Aerial view of Main Street in Bar Harbor, Main.

These Towns In The Northern United States Have The Best Main Streets

Described as "American as apple pie" by the New York Times, when we picture a classic "Main Street" in the US, many of us recall images from childhood. Bikes weave from sidewalk to road, Mom-and-Pop stores lure with the promise of local goods sold with a smile, and life feels simple. Whether stopping to see a show at the local theater, window shopping with a mocha in hand, or running a few last-minute errands, today's Main Street continues to embody the essence of what it has always stood for - a sense of community and bringing citizens together to shop, dine, and savor life's simple pleasures. There is something unequivocally wholesome and rejuvenating about the joys of a town's main stretch, and the Northern United States has some of the best main streets in the country that offer just that. From historic buildings and charming cafes to rich cultural festivals and local celebrations, these small town main streets are as sweet as apple pie.

Pella, Iowa

Tulip Time Festival Parade in Pella, Iowa.
Tulip Time Festival Parade in Pella, Iowa.

Described as a "Little Holland" by Architectural Digest, the scenic town of Pella transports its visitors from Iowa to the Netherlands. Founded by Dutch immigrants in 1847, locals have continued to preserve the town's heritage to this day, and this preserved history is the true star of the Downtown Pella District. Stop for a classic Dutch pastry at Jaarsma Bakery or settle in for traditional flavors at Dutchfix, both located on Pella's bustling Franklin Street. The Pella Opera House is right next door, and a little further down, you will spot the town's prized Vermeer Windmill. 

The Pella Historical Village & Vermeer Windmill is a must-see stop in Pella. Although it is currently closed for the season, it is set to reopen in mid-March. This is also where the town hosts its annual Tulip Time festival, a bright celebration of the season's blooms. Set to take place from May 2 to 4 of 2024, join the thousands of Iowa locals and out-of-towners donning their best Dutch attire to eat, drink, and savor spring's vibrant shift from winter. 

If you cannot make the festivities and still want to experience the town's Dutch heritage, head right around the corner from Franklin Street. Here you will find Molengracht Plaza, another must-see Pella stop, right on Pella's literal "Main Street." Perfect for a lazy stroll, the 100,000 square foot replica of a Dutch canal epitomizes old-European charm.

Northampton, Massachusetts

 View of buildings in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts,
View of buildings in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

Known for its proximity to Massachusetts's famed Five Colleges, Northampton's Main Street is a bright and bold center of this college town. The community's first store opened in 1769 right on what is now Northampton's Main Street and the road soon blossomed as a thriving shopping lane. Today, the fabulous shopping remains, but Northampton's Main Street is also a hub for artistry, culture, and community connection. 

Selected as one of America's Top 10 Great Streets by the American Planning Association, Northampton's Main Street captivates visitors and locals alike with its gorgeous blend of natural features and historic architecture. And thanks to the town's prioritization of walkability, it is easy to explore by foot. 19th-century buildings line the sidewalks, but no two styles are exactly the same, mirroring the uniqueness found within them. Ranging from upscale art-focused shops like the Don Muller Gallery to cozy bookstores like Broadside Bookshop or Raven Used Books, businesses in Northampton make for a delightful day of window shopping, retail therapy, or simply enjoying the comforts of a small-town pace.

Bedford, Ohio

Broadway Avenue in Bedford, Ohio.
Broadway Avenue in Bedford, Ohio. Image credit: Bennett-ne via Wikimedia Commons.

Drawn to the area's sublime natural surroundings, settlers first made Bedford, Ohio, their home back in 1823. In time, Bedford soon became a significant stagecoach stop on Route 14, more commonly known to locals as Broadway Avenue. Along this historic avenue, Bedford has retained a quaint strip of history known as the Bedford Historic District, much of which is proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Prominent structures like the historic Town Hall have stood since 1874, along with buildings that date back even further. The Hezekiah Dunham House, for instance, was built in 1832 by one of Bedford's original settlers. Just up Broadway, shopping is another pleasure of Bedford's busiest street at quirky places like Spirit Apotheosis, a metaphysical supply store selling anything from tarot cards and gems to botanical herbs. Steeped in history and mystery, Bedford's main street may be on the smaller side, but it is still absolutely worth a visit.

Chagrin Falls, Ohio

The charming town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio
The charming town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Editorial credit: Lynne Neuman /

Around 20 minutes northeast of Bedford, Chagrin Falls is another Ohio community with a darling main street. Like Bedford, settlers chose the location of this village for its beautiful natural surroundings, specifically, the sparkling Chagrin River and the graceful cascades that were once harnessed to power the town's mills. Today, Chagrin Falls' Main Street is the town's anchor. With more than fifty charming storefronts and a waterfall running right through downtown, this naturally beautiful historic hub is one of the most special main streets in the Northern United States. 

Before (or after) you descend the staircase to the falls for closer views, there are tons of amazing cafes, bakeries, and restaurants to sample on Main Street. Aurelia is a top-rated American bistro just 2 minutes from the falls, and Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream is even closer, located right on the riverbank. Right next door, the All Matters Gallery is a charming walkthrough, exhibiting work from artists from across the country and also nearby; the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is a darling place to see a local show in one of the country's oldest community theaters.

Bar Harbor, Maine 

Colorful stores along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Colorful stores along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Straddling Maine's Frenchman Bay on Mount Desert Island, the serene town of Bar Harbor has been a beloved vacation spot for centuries. Originally named the "Town of Eden," this island community originated as a summer resort town for the wealthy, popularized by artists who depicted the area's breathtaking landscapes in the 1850s. As time passed, the preservation of the island's beauty inspired the creation of Sieur de Monts, known today as Acadia National Park. These days, Bar Harbor is a beloved gateway to the park's majestic granite peaks and rocky beaches. 

