The Coolest Small Towns in America
In Budget Travel's fifth-annual celebration of hometown escapes across the USA, we're spotlighting 10 places that somehow pack in more personality than cities triple their size. How? It all comes down to the people.
Nyack, New York pop. 6,737
Creativity around every corner
Like many Hudson River Valley towns, Nyack has no shortage of antiques shops. The ones within the sprawling Franklin Antique Center alone contain everything from the historic (turquoise-handled art deco cutlery) to the high-end (Limoges) to pure kitsch (142 Main St., 845/353-0071). But what sets Nyack, 25 miles north of New York City, apart is that here the treasure hunting extends well beyond what's for sale. Artful touches appear all over. Case in point: Manhattan transplant Diego Astudillo's floral arrangements at Winter Wednesday Flowers are arrayed like minimalist sculptures in a light-filled gallery space (152 Main St., winterwednesdayflowers.com). Across the way, Marseille native Didier Dumas brings similar attention to the tarts at his eponymous patisserie (163 Main St., didierdumas.com, tarts from $4). And at last call, nighthawks seek out the martinis at The Hudson House, a restored 73-year-old jailhouse whose cells now house a wine cave (134 Main St., hudsonhousenyack.com, martinis $11). The trend is fully realized at RiverView B&B, an 1835 Dutch Colonial across town adorned with a mix of antiques and modern-art prints (riverviewbnb.com, from $150). Nyack's favorite son, Edward Hopper, would be proud.
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin pop. 1,194
A quiet shoreline takes center stage
Surrounded by more than 300 miles of hidden coves and pocket beaches on Lake Michigan, Egg Harbor has for years been a refuge for residents of Milwaukee and Chicago, about five hours south. In the summer, families make the winding drive up through Door County—a rural peninsula dotted with silos and orchard stands that divides Lake Michigan and Green Bay—to swim and build sand castles along Egg Harbor's beaches. "Our access to the water is incredible," says Sandy Chlubna, 52, a former Michigander who moved here with her husband and opened the six-room Feathered Star B&B (6202 Hwy. 42, featheredstar.com, from $120). "It's so easy to just throw a boat on top of your car and launch it from one of the ramps." If you don't bring your own, Bay Shore Outdoor Store rents canoes, kayaks, and sailboats by the day (2457 S. Bay Shore Dr., kayakdoorcounty.com, one-day rentals from $50). The waterfront Shipwrecked Restaurant is the place to be at sunset for a bottle of Door County's cherry soda (shipwreckedmicrobrew.com, soda $3.50). But it's not all about the water. A 100-year-old landlocked converted barn, home to the Birch Creek Music Performance Center, serves as the town's cultural hub; after-hours, everyone gathers to hear big-band concerts on summer nights (3821 County E, birchcreek.org, tickets from $29).
Medicine Park, Oklahoma pop. 385
An unexpected high point on the Oklahoma plains
Say "Oklahoma" and mountains don't exactly leap to mind. Yet mountains—namely the broken granite domes of the Wichitas—are precisely why Medicine Park exists. Built as a planned resort for overheated Okies, the town is a patchwork of manicured lawns, arched footbridges, and red cobblestoned lanes on the banks of Medicine Creek. "This area looks a lot more like Colorado wilderness than what you'd expect to find in Oklahoma," says Pegi Brown, 62, a longtime San Francisco resident who moved to Medicine Park with her husband, Clark. They now run the four-room Stardust Inn B&B (154 Granite Ridge, stardustinn.com, from $150), where "you can walk along the river past waterfalls, oaks, and pines, or hike into the Wichitas, right out your door." Each Memorial Day weekend, visitors and residents alike come out for the Red Dirt Ball, which showcases red dirt music, an indigenous mix of folk, blue-grass, and honky-tonk; the mayor himself invites acts like the Red Dirt Rangers and the Bobby Dale Band to play free open-air concerts for all to enjoy (medicinepark.com/RedDirtBall.php).