Sometimes you just have to get away for a reset and some fresh scenery. It isn’t always possible to fly off to Cancún — but you can certainly hop in the car and escape for a day or two. These charming towns across America are only a short drive from a major city and boast art galleries, antique shops, parks, restaurants, museums, and nature trails to entertain you for a weekend. So pack a lunch, gas up the car, and check out some of the loveliest little towns in America.
North of San Francisco and Oakland (about 90 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, to be exact) and tucked away in scenic Sonoma County, is the town of Healdsburg. Start at the central plaza of this charming, tree-lined hamlet to enjoy live music, other entertainment performances, and a recurring open farmers market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Along the plaza and the streets that feed into it, you’ll discover a collection of walkable boutiques, gourmet grocery stores and bakeries, wine tasting rooms, and acclaimed restaurants that epitomize iconic farm-to-table California cuisine.
Lovers of art and antiques will have plenty of browsing options and there are spas aplenty for pampering. The outskirts of this idyllic little town impress as well. Naturally, you’ll want to explore seemingly countless destination wineries and taste acclaimed pinot noirs and chardonnays, but you also shouldn’t miss the scenic hiking in the Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve or kayaking on the Russian River.
St. Augustine, FL
Florida is more famous for its luxury beach condos and world-renowned golf courses than its rich history — but a visit to St. Augustine is a step back in time. Recognized as one of the country’s oldest European-established permanent settlements, the waterfront city offers spectacular 18th and 19th-century, Moorish-style structures inspired by Spanish-colonial architecture. Start with a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a bayfront fortress that anchors Old City. Next, hit Aviles Street — the oldest street in the country — for quirky shopping and art.
Beyond history, the town offers incredible nightlife and restaurants as well as a world-class distillery. Of course, Florida’s gorgeous, white-sand beaches are a quick drive from downtown. And a must for art and design aficionados is the eclectic Lightner Museum, housed in a former hotel that dates back to 1888. The best part is that it’s all just an hour from Jacksonville and only about two hours from Orlando.
Just a stone’s throw east of the Mississippi River is the quirky mining town of Galena — a charming, cobblestoned hamlet featuring historic mansions, independent shops, restaurants, and an Italianate house that once belonged to former President Ulysses S. Grant. The home is open for tours, so start there, or check out the Galena History Museum. Nearby, check out a working blacksmith shop and the Old Market House — a restored, Greek-Revival building that once housed the town hall and now operates as a visitor’s center.
Don’t miss the free trolley rides for a fun vantage point of the idyllic village. And on the outskirts of town, be sure to check out plenty of antique stores, historic cemeteries, a sculpture park, and Horseshoe Mound — a 40-acre preserve offering winding paths and views stretching to Iowa and Wisconsin. Nearby, you’ll also find a ski resort and a handful of vineyards. And it’s all under three hours from Chicago or Des Moines (and a quick 30 minutes from Dubuque).
Abita Springs, LA
A quick hour north of New Orleans is the town of Abita Springs. At the turn of the 20th century, the town — which hugs the banks of Lake Pontchartrain — was famous for hosting New Orleanians seeking a respite from the city. The newcomers, who came for the area’s healing waters, stayed in colorful, Victorian hotels with broad, wraparound porches.
Years later, Abita Springs now features a thriving arts community and a collection of former hotels and rooming houses that have been restored and reinvented as private homes, restaurants, and inns. Wandering the quaint town is a pleasure — it’s anchored by a historic fountain, lush gardens, and majestic pine trees. Visitors will want to check out the local Abita Brewery, the Abita Springs Opry, and a downtown strip of art galleries and shops. For adventurous visitors, exploring Tammany Trace is a must — it’s a 31-mile biking and hiking trail located on decommissioned railroad tracks.
About two hours up the Hudson River from Manhattan, you’ll find the artsy town of Hudson. Walkable and charming, Hudson is famous for its terrific array of shops selling antiques, vintage apparel, art, and oddities. Start on the main drag of Warren Street for shopping, a broad selection of restaurants, pubs, and cafés, and a charming assortment of restored, Victorian, Colonial, and Federal-style architecture dating to the 19th century. Hudson was once the fourth-largest city in New York since it was originally a bustling port and whaling city and later a thriving industrial center — so the architecture is impressive for such a small town.
Off Warren Street, make sure you check out Henry Hudson Riverfront Park for sweeping river views as well as the Antique Warehouse, which boasts 40,000 square feet of vintage wares curated by dozens of different vendors. Further afield, there is a museum dedicated to firefighting, the charming Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, and countless opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing along the river and throughout the Catskill Mountains.
Just an hour northeast of Savannah and 90 minutes southwest of Charleston is one of the loveliest towns in the South Carolina Lowcountry. If you’ve seen Forrest Gump(1994) starring Tom Hanks, the city of Beaufort might look familiar since parts of the movie were filmed there. Located on Port Royal Island, Beaufort is a quiet enclave dotted with historic Antebellum homes and grand oak trees draped in Spanish moss. The town is best enjoyed by horse-drawn carriage tours downtown.
The small town’s history is a major draw — Beaufort is one of the oldest towns in South Carolina and history buffs will want to check out several forts as well as the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park’ and the Penn Center, which both offer opportunities to learn about the Gullah culture of emancipated slaves who settled in the area after the Civil War. Outside of town, explore the pristine beaches at Hunting Island State Park and hike or canoe the region’s peaceful barrier islands, inlets, and salt marshes. Anglers and seafood lovers will relish both incredible fishing and top-notch oysters and crabs.
