Three important things draw Daniel Howard to Park City: History, wildlife, and rooftop bars.
"I like the no-chain-store ambience along Main Street, and the mining-era legacy of its buildings," says Howard, who works for the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Santa Barbara. "And, I like seeing moose walking through the town." His favorite perch to watch either people or antlered creatures is the rooftop bar at the No Name Saloon. "It's the best place to take in the crowds below," he says. "While still being above it all and yet under the radar--just like Park City."
Even though the Utah ski town is increasingly associated with its star-studded film festival each winter, the combination of sophisticated hangouts and small town charm has made it a top-ten favorite of Travel+Leisure readers. In this year's America's Favorite Places survey, readers ranked cities and towns across the U.S. for their dining, shopping, and other qualities--even how smart the locals seem. Among the top 30 winning towns (which have populations under 100,000), a few high-scoring categories came up time and again: friendly residents, a relaxing ambience, and a wealth of little indulgences, like bakeries, burgers, and wine bars.
Some towns charmed travelers with their mix of quirky qualities. "With just one stroll through downtown Asheville on a Saturday night, we were able to window-shop handcrafted art, sip high-end cocktails, and stumble into a full-moon drum circle in Pritchard Park" says Arizona native Laine Strutton. "It's probably one of the most eclectic towns in America."
Read on for more about this year's winners, and to see who ranked where.
The nitty-gritty: Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Towns were defined as governed bodies with a population less than 100,000. After discarding incomplete ballots and cities that received less than 8 votes, each entry was ranked according to an average score.
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No. 1 Park City, UT
Outdoor bliss meets artistic street cred: America’s winning town offers snow, sunshine, and a good chance of celeb-spotting. Readers gave the city near-perfect marks for its weather and for its festivals—thanks in part, no doubt, to winter’s Sundance Film Festival
. Since Utah has relaxed its liquor laws over the years, Park City also scored well with readers for wine. Choose from the extensive wine list at Glitretind, at Stein Eriksen Lodge, or the long list of bottles at the new Main Street hotspot Tupelo, whose artisanal menu includes such delights as Rocky Mountain Elk Bolognese. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Getty Images
No. 2 Provincetown, MA
This Cape Cod town achieved perfect scores both for beach getaways
and romance—and scored almost as well for being LGBT-friendly. But even if you just came with your BFFs (it also ranked well for girlfriend getaways), the town seems to excel in liquid diets: it ranked especially well for bars and coffee. Happy hour favorite Victor’s, for instance, offers pink champagne and hibiscus martinis to go with its raw bar; caffeinated types might prefer Wired Puppy, where the Single Cup Brew Bar offers a choice of pour-overs, siphon, and Chemex. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Getty Images
No. 3 Santa Fe, NM
Not surprisingly, the New Mexico city ranked near the top of this year’s survey for its art scene, thanks to the galleries along Canyon Road and institutions like the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It also ranked well for history—like its San Miguel Chapel, the nation’s oldest church, and even its restaurants, like Geronimo, set in an adobe home that dates to 1756. Its lounge offers the opportunity to try the city’s most famous local crop in a creative way: the Norteño margarita is made with Hatch-green-chile-infused tequila, then shaken with an orange liqueur. After a few, you might see why the city also got high marks for its peaceful vibes. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Mark Kane
No. 4 St. Augustine, FL
Readers loved the unique beaches (like the maritime-forested Anastasia State Park Beach), the colorful shopping (like the vials of mysterious water sold at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park), and the distinctly unsnobby locals. Readers were also charmed by both the specialty markets, like the Old City Farmers Market (on Saturday mornings at the St. Augustine Amphitheater), or the vodka, rum, gin, or whiskey made at St. Augustine Distillery, set in a former ice-manufacturing plant. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Getty Images
No. 5 Atlantic City, NJ
The Jersey Shore’s casino city may not have resonated with readers for its high culture, but it did score well for throwing a party: it scored near the top for nightclubs (like the new Premier Nightclub, at the Borgata
) and wild weekends. Readers also embraced its dining scene, from the old-school Italian at the hidden-away Chef Vola’s to such simple pleasures as the epic salami submarines at White House Subs on Arctic Avenue, which dates to 1946. And for those late nights, the city also rated highly for its vivid people-watching. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: (c) Cosmo Condina
No. 6 Harrisonburg, VA
Readers loved this university town in the Shenandoah Valley for those collegiate qualities that don’t require cracking any books: it ranked well for both beer and burgers. To find the two together in harmony, go to Jack Brown’s Joint, which has 100 craft beers on tap and Wagyu-beef burgers topped with Applewood smoked bacon or house-made mac ’n’ cheese. To focus on the beer alone, don’t miss Three Notch’d Brewing, which has such historically inspired brews as the 40 Mile IPA (related to a piece of Jeffersonian lore) and the No Veto English Brown Ale, a nod to Patrick “Give Me Liberty” Henry. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount
No. 7 Portland, ME
Readers continue to be captivated by this Maine city’s charm
, from the Old Port’s cobblestone streets to longtime foodie magnets like Fore Street and Allagash Brewing Co. This year, the city also scored well for one throwback feature: cool bookstores like Longfellow Books, which offers new and used books as well as an in-store cat. To sleep in a literate environs, stay at the Press Hotel
, the boutique hotel located in the old Gannett Building, where Maine’s Portland Press Herald
used to be published, and where rooms come with vintage desks. Assuming you are not working on any deadlines yourself, the town also ranked high for feeling relaxing. See More of the America's Favorite Towns Photo: Getty Images