Chicago skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape bird's view from park, Illinois.

The 17 Most Beautiful Downtowns in the US

The United States is a beautiful country, often defined by its downtown areas. It is the skylines and iconic sights that are the first things that pop into the minds of people living in other parts of the world when thinking about the US. Regardless of the city's size or whether the scenic downtown areas extend upwards or outwards, the most beautiful cores are the cultural and historical hubs of the relevant city. No description can do justice to a downtown's atmosphere, which is what makes it truly beautiful. From the in-your-face beauty of New York City to charming towns, these downtown areas are a must-experience.

Alexandria, Virginia

Modern townhomes in the historic city of Alexandria and the waterfront property along the Potomac River in northern Virginia
The historic city of Alexandria, Virginia, along the Potomac River.

Downtown Alexandria is defined by Old Town, its picture-perfect, nationally designated historic section replete with vintage architectural feats along the brick-lined streets with a waterfront view. Take a stroll down the all-cobblestone main King Street, listed among the US' "Great Streets," with its light displays and retro feel. Check out a Georgian manor house from 1753 and visit Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which was the social and political center of Alexandria in the 1700s. The historic, seven-foot-wide Spite House is the nation's thinnest of its kind.

Stop by the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, an apothecary from 1792, for brews and potions. The powerful Potomac River is beautiful on a stroll or a cruise ride, with nature at the doorstep for the locals. Bike along the river's Mount Vernon Trail and stop by the scenic Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge to picnic. The Torpedo Factory Art Center boasts the largest publicly accessible artists’ studios in the US, while the Old Town Farmers’ Market is great for local culture, artisanal goods, and organic produce. You will also find over 100 independent shops and a 15-minute drive to George Washington’s Mount.

Athens, Georgia

Athens, Georgia, US downtown cityscape.
Downtown Athens, Georgia.

The beautiful city of Athens boasts one of the most scenic downtown areas in the entire US, thanks to its very old historic center. This commercial and residential district radiates Southern charm and a lively college lifestyle. Check out the vibrant scene with music-filled streets and venues, like the Georgia Theatre, amid the district's conglomeration of architectural buildings. Visit the notable Franklin House, the Clarke County Courthouse, and a number of historic churches to see diverse styles.

The iconic Tree That Owns Itself at the corner of Dearing and Finley is a natural landmark of a historic white oak with stately branches that belongs to no one but itself, along with the eight-foot radius around it. Check out the Double-Barreled Cannon from the Civil War and take a cute selfie with the dozens of bulldog statues throughout downtown and the city. Catch a vaudeville play on history or a contemporary theme at the Morton Theatre, among the oldest-running of its kind and owned and operated by black Americans. The meandering paths of the Firefly Trail call for a scenic bike ride, veering off to explore the shopping galore along E. Clayton Street.

Bellevue, Washington

Drone shot of the city of Bellevue from above
Downtown Bellevue, Washington, at dusk.

The extraordinary downtown of Bellevue, the second largest in Washington, is unlike any other. This cultural and economic hub of the city called the Eastside, is set scenically in the Puget Sound region with many verdant open spaces. Enjoy nature over picnics from your office, including the recently renovated Meydenbauer Bay Park that opens into a vibrant beachscape along the waterfront. The new Inspiration Playground at the 20-acre Bellevue Downtown Park is the city's ultimate family destination to spend time mingling with other parents while kids have a fun time in the fresh air.

Check out the Bellevue Arts Museum and the Meydenbauer Center, and spend some time perusing books at the award-winning Bellevue Library or shopping at the Bellevue Collection and The Shops at The Bravern. Come in July for the Pacific Northwest's largest arts and crafts fair, while music lovers flock to the Wintergrass Music Festival in February and the Bellevue Jazz & Blues Festival in May. Experience Snowflake Lane at The Bellevue Collection and enjoy the Bellevue Downtown Ice Arena in Downtown Park during the holidays.

Bend, Oregon

An aerial view of the Bend, Oregon Whitewater Park
Bend, Oregon Whitewater Park.

