Family Travel

You Know You're in a Small Town When...

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Cherry blossoms iat Lake Chelan, Washinton.

I didn’t realize I was missing the endearing moments of small town charm and the kindness of strangers until I took a trip to Lake Chelan, Washington. Visiting Lake Chelan and the neighboring towns of Chelan and Manson (part of North Cascades National Park, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains) was a fun adventure and provided a sweet taste of life at a slower pace. The trip is what inspired this list.

You know you're in a small town when...

Lakeview drive-in sign.You stop at Lakeview Drive-In (the local hotspot) for a hamburger and your travel guide runs into her grandfather. {Shout-out to Donn!} 

A street performer can do a show in the middle of an intersection on "Main Street" without disrupting traffic.

The bowling alley attendant doesn't ask you to leave one shoe behind the desk while you use their bowling shoes.

There are two traffic lights in town and most businesses close by 6 p.m.

The locals order "fry sauce" with French fries. {Um, you mean ketchup, right?} It’s like the “spread” at In-N-Out Burger.

People not only say hello, they’re happy to stop and chat for a while.

Tractor at the Annual Apple Blossom Festival.The Annual Apple Blossom Festival starts with a Pig Jig Fun Run and pancake breakfast at town hall. Pancakes are cooked and served by local celebrities such as the school principal, librarian and Kiwanis Club president. 

The street fair has “nearly 20” vendors.

After the Apple Blossom Festival parade, residents head to the local church for a chicken noodle dinner and slice of homemade pie.

Two hours after the parade ends, there's a couple still sitting in their chairs on the parade route, eating popcorn. In San Diego, we call this people watching. But in this case, there were no people around.

There’s not a single piece of trash on the ground.

After talking to a nice shop owner you just met, she takes a photo of her son out of her wallet and says you can keep it.

You meet a sweet couple at the park that is super excited to tell you they blew bubbles in the parade that morning and have been doing it for more than 30 years. They exclaim, "Did you see us?!"

And finally, you know you live in a big city when you even notice everything listed above. To the residents of Chelan, WA (and other small towns), this is nothing out of the ordinary—just wonderful everyday occurrences. To learn more about Lake Chelan, visit

Where is your favorite place to experience small town charm? What makes it awesome? Email your response to Please put “small town charm” in the subject line.

Lisa Gipson enjoys discovering new places with her family when she’s not busy editing San Diego Family Magazine.

Published September 2016