America's Favorite Towns 2013
As you watch the sun dip below 14,000-foot peaks from Allred’s restaurant, toast your craft beers to a vacation well spent in Telluride, CO, a historic ski town hip enough to host film and bluegrass festivals.
Related: America’s Best Little Beach Towns
Telluride, rated No. 7, is just one of the small towns with outsize personalities that proved irresistible to the T+L community. For our first America’s Favorite Towns survey, we asked our fans and followers to nominate their favorites on social media with the hashtag #TLTowns—and then to vote for the 744 towns in 55 categories, including farmers’ markets, museums, adventure travel, and family-friendly hotels.
To determine the overall popularity results, we calculated each town’s average score. The results reveal that T+L readers have a soft spot for small towns in the Rockies, with the No. 1 title going to Aspen, CO, which scored highly for its attractive locals, beer scene, and Victorian-era Main Street.
Related: America's Best Mountain Resorts
What most winning towns have in common is a history dating back at least a century. Charlottesville, VA, for instance, still bears the imprint of Thomas Jefferson, who masterminded Monticello and the University of Virginia and also appreciated fine wine. The area makes a scenic wine-country getaway, with the Blue Ridge Mountains for a backdrop.
Read on for more of T+L’s favorite towns—and share your picks in the comments below.
No. 1 Aspen, CO
Beauty abounds in this tony ski town, from the 14,000-foot heights of the surrounding peaks to its residents, who won the No. 2 spot in the survey’s attractive people category—second only to the southern belles of Oxford, MS. (And looks aren’t everything: Aspenites also scored No. 3 for intelligence.) Victorian-era brick façades housing chic boutiques like Fendi and Prada lend an Old West–meets–Fifth Avenue appeal to the former mining town’s walkable streets, which encompass the No. 3–ranked Main Street and No. 1 town square.
No. 2 Estes Park, CO
Elk wander the streets at will in this gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park, where a bustling Main Street encourages visitors to stroll with ice cream cone in hand. Its 2 million annual visitors can choose from rustic to regal accommodations that earned high marks in the cool motels (No. 1), B&Bs (No. 4), and vacation homes (No. 9) categories. Historic inns like the 105-year-old Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, came in at No. 3. visitestespark.com; shopestesparkcolorado.com.
No. 3 St. Simons, GA
The ebb and flow of the Atlantic dictates life in this resort town on an 18-square-mile island off the Georgia coast. T+L readers gave St. Simons high marks for the caliber of its residents, scoring ninth place for most active and sixth for their intelligence. They’re lucky to live in a beautiful natural setting, with miles of sandy beaches and sprawling oaks. Attractions include golf courses and an 1872 lighthouse with sweeping views.
No. 4 Beaufort, NC
Southern charm reigns in this coastal Inner Banks town. Its antebellum architecture and a pirate past helped earn it the survey’s No. 3 spot for historical sites. Beyond Blackbeard landmarks, Beaufort also draws raves for local flavors: visitors can shop for just-picked pears, farm-fresh cheeses, and handmade crafts under majestic oak trees at highly rated farmers’ markets. Given its research centers for Duke University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s no surprise Beaufort also ranked No. 8 for intelligent people.
No. 5 Amelia Island, FL
Thirteen scenic miles of Atlantic coastline remain one constant on this barrier island that has absorbed French, Spanish, English, and Mexican influences over the course of a tumultuous 400-plus years. Horse-drawn carriage rides and homes-turned-B&Bs preserve a colonial character in the 50-block historic district of Fernandina Beach, the island’s hub.
No. 6 Lewisburg, WV
This hamlet in the Greenbrier Valley offers something for everyone, with art galleries and cool cafés filling a historic downtown and a rugged surrounding countryside voted No. 1 for adventure travel. Browse local shops like kid-friendly Honnahlee and Bella the Corner Gourmet to purchase some of Lewisburg’s No. 1–rated cool souvenirs. Or, plan your visit during April’s annual chocolate festival or the state fair in August to see why readers ranked it No. 4 for both fairs and festivals.
No. 7 Telluride, CO
Deep within a glacier-carved valley, this rustic mining camp–turned–vacation destination is perhaps best known for its pristine Rocky Mountain scenery and steep, challenging ski terrain. T+L readers recognized that it’s also a cultural hub, rating it No. 1 in the music category for annual events like the Telluride Bluegrass and Blues & Brews festivals. Those seeking a holiday winter wonderland should note that the town also snagged the No. 1 spot for Christmas lights.
No. 8 Franklin, TN
There’s a festival for virtually every month of the year hosted in 18th-century Franklin’s brick-paved downtown—named among the country’s best by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You might sample beer and Irish whiskey at the Main Street Brew Fest each March or bluegrass fiddling in late July, or join a Dickens-themed Christmas celebration. The town also ranked No. 3 for Christmas lights.
No. 9 Burlington, VT
A strong local foodie culture earned this college town votes in a variety of dining categories, including cafés (No. 2), ice cream (No. 4), burgers (No. 5), and coffee (No. 9). Sandwiched between the Green Mountains and glittering Lake Champlain, Burlington is a four-season center for boating, biking, hiking, and skiing. Refuel with a maple creemee (Vermontese for soft-serve ice cream) at lakeside cafés or some spuds at Al’s French Frys, a 1940s institution.
No. 10 Stowe, VT
Cradled by Mount Mansfield and the Green Mountains, this small valley town shines in autumn and winter. Coming in at No. 4 for fall visits and adventure vacations, it sees its fair share of leaf-peepers, hikers, skiers, and snowboarders. Visitors can take their pick of historic inns (No. 5), cool motels (No. 6), family-friendly hotels (No. 10), and other great places to stay, including the Stowe Mountain Resort and the Austria-inspired Trapp Family Lodge, of Sound of Music fame.
No. 11 Skaneateles, NY
Crystal-clear Skaneateles Lake anchors this small community in the Finger Lakes region, attracting the first settlers in the early 1800s and today offering an idyllic setting for swimming, fishing, and boating. T+L readers ranked the town No. 6 for active people and No. 4 for summer getaways, plus raved about the many quaint B&Bs, among them, Sherwood Inn, where rooms come with fireplaces, and the antique-filled Arbor House Inn.
No. 12 Traverse City, MI
If fruit-focused travel becomes a trend, this northern Michigan town will be well suited to take advantage: the Traverse City area produces more tart cherries than anywhere else in America, and celebrates the juicy red drupe each year with a weeklong festival in early July. It’s probably why T+L readers voted this town a great summer destination, though its respected vineyards, numerous beaches, and fast-growing microbrew industry couldn’t have hurt.
No. 13 Doylestown, PA
This Bucks County township has taken center stage at key historic moments, hosting George Washington and his soldiers during the Revolutionary War and sending the first wave of Union troops to join the Civil War. T+L readers ranked it No. 1 for museums, including the imposing Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle and the James A. Michener Art Museum. More surprising, Doylestown beat out several coastal cities to earn a No. 3 ranking for seafood shacks, including the 25-year-old local mainstay Lobster Claw.
No. 14 Charlottesville, VA
Thomas Jefferson loved beautiful architecture and fine wine, two qualities of a great town that still live on and definitely resonate with T+L readers. Monticello and the University of Virginia were undoubtedly at the core of Charlottesville’s high score in the historical sites category, and the town’s No. 19 ranking in wine lends further credence to this area’s growing focus on crafting winning vintages.
No. 15 Park City, UT
You’ll find three of the country’s finest ski resorts in Park City, a 19th-century town east of Salt Lake famous for its winter sports. Off the mountain, its wide range of cultural, shopping, and dining opportunities resulted in high scores in such diverse categories as girlfriend getaways (No. 3), gay-friendly vacations (No. 9), and family vacations (No. 9). T+L readers also like to call Park City home for the holidays, voting it the No. 1 Christmas destination.
No. 16 Bardstown, KY
With its 1892 courthouse and revitalized Main Street, downtown Bardstown makes a picturesque setting for 30 annual festivals, most famously September’s tribute to Kentucky bourbon. Family-run distilleries welcome visitors year round, and restaurants like Circa find creative ways to work bourbon into the menu. T+L readers also appreciated this small town for its No. 9–rated historical sites, among them, My Old Kentucky Home State Park (a tribute to composer Stephen Foster) and the Civil War Museum.
No. 17 Harbor Springs, MI
On a sheltered bay, Harbor Springs has all the trappings of a family-friendly beach resort town: old-time ice cream and candy shops; a historic lighthouse; sailing schools; and nearby nature preserves. That kind of all-American appeal earned it the No. 7 score for being patriotic. Locals embrace the Halloween spirit with parades and events and, come winter, strap on ski boots and snowshoes.
No. 18 New Hope, PA
Just 10 miles northeast of No. 13 Doylestown, New Hope shares its neighbor’s historic character. The town’s 19th-century storefronts filled with old-time treasures scored the No. 4 spot for antiques shopping. An influx of painters in the early 1900s transformed this Delaware River mill town into an artists’ colony, a reputation that continues with numerous galleries, a well-regarded playhouse, and the No. 10 ranking for hipness.
No. 19 Lititz, PA
Founded by German settlers and strict Protestants in the mid-1700s, this vibrant village in Pennsylvania Dutch country still bears the imprint of its early inhabitants. Multipointed Moravian stars adorning local structures are illuminated for the holidays, creating a festive air—readers voted it the No. 3 Christmas destination and No. 9 for Christmas lights. Also the site of one of the nation’s longest-running Fourth of July celebrations, Lititz ranked highly among readers for its patriotism (No. 3) and town pride (No. 4).
No. 20 Eureka Springs, AR
Not only does this northwest Arkansas town bubble over with mineral springs, but it also offers lakes and rivers popular for fishing, kayaking, and summer party cruises. Active types fit in well here, as do the artsy; Eureka Springs has a reputation for being quirky, with a hilly historic center full of galleries, live-music bars, Victorian gingerbread homes, and, according to T+L readers, cool motels (No. 2).