Top 10 Small Towns – From Our First Year on the Road

After a year of fulltime traveling, we visited 25 states and camped at 105 locations. This week we complied a list of our favorite small towns. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons, but there’s no denying that we love coastal communities!

We hope you enjoy!

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Fairhope, Alabama 

Coordinates: 30°31′35″N 87°53′44″W

Population: 17,386

Our hometown Fairhope had to make the list, but we put it at number ten since we are fairly biased on the subject. It’s located right on Mobile Bay and offers a quieter version of the beauty offered on the Gulf Coast.The area has so many delicious places to eat that we couldn’t possibly name them all, but rest assured you will have some of the best seafood of your life. Okay, you have to try these three at least – Sunset Pointe, Warehouse Bakery, and Dragonfly Foodbar.

Scenic walks along the bay are a common past time and its no wonder, with sweeping views atop the bluffs, geese waddling around the duck pond, sunsets stretching across the water, the rose garden framing the fountain and the Fairhope Pier lined with fishing poles and and hungry pelicans. Its easy to get lost in ones thoughts and I’ve logged many hours of journal entries beneath the canopy of a large oak tree. Time unfolds in the passing of pedestrians or the slow progression of a sailboat across the horizon. Relaxing is a mandatory, but theres also a lot to do in our little town too. There are farmers markets, film festivals, live music and if you time it right, you might catch a play on the bluff, directed by Kyle’s very own sister and preformed by the talented Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre .

One of the more iconic bits of imagery for locals, is the annual Lighting of the Trees Ceremony, where on a night in mid-November, the trees come alive with glittering stands of light and illuminate the streets for the rest of the holiday season. The streets of downtown are a little bit brighter and more magical for the winter months, until the Mardis Gras festivities begin in the new year and the trees trade their lights for overthrown beads.

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Joshua Tree, California

Coordinates34°08′05″N 116°18′47″W

Population7,414

We had no idea what to expect of Joshua Tree, other than the typical tourist town outside of a National Park, but boy did we underestimate this hip little town. On our way in we stopped by The Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons died, to pay our respects. We drove into the downtown area and visited a high end vintage clothing store, some eclectic antique stores, a local art gallery and a dusty book shop. It was a treasure trove of unique finds and full of artistic flare. Not to mention all this is next to a beautiful National Park filled with beautiful rock formations and home of the uniquely and lovely Joshua Tree.

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Arivaca, Arizona

Coordinates: 31°34′38″N 111°19′53″W

Population: 909

The unassuming little town of Arivaca is situated in the rolling hills of southern Arizona, just 11 miles north of the mexican border. We fell in love with the town and the people, but maybe love was in the air, we did spend Valentines Day in this beautiful area. We camped at a little campground called La Siesta, where our camper felt right at home among all the renovated vintage campers in the park. The cute travel trailers  offered a unique getaway for those without their own and were even available to buy, if a guest became particularly smitten.

We started each morning with a cup of joe, made from local roasted coffee beans from Gadsden Coffee Co or having a breakfast at their own Cafe Aribac, with more coffee of course. We visited the community farmers market on the weekend and went on many hikes and nature walks in the area. For dinner we visited the local mexican restaurant, bar and dance hall, where we listened to great live music and ate some delicious black bean burgers. We spent our nights around campfires, listening to coyotes sing in the distance and getting to know the campers and staff at La Siesta. Time moved slowly here and we dream of slipping away to this little town to enjoy its charm once again.

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Fruita, Colorado

Coordinates39°9′N 108°43′W

 Population: 12,646

Fruita was a stop along our route where we could find some full-hookups after dry camping in Gunnison National Forest. We read the Colorado National Monument was near by and we thought it would be a decent place to stop. It turned out to be a great idea! We walked around the town and quickly found that bicycling is a BIG thing here. There were bike shops around every corner and most of the t-shirts and gear had a cycling theme. It made us really wish we had some of our own!

We browsed some cool vintage shops and found a great pet store, called Chow Down Pet Supplies, where the staff helped us find exactly what we needed for River and gave us tons of information about the different food qualities and options. For dinner we ordered two delicious pizzas from the completely solar powered pizzeria, The Hot Tomato. They cook in a traditional stone deck ovens and use fresh local ingredients. It was so good we went back for lunch the next day! We couldn’t leave until we had gone to the Colorado National Monument and we spent the day driving the scenic Rim Rock Drive and enjoyed the sweeping views of the canyons and plateaus as we twisted and turned around a western landscape of red rock and towering monoliths. We left with some stunning photos and fond memories to look back on.

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Patagonia, Arizona

Coordinates31°32′30″N 110°45′12″W

Population: 913

During our stay in Patagonia we boondocked in the beautiful Coronado National Forest, where we had the perfect little spot tucked into the mountains. A short drive down the road, put us at the trailhead to the Arizona Trail and we spent many sunny days hiking and appreciating the stunning views of the area. When we wanted a little more human interaction, we ventured into town to get a healthy lunch and great coffee at The Gathering Grounds cafe. There is a large grassy park area in the center of town where one of us would walk the dog, while the other picked up some fresh produce at the local health food store, Red Mountain Foods, right across the street. We also took turns walking into all the shops along the way and found so much beautiful local art and handcrafted items to admire. After a full day of exploring, we would retreat back to our scenic campsite and settle in to the serenity of The Coranado Forest, where the sounds of nature lulled us to sleep.

