By Thrillist Travel

Romanticizing small towns has been an American tradition for as long as “quaint” has been an adjective. We love to idealize tree-lined hamlets populated with four-square homes. We long for a life of unhurried conversations and free parking, where a night out involves seeing actual stars, not dropping $250 on cocktails and cabs. When you fall in love with a small town, you fall hard. And even the most literary among us struggle to find an alternative to “charming.”

We scoured the country for the villages and townships that know how to slowwww dowwwwn: places rich in comfort food, cheap pitchers, sunny parks, quirky festivals, and a limited number of friendly faces (“small town” is relative… 35,000 people is tiny in many states, but a veritable metropolis in Vermont). For road trippers, these spots offer a respite from big-city life, and often serve as the gateways to outdoor adventure. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scouring the real-estate listings… probably at a twee little bakery that has excellent scones.

Mississippi: Ocean Springs

Population: 18,099
Sitting anywhere along Government St in Ocean Springs, you can hear live music—rock, country, bluegrass, hip-hop—coming from a bar only a few feet away. The small stretch of watering holes along this coastal city’s main drag is a little slice of Austin or Nashville plopped on the Bayou, making a weekend bar crawl here as entertaining as anywhere. Your days are for paddle boarding and kayaking along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and a short boat ride out to the barrier islands finds you on the kind of turquoise, white sand beaches you never knew existed in Mississippi. —MM

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