America’s Prettiest Cities

These places offer natural beauty, a unique identity or a combination of the two.

As temperatures rise and spring appears across the country, just about every place in America looks its best. Not much can top a stroll through bright-green Central Park on a warm April afternoon.

Then again, there are some American towns that stand out as exceptionally pretty just about any time of year, whether for architecture, aesthetics or small-town charm. To find these places, we sought the advice of several experts.

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To determine America’s most pretty towns, we asked for picks from several experts, including Salt Lake City-based architectural photographer Alan Blakely; residential designer Erin Anderson; painter John Vander Stelt; Bob Krist, photographer and host of PBS’ Restoration Stories; Sarah Tuff Dunn and Greg Melville, coauthors of 101 Best Outdoor Towns; Danno Glanz, a designer at urban planning firm Calthorp.

Union, Wash.

“There is something breathtaking about the way the Hood Canal winds its way through hills filled with thousands of evergreens,” says Anderson of this enclave on the Kitsap Peninsula, in Washington’s Puget Sound. “The town is inviting, the homes situated along the water’s edge are modest, and the buildings are characteristic of the Pacific Northwest.”

Crescent City, Calif.

Blakely describes this Northern California enclave, about 20 miles south of the Oregon border, as a “quiet town, with big empty beaches and big stands of redwoods surrounding it. At 5 a.m. the fishermen head out … and bring back excellent seafood.” The historic Battery Point Lighthouse stands watch just off Crescent City’s coast.

Deadwood, S.D.

“This historic town still breathes with the rugged spirit and beauty of a frontier town,” Vander Stelt says of Deadwood, the South Dakota outpost whose notorious residents have included Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Cape May, N.J.

Krist says visiting Cape May, which is located at the southern tip of New Jersey, “is like going back in time.” Beautiful old hotels, a high concentration of Victorian homes, bed and breakfasts and an inviting beach are among its appealing features. Krist adds that Cape May offers “some the best bird watching on the East Coast.”

Marfa, Texas

“Marfa is a classic small Texas town that has been reborn as a center for the contemporary arts,” says Glanz. In the 1970s the artist Donald Judd turned an old military base into a home for his own sculptures and other artists’ work. Now called the Chinati Foundation, the site remains an innovative museum for permanent installations that are integrated with the surrounding landscape. Marfa is also home to the El Paisano hotel, the ornate Spanish Colonial-style structure that served as a backdrop for the film Giant, starring James Dean.

Savannah, Ga.

Called the “Hostess City of the South,” Savannah was founded in 1733 and served as Georgia’s colonial capital. Civil War Union Gen. Sherman spared the city during his notorious march to the sea, and its antebellum character is still intact. Greg Ward, co- author of The Rough Guide USA, counts Savannah’s “superb garden squares, dripping with Spanish moss, and its cobbled river port” among the features that make it “the loveliest colonial town in the U.S.”

Lake Placid, N.Y.

101 Best Outdoor Towns co-authors Sarah Tuff Dunn and Melville both put the upstate New York town of Lake Placid on their (independently compiled) lists. Dunn says it’s the “classic Main Street, pine-speckled hills and pristine small lakes” that appeal to her, while Melville describes Lake Placid as “the closest you can get to living out West when you’re in the East. It’s got the jagged mountain backdrop surrounding an unpretentious ski village bordered by two crystal lakes.”

Guttenberg, Iowa

“It’s like a page ripped out of a Mark Twain novel where the Main Street storefronts face the mighty Mississippi,” says Vander Stelt. “The local city park hugs the shoreline and is reminiscent of Seurat’s painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.’ This quaint village is a laidback slice of Americana.”

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