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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Five Best Small Towns In America: 2012

One month and nearly 30,000 miles after they set off from Washington, D.C., en route to Seattle, 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 small American 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 Tuesday at the Destination Marketing Association International's annual meeting in Seattle.
For more on the winning towns, the worthy runners-up and the teams that visited, check out— and tune in July 25 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT for a Best of the Road recap on the Travel Channel hosted by Bert Kreischer.
Bardstown, Ky. 
Bardstown Historic District of Bardstown Category
English: Bardstown Historic District of Bardstown Category:Images of Bardstown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Team that visited:  Nikki and Dusty Green ("Two for the Road") from Spicewood, Texas, who were also the winning team.
What made it stand out:  "Bourbon is Bardstown's history and tradition and the countryside is beautiful, but we probably got fewer scenic shots in Bardstown than anywhere else," admit the Greens about their visit to central Kentucky's Bluegrass Country. Instead, they say, "the people turned us around. We realized maybe we're not just here to see mountains and rivers, maybe there's something else. Our hearts are still in this place."
Don't miss:  "Definitely the distilleries," the Greens say, where visitors can "learn about the history and heritage of bourbon, and the pride and love that goes into making Kentucky's signature spirit." Another high point: My Old Kentucky Home State Park, site of a former plantation built in 1795. The mansion was the supposed inspiration for the official state song, "My Old Kentucky Home," sung every year before the running of the Kentucky Derby.
Biggest surprise:  "The town itself," the Greens say. "We'd never heard of it and honestly didn't expect to find much there," but were smitten by downtown's "classic Norman Rockwell" look and feel.
More information:; 800-638-4877
Category runners-up: 
Baker City, Ore.
•Danville, Ky.
Jim Thorpe, Pa.
•Sedona, Ariz.
Tybee Island, Ga.
Gainesville, Texas 
Team that visited:  Sandra McKenna of Palm Harbor, Fla. and Rick Griffin of Jonesboro, Ga. (MidLife Road Trip")
What made it stand out:  This North Texas town, with its restored, late-19th-century downtown, "changed our definition of patriotism," the team says. "It's not just the number of flags or monuments, memorials or programs; it's not even just for the people who serve. It's how you care for the people who were fought for."
Don't miss:  Antique shopping and lunch at Sarah's on the Square for "contemporary comfort food," and a stop at the intimate, 30-acre Frank Buck Zoo to feed giraffes or mingle with flamingos. The Shady Lady, a former saloon and brothel in the heart of downtown, is now a B&B with such unique furnishings as a six-foot copper tub.
Biggest surprise:  Gainesville is the USA's only "Medal of Honor Host City," and their annual spring celebration — conceived in 2001 as a way to honor veterans —draws Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from around the country, with volunteer donations covering recipients' travel and food expenses.
More information:; 940-665-2831
Category runners-up: 
•Deland, Fla.
•Duluth, Ga.
•Enterprise, Ala.
•Mandan, N.D.
•Watertown, N.Y.
Santa Fe, N.M. 
Team that visited:  Mike Shubic of Phoenix and Brian Cox of Dunedin, Fla. ("Road Bros")
What made it stand out:  As one local chef told Shubic and Cox, Santa Fe cuisine is unique because of "the vibrancy of the city" and the tapestry of cultures —Native American, Hispanic and European — represented in the food.
Don't miss:  Coyote Cafe and Anasazi Restaurant, both of which "stir the senses and tantalize the taste buds with a presentation that make you want to break out your camera. The lamb with mole, roasted leeks and purple potatoes at Anasazi, and the fillet of beef with vegetable crepe, tempura asparagus and veal with demi-glaze at Coyote Cafe were simply spectacular."
Biggest surprise:  The all-out reverence for chiles, which Santa Fe chefs "seem to use in just about everything…from breakfast, lunch and dinner to desserts and even drinks. Be prepared for the question 'red, or green?' and if you answer 'Christmas,' you'll get both."
More information:; 800-777-2489
Category runners-up: 
•Bloomington, Ind.
•Burnsville, Minn.
•Charlottesville, Va.
•Lewiston, N.Y.
•Walla Walla, Wash.
Murray, Ky. 
Team that visited:  Jennifer Jordon and Robert Schatz ("Rogue Riders") of Broomfield, Colo.
What made it stand out:  Since it's located less than a half hour from Kentucky Lake and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, the town is a hub for such outdoor activities as hiking, camping, swimming, and fishing. But it also "feels like home in Murray more than anywhere else," Jordan and Schatz say. Its residents "had a way of bringing you in, and we made friends. This is the only town where we went into people's homes."
Don't miss:  Created by a dam on the Tennessee River, 184-mile-long Kentucky Lake is lined with campsites and state and private marinas that rent houseboats, pontoons, sailboats and other craft.
Biggest surprise:  The scenic campus of basketball-crazed Murray State University— home of the "shoe tree," where college alumni who met their sweethearts at school return to attach one shoe from each partner.
More information:; 270-753-5171
Category runners-up: 
•Cloudcroft, N.M.
•College Station, Texas
•Frisco, Texas
•Joplin, Mo.
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Delray Beach, Fla. 
Team that visited:  Patricia Serrano of New York City and Anna Haas of Nashville ("Fresh Traveler")
What made it stand out:  Located north of Boca Raton in South Florida's Palm Beach County, this town has a "Miami meets Manhattan in the '60s" vibe (think Panama hats and individually owned shops, not flip-flops and chain restaurants). "You can be a yogi beach bunny one minute, on a boat crusing the marina the next, then get your taste of great locally-sourced grub decked out in a dress you got at one of the many awesome vintage stores before you hit one of the town's night spots," the team says.
Don't miss:  Kevro's Art Bar, an "authentic, intimate and creative space that harbors arts of all kinds," and the free Delray Downtowner, a door-to-door, eco-friendly golf cart service.
Biggest surprise:  Delray is "a great snorkeling and scuba diving destination," Serrano and Haas say, with a century-old steamship sunk in shallow water and some of the best visibility on the East Coast.
More information:; 561-278-0424
Category runners-up: 
Buena Park, Calif.
•Corning, N.Y.
•Denton, Texas
•Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio
•Santa Claus, Ind.
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