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6 Charming U.S. Cities That Feel Like Small Towns

With a city that has a small town vibe, you will get the best of both worlds.

At a certain age, many people choose to say goodbye to city living and move to the suburbs in search of more space and a slower-paced life. But the cookie-cutter houses and strip malls aren't everyone's cup of tea. Luckily, there are smaller cities that will give you everything you could want in a small town, like walkability, quaint downtown areas, and a friendly know-your-neighbor vibe—all alongside the culture, architecture, and nightlife you may find in a big city. Read on to discover the charming U.S. cities that can also feel like small towns, according to travel experts.

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Syracuse, New York

Syracuse NY skyline.
Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock

With a population of over 140,000, Syracuse is in no way a small town, but it still offers tourists and residents cozy little pockets where it feels like the locals could all know each other. Plus, it has a scenic backdrop of rolling hills and wonderful restaurants to dine in, boutiques to shop in, and a plethora of places to relax with loved ones.

"Despite its size, Syracuse has managed to maintain a small town atmosphere with its welcoming locals and vibrant community life," says Lillian E. Dodd, a travel editor at The Hobby Kraze.

Syracuse is home to many small-town-esque diners. A local favorite is Stella's Diner, a cozy spot full of vintage signs and decor, where you can enjoy everything from a juicy burger to as many cups of steaming hot coffee as your heart desires.

"The city embraces both modernity and traditional values; it offers many local businesses, parks, and recreational areas for residents to enjoy as well as historic buildings downtown for visitors to explore," adds Dodd. "Syracuse truly provides something special for everyone."

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon skyline at night.
James Bentley Photography / Shutterstock

Portland is a known for its parks and green spaces that residents can enjoy all year round. Though it has a population of 641,000, it maintains a pretty small town feel with charming coffee shops, bike trails, and quirky boutiques scattered throughout.

"Portland, Oregon, often referred to as a 'small town,' is known for its lush green hills and forests, picturesque waterways, breweries, and its eclectic mix of cultures," says Jacob Richard, traveler expert and founder of Camera Prism. "The city has a number of attractions that make it fun to visit, such as the Multnomah Falls and the Portland Japanese Garden. Additionally, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to explore."

Portland has a handful of locally-owned boutiques that residents flock to on weekends. Zahara Boutique is a rare gem, offering women thrifty finds like vintage boots, dresses and jewelry. It's shops like these that keep Portland feeling cozy and close-knit.

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Boulder, Colorado

Aerial picture of Boulder City in autumn, Colorado, USA.
Maciej Bledowski / Shutterstock

Boulder, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is anything but cookie cutter. It stands out amongst other small cities with its outdoor attractions, plus a very walkable downtown area sprawling with locally-owned boutiques and shops. It's also home to many theaters and smaller museums that help keeps the community feeling close-knit.

The Boulder Book Store is Boulder's largest independent bookstore and a favorite amongst locals. Spend a Sunday afternoon browsing their book collection, and you may even be able to hear a local author speak at a book reading, too.

"The city has an outdoor lifestyle and feel that some may find appealing but it is also home to many popular tourist destinations," says Richard. "Boulder has a fun environment with plenty of attractions to visit. Some great places to visit are Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Boulder Creek Golf Course, and the University of Colorado."

While of course Boulder is a great place for adventure seekers, the community offers cozy spots like a local bar or cafe that feels just like home.

Madison, Wisconsin

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Madison evokes the charm and feel of a small town while giving you ample amounts of things to do, ensuring you won't ever feel bored. It has walkable parks that overlook two lakes, and the large amount of locally owned shops and boutiques that keep it feeling small and quaint.

"There are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, as well as theaters and museums," says Richard. "Additionally, the city has a large park system that includes both public and private parks."

The Dane County Farmers' Market is held every Saturday morning in the downtown square giving you a chance to shop and chat with your neighbors as you browse fresh produce and flowers. And if you're more interested in grabbing a bite to eat, Marie's Soul Food is a beloved spot to chow down on comfort food that will keep you coming back for more. Their logo, "Marie's…We'll make you feel like family" truly encompasses the Madison spirit. 

Dover, New Hampshire 

Aerial Drone Photography Of The Downtown Streets Of Dover, NH
Loud Canvas / Shutterstock

"Dover is a growing city in New England with constantly increasing popularity. As one of the most populated cities in New Hampshire, it has grown bigger than Portsmouth and is closer in size to the state's capital," says Sara Peter, owner of the blog The Restless Meanderer.

And while Dover may be growing in size, the downtown area, which is only a few streets long, maintains a small town feel. Don't worry about it feeling like you're in the middle of nowhere, because it's packed with activities to enjoy, like shopping and dining.

"There are unique attractions as well including an arcade bar, massive candy and ice cream shop with a crazy selection of foreign delicacies, and a well-known children's museum. The old mill buildings maintain the historic beginnings of the city along with the Woodman Museum" adds Peter.

Locals and tourists alike love to head to Lickey's & Chewy's Candies and Creamery when they are craving something sweet thanks to nearly 500 kinds of chocolates and candies for the whole family to enjoy. Hip Finds Co is another little Dover gem that offers everything from locally-made candles to gorgeous homemade bookmarks and wall art. It's shops like these that keep Dover feeling like a small town, instead of a city.

Dover also provides residents with beautiful parks and ponds to relax and enjoy their day with family members. If you're looking to visit, Dover is a wonderful destination to travel to, especially in the fall as the leaves change colors.

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, WIsconsin, USA downtown skyline at dusk.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Milwaukee is a walkable city that will give you the small town feel you are looking for, without having to head to the suburbs.

"The downtown area and many neighborhoods have an intimate feel that makes it easy to connect with other residents and get to know your neighbors," says Justin Crabbe, world traveler and CEO of Jettly. "It is very easy to get around in Milwaukee, as the city has ample public transportation options and many pedestrian-friendly areas."

But don't expect for Milwaukee to be a snooze fest either. This city gives residents and tourists alike a wide variety of activities, whether you want to go on a romantic date night with your partner, or enjoy a picnic by the water with your kids.

Sobelman's Pub & Grill is a locally-owned fantastic spot in the downtown area that locals love for the friendly environment and the iconic bloody Marys that will blow your mind. Odd Duck is another favorite amongst Milwaukee residents. Though small in size, this restaurant's creative cocktails and drool-worthy charcuterie boards will have you wishing you lived in Milwaukee, too.

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson is an Associate Editor at Best Life. Her work has been published in Teen Vogue, Allure, HuffPost, and more. Read more
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