THE 15 BEST VILLAGES TO GO TO IN 2021-PART 2
Perhaps even more than ever before now is a time to value America’s small towns. As we begin to see the opposite of a pandemic that maintained many of us isolated, it is much easier to recognize the value in those points we’ve missed out on. Whether it’s by enjoying an outdoor summer season concert with next-door neighbors or by overtaking good friends at the local brewpub, a feeling of the neighborhood has been hard to discover for lots of; Zoom and also FaceTime created adequate, virtual, yet they don’t compare to the actual thing.
It’s those in-person communications with acquainted faces that make tiny communities so attractive. That is, together with the independent stores, hidden treasure parklands, historical websites as well as design, special dining establishment discovers, and, of course, a slower pace of life and family member affordability that countless city dwellers are discovering a growing number of enticing.
Luckily, many of America’s villages are arising from the results of Covid-19 resilient and prepared to invite visitors. Some, like Dyersville, Iowa, are ultimately organizing long-anticipated sporting events that the pandemic positioned on hold. Others, such as Council Grove, Kansas, are commemorating historical wedding anniversaries. Whatever the case, the 15 locations we have actually picked as the most effective small towns to go to in 2021 are prime examples of perseverance and preservation, and reminders of all that we like concerning towns in the first place.
Towns of America: we have actually missed discovering your roads, perusing your shops, and finding your history. Many thanks for sticking to us. We prepare to return the favor.
Goshen, New York (pop. 5,344)
This summer, Goshen welcomes the opening of LEGOLAND New York, a combined theme park and resort where you can construct, climb, ride and splash, and then bed down in a LEGO-themed hotel. However, the town itself has a much larger history.
Goshen sits among the East Coast’s black dirt farming region, roughly 26,000 acres of extremely fertile soil leftover from an ancient glacier lake. It’s also a part of New York’s scenic Hudson Valley and the seat of Orange County: an area ripe with rolling hills, orchards, and farmland, not to mention one steeped in equine culture.
In fact, Goshen is known as the “Trotting Capital of the World.” The town’s historic half-mile harness racing track, opened in 1838, is the oldest active horse trotting track on the planet, as well as the oldest continuously operated horse racing track in the country. Informal horse races even took place along Goshen’s Main Street as early as the mid-1700s.
The local Harness Racing Museum offers a deep dive into local harness-racing history with tens of thousands of associated artifacts, including a vast collection of Currier and Ives trotting prints. Its Hall of Fame is a who’s who among the sport, including those like Artsplace, the fifth-leading money-winning pacing sire of all time, and racetrack designer Charles E. “Chuck” Coon, whose innovative ideas helped increase both safety and speed.
Goshen is home to a charming Main Street where you’ll find family-owned businesses like Joe Fix Its, a bicycle and ice skating shop that’s been a fixture since 1946. The downtown area also has ample spots to snack and eat, including the casual Howell’s Café, Café Yen (where cups of iced caramel macchiatos are the norm), and Catherine’s Restaurant, an American eatery that offers both a more formal white-cloth dining experience and a low-key, brick-walled pub.
The Stagecoach Inn—a former 18th-century stagecoach stop that’s been fully renovated into a five-star inn and tavern-style restaurant—is Goshen’s de-facto place for special occasions.
Visitors and locals alike can pick up bottles of kombucha and homemade beef jerky at the weekly Goshen Farmer’s Market, Fridays late May through October, or set out on foot or bicycle along the Heritage Trail, an 18-mile rail-to-trail connecting various Orange County villages on the converted bed of the former Erie Railroad.
Nevada City, California (pop. 3,144)
With its Victorian-era homes, balconied 19th-century structures, and the main street lined with gas street lamps (the only ones still operating west of the Mississippi), Nevada City looks like something straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie. No surprise, since it was the actual locale for Hallmark’s 2006 film, The Christmas Card, and still draws thousands of the movie’s fans from coast-to-coast, especially during its annual December Victorian Christmas celebration, complete with costumed carolers, arts and crafts stalls, and plenty of mulled wine.
This well-preserved Gold Rush town is also the gateway to northern California’s Tahoe National Forest, 871,495 acres of pine, oak, and fir trees, rivers, and lakes where activities like fishing and snowshoeing are all par for the course.
Gold Rush history permeates Nevada City, which was originally settled as a mining camp in 1849. The National Exchange Hotel, an 1856 Victorian brick property that’s also one of the oldest continuously operating hotels west of the Rockies, underwent a massive renovation. Now reopened, this historic 38-guest-room treasure pairs vintage furnishings with modern amenities (think electric kettles and Italian linens).
Of course, visitors can also get a feel for the place by sipping libations in its National Bar, or dining on plates of cabbage cassoulet at its new restaurant Lola, named for the famed entertainer, dancer, and former Nevada County resident Lola Montez.
Opened in 1865, Nevada City’s Nevada Theatre is a space for live performances, art, and films that is also the oldest continuously operating theatre venue along the U.S. West Coast. Literary luminaries Mark Twain and Jack London even appeared here on stage during the late 19th century. Local entertainment hits its pinnacle in late summer with the town’s annual Nevada City Film Festival, which is now in its 21st year.
Nevada City’s downtown shop offerings range from longtime purveyor Utopian Stone, with its one-of-a-kind gemstone necklaces, to the travel-inspired goods (including Mexican Dia de Los Muertos figurines and Bali batik fabrics) of Shiva Moon. For locally made body wash or a field guide to the Sierra Nevadas, swing by KitKitDizzi. Wine tasting rooms and spots to satisfy your sweet tooth abound, including the old-timey Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe known for its creamy and crunchy slices of Nevada City Gold.
Gold panning in Nevada County rivers remains a popular pastime, but so too is mountain biking and hiking. Cyclists test their jumps and skills on the Hoot Trail, singletrack that winds through forest and along ridge-lined switchbacks, before refueling on locally brewed draft beers and burgers at The Wheelhouse, occupying an old telegraph office on Highway 20.
The multi-use 3.2 mile Deer Creek Tribute Trail, beginning in downtown Nevada City, highlights the history of both the local Chinese immigrants and the native Nisenan people, Nevada County’s original inhabitants.
Bath, Maine (pop. 8,319)
Bath is known as the “City of Ships,” a center of nautical history that was once a major supplier of 19th-century sailing vessels. These days it’s the home of naval shipbuilders, Bath Iron Works, as well as Maine’s First Ship, a local nonprofit currently reconstructing Virginia, a 51-foot-long replica of the first English ship built in the Americas (in 1607), for use as a floating classroom.
Originally planning to launch this year, the more-than-a-decade-long project has been delayed due to Covid, and is rescheduled for spring 2022. Bath is also where you’ll find the Maine Maritime Museum, a 20-acre campus on the banks of the Kennebec River that features boat-building demos, exhibits like the newly renovated “Snow Squall: An American Clipper,” and even the restored Percy & Small Shipyard, America’s only surviving wooden shipyard site. The museum offers lighthouse and nature cruises, including one for “mini mariners” 12-and-under, throughout the summer.
But while shipbuilding remains a prominent part of Bath’s lure, the small town has plenty more to offer, such as a downtown historic district filled with architectural treasures, from Queen Anne-style manors to Federal and Greek-Revival civic buildings. Now in its 50th year, Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., is dedicated to preserving and maintaining this structural heritage. To celebrate their Golden Jubilee, the organization is hosting a walking tour of the city’s hidden gardens, June 19.
This year also marks two decades since Main Street Bath came onto the scene, breathing new life (and bringing economic security) into the downtown commercial district. This includes the annual summer concert series, a series of outdoor performances ranging from jazz ensembles to Fleetwood Mac tribute bands that Main Street Bath puts together in collaboration with the town’s Chocolate Church Arts Center, named for its chocolatey brown exterior.
Today you’ll also find spots like the Bath Brewing Company, where house-brewed IPAs and Irish Reds come served alongside plates of bacon-topped cheese fries and short rib sliders. Other dining options include Bruno’s, with its wood-fired specialty pizzas, and local stalwart J.R. Maxwell & Company, known for its beer-batter-fried seafood and weekend prime rib special. If it’s Whoopie pies and pecan sticky buns you’re after, you can’t go wrong at Bath’s landmark Mae’s Cafe and Bakery, which also serves breakfast all day.
For nature lovers, Bath is home to Kennebec Estuary and its five-mile-long, multi-use Whiskeag Trail. Both bald eagles and amphibians enjoy the mixed woods and freshwater marshes of Thorne Head Preserve, while nearby Reid State Park is known for its sandy beaches, coastal dunes, and island views.
Brevard, North Carolina (pop. 7,609)
The great outdoors remains a key part of traveling safely during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is good news for Brevard. That’s because alfresco adventure is at the heart of this small western North Carolina town and its surrounding Transylvania County.
This is where the original Hunger Games was filmed, after all.
Brevard’s nickname, “Land of Waterfalls,” is well-earned, thanks to more than 250 cascades in the area. These include Sliding Rock, a glistening 60-foot natural waterslide that empties itself into a seven-foot-deep swimming hole, attracting daredevils galore each summer.