The town of Bend sits in the shadow of the domineering Mt. Bachelor, in the surreal and statuesque surroundings of the Deschutes National Forest, and offers quick access to all the nature right from downtown. This popular ski destination city in Central Oregon is also a hub for arts and craft beer. Peruse the vibrant center for your favorite pursuits during the day and pastimes for the evening, like craft breweries with tasting rooms.

Take the Cycle Pub for a memorable pedal-powered trolley tour through the best local breweries and Bend's Art Walk, a regional destination, every first Friday of the month. Visit anytime to dine at the best restaurants, sample wines from the vineyards around downtown, and find local artwork for viewing and sale everywhere.

Boise, Idaho

Idaho state capital building and city of Boise
Idaho state capital building and downtown Boise.

Boise, the popular mountain destination in Idaho, is as charming as it gets, particularly within the concentrated downtown area. The vibrant cultural heart of the city hosts regular special events with activities for the entire family. Stroll through the beautiful Eighth Street Cultural District downtown, blending modern lifestyles with small, idyllic town charm—a real delight on a stroll.

The downtown area is replete with great breweries and art museums, along with the second-to-none nightlife in the state. Pick a different theme each time from venues, concerts, shows, and shopping to immerse yourself in the full specter of the mountain city culture, which is well worth living and most lively in the evenings.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boats in the harbor overlooking the Boston, Massachusetts, USA city skyline
The harbor and Boston, Massachusetts, skyline.

The lit city of Boston is among the oldest settlements in North America, dating back to the 1600s. Downtown Boston is a stark scene of contrasts where the old meets the new under romantic maritime vibes, modern pursuits, and skyscrapers. Stroll along the streets for architectural treasures from the 17th century that will take you through the years of historic events like the American Revolution, along with many celebrated sites downtown.

Catch an iconic performance at the Modern Theatre from 1876 with a beautiful, unchanged facade, and experience a fresh-air play at the Common of the Shakespeare series outdoors during the summer. Take the two-and-a-half-mile Freedom Trail through the district and touch all its sixteen most important historical landmarks in Boston.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois, downtown skyline from Lincoln Park at twilight.
Chicago, Illinois skyline.

Downtown Chicago, or The Loop, is a vibrant center of arts and culture amid historic architecture and the city's iconic attraction, "The Bean," at the Millennium Park Campus. An attraction in itself, the park also hosts the beautiful Lurie Garden, Crown Fountain, and Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk, lined with fine-dining spots and art galleries, and visit the Chicago Cultural Center for the largest Tiffany stained-glass dome on the planet, with performances, lectures, and art exhibits to fill a day's worth of pursuits.

Chicago's theater scene will cover you for a few evening pastimes, like the District’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, Nederlander Theatre, and Auditorium Theatre. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago, among the oldest and largest museums in the world, and the beautiful Shedd Aquarium on the water. Take in the city views from the river perspective aboard a cruise and climb the Skydeck Chicago rising from downtown for an eagle's-eye perspective.

Greenville, South Carolina

Drone city aerial image of downtown Greenville South Carolina
Downtown Greenville, South Carolina.

The thriving city of Greenville, with a growing population, hosts a beautiful downtown area with a real heartfelt appeal to foodies and entertainment seekers. It teems with attractions that meet demand, with always something new popping up to please the eye and appease the taste buds of every palate.

The verdant downtown area is one of the best in America for strolls, with the tree-lined Main Street and the misty Reedy River Falls providing a refreshing outlet into scenic nature right at the heart of your daily pursuits. Downtown Greenville is also a shoppers' paradise with designer boutiques and eclectic storefronts, a delight for an art stroll through quaint galleries.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, WIsconsin, USA downtown skyline at dusk.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, downtown skyline.

Milwaukee, the city of diverse cultures, boasts a small downtown area compared to other big US cities and one of the most aesthetic. It is clean, impeccable, and delightful to explore on a stroll, offering easy navigation and plentiful hotspots to veer into. Immerse yourself in some glam through sights and attractions like upscale river walks and loft districts unlike any other. The impressive collection of museums, academic institutions, and cultural venues will astound all tastes and diversify each evening.

