com, fromage blanc $5 for 8 oz.). The cheeses make a perfect picnic companion to the French-inspired classics-such as thin ficelle baguettes and custard-filled canelés-being baked at Pane d'Amore (617 Tyler St., panedamore.com, canelés $1.50). Even something as simple as ice cream gets the farm-to-cone treatment. At Elevated Ice Cream Company, seasonal ingredients such as raspberries, strawberries, and lavender are sourced from farms 16 miles west in Sequim, Wash. (627 & 631 Water St., elevatedicecream.com, cone $2.50). But don't worry about packing on the calories: The Olympic Peninsula has plenty of opportunities for sea kayakers, hikers, and mountain bikers.

SEE THE TOWNS!

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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!

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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