We love big city adventures, but they can be overwhelming if you’re in the mood for something less hectic. Why not set out to discover some of America’s nicest small cities this year?
We’ve picked some of the following small cities for their upcoming events, their character-packed neighborhoods, and their developing culinary scenes. Others are featured simply because they offer all the vibrancy you’d expect of a city, but with that mellowed edge (and often lower pricing) that comes with smaller places. Some of these cities are in the swing of regeneration—others don’t need to change a thing.
What they all share is a fantastic range of vacation rentals from TripAdvisor, ready to book for your next getaway. You’ll get a lot of banf for your buck—extra living space, a full kitchen, private outdoor area, and amenities like laundry. Plus, you can find great rentals located close to the city center or on the outskirts for wilder pursuits.
Check out some of the country’s finest small cities, and start planning your next vacation! And once you decide on a destination, you can also book all your tours, activities, and attractions right on TripAdvisor. Our new 24-hour cancellation policy means you can pre-book before arriving, but still have the flexibility to cancel if your itinerary changes.
Located between the bigger hubs of Austin and San Antonio is San Marcos, loved by runners for its amazing trails. There’s plenty of fun in store here: a gig at the Cheatham Street Warehouse, a glass-bottomed boat tour at the Meadows Center, or a shopping spree at San Marcos Premium Outlets. For something a bit different, sign up for a nighttime kayaking, tubing, or paddle-boarding tour, floating off down the San Marcos River on a vessel lit with LEDs. Head up the road to Austin for the Rock Star Beer Festival this March or try out one of San Antonio’s many excellent foodie happenings.
“Well located, well appointed, very comfortable updated adobe has everything you’ll need from movies, to books, to scrabble, to a very complete kitchen. We were able to spend the whole week entertaining ourselves without driving anywhere. Bisbee is a cool little historical, artistic, colorful place.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
2018 could be the year you uncover this charming city framed by scrubby, rust-red hillsides. Start with a visit to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum to learn about the city’s copper mining past. Then stroll through historic Old Bisbee, looking out for the renovated mining homes perched on the hills, catch the farmer’s market or Historical Home Tour in the Warren neighborhood, or take some 50s-style photo ops in the preserved mid-century streets of Lowell.
Known as one of the best windsurfing spots in the world, Hood River offers all the high-octane delights of the Columbia River Gorge, ready to enjoy on a board, on foot, or on a bike. Once you’ve finished your workout, head downtown to the historic shopping district lined with boutiques and watering holes to enjoy a local brew. Sit down to a comforting breakfast the following day at the low-key Egg River Café.
“The house was located close to the mall and fairgrounds. The house was beautiful. During the day we could see the beautiful mountains, during the evening we could see the lights of Golden and Denver. We would definitely stay again.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Just outside exciting Denver, you’ll find the more relaxed little city of Golden. Clear Creek takes center stage here—tube on it, hike or jog along it, or fish in it. Cycle up North Table Mountain for some of the best views in town, or board a vintage steam engine at the Colorado Railroad Museum. You can tour the massive Coors Brewery, grab a swanky cocktail at the Golden Moon Speakeasy, or maybe just a low-key lunch at the traditional Golden Diner. Local events are held year round, but you can seek out bigger ones in Denver, for example the Mile High Beer Festival in March.
This is one of the smaller spots on our list, with a population of around 2,000 people, perfect for gentler vibes and plenty of outdoor exploration. Good weather most of the year round makes it easy to get out and about in the fresh air, whether that’s on horseback, on two wheels, or on boot-clad feet. There are lots of smaller parks to explore, but you can’t miss the Iron Horse State Park, whose staggering natural beauty is complemented by its historic disused railway tunnels, tracks, and depots. If you fancy changing it up a gear during your stay, you can try out the big city delights of Seattle, just an hour and a half’s drive away.
With its quaint downtown area, small-town feel, and wealth of open spaces, it’s not hard to see why Louisville often features on lists of the best places to live in America. Coal Creek Golf Course is an exceptional spot for a leisurely game with Flatiron views, and you can join in many a local downtown event throughout the year. A Louisville vacation rental gives you a great base for exploring this friendly community, as well as neighboring Boulder and Denver.
