Paul Stone loves the colorful locals he sees on Boulder, Colorado's downtown plaza, the no-cars-allowed Pearl Street Mall. "There's even one very flexible man," says the real estate agent, "who is about six feet tall, but can fold himself into a little box."
Home to street performers, students, and spandex-clad athletes, "Boulder attracts a wide variety of people who live together in harmony," says Stone. That double-jointed blend is probably why the Colorado mountain town also made the top 20 for quirky locals, according to Travel + Leisure readers.
They ranked hundreds of towns for such magnetic qualities as vibrant main streets, coffee bars, and an eco-friendly vibe. And while plenty of those features may contribute to a town's unique personality, the top 20 winners in the quirky category take it a step further. One highly ranked town is an unlikely hotbed for Tibetan monks, while another largely forgoes Valentine's Day to celebrate Charles Darwin instead.
Asheville, North Carolina, for instance, ranked highly for its booming craft beer industry and diverse dining scene -- but here, "diverse" goes well beyond a few good places to eat pho. On his No Taste Like Home tour, Ashevillian Alan Muskat lets visitors forage in the woods for -- and then sample -- wild local delicacies like "fairy potatoes," which grow on vines, and reishi, known as the Mushroom of Immortality.
"Asheville sits smack in the middle of the most biodiverse temperate bioregion on the planet," Muskat boasts. "So even our plants are freaky."
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsIs it the thinner mountain air or that the locals are standing too close to a vortex? Either way, these North Carolinians are tops for eccentricity thanks to both old and new charms: the vortex-laden terrain, which purports to send off good energy; the Friday night drum circle in downtown’s Pritchard Park; and the seemingly bottomless love of local beer. To tap into their vibes, try the beer-and-moonshine “hoptails” at Grove Park Inn’s Great Hall Bar, the BRÖÖ shampoo at the Earth Fare shop, or the port cake at Short Street Cakes. Asheville also ranked in the top 10 for great bakeries; Vortex Doughnuts offers a local beer-of-the-day donut. Photo: ExploreAsheville.com
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsWith its history of artists and theater types—Eugene O’Neill, Al Pacino, and Barbra Streisand all cut their teeth here—Provincetown has always provided a colorful contrast to the otherwise seersuckered Cape Cod. For a suitably quirky place to stay, check in at the Salt House Inn, where each room has a “wall of curiosities” featuring vintage art or interesting objects found along the beach. The longtime gay-friendly destination also impressed readers with its seafood shacks (such as the Red Shack, which does Mexican and Moroccan lobster rolls) and cool souvenirs, such as a photo of your aura, done by Whaler’s Wharf psychic Carolyn Miller. Photo: Julian Castle/LOOP IMAGES/Loop Images/Corbis
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsThis upstate New York college town has deep hippie roots—it’s the home of legendary vegetarian restaurant Moosewood—but these are not your typical flower children. Come February, instead of celebrating Valentine’s, the town makes a big to-do over Charles Darwin’s birthday, in its Darwin Days. Thanks to the area’s Cayuga Wine Trail, Ithaca also scored in the top five for vino. Start your taste testing with Six Mile Creek, which uses grapes even for distilled spirits like its Chardonnay-based gin. Photo: iStockphoto
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsThis lovable mountain town is so outdoorsy (and granola) that each July, locals hold a Tube to Work Day. And while Colorado has recently become more famous for its smokable “herbs,” you can still explore the town’s original herbal high on a free tour of the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, or sit down for afternoon tea and samosas at the elaborately hand-carved Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, originally built in Boulder’s sister city in Tajikistan. To see why the town also ranked well for burgers, check out the grass-fed wonders at The Sink, which is completely wind-powered. Photo: Caroline Colvin Photography
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsTo folks in this quaint town along the Delaware River, the real weirdos may be the motorcycle riders and Wiccans across the bridge in New Hope, PA. Still, these Jersey denizens—artists, gardeners, and perhaps actors gunning to play General Washington in the next historical reenactment—get props for their serious attitude toward antiques. The four-story People’s Store has been selling treasures since 1832 (when such things weren’t old). For people-watching, go to coffee and gourmet shop Lambertville Trading Company, where the java is old-school, too: iced coffee served with frozen cubes of coffee and a full range of bone-china mugs. Photo: Sal Petruzelli-Marino
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsThis tony Colorado ski town attracts more than just the designer snowsuit crowd. Check out Woody Creek Tavern, one of Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite hangouts, with its sensory-overloaded walls of newspaper clippings and children’s art. Residents have a soft spot for pet lovers: the local shelter’s Rent-a Pet program lets you visit with a designated cat or dog during your stay. Aspen also ranked well for its sense of adventure, which can extend from outdoor sports to food and drink. At Zocalito’s, you can order your guacamole with chapulines (grasshoppers), and at Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar, be sure to try an Aspen Crud, the bourbon-laced milkshake cocktail that dates back to Prohibition. Photo: Jeremy Swanson
See More of America's Quirkiest TownsWhether you chalk it up to kookiness or school pride, this college town celebrates New Year’s each year with its own Hog Drop. The home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks also ranked well for its sense of history: at the Clinton House Museum, you can stand in the modest little home where the former president and secretary of state once lived (and even got married, in the living room). To feel even more like an insider, stay at the Inn at Carnall Hall—an elegant hotel built from a rehabbed women’s dorm—and tuck in at one of Fayetteville’s high-ranking diners, such as the Rolling Pin Café, where on Saturdays you can order your biscuits with chocolate gravy. Photo: Sterling Photography
--Katrina Brown Hunt
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