I recently decided to get out of town, on a whim. My boyfriend and I do that as much as possible. No plans, no bags packed – until the very last minute. This spontaneity has led us to Château Camou, in Valle De Guedalupe, Baja, where a Michilean Star chef was preparing for their opening day of the season (lucky us!).
Our most recent trip took us to the quintessential charming small town of Carmel. The only problem was that it was Sunday, the day before Labor Day. Apparently, we weren’t the only vacationers looking to slow down. But with good ol’ fashioned persistence and a bit of luck, we found a place to rest our heads.
When it comes to vacations, big-name cities have often gotten all the glory. It’s time to skip the hustle and bustle and all the accoutrements that come with it and explore the hidden gems of our great nation. There’s a plethora of places to draw travel inspiration. And I’m not just talking about the Good Sam blog!
According to the Pinterest 100, travelers are looking at off-the-beaten path destinations. But, hey, we already knew that. Searches for small town travel rose 276% in 2018, according to the social platform.
Here’s our list of the 10 best new contenders to American small-town greatness.
This hot-springs town and ski village three hours south of Denver has become one of the best unsung mountain towns in America. It was named one of Vogue’s “9 U.S. Destination to Visit in 2018.” The area’s outdoor adventure assets won’t disappoint. But if you’re going to just unwind, this peaceful mountain town is a perfect stop on your road trip.
Known as the “heart of the Rockies,” the city is surrounded by a large concentration of 14ers (mountains that are more than 14,000 feet high). Known for skiing, mountain biking, fishing and whitewater sports, it also has a growing reputation as a hub of creative activity. In the winter, the town is adorned with a giant lighted Christmas tree on a hillside overlooking the community.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort has two man-made pools. The upper hot spring pools have a 400-foot water slide and offer incredible Rocky Mountain views. Salida Hot Springs boasts the largest indoor hot-springs facility in the country.
Only a few miles outside of town runs Clear Creek where the water is deep and the rocks are set high, great for cliff jumping.
It’s hard to believe that the town known by many is just a one-square-mile village. Adorned with fairytale-like cottages, museums and art galleries, this artist colony turned luxury retreat evokes a romantic and dreamlike ambiance. Named by Travel + Leisure as one of the “World’s Best Cities for Romance,” Carmel Village is stocked with wine-tasting rooms and boutiques.
Take part in Carmel food tours, surf lessons or take a day trip to nearby Monterey. Point Lobos is a perfect spot for hiking and taking in the sights of the rocky Pacific shoreline and sea wildlife. Every turn of a corner yields a new postcard perfect view.
Stay: Marina Dunes RV Resort
Once a railroad stop on the “Mother Road,” Route 66, Winslow is more than just a throwback town and Eagles song lyric. Today’s Winslow is timeless and a fine site to see.
Located just minutes from the old Route 66 is the spectacular result of a collision that rocked the American Southwest approximately 50,000 years ago. Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. Visitors also learn of Daniel Moreau Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer who was convinced that a fortune in iron lay just beneath the hollowed-out surface.
Above ground, enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities like swimming, fishing, canoeing and hiking at Clear Creek Reservoir. McHood Park and Clear Creek Canyon is one of Northern Arizona’s best-kept secrets. If you’re a history buff, Rock Art Ranch worth the trip, boasting as the biggest and best-preserved collections of ancient petroglyphs in the world. While taking a self-guided tour, enjoy the beautiful oasis of a creek.
Drawn by nostalgia and a life-size bronze named “Easy,” you just might find yourself standin’ on a corner in Winslow Arizona.
Stay: Meteor Crater RV Park
Little Lostine is set in Oregon’s northeastern corner along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Visit for the rich history, outdoor adventure and local cuisine. For world class hiking, the Wallowa Mountains – or “Little Switzerland” – aim to please even the most discerning outdoorsman (and woman). Head to Minam River via Rock Springs, an 8.4 trail into the Minam River Canyon, which includes wide open meadows and the ruins of an old lodge. In Lostine itself, it’s worth checking out M. Crow & Co., a 107-year-old mercantile and gallery that has been taken over by a local renaissance man who designs and produces nearly everything by hand.
