Skip to content

Top 10 Small US Cities and Towns with Booming Tourism and Hospitality Industries


In this post, we will be highlighting the top 10 small cities and towns in the US that have the highest number of tourism-related businesses but only have populations under 100,000 residents. These counties, ranging from Pontiac in Oakland County, Michigan to Waukegan in Lake County, Illinois, are home to some of the most bustling tourism hubs in the country.

From beachside towns to historic landmarks, these destinations attract visitors from all over the world. Continue reading to explore the unique features and attractions that make these counties a must-visit for any traveler.


#1 Pontiac, Michigan

Oakland County, Michigan, is a vibrant destination for tourism with over 3,500 tourism-related businesses, making it the county with the highest number of such businesses in the United States, despite having no places inside the county limits with a population over 100,000. One of the most popular municipalities in the county is Troy, which is home to several upscale shopping centers, such as the Somerset Collection and the Oakland Mall. The county seat, Pontiac, is known for its historic downtown area and numerous art galleries.

The proximity of Oakland County to Detroit makes it an ideal destination for visitors looking to experience the Motor City's rich automotive history. The county is home to several automotive-related attractions, such as the Walter P. Chrysler Museum and the GM Heritage Center. Additionally, Oakland County boasts several natural attractions, including the Cranbrook Educational Community, which encompasses several museums, art galleries, and nature preserves.

Oakland County has a rich history of tourism development, with many of its towns and cities becoming popular vacation destinations in the early 20th century. The area's natural beauty and easy access to Detroit made it a popular destination for urbanites seeking to escape the city for a weekend. Today, the county's thriving tourism industry continues to draw visitors from around the world, with a rich array of attractions and activities to suit every interest.


#2 Hackensack, New Jersey

Bergen County, New Jersey, is a popular destination for tourism, with over 3,100 tourism-related businesses despite having no places within the county limits with a population over 100,000. The county's location in northeastern New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, makes it an ideal destination for visitors looking to experience the Big Apple without paying Manhattan prices.

The county seat, Hackensack, is home to several notable attractions, including the Bergen County Courthouse, a historic landmark that has been in use since the 1800s. Paramus, another populous municipality in Bergen County, is known for its high-end shopping malls, such as the Garden State Plaza and Paramus Park. Additionally, Bergen County is home to several historic sites, including the New Bridge Landing State Historic Park, which preserves several buildings dating back to the American Revolution.

Bergen County's tourism industry has a long and storied history, with the county being a popular destination for visitors since the early 20th century. During this time, several amusement parks, such as Palisades Amusement Park, were built in the area. The county's proximity to New York City and the scenic beauty of the Palisades cliffs have made it an enduringly popular destination for tourists. With a rich array of attractions and a history of tourism development, Bergen County is sure to offer visitors an unforgettable experience.


#3 Tysons, Virginia

Fairfax County, Virginia, is a vibrant tourism destination, with over 2,500 tourism-related businesses despite having no places within the county limits with a population over 100,000. Located just outside of Washington, DC, Fairfax County is a hub for both business and leisure travelers. The county is home to a number of historical sites, including George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, as well as modern attractions such as the Tysons Corner Center shopping mall and the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

The town of Newington is a popular destination for history buffs, with attractions such as the National Museum of the United States Army and Fort Belvoir, a military installation dating back to the American Revolution. The town of Herndon is home to the famous Herndon Depot Museum, a restored train station that dates back to 1857. Reston, another populous municipality in Fairfax County, is known for its picturesque lakes and nature trails, as well as its vibrant dining and shopping scene.

Fairfax County's tourism industry has been growing steadily over the past few decades, with a focus on promoting the county's natural beauty and historical significance. With its close proximity to the nation's capital and a rich array of attractions, Fairfax County is sure to offer visitors an unforgettable experience.


#4 Asbury Park, New Jersey

Located on the Jersey Shore, Monmouth County is a popular tourist destination in New Jersey with over 2,400 tourism-related businesses, making it the fourth highest county in the United States in this regard, consisting of only small cities and towns. Asbury Park, one of the most famous municipalities in the county, is known for its iconic boardwalk, amusement park, and live music venues, attracting visitors from all over the world. Additionally, Freehold is a charming town known for its historical architecture and downtown shopping district.

