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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.

Jane Moore of Made in Jerome Pottery takes the concept of local art down to a new level-to the clay. "I'm getting it out of my backyard!" she says. The works, made by Moore and other area potters, often draw inspiration from Native American rock art or incorporate ancient techniques. To make horsehair pots, for example, artists use burnt mane or tail hair to leave dramatic black carbon imprints on the clay (103 Main St., madeinjerome.com, Native American-inspired bowls and plates $18).

The Old Jerome High School, built in the 1920s, now houses artists' work spaces spread over three buildings, including the 20,000- square-foot Anderson-Mandette Gallery, the largest privately owned art studio in the United States. Robin Anderson, who offers etching demonstrations, used to look toward the Old Masters for inspiration: "At first I thought I would have to move to Italy," he says. "But this is my little Italian town on a hill" (885 Hampshire Ave., anderson-mandette.com, etchings from $50).

Getting there: Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (53 miles); Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (117 miles)

#9 Ste. Genevieve, Mo.: Pop. 4,410

French colonial life on the Mississippi? Mais oui!

The first thing you'll notice is how much Ste. Genevieve looks like a French village. And with good reason: This Mississippi River town was founded in 1740 by French Canadians, making it the first European settlement west of the Mississippi. They left behind colonial houses, built in the poteaux-en-terre (or "post-in-ground") style-also seen in Louisiana, Normandy, and Quebec-defined by covered porches and timber beams. The 1792 Bolduc House Museum is a perfect introduction to the style, with 18th-century furniture and a garden under shady pecan trees (125 S. Main St., bolduchouse.org, $8).

The Rosemary & Thyme Cooking School often features French-inspired dishes, such as souffles or Alsace onion tarts (20 S. Main St., rosemarythymecookingsch.com, classes from $50). And, because no French experience is complete without wine, the town sits on the Route du Vin. Unlike the majority of the state's wineries, which trace their history to German immigrants, this loop of six vineyards is known for Gallic grape varieties and wines inspired by Burgundy and Provence (rdvwinetrail.com, tasting prices vary). Built in 1848 by a rich merchant family, the Inn St. Gemme Beauvais is the state's oldest B&B (78 N. Main St., innstgemme.com, doubles from $99). You'll be on a strict schedule of indulgences: breakfast at 8:00, tea at 2:00, hors d'oeuvres and wine at 5:00, then dinner in the onsite restaurant, which serves-well, you can probably guess.

Getting there: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (75 miles)

#10 Cooke City, Mont.: Pop. 75

On the doorstep to Yellowstone, a gem in the rough

Names on the map tell it all. To the north sits Froze-to-Death Lake. Off to the east stretches Hellroaring Plateau. Yellowstone's Lamar Valley, 18 miles southwest, sounds tranquil enough, but it's home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears and wolves in the Lower 48. "This is the last place I know in the West that's still the West," says Troy Wilson, owner of the 1886 Cooke City Store, founded during the town's brief stint as a gold-mining settlement (101 Main St., cookecitystore.com, hiking maps from $6).

From your base at the High Country Motel in the Beartooth Mountains, snowmobiling and skiing are steps away (113 W. Main St., cookecityhighcountry.com, doubles from $88). It's cozier inside, but the vibe at the Miners Saloon is no less wild. Beers like Moose Drool Brown Ale and Trout Slayer Wheat Ale often share the menu with hand-tossed pizzas and specials like chicken with wild morel mushrooms (208 Main St., 406/838-2214, pizzas from $18).

There are other diamonds in this rugged rough. The town's trash and recycling station doubles as the local library and art museum, filled with books, paintings, and even cuckoo clocks rescued from refuse bins. Across
town, 88-year-old Birdie Williams runs the F. J. Williams Primitive Western Art gallery (407 Skunk Hollow, 406/838-2333, admission free), showcasing art by her deceased husband in the century-old log house where the two lived for nearly 50 years-without indoor plumbing.

Getting there: Yellowstone Regional Airport, Cody, Wyo. (80 miles); Gallatin Field Airport, Bozeman, Mont. (143 miles)

SEE THE TOWNS!

NOMINATE NOW!

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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