Buena Vista, Colorado – Main Street

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This high-mountain main street keeps its western heritage alive, with many of the buildings in active use along Main dating to its late-19th century heyday as a mining, ranching and railroad center. The shops along Main in Buena Vista today specialize in locally raised food, area craft products, and Colorado brews and spirits, so you’re guaranteed to find something that stirs your spirit here.

“Buena Vista” is Spanish for “beautiful view,” and Main Street, altitude 7,965 feet, offers that in just about every direction — it’s virtually surrounded by 14,000-foot mountain peaks. (If you visit, by the way, be careful to say the town’s name as locals do: ByOOna Vista.)

To learn more of the town’s history, visit the Buena Vista Heritage Museum in the 1882-built Old Chaffee County Courthouse. The building itself has a story. The original courthouse was 17 miles away in Granite, which refused to give up its records after Buena Vista became the county seat in 1979. So a group of Buena Vista men “borrowed” a locomotive and flat car, built a siding up to the Granite courthouse, held the local sheriff at gunpoint, and took away the records. Plus the furniture.

Hey, it was the Wild West. Upstairs in the museum is an impressive model train display, which shows in great detail the 130-mile rail system along the Upper Arkansas River Valley around a century ago.

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just looking for an afternoon in the sun, the Buena Vista Whitewater Park, on South Main by the river, has play spaces for kids, manmade rapids and trails that cross the river by footbridge into mountain upcountry for hiking, biking and horseback riding. You can equip yourselves for outdoor adventures along Main at Boneshaker Cycles or The Trailhead — and once you’ve built up a healthy thirst, there are several appealing options.

Stop into the Jailhouse Craft Brew Bar, where Colorado beers and ales are featured on ten rotating taps, or Deerhammer, a Main Street distillery where every step of the fine whiskey-making happens on site. The Lariat and the Green Parrot are more pubs on Main, and you’ll find Mexican food with locally farm-raised ingredients at The Bearded Lady.

You can wrap up your day where it might well have started: with organic Bongo’s coffee and desserts made with local ingredients at the Buena Vista Roastery café, right here on Main Street.

All photos provided by Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center
Primary photo taken by Scott Peterson

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Eureka Springs, Arkansas – Main Street

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Wandering down Main Street in Eureka Springs is a treat for the senses, as appealing sights wait around every curve and corner in this unique downtown.

Immaculately preserved historic Victorian buildings abound, many of them built around the seemingly countless springs that gave the city its name. The hilly, curving topography adds to the sense of being somewhere special. There are even some buildings that, as they follow the lay of the land, have street-level entrances on more than one floor.

All this contributed to Eureka Springs – the entire city – being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, Eureka Springs has landed many other laurels as well.

The city is very much a resort destination in the Ozark Mountains, and it proudly displays its history. The Eureka Springs Historical Museum, in the distinctive 1889 Calif Building on South Main Street, offers a great introduction to all that made Eureka Springs what it is. Sometimes known as The City That Water Built, Eureka Springs discovered its “healing waters” in the late 19th century and has been a magical destination ever since.

Just a block off North Main Street, the 1905-vintage Basin Park Hotel — “at the spring where it all began,” says the hotel’s website — offers fine lodging, dining and spa services. The Crescent Hotel and Spa, also nearby, is distinctive not just because it dates to 1886 and not just because the stunning, historic building is surrounded by 15 spectacular acres high on a hill. It also calls itself “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” and offers tours to prove it.

There’s plenty of the spiritual in Eureka Springs. This city is home to Christ of the Ozarks, a 65-foot high statue of Jesus overlooking the city, and The Great Passion Play is staged locally every year from May through October, describing itself as “America’s No. 1 Attended Outdoor Drama.” A little farther afield is Thorncrown Chapel, a beautiful wood-and-glass church in the woods that has also become a tourist destination.

Visitors flock to Eureka Springs for the Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point, a summer music camp that has evolved into a home for professional opera. And for those whose interests range more widely, this is the site of the National Photography Contest, the Antique Automobile Festival, and the Scooting the Ozarks Rally for scooters and motorcycles.

Primary photo taken by Chris Litherland
Street View photo taken by Christopher Ziemnowicz
Christ of the Ozarks photo taken by James Hill

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Santa Ana, California – Main Street

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Los Angeles is just up I-5 from this Orange County community, and you might think Santa Ana lives in the giant city’s shadow. But Main Street here will quickly set that expectation to rest.

Santa Ana has culture, class and plenty of cool up and down Main Street in both its Midtown and Downtown sections. As the city says on its Downtown Santa Ana website, this is “an independent and unexpected urban center for Orange County where visitors and locals enjoy the cutting edge of our shared culture.”

On the first Saturday of every month, for example, the Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk features more than 25 galleries, 40-plus vendors and live performances, with outdoor music a big part of the experience. You’ll find a more traditional approach to the arts at the Bowers Museum, whose permanent collection features more than 100,000 objects and paintings. A couple of blocks away, the Bowers operates the Kidseum, where kids can discover art and archaeology for themselves.

Downtown Santa Ana – or DTSA, if you’re in the know – is also a place to find really great food. A great time to check out local cuisine while enjoying more music is during Savor Santa Ana, a tasting event and walking tour in September, when more than 40 local restaurants open their doors to offer small-bite dishes and fine libations.

