15 of America’s Coolest Capitals

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Many of America’s capital cities don’t get the love and attention they deserve. This is probably because, more often than not, the state’s capital isn’t actually the largest or most-populated city. We’ve compiled a list of the best and most visit-worthy capitals in the U.S.

Juneau, Alaska
By Bill & Vicki Tracey from Rochelle Illinois, usa (Juneau Alaska) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Juneau, Alaska

Alaska’s second-largest city is one of the most scenic capitals in the U.S., surrounded by ice fields, glaciers, and mountains. Here are some suggestions of things to do and see when visiting the capital of the Last Frontier.

– Take a ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway for jaw dropping aerials of the city and the Gastineau Channel below.
– Check out the 13.6-mile long Mendenhall Glacier just outside of downtown.
– Hop on a boat tour of the Tracy Arm Fjord for spectacular views of icebergs, glaciers, and rock formations.

Madison, Wisconsin
By Dori (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison has received many accolades in recent years ‘ best road-biking city, most walkable, most vegetarian-friendly, environmental friendly’the list goes on and on. The city is situated between two lakes and it’s a nice combination of small town USA and liberal college town. It’s one of the friendliest capitals in the US and you’ll feel right at home the minute you enter it. Here are some tips for visiting Madison.

– Take the Madison Brew and Chew Tour. It’ll take you through 5-6 restaurants and breweries and give you a taste of some of Madison’s best brews and eats.
– Spend a day at one of the two surrounding lakes: Lake Monona and Lake Mendota
– Visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Its Thai temple is the only one of its kind in the US.

Boise, Idaho
By Charles Knowles (Flickr: City of Boise Idaho Winter) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Boise, Idaho

The capital of the Gem State is the perfect mix of urban and outdoorsy. You can enjoy both a night out on the town and a hike in the surrounding hills here. Consider the following activities when planning you trip to this northwestern capital.

– Hit the slops. With over 3,000 acres of skiing and 37,000 Nordic trails, snowshoe trails, and tubing trails, Bogus Basin is a skier’s dream.
– Catch a classic film at the Egyptian Theatre ‘ it’s been around since the 1920s!
– Go whitewater rafting with Middle Fork Wilderness Outfitters on the Salmon River. You’ll eventually drop 3,000 feet while tearing your way through 100 miles of rapids. This is a must-do for the thrill-seeking adventurer.
– Dance the night away at Neurolux, the hottest club in Boise.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
By Charles Knowles (Flickr: City of Boise Idaho Winter) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is New Mexico’s most-visited city and for good reason. It’s a foodie’s dream, a haven for artists and its laid-back attitude can relax even the most uptight person. Here are some suggestions of what to do and see when visiting the capital of the Land of Enchantment.

– Take in a production at the Santa Fe Opera House. It’s open air and set among the mountains and under the stars ‘ truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
– Learn about Native American history and culture at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
– Visit El Rancho de las Golondrinas, one of the regions earliest colonial settlements.
– Enrich your appreciation for the arts with a visit to the Museum of International Folk Art and the Nedra Matteucci Galleries.

Boston, Massachusetts
Daderot at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Boston, Massachusetts

Founded in 1630, Boston is one of America’s oldest cities and is a city rich in history and culture. While old in age, it’s a vibrant city that’s young at heart and will always leave you coming back for more. Consider the following activities when visiting.

– Learn about the key role Boston played during the American Revolution with a 2.5-mile walk on the Freedom Trail.
– State capital of Massachusetts, sports capital of America. The sports fans in Boston are some of the most passionate in the world. You can’t miss taking in a Celtics or Red Sox game if you’re visiting Beantown.
– Visit the oldest park in the United States: Boston Common.
– Go whale watching in the Boston Harbor.
– Hit up Newberry Street for the city’s best shopping.

Denver, Colorado
Daderot at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

6. Denver, Colorado

The Mile-High City dates back to the Old West era and is a wonderful mix of urban and the great outdoors. Located in the Rocky Mountains, Denver offers plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, fishing and skiing and a downtown area filled with museums, galleries, and some of the best brews west of the Mississippi. Here are some suggested things to do and see.
– Go for a hike on Mount Evans for breathtaking scenery and a nice view of the Rockies from above.
– Take a beer tasting tour. Denver Brews Cruise is a good option. They’ll take you to four different breweries in about four hours and you’ll try amazing craft beers you probably would’ve never found on your own.
– Attend a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. With excellent views of the Rockies and geologically shaped by sandstone formations, the venue boasts amazing acoustics and has hosted slews of big name bands.
– Check out the nightlife in Larimer Square. The former pioneer camp is now home to some of Denver’s hottest bars and restaurants.
– Visit the Molly Brown House Museum. The famed Titanic survivor was one of Denver’s most interesting residents and her house serves as the best example of Victorian architecture in the city.

Olympia, Washington
By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

7. Olympia, Washington

Often overshadowed by Seattle and the active stratovolcano Mount St. Helen’s, Olympia is screaming for and deserving of you attention. Located on an inlet and between a wildlife refuge and state forest, it’s the perfect place for nature lovers. Here are some things to try out during your visit.

– Visit Spooner Berry farm and pick your own fresh strawberries and blueberries.
– Rehydrate at the Olympia Artisan Well. It’s over 100 years old!
– Check out the Tenino Farmer’s Market for fresh produce, live music and hand-crafted products.
– Take a stroll through the biologically rich and diverse Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. More than 275 species of migratory birds use the refuse for migration, wintering or breeding.

