Meet the Coolest Small Town in America 2017

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
June 2, 2017
CoolestSmallTown Asbury Park NJ Oyster Over Boards
The Asbury Park Boardwalk
Asbury Park, New Jersey, exemplifies the cultural and ethnic diversity, creative energy, and unparalleled natural beauty that have defined America for more than two centuries.

Budget Travel’s mission is to inspire and inform you to see more for less. For avid travelers, that means road trips, national and state parks, great beaches, great cuisine that won’t break the bank, and lodgings for under $200/night. It means discovering lesser-known destinations that are just waiting around the next turn in the road. And it means being open to the cultural and ethnic diversity, the creative energy, and unparalleled natural beauty that have defined America for more than two centuries.

Our Coolest Small Towns in America program is an editor-curated celebration - inspired by thousands of reader suggestions and photos shared across platforms over the past few weeks - of the communities across the U.S. that we feel best exhibit the qualities we prize. From the Jersey Shore’s “coolest comeback” to an arts colony near the Mexican border to a California gem in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, every one of the Coolest Small Towns in America 2017 is a one-of-a-kind vacation waiting to happen. If you’re among the 80 percent of Americans who plan to take a road trip this summer, add some of these towns to your must-see list.

READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part 1: The Northeast"

Leading the pack is the Coolest Small Town in America 2017, Asbury Park, New Jersey, an easy road trip from New York or Philadelphia. The coolest comeback in America may be right here in Asbury Park - the revitalized Boardwalk offers great shopping, dining, and views of one of the East Coast’s most beautiful beaches. This beach town that helped launch Bruce Springsteen is, not surprisingly, a music mecca - check out shows at the legendary Stone Pony, the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall, and other venues. We love Asbury Park’s cultural diversity, welcoming vibe, and year-round calendar of events: Fourth of July fireworks, Oysterfest, Zombie Walk, and so much more.

Here’s the complete list of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017. We’ll be celebrating each town in depth in an upcoming story that takes a close look at the people and places that make each one of these communities so special:

1. Asbury Park, New Jersey

2. Bisbee, Arizona

3. Nevada City, California

4. Chatham, Massachusetts

5. Mountain View, Arkansas

6. Cannon Beach, Oregon

7. Philipsburg, Montana

8. Milford, Pennsylvania

9. Glens Falls, New York

10. Indianola, Mississippi

READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part II: The West"
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Budget Travel Lists