Santa Ana is also known for its food halls. In these contemporary takes on the food court, anyone in your group can find something to eat. A couple of popular examples are the 30,000-square-foot 4th Street Market, a block off Main Street, and the McFadden Public Market on Main.

Exploring downtown also opens windows onto Santa Ana’s history. The Old Orange County Courthouse, a lovely 1901 Romanesque Revival building, is a California Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the courthouse, the Queen Anne-style Victorian Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum is part of the Downtown Santa Ana Historic District, and preserves the look and feel of life here in the early years of the 20th century.

You’ll find a lively take on 21st century science at the Discovery Cube, another museum devoted to engaging young people in science. It’s just another example of how Santa Ana brings the old and the new — art and technology, plus history, science, music and fine dining — together on its vibrant Main Street.

Primary photo taken by Eli Pousson
Supplementary photo taken by Chris Jepsen
Santa Ana, CA is the home of three LifeChangers: 2015-16 winner Beau Menchaca, Victor de los Santos, and Dana Nguyen.

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Winter Park, Florida – Park Avenue

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It sits just north of Orlando, but you won’t find theme parks in Winter Park. Instead, at the heart of this appealing community, you’ll find Park Avenue, a handsomely tree-shaded, brick-paved destination for shopping, dining both indoors and on the sidewalk, and a vibrant art and cultural scene.

Founded as a winter resort around the turn of the 20th century, Winter Park today is rich with green space. It has some 70 parks, where you can enjoy special events, festivals and celebrations throughout the year, or just sit in the shade to enjoy a Central Florida afternoon. Central Park, the city’s largest, faces along Park Avenue, just down the street from the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

The Morse Museum at 445 North Park is home to the world’s fullest collection of works by legendary glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Along with his famed leaded-glass lamps and windows, you can see Tiffany-created jewelry, art glass, and even the chapel interior he created for the the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The museum also has late 19th- and early 20th-century American painting, pottery and decorative art.

Up and down Park Avenue are more than 140 boutiques, cafes, upcale restaurants and art galleries. The street also hosts two highly regarded art festivals. The Autumn Art Festival is the only juried fine art gathering that exclusively showcases the work of Florida artists; each year, 180 artists are chosen to show their works in mid-October along Park Avenue and in Central Park.

In March, the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival draws over 350,000 visitors to see highly creative work from some 225 sidewalk artists. Organized entirely by local volunteers, the festival has been named several times as one of the nation’s top art fairs and fine art shows.

Park Avenue is also home to the Casa Feliz Historic House Museum, a fine restored Spanish-style home where a different music group performs in the main parlor each week. Also contributing to Winter Park’s rich cultural life are the The Annie Russell Theatre, Florida’s longest continuously operating theater, and The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts. Just below the southern end of Park Avenue, the campus of Rollins College has been ranked as one of the most beautiful U.S. colleges by the Princeton Review.

All photos courtesy of the City of Winter Park Communications Department

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Omaha, Nebraska – South 24th Street

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This downtown district has long been home to a diverse group of immigrant families, most of whom were drawn here over a century ago to work in local stockyards. South 24th Street is now a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, distinctive for its remarkable public artwork — and for the vibrant restaurants and friendly festivals of its present-day Latino culture.

Originally known as Bellevue Avenue, the street was central to the village of South Omaha, which grew up in the late 1800s around the local facilities of Chicago’s Union Stockyards Company. The neighborhood was first settled by Scandinavian, German and Irish immigrants, and by the turn of the 20th century, it had also drawn thousands of Poles, Czechs, other Eastern Europeans, and Mexicans pulled north by the bustling stockyards. Renamed as South 24th Street, this was the cultural and commercial center of South Omaha, which became part of Omaha city in 1919.

By the late 20th century, the stockyards were fading away — but a community-powered streetscape redesign, led by the South Omaha Business Association, transformed the half-mile central stretch of South 24th. With slowed-down traffic, increased parking and inviting features for pedestrians, the district has seen a flourishing of new shops and restaurants.

But the first thing you’ll notice is the public artwork.

At the entrance to the business district near 24th and L streets, the 36-foot-tall Tree of Life sculpture is leafed with medallions honoring the nationalities and cultures that have made South Omaha such a distinctive American community. Extending the celebration of cultures and creativity, an amazing series of sidewalk mosaics runs from L to Q Street. One of its designs proclaims “All Are Welcome Here!”, the message that today’s business district embodies.

Part of South 24th Street has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the American Planning Association has named it one of the “Great Places in America.” History is preserved here in El Museo Latino and the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands. South 24th hosts a annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta, plus a two-day September celebration of Mexican independence. Any time of year, diners can choose among eight Mexican restaurants along South 24th.

You might also stop in at Stoysich House of Sausage. At this landmark deli and meat market, the recipes — many donated by customers — are drawn from Polish, German, Hungarian, Italian, English, Czech, Mexican, Greek, Danish, Swedish, Irish and American family traditions.

All photos provided by Visit Omaha
Omaha, NE is home to five 2016-17 LifeChangers – check them out.

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