May 28, 2022

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Traveling Around the World

America’s 11 Coolest Small Towns For A Summer Vacation

Spread around the United States, there are small towns that come alive during the summer months more than any other. Brimming with character, these one-of-a-kind towns offer a perfect mix of the “it” vibes within and natural scenery around to cool off on a hot summer’s day.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Alligators and other wildlife can be spotted during a swamp tour of Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

A popular summer destination with a small-town feel, Breaux Bridge is the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” Located in St. Martin Parish, two hours west of New Orleans, the town’s cool vibe and Southern charm are reflected in skeet shooting, jambalaya cookouts, and the eclectic Lagniappe antique store. It is also the birthplace of crawfish étouffée, as well as home to the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, filled with fun and delicacies. The decadent everyday eating options include the famous étouffée at Poche’s, boudin sausage, and smoked spare rib po’boys for the especially hungry at the Acadiana Jerky Co., and Cajun Claws for the lovers of seafood variety. Bounded by canoe country of Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, one can take on the cypress-lined atmospheric waterways or spot alligators and other wildlife at the swampland preserve at Lake Martin.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon. 

Set surrounded by state parks, Cannon Beach’s dramatic shoreline dotted with giant rock formations makes for stunning scenery, as the coolest escape in America. Anyone in town must experience strolling along the sandy beaches to find respite from the sun beneath the famous Haystack Rock crowning the paradise. Named one of the world’s most beautiful places by National Geographic, the scenery calls for a picnic, complete with stunning coastline views of endless waters and more boulders around. The blend of the remarkable natural areas and a charming village vibe is complemented by a nationally renowned art scene in town. One can absorb the unique character of this charmer through a simple stroll around the eclectic streets, all within close distance of the beach. There’s an array of art galleries in-between cute eateries, fine restaurants, epic shops, and boutiques.

Cape May, New Jersey

Beach goers enjoy a beautiful day in Cape May, New Jersey
Beachgoers enjoy a beautiful day in Cape May, New Jersey. Editorial credit: Racheal Grazias / Shutterstock.com

Since the Victorian era, Cape May has been welcoming summertime lovers from big cities like Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. for the cool, quaint town feel. Being the last stop on the New Jersey shore, its beaches give off the “cool” vibe in a refreshing manner, rather than MTV. The town itself comes with Victorian mansions and minimalistic, modern B&Bs to spend most of the time spent exploring. Closed-off to traffic, there’s the happening shopping and dining district in town, including the Washington Street Mall for relaxation and people-watching. The Congress Hall resort in the heart of the town overlooking the beach and known as the “Summer White House,” opened in 1816 as a boarding house but became a magnet for those wanting to vacation in style. For more cool activities, one can take a surrey ride into the sunset for a spirited evening on the waters, visit the Cape May Lighthouse, as well as see the Jersey Shore Alpacas.

Ketchum, Idaho

Winter Wonderland in Ketchum, Idaho
Winter Wonderland in Ketchum, Idaho. 

A popular summertime destination featuring 250 days of sunshine, the cool Ketchum was once just a modest mining and ranching town. Known for its laid-back sophistication, it is a natural paradise galore with mountain biking, fly-fishing, and incredible arts events within scenic surroundings. Coming with an epic culinary scene, one can lunch on the mountain at Seattle Ridge Lodge, dive in on fondue at the historic Roundhouse, and wash down a fowl burger with a schooner at Grumpy’s, the atmospheric local watering hole. The lucky few will be able to reserve a seat at Enoteca for an authentic Italian fare that is always in high demand. There’s the new, hip, and Aspen-like Limelight Hotel for an upgraded mountain-lodging stay.

Laguna Beach, California

An aerial view of Laguna Beach, California
An aerial view of Laguna Beach, California. 

A cool coastal destination full of natural beauty, Laguna Beach is flanked to one side by mountains and bordered by the Pacific to the other. Offering the best of both worlds in one small town, one can take an early-bird hike in the morning’s breeze, followed by a cool-off in the refreshingly brisk ocean, before hitting the soft sands. While the beaches are the main draw with surfing and eco-adventures, the marina is full of cool vibes and things to do. From sailing and swimming for the active to a charming aquarium for families, there’s also the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Master’s events. Adjoining and blending into beauty with the town of Dana Point, the cliff-side views for some unforgettable shots are just a short hike away. There’s the Heisler Park, the Crescent Bay Point Park, the Crystal Cove State Park, and the 1,000 steps Beach for more explorations. 

Monterey, California

A view of Monterey, California
A view of Monterey, California. Editorial credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com

The idyllic, little peninsula-set town is a perfect place to “cool off,” offering an even mix of hip and R&R for an eclectic getaway. A morning stroll along the famed Fisherman’s Wharf surrounded by scenic water views comes with spotting seals and other marine life. The vibrant Monterey Plaza is fantastic for atmospheric brunches and a day full of shopping. For their daily fill of exercise, one can choose the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail or the popular 17-mile coastal trail that is a jogger’s and biker’s galore, also beloved by photographers. Taking one through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach with various vistas, kayakers also make the same path in the waterways. The Monterey Bay is great to wander around, while the kids will adore the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Dennis the Menace Park. The dining scene comes with many water-bounded restaurants, serving the freshest daily catch right out of the boat.