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Bisbee, Arizona 

Coordinates31°25′6″N 109°53′52″W

Population: 5575

We only spent the day exploring Bisbee, but it was enough to make us want to come back for more. This old SouthWestern town is so eclectic and artistic that it seemed to burst with life and creative energy. The homes dotted the steep mountainsides and musicians were busking on every street corner. We explored some of the most interesting antique shops and vintage stores and had a healthy lunch on the patio of a quaint little family restaurant, Ana’s Seasonal Kitchen. We learned a bit about the history of the town and gazed into the seemingly endless pit of a long abandoned mine. We would love to go back and get a more in depth experience of the life and culture that thrives there.

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Moab, Utah

Coordinates38°34′21″N 109°32′59″W

Population: 5,130

We camped at a Big Bend BLM campsite right on the Colorado River and drove about 15 minutes to the busy epicenter of this desert wonderland. With Arches a short drive from town and every imaginable recreational activity available in the area, rental shops were working non-stop, restaurants were full and grocery stores we constantly busy.

We don’t typically like tourist towns, but this one was just too cool. Tons of souvenir and outdoor shops to visit and plenty of eating options. We dined in and old jailhouse, a Tex-Mex restaurant and a healthy juice bar. We walked around town and left with new shirts with fresh iron on designs of our choosing. We hiked the most amazing and terrifying trail in Arches, complete with heart racing and vertigo, in the most enjoyable way possible. We climbed on all fours over the smooth, red rock to stand beneath the arches and look down at the tiny people and vast desert below us. There is so much to do in this town, we could come back 100 times and never have the same experience twice.

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Marquette, Michigan

Coordinates46°32′47″N 87°24′24″W

Population: 21,355

We took a lovely scenic walk around Marquette and enjoyed grassy parks, sandy beaches of Lake Superior and the cool shade of pine trees. The locals seemed to have the same idea, because everyone was out and about enjoying the sunshine. The playgrounds were full and sidewalks were busy with people strolling with dogs and children in tow.We had our last seafood meal at Thill’s Fish House, before adopting our plant based diet. Unrelated to the smoked fish we had! It was delicious and as fresh as it gets, considering the fish house is located right on the edge of the marina where the fisherman haul in their daily catch.

We drove outside of town a bit to visit the unique Lakenenland sculpture park, where junkyard art comes alive in different creatures and scenes. We took the driving tour and we’re impressed by the sheer size and number of creations crowding the dirt path. There were school buses full of children admiring these mythical metal creatures. Thanks ironworker to Tom Lakenen, our imaginations were encouraged with fun and sometimes thought provoking pieces.

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Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Coordinates44.832346°N 87.372076°W

Population: 9,144

This was another great city for walking, with tons of sidewalks and parks to roam. We explored the many shops of the downtown area and picked up some fresh bread, a blueberry scone and hot coffee from the Sunflour artisan bakery. After our caffeine boost, we walked across the Sturgeon Bay bridge to watch the ferries depart and walk around the grassy parks, overlooking the many marinas and beautiful waterfront. The city was very dog friendly and had lots of great food options to choose from. The people here were really friendly, and we look forward to a return visit.

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Frankfort, Michigan

Coordinates46°32′47″N 87°24′24″W

Population: 1,286

If you love crystal clear blue waters and lighthouses, then this is a must see town. We followed the Betsie River Trail from our campsite at Betsie River Campsite, until we ran into the town of Frankfort, where we passed sailboats and store fronts until we saw white sandy beaches and felt the spray of crashing waves on our skin. We walked along the jetty to the Pointe Betsie Lighthouse and ran with River on the beach; After a good look at Lake Michigan, we wandered back into town. We gazed into the windows of ice cream shops and inhaled the scent of decadent fudge in the air. There were a few souvenir shops with I love Michigan gear in the windows and then an array of artisianl businesses and eateries. We walked past beautiful Victorian style homes and headed back to the trail that would take us back to our tiny home.

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15 thoughts on “Top 10 Small Towns – From Our First Year on the Road

  1. I have read about your travels before. I knew you loved the Betsie River Campground, my friends Daylene and Kris own it. Frankfort is the quintessential small mid-western town. We chose to make it home. We are glad it made your list 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Frankfort is #1, once again :) | Adventures of an Innkeeper

  3. Yay, so glad you enjoyed Marquette! I grew up there and still spend summers/holidays there. Planning to take my tiny house up to that general area for a summer home if/when it becomes too small 🙂

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  4. Glad you loved our area! If you didn’t have time to visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it’s well worth another trip to our area. Good Morning America voted it as “Most Beautiful Place in America.” Fourth of July festivities and watching fireworks on the Lake Michigan beach are also a must do! Enjoy your travels!

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  5. Bonnie Andersen

    We wintered in Arivaca AZ for many years and loved the close knit community and have many friends back there.. We always went to Bisbee AZ to all the unique shops. Patagonia is another neat small town, we always enjoyed.

    A nice little town to visit is Blue Ridge Georgia. It has a train that takes you for a ride along the Toccoa River and neat shops as well and restaurants. You will like the southern charm of the town. The mountains there are just beautiful.

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    1. Glad you love those small Arizona towns as much as we do! It’s funny you say Blue Ridge, because thats where we bought our camper! It was a really pretty area, but we didn’t explore too much. We did spend a little time in Hiawassee, GA for a molded fiberglass camper rally though!

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