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Distinctive Destinations

Copyright © National Trust for Historic Preservation. Courtesy of Preservation Magazine.

Every year, the [U.S.] National Trust for Historic Preservation honors 12 places that not only preserve historic and cultural heritage but also provide a positive visitor experience. [The] Dozen Distinctive Destinations [of 2010] showcase communities with outstanding green achievements and sustainable practices. They include a lakeside Michigan community with a walkable historic downtown, a Pennsylvania neighborhood with LEED platinum-certified duplexes, and a Colorado town striving to create the nation’s first zero-energy district.



Bastrop, Texas 
Situated on the banks of the Colorado River, Bastrop, Texas features a history that dates back over 175 years when it was established as one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonies in 1832. The town offers a dynamic downtown filled with 19th and early 20th century homes and buildings, unique restaurants and shops in a Main Street community, and access to two state parks.

At home in the lost pines of Texas
Bastrop is lauded as one of the most historic towns in Texas and still possesses that small-town charm despite its [48-kilometer] proximity to the thriving capital city of Austin.... Visitors will delight in the storefront shopping and dining along Main Street as well as the myriad of festivals taking place year-round. Bastrop residents are proud of their town and honor it multiple times each year with events like Yesterfest in April, paying tribute to the various cultures making up Bastrop’s population. In true Texas fashion, Bastrop holds an annual homecoming and rodeo in August, originally started in 1947 to welcome home soldiers from World War II.

Sustainable and active life in Bastrop
Two downtown farmers markets and over 15 independently owned restaurants serving up everything from Texas-sized steaks to Tex-Mex cuisine ensure that visitors will be well-fed during their stay. Local restaurants are committed to supporting the area’s farmers and producers through the “Go Texan” restaurant program. Ample green space exists along the scenic Colorado River where visitors can enjoy water sports and the two state parks provide outdoor amenities for hiking and biking on nature trails.


Cedar Falls, Iowa
Situated in a picturesque bend in the Cedar River, Cedar Falls, Iowa offers an impressive mix of shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural activities, from eclectic shopping experiences along its historic Main Street to the many recreational opportunities in the surrounding forests, lakes and prairie preserves. Cedar Falls’ Main Street is [an American] model, a winner of the Great American Main Street Award that hums with activity nearly round the clock. In addition to its retail offerings, the historic downtown has been certified by the state of Iowa as an “Arts and Cultural District.”

Cultural heritage

Cedar Falls has an abundance of historic charm and character and much of the city has been lovingly preserved by locals throughout the years. A self-guided walking tour of Main Street reveals several examples of public and private buildings—including a historic theater with live performances, a National Register historic hotel, and a circa 1874 bank-turned-bakery and restaurant that has been in operation since 1948—that have been restored to their original glory or adapted as Cedar Falls looks to its future. Additionally, five museums stand in the downtown district and offer visitors a glimpse into life in this river city at the turn of the century.


Active vacationers will enjoy the city’s ample recreational opportunities; walking and biking enthusiasts can explore the city’s historic downtown on foot, or venture out into the surrounding area for a hike or a kayak excursion on the Cedar River. Biking opportunities abound in and around Cedar Falls—the only town in Iowa dubbed a “Bike Friendly City” by the American League of [Bicyclists]—with a remarkable [128 kilometers] of off-road paved trails winding around the city’s outskirts. And in winter, many of those same paths are transformed into cross-country ski trails.

Going green in Cedar Falls

The city of Cedar Falls is a progressive town with multiple efforts toward sustainability. The city benefits from being the home of the University of Northern Iowa, which hosts the State of Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. From responsible food systems to energy conservation and renewability, Cedar Falls acts as a demonstration laboratory for many of their programs. Economic development organizations banded together in 2009 to sponsor a Cedar Valley Green Certified business program that provides a pathway for businesses to assess their green practices and plan for a steady change toward a more sustainable future.


Chestnut Hill, a Neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Chestnut Hill has long been at the center of Pennsylvania and American history. In colonial times, Chestnut Hill connected the growing city of Philadelphia with surrounding farmlands and overlooked a Revolutionary War battle fought by George Washington in nearby Germantown. Almost purely residential after World War II, Chestnut Hill attracted celebrated architects from Louis Kahn to Robert Venturi and is part of a key initiative to protect modernist resources. Today, Chestnut Hill thrives with opportunities for fine dining and boutique shopping as well as the enjoyment of the outdoors in the nearby Wissahickon Valley Park. 

Art and architecture

As preservation efforts began in the 1960s, Chestnut Hill’s historic districts are very much intact and feature magnificent cultural treasures. Walking house and garden tours afford visitors the opportunity to see residences, and landmark public buildings and churches are conveniently located within walking distance of the cobblestone, tree-lined streets of downtown. Housed in a beautifully maintained Victorian mansion, the Woodmere Art Museum features an extensive collection of works created by some of the most noteworthy artists in the state and region. 