“Perfect location to the downtown, walking to many great restaurants and is right on the water. The owner is very friendly and helpful. If it’s available I highly recommend staying here.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Beautiful whether blanketed in snow or baking in the sunshine, this lakeside city has an undeniable pull. Events to look forward to in 2018 include wine trails, a range of food events, and the Traverse City Trail Running Festival. Time your stay with the end of June and first week of July to coincide with the famous Cherry Festival, an eight-day event complete with lots of family-friendly entertainment. Chill out afterwards at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
This Nashville suburb makes a good alternative to staying more centrally. Getting out and about is a priority for Brentwood residents—join them on the various cycling and walking paths in the local parks, such as Smith Park and Crockett Park. Just a short distance away you’ll also find Radnor Lake State Park and the Warner Parks. The local dining scene offers everything from BBQ and burgers to Thai cuisine, and you can experience some of that famous local live music up close in central Nashville.
Sandwiched between two lakes and a short distance from all the big sights and sounds of Seattle is relaxed Bellevue, delivering the lovely views its name suggests. The predominantly modern architecture of the center is complemented by its well-groomed green spaces and the watery expanse of Lake Washington. Check out the sculpture garden at the Bellevue Arts Museum, walk among the plants at the serene Bellevue Botanical Garden, or take the car out to a tasting room at one of the local wineries. There’s lots scheduled for 2018: seek out the Bellevue Jazz and Blues Festival, which kicks off in May, the Strawberry Festival in June, or the Bellevue Arts Fair on the last weekend of July.
This once quiet town is making a real name for itself, especially in terms of its lively events. Don’t miss the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irish Festival, and the sixth annual Community Tap Craft Beer Festival, which will host over 50 breweries from around the country. In May, look out for the Artisphere festival, three days of perusing fine art, meeting artists, and purchasing works to take home, all accompanied by good food and music.
“The view of the beach was awesome. Waking up to the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean every morning was breathtaking. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
St. Augustine has a picturesque center with a European influence, as well as lovely stretches of marshland and beach, all easily accessible from the town. It’s known for its family-friendly and educational attractions. It also has a lot of events to keep visitors entertained: farmer’s and flea markets, a weekly garden walk and art walk, and a long-standing Easter Parade. Sailing fans will enjoy St. Augustine Race Week, an annual boating event where you can watch vessels of varying sizes compete, and there are plenty of post-race parties to join in with, too.
Referred to by some as “Little San Francisco,” Astoria somehow manages a balance of rustic and hip. Learn some local history at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, volunteer at a local eco event, take in a show at the Liberty Theater, or join the celebrations at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. Goonies fans should visit the Oregon Film Museum to pick up location tips from the cult classic and learn which other films have featured Astoria as a backdrop.
The Clark Fork River flows through this vibrant city in the Northern Rockies—follow the Riverfront Trail on a rental bike to get your first taste of what this place has to offer. You could time your trip to watch the runners in the July Missoula Marathon, or catch the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February. And whatever the time of year, you can stop in for a house ale at the Big Sky Brewing Company, walk the halls of the Missoula Art Museum or the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, and ride the famous vintage carousel.
This high-energy city gets its name from its views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is where the headquarters of various tech companies are based—you’ll see plenty of hints as to its tech legacy, such as the larger-than-life Google Android sculptures. You can try your hand at coding or sit in a self-driving car at the Computer History Museum. Alternatively, go for a paddle with San Francisco Bay views at Shoreline Park or trawl Castro Street for some international flavor at its impressive array of eateries.
Upbeat Ogden attracts droves of adventurous types, who come for the fantastic snowsports in winter and biking in warmer weather. There’s always something going on in town—watch out for the Wasatch Yeti Bash in February (complete with ‘yeti sightings’ and a winter arts market), the Ogden Music Festival in June, and the Balloon Festival in August. It’s just a short distance south to see what Salt Lake City has to offer.
