Ranking the 16 Prettiest State Capital Cities From Worst to Best

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The United States is blessed to have postcard-perfect capital cities. From isolated towns surrounded by mountains and ocean to historic cities filled with charm, these locations will leave you proud to call your state home.

We’re ranking the 16 prettiest capitals from best to worst, so stick around and see which location comes out on top!

16. Helena, Montana

Drone view of the Montana State Capitol, in Helena, on a sunny afternoon with hazy sky caused by wildfires. The Montana State Capitol houses the Montana State Legislature.
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Helena, Montana, comes in at number 16 (although they’re still ahead of 34 other states, so definitely not last!) This seat of America’s 4th largest state is located on the eastern slope of the continental divide with 7,000+ foot peaks within view of the historic downtown area.

The quaint downtown area is inviting to visitors who want to spend the afternoon enjoying small-town life in the Big Sky state.

15. Augusta, Maine

Augusta, Maine, USA downtown skyline on the Kennebec River.
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Augusta, Maine, comes in as the 3rd smallest state capital in terms of population. With only 19,000 residents, this town has been able to retain its charm while still sitting as the seat of Maine’s government.

The city itself is incredibly picturesque, with its charming historic architecture nestled along the banks of the Kennebec River. Whether exploring the capitol area or strolling by the riverfront, Augusta’s beauty beckons visitors and locals alike.

14. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA skyline.
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This eastern seaboard city offers one of the best combinations of historic charm and modern elegance of any capital in America. The city is known for its abundant green spaces, including parks and trails that showcase the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Raleigh’s cultural scene, from museums to live music venues make it a go-to destination for residents and visitors alike.

13. Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier, Vermont, USA town skyline in early autumn.
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America’s smallest capital city, Montpelier, Vermont, is exactly the type of place you would think of when picturing an idyllic Vermont town. Surrounded by rolling hills, lush forests that explode with color in the fall, and a quaint downtown that encapsulates New England charm, this capital has it all.

12. Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virgina, USA downtown skyline.
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Richmond’s location along the James River which is highlighted by parks rather than freeways makes this capital of Virginia an inviting destination for locals and visitors alike. The city itself is large and diverse enough to have distinct and interesting neighborhoods like the historic Fan District to artsy Carytown yet is small enough to be easily walkable.

11. St. Paul, Minnesota

St Paul river city view
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One-half of the Minneapolis/St. Paul twin cities, St. Paul may be the smaller of the two but gets the crown of capital of Minnesota. The two cities make up the largest metropolitan area in Minnesota but, despite their population, have managed to retain their upper midwest charm. St. Paul is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. There is no shortage of green space to enjoy, and the city’s downtown district perfectly blends a combination of historic and modern styles.

10. Boise, Idaho

Capital and skyline of Boise Idaho with balloons in flight
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Driving into Boise from almost any direction can feel like arriving at a desert oasis. After miles of high desert and farmland, Boise beckons visitors with a perfectly sized downtown, an inviting greenway for biking and walking, and a slow-moving river that is perfect for summer floats. The snowcapped peaks framing the city to the north are the cherry on top for this stunning American west town.

9. Olympia, Washington

Olympia Waterfront
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Located on the southern edge of the Puget Sound, Olympia often gets overshadowed by its neighbors to the north. That shouldn’t be the case, though, as this delightful capital has it all. A quaint downtown situated right on the water, artsy murals, and the lush forests that this part of the Pacific Northwest is known for.

The views of the city from the west, with Mt. Rainier framed in the background, are some of the best capital city views you’ll find anywhere in the country.

8. Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis, Maryland, USA from Annapolis Harbor at dusk.
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Annapolis, Maryland, is a stunning capital city known for its historic architecture and postcard-worthy waterfront. The charming and colorful streets and elegant row houses, creating a captivating atmosphere. During the summer months sailboats dot Chesapeake Bay which only adds to this beautiful city’s charm.

7. Denver, Colorado

Sunny Denver Skyline. Spring in Colorado. Denver Skyline and Snowy Rocky Mountains.
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Denver takes the cake as the 2nd highest-elevation capital city in America and doesn’t let you forget it with its nickname of The Mile High City (the highest-elevation city is still to come…). Views of the city are punctuated by the front range of the Rocky Mountains, which loom large in the distance. Downtown Denver itself is a modern city that still has plenty of character with districts like the 16th Street Mall and Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies.

6. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, USA downtown skyline at dusk on Lake Monona.
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Madison, Wisconsin, may not have the sweeping mountain vistas or stunning ocean views of some other capital cities, but it does have one of the most perfectly American downtowns you’ll find anywhere. There is just something about walking through downtown Madison that makes you feel like they have done everything right in designing the city. From the trees to the buildings to the streets themselves, Madison is just a beautiful city and one of the best capital cities in the country.

5. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts, USA skyline at dawn.
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Boston probably takes the cake when it comes to capitals, with the most American history baked into the very core of the city. Add in the views of Boston Harbor, the Charles River, historic institutions like Harvard University, and the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park, and you have a city that is stunning at every turn.

4. Salt Lake City, Utah

Downtown Salt Lake City skyline Utah in USA
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Salt Lake City is flanked by mountains that truly feel like they are in your face, even from the middle of downtown. The 11,000+ foot peaks of the Wasatch Range are so close to town that it sometimes feels like you can reach out and touch them. This mountain beauty, combined with the lovely and historic downtown Salt Lake City, make this easily a top 5 capital in the country.

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA downtown skyline at dusk.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the highest capital in America, sitting at 6,998 feet. Surrounded by the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe offers breathtaking views that frame its downtown, which is full of Southwestern charm. The city itself is highlighted by its adobe architecture, vibrant art scene, and colorfully framed buildings.

2. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii. Skyline of Honolulu, Diamond Head volcano including the hotels and buildings on Waikiki Beach.
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Honolulu, Hawaii, comes in at number 2 on the list due to the sheer beauty of the surrounding wilderness. This capital city of Hawaii sits at the base of Diamond Head, a 760-foot-tall volcanic cone, is framed by the lush Koʻolau Range, and looks out over the sparkling blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

1. Juneau, Alaska

Scenic view of the port of cruise ship parking in Juneau. Alaska.
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It is hard to beat a city in terms of beauty when it is located on the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and has a glacier directly in town. Juneau, Alaska, has all of that and more and easily ranks first in our rankings of the most beautiful capital cities in America.

While there are some downsides to having a capital city that isn’t connected to the rest of the state by any roads, the sheer beauty of the area makes up for it!

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest