Most places have a certain look that make them distinctive—maybe it arises from practicality or perhaps it's simply a reflection of style. But if you ask us, it's those varying aspects that make these places worth a long, inquisitive stare; not to mention a visit. So whether you're looking to plan your next adventure or merely craving some design inspiration, below are 10 of our favorite destinations to take in jaw-dropping architecture.
1. Palm Springs, California
It used to be that Hollywood entertainers of the past would road-trip from Los Angeles to the desert oasis of Palm Springs to get away from it all. Yet, the design sensibilities of that era—and how the community continues to honor them—has made Palm Springs a destination all on its own.
There are quite a few stunning midcentury properties to see here if you decide to take a meandering bike tour, but we also recommend a visit to the Architecture and Design Center to get a true understanding of the area's fascinating history.
Itching to move to the desert? This midcentury Palm Springs property is for sale.
2. Hudson, New York
We hate to spoil the not-so-secret getaway that Brooklynites have been buzzing about these last few years, but Hudson, New York, is worth putting on this list not only because of its charming facades, but also because of what can be found inside them.
Hudson has long been a destination for unique antiques—which are tucked behind picturesque Dutch and English townhouses—but it has recently grown in popularity for its cuisine and hospitality. Get your fill of its traditional setting at places like Olde Hudson, and don't forget to tour more modern stops nearby, such as the Omi International Arts Center.
Tour this modern home in the Hudson Valley here.
3. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Once you see how the sun casts light and shadows across the pueblo architecture of the nation's highest capital, you'll see why artists and architects consider Santa Fe, New Mexico, to be a must-stop for design.
The tradition of the desert city's many adobe structures intertwine with its modern galleries and museums, making it a place that spurs creative energy. When you're there, don't forget to take a glimpse at the Plaza on the way to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
See how one local architect designed his Santa Fe home here.
4. Columbus, Indiana
By now, most architecture lovers have read, seen, or heard about Columbus, Indiana. Serving as the little town with a big reputation about 40 miles from Indianapolis, this city is the unlikely architectural getaway in a country filled with them.
An exemplary feat of Modernism in the Midwest, the bulk of the midcentury architecture started last century when iconic philanthropist J. Irwin Miller gave public works projects the opportunity to be an exercise in community pride. Dozens of buildings have since been built by big-name architects around town, such as an elementary school designed by Richard Meier, as well as a post office designed by Kevin Roche.
Figure out your Columbus itinerary with this guide.
5. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Whether you know it as the Steel City, the Iron City, or more recently, the City of Reinvention, Pittsburgh is a quintessential American destination with a backdrop that reflects its evolving character. Architectural beauty abounds in this place, even when you're not necessarily looking for it.
The Duquesne Incline can provide a sweeping view of the Three Sisters Bridges, while a walk on the city's equally famous hills will allow you to see plenty of 20th-century details—especially through the north side of Allegheny West. Be sure to also visit the city's renowned cultural hubs, like the Mattress Factory and the Andy Warhol Museum.
Get a tour of Pittsburgh from architect Andrew Moss's perspective here.
6. Chicago, Illinois
Let's face it: we couldn't make a list about the nation's top architectural destinations without mentioning Chicago.
In fact, some of the biggest names in architecture left their mark on the Windy City, like Frank Gehry and Charles B. Atwood. Although a simple boat or walking tour is enough to fill your view with some of their greatest works, our vote goes to the Aqua skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang, or the Tribune Tower by architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood.
Not sure where to get a drink in Chicago? Check out this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bar.
7. Savannah, Georgia
We're well aware that the Spanish moss dripping from the historic oak trees of Savannah are not entirely architectural—at least not in the way we've been describing that term here. However, the ornate details on the skinny townhouses and antebellum mansions in this area are heightened by the existence of the moss, lending a natural exclamation point to their otherwise man-made beauty.
Walk along the cobblestone streets in the city's Historic District to see what we mean, especially since more than 20 blocks help create a setting of eye-catching properties and surrounding verdant parks.
See how a home in Savannah's Historic District was modernized from within.
8. Charleston, South Carolina
Much like Savannah, the beauty of Charleston's buildings have a lot to do with history and a smidge of Southern charm. Charleston's own historic enclave of properties—known as Rainbow Row—is a bright collection of pastels that seem ideally suited for the city's fair weather.
Yet aside from this well-known haunt, Charleston's many spires and traditional buildings make this city a great place to take a simple stroll. Plan your walk to to take you past the Wentworth Mansion and across the Ravenel Bridge for the best views.
Charleston homes aren't all about history—see a modern renovation here.
9. San Francisco, California
San Francisco continues to be an architectural mainstay because of its famed Victorian buildings, which are famously showcased by the Painted Ladies. Sure, these homes are often the fronts to renovated interiors—or neighbors to more modern properties—but this city remains breathtaking because of how these detailed Victorians contrast so beautifully with the area's natural surroundings.
And if you're in the mood for a drive the next time you're in the Bay Area, make your way across the acclaimed Golden Gate Bridge to explore the striking Marin Headlands. Once you turn the car around to return, you'll be stunned by the way the city comes into view across the sparkling water.
See how a knitting mill was transformed into a cool Bay Area loft here.
10. Newport, Rhode Island
If minimalist living is characteristic of our time, then the homes along the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, are in clear contrast of that. Toward the end of the 19th century, rich industrialists began building summer homes here that are best described as unabashedly confident mansions.
The Vanderbilt property known as "The Breakers" is probably the most famous among them, and its Italian Renaissance features—as designed by Richard Morris Hunt—give way to custom-made furniture in 70 rooms. Witnessing these properties is to recognize architecture as a form of indulgence, and a striking one at that.
Glimpse a studio in Rhode Island that's more of this era here.