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Some travelers trace the history of a place through its architecture. Others get the backstory by focusing on food, while still others study its art. For collectors, the obvious path is through local antiques shops, where stacks of pottery, walls of quirky wire objects, and piles of homespun linen offer lessons in a towns history. This is just one of the advantages of spending a weekend browsing on foot rather than online. The other benefits depend on where you go.

In bucolic Bucks County, Pennsylvania, there are short drives along rural roads from one small town to the next. In Houston, antiquing means strolling along a handsome boulevard and exploring a neighborhood filled with artists, writers, and musicians. U.S. 101 winds through small Northern California towns teeming with character. Whether you're looking for classic Americana, Arts and Crafts, or mid-century modern, each of these three vastly different regions has something distinct to offer -- and teach.

Houston

The Lone Star State's largest metropolis has had a love affair with all things Gallic since the Mexican-American War, when France offered diplomatic support. In the Museum District, adjacent to downtown, more than 25 dealers are happy to oblige. At Skelton-St. John, Continental furnishings are arranged like sculptures in a spare 6,000-square-foot space. Garden furniture and accessories are Bill Gardner's (no kidding) specialty. At M. Naeve, the young owner purveys pristine architectural antiques. The Heights District, 15 minutes away, has a more bohemian vibe. Heights Station, an 1895 carriage barn, bursts with the contents of many attics. Farther off the beaten path is Installations Antiques, a more than 100-year-old warehouse and work space where Becki and Jur van der Oord display European primitives, glass, and irresistible objects from Jur's native Netherlands.

Marin and Sonoma Counties

Even intrepid antiquers wait for the weekend to make the 50-mile drive along U.S. 101 from California's Marin County to western Sonoma County. When the commuter traffic subsides, the road becomes a series of tempting turnoffs to the movie-set-worthy main streets of San Anselmo, San Rafael, Petaluma, Sebastopol, and Graton.

At the shops in these towns, bright colors predominate, and the slant is often toward salvage. Antiques Legacy, a co-op of more than 40 booths in an old garage, and the Modern i 1950s Shop are two of 130 dealers in San Anselmo. Yankee Girl Antiques, in the towns 1930s movie theater, is like an endless estate sale. In Petaluma, a 30-minute drive north, almost two dozen emporiums span Petaluma Boulevard, including Chelsea Antiques, two floors of European furnishings that are a favorite of virtually every San Francisco decorator. Farther north, in Graton, is Mr. Ryder and Company, with dozens of vendors operating from an old post office.

Bucks County

This 607-square-mile swath of southeastern Pennsylvania was once home to Broadway's brightest (Oscar Hammerstein II and Moss Hart) and the country's antiques capital. The area, with Lambertville and Frenchtown, New Jersey, across the Delaware River, remains rife with shops. In Kintnersville, Gristies, a former stone gristmill, is a three-story trove of household treasures. In Frenchtown is the funky Brooks Antiques, run by mother-daughter duo Dorothy and Abby. New Hope, a 25-minute drive south, features more than a dozen shops, including Ingham Springs, where furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries are displayed in a hushed setting. Farther west, in Lahaska, are jam-packed Bucks County Antiques Center and Marion Robertshaw's array of museum-quality American folk art.

The sheer density of antiques stores in these areas makes them ideal for a weekend of intense shopping. Here are a dozen or so of our favorites in each. For more great antiquing towns, click here.

