Smithsonian magazine names best small towns to visit

At the top of Smithsonian magazine's list of best small towns: Chautauqua, N.Y.

When it comes to art, culture, eating and educational endeavors, some small towns in the U.S. have the big cities beat.

For the third year, Smithsonian magazine studied the charms and offerings of towns with populations of less than 15,000 and, with some data crunching from geographical informational systems company Esri, came up with a list of the 20 Best Small Towns to Visit.

Topping the 2014 list is Chautauqua, N.Y., home to the Chautauqua Institution, which has been presenting summertime lectures, art exhibitions and music and dance performances on a 750-acre lakeside campus since 1874.

“We've been working on this a while,” said George Murphy, spokesman for the Chautauqua Institution.

Over 2,000 programs are offered during the institution’s nine-week summer season, with 8,000 to 10,000 people in attendance each week.

This year’s season kicks off on June 22 and features lectures and conversations with filmmaker Ken Burns during week seven (August 4-8).

“People usually pick a week to visit and spend it attending lectures and going to events that include performances by our own symphony orchestra and by our own opera, theater and dance companies,” said Murphy.

For this year’s list, individual towns were chosen for their strengths in categories such as history, science, visual arts, music and education. “Chautauqua came out as the leading town because of all the learning opportunities it provides,” said Terry Monmaney, executive editor for Smithsonian. “I’d love to go for a week or two and just soak in that wonderful special American environment of learning and exploration. And you can’t beat that part of the country in the summer.”

Here are the top 10 towns on Smithsonian magazine’s list of Best 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2014. The full list is in the April 2014 issue of the magazine and online.

1). Chautauqua, N.Y.

2). Healdsburg, Calif.

3). Williamsburg, Va.

4). Steamboat Springs, Colo.

5). Woods Hole, Mass.

6). Marietta, Ohio

7). Beaufort, S.C.

8). Sedona, Ariz.

9). Nebraska City, Neb.

10). Lanesboro, Minn.