Five Postcard-perfect Towns to Visit

These spots are sure to leave their stamp after a visit.

It’s always appropriate to admire the postcards that occupy your refrigerator door, but you should also take the time to enjoy these beautiful locales in person. The following quaint settlements offer a storybook ambiance characterized by a unique collection of locally owned boutique hotels, shops and eateries set against an awe-inspiring landscape filled with adventurous exploits. Their histories are uncharacteristically rich and storied, while their quiet cultures are marked by a laid-back vibe that is infectious. So relax this month as we explore a few of the country’s finest little towns; then head out and discover your own postcard getaway.

Telluride, Colorado
Nestled in a box canyon hidden amid some of Colorado’s largest and most rugged peaks, this authentic postcard town — just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long — represents the rich history of the American West. From the National Historic Landmark District at the town’s core to the surrounding streets packed with Victorian-era homes, clapboard storefronts, boutique shops, art galleries, gourmet restaurants and numerous historic buildings, Telluride is full of unrivaled Rocky Mountain charm.

Best known as a premier ski destination, Telluride winters are packed with guided adventures like winter fly-fishing in the Uncompahgre River, ice climbing up Bridal Veil Falls and snowmobiling tours throughout the spruce-covered mountains. Telluride summers are all about camping in the San Juan Mountains, hiking 14ers or tubing the San Miguel River through town. In all seasons, a 13-minute, free gondola ride takes visitors 1,750 feet up to the town of Mountain Village for even more hiking, biking and skiing.

Bar Harbor, Maine
Mount Desert Island is a collection of picturesque coastal communities scattered amidst a landscape of rocky beaches and ocean cliffs, glacial lakes and valleys, and lush green boreal forests. The island’s largest and most popular settlement is the charming seaside town of Bar Harbor. A breathtaking blend of mountains and ocean, Bar Harbor offers a unique backdrop for its Main Street shops, cafes, galleries and museums.

Enjoy a New England breakfast of wild blueberry pancakes at Café This Way, feast on classic seafood dishes at Beal’s Lobster Pier, and experience unforgettable ice cream flavors like butterscotch miso and blackstrap banana bread at Mount Desert Ice Cream.

Watch the sunrise over the Porcupine Islands while strolling the Bar Harbor Shore Path, explore the carriage roads of neighboring Acadia National Park and don’t miss the breathtaking displays of fall foliage and the extraordinary whale-watching tours. Spend a day venturing out to smaller coastal villages like Bass Harbor, Otter Creek and Seal Harbor on the quieter side of the island to experience their working waterfronts and lobster pounds and exclusive collections of cafes, galleries and shops.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
This 1-square-mile European-style village on California’s central coast is packed with art galleries, family-owned boutique shops, world-class restaurants and countless tasting rooms and wine bars serving Monterey County’s best wines. Walk the stone-paved alleyways of this creative community and tour artist-owned galleries during the monthly Carmel Art Walk. Better yet, experience four full days of art, music and fun at the Carmel Art Festival held each year at Devendorf Park.

Just steps from Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s rugged coastline offers sandy beaches adorned with the area’s characteristic display of rocky outcroppings. Launch a kayak from Carmel River State Beach and explore the astounding beauty that is Point Lobos State Reserve — known as the crown jewel of the California State Parks system — or stroll the sand and experience a birder’s paradise at Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Nature Preserve, featuring a mile-long protected beach.

At day’s end, pack a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine and join the locals for a classic California sunset at iconic Carmel Beach. Then fall fast asleep to the sounds of the Pacific from one of the 75 rooms at the historic La Playa Carmel or the elegant Cypress Inn in the heart of Carmel.

Traverse City, Michigan
On the shores of Lake Michigan, the charming lakeside town of Traverse City is the textbook definition of a postcard town. Stroll Front Street’s brick sidewalks and 19th century Victorian storefronts, taste the locally grown fruits and vegetables at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, or venture out and visit the region’s many freshwater port towns like Suttons Bay, Glen Arbor and Leland.

Because of its history as a major port, Traverse City has five historic lighthouses open for tours. Ironically enough, the waters around the city also offer dozens of well-preserved shipwrecks, popular with snorkelers and divers. Scale the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore and explore the more than 70,000 acres of forests, beaches, lakes and streams along with over 100 miles of hiking trails and the stunning views of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Meanwhile, wine lovers can tour 40 different wineries throughout the Traverse City region, including the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and the scenic Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, northwest of town. Wine events like Toast the Season, Winter Warm Up and Spring Sip and Savor offer some tasty fun, while the month-long, wine-themed events of Traverse City Uncorked are not to be missed.

Fairhope, Alabama
The town of Fairhope, Alabama, boasts an active arts community, beautiful downtown floral displays and streets lined with massive live oak trees. A tour of the town’s pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping district includes specialty shops like The Bay Candle, The Happy Olive and Page & Palette, while the cobblestone courtyard of the Fairhope French Quarter boasts the largest crape myrtle in the South alongside a host of boutique shops and galleries. Hit up the local favorite Panini Pete’s for a breakfast of hot beignets, enjoy freshly prepared local seafood and produce at downtown’s Thyme on Section, or take an order of sweet tea and chocolate cake to-go from Sandra’s Place.

What makes this Gulf Coast jewel stand apart from the rest is its stunning views of Mobile Bay; in fact, every park and recreational trail in Fairhope seems to offer a different perspective. Stroll among the sailboats at Fly Creek Marina, walk the quarter-mile-long Fairhope Municipal Pier, and visit the town’s beautiful rose garden on the way to the family-favorite duck pond in North Bluff Park. Rent a bike and tour Fairhope’s picturesque historic neighborhoods filled with antebellum homes or see the bungalow-style houses of the Fruit and Nut District before heading out on the 32-mile Eastern Shore Trail for the best views of the bay.