America’s 25 cutest main streets in small(er) towns

By Barbara Noe Kennedy
July 09, 2018, 2:41:54 PM EDT

Not so long ago, Main Streets everywhere were being boarded up, caving into the fight against big business and shopping malls. Well, that’s all changing, as concerned citizens and historical groups are spearheading movements to renovate buildings, beautify streetscapes, revive local economies, and bring 21st-century verve into main drags across the nation. Here are some of the best — both the darlings and some unexpected surprises.

1. Natchitoches
WHERE: Louisiana

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(Photo/Kent Kanouse/Flickr,[(CC BY-NC 2.0)])

Live oaks? Check. Red bricks? Check. Cast-iron balconies? Check. Front Street exudes southern charm with all the antebellum trimmings in this sultry Louisiana town, established four years before New Orleans, in 1714 (and, by the way, is pronounced nak-a-tish). Don’t miss Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, the state’s oldest continuously operating hardware store (since 1863), where you can still find classic toys like the Radio Flyer wagon. The award-winning Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame & Northwest History Museum on the street’s north end is a can’t-miss as well.

INSIDER TIP: The biggest event on Front Street is the annual Christmas Festival, featuring six weeks of festive activities.

2. Placerville
WHERE: California

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No, you’re not on a western movie set. Placerville is a veritable 19th-century gold town in the Sierra Nevada foothills filled with boomtown charm. Though these days, Placerville is experiencing another kind of boom.. Just check out the variety of unique shops that line its picturesque Main Street and you’ll see what we’re talking about: an olive oil shop, a yarn shop, a cheese shop, a bath shop, a chocolatier … this is not your standard miner fare. That said, the Placerville Hardware Store is the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi (1852), and the Historic Cary House Hotel is right out of the history books.

INSIDER TIP: The landmark Bell Tower, honoring the city’s volunteer firemen for more than a century, is the gathering place for parades, celebrations, and, once a month, the starting point for free stagecoach rides.

3. Walla Walla
WHERE: Washington

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(Photo/Visit Walla Walla)

Wine lovers, rejoice! Walla Walla’s tree-shaded Main Street boasts 39 tasting rooms showcasing regional wineries. But that’s only one reason to stroll along this revitalized pedestrian paradise, where cafés, boutiques, bookstores and antique shops occupying gorgeous Victorian and Beaux-Arts buildings offer plenty of diversions. Make a full day of it with a concert at the Walla Walla Symphony, the longest continuously operating American symphony orchestra west of the Mississippi (since 1907).

INSIDER TIP: Take the 1.5-mile “Downtown Walk” that starts at the 1928 Marcus Whitman Hotel and loops around the historic buildings of Main and Colville Streets. Pick up a map at numerous locations around town.

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