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America's coolest suburbs worth a visit

Across America, many suburbs are becoming vacation-worthy hot spots, with cutting-edge restaurants, great shopping, and plenty of parking.
Image: Alameda
Thanks to Alameda's geographic isolation — an island just off Oakland, in San Francisco Bay — and a strict 25 mph speed limit, life here hums at a slow pace. The town is filled with large Victorian homes, pristine beaches, and wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.iStock
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Sure, Atlanta has its attractions. But head 20 miles north and you’ll find yourself surrounded by art galleries, boutiques, creative restaurants, and not many generic chain-filled strips. This hip little town is called Roswell, and it’s…wait for it…a suburb.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with the ever-sprawling communities outside the country’s big cities. The quest for more space than cities can afford often means giving up the unique stores and restaurants that spring up in urban centers.

Of course, Hollywood hasn’t helped the suburban profile, typically portraying these communities as boring, conformist places, spiced up by a few desperate housewives here and there. Yet a number of suburbs around the country blow up the stereotype and are worth a visit on your next trip.

Some of these are old inner-ring suburbs, while others are small cities that have been folded into a greater urban area due to population expansion and improved transportation — but have managed to maintain an independent identity.

Roswell, Ga., for example, is known for its 19th-century Old South streetscapes and for Bulloch Hall, the antebellum home of Teddy Roosevelt’s mother. But it’s not trapped in the past. The roads are lined with restaurants like Relish, which draws a crowd seeking its innovative takes on fried black-eyed peas and pickled green tomatoes.

There’s also a lot of city-like energy.

“Roswell is just an amazing place for singles,” says Valerie Jackson, owner of the Ann Jackson Gallery, which holds the country’s largest collection of works by Dr. Seuss. “On my street alone there are 14 restaurants.”

Image: The Woodlands, Texas
The Woodlands, Texas, is a master-planned community built within 28,000 acres of forest, 25 miles from downtown Houston. After opening in 1974, the town has wooed many young Texans; the average age is 36. One main attraction is its thriving town center, filled with great restaurants, bars, and major retail outlets, all accessible by foot or trolley. Fox Sports Network and Anadarko Petroleum are headquartered here, and an elaborate park and lake system is navigable by water taxi.John Hark

Alameda, Calif., built on an island just east of Oakland in San Francisco Bay, is another cool suburb. It’s a place lined with well-kept beaches and no shortage of spectacular views. A chill vibe is maintained with the help of a strictly enforced 25 mph speed limit. Alameda is also home to the Pacific Pinball Museum, where you can try your hand at a classic game of Buccaneer or Magic Circle, and Forbidden Island, a tiki bar with a distinct rockabilly atmosphere and a reputation for skillfully mixed rum concoctions that draws drinkers from afar.

So instead of trying to escape from suburbia, join the commuting crowd and try one of these unsung neighborhoods: You’ll have no trouble finding culinary and cultural hot spots. Just leave your copy of American Beauty at home.