Charming homes in the best small towns

8 places to live off the beaten path

Imagine living in a small town with all its charm and history but still remaining within reach of a vibrant city.

At your retreat, you'd be able to get away from it all, and yet you wouldn't be too far off the beaten path that you'd miss out on what metropolitan areas have to offer.

We used Smithsonian Magazine's 2014 list of the best small towns to visit as a starting point to find some great homes for sale in eight communities, each with a population of about 14,000 or less.

Amenities vary, but there's one thing these homes all share: They're all located in places that fit the description of quaint.

Each home we found is for sale at or near that town's median price, which ranges from $115,000 in central Kentucky to $540,000 in California's wine country.

That comes out to a monthly payment of about $455 to $2,092 assuming a 20% down payment and today's average mortgage rates.

Of course, architecture helps make a home interesting. So let's start with a house in the town in which Frank Lloyd Wright built his estate.

Spring Green, Wisconsin

Population: 1,628
Address: S13074 Highbanks Road
Price: $319,000
What you get: Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, 2,500 square feet
Price per square foot: $128

When we talk about charm, this custom-built Wisconsin home is the ideal. First, the views: From the rear of the home, you can see from nearly every window both the Wisconsin River and the lush woods leading to its banks. And you'll get to enjoy quite a bit of both, as the home sits on 1.6 acres with 100 feet of river frontage. The outside is well-landscaped, offering flowers and plants to go with the surrounding trees. Step inside and you'll find a foyer bathed in sun from three skylights. Hardwood floors and vaulted, wood-planked ceilings run throughout. The kitchen has stainless steel appliances, wood counter tops and cabinets to match. For rest and relaxation, there are two screened-in porches, a steam sauna, a full wet bar and a very spacious family room with a stone fireplace.

The state capital of Madison is just an hour away. But Spring Green has plenty to offer. It's home to the American Players Theater, a renowned classical theater. Plus, architectural wonders like Frank Lloyd Wright's estate Taliesin and the House on the Rock are both within the town's limits.  

See more photos of this Wisconsin home.

Sue Pforr: First Weber Group; 608-574-2721

Beaufort, South Carolina

Population: 12,361
Address: 1807 Palmetto Drive
Price: $191,900
What you get: Two bedrooms, two baths, 1,919 square feet
Cost per square foot: $100

This home in the Low Country of South Carolina offers plenty of Southern appeal. It's a brick ranch-style house that sits high on a wooded corner lot. The west-facing home overlooks a marsh and creek — sure to provide dazzling sunset views. Built in 1957, the home still includes its original oak plank floors in much of the living area. The small kitchen isn't a huge selling point, but it does include some exposed brick instead of a standard backsplash. We think you'll enjoy the enclosed heated and cooled side porch. Other amenities include a detached two-car garage, front and back porches, and an outdoor grill area.

Less than an hour's drive from Savannah, Georgia, historic Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina. Surrounded by waterways that lead straight to the Atlantic Ocean, scenery and history are a big part of Beaufort, founded in 1711. Civil War-era homes are abundant throughout, while its entire downtown has been designated a historic district. Aside from its Smithsonian Magazine accolades, this town also was named the "Happiest Seaside Town in America" for 2013 by Coastal Living.

See more photos of this South Carolina home.

Corinne Woodman: Ballenger Realty; 843-812-5424

Nebraska City, Nebraska

Population: 7,289
Address: 726 Arbor Drive
Price: $259,900
What you get: Four bedrooms, three baths, 2,580 square feet
Cost per square foot: $101

Located just an hour outside Omaha, this two-story, partial-brick home is a spacious buy for the money. It's the second-largest on our list, and it's one of the cheapest per square foot. There's also plenty of outdoor space on this nearly three-quarter-acre wooded lot. The first floor includes a living room, family room and dining room, along with a kitchen that includes newer cabinets and a stainless steel oven. A wall of built-in bookshelves in the master bedroom is our favorite feature of this house. This home also includes a porch, a patio, a shed and a two-car attached garage.

More than just the birthplace of Arbor Day, Nebraska City is a place of history. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine says one reporter estimated there is one museum in town for every 800 residents. Lewis and Clark first discovered Nebraska City in 1804 and named it as a promising town site. So naturally, the town's Lewis & Clark Missouri River Visitors Center offers an explorer's paradise, sitting on a 79-acre wooded bluff that overlooks the Missouri River.

See more photos of this Nebraska home.

Tom Farrell: Miller & Farrell, Realty Co.; 402-209-0500

Williamsburg, Virginia

Population: 14,068
Address:100 Granite Place
What you get:Four bedrooms, two full baths, one half bath, 1,869 square feet
Cost per square foot:$128

Located just 2 miles from Colonial Williamsburg, the 301-acre living-history museum featuring buildings dating from 1699, this home comes with a lengthy list of updates: a new roof, windows, furnace, air-conditioning unit, water heater and guards to keep the gutters leaf-free. Plus, there's new carpet and fresh paint inside. The kitchen is large, but doesn't have the high-end touches many buyers expect. There's a fireplace in the living room and a separate dining area. The rear of the home includes a deck and big backyard. Families will be happy to learn the nearby elementary and middle schools are highly rated.

