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.
Medicine Park, Okla.
An hour and a half southwest of Oklahoma City, Medicine Park was founded on the Fourth of July in 1908 as the new state's first planned resort. The town is notable for its cannonball-size red-granite architecture, a style unique to the region. Check out the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, nearly 60,000 acres of prairie where the buffalo roam and the deer play. Medicine Creek runs through the middle of the town and is stocked yearly with trout, while two dams form the popular Bath Lake Swimming Hole. The Winery of the Wichitas, which opened its doors in October 2005, offers panoramic vistas of the community and the neighboring hills from the deck of its on-site Buffalo Bistro. Sip a glass of wine, munch on a cheese plate, and listen to some live red dirt music—a subgenre originally based out of Stillwater that is said to mix rock, western swing, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and honky-tonk, with the occasional Mexican influence thrown in for good measure.
The waves of modernization and urban development that swept through the Midwest in the mid-1800s with the expansion of the railroad missed this sophisticated beach village on the shores of Lake Michigan. As a result, eclectic 19th-century architectural styles abound, from colonnaded Greek Revival homes to palatial Italianate mansions. Wedged between steep lakeside dunes and verdant apple orchards, Saugatuck has been a favorite weekend getaway destination for Midwesterners for over a century. Downtown is full of independent retailers and not a single chain restaurant, a badge of honor that many of even the smallest towns can't boast. Saugatuck's laid-back, progressive ideals have earned it the nickname "The Provincetown of the Midwest." The town also hosts the renowned Waterfront Film Festival each June, named one of the world's five best film festivals by the Screen Actors Guild's magazine alongside Sundance and Cannes.
Kennett Square, Pa.
This town outside of Philadelphia holds the distinction of being the Mushroom Capital of the World, as over a million pounds of the tasty fungus are grown in the region each year. An annual Mushroom Festival draws locals and visitors alike with a parade, a mushroom soup cook-off, tours of area farms, and even bobbing for mushrooms—an alternative to apple-bobbing for the dentally impaired. The nearby Longwood Gardens, one of the nation's premier botanical gardens, can trace its long history to 1798, when Quaker landowners began planting an arboretum on their farm. Now, this 1,050-acre idyllic compound of gardens, fountains, forests, and meadows boasts magnificent renovated greenhouses dedicated to tropical and arid landscapes as well as an extensive orchid collection and a stately brick farmhouse from 1730. The on-site 55-ton pipe organ, with an astounding 10,010 pipes, ranks among the largest musical instruments in the world.
Less than an hour north of New York City, Nyack sits on a natural swelling of the Hudson River called the Tappan Zee. Known for its thriving theater scene and tiny antiques shops, Nyack delivers stunning views of nearby Hook Mountain and sailboats drifting up the river. The town's Edward Hopper House Art Center was the birthplace and boyhood home of the famed realist painter known for his melancholy urban nightscapes and lonely sun-drenched lighthouses. The facility offers changing exhibits and summer jazz concerts in the garden. History is alive in this village of stately yet colorful Victorian homes. Perhaps too alive. In the landmark 1991 New York Supreme Court case Stambovsky v. Ackley, a Nyack house seller was sued by a buyer for not disclosing the home's "phantasmal reputation." In other words, the property was allegedly haunted by two female ghosts in hoopskirts and a Revolutionary-era male ghost. The court ruled in favor of the buyer, who was allowed to legally break his contract. The existence of ghosts in Nyack should come as little surprise—Sleepy Hollow lies directly across the Hudson.
Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum this town in central New York is arguably the spiritual home of America's favorite pastime. The summer induction ceremony for new Hall of Famers swells the town's population into the tens of thousands, with the 2007 inductions of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn drawing a record-breaking crowd, estimated 75,000. What goes better with baseball than beer? Built on a former hop farm, Brewery Ommegang crafts seasonal and year-round Belgian-style ales, including the dark, foamy Chocolate Indulgence Stout and Ale 2009, more commonly known by its nickname, Obamagang. The Fenimore Art Museum, one of many impressive galleries in this so-called Village of Museums, boasts outstanding collections of American folk art, Native American art, life masks cast from a number of famous Americans, and romantic landscapes from the famed Hudson River School.