Meet America's Coolest Small Town 2015!

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
March 5, 2015
Courtesy Visit Cook County Minnesota

Congratulations to Grand Marais, MN, the winner of Budget Travel's 10th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest! The beautiful town on the north shore of Lake Superior amassed a whopping 30 percent of the vote in our contest, surpassing strong second-place finisher Chincoteague, VA, and 13 other semifinalists to attain the title of "Coolest" of 2015.

We're psyched that this year's contest had a total of more than 100,000 votes, with loyal Budget Travel readers and fans of our nominated towns coming to the site each day since the contest opened on January 21 to click or tap for their favorite town. Since 2006, Budget Travel has celebrated the culture, history, natural beauty, and old fashioned charm of America's small towns like no other publication, with enthusiastic support from hundreds of thousands of readers around the world. Each fall, we open up the contest by soliciting online nominations for cool American towns with a population under 10,000 from our readers.

Budget Travel defines "cool" as an energetic vibe that often combines community spirit with a vibrant arts scene, great food, natural beauty, and unique history.  Grand Marais (population 1,351) fits the bill. It's the gateway to the Boundary Water Canoeing Area, one of the world's perfect paddling destinations, with miles of waterways to navigate. It's a perfect vacation town for a romantic getaway or an outdoors adventure, with a little something for everyone, including cozy B&Bs, a vibrant arts community, an annual Fisherman's Picnic, Lake Superior National Forest, and restaurants whose names I personally love and feel say a lot about the town's upbeat spirit: Angry Trout Café, Crooked Spoon, and Sven and Ole's pizza!

Here, the top 10 towns in Budget Travel's America's Coolest Small Town 2015 contest. We'll celebrate them all in an upcoming feature and in the July/August issue of our bi-monthly tablet edition. See final contest standings here!

Grand Marais, MN (Population: 1,351)
Chincoteague, VA (Population: 2,941)
Hillsborough, NC (Population: 6,087)
Allegan, MI (Population: 4,998)
Washington, NC Population: 9,744)
Delhi, NY (Population: 3,087)
Fort Myers Beach, FL
Huron, OH (Population: 7,149)
Snohomish, WA (Population: 9,098)
Old Orchard Beach, ME (Population: 8,624)

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading
Budget Travel Lists

Who's in the Lead for America's Coolest Small Town 2015?

Budget Travel's America's Coolest Small Town 2015 contest ends next week, and it's looking like the competition will remain lively and close right up until voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on February 25! Right now, Grand Marais, MN, is in the lead, with about 24 percent of the tens of thousands of online votes cast by Budget Travel readers. The beautiful, outdoorsy town has a loyal following of not only locals but also vacationers and adventurers the world over who've paddled the area's lakes and rivers and can't wait to tell everybody about this awesome burgh. We're impressed by Grand Marais's ability to mobilize its fans to get out the vote. That's a sure sign of hometown spirit, which is cool in our book. But a close second right now is Cincoteague, VA, the gorgeous island town on the Atlantic coast known for its beautiful beaches, wild ponies, and awesome views of rocket launches from a nearby space center. And let's not forget the two North Carolina towns that made our list of 15 semifinalists: artsy Hillsborough and historic Washington are right up there in third and fourth places, respectively. With more than a week to go, the voting is guaranteed to get even more exciting as these towns vie for the title of coolest. When voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on February 25, one town will be named America's Coolest Small Town 2015, and the top 10 towns will be celebrated in a feature story in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel and right here at Have you voted? Don't miss out on the fun! And come back each day to check the standings and cast another vote!

