Setting our sights on scenic cities across the nation
Sometimes the most memorable parts of your vacation aren’t the excursions you went on or the fancy meals you ate. Rather, it was the memory of watching a migratory shorebird flutter over the coastline, or running your hands along the wooden handrails of a home built hundreds of years ago. Those captivating moments—that stick with you forever—are the ones in which you found beauty.
There’s no shortage of beauty in this world, and we set out to find it. Our mission was to pinpoint the most beautiful places to travel in every state that may not be on your radar. Because beauty is impossible to define, we took into account all kinds of aesthetically pleasing characteristics, from historical attractions to natural landscapes. We all know major places like New York City and San Francisco exude beauty, so we scoured through villages, towns, and cities to find lesser-known destinations that will make you sigh with wonder.
Valdez lives up to its nickname of Land of Waterfalls. Snow covers this city in the winter, but when it melts in the spring, majestic waterfalls cover the mountainsides. Join a tour with Anadyr Adventures to see the frozen beauty up close, as you kayak through fjords and witness the waterfalls, glaciers, and icebergs that call Valdez home. For more mind-blowing vistas, make exploring the Mineral Creek Trail a priority.
You’ll probably see the water spraying out into the sky long before you arrive in Fountain Hills. Shooting up 560 feet, the famous flume reaches higher than the Washington Monument. While the city is home to one of the world’s largest fountains, its beauty is apparent in a number of ways: Explore the Fountain Hills Botanical Garden to marvel at the desert plants and hike Sonoran Trail for sweeping views of the lower Verde Valley.
It’s not easy to define beauty in California, the land of sparkling riverbanks and blossoming dogwood trees. Though there’s a lot of competition, the alpine village of Dunsmuir is undeniably scenic, laden with pine trees and some of the best fishing spots around. Catch and release on the Upper Sacramento, take in the glorious Mount Shasta views, and discover the railroad history in downtown.
By winter, Grand Lake is a snowmobiler’s paradise, covered in powder, and once summer time rolls around, the water is too inviting to resist. Certainly the state’s largest natural lake is this city’s pride and joy, but don’t overlook the mountainous scenery and historical wooden boardwalk. After cruising along Trail Ridge Road, the nation’s highest continuous road, settle in for dinner at Mustachio’s on the Lake for fine dining and even finer views.
Escape city life in the rural town of Kent. Complete with its own hamlets, it may be small, but it sure can dazzle. Kent Falls State Park has picturesque waterfalls that cascade down Fall Brook, and the Flanders Historic District has an impressive pre-Revolutionary home dating back to 1751. To round out the show-stopping scenery, venture to Lake Waramaug State Park to see its enticing blue waters and grassy lawns.
Once a grain shipping port, Odessa is a historical village that has carefully preserved its past. The Historic Odessa Foundation is a prime example of life in the town long ago, as it features five properties dating back to the 18th– and 19th-centuries. Admire the antique architecture, and be sure to visit in autumn to see the leaves change burnt orange and auburn, perfectly accenting the town’s undeniable charm.
You’ll find this coastal gem sitting along the Panhandle. The fishing town may remind you of New England-style allure, but make no mistake, it’s Floridian to its core. Slurp down some local oysters at Up the Creek Raw Bar, while watching the shrimp boats steer along the Apalachicola River. Afterward, stroll around the Historic District to see the 900 sites, from Victorian homes to cotton warehouses, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pine Mountain is your refuge when you’re craving grass beneath your feet and fresh air in your lungs. Escape to the Callaway Gardens, a natural oasis in the Appalachian Mountains, where you can get lost in fields of azaleas, soar among the treetops on a zip line, and skim the surface of Robin Lake on water skis. For a different view, sync up with Roosevelt Riding Stables to trot along the creeks and pine trees from a horse’s saddle.
Crossing the bridge over Lake Pend Oreille into Sandpoint is just a preview of the eye candy you’ll score in this lakeside retreat. Tucked between three mountain ranges, Sandpoint has got it all: hiking trails, ski terrain, and lake activities. Romp around Schweitzer Mountain Resort and head to the summit for lunch with gorgeous alpine views. Come evening, further bask in this city’s glory with a sunset kayaking lake excursion with Action Water Sports.
