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A city’s atmosphere is influenced by everything from its location and climate to the vibrancy of its cultural scene. But for many, the true personality of any locale can come down to the buildings, landmarks, and essential infrastructure that make up its physical landscape. And whether it’s the quaint cobblestones and Federalist-style rowhouses of colonial-era cities, the grandeur of neoclassical structures, the beauty of Beaux-Arts buildings, or streets full of well-preserved Art Deco structures, there’s no shortage of places where you can take in spectacular constructions without even boarding an international flight. Read on to see which cities experts say are the best in the U.S. for architecture lovers.
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New England is renowned for its beautiful beaches, picturesque mountain ranges, and unique local cultures that run from the bottom of Rhode Island to the northern tip of Maine. But while the region’s largest city is well known for its prominent role in history, it’s still considered an architectural gem for its ability to span the ages.
“Boston blends the old with the new with the in-between,” travel expert Leslie Carbone of Sancerres at Sunset tells Best Life. “In Back Bay, the modern John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in New England, provides an unexpected backdrop to the Romanesque Revival Trinity Church. Over on Beacon Hill, red-brick rowhouses rise from cobblestone streets. And of course, there’s Fenway Park, the oldest baseball stadium in America.”
The deserts of Southern California provide a stark landscape that exudes unique energy of its own. But among the small towns and cities that dot the area, one also stands out for the quality of its human-built structures.
“While Palm Springs, California may not be the first city that comes to mind when one considers architectural destinations, it is a time capsule of some of the West Coast’s most fabulous mid-century structures,” Nathan Heinrich, designer, writer, and host of the I’m Moving To Italy! podcast, tells Best Life. “Time truly seems to have stood still there. The single-story Jetsons-style homes along with the unique California Spanish Mission-style architecture will transport you back to the 1930s through the 1960s—a time when this magical city was a favorite celebrity playground during Hollywood’s Golden Age.”
And like any true architectural oasis, the buildings play off their environment strikingly. “The clean lines, large glass windows, and minimalist exteriors are the perfect compliment to the mountains and desert that surround them,” Elise Armitage, founder and travel expert at whatthefab.com, tells Best Life.
There’s no denying that the Windy City’s architectural attributes tend to precede it. And according to experts, despite being the third largest city in the U.S., it’s still relatively easy to take it all in.
“Just strolling along the Riverwalk or going on a cruise along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan are great ways to experience Chicago’s architectural wonders like the Wrigley Building, Willis Tower, and Marina City,” Farihah Fuaad, travel expert and founder of MuslimSoloTravel.com, tells Best Life. “These buildings are what make Chicago, Chicago!”
But if you have some extra time, you can still dive a little deeper into the area’s treasures. “Chicago’s suburban neighborhoods offer a wealth of architectural styles to explore, from Prairie School homes to Frank Lloyd Wright-designed residences,” says Joshua Haley, travel expert and founder of Moving Astute.
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There’s arguably no city in the U.S. with more dedication to stunning monuments and landmarks than Washington, D.C. But besides the iconic structures that house the government and pay tribute to key historical figures and events, our nation’s capital offers an even wider range of building styles that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“Washington, D.C., has the classical architecture of our nation’s capital’s most important buildings, like the White House, the Supreme Court, and the Capitol building, as well as many of the monuments, like the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials,” Carbone tells Best Life. “Amid them, embassies range from the imposing Queen Anne British to the modern Canadian. And there are no skyscrapers to detract from these gems, giving the city an open feel that’s rare in the eastern half of the country.”
The Big Easy is a city with more charm, character, and vibrancy than many nations have within their entire borders. This can make it easy to overlook the fact that its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River has put it at the confluence of culture and history throughout its existence and helped shape the city’s truly unique appearance.
“With influences from French and Egyptian, baroque and modernist you’ll feel endlessly stimulated by the variety and detail,” Xanthe Steer, travel blogger and owner of Places Unpacked, tells Best Life. “Since there’s a long list of must-visit establishments, be sure to save time for Parisian-style St. Louis Cathedral, the iconic Pontalba Buildings, and Japanese-inspired Doullut Steamboat Houses.”
To many, the idea of Las Vegas is nothing more than a tightly packed set of glitzy casinos and neon lighting in the middle of the desert. However, being a major tourist hub has also attracted some big names when it comes to buildings—especially their interiors.