The Best Ballpark Food in America 2017

Close your eyes and imagine yourself at a baseball game on a perfect summer day. The crack of the bat hitting the ball. The roar of the crowd. Cold beer in one hand. And in the other hand… a 24-inch-long Kobe beef hot dog. Yup. Ballpark food has come a long way since the “peanuts and Cracker Jack” name-checked in the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Back then, Humphrey Bogart is said to have remarked, “A hot dog at the ballgame is better than steak at the Ritz.” These days, it’s no longer an either-or proposition. THE BIG DAAAWG That 24-inch Kobe beef hot dog may be the single most jaw-dropping leap in ballpark food for 2017. It was developed by Chef Gregory Adams, a veteran NYC-area chef and alum of the prestigious Johnson & Wales culinary school in Providence. “My kids and I were watching Shark Tank,” Adams recalls, referring to the popular reality show in which contestants attempt to bring new inventions to market, “and they said ‘Dad, you’re the greatest chef in the world - you should invent a new food!’” That new food, which came to Adams in a dream, is The Big Daaawg, a 24-inch dog making its way to ballparks via Adams’s OMD Inc. (Oh My Daaawg, brand and ballpark food suppliers such as Aramark Foods and Levy Restaurant Group. The Big Dawg pushes the old-fashioned idea of a hot dog at a ballgame to exquisite new culinary heights: Immense hot dog made from grass-fed, humanely raised and harvested beef, big bun, and incredible toppings including pulled pork, bacon and onion jam, hot caramel, and even ground-up Cracker Jacks. You can ask for the Big Daaawg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, and keep an eye out for the unmistakable Big Daaawg logo as the uber-frank makes its way to other parks.READ: "13 Amazing American Food Festivals"  CITI FIELD, QUEENS, NY The Mets take the pennant for unparalleled food options, including chicken sandwiches from David Chang’s Fuku and burgers, fries, and dogs from Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. Basically, if you can’t find food you like at Citi Field, you’re probably just not hungry. ORIOLE PARK AT CAMDEN YARDS The crab cakes at Camden Yards are made with jumbo crab meat, and local favorite Old Bay seasoning is available, of course. Orioles fans will know that if you’re still hungry, just follow the aromatic smoke rising into the air from Boog’s BBQ. FENWAY PARK, BOSTON If you've managed to visit Boston and not overdosed on chowdah by the time you take your seat for a Red Sox game, you can obtain an exceptionally rich, steaming bowl of the iconic New England soup right at the ballgame. This year, Fenway is premiering “meatball cones” (who knew we were waiting for someone to combine the joy of a meatball hero with the convenience of an ice cream cone?) and lobster poutine (steak fries smothered in lobster meat and melted cheese).READ: "Chinese Food in America Gets a Thrilling Makeover" NATIONALS PARK, WASHINGTON, D.C. The Nationals get high marks for serving craft beer via Base Line Brews and the tasty concoctions at Ben’s Chili Bowl. PROGRESSIVE FIELD, CLEVELAND Fruit Loops-covered hot dogs at an Indians game. Any questions? PNC PARK, PITTSBURGH Pirates fans can’t get enough of Primanti Bros. Cheesesteak, and many recommend loading up around the corner with Potato Patch Fries. KAUFFMAN STADIUM, KANSAS CITY, MO The Kansas City Royals' fans may be blessed with the finest BBQ in baseball, and the KC Ribeye sandwich piles onions and mushrooms on top of steak and the barbecue sauce for which the city is renowned. AT&T PARK, SAN FRANCISCO The San Francisco Giants play in a decidedly foodie town, so it's no surprise that the eats at their ballpark are staggering. Gilroy Garlic Fries have captured the hearts and palates of Bay Area fans and visitors. CITIZENS BANK PARK, PHILADELPHIA While Phillies fans may be enjoying delicious new options this year, including Primo Hoagies, the Mac Shack, and Bull’s BBQ, some are still mourning the loss of the immense Schmitter sandwich, named for Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt. DODGER STADIUM, LOS ANGELES The Dodger Burger is a beef patty with a sliced Dodger Dog on top (yes, a hot dog on top of a hamburger - don’t judge), beer-battered jalapeno peppers, caramelized onions, and BBQ sauce. YANKEE STADIUM, BRONX, NY The Yankees went upscale in their menu options when they moved their new stadium in 2009, including the staggeringly tasty Lobel's Prime Beef Sandwich. But for this Bronx native, nothing beats a Nathan's Famous hot dog with mustard. At my first-ever ballgame, at the original Yankee Stadium, my dad bought me a dog and, as I prepared to take a bite, he said, "You know, nothing tastes better than a hot dog at a baseball game." I still think so.

Budget Travel Lists

Meet the Coolest Small Town in America 2016

Congratulations to Sykesville, Maryland, the winner of Budget Travel's 11th annual Coolest Small Town in America contest! With an enthusiastic campaign to amass the votes needed to claim the title "coolest," Sykesville earned its victory by a wide margin. The Coolest Small Town in America contest is one of the high points of our editorial calendar at Budget Travel, and we love getting to know more about these amazing communities across the country where so many truly cool things are happening in the worlds of art, food, public parks, and community spirit. This morning, I had the privilege of hearing from some of Sykesville's residents, and I couldn't help asking the obvious question: How does it feel to wake up in the Coolest Small Town in America 2016? Stacy Link, Sykesville town council member, enthuses, "When I pulled into town this morning, crossed the railroad tracks, and turned the curve at Baldwin's Station to get a clear view of our Main Street, I was like, 'Yes, we are!'" Mary Vaccarino, owner of Revive & Company, says, "We're SYKED!  This contest inspired us to show our community spirit and it shines.  We are feeling blessed to live in such a great community. Rachael Beck, owner of EW Becks Pub, tells us, "If you’re from Sykesville, you’re family. If you are a visitor to Sykesville, we will make you feel like family before you go." Steven Colella, director of economic development for the Town of Sykesville, shares, "Waking up this morning to find out I work for the Coolest Small Town in America was pretty surreal. I knew throughout the contest that if we won, it could do big things for our town – promoting tourism, community events, and new businesses, but I was so focused on promoting the contest that I didn’t stop to think what it would mean if we won. Now that we did, it’s exciting and a little overwhelming to think of all of the COOL things that lie ahead!" And each resident of Sykesville is looking forward to upcoming events such as First Fridays, the town Farmers Market, and Farm to Table Progressive Dinners. Budget Travel's 11th annual Coolest Small Town in America contest started by gathering online nominations from tens of thousands of readers. The towns that received the most nominations (subject to a bit of editorial discretion for geographical and cultural diversity), made our 15 semifinalists list, and a month of voting saw towns like Sykesville; Baker City, Oregon; and Pipestone, Minnesota vying for the top spot. This year's nine runners-up (all cool towns in their own right) deserve a shout-out: Pipestone, MN Baker City, OR Fairport, NY Abingdon, VA Kidron, OH Ocean Springs, MS Niles, MI Taos, NM Steamboat Springs, CO