Rockford is certainly a catch. Whether you’re picking honey crisp apples at Curran’s Orchard or doting on the intricate Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, you’re in for a treat when you explore this Midwest city. But if tut, tut, it looks like rain, don’t worry, it won’t put a damper on your sightseeing; Rockford Rain Art has a genius installation, in which artwork magically appears on wet sidewalks in certain parts of town!
Bloomington is the college town you dream of attending. The Indiana University Bloomington area is rich with bike trails, and the limestone academic buildings are so regal and inviting. Orange-leaved trees frame the campus in autumn, and snow dusts the grounds in winter. Downtown is just as expressive and welcoming; attend the monthly Gallery Walks to ogle the local artwork, and then cycle along the B-Line Trail to see the manicured landscape and awesome public art.
Only in a place as calm and scenic as Decorah would you find an eagle family so famous they almost broke the Internet. Perched in their nests in the cottonwood trees, overlooking the Decorah Fish Hatchery, the Decorah Bald Eagles simply add to the peaceful and picturesque river landscape. For more outdoor beauty, mountain bike through Palisades Park and look out over the cityscape, or hike through the forest to the waterfall at Malanaphy Springs.
Just the name of Cottonwood Falls conjures up some charming imagery, and the Kansas city doesn’t disappoint. It’s home to the state’s oldest operating courthouse, Chase County Courthouse, which features a glamourous three-story staircase made from local walnut trees. After witnessing the manmade art, see what nature has in store. Make a day of exploring the Chase State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area, where you might catch sight of turkeys, prairie chickens, and white-tailed deer by the water.
Set your sights on Pikeville, an eastern Kentucky city tucked in the Appalachian Mountains. Its downtown, built along the Levisa Fork, is teeming with stories of the past, as landmarks such as the 1874 Historic York House still stand today. Indulge in Main Street’s heritage, and hunt for the 13 bear art installations scattered around town. Next up, grab a paddle and kayak along the Kentucky Blue Water Trail, surrounded by intense greenery.
You’ll feel like you’re slipping back in time in this tiny town in Louisiana, just north of the Mississippi River. St. Francisville showcases structures from its early days, set in the region’s lovely landscape. Discover the ancient live oak trees leading up to the 1796 Myrtles Plantation, said to be one of the nation’s most haunted homes, and then meander through the colorful Afton Villa Gardens. Don’t leave town without a saunter through the hardwood forest in Tunica Hills.
The rocky coastline and rippled blue waters are just a slice of what makes Boothbay Harbor so easy on the eyes. Accented by sailboats off the coast and antique light houses, the seaside town is a nautical delight. Climb aboard Sail Muscongus’ Sarah Mead, Maine’s last remaining lobster sailboat, to learn about lobster catching while cruising the dreamy harbor, and then visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to witness different blooms according to the season.
With its roots in ship building and oyster harvesting, St. Michaels has a rich maritime history. The small town sits on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, scattered with homes dating back to the 18th– and 19th-century that demand your admiration. Sip some local vino at the St. Michaels Winery, located in the Historic Old Mill complex, and then relish the views while standup paddle boarding on Miles River.
You’ll find this scenic town hugging the southern shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. Its colorful, striped cliffs, known as the Pictured Rocks, are perhaps one of its most remarkable traits. When the temperatures warm up, kayak off the shores while delighting in the natural wonder and historical lighthouses. Then take the ferry to Grand Island National Recreational Area for an adventure in nature. If the weather is still frigid though, head to Munising Falls to see the glorious 50-foot waterfall frozen in time.
The lovely Winona is located in bluff country along the Mississippi River. Discover the city’s natural attractiveness at Lake Park, where you can canoe in the warm months and ice skate when it freezes. Or, head to Great River Bluffs State Park, home to maple-basswood forests and stunning bluffs with rocky cliffs. As for its manmade elegance, join a glass walking tour to see the most beautiful displays of vintage stained glass at notable landmarks, such as the Winona National Bank and County Courthouse.