Houston

Adkins Architectural Antiques

Specialty: Architectural salvage and garden decor

3515 Fannin Street

Houston, TX 77004

800-522-6547

The Antiquarium

Specialty: Antique prints, maps

3021 Kirby Drive

Houston, TX 77098

713-622-7531

August Antiques

Specialty: New England and New York antiques

803 Heights Boulevard

Houston, TX 77007

713-880-3353

Brown

Specialty: Vintage lighting and European teaching charts

2940 Ferndale Street

Houston, TX 77098

713-522-2151

Carl Moore Antiques

Specialty: European, English, French, and Chinese antiques

1610 Bissonnet Street

Houston, TX 77005

713-524-2502

David Lackey Antiques

Specialty: Regional art of the 19th and 20th centuries and fine ceramics

2311 Westheimer Road

Houston, TX 77098

713-942-8555

Heights Station

Specialty: Antiques from primitive to formal and collectibles

121 Heights Boulevard

Houston, TX 77007

713-868-3175

Installations Antiques

Specialty: European primitives and American classics

611 West 22nd Street

Houston, TX 77008

713-864-6125

Kay O'Toole Antiques

Specialty: Continental antiques

1921 Westheimer Road

Houston, TX 77098

713-523-1921

Maison Maison

Specialty: 18th- and 19th-century French and Italian antiques

2129 Westheimer Street

Houston, TX 77098

713-520-1654

M. Naeve

Specialty: 18th- and 19th-century Swedish and French antiques

1926 Bissonnet Street

Houston, TX 77005

713-524-0990

Skelton-St. John

Specialty: 17th- to 20th-century European antiques

2143 Westheimer Road

Houston, TX 77098

713-524-1990

W. Gardner

Specialty: Garden furniture

2930 Ferndale Street

Houston, TX 77098

713-521-1027

Marin and Sonoma Counties

Antiques Legacy

A medium-size multidealer co-op

204 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-457-7166

Antique Society

A large multidealer co-op

2661 Gravenstein Highway South

Sebastopol, CA 95472

707-829-1733

Aurora Gallery

Specialty: Antique furniture

306 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-459-6822

Chelsea Antiques

Specialty: Furniture and decorative items

148 Petaluma Boulevard North

Petaluma, CA 94952

707-763-7686

The Custom House

Specialty: Fine furnishings

1550 Tiburon Boulevard

Tiburon, CA 94920

415-435-5350

Laurel House Antiques

An elegantly curated consignment shop with tabletop items, Asian antiques, and jewelry

30 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

Ross, CA 94957

415-454-8472

The Modern i 1950s Shop

Specialty: Estates of mid-century artists and architects

500 Red Hill Avenue

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-456-3960

eamescollector.com

Mr. Ryder and Company

A co-op of more than 10 dealers

9040 Graton Road

Graton, CA 95472

707-824-8221

Oveda Maurer Folk Art Antiques

Specialty: American folk art and early-American furniture

34 Greenfield Avenue

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-454-6439

The Pavillion Antiques

A large multidealer co-op focusing on furniture and accessories

610 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-459-2002

Ray's Trading Company

Specialty: Antiques, salvage, old tubs, doors, and windows

3570 Gravenstein Highway South

Sebastopol, CA 95472

707-829-9726

Yankee Girl Antiques

Specialty: American country furniture, wicker, and linens

328 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

San Anselmo, CA 94960

415-460-0400

Bucks County Area

Antique Haven

A small co-op full of 19th- and 20th-century tabletop items

1435 Easton Road

Durham, PA 18039

610-749-0230

Antiques On Union

A medium-size multidealer shop

32 North Union Street

Lambertville, NJ 08530

609-397-3300

Broadmoor Antiques

A multidealer shop

6 North Union Street

Lambertville, NJ 08530

609-397-8802

Brooks Antiques

Specialty: Country and folk art

24 Bridge Street

Frenchtown, NJ 08825

908-996-7161

Bucks County Antique Center

Specialty: Americana, folk art, and fine country furniture

5791 Old York Road (U.S. 202)

Lahaska, PA 18931

215-794-9180

David M. Mancuso Antiques

Specialty: Early-19th- to mid-20th-century furniture

6075 U.S. 202 and Upper Mountain Road

New Hope, PA 18938

215-794-5009

G. Evans Antiques

Specialty: High-quality furnishings and accessories from the 18th century to the present

8 Bridge Street

Lambertville, PA 08530

800-464-8118

Gristies

An old three-story mill filled with an eclectic mix

9730 Easton Road (Route 611)

Kintnersville, PA 18930

610-847-1966

Ingham Springs

Specialty: 18th- and early-19th-century furniture

6319 Lower York Road

New Hope, PA 18938

215-862-2145

Katy Kane

Specialty: Vintage clothing

34 West Ferry Street

New Hope, PA 18938

215-862-5873

Marion Robertshaw

Specialty: Americana and folk art

Lahaska Antique Court

Route 202

Lahaska, PA 18912

215-295-0648

The People's Store

A co-op with a wide variety

28 North Union Street

Lambertville, NJ 08530

609-397-9808

Riverview Antiques

Specialty: 18th- and 19th-century furniture and glass

1738 River Road

Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972

610-982-5122

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