Big cities are all well and good, but visiting smaller towns is a real treat too. Unlike the metropolitan areas that are jam-packed with people and activities, these tourist destinations are relaxed and beautiful. The pace of life slows significantly in small towns, so visitors can enjoy quaint city centers and small-town living without too much hustle or bustle.
Whether you prefer to golf, hike trails at nature preserves, eat delicious local cuisine, enjoy music festivals, or drink at your favorite watering hole, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. Here is a list of the top things to do in small towns across America.
Best Things to Do in a Small Town
1. Visit the Historic Downtown Area
Many small towns have preserved their original architecture and design, making them perfect for people who love history and beautiful buildings.
A town’s main square is usually the hub for most tourist activity, featuring eateries, retailers, and local businesses at the heart of the community. You’ll likely find other things here too like the fire and police station, the local coffee shop, local museums, perhaps even a movie theater or local newspaper.
A stroll around this area will give you a sense of the community’s history.
Participate in Local Traditions
Taking part in local clubs, traditions or festivals is an excellent opportunity to learn about small-town life and interesting things about the community. For example, in the charming mountain city of Abingdon, Virginia, art is a big part of their history and is still celebrated today.
We had the opportunity to visit the downtown area, which is home to many galleries that display originals from established artists and students from nearby colleges.
In West Jefferson, North Carolina, the main street has been transformed into a drive-in movie theater for tourists! In fact, they project movies onto a screen right on Main Street every Saturday night throughout the summer months!
Attend a Summer Festival for Locals
Summertime brings all kinds of wild and crazy festivals, whether there be crazy food, rides, or even a fireworks show to end the day.
Whether you’re looking for something easy or exciting, there will be something you’ll enjoy about these festivals, which are typically located outside if the weather is good!
A festival is an excellent opportunity to experience all that the small town offers in one place. If you’re looking for a place to learn about their rich background, this is where you’ll find those questions answered. A great example of this is the Virginia State Fair.
All of the local restaurants, shops, and even music venues show up in one place to give you a taste of what’s offered in the state.
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2. Visit a Historic Landmark
Small towns have plenty of history to share with visitors who want to learn more about how their ancestors lived centuries ago.
Antique shops may even be located inside some of these landmarks for shoppers who love vintage finds from years past. Many of these antiques are likely from the area and can help tell the small town’s story. So make sure you bring along some extra cash to take advantage of any special deals available at these stores when you visit.
On our visit to Adamstown, Pennsylvania, we discovered that they were one of the antiquing capitals of America. There were dozens of antique shops located on a strip that spanned over seven miles. The scavenger hunt to find fun things and antique object was a great way to learn more about the area’s history.
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3. Try Out a New Sport
Cities are typically noted for having outstanding professional sports teams. But small towns have perfected some sports too!
Many towns host annual cycling races or marathons that bring an opportunity to fall in love with something new and stay active. It’s also a fantastic way to explore the town.
For example, Breckenridge, Colorado is a great little town to ski or snowboard. Breckenridge Ski Resort has some challenging slopes for more experienced winter sports enthusiasts, but it can still be a fun thing to do in a small town for beginners too.
There are plenty of other things to do as well in this idyllic small town. Breckenridge has a number of great restaurants and a plethora of national and local stores for shopping!
See Related: Best Things to do in Yellowstone
4. Go On a Nature Hike at a Nearby State Park
Since small towns often lie right outside major cities, they’re located near natural landscapes that offer amazing views and trails to explore. Hiking is popular among all age groups who love the fresh air and exercise.
Some areas even supply guided tours by rangers who know the best spots to find wildlife and enjoy scenic waterfalls or panoramic views.
Most cities have a park for visitors to enjoy no matter the season, but these are especially popular during the spring and summertime.
Hot Springs National Park
For example, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is a well-known tourist destination perfect for people who love to hike through natural landscapes.
The park features trails that meander past bubbling hot springs and waterfalls, including an inn built within the rocks! We got to touch the hot spring water at their Hot Water Cascade. It’s not what you expect to see in a small town. It was amazing.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
5. Try Out Local Cuisine
Small towns often have some of the best local restaurants because each specializes in making food from local ingredients.
Small businesses are often more invested in bringing you the freshest local products because they’re easier to access, and they rely on repeat customers to stay afloat financially – customers who may also be supplying the restaurant. And if their reputation doesn’t bring customers in, their mouthwatering dishes will!
