These off-the-beaten-path towns offer much to lure artistic vacationers.
by Rebecca Pahle
New York, London and Paris are among the great cities of the world for gallery hopping or visiting a museum or two. But, to do so, you may have to also elbow your way through crowds on public transportation and pay exorbitant prices for accommodations and dining. Sometimes, you might just want something a little less hectic—smaller, perhaps, but just as artistically enriching for it. Don’t worry: we have your back. Next time you’re thinking about booking a flight to LaGuardia, why not try one of these less well-known artistic hot spots instead?
A stone’s throw from the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville is a prime location for artistic inspiration, so this small Southern town is packed to the gills with galleries, museums and culture. The River Arts District (riverartsdistrict.com) has many arts-and-crafts studios and classes, and more than 20 galleries are within easy strolling distance from each other at the Downtown Asheville Art District (ashevilledowntowngalleries.org).
A large part of Beacon’s charm is its vibrant arts culture, which includes Dia:Beacon (diaart.org/sites/main/beacon), one of the country’s largest museums of contemporary art. But another major draw is not what’s in Beacon but what’s near it: the many art-friendly cities dotting the Hudson Valley, including New Windsor, home of the Storm King Art Center (stormking.org), and Peekskill, with its Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art (hvcca.org)—both only a short drive from Beacon.
Crested Butte, Colo.
During the winter, Crested Butte is a ski town through and through, but in summer it becomes the perfect vacation spot for lovers of nature, hiking, mountain biking and art. “The dramatic beauty of Crested Butte attracts artistic adventurers,” writes Teresa Rijks, co-owner of the Rijks Family Gallery (rijksgallery.com), one of the 12 participants in Artists of the West Elks’ summer Art Walk (awearts.org). “Thus, the art lover who visits Crested Butte will be amazed by the number of opportunities to meet artists, take classes and visit galleries in this small mountain town.”
New Bedford, Mass.
About an hour south of Boston, New Bedford has recently become a mecca for artists, thanks to the city’s conscious effort over the last few years to develop a “creative economy” that involves encouraging the growth of galleries and cultural institutions. This cozy seaside town offers a lot for art enthusiasts to see. Attractions include, for example, the ArtWorks! community art space (artworksforyou.org) or the interestingly named UGLY (U Gotta Love Yourself) Gallery (uglygallery.com), which focuses on progressive art and street culture. If you get overwhelmed by art after a while and want to mix it up a bit, you might consider the New Bedford Whaling Museum (whalingmuseum.org).
San Juan, Puerto Rico
In Old San Juan, the historic colonial district of the Puerto Rican capital, centuries-old buildings are themselves works of art. Within them, you’ll find shops; live-music venues; art galleries, including the Galería Botello (botello.com); and museums, such as the Museo de Las Américas (museolasamericas.org). A short drive from Old San Juan is the Santurce arts district, home to art spaces that the New York Times once described as having “an offbeat style that’s more Lower East Side than Latin Caribbean.”
Santa Fe, N.M.
The problem with taking a vacation to Santa Fe is that you might have a hard time leaving at the end of it. No matter how long your trip is, it probably will be too short to visit the more than 200 galleries and museums the city has to offer. Some that you might want to cross off your list include the Blue Rain Gallery of American Indian and regional art (blueraingallery.com) and the Museum of International Folk Art (internationalfolkart.org). For those looking for inspiration for their own work, it’s tough to beat Santa Fe’s natural beauty. You can explore the local attractions during horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and skiing, depending on the season.
With a year-round population that hovers around 1,000, Saugatuck can’t compete with fellow Lake Michigan coast city Chicago in the number of available galleries and art studios. But it doesn’t need to. Since its creative beginnings as an art colony in the 19th century, it has managed to do just fine for itself. The city’s dozen-plus galleries, including Roan & Black (roanandblack.com) and the African-themed Amazwi Contemporary Art (amazwi.com) lure in the tourists, who can also partake in the art exhibits, theater and musical performances at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts (sc4a.org).
Get a dose of Southern charm in this Georgia town, where the Savannah Arts Academy and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) contribute to a bustling arts scene. A big part of that scene is the First Friday Art March (artmarchsavannah.com), where galleries and studios, including the Non-Fiction Gallery (henandcake.com/flourless), open their doors to the public and local artists set up their easels along De Soto Avenue. At other times, you can check out the award-winning SCAD Museum of Art (scadmoa.org), which draws a vast array of professional artists from around the world.
St. Augustine, Fla.
As the United States’ oldest continuously occupied European settlement—or, as its residents call it, “the nation’s oldest city”—St. Augustine has its fair share of gorgeous Spanish colonial-era buildings. But the city’s art scene feels anything but old. The monthly First Friday Art Walk (artgalleriesofstaugustine.org/firstfridayartwalk) invites visitors to explore the galleries in St. Augustine’s historic downtown district, and a free shuttle service makes it easy to get to venues such as the Grand Bohemian Gallery (grandbohemiangallery.com) and the St. Augustine Art Association (staaa.org), which has a new juried exhibit every month. While there, be sure to visit St. Augustine’s numerous beautiful beaches.
Taos is the place to be if you want to intersperse visits to exciting, creatively stimulating galleries and museums with a healthy dose of R&R. “Taos is a place to rejuvenate in all the arts and culture,” says Robert Wilder Nightingale, owner of Wilder Nightingale Fine Art (wnightingale.com) and president of the Taos Gallery Association (taosgalleryassoc.com). Visitors to the city, which has more than 80 art galleries in addition to year-round arts-and-crafts festivals, “will leave… refreshed and renewed mentally and physically.