Going green in Chestnut Hill

Doing its part to ensure the future of the neighborhood for generations to come, the community invests in sustainable practices, aiding its small businesses in reducing their carbon footprints and encouraging homeowners to restore their homes with energy efficient materials. Chestnut Hill boasts a walkability score of 88 and invites visitors to stroll through the fresh produce stands situated throughout the neighborhood, or to visit the farmers market that is open three days a week. 


Fort Collins, Colorado
Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and along the banks of the Cache la Poudre River, Fort Collins is a gem of North Central Colorado. One of the few communities to successfully retain its downtown pedestrian mall—known as historic Old Town Square—the town is a vacation paradise comprised of walkable, bike-friendly streets featuring a dense collection of unique, locally owned businesses and ample recreational activities for all ages. With so much to offer, it’s little wonder that Money magazine named this fun-loving college town the #1 best place to live in [America].

Preservation around town

Few visitors to California’s Disneyland realize that the theme park’s “Main Street, U.S.A.” is actually modeled on Fort Collins’ Main Street. Accurately restored buildings and charming storefronts house upscale restaurants and casual cafes, art galleries, live performance venues and shops and serve as the backdrop for the city’s multitude of annual festivals in the heart of Fort Collins. Preservationists will appreciate Fort Collins’ award-winning restorations to the over 1,800 historic properties listed on [America’s] national, state or local historic register and designated historic districts characterized by architecture ranging from the 19th century to the 1950s. 

Active living

With an abundance of natural resources and breathtaking scenery at their doorsteps, it’s no wonder that the locals of Fort Collins embrace the great outdoors and provide ample opportunity for their visitors to do the same. The downtown Bike Library rents bikes free of charge to those who wish to explore the city’s [450 kilometers] of bike lanes and [48 kilometers] of bike trails, or participate in one of the “Bike the Sites” self-guided tours of Fort Collins’ local micro-breweries, historic sites and environmental attractions. The surrounding national parks and designated wilderness areas are the perfect settings for rock climbing, camping, whitewater rafting, kayaking and hiking. 

Going Green in Fort Collins

...Named the 3rd Smartest City by the National Resources Defense Council for their sustainability efforts, Fort Collins has received international recognition for its longstanding commitment to green practices. A combination of wind energy, smart grid technology, peak load demand management and energy conservation practices are being developed in an effort to make downtown Fort Collins the first Zero Energy District in [America].


Huntsville, Alabama

Founded in 1805, the history of Huntsville, Alabama is long and rich and has implications that have stretched beyond even our planet. As the site of the state’s first elections and the drafting of the state constitution, the city offers visitors a window into Alabama’s early days. In the 1950s, the city spun toward the future when a group of German scientists moved in and developed the rockets that sent man to the moon. Today, the city features a vibrant center with five historic districts, a large collection of antebellum homes, former factories that have been converted into arts centers and a wide variety of museums, outdoor activities, and local shops and restaurants to meet the desires of any traveler.

Antebellum Alabama

Travelers interested in Southern history will surely be impressed with the wide collection of sites and museums that Huntsville has to offer. Take a free walking tour through Old Town, Five Points or the Twickenham Historic District—the state’s largest concentration of antebellum homes—or head up to Burritt on the Mountain, a unique regional history museum house in an antebellum mansion that overlooks downtown Huntsville and features [67 hectares] of green space and nature trails. Families won’t want to miss the Huntsville Depot Museum and Alabama Constitution Village, a living history center where visitors are transported back to 1819.


Huntsville’s proud connection with the American Space Race put it on the international map in the 1950s and has continued its tradition of pioneering space exploration to the present. The city’s Saturn V moon rocket, named one of the “[7] Wonders of America,” can be seen at the...U.S. Space & Rocket Center which is [one of] the world’s largest space museums. 

Going green in Huntsville

Huntsville’s commitment to sustainability began over 30 years ago with the founding of Operation Green Team and is now nationally recognized as a leader in the green movement. An affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, Inc. and 100 percent funded by the city, Operation Green Team guarantees Huntsville’s green legacy through beautification projects, sustainability initiatives and public education for local businesses and residents. Travelers will appreciate that Huntsville has also been named a “Top Adventure Town” by National Geographic Traveler for its plentiful selection of outdoor activities.


Marquette, Michigan
Located in one of the most scenic spots in the Midwest, Marquette is a must-see for travelers looking to get off the beaten path. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries it attracted immigrants from over 40 nations to work in the shipping, mining and timber industries—evidence of which can be seen along the well-preserved streets of downtown Marquette. The city’s collection of magnificent red sandstone buildings are now home to a dynamic array of retail shops, galleries and restaurants situated to provide breathtaking views of the waterfront.

