7 Charming Small Towns in the U.S. That Come Alive in the Summer
You'll find festivals, farmer's markets, hiking, and more at these glorious summer getaways.
Some small towns feel like magic in the wintertime with snow-tipped evergreens and cute Christmas markets. Others, however, absolutely come alive once the weather starts warming. Think fragrant, beautiful blossoms that send their scents wafting through the air, winding rivers or lakes that beckon you to splash around, and a bevy of activities for the whole family ranging from picturesque farmers' markets to outdoor events to leisurely hikes and picnics.
These are the most charming small towns to visit in the summer, so pack your bags and get ready for a delightfully scenic getaway.
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1. La Crosse, Wisconsin
As soon as the weather shifts from cool air to warm breezes, the charming town of La Crosse, Wisconsin blossoms into a bustling retreat for families, outdoor enthusiasts, athletes, and foodies looking for a great time. Located along the shimmering Mississippi River and featuring beautiful views of towering bluffs, La Crosse's setting is one of its biggest draws.
A stroll through Riverside Park come summer makes it feel like you're playing a part in one of those idyllic, romantic movies. Here, people congregate for picnics, music, and events. A quick walk to downtown puts you in the center of the town's restaurants, bars, and shopping. You have to make a reservation at Piggy's Restaurant, and if you don't swing by The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor for a scoop or two, then you're missing out. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the beautiful trails of Hixon Forest Park and Grandad Bluff.
2. Astoria, Oregon
"Summer is famously the most beautiful time to visit the Pacific Northwest, and Astoria really blooms during the sunny days while benefiting from cool coastal temps," says Bryn Culbert, a travel expert for Wanderu. "California sea lions migrate to the Astoria area in the summer, and Pier 39 is a great spot to see sea lions taking a sunny nap. Every August, the small town hosts the Astoria Regatta, complete with a boat parade on the Columbia River."
She recommends visiting nearby Fort Stevens State Park, one of the Oregon Coast's expansive beaches and site of the Peter Iredale shipwreck. The Astoria Column is another must-visit. You can climb to the top of this quirky monument for a panoramic view.
3. Northport, New York
Northport, New York is an idyllic harborside village complete with trolley tracks lining its charming Main Street, street lamp posts along the sidewalks, and families sitting on benches enjoying their favorite ice cream cone or cup of Southdown coffee. The village ends at two side-by-side parks with water views, grassy fields, and playgrounds for families with kids.
"On any given weekend, you'll come across an outdoor farmers' market, concert, or festival," notes Chrissy Ruggeri, co-owner and contributor to the Northport Journal. "The opportunities down Main Street are abundant, with a local theater, popular brewery and wine cellar, several art galleries, unique storefronts, fine dining restaurants, and a brand new boutique hotel."
As a bonus, it's a much shorter drive from New York City, compared to going to the Hamptons, and you'll get to enjoy that same summer charm.
4. Colorado Springs, Colorado
A quick, one-hour shoot from Denver, Colorado Springs is a stunning small town located alongside the picturesque Rocky Mountains. It's the perfect retreat from the big city hustle, and in the summer offers a wide range of outdoor activities for people to really soak up the stunning natural beauty.
Enjoy everything from scenic hikes to charming bike rides through the town's charming streets to hitting one of the town's iconic rivers for a fun rafting experience. A visit to the Garden of the Gods is a must while you're here, and you can enjoy simply taking in the views, taking a guided Jeep tour, hiking, or climbing. Another favorite activity is taking a slow and scenic drive through the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, where you can catch a glimpse of the 14,000 foot Pikes Peak.
5. Leavenworth, Washington
If it's summer fairy-tale vibes you're after, you can't sleep on Leavenworth, Washington. Located a few hours east of Seattle and nestled into the Cascade Mountains, this charming U.S. town looks like it was plucked right out of Bavaria. The town takes inspiration directly from alpine villages with German stylings to match.
"Leavenworth is a destination spot for hiking in the summer," notes Culbert. "Many visit to hike the stunning Enchantments region of the Cascade Mountains, and even dip their feet in the crystal clear alpine lakes among the peaks. Rafting or paddle boarding on the Icicle and Wenatchee Rivers is another great way to cool off and soak in the mountain scenery."
Make sure to wander downtown to view the Bavarian-style storefronts that drip with flowers in the summer. Culbert also recommends checking out the Bavarian Nutcracker Museum and the town's excellent breweries.
6. Franklin, Tennessee
No doubt you're familiar with Nashville, but less than an hour away from the Music City, you'll find Franklin, Tennesee, an historic storybook sort-of-town that's brimming with Southern hospitality, great music, excellent noms, and plenty of sight-seeing. In the summer, this town really comes to life thanks to its natural beauty, perfect weather, and ability to please everyone with its array of activities.
Franklin played a key role in the American Civil War, which means history buffs can check out Civil War sites, such as the Battle of Franklin or the Carter House. Downtown Franklin is historic, too, and is known for its preserved historic architecture. Those who love the outdoors can check out the rolling fields at Harlinsdale Farm, or take advantage of the weather by visiting Pinkerton Park or Aspen Grove. Other must-do's include the 95-acre Arrington Vineyards, the summer Carnton Sunset Concert Series, and the Saturday Farmers' Market which takes place on Main Street.
7. Williamsburg, Virginia
Located about two and a half hours from Washington D.C., you'll find Williamsburg, Virginia, another historic small town with deep ties to American history. The heart of this small town is Colonial Williamsburg, a "living museum" known for its restored architecture and people in era-specific costumes.
"Walking in downtown Williamsburg is like stepping into history, with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and beautiful gardens you can't help but fall in love with this charming town," says local Megan Sanders, owner of the town's Timberline Glamping. "Williamsburg cannot be summed up by only its historic charm. It has also become an outdoor enthusiast's playground. From biking or running the ever popular Virginia Capital Trail to kayaking or paddle boarding on the Chickahominy River and Jamestown Beach Event Park, to the beautiful golf courses, Williamsburg has something for everyone."