But beyond its reputation as a gateway to nature, Bar Harbor's aptly named Main Street is a treasure in itself. Akin to other beach towns, the clapboard storefronts are bright with pastel hues. Inside, the businesses range from more touristy gift shops like Little Village Gifts or Island Imports to more artistic stores like Island Artisans, a shop celebrating "authentic regional creativity." There are also surf shops like Sand Beach Surf Co. for anyone hoping to enjoy some beach time, along with tons of incredible seafood restaurants. The Stadium is one of the town's top-rated seafood joints, serving its famous fresh lobster roll on their baked-in-house artisanal bread. So, if you find yourself in Bar Harbor in the spring or summer of 2024, just remember: the beach is not all this coastal town has to offer.

Frankenmuth, Michigan

Horse cart in Main Street in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan
Horse cart in Main Street in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan. Image credit: Joe Ross via

Over in "Michigan's Little Bavaria," Frankenmuth is another town big with tourists, drawing more than 3 million visitors each year. Originally settled by 15 Germans back in 1845, the town continues to uphold its heritage through German-inspired festivals like Oktoberfest. But Frankenmuth's Main Street is a standout feature year-round, famous for its scenic views of the Cass River and Bavarian-inspired architecture, recognizable through the iconic exposed-timber framing.

Shopping on Frankenmuth's Main Street is a thing of beauty, making what is normally a pretty standard activity feel like walking through a German fairytale. The Frankenmuth River Place Shops is one place where you can have this fairytale experience. The outdoor riverside mall offers over 40 German-themed shops, wineries, and restaurants. If you decide to visit before the weather warms, they even have heated sidewalks, making this a great year-round option. Just down the road, the Frankenmuth Clock & German Gift Co. is also an adorable option for authentic German gifts. From there, if you follow Main Street north and across the river, you will find other attractions like the authentic Glockenspiel Tower, Frankenmuth Visitor & Welcome Center, and Frankenmuth Historical Museum.

Traverse City, Michigan

Main Street in Traverse City, Michigan
Main Street in Traverse City, Michigan. Image credit: Michigan Municipal League via

For a more lowkey Michigan main street, you may prefer a town like Traverse City. Despite the name, Traverse City's population currently sits at a quaint 15,000, and there is far less foot traffic for most of the year compared to Michigan's Little Bavaria. This excludes the town's annual National Cherry Festival, set to take place from June 29 to July 6, 2024. As the "Cherry Capital of the World," this is when Traverse City is at its busiest, welcoming over 500,000 people to the festival every year. 

For the remainder of the year, the town is far more mellow, but Front Street remains a spirited main drag. Running parallel to the Boardman River, this downtown stretch is home to countless attractions, like the City Opera House. Originally constructed in 1892, this marvelous Victorian structure now hosts an array of contemporary shows, with anything from live music and theatrical performances to comedy nights and dance productions. If you decide to catch a show, Front Street is also the best place for follow-up drinks at charming bars like The Coin Slot or dinner and drinks at rustic taverns like Taproot Cider House. 

If you would prefer to explore this Traverse City main street during the daytime, a riverside stroll is always recommended, and there are tons of other shops and restaurants in the area, like the Higher Self Bookstore and Grand Traverse Pie Company. Summertime on Front Street is also an especially vibrant time to visit during the day, with tons of events to keep an eye out for in 2024, like the Downtown Street Sale on August 4.

Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Aerial view of downtown Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
Aerial view of downtown Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Drawn to the beauty and power of Cedar Creek, German and Irish immigrants founded Cedarburg, Wisconsin, back in the early 1840s. And despite continued suburbanization since post-World War II, this historic town has retained a ton of its old charms, with over 200 beautifully preserved historic buildings that can still be enjoyed to this day. The town's main street (Washington Avenue) is one of the best parts of town to see a treasure trove of these limestone structures, along with other fabulous historic sites and attractions lining both sides of the road.

Listed as one of the "Most Beautiful Main Streets in America" by Architectural Digest, Cedarburg's main strip is by all means an outdoor museum, with features like the iconic Washington House Inn standing front and center. Originally founded in 1846, the inn was one of Cedarburg's first buildings, and today, it is a gorgeous place to rest your head for a weekend away. Right next door, the historic Rivoli Theatre (once the Cedarburg General Store) is an eye-catching historic building and a great place to catch a show. 

Following Washington Avenue deeper into Cedarburg's downtown, you will also pass some more contemporary attractions, like the Cedarburg Art Museum. Several wineries are also at the heart of downtown, like the Chiselled Grape Winery or Cedar Creek Winery, the latter of which is on the corner where Washington intersects with Bridge Road. In charming old-town fashion, this corner is also densely packed with antique shops like Creekside Antiques, ReFabulous, and Dime A Dance. All in all, whether you come to Cedarburg for a weekend away or a day of strolling the town, this beautiful main street will keep you busy and then some.

Final Thoughts

Blending old-world charm with new-world allure, these American main streets are a glorious retreat. Whether meeting up with friends for a drink after work or packing up the car for a mini-road trip getaway, the bliss you will find along a single stretch in these towns may surprise you. Savor cultures beyond our border in towns like Pella and Frankenmuth, or enjoy more traditional American main streets in towns like Traverse City or Bar Harbor. Each of these Northern United States main streets has something remarkable that earned it a spot on this list, and each would make for a great stop in 2024. 

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