Most Americans live comfortably in the urbanized centers of the continent, enjoying the amenities that city living can bring. However, just outside the reaches of metropolitan areas, where few city-dwellers venture to go, hundreds of thousands of small towns still exist — and many of them are well-worth a visit.
Small towns tend to boast a quaintness that cities fundamentally lack. Whether the towns are frozen in time or culturally unique, they offer a charm that is not easily replicated. Instead of wasting a vacation in a major urban destination, your next trip should take you off the beaten path to any of these most beautiful places in North America.
1. Edgartown, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard was once a charming seaside community in itself, but the influx of wealthy summer vacationers has generally made the island’s beaches hum with near-constant activity. However, just a stone’s throw from the waters lies Edgartown, the oldest town in Martha’s Vineyard, and a picturesque whaling village with plenty to do and see. There are a handful of historic landmarks well-worth a visit, including the venerable Edgartown Harbor Light, and a row of boutique shops in the beautiful downtown.
2. Leavenworth, Washington
Fairy tales are surfeit with the kinds of quaint villages and towns that once made up all of Europe. Unfortunately, the style was long dead before Europeans began flocking to the New World, and no towns boast the thatched roofs and simple architecture of medieval times — except one: Leavenworth, Washington. Modeled on a Bavarian village, Leavenworth feels like a permanent Renaissance festival with annual events to match, including Oktoberfest, a holiday Christkindlmarkt, and more.
3. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, shortened to Carmel by locals and frequent visitors, is a small, seaside retreat just outside Monterey, California. The town boasts row after row of small, cottage-like homes — but its appearance isn’t all that makes Carmel so unique. The town boasts a handful of eccentric laws, including a prohibition against high heels worn without a permit and an ordinance against buying and selling ice cream on the street.
4. Taos, New Mexico
The upper valley of the Rio Grande seems to have always been an enchanted place. Long before Europeans journeyed so far west, the Anasazi worshiped the site as sacred; then, in the 15th century, the Pueblo came to construct an extensive adobe ceremonial site, with Spanish missionaries hot on their heels. Today, Taos remains charming in its own mesmerizing way, especially to writers, painters, and other artists who take places in the extensive galleries throughout the small town.
5. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Though the architecture in and around the town’s main square may make postcards look straight out of England’s Georgian period, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a quaint town on the edge of Lake Ontario, easily reached from those relaxing in Niagara Falls. Besides its obvious natural beauty — small parks, gardens and green spaces abound — the city boasts a healthy culture: The annual Shaw Festival is one of Canada’s best celebrations of stage performance and the magic of theater.
6. Beaufort, South Carolina
Nearly every place in South Carolina oozes charm — that old Southern style has maintained its appeal through the centuries — but Beaufort, South Carolina is especially gorgeous. The second oldest settlement in the state, Beaufort offers quintessential Southern architecture and gardens. However, especially captivating is the chain of small islands, each with its own flair. Hunting Island, for example, presents stunning beaches, while Lady’s Island is a hub for shopping and dining.
7. Marfa, Texas
It looks dramatically less idyllic than the other small towns on this list, and that is perhaps exactly why Marfa, Texas has become the charming destination it is. Far from busy, bustling urban life, Marfa is dusty and lonely, and countless filmmakers (including the Coen brothers) have admired just this and used the town as a backdrop for their cinematic Westerns. The town has also become a place where artists make statements on the state of popular culture; artists Elmgreen and Dragset have constructed a permanent installation called “Prada Marfa” that mocks couture stores elsewhere.
8. Dahlonega, Georgia
California wasn’t the only place Americans struck gold; Dahlonega, Georgia marks the site of the nation’s first gold rush, which occurred in 1829. Fortunately, the small town survived the boom, and today Dahlonega offers another tantalizing prospect: wine. Northern Georgia has a beautiful climate for wine grapes, and five giant vineyards surround Dahlonega, making it the heart of Georgia wine country. The town has also become a hub for artists, with galleries and museums lining its downtown streets.
What are your choices for the most beautiful places in North America? Leave us a comment below!