What is the coolest small town in the U.S. and why?
I’m interested to know your selections for the coolest small towns in the US. For example, my vote would be Athens, Georgia. It’s a quintessential college town in that its population swells by 30k during the school year and then drops in the summer, and there’s a ridiculous per capita ratio of drinking establishments. But if you dig deeper you find so many unlikely things: a music scene that literally helped change the sound of the 80s and 90s, a multicultural and progressive island in what’s otherwise a rural area of the Georgia piedmont, and high level of affordability, which means that people have remained here after college, purchased land, built homes. A great example of this is the Orange Twin Community, a kind of intentional community founded by members of the Elephant Six collective (bands / musicians including of Montreal, Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel). There’s a certain “only in Athens” feel that you get around luminaries like famed Rumi translator Coleman Barks or R.E.M bassist Mike Mills. It’s that sense that people can rise to the top of their games without living in LA or New York, that Athens, Georgia is the possibly the coolest town in the U.S. and the fact that they’ve always lived there proves it.
What other small towns in the US feel like this, and why?
Not sure if it counts as small, but I remember really loving Bozeman MT on one of my cross country road trips. Close to awesome national parks and outdoor recreation, college town, cool coffee shops, and probably a really good veggie burger if I recall.
Grand Marais, Minnesota is the coolest small town- hands down. It’s tiny and the last real hint of civilization until you hit the US-Canada border but it holds so much. Two artist retreat schools (North House Folk School and the Art Colony), more hiking and walking trails than you could walk in a month, a phenomenal food scene (from donuts to smoked trout to French Onion soup and more) and so much live music that they have a special monthly publication for the county so people know when and where to hear the best sounds. Plus it’s my favorite place to visit in Minnesota- if you couldn’t tell 🙂
Great article, David! There are certainly some gems on that list, with such captivating photos. I’m a West Coast girl, so I never knew that WV could look, and sound, so intriguing.
I have a few beloved towns in my home state of WA, but of course it’s impossible to include all the curious towns across the nation. But if you ever find yourself writing another article with a similar theme, I suggest you check out Port Townsend or Walla Walla. When hearing about Washington State, we tend to be inundated with Western Washington, but Walla Walla is a hip, eastern college town with such a distinct vibe that you can’t find on the other side of the mountains. It has historic buildings and is emerging as a bit of a foodie mecca, plus it has an up-and-coming wine scene that is way cheaper than Napa. Add in the Blue Mountains (more like rolling hills that appear many different, vibrant shades at sunrise/set).
And as for Port Townsend, this little Victorian port town has such an interesting history and is surrounded by gorgeous nature. You can stroll the historic quarter at any time of the year and it’s miraculously bustling for such a rural area. Plus it hosts a wooden boat festival each year, by the wooden boat building school (one of the few in the entire country).
Anyway, thanks for the interesting read!
Madison, Indiana! Fun fact: it was originally supposed to be the capital of Indiana, as it is right on the Ohio River which made it great as a travel route. Things didn’t work out as they’d hoped but it’s probably for the better. It’s about 3 hours south of Indianapolis, right on the border of Kentucky. You are basically in the south down here, without having to drive too far. Small-town charm, Victorian-style houses and southern architecture flank Main Street. Head to Hinkle’s Sandwich shop for sliders with the locals, either for an early lunch or a late night. Visit the Chautaqua Festival of the arts or see the hydroplane boat races during the Madison Regatta around 4th of July!
Richmond, Virginia! My college town was names America’s 3rd Most Tattooed City in 2011, and recognized as one of the ten locations in “Where to Eat in 2016”, by National Geographic. Yet still no one knows about! Aside from those cool things, RVA is the quirkiest little town in the US because it is completely consumed by more than 72 gigantic wall murals. Seriously! The Richmond Mural Project works to promote artists and community by covering every spare surface with colorful artwork. Walking around my college is pretty much a different visual experience every week!
Portland, ME. It may not be a small “town,” but it IS in MAINE… and it sure feels small. Everyone is talking about Portland lately for the foodie scene, the real estate, and the tourism. Here is something no one is talking about in Portland – Portland is home to some of the most influential business moguls, billionaires, innovators, and witty investors. and they are all hiding around the city in plain site. The city provides a comfort zone, where luxury is accommodated and publicity is non-existent. Even better, they all know each other! It is the perfect city for entrepreneurs with all of their great ideas and no way to channel them. My suggestion? Go grab a craft beer at at a local pub near the harbor. Most likely your bartender will know everyone in the area. Pick his/her brain… and there’s a good chance that conversation will lead you to your next opportunity.
I’m also giving another vote to Portland, Maine! It’s a small town that offers a lot for romantic getaways, families and adventure seekers. for a small town, it’s full of restaurants that would make urban foodies swoon. A place not to miss!