Lake City is a small town with big culture

This South Carolina town voted the best by 10Best readers

Bigger isn't always better, especially when it comes to these 10 small towns, each with a population of fewer than 30,000 people (as of the last census). What each lacks in size it makes up for with a big cultural punch – museums, art galleries, performing arts and busy event calendars.

  • Lake City
    South Carolina

    The population of Lake City almost triples during the annual ArtFields festival. During the rest of the year, art lovers enjoy the Smithsonian-qualified Jones-Carter Gallery housed in a converted tobacco warehouse in the heart of the downtown historic district. The town’s festival calendar also includes the South Carolina Tobacco Festival (one of the longest-running festivals in the state) and the Rhythm & Q’s BBQ and Live Music Competition.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Lake City SC

  • Asbury Park
    New Jersey

    In the mid-1970s, Bruce Springsteen got his start singing at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Today the small town on the Jersey Shore is undergoing a revival, with formerly abandoned Victorian homes getting snatched up while the downtown bustles with restaurants, boutiques, dozens of bars and even an art house cinema. The revitalized boardwalk has been brought back to its former glory, and the restored Paramount Theatre once again hosts live performances.
    Photo courtesy of Asbury Park Boardwalk

  • Paducah
    Kentucky

    Paducah, a designated UNESCO Creative City, is best known for its National Quilt Museum which anchors a thriving fiber arts community. The Lower Town Arts District, the town’s oldest neighborhood, is home to numerous working artists and artists-in-residence whose work can be seen at many galleries and collectives around the city.
    Photo courtesy of Nyttend / Wikimedia Commons

  • Sheridan
    Wyoming

    Historic Sheridan is the quintessential American West town, where legendary cowboys and outlaws once walked the streets, still to this day surrounding by the wild Bighorn Mountains. Visitors can grab a drink at the Mint Bar, a 1907 saloon, or browse cowboy memorabilia at the King's Saddlery museum.
    Photo courtesy of Wyoming Office of Tourism

  • Breaux Bridge
    Louisiana

    Walking the streets of Breaux Bridge is like stepping back in time. This Louisiana small town makes a great base for exploring the state's rich Cajun culture – a place where visitors can listen to live Zydeco music, fill up on fresh crawfish, shop for antiques or simply stroll the picturesque downtown area.
    Photo courtesy of jc.winkler / Wikimedia Commons

  • Columbus
    Mississippi

    Historic Columbus is an ideal small town getaway for anyone interested in Souther architecture and local arts. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eudora Welty went to university in Columbus, and blues singers like Big Joe Williams and Bukka White once busked on Catfish Alley. Today, the town on the Mississippi Blues Trail is also home to nearly half a dozen museums and art galleries.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Mississippi / Flickr

  • Easton
    Maryland

    While Easton has a small population of under 20,000 people, it’s cultural offerings rival that of a much larger city. The Talbot Historical Society operates a museum showcasing more than 1,000 historic photographs, in addition to many priceless artifacts, while the Academy Art Museum has been nationally recognized for its collection spanning two centuries of art. The art deco Avalon Theatre maintains a busy calendar of performing arts events.
    Photo courtesy of m01229 / Flickr

  • Lenox
    Massachusetts

    At the heart of the Berkshires lies the village of Lenox, home of the famous Tanglewood Music Festival and a popular summer getaway. The core of the town features several shops and eateries, all surrounded by some mighty impressive homes. Visitors to the Ventfort Hall Museum have the chance to see inside one of these Gilded Age homes.
    Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

  • Traverse City
    Michigan

    The thriving arts community in Traverse City makes this small Michigan town feel way bigger than it is. The Traverse Symphony Orchestra performs regularly in the City Opera House, while the Interlochen Center for the Arts brings in talent from around the globe. The Dennos Museum Center maintains a permanent collection of art from the Canadian arctic – one of the largest in the world.
    Photo courtesy of Iulus Ascanius / Wikimedia Commons

  • Highlands
    North Carolina

    Aptly named Highlands, one of the highest towns east of the Mississippi, has served as a cool mountain escape for travelers for over a century. Excellent restaurants, shopping and a thriving art scene mean there's plenty to do in the picture perfect town itself, and the surrounding region offers a multitude of outdoor activities.
    Photo courtesy of Diligent Terrier / Wikimedia Commons

The top 10 winners in the category Best Small Town Cultural Scene are as follows:

  1. Lake City, S.C.
  2. Asbury Park, N.J.
  3. Paducah, Ky.
  4. Sheridan, Wyo.
  5. Breaux Bridge, La.
  6. Columbus, Miss.
  7. Easton, Md.
  8. Lenox, Mass.
  9. Traverse City, Mich.
  10. Highlands, N.C.

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Marla Cimini (USA TODAY), Beth D'Addono (100 Things To Do in New Orleans Before You Die), Deborah Fallows (Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey into the Heart of America), Eric Grossman, Anna Hider (Roadtrippers), Gerrish Lopez and Chelle Koster Walton were chosen based on their knowledge and experience of travel in the United States.

Congratulations to all these winning small towns!

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AlertThe Experts

Marla Cimini

Marla Cimini

Beth D'Addono

Beth D'Addono

Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows

Eric Grossman

Eric Grossman

Anna Hider

Anna Hider

Gerrish Lopez

Gerrish Lopez

Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton