Need some inspiration for your next road trip? Here are my top-10 best small town road trip destinations in the U.S. for 2022. As the pandemic looms, road trips will continue to be the preferred choice of travel this year. Small towns and cities have a lot to offer, from fewer tourists, affordability, hidden gems and so much more.
This list of small town road trip destinations each offers something unique and inviting for the adventurous road tripper, from ocean escapes to culinary get-aways.
FYI, all of the destinations listed have a population under 50,000, which was my criteria for inclusion. Leave a comment below and tell me which one would be your preferred small town road trip destination.
Venice, Florida – Best Small Town Road Trip Destination for Enjoying the Beach
Everyone has heard of Venice, Italy, but Venice, Florida? Not so much. While the Venice of Florida may not have the historical significance of its sister city in Italy, it certainly has its own charm and appeal. Located on the Gulf side of the state (near the middle), Venice, Florida is one cool coastal community. The city has several beaches with plenty of parking. As a matter of fact, during my visit I never had a problem finding a parking spot. With a population of just 23,000, it’s pretty easy to get around town and not have to contend with crowds or traffic. There are many parks, an extensive and expansive bike trail, lots of great shots and restaurants and so many outdoor activities to enjoy.
Want to learn more about this amazing small town road trip destination, be sure to watch the video above.
Walla Walla, Washington – Best Small Town Road Trip Destination for Wine
I have been to Walla Walla several times now. Each visit I seem to fall a bit more in love with this small town located in southeastern Washington. What was once a sleepy farming town, is now a thriving community seemingly focused on one thing…the culinary arts. From wine-making to fine dining and beyond, Walla Walla delivers an exuberant experience that should be on every epicurean’s bucket list.
I have created a comprehensive list of the Best of Walla Walla, from hotels, wineries, activities and more, so be sure to check it out.
Camden, Maine – An Idyllic Seaside City
Camden sits in between Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine and is an idyllic place to visit along the east coast. With a population just under 5000, this is a small seaside community, but with an ideal mix of forests and coastal views. The town is particularly popular during the warmer summer months when visitors flock to the beaches, yet autumn is also a beautiful time of year to visit, with its rich foliage and array of hiking trails. There is no shortage of quaint shops and restaurants.
You’ll also find a number of amazing lodging options. When I visited Camden, I stayed at the Camden Harbor Inn, an outstanding place for both lodging and dining.
Carmel by the Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-sea is home to just under 4,000 very affluent residents, and is famous for the Pebble Beach 17-Mile Drive lined with luxurious mansions and coastal views (Note: Entrance fee is $10.50). Its most striking feature may be the Basilica Church, a registered National Historic Landmark. The town has an old world charm about it which has made it popular with writers and artists for many years. The most famous resident of Carmel-by-the-Sea has to be actor/director Clint Eastwood, who played the role of mayor for a number of years. If the rich artistic culture wasn’t enough, the town is also perched on the pacific shore, with beautiful California beaches and a warm, inviting climate.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs is a Victorian mountain village nestled in the Ozarks with copious things to see and do. It has a small population of roughly 2,000 people, and is a secluded, yet welcoming place. If you’re into shopping, there are over 100 boutique shops and galleries. If you like staying at inns and B&B’s, Eureka Springs is said to have more per capita than any place in the country.
You can also zip-line through the forest, watch big cats feed at a wildlife refuge, view breathtaking vistas and scenic overlooks, fish in clear trout streams, photograph waterfalls or stroll through the colorful gardens surrounding an ancient burial ground. If that doesn’t make your spirits soar, check out one of the famous haunted houses. To stir the soul further, head into downtown for some live music at any number of venues—one of the best spots is Basin Park for frequently free community concerts.
The Fairhope/Point Clear area is located along Mobile Bay near the Gulf Coast. It is a place that bestows grandeur and southern charm with some scenery that is almost idyllic. The streets are lined with massive oak, cypress and maple trees, each woven with a confetti of ivy and Spanish moss. The sun has a difficult time piercing the denseness that blankets the trees, but when it does, sun-flares sparkled in a way that makes you feel like you’re driving through the scene straight out of a storybook.
The coast is dotted with docks and boathouses, one right after the other. The homes are finely crafted in a style that could best be described as southern cottage. The look of the area is unique (at least it was to me), so much so that I had to wonder if it was indigenous to the Gulf Coast. You’ll be enamored by the unique beauty that surrounds the Fairhope and Point Clear area.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach is one of the most trendy, coveted, coastal communities in the state of Oregon. The scenic beauty of the rock croppings on-and-offshore, including the famed “Haystack” rock, will make your beach strolls and photographs like none-other.
There is a vibrant art scene in Cannon Beach, with a number of wonderful galleries and culinary choices. And, the city is certainly setup for strolling; visitors will enjoy the quaint bookstores, shops and bistros, not to mention the plethora of nearby hiking trails with no limit to its coastal access.
Natchez is known for its antebellum homes and haunted history. This Mississippi River community beckons you toward a storied past, with roads cutting through canyons eventually arriving at the city’s famous bluffs. Oak limbs with Spanish moss spread wide and welcome guests to the oldest town along this Mighty River. Natchez is bustling with surprises, thanks in large part to a cohort of young locals who left home for a while and returned with new ideas. Revived efforts to highlight the area’s African-American history, along with a rejuvenation of the downtown scene that includes a bevy of brand-new businesses have brought the city into a new era of excitement.
At just 15,000 population, Natchez is worthy of being on this list of small town road trip destinations, here are a few things not to miss when visiting:
Hood River, Oregon
Hood River is known for being the capital of the world for wind sports. Located along the banks of the Columbia River, wind sport enthusiasts from around the world flock to this special place known as the Columbia Gorge, where the winds produce incredible waves. Hood River has a lot more than white water to offer, nearby is the Fruit Loop, a cluster of farms producing some of the best fruit in the world, from berries, cherries to peaches. You can stop by a fruit stand or a U-Pick farm and select your own produce right off the vines and trees. There are also a number of wineries in the area. Highly recommend Stave & Stone Winery.
If you enjoy waterfalls, this is the place you want to visit. There are more than 90 waterfalls along the Colombia River Gorge. Some you can drive right to, but most require a short to long hike to reach. The tallest and most famous of all the waterfalls in this area is Multonomah Falls, which is 620’ tall. Mount Hood and the Bonneville Lock & Dam are two more Hood River excursions to explore.
La Connor, Washington
The old fishing village of La Connor is located in northwestern Washington State. With three museums, restored historic buildings, a plethora of culinary spots, wine tastings, boutique shops, art galleries, and waterfront boardwalk, there is no shortage of things to do in La Connor. The area is surrounded by lush farmland, so you’ll see fresh fruit and veggie stands everywhere.
Perhaps the most iconic thing to do in La Conner is attend the Skagit Valley annual Tulip Festival in April. Nearby is Deception Pass State Park, which is located at the northern part of Whidbey Island, it’s one of the most visited areas in the state, for good reason–the mysterious coves, rugged cliffs and jaw-dropping sunsets will blow you away.
Also nearby is Anacortes, which is where the ferry terminal is located to take road trippers to the stunning San Juan Islands.
Well that’s the last of these small town road trip destinations. If you know of some other amazing small towns, please leave a comment below and share your favorites.