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The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015

From sea to shining sea, our top picks for the most amazing American small towns to see this year

(Image © David C. Phillips/Garden Photo World/Corbis; graphic by Shaylyn Esposito)
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2. Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket's location helped build its fortunes during the whaling era, but also leaves "the Little Gray Lady of the Sea" vulnerable to nature's fury. January's Winter Storm Juno left residents encased in snow and ice, plunging the whole island into darkness after a storm surge hit a power station. Reward islanders’ perseverance by visiting this summer, when the cobblestone streets will come alive with people but there’s still peace and quiet to be found on the beaches. The town’s Whaling Museum (a restored 1840s candle factory) unveils a two-year exhibit this April on the sinking of the whaleship Essex, whose destruction by a sperm whale in 1820 inspired Moby-Dick as well as Ron Howard’s upcoming film In the Heart of the Sea (based on Nantucket resident Nathaniel Philbrick’s book of the same name). The only known artifacts from the disaster—a piece of twine, a sketch by a survivor—will be on display, alongside props and costumes from the movie, which opens in December. One of the museum's other big draws: A 46-foot-skeleton of a sperm whale that washed ashore on New Year's Day 1998.

But you don’t have to be into whales to visit Nantucket: its quaint houses and picturesque harbor have also drawn artists for decades (stroll the waterfront for their work on display at local galleries). In 2015 the Artists Association of Nantucket celebrates 70 years, and in June they open the Nantucket Visual Arts Center—celebrating with a week of classes, art demonstrations and the unveiling of a new sculpture garden.

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