“For architecture lovers who want to walk amongst a non-stop row of designs from some of the world’s greatest architects, Las Vegas is an unexpected haven,” travel expert Robert Flicker tells Best Life. “In fact, the famous Las Vegas Strip has become a Hall of Fame of sorts for elite architects to showcase concepts that encapsulate their career’s work.”
Many of the spaces can be easier to experience up close than in other cities, including restaurants by famous designer Ken Fulk such as Sadelle’s and Carbon, or The Mayfair Supper Club and Bavette’s from interior architect Martin Brudnizki. “You can also walk amongst soaring creations by Cesar Pelli at the ARIA Resort & Casino, admire the work of Daniel Libeskind at The Shops at Crystals, or even stay in a homestyle suite imagined by Jacques Garcia at NoMad,” Flicker says.
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The American Southwest is famous for its natural beauty, drawing artists and outdoor enthusiasts looking to take it all in. But some cities have carried over the area’s natural appeal into their construction habits, where local history and aesthetics are deeply cherished.
“Santa Fe, New Mexico is perched on a high desert and has an energy that is as unique as its architecture,” Heinrich tells Best Life. “If you want to feel like you have stepped through a portal into another dimension, this is the city for you. Not only is this city home to some of the country’s most talented artists, the Pueblo and Greek Revival architectural styles found here speak a language all their own.”
Looking to pick the right time to visit? “Late spring and early autumn are some of the best seasons to enjoy Santa Fe’s architectural wonders while enjoying pleasant weather,” Heinrich suggests.
It’s not uncommon to think of Florida as a destination for white sand beaches or a major draw for theme park enthusiasts. But the state is also home to St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in North America, filled with uniquely inspired architecture.
“Flagler College reflects Spanish Renaissance style, while nearby Casa Monica is in Spanish-Moorish style,” Carbone tells Best Life. “Distinctive churches include the Spanish Colonial Renaissance Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica and the Venetian Renaissance Memorial Presbyterian Church. And then there’s Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort built with coquina, a rare stone so supple that instead of crumbling when hit by cannon fire, its walls absorbed the cannonballs or bounced them off.”
From non-stop nightlife and world-class theater to top-tier dining and endless shopping, New York is a city that has a little something for everyone. The iconic buildings that make up the Big Apple’s famous skyline are no exception.
“New York City offers everything from iconic architecture such as the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, and the Chrysler Building to mind-blowing modern-day structures such as the Oculus, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Vessel,” Mark Morgan and Kristen Morgan, travel experts and creators of WhereAreThoseMorgans.com, tell Best Life. “This city is packed with history and design which resonates in both elegance and function, unsurprisingly making New York one of the most popular cities in the world.”
But even those who feel they’ve visited New York may still miss out on some of the city’s most cherished marvels. “Brooklyn has its own history, separately from Manhattan, as much of it developed independently before it was linked to Manhattan by the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges,” travel expert Becca Siegel from Halfhalftravel.com tells Best Life. “What’s so lovely about Brooklyn’s building style is the swath of the borough with ‘Brownstone architecture.’ These are row houses built between 1870 and 1890 in the signature style that came from across the river and are charming and quaint reminders of Brooklyn’s past. Many have been preserved and remodeled, and you’ll find the best examples of them in Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.”
“Some of my favorite buildings in Brownstone Brooklyn are not brownstones at all,” Siegel admits. “Several houses on Adelphi Street at Willoughby Avenue are from the Eastlake movement, part of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture. “
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Miami’s vibrant local culture and warm climate have made it one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the U.S., drawing in 24.2 million visitors in 2019, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. And while the city’s white sand beaches and world-famous nightlife venues may get most of the attention, its iconic buildings are arguably what make it truly stand out.
“The styles of the 1920s and 1930s remain vibrant in the Art Deco Historic District in Miami Beach, home to the nation’s largest concentration of the sleek and bright architectural style,” Kimberley Pastoors from Development Counsellors International tells Best Life. “The district, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, contains some 800 designated historic buildings—although some of them represent other modern architectural styles from different eras of Miami’s history.”
If you’re looking to visit the Art Deco Historic District, Pastoors says to head to Miami Beach between 5th Street and 23rd Street and walk, bike, or drive along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue to take in the sights.