Why We Visit Small Towns More Than Major Cities

by joeheg

Sharon and I traveled a bit in 2022. While we spent plenty of time away from home, we didn’t write about some of our trips because we weren’t visiting the major tourist attractions.

While people want to read about New York City, San Francisco and Austin, they have less interest about visits to Orinda, CA, McDonough, GA, Dartmouth, MA, and Phoenixville, PA. While those locations don’t sound exciting, we had reasons to visit each one, and they were our most memorable trips of the year.

When I was younger, I found out that no matter where you travel, there’s something interesting to see.

That’s because my dad was the president of the NJ Youth Bowling Association. Each summer we’d travel to the annual convention. Over several years, we visited Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis and Tampa. I have memories from each trip, including learning the most important travel question you can ask a concierge, which led to our first visit to Bern’s Steak House.

So when Sharon and I visit a new location, we always look for interesting places. Every town has something cool to see or a great restaurant. It only takes a little effort, or some local help, to find them.

Orinda, CA

In May of 2022, Sharon flew to San Francisco and drove east of Oakland. While she found one of the nicest Holiday Inn Express hotels we’ve seen in Walnut Creek, CA, the reason for the trip was to visit the Orinda Theater.

a building with a sign and cars parked in front of itIt was the site for Krofft Kon, a tribute to Sid and Marty Krofft.

If you’re the child of a certain generation, you grew up with The Banana Splits, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Land of the Lost. These shows are Sharon’s childhood memories, so she wasn’t going to miss a chance to see the creators of the shows and many of the actors as well.

a group of people posing for a photo

Much of her trip was spent at the convention, which was at a cool, old movie theater (a trend for our trips in 2022). But she did enjoy dinner at a nice spot and even found a Tiki Bar in Walnut Creek.

a group of people at a bar

McDonough, GA

McDonough, GA is the county seat of Henry County and a suburb of Atlanta. However, it’s as far away from Atlanta as you can imagine. When I flew to see a Matt Nathanson concert, our friends offered to let me couch surf for the weekend as long as I sat and watched the Georgia Bulldogs game with them on Saturday.

a group of people on a stage playing instruments

I enjoyed the concert and I had no idea that I’d get a tailgate feast while watching the game, so the weekend was going great. Then they offered to take me on a tour of McDonough.

The main square is exactly that. A town square surrounded by shops. The day I was there, there was a band playing in the gazebo with people gathered around sitting on lawn chairs.

a street with traffic lights and cars on the street

While the area looks like a small town, big city folks are changing the area. Old storefronts now house trendy boutiques and places to eat and drink. We stopped by a bookstore that doubled as a wine bar before heading to a pizza place that also served craft cocktails.  Both of which were on point.

a pizza on a plate

I’m low-key upset that I missed the “Taste of Henry” which was happening the following weekend where all the restaurants gather at the local farm and have a food & wine event for $30.

Dartmouth, MA

Sharon flew to Providence, RI to get to Dartmouth, MA. I guarantee it wasn’t to see Plymouth Rock, which may be one of the most underwhelming tourist sites in the world.

a woman taking a selfie

However, it might have been worth the trip to have a Lobster Roll.

a plate of food on a map

Sharon didn’t travel there to sightsee. She was reconnecting with a part of her family tree she didn’t really know about until earlier in the year. She spent the weekend with her newfound second cousins, learning about her family, and seeing where an old family photo had been taken.

a couple of people sitting on a couch next to a house

Note from Sharon: Photo on L (I’m the baby; I’m on my great-aunt’s lap & next to us is my great-grandfather), which was taken a long, LONG time ago, was taken inside the house in the photo on R (Photo taken in Oct. 2022)

This trip is a prime example of why we travel to meet friends and family.

Phoenixville, PA

In December, I flew to Philadelphia and rented a car to drive an hour from the city to Phoenixville. Actually, I stayed in King of Prussia, which was a 15-minute drive away. I had to drive through Valley Forge to get from my hotel to the town.

The first night I visited, I couldn’t find a parking spot because it was the night of the town’s traditional Christmas Tree lighting. The main street was closed and seemingly the entire town was there. People were with their dogs or pushing strollers down the street. A band was playing and everyone knew one another. It felt like I was on the set of Groundhog Day.

a group of people walking on a street with lights

It was too crowded to get a good look at the tree that evening so I stopped by the following afternoon. It’s not Rockefeller Plaza but it’s enough for a small town to celebrate.

a christmas tree and a snowman in front of a building

The reason I was in Phoenixville was to see the Season Finale of Mystery Science Theater 3000 at the Colonial Theater.

a group of people standing outside of a building

Ele boz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back to the theme of cool old movie theaters, The Colonial Theater is famous because it’s featured in the cult movie The Blob. In fact, Colonial Theater hosts the annual Blobfest convention.

Besides seeing the show, I got an opportunity to walk the town. There are cool stores, restaurants and several breweries. If you’re looking for a day trip from Philadelphia, combining Valley Forge with Phoenixville would make a great side trip.

New Braunfels, TX

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our favorite “small town” in the USA. We visit New Braunfels at least once a year, and we’re still discovering new things. In part, because the area is growing rapidly, so there’s always something new to see. However, our trips will always be based around Schlitterbahn.

a group of people in a pool

But we’re also fans of Texas BBQ, local wineries and going tubing on the Comal River. Not to mention, for the moment it’s home to the largest Buc-ees.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that readers would have more interest if we were writing about trips to Paris, Tokyo and Sydney. However, that’s not how we travel. We’re just as likely to stay at the Park Hyatt Washington DC as the Holiday Inn Express in Walnut Creek, CA.

We enjoy each type of trip for what they are. That’s one reason we started writing Your Mileage May Vary,

a man in a suit and tie

I use points to book trips to places we want to travel and that’s just as valuable as using points to visit an aspirational location. Everyone is going to have a different idea about what travel goals are important and not everyone wants to visit an overwater villa in the Maldives. Some would rather use points to see a convention in California or visit family in Massachusetts. Every travel goal is a good one.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


derek January 31, 2023 - 7:50 pm

Is Orlinda different from Orinda, California?

I had a blast visiting China. China, Maine. Smaller than a small town.

EWL February 1, 2023 - 5:22 pm

A minor thing. Orlinda should be Orinda. Otherwise a nice article!

joeheg February 1, 2023 - 11:42 pm

Someone else mentioned that and I thought I had fixed it. Thanks for the reminder.


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