The 10 Quirkiest Small Towns in the U.S.
STRAY FROM THE ORDINARY WITH THESE EXPERT-RECOMMENDED OFFBEAT DESTINATIONS.
Visiting a small town that feels like Main Street USA is certainly lovely, but adding a little offbeat charm to your travels has its own appeal. If you're looking to shake things up while still staying away from big cities, we consulted travel experts to get their picks on the best eccentric destinations to add to your bucket list. From an actual Truman Show town to a community built around the "Mothman" to a 1,000-year-old adobe village, these locales have a little something for everyone. Read on to learn about the 10 quirkiest small towns in the U.S.
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In Southern Alaska, halfway between Anchorage and the foothills of Denali National Park, is Talkeetna, a turn-of-the-century gold mining town that is often travelers' starting point for hiking to the top of Denali.
"The 1990s hit show Northern Exposure was purported to be inspired by it," notes Jocelyn Xamis Wolters, a preservationist and co-founder of the travel site Wolters World.
Visually, Talkeetna has all the makings of a funky little hamlet, including "log cabins, a roadhouse, and clapboard storefronts," according to Visit Alaska. The popular Nagley's Store (pictured above), a general store that opened back in 1921, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But it's the happenings in this town that really bring the quirk factor. "Besides being the only town whose mayor (Mayor Stubbs) [was] a cat (yes, you read that right), Talkeetna is also known for its Moose Dropping Festival," shares Wolters. "During the festival, onlookers from near and far gather to guess where the moose dung will land when flung from a helicopter. Visitors also have the chance to purchase their very own varnished moose dropping in the form of jewelry or other decorative objects!"
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Pristine white buildings all lined up in a row, visitors riding on pastel-colored bicycles, charming beachside boutiques—this might sound idyllic, not quirky, right? But what if we told you it's The Truman Show? Literally.
Seaside, Florida "is known for being the perfect 'American dream' town, and in the late 90s, it was the live filming set for [the movie] starring Jim Carrey," shares Roshni Patel, travel blogger at The Wanderlust Within.
"The quirkiest aspect of the town has to be its white picket fences. Every one of them is unique, so no two houses can have the same picket fence," Patel says. "Must-see sites include the all-white Chapel church, the picturesque post office, [and] the rows of pastel-colored beach houses." And adding to the ambiance are the white sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
When you get hungry, another fun thing to do is visit "Food Truck Row," a collection of permanent airstream trailers that serve up a variety of different eats.
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Taos, New Mexico
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In 1915, a group of six male artists from the East Coast founded the Taos Society of Artists, which is today one of the oldest artist colonies in the country. Art galleries and local artisans abound here: "You'll find beautiful tin and wood items, pottery, ceramics, and much more," according to Visit Taos. The tourism agency also calls out their world-famous Native American drums and moccasins, as well as authentic packaged food items like spicy noodles, chile powder, and piñon nuts.
For a culture fix, Xamis Wolters says not to miss the "historic Pueblo ruins that are UNESCO world heritage sites." According to the village's website, "the multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years." Though nearly 2,000 Taos Indians live here today, you can still visit, take a tour, and shop at the residents' small shops.
Another big attraction is the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, a Spanish Colonial adobe church constructed in 1816. Because of its unique architecture, it's been photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O'Keeffe.
Finally, Xamis Wolters suggests visiting the Taos Earthships for a truly quirky experience. Founded nearly 50 years ago by architect Mike Reynolds and Earthship Biotecture, this 600-acre, off-grid community only relies on wind and solar power and was built entirely with natural or recycled materials. With their futuristic design, the homes really look like spaceships.
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Be sure to pack comfortable shoes if you're heading to Jerome; it's considered the most vertical town in the U.S.! "This small town in Arizona is built on the side of a cliff. The town is so vertical that the streets are staircases," notes Matt James, founder of the travel blog Visitingly.
The former copper mining town once had the nickname "the wickedest town in the West," according to Visit Arizona, which explains that Jerome has made a name for itself as a tourist destination because it "serves up its history with a side of humor." You can find an old bordello that's now a burger joint, or stop by the supposedly haunted Connor Hotel.
Jerome is also known for its eclectic mix of vintage shops, wine and beer tasting rooms, and the placards throughout town that share historic tidbits. For some outdoor adventure, head to Jerome State Historic Park, where you can tour the Douglas Mansion, a sprawling adobe residence that was built in 1916 by a copper scion.
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Bangor fits the quirky bill for two "Maine" reasons. First, it's "home to a giant Paul Bunyan statue marking his supposed birthplace," notes Agnes Groonwald, the founder of Travel on the Reg. According to the Greater Bangor CVB, the town's location on the Penobscot River made it the "lumber capital of the world" for most of the 19th century. Though there are other Bunyan statues in the country, this one is 31 feet tall and is said to be the largest.
Maybe you remember this statue from Stephen King's novel It? That's because the second reason Bangor is famous is as the home to the great writer. While King no longer lives here, "that doesn't stop his biggest fans from drive-bys of the old Victorian that was his home for over 35 years," says Groonwald. She explains that the house will soon be turned into a writer's retreat and archive run by the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.
If fiction isn't your thing, there's still plenty to see and do in Bangor. Head to Bangor City Forest and walk along the Orono Bog Boardwalk; stroll through the downtown area for shopping, museums, and live entertainment; or take a spin on an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter.
Beaufort, North Carolina
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At first glance, Beaufort is a quintessential nautical destination. "This coastal town features idyllic shops filled with luxurious treasures, restaurants that embrace 'dock-to-dish' and use local seafood in all of their meals [and] gorgeous historic homes," a representative for the town tells Best Life. Stroll along the boardwalk, and you'll see yachts lined up, some docked to take in live music at one of the waterfront restaurants. And along Main Street, you'll find everything from kitschy t-shirt shops to ice cream parlors making their own waffle cones.
However, "lurking underneath Beaufort's quaint surface is actually 300 years of pirate history—most notably, Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, sunk right off the coast," the representative shares. "There are hundreds of diveable shipwrecks dotted along the coast, giving the entire Crystal Coast the nickname of a 'wreck diver's dream.'" Not into diving? Have a fun time exploring this pirate history aboard a pirate boat tour.
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La Pointe, Wisconsin
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"La Pointe, Wisconsin is by far the most quirky small town I have ever visited in the U.S.," says Larry Snider, VP of operations at Casago Vacation Rentals. "It's geographically quirky, as the whole town is an island on Lake Superior."
Reachable via a ferry to the larger Madeline Island, La Pointe offers visitors the chance to see and experience "wildflowers, black bears, deer, fox, and the majestic shores of Lake Superior," says Snider. It's also close to Big Bay State Park, famous for its sandstone bluffs.
But Snider says it's the incredibly small-town feel (there are just 300 year-round residents) that's really unique: "The people and businesses on the island are what make this city so memorable. The bars, galleries, and restaurants are absolutely filled with fun local specialties and good hospitality." Do note that in the summer, the population grows to about 1,500 people, but that doesn't displace the local charm.
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
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For lovers of paranormal activity, this little West Virginia town on the Ohio River has some quirky personality. "There was a Mothman panic in Point Pleasant in 1966 based on sightings of red-eyed, winged creatures," explains Xamis Wolters. "Today, the town is home to the Mothman Museum, as well as the annual Mothman Festival."
The museum showcases ephemera from the sightings and the 1964 Silver Bridge disaster. It also claims to have the "largest collection of props and memorabilia from the movie The Mothman Prophecies." But if you want to attend the festival, you'll have to plan your trip for September. "People from all over the world gather around our charming Main Street to celebrate their favorite cryptid," the festival site notes.
For something more subdued, the quaint main street of Point Pleasant looks like an early 20th-century postcard, complete with mom-and-pop shops, friendly restaurants, and even a vintage movie theater.
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Head down to the Great Smoky Mountains to visit this small town that feels like it "belongs in Hallmark movies," according to Brittany Mendez, travel expert and CMO of FloridaPanhandle.com. The town is located just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so it's developed into a bit of a tourist destination with a "flare for theatrics and attractions."
"Not only will you find several thrilling attractions like SkyLifts and Go Kart Racing along the main strip of the road, but you'll also get to experience dinner shows, oddity museums, and moonshine tastings," shares Mendez.
You can also travel to the top of Anakeesta Mountain via the world's only fixed-grip Chondola, climb the 86 steps to the top of the AnaVista Observation Tower, or take part in a treehouse adventure course.
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Jacksonville is a former Gold Rush town that feels like stepping back in time. "It's a historic town that has preserved its original architecture and has some amazing restaurants, saloons (yes, saloons!), cafes, and old advertising on the traditional brick walled buildings," explains Adam Marland, travel photographer and writer for We Dream of Travel.
This town is also a great stop for antiquing, with several stores housed in quaint cottages clustered together.
If you're looking to make it a longer trip, Jacksonville is home to the Woodland Trails and Forest Park. It's also an hour-and-a-half from Crater Lake National Park and is near the Applegate Wine Trail. In the summer, Marland says not to miss the Britt Music & Arts Festival.