Small towns are my favorite. It’s a way to discover the hidden gems of America and immerse yourself in the state’s culture. These towns are bustling with activity from the birthplace of Paul Bunyan to the original gateway to Yellowstone.

According to a new report from the Smithsonian Magazine, these are the top 15 small towns to visit this year. All have a population of 25,000 or fewer, a high density of cultural offerings and natural beauty, and compelling reasons to visit in 2022. There is a small town on the list this year which is actually one of my favorites in North Carolina.

  • Seaside Small Town: Cambria, California (pop. 5,678)

    Many of Cambria’s restaurants, tasting rooms, and cafés serve olallieberry pie, which can be found at Linn’s Restaurant, and live jazz brunch can be found on Sundays at Indigo Moon, a modern American eatery with a cheese and wine shop.

  • Laid-Back Small Town: Winslow, Arizona (pop. 9,005)

    It has been 50 years since country-rock band the Eagles first released, “Take it Easy.” Its iconic line, “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” has become an American pastime. Travelers from all over the world still visit Winslow’s Standin’ on the Corner Park to snap photos with its flatbed Ford mural and a life-size statue of a man playing the guitar.

  • Resilient Small Town: Africatown, Alabama (pop. 2,000)

    A majority of the descendants of the founders still reside in and around Africatown, which is famous for its Union Missionary Baptist Church founded in the late 1800s and its Old Plateau Cemetery, where enslaved Africans and their descendants are buried, including an ally of the Buffalo Soldiers.

  • A Shark Lover's Small Town: Chatham, Massachusetts (pop. 6,594)

    Jaws, which was filmed off the coast of Cape Cod in the early 1970s, changed how beachgoers everywhere see the ocean. Almost half a century later, sharks continue to be a source of fascination along the Atlantic Coast, especially in the waters around Chatham, a charming seaside town situated at the bend of the peninsula.

  • Tropical Small Town: Everglades City, Florida (pop. 352)

    Local favorites include the casual Triad Seafood Market & Cafe, with its picnic tables right on the water, and Camellia Street Grill, which boasts a chalkboard menu and dockside location. The town offers seafood and Southern-style dishes all year round, so don’t worry if stone crab season is past.

  • Breathtaking Small Town: Cañon City, Colorado (pop. 17,141)

    The Royal Gorge is one of Colorado’s most famous natural features. It is a narrow, more than a 1,000-foot-deep canyon, acting as a bottleneck for the Arkansas River, allowing for some amazing whitewater rafting.

     

  • Festive Small Town: Bemidji, Minnesota (pop, 14,574)

    Lake Bemidji, the northernmost lake feeding the Mississippi, is the source of the city’s nickname, “The First City on the Mississippi.”. This Minnesota town is the self-proclaimed “curling capital” of the country, as well as where Paul Bunyan is said to have been born. There is an 18-foot statue of lumberjack Tom Sawyer and a blue ox, Babe, beside a lake that has been attracting kitsch-loving photographers for 85 years.

  • Artsy Small Town: Gallup, New Mexico (pop. 21,899)

    There are so many things to do in Red Rock Park, with its Anasazi ruins dating back to 300 C.E., that outdoor enthusiasts can rock climb nearby in Mentmore, mountain bike the High Desert Trail System, or hike the top of Pyramid Peak. During the Red Rock Balloon Rally, which takes place the first full weekend in December, visitors can take a scenic balloon ride over the area’s spectacular red rock scenery.

  • Quirky Small Town: Banner Elk, North Carolina (pop. 1,049)

    For lovers of dry rosés and zinfandels, tastings are available at the local wineries of the Appalachian High Country American Viticultural Area. There are plenty of hiking and downhill mountain bike trails in Banner Elk, which sits between the South’s two largest ski resorts, Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain. Beech Mountain Brewing is one of the only U.S. breweries owned and operated by a ski area in the former.

  • Pre-Historic Small Town: Chillicothe, Ohio (pop. 22,059)

    In the state’s 200-plus-year history, Chillicothe served as Ohio’s capital twice as it is located on Ohio’s Scioto River in the Appalachian foothills. Of course, its history as a human settlement dates back much further. In the Shawnee language, the word Chillicothe, or Chalahgawtha, means “principal town,” the name of the chief settlement of the Shawnee tribes.

  • Nautical Small Town: Newport, Rhode Island (pop. 25,163)

    The town of Newport, known as the “City by the Sea,” has a long history of sailing, which is not surprising given the town’s waterfront location on Aquidneck Island. It was even announced this May that the Sailing Museum would open, offering a long-awaited multimedia experience featuring six exhibits that appeal to yacht enthusiasts as well as experienced sailors.

  • Fossil-Hunting Small Town: Ste. Genevieve, Missouri (pop. 4,999)

    You can get old-fashioned scoops of butter pecan and chocolate milkshakes at local landmark Sara’s Ice Cream, which uses a vintage 1929 Bastian-Blessing milkshake fountain. Enjoy pots of Darjeeling tea and crustless salmon and cucumber bites at Quintessential Rivertown Spice & Tea, housed in a historic home built in three distinct phases beginning in 1807.

  • Historic Small Town: Cape May, New Jersey (pop. 2,768)

    This stunning Victorian shore community is situated at New Jersey’s southernmost point and once served as a guide for Black enslaved laborers to freedom. This was one of my favorite places to visit. Cape May’s pedestrian mall lined with boutiques and cozy eateries, as well as the center for booking activities ranging from trolley tours of the Historic District to candlelight house tours during the holidays.

  • Literary Small Town: Livingston, Montana (pop. 8,040)

    In the late 19th century, Livingston was formed as a Northern Pacific Railway service stop and soon became known as the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park.” The railroad used this moniker to draw East Coast visitors, and it was a good strategy because the historic town is just 55 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. I am so bummed I didn’t visit this place when I went to Yellowstone in 2019.

     

  • Museum-Rich Small Town: Cartersville, Georgia (pop. 23,187)

    As a gateway to the Atlanta metro area as well as the beauty of the north Georgia mountains, Cartersville is an ideal destination for both culture and outdoor enthusiasts. There are three Smithsonian Affiliate museums in this small town as well: The Booth Museum, which displays works of Civil War art, Native American artifacts, and a replica of the Apollo I capsule; the Tellus Science Museum, which houses a variety of hands-on exhibits; and the new Savoy Automobile Museum.