The Nominees for America's Coolest
We've pulled together a list of 22 nominees from coast to coast. Cast a vote to determine the readers' top 10 American small towns—and check the October 2009 issue of Budget Travel Magazine to see if any reader choices made the final cut.
Port Royal, S.C.
Located between the Beaufort River and Battery Creek, this charming fishing village is a great place to spend a slow day. Take a walk on the town's boardwalk or along Sands Beach. Stop by Bateaux restaurant for mouth-watering seafood specialties like bacon-wrapped scallops. April 18 brings the town's annual Soft Shell Crab Festival, which offers a variety of seafood, beverages, vintage automobile exhibits, live music and handcrafted arts. And for a look at Port Royal's aquatic life, take a tour of the Lowcountry Estuarium. You can observe local species, become acquainted with local shrimping practices, and learn how to cast a net. —readers shannonerickson and CharlotteGonzalez
Located along the Juniata River, the town is the center of culture and business in Huntingdon County. The antique trains on the East Broad Top Railroad tour will take you back to the time of coal-fueled steam engines. Visit Juniata College's Baker Peace Chapel, a granite circle that sits atop a secluded hill, which was designed by artist and architect Maya Lin. In the evening, dine at Boxer's Café, a local favorite for a large selection of microbrews and live music. The home-cooked meals appeal to many and include vegetarian options. Drop by Mimi's, a cosmopolitan restaurant and bar known for its desserts and martinis—and dessert martinis. —reader rberdar
Rockland is located in an enclosed bay, and life revolves around its rocky shore. Take a walk on the waterfront boardwalk and tour the Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the mile-long breakwater. Visit the Maine Lighthouse Museum to see the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts in the country. From July 29 until August 2, the annual Lobster Festival takes place. You can enjoy lobster dishes, lobster-crate races, and live music. For a meal with a view, make reservations at Amalfi on the Water, and be sure to order the crème brûlée. —reader CaptBren
Crested Butte, Colo.
If Aspen is the glitzy Colorado locale, Crested Butte (just a six-hour hike away from Aspen) is its authentic counterpart. Nestled in a remote valley in the Rocky Mountains, this small town steers clear of commercialism, and its modern amenities often hark back to the town's mining and ranching history. In the winter, take advantage of the snow to ski or go on sleigh rides. Outfit yourself with clothes and equipment for the mountain at Alpineer. Interested more in local culture? Take the ArtWalk on the third Thursday of the month and see the galleries around town. Indulge in gourmet French food at Soupçon, a small bistro situated in an old miner's cabin. Or for more casual dining, visit Secret Stash, where you'll sit on pillows and dine on pizza made by New York natives. You can forget about finding a Starbucks in this mountain village. Instead visit Camp 4 Coffee, where the owner roasts his own beans and has his own special-recipe chai. —reader bethbuehler
La Conner, Wash.
Located in the Skagit Valley, La Conner has become an artist colony for Northwest painters, and plenty of galleries line downtown streets. Try the oyster dinner at Nell Thorn Restaurant, serving all organic, locally grown produce, seafood, fowl and beef. Or you can pick your own apples, strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries from Skagit Valley's local farms. Explore one of the five small islands nearby, treat yourself at one of the town's eight spas, or watch migrating birds. —reader marciplank
Life moves at a slower pace in this wildlife, culture, and relaxation spot on the Wind River. Downtown Dubois still looks like it did in the 1800s. You can experience fine dining, unique shops, and a hospitable small-town atmosphere. Try the Wind River burger at Sundance Café on a deck with views of Horse Creek. Or pick up a picnic lunch at Paya and take it with you on a wildlife tour at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. Then talk with friendly locals and linger in shops like Spin a Yarn. —readers Leah and klc203