History and culture

This Upper Peninsula city boasts a total of 27 nationally- and state-designated historic sites. Marquette has been called a small city with a cosmopolitan feel, and has been named one of the 100 Best [Small] Art Towns in America, thanks in part to its symphony, summer theater and city-sponsored arts and cultural center. Events at Northern Michigan University, which is located in Marquette, also contribute to the city’s vibrancy. Among the hidden gems in Marquette are a city park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and the world’s largest wooden domed stadium.

Active living

Active vacationers will appreciate the many nearby recreational opportunities; in fact, from downtown, a visitor can be boating in the waters of Lake Superior or hiking in the woods at a state park in under 10 minutes. Several miles of bike paths are situated along the lakefront, providing a perfect way to enjoy the lake’s scenic offerings. Marquette holds several events annually that attract thousands of participants and observers alike, from a sled-dog race to a 2,000-rider mountain bike race to one of the largest cross-country ski races in [America].


Sitka, Alaska

Tucked away on the coast of Baranof Island in Southern Alaska, Sitka is located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest and rests in the shadow of the dormant Mt. Edgecumbe volcano. The town boasts a history dating back 10,000 years when the Tlingit natives migrated to what is now the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world. Later, Sitka became the Russian American capital and was known as the “Paris of the Pacific.” Many of the sites and traditions that make up Sitka’s cultural heritage are still at the center of daily life in the bustling downtown.


As Sitka is only reachable by boat or plane, visitors will find that most of the town’s noteworthy sites are within a short distance of each other and are easily accessible on foot, bike or via public transportation. Art lovers will enjoy the Sheldon Jackson Museum, housed in the first concrete building in Alaska and containing the most extensive ethnographic collection of the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the North Pacific Region. The nearby [6.8 million-hectare] Tongass National Forest provides ample opportunity for hiking, backpacking and camping and the island boasts world class diving and charter fishing trips. 

Culture and tradition

The Tlingit and Russian cultures are alive and well in the city of Sitka—so much so that the native Tlingit language is still taught in the local schools. Visitors will notice that many of the city’s landmarks are still in use for their original purposes; the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall established in 1914 is a meeting place and activity center for the local indigenous culture. Castle Hill, located downtown, served as the center of power for both the Tlingit and Russian cultures and was eventually the site of the territory’s transfer from Russian to American hands. Visitors can experience both cultures through the performances of the Sheet’ka Kwaán Naa Kahídi Dancers and the New Archangel Dancers who demonstrate traditional Tlingit and Russian dances daily in the summer.


Provincetown, Massachusetts 

Hugging a sheltered harbor and surrounded by the dunes and beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore, this New England seaport town boasts a rich history, including the site of the 1620 signing of the Mayflower Compact. For over a century, notable artists and literary giants, including Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer and Charles Hawthorne, have called “P-town” home, and Friday night gallery walks are still a village staple. Commercial Street bustles with pedestrians, who can rent bikes or hop on a pedicab to explore the farmers market, shops and museums—most located in adaptively-reused historic buildings. While it has long been a favorite destination for LGBT travelers, Provincetown has something for everyone—and knows how to make every visitor feel welcome. 

Art and architecture

As the home of [America’s] oldest art colony and the birthplace of the American playwriting movement, Provincetown boasts an incredible cultural past, present and future. Galleries, museums and theaters dot the village and are housed in historic architectural treasures. The over 1500 property National Register district includes residential neighborhoods, downtown and the waterfront village, and multimillion dollar restorations of selected public buildings are currently underway. 

Coastal living

With the beach making up 75 percent of the town, it is no wonder that Provincetown has long been influenced by the sea. Whale and dolphin watching are popular activities for locals and visitors alike, and maritime-themed festivals draw large crowds annually: the Portuguese Blessing of the Fleet and the Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta are among local favorites.


Simsbury, Connecticut

Located on the banks of the Farmington River in the outskirts of Hartford, Simsbury appeals to the curious heritage traveler—whether an outdoors lover or gastrophile who enjoys fresh, locally-grown dishes. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy three state parks, a large game refuge and a monument to Simsbury native Gifford Pinchot, founder of the United States Forest Service, which is located in front of his birthplace at the Simsbury 1820 House.


Simsbury is an authentic New England village with over 350 years of well-preserved history and immaculately maintained buildings and heritage sites. Downtown Simsbury is one of four [U.S] National Historic Register districts in the city and includes a nationally accredited Main Street lined with centuries-old sycamore and elm trees, shops, restaurants and a [1 hectare] museum complex.