A great example of this is the small town of Franklin, North Carolina which has become famous for its barbecue!
Franklin Barbecue is a trailer located right off the side of the road that opened its doors in 2010. Their food quickly gained notoriety due to their perfectly smoked meat and even won awards from Texas Monthly Magazine.
6. Have Some Time at a Local Café
Visiting mom-and-pop shops is one of the best things to do in a small town.
The owners know their patrons by name, so with the proper introduction and patronage, they’ll greet you warmly when you stop in for your morning coffee or afternoon snack break. This warm atmosphere adds to the hometown feel that attracts so many visitors to small towns.
Coffee and a baked treat are always a great way to start any day, but you don’t have to rush out the door in small towns.
See Related: Best Traditional Cafes and Brassseries in Paris
7. Take a Class at an Art Center
The creative aspect of small towns makes them perfect for people who enjoy painting, sculpting, or taking photographs. Many art centers offer workshops where participants can explore different mediums with fellow artists.
It allows everyone to learn something new about this craft. At the end of each workshop, you can often take home the masterpieces you created!
8. Enjoy Some Local Live Music
A big city may offer multiple live music venues, catering to all tastes, but small towns can elicit the same excitement with one small bar or coffee shop. Music lovers love these places because they can see some of their local favorite bands in a casual atmosphere.
They also get to mingle with people who share similar tastes in music, sparking up conversations about new tracks and old classics.
The Heist is an excellent example of this. It’s a bar and restaurant located in a 100-year-old bank building in Bowling Green, Virginia. Jason Manns and his wife Krista are Bowling Green natives that aimed to revitalize the town, and they sure succeeded.
The food and ambiance at the Heist were terrific, and there was an ice cream truck up the street. Once we left the bar, we walked up the street and got to experience why so many people choose to live there even though the closest Walmart is 30 minutes away.
9. Go Wine-Tasting at Local Vineyards
Forget heading out to Napa Valley for this activity.
Some of the smaller wineries located on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas are perfect for tasting different types of wines that visitors often overlook.
Wine-tasting specials allow customers to taste new blends without having to invest too much money in an entire bottle that they may not like the taste of.
Take a Tour of the Area’s Best Winery
Vineyards aren’t just a great place to taste a variety of wines- they’re also fun places to learn about different styles that you might not be familiar with yet. It’s also possible to book tastings at some vineyards, so this is an activity that can be enjoyed alone or as part of a group.
Checking local vineyards is easy when you book a rental car, local transportation is also a good option to save money.
Take a Tour of the Area’s Best Winery
Vineyards aren’t just a great place to taste a variety of wines – they’re also fun places to learn about the area and the process that goes into making grapes from the vine into wine.
It’s also possible to book tastings at most vineyards, so this is an activity that can be enjoyed alone or as part of a group.
See Related: Best Wineries in Temecula to Visit
10. Check Out the Best Farmers’ Market in Town
Were you hoping to find fresh, organic fruits and vegetables for your next dinner party?
Small towns offer several options for buying top-quality ingredients at reasonable prices.
Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity each year, so plenty of small towns offer one on a weekend morning or afternoon during certain seasons of the year.
Some even have booths with arts and crafts made by local artists that make great gifts for friends back home.
Bowling Green Farmers Market
The farmers market in Bowling Green is every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm. It’s located within walking distance from The Heist. They’ve got fresh cucumbers and tomatoes to snack on while waiting for The Heist to open!
This little town is full of history but still has everything you need to make your visit unforgettable.
11. Have a Picnic by the Lake
A small town is perfect for people who choose relaxation over excitement when spending their vacation days. Pack up some food and drinks in a basket (maybe from a farmer’s market), then head out into nature for an afternoon of quiet contemplation.
Many towns near lakes or rivers will allow visitors to bring their own boats, so this is another bonus if you enjoy fishing or boating activities on your day off from work or school.
12. Rent Bicycles for Local Touring
Some small towns will have bicycles for visitors to rent. This way, you can explore the sights at your leisure without spending money on a rental car. Finding activities outside to do is so much better than sitting in a stuffy vehicle all afternoon anyhow.
What better way to see the town and get some fresh air than by cycling around?
