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10 Design-Oriented American Small Towns

These small towns have an eye on design, quickly charming visitors with architecture, public art and creative works on every corner.

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Photo: Travel Texas

Small Aesthetically Pleasing Towns

Small towns can be impeccably charming, easily winning over visitors with walkable historic districts, eclectic art galleries and chic boutiques. Some small towns take it to another level with eye-pleasing design elements, from public art and sculptures to historic architecture that’s been diligently preserved. Once-famous theaters, roadside motels and railroad depots today gleam and tell the stories of year’s gone by. Here are 10 small towns in the US — all with populations under 25,000 — that will inspire visitors with architecture, design and abundant creativity.

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Photo: Visit Carmel

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

The 1-square-mile village of Carmel-by-the-Sea on California’s Central Coast is known for its quaint family-owned boutiques (you won’t find an Old Navy here), exquisite art galleries and courtyard coffee shops. You’ll even spy several fairytale cottages in this European-style village, all designed by Hugh Comstock, a master builder who fell in love with this artsy town and never left. More than 40 whimsical gardens, secret passages and curious courtyards encourage visitors to stroll this one-time artist colony and home to creatives like Jack London and Ansel Adams. Plan on sunset at Carmel Beach with a bottle of wine from family-run Caraccioli Cellars on Dolores Street.

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Photo: Travel Texas

Marfa, Texas

Few know exactly where Marfa is — West Texas is the best that many can do — but this small high desert town of less the 2,000 residents has made a name for itself as a minimalist art mecca. It all began when minimalist artist Donald Judd first came to town in 1971. It’s said that he came to Marfa in search of authenticity, and it’s here that he found the freedom and space to create such works as the untitled box art sometimes referred to as “Judd’s cubes.” Prada Marfa, a permanent art installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, is among the most recognized works in Marfa. Marfa is also home to the Marfa Lights, eerie glowing orbs that dance in the night sky.

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Photo: Main Street Hospitality

North Adams, Massachusetts

The small walkable town of North Adams is home to a thriving arts scene, which includes MASS MoCA, the largest contemporary art museum in the United States. This one-time mill town in the Berkshires is today home to vibrant art galleries, historic theaters and specialty coffee roasters, like Tunnel City Coffee. The town has retained a classic New England charm, renovating old mills for storefronts and giving them a sophisticated artsy vibe. The Porches Inn, a boutique inn in North Adams, looks across to MASS MoCA. The 19th century Victorian-era row homes that make up the inn celebrate and pay homage to the mill workers who once called them home.

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