Monmouth County's location on the coast of New Jersey makes it a prime destination for beachgoers, with miles of sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and other water sports like surfing and paddleboarding. The area is also home to several state parks, including Allaire State Park and Holmdel Park, which offer hiking trails, picnic areas, and other outdoor activities.

The county's proximity to New York City is also a major draw for visitors, who can easily travel to the city for shopping, sightseeing, and cultural experiences. Monmouth County has a rich history of tourism development, with many of its towns and cities becoming popular vacation spots in the early 20th century. Today, the county continues to draw visitors with its unique blend of natural beauty, historical landmarks, and vibrant communities.


#5 King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania is a hub of tourism in the Philadelphia region, with over 2,400 tourism-related businesses operating within its borders. Visitors flock to the county to explore its rich history, diverse culture, and scenic landscapes. One of the most popular destinations in the area is King of Prussia, which boasts the largest shopping mall in the United States. The King of Prussia Mall features over 400 stores, a variety of restaurants, and even an indoor ski slope. Lower Merion is another popular spot, home to the historic Ardmore Music Hall and a plethora of dining options.

Montgomery County is also known for its abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. The county is home to many parks and trails, including the Wissahickon Valley Park, which offers over 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, and the Schuylkill River Trail, which runs for 30 miles along the Schuylkill River. Additionally, the county is only a short drive away from Valley Forge National Historical Park, where visitors can learn about the Revolutionary War and the historic winter encampment of George Washington's army.

Montgomery County's close proximity to Philadelphia also makes it a popular destination for tourists. Philadelphia is home to many famous landmarks, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, as well as renowned museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute. With its rich history and abundance of attractions, Montgomery County is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the Philadelphia area.


#6 Lawrenceville, Georgia

Located in the northeastern part of Georgia, Gwinnett County boasts a thriving tourism industry with over 2300 related businesses. The county's diverse attractions make it a popular destination for tourists, with offerings ranging from historic sites to modern shopping centers. Visitors can explore the history of the area at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center or the Aurora Theatre, which is housed in a renovated cotton mill. The Mall of Georgia, the largest shopping center in the state, is also located in Gwinnett County and features hundreds of stores and restaurants.

Other notable municipalities in the area include Lawrenceville, Buford, and Norcross. Lawrenceville's downtown area features a charming mix of restaurants, shops, and historic sites, including the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse and the Lawrenceville Female Seminary. Buford is home to the Mall of Georgia, as well as Lake Lanier, a popular destination for boating and fishing. Norcross, named after its founder Jonathan Norcross, is known for its vibrant arts scene and historic architecture.

Located just 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, Gwinnett County is also in close proximity to the city's many attractions, such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. With its unique blend of history and modern amenities, Gwinnett County is a must-see destination for tourists visiting the Atlanta area.


#7 Clayton, Missouri

St. Louis County, located in the eastern part of Missouri, is a bustling area with plenty of tourism highlights to offer. With over 2200 tourism-related businesses, it is the seventh-ranked small-city county with the most tourism activity in the US. One of the county's main attractions is its proximity to the city of St. Louis, which is not actually located within the county's boundaries.

Visitors to St. Louis County can easily explore the city's landmarks such as the Gateway Arch, Forest Park, and the iconic Budweiser Brewery. In addition to the city's attractions, St. Louis County has its own share of notable sights, including the Laumeier Sculpture Park, the Magic House Children's Museum, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The county is also home to several municipalities worth exploring, such as Clayton, Creve Coeur, and Manchester.

Clayton, the county seat, is known for its impressive collection of contemporary artwork on display in its Clayton Sculpture Park. Creve Coeur is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts due to its numerous parks and recreational areas, including the Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. Meanwhile, Manchester boasts the Historic Village of St. Paul, which features preserved buildings from the 19th century. With such a variety of attractions, St. Louis County is sure to delight visitors of all interests.


