Is Eau Claire the “best small town” in Wisconsin?

Mike Paulus, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Phoenix Park, Eau Claire
Phoenix Park, Eau Claire

Here’s yet another internet list on which we find the fair city of Eau Claire.

Thrillist’s recent rundown of THE BEST SMALL TOWN TO VISIT IN ALL 50 STATES explores America’s small towns as inexpensive travel destinations, saying, “They’re ideal for young kids and retirees, two groups who favor the chiller things in life: short walks, sunny parks, uncrowded beaches, unhurried conversations. Small-towners also dig on taffy, chicken-fried steak, old-timey train stations, historical markers, quirky festivals, driving barefoot ... nodding hello to strangers, and other things that never really go out of style.”

Take that as you will.

Most towns on this list have populations in the 500-20,000 range, but Eau Claire took the Wisconsin spot despite its 67,500+ citizenship.

To no one’s surprise, Thrillist cites Justin Vernon and the upcoming Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival as reasons to visit. But they also mention our new downtown hotels, favoring The Oxbow for its locally sourced food and unique amenities. They also namecheck Phoenix Park and Lazy Monk Brewing while praising our trails and waterways. Here’s the full blurb on Eau Claire:

Wisconsin: Eau Claire

Population: 67,680

Eau Claire is a hair over our 60k population cap, but it's still one hell of a spot to spend a low-key weekend. Bon Iver frontman and Eau Claire native Justin Vernon chose this city to set up camp for the Eaux Claires Music Festival -- head there in June to see the likes of Feist, Wilco, and Chance the Rapper. Two hip boutique hotels just opened downtown, our favorite being the The Oxbow, with locally sourced grub at The Lakely, a stage, and an art gallery -- plus, every room has a phonograph with free vinyl records to rent at the front desk. But don’t hole up in your room. Surrounded by lush farmlands, Eau Claire earned its name for its crystal-clear waters, so take advantage of the stunning river trails and over 1,000 acres of parks. At the relatively new Phoenix Park, you can hit the farmers market, then cross the river to Lazy Monk Brewing for craft beer flights (the rye IPA is awesome). -- D.N. and Josh Mellin, Thrillist contributor

Travelers looking for a small town twofer are in luck as nearby Stillwater was the pick for Minnesota.

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