This hospitable city is watched over by the iconic neon Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain. Roanoke is particularly popular with mountain bikers—the valley here has even been listed in the top ten most bike-friendly places in the country. There are plenty of self-guided themed tours to follow, such as Virginia’s Blue Ridge Beerway and the Art by Bike tour. Continue the artistic theme with a visit to the Taubman Museum of Art, which is hosting exhibitions on American classic cars, Native American art, and much more in 2018.
Discover the history of Portsmouth at the Strawbery Banke Museum, where a series of buildings function as a living history museum, complete with costumed staff demonstrating traditional crafts from times gone by. It’s easy to get around on foot, with shops and restaurants aplenty, and stunning sea views. Explore the tidy riverside gardens at Prescott Park or take your pick from a busy events calendar of lectures, films, workshops, concerts, and art openings.
“This apartment is a wonderful place to stay, work, relax, cook. It is clean, quiet, well serviced, in a brilliant location and very close to public transport.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Just two miles from Boston is Somerville, a place that seems to get hipper by the minute. Here you’ll find a great selection of bars and nightspots, the shiny new Assembly Row shopping center, and, of course, the Museum of Bad Art, to be found in all its questionable glory beneath the historic Somerville Theater. Somerville hosts a roster of quirky events, including Fluff Festival, PorchFest, and the Independent Film Festival of Boston.
This welcoming locale has a strong Amish community, which you can learn all about at the Amish Village, on a farm tour, or on a traditional buggy ride. Family-friendly attractions and activities abound locally, such as the SkyZone Trampoline Park, the Dutch Wonderland amusement park, and the Strasburg Rail Road. The city is appearing on the national foodie radar, too. Its burgeoning (and purse-friendly) food scene is amply fed by the surrounding farmland, earning it a place in the top nine Thrillist Best New Food Cities in America last year. Make time to try the local cheeses and wines or take a brunch tour by tuktuk for a truly quirky activity.
Here’s a place where you can hit the beach without being disturbed by the crowds of busier resorts. But this is no backwater. You can tour the coastline on a swanky yacht, surf off Silverstrand Beach, or check out the Murphy Auto Museum and Carnegie Art Museum. Pause to sample the famously sweet local strawberries if you can, perhaps at the California Strawberry Festival in mid May. To get away from it all, boat over to the Channel Islands National Park, known locally as the American Galapagos, where you can dive off the rocks and swim with the sea creatures that call this beautiful place home.
Start your visit on the Marietta Trolley, learning about local Civil War history while taking in the handsome buildings and Marietta Square. You can indulge your romantic side (and Vivien Leigh/Clark Gable obsession) at the Gone With the Wind Museum, or get spooky with a guided ghost tour of the city. Alternatively, spend the day splashing around at the Six Flags White Water amusement park, if that’s more your thing.
This is a laidback, attractive city great for picking up antique finds and experiencing Florida’s more traditional side. There’s always an event taking place, for example the Mount Dora music and arts festivals in February, the Sail Boat Regatta in April, and the Bicycle Festival in October. There’s also the Light Up Mount Dora event in November, during which the town is festooned with twinkling lights ready for the holiday season. Book your rental—you’re in for a treat.
“The cottage is perfectly located for any wine county adventure. It is also very quiet and peaceful if you just need a break from your busy lifestyle. I highly recommend staying here and cannot wait to return!” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Santa Rosa is wine country through and through, so any visit here should feature a vineyard tour and a session in a tasting room. One main attraction is the Charles M. Schulz Museum, where you can meet Snoopy and see work by his cartoonist maker. You could also take in a performance at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which this year welcomes the likes of Johnny Mathis, Jerry Seinfeld, and Mavis Staples. In February, choose between the Crab and Wine Fest and the Silver Scream Festival, the latter catering for all your cinematic horror and sci-fi needs. In March, there’s the Californian Artisan Cheese Festival, and throughout spring you’ll be able to see thousands of wildflowers bursting into life at Annadel State Park.
Note: this post was created in 2018, referencing cities that had exciting years ahead of them.