See Related: Tips for Riding a Bike in Amsterdam
13. Explore the Town at Night
Some of the most beautiful scenery can be seen after dark when small towns light up with festive decorations and family-owned shops keep their doors open until midnight.
Visitors can stroll down the streets together while taking in all of these unique sites without having to worry about waking up early for work or school in the morning.
Be sure to pack a camera so you can snap some shots of unforgettable local landmarks and unique storefronts.
14. Stay at a Bed and Breakfast
Visitors who want to enjoy an intimate vacation in a small town should look for accommodations that offer more than the usual hotel amenities.
B&Bs provide spacious rooms with comfortable beds so people can relax after having breakfast together in the morning and playing tourist during the day.
Some of these locations may even have a dock for guest use so that you can enjoy the beautiful water views from your own private yacht.
The Equestrian Estate
It’s located in Amish country and sits on 8 acres of farmland. I loved feeding the horses and visiting the chickens. It was an incredible experience. Families can even pay for mini horse and cart rides.
15. Watch the Sunset at a Local Beach
Connect with nature and watch the sunset at a nearby local beach. You can enjoy the ride to the beach and even pack a picnic for two.
The best part about dusk at the beach is that you can watch the sunset in silence together. There are no cell phone sounds or distractions that make the moment special.
Assateague Beach was much different from the beaches we experienced before. It’s located near the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge for horses. I loved the beach because it wasn’t noisy or crowded. While there were people there, everyone was relaxing. There were no shops or other establishments, just sand and water.
See Related: Best South Carolina Beaches
16. Try on Some Fashions at the Local Shops
If you’re someone who enjoys trying on different outfits every time you head out for a night on the town, then small towns are perfect for your next shopping spree.
Even if you don’t make any purchases, it’s still enjoyable to see what everyone in the community is wearing when you stop by these stores during your travels.
Indulge in some retail therapy at an outlet mall or shopping center that features deals you won’t find anywhere else. Many small towns have signature malls that aren’t just fun to shop at but have a lot of local flairs.
They often have unique stores that sell clothes, accessories, and homemade goods from the area. Whether you want to build a new wardrobe or stock up on gifts for friends back home, these shops are worth checking out!
17. Go Shopping at a Local Thrift Store
If vintage shops aren’t your thing, but you still love finding great deals on clothes and accessories, then a small town is where you need to go.
Local thrift stores always have fun selections of clothes from local residents who change their styles often.
It’s always worth checking out what they have available before purchasing elsewhere. It’s an awesome opportunity to buy things for less, allowing you to save more money for things that matter.
You can always find something unique and fun at these stores, so it’s the place to go if you’re looking for a bargain!
19. Go Camping in the Woods
If you love taking naps under a shade tree and listening to nature’s native sounds, then there is no better place to spend your vacation than at a campsite surrounded by trees that stretch out into the distance as far as you can see.
Camping is a fun weekend thing to do in a small town.
Pack up all of your outdoor gear and enjoy an extended weekend away from the hustle and bustle of city life. You may also camp using an RV or rent an RV on Outdoorsy.
Camping lets you connect with nature in a way that’s not possible to do anywhere else. Few activities are as relaxing and peaceful.
See Related: How to Pack for a Camping Trip
20. Visit a local Petting Zoo
Local farms and petting zoos are a staple of many small towns in America, and an excellent experience for the whole family, because everyone loves taking pictures with animals! Some zoos will have tours, so you can see how their caretakers look after them.
Often visitors can purchase special feed for the animals and get a first-hand experience with them. Don’t forget to snap that perfect picture while you are there.
21. Try a U-Pick Venue
Some small towns have local farms, gardens, orchards, and vineyards that are perfect for taking pictures if you’re into rustic photography. You can also pick your fruits or vegetables during the fall season, so it’s a win-win situation for all involved!
Whether it is strawberries, apples, or blueberries, U-Pick venues are among the best things to do in a small town because everyone loves fresh fruit and veggies.
22. Talk to the Locals
You may be surprised at how friendly local people can be when they find out you are visiting their small town – especially if you show interest in their hometown.
Residents love to share information about where they think the best spot is to hike or who makes the perfect dish. Maybe you will find out some history or urban legends about the town that you didn’t know before.
Locals can be a wealth of information and a fun way to explore a small town – and you’ll definitely learn more than you would from any guidebook!