Sebastopol, California

A large street sign over the Barlow market area in Sebastopol, California
A large street sign over the Barlow market area in Sebastopol, California. Editorial credit: JudeAnd / Shutterstock.com

Set in the stroll-worthy surroundings of apple orchards and vineyards, the small town of Sebastopol is only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Called charming and quirky by the Revealed America founder Marty Behr, its out-of-proportion diversity of attractions include local eateries to dine on a delicious down-home burger or grilled salmon that was just frolicking in the waters, among many other uniquely-catered dishes. The streets are lovely to wander about in the summer sunshine, filled with boutiques, cutting-edge art, rare antiques, and wine shops. One can scavenge for street art on the way to Barlow, a 220,000-square-foot culinary and arts center. The cool, marketplace-like establishment comes with modernist architecture, reminiscing of the picturesque apple canneries that were once here.

Sonoma, California

City Hall in Sonoma, California
City Hall in Sonoma, California. 

The idyllic getaway into the heart of the Sonoma County renowned for its wines, Sonoma is a small town with a quaint atmosphere, bordered by its more famous sister, Napa. The most notable wineries include the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, and the Cline Cellars. The scenic Sonoma Valley is a great place to relax with a picnic and a wine bottle picked out earlier. Encompassed by state parks with wineries in between, there are varying vistas, from the beautiful orchards to the towering redwood trees with hiking trails that will make one feel like a million miles away from people. Upon getting a fill of tasting and hiking, one can attain a different kind of scenery at the Pacific Ocean beach just an hour away, perfect for a “cool” day trip on an especially hot summer’s day. The Sonoma Plaza is full of shopping, while its restaurant scene includes chefs that masterfully pair perfect wines with the chosen dishes.

South Lake Tahoe, California

Aerial view of South Lake Tahoe which is on the California-Nevada Stateline
Aerial view of South Lake Tahoe, which is on the California-Nevada Stateline. 

Straddling the Nevada-California border already makes this town a cool place to visit, but with 300 days of sunshine per year and an enormous freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is sure to leave a lasting array of memories. A mecca for boating, kayaking, and swimming, while spending the night away in Nevada-side’s casinos and nightlife defines the coolest getaway. For the active, there are the iconic Sand Harbor, the Emerald Bay State Park, and the Cascade Falls Trail. One can also stay in style at a “glamping” site with 31 cabins featuring hotel-like amenities, kitchens, as well as complimentary breakfast, and nightly campfires. There is also the eco-friendly, award-winning Cedar Glen Lodge set on the lake’s northern shore and an array of restaurants in town.

Traverse City, Michigan

Aerial view of downtown Traverse City, Michigan
Aerial view of downtown Traverse City, Michigan. 

The lakeshore beauty of Traverse City comes with many cool attractions. The Grand Traverse Pie Company was excellent enough for Oprah to visit, choosing the Old Mission with plump Michigan Montmorency fruit as her favorite pie out of the 12 on the menu. The elevated food scene includes unique creations like root vegetable waffles and fried sage at “Sugar 2 Salt” to keep that perfect beach body. The town is also adored by the art fans, coming with cool architecture pop-ups all over, such as the mechanic’s garage at Randy’s Olde Town Services. The state mental hospital-turned shopping village at Grand Traverse Commons comprises one of the nation’s most extensive historic preservation and adaptive reuse developments. For a getaway into nature, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is only 25 miles to the west, featuring the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and Dune Climb to Lake Michigan. 

Wellfleet, Massachusetts 

Wellfleet Marina Harbor
Wellfleet Marina Harbor. 

Set on the outer Cape Cod, Wellfleet is a favorite summertime hideaway for a calm and quiet time-spent. The two-mile-wide picture-perfect small town is a burst of color and flavor, sandwiched in between two stunning beaches to each side, the Bay and the Atlantic. Strolling in the sunshine, the real “eye-candy” streets are lined with clapboard houses overtaken by hydrangea vines, while the smattering of art galleries across Main Street offers more feasting for the eyes. The idyllic and unforgettable getaway comprises lying on an un-crowded beach and washing down Wellfleet’s famous oysters with a glass of something chilled, days-on. There’s also the new-in-town famed PB Boulangerie & Bistro, run by Daniel Boulud alum Philippe Rispoli, and the GAA Gallery filled with cutting-edge contemporary art for second-time visitors. 

These epic towns comprise some of the most idyllic places in the nation, offering one a multi-faceted approach for the next cool getaway. From unique nature- and town-scapes, to the quaint beaches, to spanned-out food and art scenes, one will find that special vibe that will be imprinted in their mind as the coolest time spent.