Budget Travel Lists

The Grown-ups’ Guide to Mardi Gras

This article was written by Katie Coakley on behalf of Mardi Gras is as iconic an event to New Orleans as New Year’s Eve is to Times Square: you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand it. However, many of the common images of Mardi Gras include throngs of people hanging off of balconies, begging for beads, flashing various bits of skin, and indulging in every manner of debauchery. However, not everyone who visits for Mardi Gras is intent on devouring hurricanes and making questionable choices. For those who might be feeling a bit to, mature, for the Bacchanalian delights of Bourbon Street, there is a different side of Mardi Gras that is just as memorable. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry While most visitors to New Orleans will be standing six-people deep on the sidewalks, stretching for the strings of beads that are tracing ellipses over the crowds, the discerning diner will be making arrangements at some of the city’s finest restaurants. While places like Gautreau’s or Coquette maintain a business that requires advance reservations, parade times can be a great opportunity to slip off the streets and enjoy a world-class meal. Plan ahead and enjoy dinner at the historic Court of Two Sisters or take a look at these tips on how to skip the lines and snag a table at the best restaurants in New Orleans. Listen to the Music While Bourbon Street is ground-zero for much of the revelry surrounding Mardi Gras, it’s certainly not the only place to find the live music and merriment that New Orleans is known for. Nearby Frenchmen Street is packed with intimate clubs pumping out music that ranges from jazz to rockabilly to country. Spend an evening hopping from venue to venue; there’s enough to keep you entertained for the entire evening (and that’s just the people-watching). Don’t Be Late to the Ball One of the most noticeable aspects of Mardi Gras is the preponderance of krewes. Krewes, which are organizations that organize a parade and/or a ball during the Carnival season, consist of members who pay dues and usually participate in public service projects. Many groups have members who can trace their involvement back through several generations. Attending a ball is an once-in-a-lifetime event as most balls are invitation-only events—you have to know someone. However, tickets for some of the newer krewes’ balls are available to the public for a steep fee. For example, the Krewe of Cleopatra and the Krewe of Endymion open their parties to the public; tickets include live music, dancing, food and drinks. New Orleans is always lively and vibrant; Mardi Gras is just one of the occasions that it puts on a bit more glitz. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had during Mardi Gras—for those looking for a party and for people that might be looking for a more grown-up experience. If you do decide to try your hand at bead accumulation, be sure to get a great seat: reserving a spot on the premium viewing stands is a must.

Budget Travel Lists

Vote NOW for America's Coolest Small Town 2015!

Will YOUR favorite town be named America's Coolest? Budget Travel's 10th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest is now open—place your vote today! We've assembled 15 semifinalists—cool towns from Hawaii to Maine, from Washington State to Florida, and two from North Carolina!—based on our audience's online nominations. When voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on February 25, one town will be named coolest for 2015, earning themselves bragging rights and the top spot in an upcoming online feature and story in our tablet edition. How can your nominated town win? Vote early and vote often—and remind your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. And don't forget to talk it up and share photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (tag them #ACST2015) to help campaign for your cool town. Check out our profiles of the 15 nominated towns—including photos and videos!—and vote for your favorite. You'll find a superb collection of beautiful American vacation spots, each one a vibrant community where natural beauty, art, music, history, and great food are a regular part of everyday life. The race is on! Which town will win? Now it's up to you!

Budget Travel Lists

Coolest Small Town Nominations End on TUESDAY!

We are thrilled to see so many awesome towns toot their own horns during the online nominations for America's Coolest Small Town 2015! Congrats to Hillsborough and Washington, two towns in North Carolina that have done a truly magnificent job of rallying their supporters—and they sure have gotten our attention! But there's still time to get your town noticed—online nominations run until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2. Will your town join the ranks of Huron, Ohio; Delhi, New York; and Allegan, Michigan? Those burghs are some of the highest ranking in our nominations, and we have enjoyed getting to know a lot more about what makes them so, well, cool. If you think your town has got what it takes, we want to hear about it. Nominate Your Town Now and share what you love about living in—or visiting—your fave town. And don't forget to talk it up and share photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (tag them #ACST2015) to help your town's chances of being named a finalist. (When you share photos of your town on Instagram and tag them #ACST2015, you may even see them featured on our "Trending Cool Towns" page!) Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns 2015 contest is looking for American towns with a population under 10,000 and a certain something that no place else has: great shops, food, a unique history, a breathtaking location, peerless music scene, art galleries, or maybe something cool we haven't even thought of yet! We invite you to tell us a little about your town today (click on Nominate Your Town Now). And don't forget to share your town's coolest restaurants, attractions, and lodgings on social media—tag your posts with #ACST2015 to help generate buzz! We'll gather nominations until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, then we'll review them to narrow the list to 15 finalists. We'll use your votes (from and from social media posts tagged #ACST2015) as a guide, and also look for diversity in geography, attractions, architecture, and other factors we consider cool. In January, we'll post the 15 finalists and ask our audience to cast their votes. In February, we'll announce the 10 winners. Is your town already on the list? If not, you know what to do… Nominate Your Town Now!