For an exceptional farm to table experience that is set in the gorgeous backdrop of Wallowa County. And the general store sells local produce, raw milk, grass fed meats and fresh eggs. Toast to your new memories at Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise and Stein Distillery in Joseph.
Recently named a UNESCO “Creative City,” this riverside town has a blossoming culinary scene and a commitment to creativity. Paducah has transformed into a hub for artists, housing progressive film and music venues.
Located in the heart of America’s inland waterways, visitors can marvel at the historic architecture or stop in the many art collectives and galleries. The compact downtown is also home to the “Wall to Wall” Floodwall Murals, 50 life-sized panoramic murals overlook the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Nearby, Kentucky Lake, Lake Barkley and Land Between the Lakes offer more than 3,000 miles of shoreline, birding, hiking and outdoor adventures. The Ohio River Boat Launch and the addition of the new City of Paducah Transient Boat Dock has made boating or fishing easy. Or, visit for the River’s Edge International Film Festival in November. Christmas time is especially beautiful when Historic Downtown and Noble Park are in full holiday décor.
After a day of sightseeing, stop for authentic western Kentucky barbecue at Starnes Bar-B-Q, a local favorite known for its sauce, barbecue and pulled pork.
Stay: Duck Creek RV Park
Mount Dora, Florida
Located about one hour north of Orlando, this small town is known for its antique shops and festivals. The pleasure of Old Florida is alive and well with lakes, country inns and an old railroad station. Lake County is known for its quaint downtowns, picturesque lakes and rolling hills. Enjoy a day on the water at Visit Lake fishing for bass, kayaking cypress-lined shores or paddling pristine Blueways. Then treat yourself with contemporary Florida cuisine at 1921 Mount Dora, situated in a converted home built in 1921.
The Renninger’s Antique Center and Flea Market are the largest markets in Lake County. Be sure and visit the buildings in the “Street of Shops” The Consignment Area has over 40 Cases & 30 Booths. And Lake County’s fall events include something for craft, sport, renaissance, garden and beer lovers.
Stay: Wekiva Falls RV Resort
This unique northern California town is just a ten-minute drive east of Mt. Shasta. In the middle of a vast forest of white fir, red fir, sugar pine Douglas fir and other towering trees, the historic town is perfect for romantic getaways or family fun vacations. McCloud is the center of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway and All-American Road.
Join the community for their annual Halloween Pub Crawl on October 26th or deck the streets with the “McCloud Victorian Christmas” every Saturday in December. Historic McCloud transforms into a whimsical Victorian winter wonderland with carolers, wreath workshops, Victorian High Tea and a Dickens Dinner. Mt. Shasta is an alpine community with picturesque rugged terrain, with a wealth of recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers.
Stay: Abrams Lake RV Park
National Geographic once named Whitefish one of the “Top 25 Ski Towns in the World.” Every season offers breathtaking views of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers. Whether you’re playing on the water or strolling the 40+ miles of Whitefish Trail or stopping in a gallery to soak in the local art scene, this small town is big on adventure. And nature lovers can rejoice because Glacier National Park is just a short drive away.
Taos, New Mexico
At the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico, lies a small gem of a town rich in Hispanic and Native American history. Come for the art but stay for the world-class skiing at Taos Ski Valley. Soak in the majestic landscape encompassing the Rocky Mountains and the Rio Grande Gorge. With so much to experience in Taos, guided tours are available to help you discover and enjoy everything from wine, food and the rich culture of the area.
If it’s blues and barbecue you brake for, then make a stop in the south east. Home of the world-famous author William Faulkner and contemporary author John Grisham, the “Cultural Mecca of the South,” attracts artists, musicians and culinary wizards. With an abundance of small-town charm and creative community, Oxford’s square is the cultural and economic hub of the city. There is ample fishing opportunities close to Oxford, North Mississippi is hailed as the crappie capital of the world. And while you’re here, check out the Mississippi Blues Trail. For the vinyl enthusiast, a visit to The End of All Music is a must. For those looking for a holiday trip complete with a Santa’s Workshop, glimmering decorations, hometown parade and real gingerbread village, jingle all the way to Oxford.