This other Nashville — in Indiana, not Tennessee — is more about art and nature than music (although the long-running Earl Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Music Festival is held nearby). The town is only two hours from Cincinnati, one hour from Indianapolis, and a quick 30 minutes from Bloomington, Indiana. You can visit the home, studio, and garden of American Impressionist painter, T.C. Steele, as well as the Brown County Art Gallery — a collective and exhibition space for Indiana artists.
Outside of town, which also features a host of great restaurants, a playhouse, and art galleries, there’s a haunted hotel with a Prohibition-era bar called the Story Inn, as well as the Brown County Winery that offers tastings. As for nature, visitors can explore thousands of acres across both Yellowwood State Forest and Brown County State Park, which both offer mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, hike, canoeing, and even panning for gold.
Visiting the quintessential American Main Street of Berlin, Maryland couldn’t be easier. The historic town, which features over 40 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, is just two hours from Wilmington, Delaware and Annapolis, Maryland; an hour from Dover, Delaware; and just west of Ocean City, Maryland. So charming is this small town of handsome brick buildings, it was the backdrop for both Runaway Bride (1999) and Tuck Everlasting (2002).
The Main Street shopping district features dozens of independent stores, including antique shops, bakeries, and art galleries near the restored Atlantic Hotel, a Victorian inn with a lively bistro and bar. Once you’re tired of shopping, take a guided walking tour that explores Berlin’s local history or its haunted past. The strip also hosts a farmers market and a monthly art walk with open-air exhibits, music, murals, and vendors. Horse lovers take note — the wild ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague are just south of town.
Bartlesville — a destination for architecture fans — is under an hour from Tulsa and a bit over two hours from Oklahoma City and Wichita. The town is home to the Price Tower — legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only realized skyscraper. Built in 1956, the stunning tower is only 19 stories tall. But in the midst of the Oklahoma prairie, in a small city like Bartlesville, it seems to soar. The building offers incredible views, guided architecture tours, a 16th-floor gallery space showcasing art and design exhibits, a hotel, and a lovely restaurant on the 15th floor.
Bartlesville was also the birthplace of Phillips Petroleum (of Phillips 66 fame). The Phillips Company now owns the Price Tower, and the estate of one of the company’s founders, Frank Phillips, is now the Woolaroc, a wildlife preserve covering 3,700 acres and museum featuring a renowned collection of Native American art and artifacts celebrating America’s western expansion.
Bell Buckle, TN
The unofficial snack combo of the American South is a MoonPie washed down with an RC Cola. Though the chocolate-dipped, graham cracker-and-marshmallow treat hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the soft drink was born in Columbus, Georgia, the best way to celebrate the pair is in the little town of Bell Buckle. Just an hour from Nashville, this charming, frozen-in-time hamlet hosts a festival celebrating the iconic combo each June, with a parade, crafts, music, and the carving of the world’s largest MoonPie.
The rest of the year offers its charms as well; this Victorian village features numerous stores selling antiques and oddities, boutiques, sweets shops, and a general store. One favorite is the Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor, where you can enjoy front porch rocking chairs and passing trains with malts and sundaes. Bell Buckle’s iconic street art depicts a quilt painted right on the pavement. For dinner, check out the handful of downhome restaurants serving southern specialties including barbecue, dumplings, and fried chicken.
Offering more than just Princeton University, the idyllic town of Princeton, New Jersey, is just 90 minutes from New York City and under an hour from Philadelphia. Palmer Square is the beating heart of the town — featuring a charming greenspace surrounded by upscale shops, independent boutiques, and a collection of coffee houses, ice-cream parlors, and restaurants housed in Federal and Tudor-style buildings. Across the street, visitors can explore Princeton University’s lush campus. Don’t miss taking a walk among the stately, ivy-clad, Georgian and Gothic-style buildings, a tour of the university’s impressive art collection, or getting a glimpse of the rose garden.
McCarter Theatre is an impressive spot to catch a play or concert, and history buffs will want to check out the Revolutionary War battlegrounds both in town and in nearby Trenton along the Delaware River. Outside of town, visit one of a handful of orchards or organic farms for apples or local cheese, or drive up to Duke Farms, a horticultural, agricultural, and sustainability research center, as well as a bucolic spot for bikers and hikers to explore.
La Conner, WA
Under two hours from Tacoma and just over an hour from Seattle is the charming, waterfront town of La Conner. Aside from scenic views, this town is a collector’s paradise. Shop arts and crafts galleries and antiques and decor shops for locally made art, gifts, quilts, and craft supplies. Flower lovers will also want in; La Conner is located in Skagit County, the country’s leading producer of daffodil, tulip, and iris bulbs. Outside of town look for fields bursting with the spring blossoms with majestic Mount Baker in the background. It’s no surprise that the little town hosts festivals for daffodils in March and tulips in April.
Otherwise, this hamlet is home to three great museums celebrating the art of the Pacific Northwest, quilting and the fiber arts, and the area’s local history. The restaurant scene offers incredible Pacific seafood. Hop a ferry to the San Juan Islands, where you can hike a series of preserves or check out the San Juan Island National Historic Park.
Harpers Ferry, W.VA
Just over an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, is the tiny town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. A history lover’s dream, you’ll want to begin your visit at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which spans Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland and encompasses Civil War-era forts, a living history blacksmith shop and dry goods store, multiple museums, and a cemetery.
In town, check out John Brown’s Fort, a former firehouse and the site of a Civil War raid, and explore a towpath along the historic canal bed or join a haunted Harpers Ferry ghost tour. For nature lovers, the Appalachian Trail runs through the area and there are several parks and preserves where visitors can hunt and fish, hike and bike, bird watch, and explore the rivers while tubing or kayaking. Wine lovers will want to visit nearby vineyards; many of the local orchards offer treats, shopping, and tours.