Small Towns Where You Don’t Need a Car

Rose Morrison

Mar 8, 2021

small towns where you don't need a car

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Let’s be real — there are many reasons why you might want to ditch driving forever. Some worry about their ability to operate a vehicle safely. Others simply don’t want the expense of owning and maintaining a car, which includes a vehicle payment, maintenance and insurance costs. And for those with a focus on sustainability, the idea of reducing emissions is more appealing than anything else.

There are some places in the United States where it’s much easier to live without access to your own vehicle. If you live in a rural area without public transportation or nearby stores, you might have a hard time getting the supplies you need or going to appointments.

However, you don’t need to live in a major metro center to find a walkable community. You just need some combination of these features:

  • Public transportation system
  • Bike-sharing programs
  • Your own dedicated bike
  • A home or apartment in a walkable neighborhood

Ready to retire to an idyllic small town? Check out what life looks like in these small towns where you don’t need a car at all.

1. Mackinac Island, Michigan

This small island town on Lake Huron seems almost frozen in time. No automobiles are allowed on the 3.8-square-mile- island filled with horse-drawn carriages and 1800s structures. The island is known as a tourist destination and is a National Historic Landmark to boot, making it a place full of historic character.

If you wish to work and live there, you’ll find ample opportunities in the hospitality industry. You will soon get to know everyone — as under 600 people live there permanently. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a great escape for anyone who likes to really get to know their neighbors.

fire island, ny

2. Fire Island, New York

The second on our list of small towns where you don’t need a car is Fire Island, New York. If you prefer an east coast setting, the various towns on Fire Island are another option for carless living. The island is a thin strip of about 8.742 miles total just off the southern part of Long Island. Fewer than 500 people live on Fire Island, but visitors take a ferry ride to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Once on the island, you can get from town to town using the water taxi service or by walking on the island’s many boardwalks.

You’ll find beautiful beaches and a lighthouse. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants and islanders often bike to and from places. Just be prepared to invest your life savings in a full-time residence, as Fire Island — like New York City as a whole — will be an expensive place to get started in. How far can the lack of a car payment get you?

st. petersburg, florida

3. St. Petersburg, Florida

While not wholly vehicle-free, St. Pete is known for great walking and biking paths throughout the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. It’s laid out, so it’s easy to get from place to place without much effort.

St. Petersburg is also distinct on this list for featuring a robust public transit system. With a metro, public bus system, trolley bus and tram, there are many options for residents who need to navigate the city. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) offers plenty of information on fare and schedules for those curious about visiting or living in the area.

Moving to St. Petersburg can help you balance a car-free lifestyle with a more laid-back, small city atmosphere.

Bald Head Island, NC

4. Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Formerly known as Smith Island, the small village is on the eastern side of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. It’s close to Wilmington. You must take a ferry to get to the island, which will leave cars back on the mainland. Good riddance, right? Residents actually use bikes or golf carts to get around from place to place.

What makes this place so car-free? This island has about 10,000 acres reserved for nature to protect the sea turtle population. It’s about 5.8 square miles total with a population of under 200 people. So while actually moving here is likely to be a challenge (to say the least), you can count on a car-free lifestyle with a small collection of neighbors. 

5. Greenfield, Indiana

If living in Hoosier country is more your style, the birthplace of poet James Whitcomb Riley is an excellent choice for those without a vehicle. The small location boasts everything from an annual festival to restaurants and stores. Most things are within a leisurely bike ride or walk with country backroads at the perfect location for a short jaunt.

The town has a population of about 20,000 people, making it a little more eventful than some of the remote locations on this list. For the very best of country living, a self-proclaimed homebody can enjoy exploring Greenfieled without needing to maintain a vehicle.

Santa Barbara, CA

6. Santa Barbara, California 

This place on our list of small towns where you don’t need a car is located on the central coast of California. The town features the Ynez Mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. While this city is a bit bigger than some of the other tiny towns on the list, it still has a small-town feel with more amenities than some other places.

If you live in the downtown area, you can easily walk to nearly anything you need, such as shops and restaurants. Within a short distance, you’ll also find parks and museums. The city is known for its bike paths and walkability.

Of course, one major advantage of moving to Santa Barbara is its bus system. The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District offers 42 total transit routes for bus riders. This makes navigating different parts of the city much more accessible for car-free residents.

7. Peachtree City, Georgia

Just south of Atlanta, the small town has a population of about 35,766. Residents and visitors are known for using golf carts to get from place to place. While things aren’t always within walking distance and there is no public transportation, you can take your golf cart almost anywhere you’d like in this small town.

Expect to see perks for golf cart owners everywhere, such as parking spaces at the local high school and restaurants. Other options for transportation include carpooling,

Visit These Small Towns Where You Don’t Need a Car

If you’d like to move to one of the small towns where you don’t need a car, there are various different towns scattered throughout the United States.

Look for a town where most shops and entertainment are within walking distance. Seek out carpool-sharing options for the rare times you do need to go a bit further. Think about the atmosphere you most want in the place you live and choose the option working best for your personality. Car-free living might feel inaccessible in the United States, but with some research and resourcefulness, you can make it work for you.

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