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9 Unforgettable Small Towns To Visit In The Mid-Atlantic

The Eastern Coast of the United States is under one name but spread among several identities by state, town, and landscape. Small towns in the Chesapeake Bay along Maryland are vibrant in colors and history, and the beaches on seaside Delaware stretch across miles of explorable sealife or slow strolls, and the diverse scenery in the wetlands of Virginia or the rolling hills of North Carolina make the Mid-Atlantic as memorable a vacation as any. Here are some of the most unforgettable small towns along the Mid-Atlantic that must be on every traveler’s itinerary.

State College, Pennsylvania

Students and adults walk in front of the Old Main building, on the campus of Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania

State College is a college town holding the extravagant and historic Pennsylvania State University. A walking tour around campus is headlined by Old Main, the school’s landmark building constructed in 1930, and most likely ending at Beaver Stadium, the third-largest stadium in the United States that comes alive on Saturdays with students filling the 106,572-person capacity to support the resident football team, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

What escapes popular attention, however, is State College’s extensive allocation of parks and greenspace surrounding the town’s Georgian-style interior. The most notable is the Arboretum, a university-run botanical garden with diverse garden plants and extensive woodlands with tall, well-maintained trails.

Cape Charles, Virginia

Aerial View of Beach Homes in Cape Charles Virginia
Beach homes in Cape Charles, Virginia.

Cape Charles is an underappreciated getaway destination at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, just north of Norfolk, Virginia. Central Park holds the town’s events, activities, and family picnics, while the surrounding Cape Charles Historic District is full of cozy streets with charming boutiques like the Cape Charles Coffee House and the Cape Charles Brewing Company.

The most popular attractions are the Beachfront, complemented by a long fishing pier, and the Cape Charles Museum, housed in a former power plant with local history exhibits. Just south of the town is the Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve, where low marshland areas accent lush greenery and an advanced trail system that follows ponds, beaches, and marshes.

Bethany Beach, Delaware

Overlooking Bethany Beach, Delaware.
Overlooking Bethany Beach, Delaware.

Bethany Beach is a portion of US Highway 1 in Delaware, whose main district is spread far along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean and paralleled by a wide boardwalk. Aside from the various daytime and nighttime activities like a Back Bay Tour or a round of golf at the Bear Trap Dunes, the town is surrounded to the north and south by dense natural landscapes.

There is the Delaware Seashore Fresh Pond and the popular Fresh Pond Trailhead, and just across the Charles W. Cullen Memorial Bridge is the Delaware Seashore State Park, filled with hiking trails and seashore escapes. To the south is the Fenwick Island State Park, where it’s popular to kayak or boat through the Little Assawoman Bay. 

Havre De Grace, Maryland

Concord Point Light in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
Concord Point Light in Havre de Grace, Maryland.

Following from the mouth at Cape Charles to the very end of Chesapeake Bay leaves travelers at the picturesque town of Havre de Grace, a paradise for lovers of small-town fishing villages. The Susquehanna River cuts through town, bringing travelers past the Friends-Concord Point Lighthouse and the Millard Tydings Memorial Park to dock at the Tidewater Marina.

It’s popular to walk from here towards the Frank J. Hutchins Memorial Park and the Havre De Grace Walking Pier, often stopping at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum. Outdoor activities are not far either: the Susquehanna State Park is nearby upstream and headlined by the Steppingstone Farm Museum, while in the opposite direction and out to sea is the island of the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge, popular for day trips. 

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Overlooking the waterfront in Kill Devil Hills.
The waterfront in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Kill Devil Hills is the most populous of Outer Banks towns, but it doesn’t sacrifice natural beauty and peace for busy streets. It’s popularly recognized as the home of the first successful flight of the Wright Brothers; likewise, its most popular attraction is the Wright Brothers National Memorial, marked by the First Flight Sculpture and the First Flight Airport.

Natural settings also surround the town: the Avalon Pier is popular for fishing, strolling, or sunset-watching on the Atlantic Ocean, while the less visited and equally beautiful Wright Brothers Multiuse Path follows along the opposite Kitty Hawk Bay. It’s common to travel south from the Wright Brothers Memorial towards Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where a mini-desert holds the East Coast’s tallest dune, making it a perfect location for hand-gliding and parasailing.

West Chester, Pennsylvania

Downtown street view in West Chester.
Downtown street view in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

West Chester has brick buildings and white trim accents that make the expected appeal of a Georgian-style Pennsylvania town. The inner town is marked by the West Chester Railroad Company, a popular historical getaway that visitors usually complement with the Chester County History Center, or a show at the Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center.

The whole town is dotted with greenspace, the most popular being the open fields of the Rolling Green Memorial Park, the West Goshen Community Park, or the exotic foliage of the Everhart Park. Above all, there are natural preserves with large, looming trees and dense forest floors that make feel like mythical woodlands, like the Natural Lands’ Stroud Preserve and the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies. 

Lewes, Delaware

Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.
Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.

Lewes is a beautiful small town in the Delaware Bay at the receiving end of the Cape May, New Jersey ferry. Unique natural landscapes surround the town: Cape Henlopen State Park is miles of sandy beach with a striking observation tower and popular fishing points like Herring Point, and the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge holds over 10,000 acres of wetlands, making it ideal for kayaking, boating, and hiking.

The Zwaanendael Museum is a popular site of Dutch history commemorating Delaware’s first settlement, and the Lewes Historical Society Main Campus is an equally frequented daytime visit along the Lewes-Rehoboth Beach river that cuts through the town square. Otherwise, there is always beach space available on either Savannah Beach or the Beach Plum Island Nature Preserve.

Edenton, North Carolina

A Red Boat Docked Near the Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton North Carolina
Boat docked near the Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, North Carolina. Image credit Kyle J Little via Shutterstock

Past the straight of land that closes the Albemarle Sound and into the mouth of the Chowan River is the charming town of Edenton, North Carolina. Visiting the town from the water leads to the widely recognized Roanoke River Lighthouse, a site of architectural intrigue on wooden stilts in the town’s harbor. The Victorian-style Penelope Barker House Welcome Center is only next door, bordered by the long, crowned wooden bridges and island trees that mark the picturesque Queen Anne Park.

The Edenton National Fish Hatchery Aquarium is a perfect family-friendly daytime activity with turtles, birds, fish, or a lazy stroll along Pembroke Creek. In addition, during the summer, the top attraction is the Chowan County Regional Fair.

Damascus, Virginia

Hiker rests outside Damascus, Virginia.
Outdoor landscape in Damascus, Virginia.

Along the Virginia-Tennessee border and divided by Laurel and Beaverdam Creek is the small town of Damascus that’s molded by rolling hills and tall white oak trees. The full range of natural features is available at the Virginia Creeper Trail Park, where there are widely paved roads fit for group biking and tall wooden bridges breaching past the dense forest.

The Damascus Town Park has a popular trail that starts at the Red Caboose and follows open grass plains on the Virginia Creeper National Recreational Trail when the park isn’t filled with tents of vendors on summer and spring weekends. Visitors still looking for more outdoor recreation usually follow the Jeb Stuart Highway to the Straight Branch Trailhead and hike to Estella Falls.

The Atlantic Coast pulls visitors to the United States for a multitude of reasons. From the quiet and peace of the small seaside towns to the green scapes of the state and national parks, there is always a reason to remember a trip across the East coast of the country. Prospective travelers should not hesitate to plan their trip today; there is no going wrong with one of the most diverse topographical and historical areas in North America.

Source : World Atlas