Brevard is also the gateway to more than half a million acres of stunning wilderness known as Pisgah National Forest and within easy driving distance to Gorges State Park and DuPont State Recreational Forest, a major mountain biking hub in the southeast. The area offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and water activities, such as fly fishing and whitewater rafting, in the upper French Broad River—one of the oldest rivers on the planet.
But beyond these usual suspects, Brevard offers a rare adventure that begs us to try after the year we’ve had: river snorkeling. Biologists leading outings with Oxbow River Snorkeling will be sure to point out species like river redhorse, central stone rollers, and elusive eastern hellbender salamanders.
As with nature, Brevard and music go hand-in-hand. Last year, the town’s prestigious Brevard Music Center (BMC), a summer training institute for young musicians, who during their tenure also get to perform alongside world-famous musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perman, debuted its new lakeside Parker Concert Hall. Due to the pandemic, however, the hall’s inaugural series will kick off this October with a performance by the Jasper String Quartet.
Each September, the town draws tens of thousands of visitors with its Mountain Song Festival, a two-day acoustic line-up of everything from bluegrass and newgrass (modern bluegrass) to folk and jazz.
The area-based Steep Canyon Rangers—known for their collaborations with actor/banjoist Steve Martin—are the festival’s host band. Local singers and bands perform year-round at downtown’s 185 King Street, a chill music hall serving up sandwiches and pouring pints of Brevard’s own Noblebräu beer.
Other town highlights include the Art Deco-style Co-Ed Cinema, a 1930s single-screen theater showing first-run films, and the colorful O.P. Taylor’s toy store, sporting over 6,000-square-feet of action figures, board games, and more. Of course, Brevard’s white squirrels (legend has it they’re descendants of two 1949 carnival escapees) are an attraction all their own.
Pimento cheese sandwiches and chocolate banana shakes are the norms at Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop, Brevard’s original 1940s-era soda fountain, and eatery, while The Hub and Pisgah Tavern is the go-to place for mountain bike rentals, as well as pales and ales accompanied by a rotating array of food trucks. And weary heads rest at Brevard’s Red House Inn, a lovingly renovated B&B located within what was once a general store.
Dyersville, Iowa (pop. 4,130)
In the 1989 blockbuster film, Field of Dreams, Ray Liotta’s character, Shoeless Joe Jackson, asks Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella, “Is this Heaven?”
“No,” replies Kinsella. “It’s Iowa.”
More specifically, Dyersville, Iowa. Thirty-plus years later, fans of the movie, baseball, perseverance, and passion are still flocking to this Midwest locale to visit the world-famous Field of Dreams movie site. Here, you can run the bases, touring the Lansing Family Farm House (which served as the Kinsella family home in the film and is also available for overnight rentals), and shop for movie-themed bobbleheads and activewear at the Baseballism store.
This summer, Dyersville will also play host to the first-ever regular-season Major League Baseball game in the state of Iowa: The MLB at Field of Dreams Game Presented by GEICO, an August 12 match between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. It will take place just over from the original Field of Dreams site on a specially constructed, regulation-size field.
Baseball is undoubtedly a beacon in this largely agricultural town, even attracting youth leagues who compete here each summer through a collaboration between All-Star Ballpark Heaven and the Baseball Factory, a company that helps promote student-athletes. Those who visit through October can also visit Dyersville’s seasonal downtown exhibit “If You Build It,” highlighting the making of the film.
However, the town didn’t earn its “Farm Toy Capital of the World” title for nothing. Not only is Dyersville home to multiple farm toy manufacturers, but it’s also where you’ll find the National Farm Toy Museum, with tens of thousands of farm toys, including John Deere tractors and Bruder trucks, on display. Other local attractions include the Victorian-housed Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum, and the Becker Woodcarving Museum, showcasing works of the late Iowa carver, Jack Becker, ranging from eight-foot-tall grandfather clocks to hand-carved chess sets.
Dyersville’s Basilica of St. Francis Xavier is a more than 125-year-old Gothic Revival-style structure that’s one of only two basilicas in Iowa. It’s known for its dazzling array of stained glass windows. For those who prefer shopping, Plaza Antique Mall stocks classic advertising prints, sports memorabilia, and the varied finds of more than 200 dealers.
The multiuse Heritage Trail, runs for 26 miles between Dyersville and Dubuque, showcasing Iowa’s mill town and mining heritage en route. All this sightseeing is sure to stir up your appetite too. Textile Brewery dishes out gourmet pretzels and cauliflower crust flatbreads, along with site-brewed beers like black ales and oatmeal stouts, all in the space of a former sewing factory.