From the history buff to the active outdoor enthusiast, Simsbury promises plenty of enjoyment for all. Culturally, Simsbury benefits from being the summer home of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and from the recent addition of a large, downtown performing arts center. The Simsbury Farmers’ Market serves as a community gathering place and as a venue for local and regional farmers to offer samples of their products: organic vegetables, free-range meat, wine tastings from a local vineyard and homemade ice cream sampling are only a few examples.


The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

Celebrating and preserving the Appalachian region’s cultural heritage, The Crooked Road encourages visitors to experience authentic mountain music in the region where it was born. Nineteen towns dot the [407-kilometer] route and offer historic and cultural programs, artisan crafts, museums and outdoor recreational activities. 

Traveling the Trail

Those wishing to explore the history of Appalachian music can choose to make the scenic journey through the winding roads of Virginia’s foothills, or stop and spend time at one of the celebrated venues along the way. Frequent highway pull-offs are marked by informational kiosks with brochures and panels describing the significance of each location and FM radio transmitters featuring musical excerpts and engaging narration about scenic attractions and cultural offerings in the area are available as well. 

The birth of mountain music

The eight music venues along the trail will provide visitors with an authentic taste of the traditional mountain music that has characterized the region for generations and produced some of the most notable names in country music. The Carter Family Fold serves as the homestead of the Grand Ole Opry’s Carter Family and the Rex Theater [and] Old Fiddler’s Convention brings artists back to the region annually. Friday nights are lively at the Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree, featuring local old time, bluegrass and gospel music.


Rockland, Maine

Lobsters and lighthouses

Lobster is king in Rockland—from the harbor where visitors can watch a lobsterman dock to the...Maine Lobster Festival, which occurs in August every year. Locals and visitors can shop and enjoy a bounty of local cuisines in a setting one block from the harbor on Rockland’s historic Main Street. Home to art galleries and a number of major events, the town hosts visitors with the North American Blues Festival in July, which includes two days of Grammy Award-winning music on the harbor, and the Maine Boats Homes & Harbors Show in August. 

Art and museums

Rockland is celebrated as one of the finest cultural centers on the east coast [of America]. The Farnsworth Art Museum houses a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists including the work of three generations of the Wyeth family, and champions the Maine art scene and creative economy while over 20 galleries echo the long history of artists in the city.... The Island Institute educates visitors on the region’s maritime past and present and three historic lighthouses are located within a short distance of the city. Museum-goers will be delighted with the variety of unique exhibitions and collections in Rockland including the Maine Lighthouse Museum featuring the world’s largest showcase of lighthouse artifacts.... Lighthouse and Puffin interpretive centers are located on Main Street.

Going green in Rockland

Rockland is perfect for walking and strolling. Visitors can take in much town on foot, experiencing the harbor and the historic buildings and homes. The local businesses sustain one another by frequently partnering to provide visitors and locals with a broader experience of the bounty the town has to offer, and local restaurants and schooner fleets pride themselves on shopping locally at the farmers market. 


St. Louis, Missouri 

Meet me in St. Louis

Famous for its beer, legendary baseball teams, and the modernist Gateway Arch that has loomed over the city since the mid-1960s, St. Louis, Missouri is one of America’s great cities. But visitors who look beyond St. Louis’ hallmark offerings will find a vibrant, ethnically diverse city full of unexpected treasures and one-of-a-kind attractions.

Gateway to the West

Immigrants determined to pursue their version of the American dream made tracks to this city on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River in the early 19th century, resulting in what is now a regional patchwork of architectural styles and distinctive neighborhoods. Architecture buffs and curious visitors will not be disappointed with the collection of red brick buildings, cobblestone streets and terra cotta friezes designed by some of America’s most notable architects: from Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building, lauded as the nation’s first skyscraper, to the area’s only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, Ebsworth House, St. Louis has preserved excellent examples of America’s major architectural trends throughout history.


The size of the city and breadth of cultural influences have combined to provide sites and attractions for every visitor to enjoy. Art lovers will revel in evening gallery walks through revitalized historic districts, [one of] the world’s largest collection of interior mosaics at the 1908 Byzantine and Romanesque Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and the exquisite details of Theodore Link’s stained glass windows at St. Louis Union Station. The station, which was once the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world, now serves the public as a festival marketplace of shops and restaurants. In a Preserve America community located just south of downtown, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery offers tours of the historic Brew House and Clydesdale stables and is in close proximity to the longstanding Soulard Farmers Market. 

St. Louis going green

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, St. Louis ranks ninth among U.S. metropolitan areas for the number of buildings certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The region features 11 LEED-certified construction projects that have been completed, with another 36 in the process of attaining LEED certification. Seasonal markets are interspersed throughout the city to promote a Buy Local campaign, and St. Louis lays claim to an abundance of sprawling parks and green spaces including the nation’s oldest public garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden.


Elizabeth McNamara is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine.