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Coolest Small Towns in America 2015
#1 GRAND MARAIS, MN: Paddler’s paradise on Lake Superior (pop.: 1,351). Get your canoe on! Here on the north shore of Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is one of the world’s perfect paddling destinations, with miles of waterways to navigate. Whether you’re craving a romantic getaway or a real adventure, Grand Marais has a little something for everyone, including cozy B&Bs, a vibrant arts community, an annual Fisherman’s Picnic, Superior National Forest, and restaurants whose names say it all: Angry Trout Cafe, World’s Best Donuts, and Sven and Ole’s Pizza! #2 CHINCOTEAGUE, VA: A mid-Atlantic island escape (pop.: 2,941). This incredibly beautiful island town offers a mid-Atlantic summer getaway complete with perfect beaches with trails for cycling and walking, fresh seafood (and an annual seafood festival!), and its legendary wild ponies. But it’s also a year-round hot spot, especially during its holiday parades and house tours. The town is also a favorite spot for amazing boat tours and as an ideal locale for watching NASA rocket launches from the nearby Wallops Visitor Center. #3 HILLSBOROUGH, NC: Art and literature come alive in the mountains (pop.: 6,087). Talk about local spirit! Hillsborough amassed the most nominations this year to make our list of semifinalists. The town has serious literary cred, with several bestselling authors not only making their home here but also participating in local events and the annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Enjoy the newly opened Riverwalk trail, Last Fridays Arts Walks, historical buildings dating back to the 18th century, and Occoneechee Mountain. Top-notch local restaurants offer live music, and you may even spot the mayor on a night out. (You’ll know him by his signature bowler hat!) #4 ALLEGAN, MI: Mayberry on the Kalamazoo River (pop.: 4,998). Locals sometimes refer to Allegan as a “modern-day Mayberry,” and we can understand why. Friendly eateries like The Grill House, Minnie Sophrona’s Restaurant, and Corky’s Drive-In, plus an old-timey movie theater and much more, make visitors feel at home here. And with the lovely Kalamazoo River winding its way through town and Allegan’s proximity to Lake Michigan, inland lakes, and ski resorts, all four seasons can be filled with outdoor fun and natural beauty. Whether you’re craving a thriving food and art scene, a buzzworthy county fair, or you just love fishing (including ice fishing!) or golf, Allegan is a warm and welcoming getaway. #5 WASHINGTON, NC: A Southeast sailing mecca (pop.: 9,744). Locals like to say that Washington has a small-town feel but big-town activities. The waterfront downtown is a major draw, with a renovated theater, wonderful shops, and a wine-tasting scene that surprises some visitors. The Pamlico River is popular with the sailing crowd 10 months of the year, and hunting and fishing are thriving activities in the area. Founded in 1776 and named for General George Washington years before he became our nation’s first president, this town wears its history proudly but lightly, sometimes referring to itself as “Little Washington.” #6 DELHI, NY: Galleries, antique shops, and a film festival in the Catskills (pop.: 3,087). The western Catskills in Upstate New York make for a wonderful setting, with rolling hills and the Delaware River (yes, its western branch reaches all the way up here) flowing through town. A thriving Main Street is ideal for browsing eclectic galleries, antique shops, and an artisan guild that features local talent. If you ever tire of exploring the hiking trails and enjoying water sports on the river, get ready for the Catskill Mountains Film Festival, the Delhi Covered Bridge Run, and the Taste of the Catskills food festival, among other crowd-pleasers in this popular town. #7 FORT MYERS BEACH, FL: This perfect island town is your gateway to the Everglades (pop.: 6,277). On Estero Island, on Florida’s southwestern coast, Fort Myers Beach should not be confused with the nearby city of Fort Myers. Here, everybody knows everybody, and you’re never more than a mile or so from the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Think of this as your entry point for exploring this remarkable stretch of coastline, including gorgeous islands, Everglades National Park, and creatively prepared local seafood at restaurants such as The Beached Whale and Matanzas on the Bay. #8 HURON, OH: Beaches, craft beer, and live music on Lake Erie (pop.: 7,149). Where the Huron River meets Lake Erie, one of the Midwest’s hidden gems is waiting for you. Go hiking at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, visit the Huron Pier for some great fishing, relax on Nickel Plate Beach, or hit the local golf course. You can enjoy this town just by taking a leisurely stroll along downtown’s waterfront streets and visiting the scenic boat basin for photo ops or one of the town’s many festivals. Craft beer and live music are both on tap downtown as well, and you can take your pick of lodgings, from a resort experience to a comfy B&B. #9 SNOHOMISH, WA: Quirky festivals in the Pumpkin Capital of the Pacific Northwest (pop.: 9,098). With idyllic rolling farmland, Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop, this town is a Pacific Northwest paradise just a short drive from Seattle. Activities here are as big as all outdoors, with hot-air ballooning, sky-diving, and unique local festivals such as “GroundFrog” Day and the Easter Parade, with its Sauerkraut Band. You can bike or walk the Centennial Trail, be one of the first to see the brand-new aquatic center, and enjoy downtown Snohomish’s excellent restaurants and justly famous antique shops. In fall, this is the Pumpkin Capital of the Northwest! #10 OLD ORCHARD BEACH, ME: An iconic boardwalk and perfect stretch of New England beach (pop.: 8,624). There’s more to this town than its namesake beach, though truth be told the seven-mile stretch of sand is awesome in its own right, with its legendary amusement park and nightlife that includes live bands and great seafood. But Old Orchard Beach is also a prime base for kayakers who want to explore area rivers, fishermen or day-trippers who crave a cruise out on the Atlantic, and those of us who are content to contemplate beautiful lighthouses (like nearby Cape Elizabeth) and watch the tide roll in and out.
