10 Small Towns with Big Midwestern Charm
From a town with a waterfall at its center to the home of Santa Claus.
Big cities have their appeal with a plethora of fine dining restaurants and high-dollar museums, but there's something about a small town that charms like nothing else. From picture-perfect main streets to smiley, welcoming folks working in modest boutiques to coffee shops where you can snuggle into a lived-in couch and people watch, small towns let you take a beat and soak in the world. We've rounded up 10 small towns in the midwest absolutely bubbling with big charm.
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The Most Charming Small Towns in the Midwest
1. Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Chagrin, Ohio is a teeny river village booming with the kind of midwestern charm that'll make you feel like you're walking around the set of a movie. Founded in 1845 and centered around the famous Chagrin Falls waterfall, the entire town is completely walkable. That means you can wander from one local restaurant to another while popping into art shops and shopping boutiques along the way.
In addition to the unique layout of the town—not too many have a waterfall located square in the center, after all—Chagrin Falls features a lineup of historic, picture-worthy architecture. It's also considered the "home" of Popeye (yes, as in the cartoon character).
2. Galena, Illinois
Located on the border of Iowa, Minneapolis, and Wisconsin you'll find Galena, a small Illinois town that promises that quintessential midwestern charm and all sorts of fun year round. For example, visitors can dabble in snowshoeing adventures come wintertime and, in the heat of summer, take in scenic hot air balloon races.
Also interesting to note is that the town has impeccably preserved 19th century buildings (drop by the iconic 1826 Dowling House), and that it's become a foodie destination complete with cozy farm-t0-table dining, gourmet ice cream shops, brunch hotspots, and beyond.
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3. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Speaking of Wisconsin, consider penciling in a visit to Lake Geneva, a quaint Wisconsin town located on—you guessed it—Lake Geneva. Founded way back in 1836, it's got some old roots you can still enjoy today. Think Victorian style homes and gilded age mansions, all speckled along the town's picturesque beaches.
Lake Geneva offers a bit of everything, including outdoor adventures, shopping, golfing, and museums. Though small, the town boasts an impressive food selection with over 40 unique eateries ranging from upscale steakhouses to ethnic cuisines. Charm and cheese? Yes, please!
4. Santa Claus, Indiana
Coined "America's Christmas Hometown," Santa Claus is a small village in southern Indiana that prides itself on celebrating the Christmas spirit in the most epic of ways. Every square inch of the 2500-acre town is chock-full of Christmas cheer ranging from holiday-themed shops to Frosty's Fun Center to Lake Rudolph.
While it's extra magical come winter—think magnificent Christmas light displays, themed train rides, and dinner with Santa himself—the town of Santa Claus is open year-round and always has something fun planned for the family.
5. Abilene, Kansas
Though it's located squarely in the middle of the country, Abilene's roots are really in the "Old West." After all, the Western part of the United States we know today is relatively new. (There's also an entire debate about whether Kansas is part of the Midwest or a Plain state, but if the locals consider themselves the former, we'll agree.)
In any case, a visit to Abilene is a must for anyone eager to soak up some of that Old West charm, as it's a place where "many of the legends and traditions of the cowboy days had their origin," states the town's official website. To add to the American pedigree, President Dwight D. Eisenhower is proudly from Abilene, and rumor has it the town hosts one of the best Fourth of July celebrations in the country.
6. Traverse City, Michigan
California isn't the only place in the country where you can sit back and take in wine country. The midwest has vineyards speckled throughout, too, and Traverse City—located in northern Michigan—is arguably one of the most charming.
This small midwestern town is home to about 40 different wineries, many of which offer scenic vistas and cozy atmospheres where you can taste the day away. (Apparently, its proximity to Lake Michigan makes for ideal soil conditions, and its northern locale offers extended daylight hours for optimal growing. Who knew?) Along with wineries, visitors can enjoy relaxing outdoor getaway with local farm-to-fork dining.
7. Yellow Springs, Ohio
If you're craving a vibrant, unexpected getaway to a small midwestern town with ample charm, head on over to Yellow Springs located about an hour north of Cincinnati. Though it's named after nearby fresh natural springs that are rich in iron (hence the yellow), this quaint town is perhaps better known by local folks as the "Hippie Town" of Ohio thanks to its thriving art scene and crunchy culture. Come for the art, enjoy the food, and spend some time taking in this quaint village's natural preserves.
8. Baraboo, Wisconsin
Baraboo, Wisconsin has been dubbed the "Circus City," as it once served as home to many circus families and individuals. Today, that circus vibe is alive and well, which makes this small and charming midwestern town one of the most entertaining places you might ever visit.
In addition to its iconic Circus World Museum—an annual summer event that features old-timey circus cars and legit acts in an authentic Big Top—the city's home to a spectrum of fun shops and conservation centers. Those include a wildlife park and a big cat rescue. It also boasts plenty of outdoor scenery to explore.
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9. Davis, Oklahoma
Tucked into the lower part of the state, the tiny midwestern town of Davis prides itself on being a "poster child" for small town America. With a bounty of picturesque hikes, natural swimming pools, and one of the state's most beautiful waterfalls, Turner Falls, it's a place outdoor enthusiasts will find themselves at ease. After lapping up the great outdoors, visitors can poke around the town's charming streets, where they'll find antiquing, art galleries, farmers' markets, and historic architecture.
10. Middlebury, Indiana
One of the country's largest Amish and Mennonite populations is located in Middlebury, Indiana, a tiny town with an unassuming name but with loads of midwestern charm. Located on the border of Michigan and Indiana, Middlebury's tagline is "Grown from Tradition," so you know you're in for a treat.
Each year, visitors flock to this Amish community to gobble down hearty cooking, shop handcrafted Amish wooden furniture, and mosey down the back county roads to buy homegrown produce, fresh cheese, and baked goods that are worth lining up for.