Five Enchanting Tiny Villages Within a 120-minute Drive of Big Cities

XcelTrip|5 min read|Sep 28, 2023

From a minuscule island in South Carolina to the rugged cliffs of Maine, these quaint villages deliver a substantial impact.

Exploring a renowned locale is undoubtedly enjoyable, but with the surge in tourism, you might favor a retreat that’s conveniently located near the hubbub without being right in the midst of it. These quaint hamlets aren’t merely transit points to other locales; they are superb getaways in their own right, providing unique choices and an allure you probably won’t encounter in the nearby major metropolises.

Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee

Located a short forty-minute drive south of Nashville in the region known as Nashville’s Big Back Yard, this charming Hallmark movie town boasts impressive art galleries, offers wine aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels, and features a honky-tonk with the kind of talent you’d expect from a town so close to Music City. Accommodations in Leiper’s Fork include beautiful cottages designed to respect the village’s historic character while providing a wide range of amenities.

To satisfy your cultural cravings, visit The Copper Fox, an art gallery showcasing sculptures, paintings, jewellery, handbags, and decorative housewares. Here, you can engage in conversations with artists and acquire one-of-a-kind treasures to take home. Just a few doors down, Leiper’s Creek Gallery strikes a perfect balance between exceptional art pieces and approachable Southern hospitality. Across the street and a few steps away, you can quench your thirst at Wines in the Fork, which offers sophisticated wines aged in Tennessee whiskey oak barrels. Wrap up your day at Puckett’s, a former general store that now serves as a music venue and restaurant, providing excellent people-watching opportunities and even better music.

Highland Lakes, Texas

Merely an hour away from Austin, the Highland Lakes area exudes tranquility and small-town charm, with its striking turquoise waters and a plethora of options for camping and cabin stays. This destination offers a romantic getaway with access to various activities, including wine tastings and the only mountain biking park in Texas. For the ultimate Lake Buchanan experience, consider staying at Canyon of the Eagles, a Calibre Resort, where you can sit on your deck in a rocking chair while hawks soar above. Don’t miss dining at the property’s Overlook Restaurant, and be sure to indulge in some stargazing at the Eagle Eye Observatory — both are exclusive experiences that you won’t find in the city.

Adventure enthusiasts can explore Spider Mountain Bike Park or enjoy the more leisurely trails at Inks Lake State Park, featuring breathtaking views and a chance to learn about Texas flora and fauna. For a unique underground adventure, visit Longhorn Cavern, an enormous subterranean wonder that will amaze you while testing your knowledge of stalactites and stalagmites. And, of course, don’t forget to explore the lake itself; the Vanishing Texas River Cruise offers a surreal experience floating over an abandoned town now submerged. Tree branches break the surface, seemingly reaching for the sky as they escape their watery grave.

Cape Neddick and Ogunquit, Maine

An hour’s drive from Portland, the neighboring towns of Ogunquit and Cape Neddick provides the perfect escape for those seeking outdoor and wellness activities (with a side of lobster). For a truly pampered experience, book a stay at the Cliff House, an expansive resort perched on Bald Head Cliff. The property offers private balconies with sweeping ocean views and a spa that draws inspiration from nature’s elements while celebrating all things Maine. Explore sea-swept trails, play golf, swim, bike, and savor gourmet cuisine at The Tiller, which features ingredients straight from the on-site garden.

As a guest of the Cliff House, you’ll also have access to the unique Volvo Drive Experience, which includes a complimentary Volvo vehicle to explore nearby Ogunquit in style. This picturesque coastal town provides easy access to sailing cruises, deep-sea fishing, and beachfront relaxation. Those who stay in town can enjoy harbor restaurants, boutique shops, a playhouse with Broadway-style shows, and the unmistakable charm of New England.

Fish Creek and Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin

Slightly over an hour’s drive from the Green Bay airport and a short distance apart on the peninsula, Fish Creek and Baileys Harbor offer an array of attractions, including state parks, observatories, lighthouses, and casual dining. Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek is a nearly 4,000-acre treasure trove of recreational opportunities, featuring Wisconsin’s first accessible observation tower, Eagle Tower, which provides stunning views of Green Bay’s waters. The park offers seasonal activities ranging from parasailing to snowshoeing, making it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts and families looking for an affordable vacation.

Crossing the peninsula to Baileys Harbor, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Make sure to take a ride on the hay wagon, which transports you to the Cana Island Lighthouse, now an intriguing museum with a climbable tower. Additionally, embark on a naturalist-led hike through The Ridges Sanctuary and gain insights into the unique topography of this region.

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

A tropical getaway that’s just a 30-minute ferry ride from Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island offers a small-town atmosphere that transports you to a world of live oaks draped in Spanish moss, the gentle hum of golf carts (your primary mode of transportation aside from walking), and the relaxed pace of island life.

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