5 Best Small Towns in America

ByABC News
July 21, 2011, 3:08 PM

— -- The assignment: Start in New York City and wind up in Los Angeles, exploring the best of small-town America along the way.

Three weeks and 25,000 miles later, five teams competing in the Best of the Road contest — sponsored by Rand McNally in collaboration with USA TODAY — have turned in their maps and car keys, consulted with a panel of judges and come up with the winners: five towns full of friendly people, great scenery, terrific food, patriotic fervor and just plain fun.

Selected from 30 nominees (each team visited the six in their category), the winners were announced Thursday at the Destination Marketing Association International's annual meeting in New Orleans.

For more on the winning towns, the worthy also-rans and the teams that got to sample their charms, check out bestoftheroad.com.


Walla Walla, Wash.

Team that visited: Jason and Nikki Wynn ("Gone with the Wynns") of Dallas, who were the winning team

What made it stand out: This southeastern Washington community may be famous for its sweet onions and growing wine industry, but those aren't the only things that put a smile on the Wynns' lips. "You can ride your bike around the entire city in the morning, see kids at the BMX park in the afternoon and see a musical under the stars in the evening," they say. "It seemed everyone was involved and loved their city, from wine growers and politicians to cleanup crews. This is a happy town which made for friendly people."

Don't miss: "If you're here during the summer, go for a hot-air balloon ride" and visit one of the area's more than 100 wineries, the Wynns suggest.

Biggest surprise: The historic Marcus Whitman Hotel, which the Wynns say has "an amazing chef's table service with loads of local ingredients and micro-greens grown at the hotel."

More information: 877-998-4748; wallawalla.org

Category runners-up:

•Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

•Mount Airy, N.C.

•Nacogdoches, Texas

•Valdosta, Ga.

•Woodward, Okla.

Most beautiful

Sandpoint, Idaho

Team that visited: Daniel and JoAnne Schaub ("The McNavigators") of Cary, N.C.

What made it stand out: Located on pristine Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle about an hour and a half east of Spokane, Wash., "Sandpoint isn't just a 'drive through and let's stop here' place," the Schaubs say. "Its quaint downtown shops and restaurants welcomed us in, and its landscape kept us in awe."

Don't miss: From a chairlift ride to the top of the local ski area, Schweitzer Mountain, "you can stand in Idaho and see Canada, Montana and Washington. At 6,400 feet, the expansive view kept us so mesmerized we missed our lunch date — and we had a snowball fight in July."

Biggest surprise: Sandpoint's mountain setting on the shores of one of the country's deepest lakes. "Being from North Carolina, we hadn't heard much about Idaho," the Schaubs admit. "We knew there were a lot of potatoes, and that's about it."

More information: 800-800-2106; sandpointchamber.com

Category runners-up:

•Baker City, Ore.

•Coral Gables, Fla.

•Franklin, Tenn.

•Marco Island, Fla.

•Pacifica, Calif.

Best for food

Lafayette, La.

Team that visited: Jim and Bonnie Parr ("Fun Finders") of St. Petersburg, Fla.