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 BudgetTravel.com 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!
Meet America's Coolest Small Town 2015!
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, FLHuron, OH (Population: 7,149)Snohomish, WA (Population: 9,098)Old Orchard Beach, ME (Population: 8,624)
More Places to go
Saugatuck is a city in Allegan County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The population was 925 at the 2010 census. The city is within Saugatuck Township, but is administratively autonomous. Originally a lumber town and port, Saugatuck, along with the adjacent city of Douglas, became a noted art colony and tourist destination in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, Saugatuck was home to the famous Big Pavilion, a large dance hall that attracted bands and visitors from across the Midwest. The building was a popular destination on Lake Michigan from its construction in 1909 until it burned down on May 6, 1960.Today, tourists are drawn to the art galleries, harbor, marinas, scenery, unusual stores, the view from atop Mount Baldhead, and tourist attractions as well as Oval Beach on Lake Michigan, which enjoys a worldwide reputation. Nearby are Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Allegan State Game Area as is the city of Holland. Saugatuck is known as a popular vacation destination for the LGBT+ community with similar cultural similarities as Fire Island Pines and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Kalamazoo is a city in the southwest region of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is the county seat of Kalamazoo County. As of the 2010 census, Kalamazoo had a population of 74,262. Kalamazoo is the major city of the Kalamazoo-Portage Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 335,340 as of 2015. Kalamazoo is equidistant from the major American cities of Chicago and Detroit, each less than 150 miles (240 kilometers) away. One of Kalamazoo's most notable features is the Kalamazoo Mall, an outdoor pedestrian shopping mall. The city created the mall in 1959 by closing part of Burdick Street to auto traffic, although two of the mall's four blocks have been reopened to auto traffic since 1999. Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University, a large public university, Kalamazoo College, a private liberal arts college, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, a two-year community college.
Holland is a city in the western region of the Lower Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is situated near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on Lake Macatawa, which is fed by the Macatawa River (formerly known locally as the Black River). The city spans the Ottawa/Allegan county line, with 9.08 square miles (23.52 km2) in Ottawa and the remaining 8.13 square miles (21.06 km2) in Allegan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 33,051, with an urbanized area population of 113,164, as of 2015. Holland is the largest city in both Ottawa and Allegan counties. The Ottawa County portion is part of the Grand Rapids-Kentwood Metropolitan Statistical Area, while the Allegan County is part of the Holland Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is coextensive with Allegan County. As of 2013, both areas are part of the Grand Rapids–Kentwood–Muskegon Combined Statistical Area. Holland was founded by Dutch Americans, and is in an area that has a large percentage of citizens of Dutch American heritage. It is home to Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, institutions of the Reformed Church in America. In February 1996 the Holland City Council approved a sister city relationship between Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro, Mexico and the City of Holland.
South Haven is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. Most of the city is in Van Buren County, although a small portion extends into Allegan County. The population was 4,403 at the 2010 census. Because of its position on Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Black River, South Haven has always been a port city. During settlement, major ship lines stopped there, both passenger and freight. In the early 1900s South Haven became a resort town, sometimes referred to as "The Catskills of the Midwest." South Haven is a major regional tourist draw because of its recreational harbor and beaches. It is the western terminus of the Kal-Haven Trail, popular with bicyclists and snowmobilers. Nearby are Van Buren State Park and the Van Buren Trail State Park. Noted botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey was born in South Haven. His childhood home was presented to the city in the 1930s, and is now a museum.