2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations
Each year, the National Trust celebrates cities and towns around the country selected for their rich cultural heritage, meticulously preserved historic buildings, and abundance of activities that ensure visitors will have enriching—and memorable—experiences. This year's list includes a town steeped in Wild West history and the whaling capital of the 19th century.
By Magazine Editors | From Preservation | March/April 2011
Located just a short Metro ride from Washington, D.C., Alexandria is home to such 18th-century historic sites as Gadsby's Tavern Museum, the building where Thomas Jefferson celebrated his inauguration. Visitors can also bike the Mount Vernon Trail, tour George Washington's residence, and stroll along the historic waterfront in Old Town, the nation's third-oldest historic district, where high-end boutiques and antiques shops line cobblestone streets.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Surrounding the University of North Carolina, which was founded in 1789 as the nation's first public university, Chapel Hill showcases such historic sites as the Morehead Planetarium, where NASA astronauts trained for the Gemini and Apollo missions, and the North Carolina Botanical Garden. It is also home to several live-music venues.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Early settlers were drawn to this scenic mountain outpost by its sunny skies and mineral springs. Today, Colorado Springs attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its bicycle-friendly streets and fascinating sites, including the Garden of the Gods rock formations and the Manitou cliff dwellings, built by the Anasazi more than 700 years ago. The main academic complex at the U.S. Air Force Academy, a National Historic Landmark dating to 1955, is home to a stunning collection of Modernist buildings.
Dandridge, located on the shores of Douglas Lake at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, was established in 1783, making it the second oldest town in Tennessee. Walking tours of the well preserved, historic downtown attract tourists, as do the milk shakes at the century-old Tinsley-Bible Drug Company. Other popular sites in this town of 2,600 include a Revolutionary War-era graveyard.
Located along the redwood-lined Pacific coastline, Eureka features a remarkable collection of historic structures, including inns, museums, and more than 1,000 Victorian buildings. The most famous is the 1885 Carson Mansion, the 18-room home of an early lumber baron. Visitors can stroll along the boardwalk by Humboldt Bay, taking in views of passing boats and wildlife, or attend the monthly arts festival in the Old Town district.
Established by Native Americans, former slaves, and European immigrants, this diverse inland port has become famous for its annual azalea festival. Historic sites include the Five Civilized Tribes Museum, Fort Gibson (the last stop on the Trail of Tears), and the World War II submarine USS Batfish, dry docked at the Muskogee War Memorial.
New Bedford, Mass.
The whaling capital of the world in the 19th century, New Bedford has retained the charming cobblestone streets and gas lamps of its historic downtown. Visitors flock to the world's largest whaling museum, located in the heart of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. The fishing industry continues to thrive here, with markets and local eateries serving up freshly caught fare.
Explorer William Clark founded this town in 1827 at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. Today, Paducah serves as a model for adaptive use, with developers turning such buildings as the 1905 Market House into a theater, an arts center, and a museum. Lower-Town, the city's oldest neighborhood, features a bustling arts district with Victorian houses containing studios and galleries, part of the city's innovative Artist Relocation Program.
St. Paul, Minn.
With Minnesota's capital stretching for 26 miles along the Mississippi River, many of the city's revitalized historic neighborhoods offer sweeping water views. Visitors can take in a concert at the 1902 Landmark Center, explore the Beaux-Arts Cathedral of St. Paul, and amble down the five-mile stretch of Victorian mansions on Summit Avenue, where onetime resident F. Scott Fitzgerald derived inspiration for The Great Gatsby.
San Angelo, Texas
This frontier town, known for its ranching, hunting, and farming, rose around Fort Concho, constructed in 1867 to protect early settlers from Native American attacks and other threats. Today, visitors can tour the restored 40-acre fort, explore sites in the historic downtown, such as the Angelo Civic Theatre, and attend performances by the San Angelo Symphony.
Tales of the Wild West have long made Sheridan, set against the rugged backdrop of the Big Horn Mountains, a popular destination for history buffs. The downtown features the 118-year-old Historic Sheridan Inn, where Buffalo Bill once auditioned acts for his Wild West Show; the building is currently being restored. Several museums and nearby battle sites honor the town's Native American history.
In the heart of California wine country, Sonoma features old wineries, miles of bicycle and hiking trails, and world-class cuisine and wine tastings. Historic sites include the 1823 Mission San Francisco Solano and Sonoma Plaza, a shopping district. Tours of the 107-year-old Sebastiani Winery help illuminate this rustic town's winemaking history.
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