Best Travel-Worthy State Capital (2015)


The 50 destinations that serve as state capitals in the USA represent an incredibly diverse assortment of cities – everything from huge metropolises to tiny towns. We asked USA TODAY 10Best readers to vote for their favorite from a list of 20 nominees, and the winners might surprise you!

  • Carson City, Nevada

    Carson City, Nevada

    Carson City, a small town of 50,000 (and growing), offers inexpensive lodging and food in a picturesque setting. Among the capital's attractions, often overlooked in favor of the glitz of Vegas, are the governor’s home a couple of blocks off the main street and the Nevada State Museum housed in the old mint where the famous “CC” silver dollars were produced. Lake Tahoe and Reno are nearby, making Carson City an excellent base from which to explore the Sierra Nevadas.
    Photo courtesy of Cathleen Allison

  • Juneau, Alaska

    Juneau, Alaska

    It’s hard to beat the Inside Passage views from this Alaskan hillside capital that also has a glacier within its city limits. While it requires a boat or plane to get there, Juneau is a great walking town with lots to see and a diverse dining scene. A pint at the Alaska Brewing Company makes for an ideal late afternoon outing.
    Photo courtesy of Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Little Rock, Arkansas

    Little Rock, Arkansas

    A downtown renaissance has transformed Little Rock into a city with culture, cuisine and abundant outdoor activities. Visitors can rent a bike and pedal the 16-mile loop along the Arkansas River Trail, visit the Clinton Presidential Center and the Little Rock Central National Historic Site, a National Park Service unit that interprets the crucial role played by the school in the civil rights struggle.
    Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

  • Boise, Idaho

    Boise, Idaho

    Affordable and often overlooked, Boise offers big city sophistication – wine bars, bistros and a modern cityscape – in a small, unassuming package. Visitors can whitewater raft through an eco-conscious city where a revitalized downtown attracts crowds for culture (there's a significant Basque heritage) and cuisine.
    Photo courtesy of Design Naturale Photography

  • Sacramento, California

    Sacramento, California

    Sacramento claims over ten theaters, two professional theater companies, many museums, Old West heritage and the beautiful Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. However, it's Old Sacramento along the waterfront that really sets it apart. This historic district boasts restaurants, shops and museums, including the popular California State Railroad Museum with restored cars, locomotives and illustrated displays in six buildings.
    Photo courtesy of Andrew Zarivny

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Santa Fe, New Mexico

    From its array of art galleries to its extraordinary museums and architecture, this adobe city is unlike any other in the country. Travelers can stay at downtown’s historic La Fonda, walk to the Plaza where they'll discover handmade jewelry and enjoy some of the Southwest’s best cuisine and explore the art galleries and adobe homes on winding Canyon Road.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Indianapolis, Indiana

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    Long considered one of the Midwest’s premiere cities, Indy offers visitors a vibrant downtown with a large urban park, canal with gondola rides and stellar hotels and restaurants, like the splurge-worthy St. Elmo’s Steak House named for the patron saint of sailors. For racing fans, there's always the Indy 500, and the Indianapolis Children's Museum (the country's largest) is always a hit with families.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Indy

  • Springfield, Illinois

    Springfield, Illinois

    The Illinois capital is a worthwhile stop if only to visit Abraham Lincoln’s home (the only one he ever owned), law office, tomb and the Old State Capitol where he gave his famous “House Divided ” speech. Art is an important part of the city’s cultural scene with the work of 60 local artists under one roof at Studio on 6th . The Legacy Theatre offers concerts, comedy, lectures, and Broadway musical events. A 7-mile interurban trail is available for hikers and bikers.
    Photo courtesy of chas53

  • Madison, Wisconsin

    Madison, Wisconsin

    As home of the University of Wisconsin, it isn’t surprising that Madison is filled with museums, galleries, funky shops, beautiful gardens and performing arts. The Wisconsin capital also offers a wide range of sporting activities (it's one of America's most bike-friendly cities) and nightlife so there's never a lack of things to do.
    Photo courtesy of Skot Weidemann for the GMCVB

  • Helena, Montana

    Helena, Montana

    Born from a mid-1800s gold strike, Helena shows pride in its Western history. Visitors can explore the town on the Last Chance Tour Train and then stop at the Montana Historical Society’s Mackay Gallery for a memorable stroll through its large collection of Charles Russell art. The surrounding area is perfect for leisurely road trips and outdoor adventure in the Rocky Mountain foothills..
    Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton

Winning by a sizable margin was Carson City, Nevada, a small town of about 50,000 with some excellent historical attractions and a location convenient for exploring nearby Lake Tahoe and Reno.

Runner-up Juneau proves that bigger isn't always better; the Alaskan capital city doesn't even have a road leading in or out, but it does have a glacier within its city limits (and not many cities can claim that!).

Little Rock, Boise and Sacramento also finished in the top five ahead of some pretty heavy hitters – certainly an honor to be proud of.

The winners of 'Best State Capital' category in our USA TODAY 10Best Readers' Choice contest are as follows:

  1. Carson City, Nevada
  2. Juneau, Alaska
  3. Little Rock, Arkansas
  4. Boise, Idaho
  5. Sacramento, California
  6. Santa Fe, New Mexico
  7. Indianapolis, Indiana
  8. Springfield, Illinois
  9. Madison, Wisconsin
  10. Helena, Montana

A big congratulations to all the winners (and keep this list handy for planning your next vacation).


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