K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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We all know that big cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have a lot to offer when it comes to art, but these art towns are smaller communities where you’ll find lots of open-minded creative types. Explore a scenic town in New Mexico or head to a seaport destination in Washington, while a historic place in Florida is also beloved for its arts scene. You’ll find an array of opportunities in these art-filled towns, from art galleries and musicians to theater and arts festivals, along with plenty of other charms to delight.
They say Taos is town that put the “Southwestern” in “Southwestern Art.” This top New Mexico destination is not only famous for its gorgeous surrounding scenery but for its varied assortment of artists, artisans and counterculture refugees. Creative energy pulses through this northern New Mexico town, with its jaw-dropping sunsets and majestic landscapes seemingly perfectly made for enticing artists, photographers and the like. At Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities on the continent, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark, you’ll find many of the living spaces in the multi-story adobe village converted into shops for Pueblo Indian craftspeople. They sell everything from jewelry, beadwork and carvings to pottery and weavings, still done in the traditional methods.
This picturesque Victorian seaport town on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula is surrounded by water and soaring, jagged mountains. When it was settled in 1851, it was called the “City of Dreams,” and more recently, it was named one of America’s Best Small Towns by Fodor’s. It’s no surprise that this exceedingly pretty place is still considered a city of dreams today, with people of all types and backgrounds giving up more lucrative careers in larger cities for the chance to live here, and perhaps even make a living using one of their artistic talents. Downtown has evolved into a center of arts and culture, with its streets lined with magnificent century-old buildings housing a variety of galleries, independent shops, eateries and cafes. One of the highlights is the lovingly restored Rose Theater, an early 1900s vaudeville theater that showcases mostly modern films today. Port Townsend is also home to Fort Worden, a 19th-century army-base-turned-state-park that hosts a wide and varied event schedule including classes on subjects like writing, cooking and yoga. The School of Wooden Boat Building and the School of Woodworking can also be found here.
Founded by legendary showman Buffalo Bill in the late 19th century, Cody may be known as the “Rodeo Capital of the World,” but it also offers a ton for art lovers and artists. This popular Wyoming getaway has remained true to the spirit of the Wild West, with bustling saloons and cowboy apparel shops, but it’s also home to the renowned Buffalo Bill Center of the West, hosts a local art league, a great number of fine Western art galleries, the Rendezvous Royale arts festival and an arts council that helps draw in incredibly talented artists and craftspeople. Once they arrive, there’s not a lot of convincing that needs to be done, with the inspiring wildlife-filled region surrounded by the soaring Rockies and still, clean air that projects and diffuses an extraordinary natural light.
America’s oldest city is a haven for art, attracting countless art lovers as well as history buffs. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine became the first European settlement in North America, and many of its historic buildings still stand and can be visited today, like the 1672 Castillo de San Marcos, the historic city gate and the Plaza de la Constitucion. Amid all of the ruins and relics of the early Spanish colony, there are a wealth of art galleries, and during the First Friday Artwalk, visitors can take a tour of each one. After exploring all of the art, and historic sites, you’ll find numerous beautiful beaches to relax on nearby.
Many say that the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea is a work of art itself. This pastel-hued oceanside village that actually started out as a funky bohemian art colony that attracted authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and photographer Ansel Adams, is filled with lush greenery, Old Spanish stucco buildings, trendy cafes and galleries, and often enshrouded in a mist of Pacific fog. It hosts over 80 art galleries that sell everything from landscape photos to modern sculptures, and it also houses four performing arts venues, the Circle Theatre, the Golden Bough Playhouse, the Sunset Center and the outdoor Forest Theater.
Bisbee is a colorful historic mining town, known for its quirky character, charm and street art. Artists basically took it over in the ‘70s after the local copper industry faded away, reinventing the town as an artists’ colony. Today, it’s sometimes called “Greenwich Village West,” with a plethora of art, from classic pieces to unique, over-the-top works and lots of street art. You’ll find everything from beautifully painted murals to vehicles that have been transformed using a glue gun to mosaic walls created with broken tiles and a kaleidoscope of glass bottles. Stroll through downtown, and you’re likely to glimpse of locals dressed in Victorian attire and cars with images of hula girls, along with the opportunity to browse upscale galleries selling pricey landscapes or painted portraits. If you can be here on the second Saturday of the Month, you can join in on the art walk that showcases Bisbee’s more than 30 galleries and local musicians.
Manitou Springs enjoys a spectacular Colorado location in the shadow of the over 14,000-foot-high Pike’s Peak. One of the most creative small towns in the country, its structures that cling to hillsides and cliffs house unique shops, funky art galleries and more than 20 working studios for its own growing artist population. It also hosts Art Walks, lots of art festivals and fairs, along with many public works that are showcased right on the streets. There are no chain stores in the Victorian-era buildings, but you will find places like WeUsOur Artists Market which displays unusual art like portraits painted with coffee and huge pottery teapots, as well as an eclectic group of locals that includes people from all walks of life, from engineers and businessmen to new-age hippies.
Just a short drive or ferry ride away from San Francisco, Sausalito is a charming waterfront town nestled at the base of steep hills that frames the bay. It not only offers some of the best views looking back into the city, but it’s a popular place for artists, writers and creative thinkers of all types. Downtown is bursting with art galleries, quaint cafes and bookstores as well as shops selling all types of goods that you probably wouldn’t see anywhere else. Pre-World War II it was known for its ship-building, but today, it’s considered an artistic houseboat town with over 500 boats. Take a walking tour of the vibrant community of floating homes and you’ll see everything from architectural gems to repurposed working boats, along with a few maintenance-challenged vessels that date back to the Second World War.
Provincetown, located at the far tip of Cape Cod, is famous for its scenic surroundings that include vast sand dunes and over 30 miles of beaches, as well as being a place that welcomes all types of people. Painters and photographers find it irresistible, with the broad arc of the sun creating a diffuse illumination that seduces the eye. It’s long been an art colony – in 1914, artists and business people formed the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to show and collect work by local figures. Today, the Fine Arts Work Center aids budding artists through its residence program, workshops, and lectures, while the Provincetown Art Association and Museum host a large permanent collection, along with summer classes and fall and winter workshops.
Over the last decade, hundreds of artistic types, from designers, artists and photographers to writers, have moved to Portland, Maine, so not surprisingly the city has begun to reflect the many talents locals’ have to offer. Its historic Old Port waterfront district is considered to be the trendiest spot in town, with its hip eateries and shops, while the Arts District is home to the Maine College of Art or MECA. The city supports artists through the many, varied art classes, supply stores, workshops, and workspaces available in the Arts District and there are ample opportunities for art lovers to enjoy art galleries, performing arts events and local museum exhibits. On the first Friday of each month, members throughout the community and local artists gather for First Friday Art Walk, a popular gallery hop in Old Port.