Distinctive Downtown = Distinctive Destination

Every year the National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies its Dozen Distinctive Destinations—places for folks seeking enriching, eclectic and meaningful—yet affordable—travel experiences off the well-worn tourist path. And this year, as in years past, there is also a distinct Main Street flavor to the list. Six of the twelve winners have an active, designated Main Street program at work in their community. It makes sense. The title is bestowed upon “cities and towns that posses dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.  In each community, residents have taken forceful action to protect their town’s character and sense of place.”  Sound familiar?

Before I introduce you to the distinctively Main Street towns that made this year’s list, here’s a little background on how the process works. Communities across the country are nominated by their CVBs, Chamber of Commerce, state and local preservation and Main Street organizations, historical societies, tourism offices, etc.  The nominations are reviewed and winners are chosen by a competitive jury process.  The winners are announced and then the public has a month to cast their vote to determine the 2011 fan favorite. There’s something in it for you, too: voters are automatically entered to win a complimentary two night stay at any Historic Hotel of America. Visit www.preservationnation.org/ddd/vote for all the details.

Without further ado, here is a closer look at the six Main Street towns that made this year’s Dozen Distinctive Destination list:

Tucked amid the Great Smoky Mountains, Dandridge, Tennessee is a world away from the major resort destinations nearby, making Dandridge the quintessential Southern Appalachian frontier town. Its historic County Courthouse and museum, early 19th-century taverns and Revolutionary War-era graveyard infuse Dandridge’s streets with historical significance. Antique shops, galleries like the Gass General Store, and an old-fashioned sofa fountain, the Tinsley-Bible Drug Company, will keep shoppers lingering downtown for hours. Meanwhile, scenic Douglas Lake is the perfect backdrop for enjoying the town’s many outdoor events and festivals, including the annual Scots Irish celebration and the “Music on the Town” nights, when families and friends gather downtown to enjoy food and live music under the stars.

Tucked away in rural Northern California, Eureka is a beautifully preserved Victorian-era getaway. Its Old Town is one of the nation’s best kept Victoria-era commercial districts, offering arts, shopping, tasty food and beautiful scenery. It is also home to the Carson Mansion, the “Jewel of Eureka,” with its glorious towers and turrets, columned porches, multiple gables ornate gingerbread detail and gorgeous paint scheme. Other excellent reasons to visit Eureka include the Blue Ox Millworks and historic park where visitors can view demonstrations of Victorian-era craftsmanship techniques, and its schedule of  more  than 50 festivals, including an Intertribal gathering of Native American tribes, a mushroom fair and the Kinetic Sculpture Race—the original triathlon of the art world. Humboldt Bay offers lots of interesting recreational opportunities too, such as a cruise on the Madaket, the oldest vessel in continuous service in the United States, or a paddle around Indian Island and the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

There is more to Muskogee, OK than just a famous Merle Haggard’s song—though “Okie from Muskogee,” is a classic. When the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced thousands westward, many Native Americans and African Americans who came with them ended their “Trail of Tears” journey at the site of present-day Muskogee. As a result, the town claims a combination of Native American, African American and Euro American influences and is a must-see for any history buff.  The Five Civilized Tribes Museum is a good place to start. And when you need some sustenance Muskogee won’t disappoint. Smokehouse Bob’s Barbecue, the Dustbowl Diner and Sweet ‘n Sassy Café are just a few of the unique, local dining establishments that Muskogee has to offer. Plan your trip for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend and you can sample the best soul food from around the country at Muskogee’s National Soul Food Cook-Off.

Situated where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers meet, Paducah is the heart of Kentucky’s Four Rivers region. Named in honor of a legendary 19th century Native American chief, Paducah, Kentucky’s rich multi-cultural past offers all kinds of surprises. Its River Discovery Center, the city’s oldest building, shares the stories, folklore and prominent figures of the Four Rivers Region’s history. Its UpperTown Heritage Walking Tour explores where African Americans owned homes, businesses and more during Segregation, and where famous African Americans including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Turner and Jesse Owens stayed when they came through town. Lowertown, meanwhile, is home to a vibrant Arts District where visitors can participate in hands-on creative workshops with resident artists in restored Classic Revival and Italianate homes. Downtown Paducah wows with the historic Market Place Square, carriage rides along the river and the National Quilt Museum.

San Angelo, Texas is a frontier city with a storied past. Situated along the banks of the Concho River in West Texas, San Angelo offers a taste of the real Old West, from boutiques with hand-made western wear to Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum and one of the best preserved military forts in the country. Historic Fort Concho, established in 1867, shines a light on how the West’s frontier settlements were protected. Those who visit San Angelo during the holiday season will be treated to a three million plus light display. San Angelo’s western heritage, its revitalized downtown district and its unique cultural offerings make it must-see destination.

Sheridan, Wyoming knows a thing or two about Western frontier character. Its downtown boasts 46 late 18th-century/early 20th -century brick and iron-clad storefronts that house a wide variety of independent retailers, including purveyors of Western art, antiques and collectibles, leather crafts, ropes and horse tack, log furniture, jewelry and more. Those with a fondness for Buffalo Bill will especially enjoy the Sheridan Inn, a National Historic Landmark, where the performer lived and auditioned acts for his Western show, and which is now heated and cooled by a geothermal energy system. The town’s easy walking paths link many of the city’s parks and points of interest, while a fleet of replica trolleys provide guided tours of downtown attractions. Sheridan’s numerous interesting restaurants, entertainment venues and abundant public art installations back up Sheridan’s claim to be “The West at its Best!"

For more information about all twelve destinations, and the link to cast the vote for your fan favorite, visit www.preservationnation.org/ddd.