Milwaukee downtown is a concentrated bastion of culture, fine dining, and year-round events, along with extensive shopping opportunities and renowned nightlife. The relaxed street vibe and access to the lake-and-river setting, where you can easily lounge all day at the beaches along Lake Michigan, make for one unforgettable and unbeatable core area. Visit the Wisconsin Center for fanatical technology and architectural feats, and stop by the Pabst Theater for brews over plays.

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA Downtown Skyline Aerial
New Orleans, Louisiana, downtown skyline.

Downtown New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, is replete with music, art, and palpable historical influence. A visit to the cultural heart of this city is like no other in the world, where you are instantly immersed in the vibe of the past. Walk through history with evolutionary evidence embracing you through sights, celebrate New Orleans' special relationship with music, and taste its diverse culture at world-famous restaurants.

The Petit Jazz Museum in Tremé is an absolute must-see, with 4,000 years of history of jazz music and life in the area. Check off the wealth of local museums in the area and swing by the market for a classic po'boy. The French Market offers authentic local lifestyle experiences along its six blocks through the center. Stock up on your needs, wants, collectibles, and souvenirs to reminisce about this unforgettable downtown scene back home.

New York City, New York

Aerial View over New York City Manhattan, New York
Aerial view of  New York City Manhattan, New York.

The glitz and glam reward for all downtowns in the US goes to the Big Apple, just for the defining Times Square. It is a downtown area that takes a New York minute to love and never forget, with the conglomeration of sights that envelop you in a dizzying momentum. The enchanting core, with its verdant Central Park and river setting, is striking against the steel of the skyscrapers. Take a bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge or an hour-long trek with selfies and panoramic shots.

There is also the four-mile Hudson River Park, which provides stunning river views, and the High Line elevated park with art installations, native plants, and regular events. Be sure to check out the pompous Wall Street, where another kind of green magic takes place in this heartbeat of the Financial District. The highly cultural city brims with institutions, from museums to theaters and contemporary art venues. Stroll through Greenwich Village, in the northern portion of Lower Manhattan, with its cozy café stops and jazz clubs.

San Diego, California

Sailboat on the water and the skyline and downtown San Diego, California
Downtown San Diego, California.

San Diego, with its over 70 miles of coastline touching the beautiful waterfront downtown area, is a dreamy visit for every taste and a must for everyone in the state. It is one of the most famous downtown areas in the US, and those coming to enjoy the whole beach already know the noteworthy spots to stop for the apres-sands. San Diego downtown surprises first-timers with a diverse art scene and cultural cuisine options, including exquisite fine dining waterside.

Downtown San Diego is one of the most luxurious centers in the US, where upscale vibes permeate the air as much as the ocean breeze while remaining accessible to the average tourist. Take a trolley tour downtown to the Altitude Sky Lounge for a panoramic overview and enjoy dazzling, world-class street entertainment for all ages. Families, in particular, love the thriving San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and LEGOLAND.

San Francisco, California

Colorful homes in San Francisco, California, USA city skyline
San Francisco, California, downtown.

San Francisco is hands down among the most astounding hubs in the world, with a one-of-a-kind ring in the air. Brimming with diversity, it attracts an endless string of worldwide sightseers for its notable size, bridges, and geographic setting. San Francisco's core spans upward with skyscrapers and across the river with its beautiful bridges. The diverse city is a foremost global financial center, which translates into great services, attractions for all tastes, and a feeling of pure magic that permeates the atmosphere.

This vibe is only felt in person, particularly alongside the San Francisco Bay, a natural extension of the unique and beautiful urban environment. Stroll down the steep streets along the wistful tramline that seems like it could belong anywhere in the world. The juxtaposition of large corporations and suited people fits impeccably into the colorful conglomeration of street art and murals, musicians, and other entertaining sights.