Turn back the hands of time in Weston, a pre-Civil War town, along the Missouri River. Here you’ll come across antebellum homes, historical churches, and the nation’s oldest continually operating distillery. Swing by McCormick Distilling for a splash of aged whiskey, tour the working farmstead at Weston Red Barn Farm, and make your way to the Weston Bend State Park scenic overlook to gaze out over the forest and river beyond—the views are truly exquisite.
Natural beauty is Kalispell’s strong suit. Nestled in the Flathead Valley, this Montana playground is within arm’s reach of Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. Immerse yourself in the mountain scenery at Lonesome Dove Guest Ranch, where you can horseback ride along the rustic trails. Afterward, join a Main Street Walking Tour to see structures built back when it was a railroad town. The classical revival-style Carnegie Library was built in 1903, while the Masonic Temple dates back to 1904.
When it comes to pinpointing one of the most beautiful places to travel, look no further than the Lake Tahoe town, Incline Village. Overlooking perhaps the bluest lake you’ll ever admire, this heavenly village is set in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Tee up on the all-natural Incline Village Mountain Course, surrounded by towering pine trees, and then discover the rock formations on the shores of Sand Harbor, before dipping below the lake’s surface to explore.
When looking for a good subject, artists turn to Harrisville time and again. After all, historical structures and scenic landscapes make for a pretty picture. Take Peanut Row, the five 1864 Greek revival cottages that stand side by side, or the inviting Sunset Beach at Harrisville Pond—both are vividly attractive in their own ways. Soak in the scenery of this old mill town, which is home to farms, 10 lakes and ponds, and even a general store that has been operating since 1838.
Abiquiu’s natural landscape is rugged and majestic, with its red and orange rocks that look especially stunning at sunset. It’s no wonder artist Georgia O’Keeffe made her home in this village, perhaps gathering inspiration from the surrounding scenery. Visit O’Keefe’s second home within the village, and then scan the horizon for the Plaza Blanca, the unique white limestone rock formation. Between the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm and Echo Amphitheater, this New Mexico town knows beauty.
Windham is another town that has a nickname recognizing its natural beauty. Called the Gem of the Catskills, it’s home to Windham Mountain Resort, which has 1,600 vertical feet of epic alpine terrain for skiing and biking. To get around town on foot, hit the Windham Path, which winds you through the woods, fields, and streams with views of the Catskill Mountains in the distance. In the warmer months, you’ll find colorful wildflowers scattered around the trails.
Settled cozily along the Sheyenne River, pretty Valley City is home to 11 historic bridges, some of which date back as far as the 1890s. Take a tour of these celebrated arches, and then see what’s in store at the Medicine Wheel Park. The 30 acres of serene parkland feature the impressive medicine wheel solar calendar, native burial grounds, and even a perennial garden. On your way out of town, take the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway for unbeatable views.
Let your eyes linger on the rural village of Granville. Taking a page out of New England, it has its fair share of historical charm. Here you’ll find the lavish Granville Inn, constructed in 1924, along with the 52-room Bryn Du Mansion, which was originally built in 1865 and later renovated in 1905. While you’re in town, head to the top of the grassy bluff, overlooking Raccoon Creek Valley, where the famous, ancient Alligator Effigy Mound sits.
Everyone knows Oregon’s coastline is spectacular, but when you venture into the state’s wine county, you’ll be rewarded with rustic charm. McMinnville has a dreamy ambience, from its maple tree-lined streets to its green, sloping vineyards. Set in the Willamette Valley, it has plenty of character, from the area’s oldest winery, Yamhill Valley Vineyards, to the old timber barn in the Granary District, which now houses Grain Station Brew Works.
Bethlehem is remarkable year-round, but Christmas is when it really sparkles. Come December, this city by the banks of Monocacy Creek is a festive dream, from twinkly lights and decorative wreaths to the Live Advent Calendar performance each night at the 1810 Goundie House. Holidays aside, you’ll find plenty of bewitching attractions in town, including the 1741 Historic Moravian Bethlehem community and scenic vistas from South Mountain Lookout, 625 feet in the sky.