#8 Gaithersburg, Maryland

Montgomery County, located in Maryland, is a bustling hub of tourism with over 2100 tourism-related businesses. The county is home to a variety of municipalities such as Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Bethesda, each with its own unique attractions. Gaithersburg is known for its charming Old Town and the popular Rio Washingtonian Center, which offers a range of entertainment and dining options. Germantown boasts the popular BlackRock Center for the Arts and the beautiful Seneca Creek State Park. Bethesda is a thriving urban center, known for its high-end shops and restaurants, as well as the renowned National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus.

Montgomery County's proximity to Washington DC, just a short distance away, makes it an ideal location for tourists to explore the nation's capital while also experiencing the charm of a more suburban setting. The county has a rich history, dating back to the 18th century, when it was an important center for agriculture and transportation. Today, the county has become a major economic center, with a thriving technology industry and numerous cultural institutions.

Visitors to Montgomery County can enjoy a range of activities, including hiking and biking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, exploring the beautiful Brookside Gardens, or visiting the Glenstone Museum, which features modern and contemporary art in a stunning natural setting. With its variety of attractions, Montgomery County offers something for everyone.


#9 Towson, Maryland

Baltimore County, Maryland, located in the central region of the state, is home to a wide range of tourist attractions and natural beauty. With over 1800 tourism-related businesses, the county is the ninth in the US with the most such businesses. Towson, the county seat, is a popular destination for visitors due to its numerous shopping and dining options, as well as its historic courthouse and library. The city of Dundalk is another must-visit destination, boasting parks and trails perfect for hiking, biking, and picnicking.

The county's proximity to Baltimore City, a major urban center, makes it an excellent base for tourists looking to explore the city's cultural offerings. The National Aquarium, Fort McHenry, and the Baltimore Museum of Art are just a few of the city's top attractions.

Baltimore County is also known for its beautiful state parks, such as the Gunpowder Falls State Park and the Patapsco Valley State Park, which offer opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, and kayaking. Nature lovers will also appreciate the county's Loch Raven Reservoir, a scenic spot for fishing and boating.

Baltimore County's tourism industry has a rich history dating back to the late 19th century when it began to attract wealthy vacationers from Baltimore City. Today, the county's tourism offerings have expanded to include a wide range of cultural, natural, and recreational attractions.


#10 Waukegan, Illinois

Lake County, IL is a popular destination for tourists with its abundant natural beauty and vibrant cultural scene. With over 1800 tourism-related businesses, the county offers visitors plenty of options for entertainment and relaxation. The county's picturesque landscapes and charming towns make it a popular getaway spot from the hustle and bustle of nearby Chicago. The county's prime location along the shore of Lake Michigan offers visitors stunning views and access to a variety of water sports and outdoor activities.

Lake County is home to several notable municipalities, including Waukegan, Gurnee, and Vernon Hills, which offer visitors unique experiences. Waukegan is known for its historic landmarks, such as the Genesee Theatre and the Waukegan Harbor Lighthouse, as well as its vibrant arts scene. Gurnee is a popular destination for families, with its Six Flags Great America theme park and its proximity to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Vernon Hills offers a variety of shopping and dining options, as well as easy access to the beautiful Vernon Hills Golf Course.

Lake County's tourism industry has a long history, dating back to the early 20th century when it was primarily a summer resort area. Today, visitors can still enjoy many of the same activities that were popular in the early days of the county's tourism industry, such as boating, fishing, and hiking. With its rich history and natural beauty, Lake County continues to be a top destination for visitors to the Chicago area.

In conclusion, the top 10 counties for small city tourism offer a diverse range of experiences and attractions for visitors. With no cities over 100,000 in population, these counties provide a more intimate and relaxed atmosphere for travelers to explore. From the scenic beauty of Oakland County, MI and Monmouth County, NJ, to the historical significance of Fairfax County, VA and St Louis County, MO, to the shopping and entertainment of Bergen County, NJ and Gwinnett County, GA, there is something for everyone.

These counties are also conveniently located near major cities such as New York City, Washington DC, and Chicago, making them easily accessible for visitors. Overall, these counties showcase the unique and exciting aspects of small city tourism.