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Families often seek out small towns to both live in and visit as a way to break from the hustle and bustle of big cities. These towns offer charm, history, and a slower pace of life without compromising on activities for both adults and kids. Whether visiting on a road trip, day trip, or a weekend getaway, these are the best small towns in the U.S. for families.
As a gateway to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg is a classic family destination that is one of the best small towns in the South. There is so much to do in this outdoor playground including hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and birding. For those wishing to brave mountain heights, there’s the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in North America, and for families looking for incredible views, the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway offers a 2.1-mile ride up the mountain to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park.
Beaufort, South Carolina
With close proximity to Hilton Head Island, Beaufort is a hidden gem in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. With historic streets and natural beauty, this small town is perfect for families to live in or visit. Hunting Island State Park is home to uncrowded beaches and trails as well as a public lighthouse. Families can explore Beaufort on their own by walking or renting a bike, or they can take advantage of one of the town’s guided tours — by plane, boat, kayak, and even golf cart.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, a beach town on Florida’s northeast coast, was founded in 1565 and is called the “Nation’s Oldest City.” It offers big-city type attractions with a quaint small-town feel that’s popular with families. Also considered one of the best beach towns in the South, St. Augustine offers a long list of fun activities for both kids and adults. Visitors can take a leisurely walk down the town’s historic streets or seek out the water by kayaking, sailing, or fishing. Other popular attractions include the St. Augustine Aquarium and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.
Kelleys Island, Ohio
I bet you didn’t know that Ohio has islands. Kelleys Island sits in Lake Erie about 10 miles north of another popular small Ohio town, Sandusky, which is home to Cedar Point, America’s roller coaster capital. Kelleys Island offers families a delightful summertime getaway that includes beaches, forests, hiking and biking trails, a winery, mini golf, and even the largest glacial grooves in the world. Families can rent a golf cart to explore all that this 4.5-square-mile island has to offer.
Frankenmuth is known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria”, a nickname that’s evident in the town’s history and gingerbread-style buildings. As one of the best small towns in Michigan, it’s an excellent family destination. This town is home to two indoor water parks — including the one at Bavarian Inn Lodge, which will become Michigan’s largest indoor water park after renovations that are scheduled to be completed in 2024. Families will also want to check out Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store. This huge store has been around since 1945 and will delight both kids and adults every season of the year.
Located in the Rocky Mountains about 30 miles from Aspen, Carbondale is one of the best small towns in Colorado. Both residents and visitors can enjoy all of the outside activities this laid-back destination has to offer including biking, hiking, fishing, and skiing. The town’s signature yearly event, Carbondale Mountain Fair, showcases its art and music scene each summer. With food, live performances, and a variety of contests including cake and pie baking, wood splitting, and even limbo, this yearly event is fun for the whole family.
Winona Lake, Indiana
Winona Lake is a small town you likely haven’t heard of before, but it’s a great place to stop on a Midwest road trip since it’s under three hours to both Indianapolis and Chicago, and it’s only 1.5 hours from Indiana Dunes State Park. This small town offers plenty of outdoor activities including boating, biking, and hiking. The Village at Winona is a charming collection of Victorian houses that have been turned into shops, restaurants, and lodging. Simply put, it’s one of the best small towns in the Midwest.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Families with kids will love what Wisconsin Dells, nicknamed “The Waterpark Capital of the World” has to offer. This small town has the largest group of indoor and outdoor water parks in the world, including the largest in the U.S. Add those to multiple amusement parks and you’ll quickly see why Wisconsin Dells is a great family destination.
Moab is a popular small town for families for good reason — it’s a beautiful area filled with family-friendly attractions. First off, it has not one but two national parks at its doorstep — Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Moab is also the location of Dead Horse Point State Park, home to some of the most scenic views in Utah. If that’s not enough, families can go on a dinosaur hike and explore the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park, get active at Sand Flats Recreation Area, or visit multiple movie filming locations, all during a Moab family vacation.
Cape May, New Jersey
If you’re looking for a small-town beach destination on the East Coast, look no further than Cape May. This picturesque town lies at the southern tip of New Jersey and boasts some of the state’s best beaches. Visitors can stroll along the Washington Street Mall, a three-block outdoor mall, check out the town’s Victorian houses, or climb the historic Cape May Lighthouse that was built in 1859.
Williamsburg is not only one of the best small towns in the U.S. for families, but it’s also one of the 15 best cities in the country according to Travel + Leisure readers. In addition to the historic charm the town is known for, it offers a wealth of activities for families. Animal lovers will enjoy horseback riding or visiting one of the area’s animal sanctuaries. For a low-key afternoon, visit the Williamsburg Botanical Garden or turn up the energy by visiting Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
For a small town with a tropical twist, head to the island of Kauai where you’ll find Hanalei. Located on the island’s north shore near Princeville, it’s a charming town full of art galleries, taro fields, and gorgeous beaches. In fact, Hanalei Beach was recently named one of the best beaches in the U.S. Families will love the laid-back vibe and incredible views in this picturesque Hawaiian town.