The term ‘border town’ carries a lot of shady connotations, but there are plenty of charming communities across the United States that just happen to lie relatively close to our Mexican or Canadian neighbors. Here are some of our favorite U.S. border towns, from coast-to-coast. For the sake of this list, every ‘town’ has fewer than 100,000 residents and lies within 50 miles of its respective foreign border.
Visitors to this quintessential college town (home to Western Washington University) will also encounter a wealth of outdoor activities in the surrounding areas. Cycling trails abound, the beach is just a short drive from anywhere within the city limits, and snow-capped Mt. Baker looms in the distance. But if you prefer to stick to the urban center, downtown Bellingham is rife with quirky shops, used book and record stores, museums, and watering holes (Boundary Bay Brewery is highly recommended).
While it’s not the former stomping grounds of the band that shares its name (they’re actually from Tucson), Calexico is home to an annual Mariachi festival that includes salsa tasting, tequila sampling, and lots of awesome live music. Another big draw is the ‘Perspective on the Latino Race’, an art exhibition put on every spring by San Diego State (which maintains a satellite campus in the city). And if you feel like crossing the border (’cause why not), the Baja city of Mexicali is just three miles away.
Del Rio, TX
Named the ‘Friendliest little Southern Town’ in the U.S. by Southern Living, Del Rio strikes a fine balance between American and Mexican influences ― though to be fair, Hispanic residents outnumber Caucasians four to one. It has served as the setting for numerous films, from the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men to the fifth (and final) installment of Kenny Rogers’ Gambler series. Del Rio is also renowned for the sizable largemouth bass and catfish specimens found in Lake Amistad, so the city has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for anglers across the country.
If you’ve always wanted to a) visit Vermont and b) take part in a soap box derby, then kill two birds with one stone and head to Newport next summer; the state’s only soap box contest is held there, with the winning racer advancing to the national competition. If you’ve got that competitive spirit but would rather visit Newport during the winter, check out the annual ice fishing derby that is held every February. And of course, if you happen to visit this time of year, there’s plenty of lush, autumn foliage to enjoy.
Presque Isle, ME
If hot air balloons are your cup of tea, then you may not have realized until now that Presque Isle is your favorite place. Every summer, this sleepy New England hamlet hosts the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest, which most recently featured 10 full-sized balloons and dozens of smaller ‘cloud hoppers’. If balloons aren’t your thing but you still want to attend the festival ― well, then that’s a little weird, but there are plenty of other events to participate in, such as a %K foot race, street fair, and live music. Much like the rest of Maine, Presque Isle is a winter wonderland during the winter months; nearby Aroostook State Park is prime territory for cross-country skiing, and there are plenty of lakes in the area where you can get some serious ice fishing done.
Arizona has yet to establish itself as a significant wine producer, but the good people of Willcox are doing their part to put this town on the oenophile’s map. Visitors will find plenty of wineries and vineyards in the area; local specialties include Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvedre. Willcox is also within an hour’s drive of Chiricahua National Monument, which is famous for its eye-popping rock formations.
By Brad Nehring