Santa Monica, California

Aerial view of the beach in Santa Monica, California
Santa Monica, California, along the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica boasts a dreamy downtown area, especially if you are a shopper, in search of entertainment, or a foodie. With easy access from LA, you can quickly immerse yourself in a whole new scene of street art, performers, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean beaches. Find it all and more on the Third Street Promenade, like hundreds of quality shops, delectable eateries, and cute cafes at every step. Visit with kids for whimsical dinosaur sculptures and fountains scattered throughout parks, and watch an evening play at Westside Comedy Theater.

Drop by the Santa Monica History Museum within the Santa Monica Public Library for a whole day of pursuits, exhibitions, and millions of artifacts. Santa Monica Pier is a must-experience with lovely ocean vistas, sunset views, and a deep history. First opened in 1909, it collapsed just short of ten years later and was rebuilt with attractions like an amusement park from the 1990s, musicians, magicians, and more. The open-air Santa Monica Place mall, just a stroll away from the pier, is also close to the Original Muscle Beach.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah Georgia Downtown Skyline Aerial.
Savannah, Georgia downtown.

The charming city of Savannah boasts a downtown area with a wholesome Southern vibe unlike any other amid wistful architecture, traditional hospitality, and deep roots in the antebellum era. Soak up all the sights and the Americana feel on a fresh-air stroll along this charming area, almost entirely within the Savannah Historic District of the United States.

Take a historic walk through some of the antebellum buildings or hop on a ride along the downtown trolley service, which is particularly enjoyable for the full scope-out and a perfect option for a rainy day. Downtown is split into north and south parts, with the notable Forsyth Park in the south for natural outings and a beautiful fountain. Find the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in the north, which you can also see from an atmospheric river cruise, a most worthy activity down the beautiful Savannah River.

St. Augustine, Florida

St Augustine, Florida, USA Downtown Drone Skyline Aerial.
St. Augustine, Florida, downtown.

No list of beautiful downtowns can do without the scenic core of the nation's oldest city and a real cultural experience, St. Augustine. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, their influence permeates the sights, restaurants, hotels, and shopping, from boutiques to local markets. Visit for a stroll through history unfolding in front of your eyes and many historical adventures to choose what interests you most.

Stroll amid the city's defining architecture, with many buildings dating back to the 1700s, and its living history museums. From British, Irish, French, and Spanish to Africans and Native Americans, you will fly through countries and evolution in a heartbeat along the historical downtown that, at the same time, feels like no amount of time is enough to explore the specter.

Tempe, Arizona

Aerial View of a large Public University in the Phoenix Suburb of Tempe, Arizona
Downtown Tempe, Arizona.

Downtown Tempe is lively and walkable to explore on a stroll or a bike, with many scenic places for a stop. Mill Avenue offers quick access to nature at the north, extending into a beautiful hike up "A Mountain," a unique outdoors opportunity that makes the little steep trekking worth the panoramic views over the ASU Tempe Campus to the outskirts. Find plentiful dining and shopping along the main thoroughfare and surrounding streets, as well as movie theaters, museums, and fine arts performance venues for the evening.

The downtown lets you choose your own adventure to get a feel of its core, unlike any other in Arizona. Paddle across the Tempe Town Lake or on two wheels alongside it, heading north to the Crosscut Canal Multi-Use Path to the lovely Papago Park. Find attractions a hand's reach away, like a flick at the luxurious AMC Centerpoint 11 right in downtown's heart or strolling the grounds of one of the largest universities in the US. Immerse yourself in the vibrant downtown fare with delicious eats of international flavors and award-winning microbrews in between shopping, contemporary art masterpieces, and Broadway shows.

From lively to scenically historic and multicultural, it is a vibe only experienced in person that makes these downtowns beautiful to the beholder. The integrated street art, beautiful cultural venues, parks, and colorful local markets are what make the downtown most appealing, while attractions, entertainment, upscale shopping, and fine dining come second. Another defining moment is the setting, with many downtowns boasting a riverside location or one near the mountains. Enjoy strolls, bike rides, and river views of these renowned core areas, with nature amid the steel and attractions for all tastes.

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