Austin, Texas
By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

8. Austin, Texas

As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin already receives its fair share of tourism, drawing in millions of visitors each year. Its hip music scene, foodie culture and unique ‘weirdness’ make it a must-visit capital. Here are some suggestions of what to do during your stay.

– Try some of Juan in a Million’s famous breakfast tacos.
– Go for a walk or run along Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail
– Cool off with a swim in Barton Springs Pool.
– Check out the nightlife with some bar hopping on 6th Street.

Phoenix, Arizona
By Melikamp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

9. Phoenix, Arizona

The capital of The Grand Canyon State is known as being one of the cleanest cities in America and with its beautifully kept roads and over 250 golf courses, Phoenix is the perfect city for tourists looking for a relaxing getaway. You won’t find much of a bustling nightlife or major retail shopping here, but there are plenty of unique sights that call Phoenix home. Here are a few of them.

– The Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to explore and witness some of the desert’s natural beauty, with over 50,000 plant displays showcased.
– Papago Park is a hilly desert park and home to Hunt’s Tomb, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s definitely worth a visit.
– Camelback Mountain is the perfect place to go on a quick hike and because it’s located right in the middle of the Phoenix Valley, the panoramic views from the top are spectacular.
– Take a day tour to the Grand Canyon.
– Play a round of golf at one of the 250+ courses.

 Nashville, Tennessee
By Collage by Kaldari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

10. Nashville, Tennessee

Another great capital for music lovers is Nashville, Tennessee, the heart and home of country music. Packed with legendary honky-tonks, dive bars and dance halls, it’s the perfect city for anyone looking to have a grand ole time. Here are some things to do and see.

– Visit the Grand Ole Opera, where some of country music’s greatest legends have performed.
– Take a quick jump across the pond with a visit to the full-scale replica of Greece’s Parthenon, located in Centennial Park.
– Go on a tour of Music Row and visit the historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis recorded over 200 songs.
– Take a stroll down Honky Tonk Highway. These clubs and dive bars offer the best live music and good-time atmosphere in the city.

Honolulu, Hawaii
By Roland Tanglao (Flickr: hawaii-2011-20110126-IMG_8867.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

11. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu is definitely the capital to visit if you’re looking for a beach. The clear blue waters are perfect for surfing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding. Here are some activities to get into in Hawaii’s beautiful capital.

– Hit up Waikiki Beach for amazing views and the opportunity to partake in any water sport you wish.
– Visit the USS Arizona Memorial, a museum dedicated to the ship sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
– Learn about Hawaiian culture and history with a visit to Iolani Palace. Prior to becoming a state, Hawaii was ruled by a monarchy and some of the most recent rulers resided here.
– Go for a hike to Manoa Falls, a waterfall featuring a vertical drop of over 150 feet.

 Sacramento, California
By Roland Tanglao (Flickr: hawaii-2011-20110126-IMG_8867.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

12. Sacramento, California

The Californian capital has some stiff competition with other major cities in the state when it comes to tourism. Drawing in far fewer tourists than Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, Sacramento is easily a forgettable city, but there are many reasons to visit, as it offers many unique activities suitable for all ages. Here are a few things to try out when you’re there.

– Spend an evening in the Midtown neighborhood. It’s the hippest and fastest-growing area in the capital and home to some of the best restaurants and nightlife.
– If you’re traveling with children, check out the Fairytale Town.
– Learn a bit about the city’s history with a visit to Sutter’s Fort, the 19th-century settlement of a Swiss immigrant. The fort is famous for its association with the Donner Party, the Gold Rush and the founding of Sacramento

 Indianapolis, Indiana
By Roland Tanglao (Flickr: hawaii-2011-20110126-IMG_8867.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

13. Indianapolis, Indiana

The capital of Indiana is best known for its annual NASCAR race, the Indy 500, but there are many other reasons to visit the Midwestern city at any time of the year. Here are some suggestions of what to do and see while you’re there.

– Go for a walk downtown, there is art everywhere. The city has commissioned over 40 murals that are spread throughout the downtown area.
– Take in a Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium
– Get your adrenaline running with a visit to the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course for climbing and ziplining.

 Carson City, Nevada
By EPoelzl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

14. Carson City, Nevada

Situated in one of the most scenic and historic regions in the country, Carson City is the perfect capital to visit for a weekend. To the east of the city, you’ll find long and beautiful stretches of desert and to the west, the Sierra Nevada Mountains ‘ the gateway to the Pacific. There are many things to do and see here, but here are a few favorites.

– Take a tour of the Nevada State Capitol Building and learn about the migration to the west and the state’s history.
– Go on a rail tour of the surrounding landscapes.
– Skunk Harbor is the perfect place for a scenic hike.
– Go hang gliding over Lake Tahoe. This is a once in a lifetime experience!

 Washington, D.C.
By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

15. Washington, D.C.

Last, but definitely not least, we have the nation’s capital Washington, D.C. The city is filled with history, art, and culture – the possibilities of things to do and see here are truly endless, but here a few suggestions.

– Go for a stroll down the National Mall and appreciate the beauty of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument
– Head over to the zoo, it’s free and one of only a handful of locations in the U.S. where you can see a panda.
– Wave ‘hello’ to President Obama right at his front door, the White House.
– Visit as many of the following museums as time will allow: National Museum of History, National Air and Space Museum, United States Holocaust Museum and the National Archives Building.
– If you’re visiting during the spring, make sure to catch the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom.

Have you visited any of these capitals? What did you do? Let us know in the comments!

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Kara Head

Graphic Artist/Writer/Filmmaker.

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