Budget Travel Lists

8 Secrets of Paris You've Never Heard Before

Gallery owner and author Matt Wagner literally wrote the book on Paris—his gorgeous new coffee-table book The Tall Trees of Paris interviews 42 artists (in both English and French!) about their favorite neighborhoods and what inspires them. Naturally, in the course of his work, he picked up a few secrets of Paris that only the coolest locals know. We couldn't resist tapping his wealth of insider knowledge—and now we want to go back and try each and every one! 1. A must-see neighborhood locals love: "I really love the 18th arrondissement, Château Rouge neighborhood in particular, known as Little Africa. Thre's so much activity in this neighborhood—and great food too. Check out Ground Control. It’s a bar, restaurant, and music venue within a decommissioned train yard. In between each track is pétanque courts [pétanque is a bowling-style game that's similar to bocce]. Great way to spend a sunny Sunday in Paris." 2. Two obscure museums worth visiting: "Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme [admission about $14] and the Institut Du Monde Arabe [from about $9] are both particularly good. The World Arab institute had an amazing history of hip-hop show last year." 3. A café you'll be talking about for years: "Hands down, my favorite café is Jeanne A in the 11th arrondissement. There's a deli up front and tables in the back for eating in. Roast chicken and lamb are standouts, and the service is spectacular. All at a very affordable price." 4. A pastry shop so authentic it has no name: "One of my favorite pâtisseries is a place at 15 Rue Marcadet in Château Rouge. Order one of the classics: pain aux raisins or a chocolate croissant." 5. Souvenirs (plus art) that won't break the bank: "Galerie Arts Factory in the Bastille has a fantastic book selection and art. The owners, Effi and Laurent, are fantastic people." 6. A beautiful, movie-worthy walk: "Without a doubt, Canal de L’Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement. Having a picnic on a Sunday afternoon then walking up the canal listening to the street music and people watching is pretty much my perfect day in Paris." 7. How to fit in with the locals in Paris: "A little bit of language goes a long way. It will make the people you are interacting with appreciate the attempt before they most likely break into English for you. Steering clear of the main tourist areas would also help." 8. The train pass Budget Travelers need: "If you're going to be in Paris for a week or more, I suggest buying the Navigo Découverte train pass. The pass is a swipe card that will eliminate trying to come up with cash to ride the trains. It is quite affordable at around $25 for a weeklong pass. You will need to provide a small picture of yourself at the gate."

Budget Travel Lists

5 Things You Don't Know About... the Great Wall of China

Contrary to urban legend, this gargan­tuan tourist favorite known as the Great Wall of China is not visible from space, but just about everything else about the travel icon is mind-blowing in scale: 1. Construction began in 214 B.C. and continued for more than 2,000 years. At one point, the massive fortification spanned 6,000-plus miles; these days, only about a third of the original remains. 2. The ups, downs, and curves of the wall are often compared to an immense dragon. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and be prepared for lots of uphill and downhill hiking. 3. Bring your own water, use the restrooms before ascending to the top, and expect some culinary cultural whip­lash, as food vendors range from traditional noodles and dumplings to, yep, Burger King! 4. The most popular place to visit the Great Wall is the two-mile stretch at Badaling, a day trip from Beijing. A little farther from the capital, you’ll find some elbow room if you visit the wall at Mutianyu or Simatai. 5. To get off the beaten path, hike and camp out under the stars on an unrestored, relatively quiet section of the Great Wall via JetBay’s Camp the Great Wall trip (from $238,