The Nominees for America's Coolest
We've pulled together a list of 21 nominees from coast to coast. Cast a vote to determine the readers' top 10 American small towns—and check the September 2010 issue of Budget Travel Magazine to see if any reader choices made the final cut.
Egg Harbor, Wis.
Egg Harbor just may be the only town in America named after a food fight. Legend has it that this village, perched on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, takes its name from a playful 1825 egg-throwing "battle" between trade boats entering the harbor. The eccentric Dovetail Gallery & Studio pays homage to this local lore with a whole museum dedicated to the egg. Exhibits include an authentic Russian Fabergé egg, a collection of wild-bird eggs, and the only dinosaur egg on display in the entire state of Wisconsin. This so-called Cape Cod of the Midwest offers the perfect combination of country living and a sophisticated arts and music scene that rivals many urban centers. The nationally acclaimed Birch Creek Music Performance Center offers jazz and classical concerts during summer evenings in its rustic barn performance space. Amazingly, Wisconsin's Door County, where Egg Harbor is located, has the distinction of having more miles of shoreline—including 10 historic lighthouses and more than 35 parks—than any other county in the United States.
At the base of Central Oregon's Three Sisters Mountains—nicknamed Faith, Hope, and Charity—lies Sisters, the Gateway to the Cascades. The nearby Deschutes National Forest attracts hikers, fishermen, and mountain bikers with its pristine landscape of ponderosa pine forests and mountain lakes. In downtown Sisters, the Western clapboard façades of the business district mimic the region's 1880s ranching days. Local restaurants and shops include the self-explanatory Sisters Olive and Nut Co. and the Sno Cap Drive In, which serves up chilly marionberry milkshakes, an Oregon favorite. The familial spirit of Sisters extends well beyond the town's name. Every third Friday during the cold winter months, the owners of Sisters Coffee Company, a local café housed in a cozy cabin, offer Free Soup Night. You provide a loaf of bread to share with fellow diners, and the house provides free soup and live music.
Near the snowcapped Mount Fuji look-alike Mount Edgecumbe, Sitka delivers the perfect combination of pristine Pacific Coast nature and rich Alaskan culture. This former capital of Russian Alaska contains many reminders of the region's past, including the green-onion-domed St. Michael's Cathedral. Sitka National Historical Park offers a scenic array of Tlingit and Haida totem poles amid the rugged island's temperate rain-forest environment. The November WhaleFest celebrates the region's abundant marine life—including humpback whales, sea otters, harbor seals, and Steller sea lions—with whale watching cruises, art shows, a sea chantey concert, and quirky scientific symposia.
Despite its modest size, Stowe contains more award-winning restaurants than any place in New England outside of Boston and Providence. The gourmet Blue Moon Café offers seasonal New American cuisine inside a homey blue cottage decorated with paintings by local artists. The menu, which changes weekly, focuses on the freshest organic ingredients, including foraged mushrooms and Vermont-raised rabbit and venison. The town even managed to snag the beloved von Trapp clan of The Sound of Music fame. After escaping the Nazi takeover of their native Austria, the family moved to Stowe, where descendants now own and operate an alpine ski chalet known as the Trapp Family Lodge.
This town at the southern border of the expansive Los Padres National Forest sits in a tranquil valley dominated by vineyards, olive groves, and aromatic fields of orange trees. With its bright-white mission-revival buildings reminiscent of old California, Ojai's natural and architectural beauty attracts its fair share of artists and new age spiritualists. But don't be scared off by the prospect of healing crystals and incense. Ojai also bustles with a youthful energy. Recently named one of America's Best Tennis Towns by the United States Tennis Association, Ojai has hosted one of the nation's oldest amateur tennis tournaments since 1896. In addition, the town is home to a number of world-class cultural festivals, such as the Ojai Poetry Festival, the Ojai Film Festival, the Ojai Music Festival, and the Ojai Playwrights Conference, which consistently draw the most illustrious artists in their respective fields.
Red Lodge, Mont.
A gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Red Lodge serves as an entrance to the Beartooth Highway, one of America's most scenic alpine roadways. But Red Lodge offers more than just its great location and easy access to outdoor activities. Despite its rustic setting, this ski town actually contains more bars and restaurants per capita than any other place in Montana. Red Lodge mixes small-town charm—a penny candy store, an old movie theater with a classic marquee—with the trappings of a much bigger city, such as fine-art galleries, pottery studios, and a specialty foods store that sells artisanal cheese and chocolate. The award-winning microbrews at Red Lodge Ales are made with Montana barley and Northwest hops, with seasonal offerings like the Ullrfest Lager, named after the Norse god of snow and—believe it or not—skiing.