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11 Best Small Towns in Ohio With Quintessential Midwestern Charm

As seen in Travel + Leisure Magazine April 30, 2024

Original Author Stephanie Vermillion


Between its pristine national and state parks, beach-fronted Great Lake, and world-class roller coasters, there are many exceptional sights and attractions that await in oft-overlooked Ohio. It's a state few think to visit — a fact that I, as an Ohioan myself, am all too aware of after a lifetime of correcting my coastal friends' misconceptions. (It's not all farmland!) Then again, perhaps this long-held oversight is part of the state's allure.

You can find everything from beaches and hiking trails to renowned breweries and restaurants, without battling crowds. Experience the best of the Buckeye State with a visit to one (or all) of these charming Ohio small towns.


Peninsula

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Train
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

About a 30-minute drive south of Cleveland, Peninsula feels a world away. Back in the late 1700s, much of northeast Ohio belonged to Connecticut under the Connecticut Western Reserve, and this New England influence remains visible today. The tiny village of about 500 people brims with colonial architecture, with many structures built with that signature New England white steeple. It's also close to Ohio's only national park and one of its most scenic natural getaways: Cuyahoga Valley. Bike paths, hiking trails, and local shops and restaurants are among the many attractions in this quaint, forest-flanked town.


Yellow Springs

Yellow Springs bike path
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

Embrace Ohio's fun and funky side in Yellow Springs, a colorful town outside Dayton known for its hippie vibes, hiking trails, and delicious local fare. Yellow Springs sits along the nearly 80-mile Little Miami Scenic Trail. Travelers can bike right up to the door of Yellow Springs Brewery or enjoy the woodlands at Glen Helen Nature Preserve, nearby John Bryan State Park, and Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve. For real small-town Ohio flavor, head to Young's Jersey Dairy, a working farm with corn mazes, goats you can feed, and delicious homemade ice cream.


Loveland


farm during winter in Loveland Ohio
PHOTO: JUAN RIBOT/GETTY IMAGES

Loveland, a five-square-mile city outside Cincinnati, has all the makings of a picturesque small town: a bustling main square, historic architecture, farm-to-table restaurants, and a calendar packed with festivals. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the Loveland Bike Trail, a rails-to-trails project that links with the Little Miami Scenic Trail (the same trail that runs through Yellow Springs). Architecture buffs are astounded by the Loveland Castle, built by hand with stones from the Little Miami River. And come happy hour, it's hard to beat Narrow Path Brewing Co., with the charming Loveland Dairy Whip ice cream stand as a can't-beat cherry on top.


Geneva-on-the-Lake


people canoeing in Geneve-on-the-lake
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

Geneva-on-the-Lake has been one of Ohio's greatest vacation getaways for decades. The tiny waterfront town is located in the heart of Ohio's wine country, with vineyard tours and tastings galore. Geneva-on-the-Lake also boasts prime Lake Erie access for paddling glassy waters or sunbathing along the sandy beaches. Accommodations like the The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, located outside of Geneva State Park, provide the perfect basecamp for freshwater adventures. The town is roughly one hour east of Cleveland.


Conneaut

Boats docked in Conneaut, Ohio
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

Not too far from Geneva-on-the-Lake and also on Lake Erie is Conneaut, a waterfront escape that appeals to history buffs with attractions like the Conneaut Railroad Museum and the D-Day WWII History Museum. But history's not all Conneaut has in store. Tour the Conneaut Wildlife Area, beachcomb in Conneaut Township Park, or stop by one of the nearby wineries, such as Markko Vineyard or Buccia Vineyard, which doubles as a bed-and-breakfast.


Sugarcreek

Swiss style buildings in Sugar Creek, Ohio
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

Small-town Sugarcreek is nicknamed Ohio's "little Switzerland." Swiss and Germans were among the first settlers to arrive here, as well as Amish families. You can embrace this heritage today via the town's numerous cheese factories, its alpine-aesthetic downtown, or the annual Ohio Swiss Festival, an event packed with food, dance, and fun. For a small village, Sugarcreek has an impressive array of entertainment options. Stop by the Alpine Hills Museum for a quick history lesson or head just outside of town to visit the Broad Run Cheesehouse and its on-site winery or Breitenbach Wine Cellars. Don't miss the world's largest cuckoo clock on the corner of Main Street and Broadway.


Kelleys Island

oats docked at sunset on Kelly Island
PHOTO: COURTESY OF OHIO. FIND IT HERE.

Kelleys Island, home to only about 250 permanent residents, is one of several islands in Ohio. For fans of nature and small towns, it's arguably the most enticing. It's the second-largest Lake Erie island and has just about everything you could want in a freshwater island getaway: beaches, forests, historic homes, a winery and brewery, and bike and golf cart rentals to get around. The island's also just a stone's throw from Cedar Point, home to some of the world's best roller coasters. It's roughly 80 miles west of Cleveland and just a few miles south of the official Canadian border.


Logan

view of enterance from inside of oldmans cave in logon, ohio
PHOTO: KENNETH KEIFER/GETTY IMAGES

Logan, a small town about 50 miles from Columbus, is the gateway to the area's best outdoor adventure gem: Hocking Hills State Park. This park, known for dramatic gorges, plunging waterfalls, and surreal glamping, is one of the top reasons travelers visit Logan. Attractions in and around town include the John Glenn Astronomy Park, a gorgeous stargazing destination; Hocking Hills Winery, known for its array of local blends; and the petting zoo at Fox's High Rock Farm, where adorable goats, lambs, and pigs await ear scratches.


Chagrin Falls

Chagrin falls, ohio waterfall
PHOTO: DWIGHT NADIG/GETTY IMAGES

Chagrin Falls impresses with a robust art scene that will tempt you to take a workshop and admire what's on display at the Valley Art Center's gallery. At The Glass Asylum, you can even create your own glass-blown goods with the help of an artist. The town's location along the Chagrin River provides tranquil scenery. Follow the walking path that runs through Riverside Park to the iconic waterfall, or get an even better view of it from the Main Street Bridge. Downtown Chagrin Falls also offers numerous dining options; try a favorite like Flip Side (a burger joint) or The Reserve (Japanese and Chinese food made with local ingredients).


Granville

een from Granvile, ohio
PHOTO: PAPABEAR/GETTY IMAGES

Peninsula isn't the only Ohio town packed with New England charm. East-central Ohio's Granville impresses with its own colonial architecture, charming downtown, and towering steeples. It's roughly 35 miles from Columbus, with a host of must-see attractions. Stop in the local shops along the tree-lined main square; learn about local Indigenous history at the Alligator Mound, a 200-foot-long, five-foot-high effigy mound; or pedal along the 14-mile T.J. Evans Bike Trail. Local bites and brews run the gamut, from drinks at Three Tigers Brewing Company to wine at Three Oaks Vineyard.



Waynesville

fall scene of park in Waynesville, ohio
PHOTO: SREENATH_K/GETTY IMAGES

Attention thrifters and flea market enthusiasts: Waynesville in southwestern Ohio is one of the Midwest's shopping capitals. This is the place to visit for shows like the trinket-filled Street Faire, happening once a month in the summer, and shops like Brass Lantern Antiques. Nature lovers will find hiking trails aplenty in Caesar Creek State Park, and foodies go wild for the annual Sauerkraut Festival, a fall event packed with crafts and food beyond the fermented stuff. Another top Waynesville draw? Access to the nearby Kings Island Amusement Park, home to dozens of rides, attractions, and shows, including the world's longest wooden roller coaster, The Beast.






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