7 best small towns for a summer vacation

Big cities may bring the crowds, but it’s only in summer small-town escapes where you can settle into that unique home-away-from-home feeling. With all that personality and charm, there are plenty of fun attractions you won’t find anywhere else. Make your summer stand out with an adventure you’ll remember all year long, whether watching the mist roll in on the Smoky Mountains or biking through sun-dappled vineyards in wine country.

Depending on what kind of experience you’re after, we’ve rounded up some of the best summer towns in the USA that pull out all the stops. If you’re planning a romantic getaway or a family trip, watching boats bob along the harbor or taking a soak in natural hot springs are tough acts to beat. What better way to spend your sunshine than settling into a slower pace and exploring something new?

1. Wellfleet, Massachusetts

In New England’s summer playground, Cape Cod, one small town stands out with the perfect blend of quiet sandy beaches and convenient access to the area’s activities. Wellfleet boasts harbor views, plentiful fishing waters (including their famous oysters), flea markets, surrounding lighthouses, and walking trails through coastal natural habitats, like the tranquil marshes of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Feel at ease in a picturesque summer, ice cream cone in hand.

2. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

This small mountain town is the ideal spot for romping around the outdoors with zipline courses above the trees, horseback riding and whitewater rafting tours, good old-fashioned hiking trails through the Smoky Mountains, and Rowdy Bear’s Mountain Coaster. Gatlinburg is a perfect destination for family summer vacations, with attractions for every age. Check out the Gatlinburg Space Needle for a better view of the Smokies, or head over to nearby Pigeon Forge for a day at the Dollywood amusement park.

3. Steamboat Springs, Colorado

While skiing may have a hold on the mountains for winter, come summer, Steamboat Springs is one of the best Colorado summer vacation towns for outdoorsy adventurers. Whether you’re set for mountain biking along Rocky Mountain National Park, unwinding with a therapeutic soak at Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, or getting a taste of the local brewery scene, you’ll have no trouble finding ways to fill your sunny days. Expert tip: Fish Creek Falls is an easy hike with big rewards and Yampa River Botanic Park hosts weekly live music events in the summer.

4. Sea Ranch, California

A summer paradise is waiting in a sun-soaked California town just two and a half hours north of San Francisco. Here, indulgence and relaxation are the name of the game, best enjoyed with a hike or tour through rolling green vineyards, a breezy stroll along Salt Point State Park, and a stop at any of the area’s 500 wineries. If you’re not into spirits, take advantage of the area’s famous organic and sustainable agriculture with an evening of fine farm-to-table dining.

5. Bar Harbor, Maine

Sink your teeth into fresh seafood and settle into a gorgeous view on a trip to Bar Harbor, a charming and scenic fishing village on Mount Desert Island. The town comes alive with summer activities, like kayaking Boothbay Harbor, touring the region's lighthouses, island-hopping town to town, and trekking up the mountains for breathtaking coastal views at Acadia National Park. Plan your summer trip to coincide with nearby Rockland’s annual Lobster Fest in early August for more lobster rolls and fun along the water.

6. Eagle River, Wisconsin

There’s no shortage of lakes in the great state of Wisconsin, so the possibilities for outdoor fun are endless. Only an hour and a half south of the shores of Lake Superior rests the perfect backdrop for a summer vacation, with thick forests full of wildlife, trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or ATVs, and the world’s longest chain of 28 connected lakes. Embrace that summer camp feeling and heed the call to adventure.

7. Stowe, Vermont

Spend your warm-weather getaway nestled in New England charm—covered bridges, historical buildings, and maple syrup aplenty. Feel at ease in the nostalgic bustle of a small mountain town with antique stores, petting zoos, and the area’s organically-farmed produce at mom-and-pop diners and fine-dining restaurants. In the summer months, take advantage of local events like live music, wine tasting, farmers markets, and the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Sneak away to a small town

Best summer small towns FAQ

There’s a small town for every summer activity. Foodies should plan their getaways to Stowe, California’s wine country in Sonoma County, or Oregon wine country. Any lover of the shore will find adventure waiting in the summer beach towns of Wellfleet and Bar Harbor. Or, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure, Gatlinburg, Steamboat Springs, or Northwoods are cool places to visit in the summer.

Summer in a small town offers the chance to take your time and savor the slower pace, whether that’s driving out to local roadside attractions and nearby state parks, or getting a taste of the area’s culinary scene. Look up local seasonal events before your trip, like concerts, festivals, markets, or parades so you can make the most of your unique small town vacation.

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