The Most Charming Small Towns in the Southwest

These are the best small towns in the American Southwest.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico are the six mighty states that make up the American Southwest. Though the moniker “American Southwest” might bring up some one-note images — say, Clint Eastwood with a cigar dangling from his mouth, muttering moodily as he walks through saloon doors — the region is not all about ranchers and cacti. In fact, many different landscapes exist in this beautiful and historic swath of America. To understand what it’s really like, you’ll have to plan a visit, and while large cities might be tourist hotspots, there’s just as much charm in the region’s more rural areas. Here are the best small towns in the American Southwest, each a destination in its own right.

Idyllwild, California

<p>Matt Gush/Getty Images</p>

Matt Gush/Getty Images

This mountain town offers no ski resorts, lakes, or chain restaurants, and that’s part of the appeal. Come here to kick back under tall pines and cedars and explore the trails around Idyllwild Nature Center and beyond. Grab a beer at Idyllwild Brewpub, relive your childhood with a pizza from low-key pie parlor Idyllwild Pizza Company, or grab snacks and treats at the Idyllwild Village Market.

Joshua Tree, California

<p>Mariah Tyler/Travel + Leisure</p>

Mariah Tyler/Travel + Leisure

If you blink, you might miss the little stretch of desert town that is Joshua Tree, built along Twentynine Palms Highway (a rough northern border for Joshua Tree National Park). This land is beautiful and otherworldly, thanks to its curious-looking namesake yucca plant. Exploring the national park is a true treat — hike Boy Scout Trail or Barker Dam — but so is walking the town, which has a charming-yet-bereft Western vibe. Stop for sandwiches and treats at Natural Sisters Cafe, coffee at Joshua Tree Coffee Company, and for dinner, hit up Pie for the People or Sam’s Indian Food and Pizza.

Ojai, California

<p>Julio Cardona/EyeEm/Getty Images</p>

Julio Cardona/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Topatopa Mountains make up Ojai’s dramatic backdrop, and pink sunsets, or “pink moments,” are a real thing here thanks to the reflection of the sinking sun’s light on the mountains. Shop and eat your way along Ojai Avenue — Tipple and Ramble has the prettiest patio for a wine and cheese tasting. You can also rent a bike and ride through local tangerine orchards or all the way to Ventura on the Ojai Valley Trail. Great places to rest your head at night include rad, revamped motels like the Capri Hotel and Ojai Rancho Inn or the impressive Ojai Valley Inn.

Taos, New Mexico

<p>Mona Makela/Getty Images</p>

Mona Makela/Getty Images

Abutted by the scenic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is a high desert town with vistas to write home about, a deep Indigenous history, and a thriving community in Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s been inhabited for more than 1,000 years. After you’ve visited the pueblo, consider viewing the landscape via hot air balloon or by taking a dip in the nearby Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. In town, try Manzanita Market or La Cueva Cafe for a delicious meal. If you’re up for a nice walk, trek Rio Grande Gorge West Rim Trail.

Silver City, New Mexico

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

At 6,000 feet and just south of Gila National Forest, the Southwestern town of Silver City is a solid base camp for all kinds of adventures. Walk the historic downtown and pop into galleries — this is an active arts community — and restaurants like Adobe Springs Cafe or Jalisco Cafe. Get out your hiking shoes and trek in nearby City of Rocks State Park or the slightly further Catwalk Recreation Area, known for its awesome canyon views.

Related:How to Do a Southwest Food Road Trip — With National Parks, Craft Cocktails, and Delicious New Mexican Cuisine

Virginia City, Nevada

<p>Manel Vinuesa/Getty Images</p>

Manel Vinuesa/Getty Images

In 1859, Henry Comstock discovered the first bit of silver in the U.S. on land he co-owned in Nevada’s Virginia Range. A silver rush ensued, making Virginia City a bustling mining town. This history is front and center in the town today. Visits to mine sites or structures — like the wooden Fourth Ward School Museum, standing since 1876 — feel like walking into a history book come to life, as does a ride on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. Belly up at the bar of an Old West saloon before you leave — Bucket of Blood saloon gets our vote for its name alone.

Moab, Utah

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

This eastern Utah destination is heaven for anyone who appreciates the burning beauty of red sandstone mountains or for those who want easy access to incredible state and national parks. Explore galleries, kitschy shops, and even microbreweries in town, then buckle up for hiking adventures in Arches National Park (located 10 minutes away), Canyonlands National Park (30 minutes away), and Dead Horse Point State Park (40 minutes away).

Springdale, Utah

<p>Mimi Ditchie/Getty Images</p>

Mimi Ditchie/Getty Images

If you’re heading to Zion National Park from the west or south, Springdale is your entry point. This small Southwest town, which sits at the mouth of Zion Canyon, offers easy eats for hungry hikers (we’re partial to the burritos at Oscar’s Cafe). After a long day in the park, grab a patio table at a restaurant of your choice and watch how the colors change on the red-rock canyon walls during sunset.

Telluride, Colorado

<p>Jonathan Ross/Getty Images</p>

Jonathan Ross/Getty Images

The San Juan Mountains are your playground once you’re in Telluride, which sits at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet. Come in mid-September or October to see Aspen tree leaves turn a stunning shade of gold. Set aside a few hours to hike the popular Bear Creek or Bridal Veil Falls trails, or book a fishing excursion on a nearby stream or lake. Telluride has long been known for its calendar of events, as well, from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival to alpine cookouts.

Crested Butte, Colorado

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

It may be known as “the last great Colorado ski town,” but Crested Butte, named for the eponymous mountain that looms above it, is phenomenal without snow, too. Enjoy the fresh mountain air as you stroll in town, where many storefronts are painted in cheery, bold colors. Go leaf peeping in the fall along Kebler Pass, a mountain route that shows off one of the largest Aspen groves in the country. Near town, take the Loop Mountain Trail (about 6.5 miles) for good views of Gothic Mountain.

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