This home is just an hour from Richmond, but who wants to leave town when you're just 15 minutes from Busch Gardens and Water Country USA theme parks? Or if history really is your passion, you're just 2 minutes from the Colonial Parkway, a scenic roadway connecting attractions like Historic Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield and, yes, Colonial Williamsburg.

See more photos of this Virginia home.

Chip DeClerck: Long & Foster Realtors; 757-869-1596

Havre de Grace, Maryland

Population: 13,392
Address:952 Chesapeake Drive
What you get:Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, 2,860 square feet
Cost per square foot:$87

This house, just a few hundred feet off Chesapeake Bay, last sold in December 2013 for $110,000. Since then the white colonial-style home has undergone quite the transformation. It now features hardwood floors throughout much of the home. The kitchen has been fully upgraded with stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, ceramic tile floors and wood cabinets. The bathrooms are nicely appointed, too. Perhaps the nicest feature of this home is the stone-front wood-burning fireplace that sits in the family room. Of course, the finished basement and deck off the back of the house are great amenities, as well.

While Havre de Grace is just 45 minutes northeast of Baltimore, it's certainly a change from city life. Founded in 1785, the town sits along the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. That means there's no shortage of strolls on the boardwalk along the river, or of fishing, boating and bird watching on the Bay. Or take a stroll to the oldest lighthouse in the state, located less than a mile away. Want to go for a hike instead? Try the North Park trail just northeast of town.

See more photos of this Maryland home.

Lee Tessier: Keller Williams Realty; 443-512-0090

Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Population: 8,312
Address:3805 Louisville Road
What you get:Three bedrooms, one bathroom, 1,280 square feet
Cost per square foot:$90

If you call this place home, you're going to have a few neighbors. But make no mistake, this is country living. You'll be surrounded by farmland and green, open spaces. Several miles to the east, the Kentucky River winds through the countryside. The town proper is a couple miles south on U.S. Route 127. From the hot tub on the back patio, you'll overlook nearly a half-acre lot with two large storage buildings. This is the cheapest house on our list, which makes it a nice starter home, investment property or weekend retreat. Inside, there's a spacious kitchen with a breakfast nook. Crown molding and chair rails run throughout the home. There are wood floors in the hallway and bedrooms.

Harrodsburg, less than an hour's drive from Lexington, made the Smithsonian list in part because of its "bustling art and food scene." This is the oldest city in the state, and it proudly displays its pioneer roots throughout town, including the full-scale replica of the original 1774 fort that birthed the town. This is also bourbon country, with a number of distilleries just a short drive away. Harrodsburg is just 20 miles from the Makers Mark and Four Roses distilleries in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

See more photos of this Kentucky home.

Kim Anderson: RM McGinnis LLC; 859-734-7770

Healdsburg, California

Population: 11,440
Address: 646 University St.
What you get:Three bedrooms, one bathroom, 1,310 square feet.
Cost per square foot: $412

This is the most expensive house on our list, but that's to be expected considering the real estate market is just 1 ½ hours north of San Francisco. The stand-out feature of this Mediterranean-style ranch is the lush garden that surrounds it. The trees, bushes and flowers provide privacy in a residential neighborhood. And the inside offers just as much appeal. The kitchen has been updated with stainless steel appliances, solid-surface counter tops and breakfast nook. The kitchen opens into a spacious living room with wood floors and a fireplace to gather around. There's a double vanity in the bathroom and a stand-up shower. You'll find a carport outside.

Located in the heart of Northern California wine country, this property is located just a 15-minute walk from Healdsburg Plaza, where you'll find wine tasting, shopping and cooking classes. This is a foodie's dream come true. How about some outdoor fun? The Russian River runs through the town, offering swimming, canoeing and kayaking.

See more photos of this California home.

Jessie Villagomez: Leal Real Estate Group, Inc.; 707-328-5673

The Dalles, Oregon

Population: 13,783
Address: 705 E 12th St.     
What you get:Three bedrooms, one bathroom, 1,048 square feet
Cost per square foot:$121

If an older home fits your definition of charm, this 1890 two-story home might be for you. Surrounded by trees, you'll get a bird's-eye view of nature from the wrap-around porch. There's also plenty of space in the yard to start a garden. And the outside features continue with a nice deck and grill area in back. The interior features 9-foot ceilings. Warm yourself during chilly winter nights with the 5-year old pellet stove in the family room that serves as the main source of heat. There's also a claw-foot tub in the bathroom, located adjacent to the second-floor bedrooms.

Outdoor enthusiasts won't have any trouble finding fun in The Dalles. It's in the hills of the Columbia River Gorge, flush with forests, orchards, high desert and the beautiful Multnomah Falls. The town is just 1½ hours from Portland. But Mt. Hood is less than an hour away, for hiking, biking, mountain climbing and white water rafting in abundance.

See more photos of this Oregon home.

Ruby Mason: Windermere Glenn Taylor Real Estate; 541-386-3444

9 ways to crush all-cash buyers

Someone selling their house loves a buyer who pays cash. If you're relying on a mortgage to buy a home, you'll need a strategy to compete.

Click here to get started.

9 biggest mortgage mistakes

Our guide will turn you into a savvy borrower so that owning your home will be a joy, not a burden, and will help you achieve long-term financial security.

Click here to get started.