In South Carolina’s Lowcountry, you’ll recognize scenic Bluffton when you arrive on the banks of May River, where moss covers the oak trees. It’s a whimsical town, and many of its attractions hold stories of the past, such as the 1841 antebellum summer home, Heyward House. Check out the local shops, restaurants, and art galleries in historical downtown, and then enjoy a riverside picnic at Pritchard Pocket Park to get a sense of this enchanting town.
If you’ve never laid on eyes on the Heart of the Hills, it’s time to visit this unforgettable destination in the Black Hills. Hill City began as a frontier town and later a railroad stop, as the 1880 Train rolled through in the 1950s. Still in service, the 1880 Train winds past mining encampments and Black Elk Peak, between Hill City and nearby Keystone. Journey along the scenic railway and then take in the sights at Wade’s Gold Mill, where you just might strike gold!
You’re invited to explore the wonderful Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Considered the least crowded of the three gateways, Townsend is a place where you can retreat into the grand expanse of nature. Gulp down the fresh mountain air as you cycle along the Townsend Bicycle Path and pass by historical landmarks, and then go underground and marvel at the Tuckaleechee Caverns, which were formed 20 to 30 million years ago!
Texas Hill Country is known for its striking scenery, and the imagery in Vanderpool is no exception. Serving up solid views of Sabinal Canyon, this small town is home to Lost Maples State Natural Area, where bigtooth maples stand tall and the Sabinal River flows. Feel the crunch of the colorful leaves under your feet during fall, and hook a line into the babbling Can Creek come springtime.
It’s time to discover Garden City, sitting on the shores of Bear Lake. No, it’s not your imagination, the lake water is especially blue due to the reflection of the limestone deposits beneath the surface. When the weather is warm, spend your days boating and swimming in the lake, nicknamed the Caribbean of the Rockies, and once the temperatures plummet, suit up for shredding Beaver Mountain’s 1,700 vertical drop or snowmobiling the 350 miles of groomed trails.
Stowe is gorgeous at its core, but the views of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, certainly helps its appeal. This mountain town is easy on the eyes during every season, particularly in autumn when every treetop turns a shade of orange and red, and in winter, when a white blanket covers the village until spring. For an unbeatable experience, join Umiak Outdoor Outfitters for a dog carting adventure, in which Alaskan Huskies pull your cart through scenic wooded trails.
Crozet is a charming place where farmland meets mountains. There’s something alluring about the downtown scene as the buildings seem frozen in time with the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains as their backdrop. To get a taste of this slice of Virginia, take a tour of the King Family Vineyards, where you can sample the local libations and see the vines up close. Come nightfall, stay at The Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm, an enchanting B&B, nestled within the wine country.
A jaunt to Whidbey Island will reveal the splendor that is Coupeville. This quaint island destination has farmland that practically reaches the waters, where gray whales surface for air. To see the spectacular lay of the land from above, venture up the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and peer out onto the Olympic Peninsula and Admiralty Inlet. Meander along the iconic Coupeville Wharf, and go to Ebey’s Landing at sunset for a memorable show.
To truly see this town’s majesty, begin by climbing all 122 steps up the Summersville Lake Lighthouse for a panoramic view of Summersville Lake, the hardwood forests, and beyond. In the summer, take to the waters, considered one of the cleanest lakes in the nation, and in the autumn, watch as the leaves change from green to rust. After savoring the mountainous glory, hunt down the Nicholas County Courthouse, which was built in 1898.
Of the most beautiful towns in Wisconsin, Algoma, the Park of Flowers, caught our eye. It’s tucked along the shores of Lake Michigan, boasting buildings and homes that are more than 100 years old. Stare out at the shimmery waters at Crescent Beach and catch sight of the red Algoma Pierhead Lighthouse, while meandering along the boardwalk. During your visit, slip into von Stiehl Winery, the state’s oldest licensed winery, which is located in a Civil War-era building, with a terrace overlooking the lake.
What are some of your most beautiful places to vacation?
Header photo via Flickr/Bring Back Words
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