SMALL TOWNS

10 Best Small Towns

Our 2016 ranking of the 10 Best Small Towns in America.

Livability is a site about the great stories that can be told in small to mid-sized cities, and all the qualities that make them great places to live. Therefore it's no surprise that our 10 Best Small Towns list is one of our favorites. It's our annual chance to showcase the truly small towns throughout the US. Every city on this list has a population under 20,000. 

 

To pick them, Livability analyzed data on thousands of communities. More than 20 data points were analyzed, following the same framework and principals as our 100 Best Places to Live. Factors included indicators of healthy, active, affordable, diverse, and safe communities, with plenty to do and citizens who take full advantage of their cities. Places that are growing and thriving stood out, as well.

 

Once the numbers were crunched, Livability's editors combed through the short list to find cities, towns and hamlets with a range of sizes and geographic diversity. The result is this: our 2016 edition of the 10 Best Small Towns in America. Check them out, and if you're looking for a getaway, or just some place with a slower pace and a neighborly touch, any of these towns will make a great home for you.

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CLICK ON THE PHOTOS BELOW TO READ MORE ABOUT WHY THE CITY MADE THE LIST 

Ranking Criteria

Commute Time • Cost of Living • Crime Rate • Quality of Schools • Entertainment Options • Pollution • Community Engagement • Arts & Culture • Projected Population Growth 2015-2020 • Health of Residents

10. Sitka, AK Population 8,943
9. Canyon, TX Population 14,248
8. Ellensburg, WA Population 18,637
7. Louisville, CO Population 19,548
6. Amherst Center, MA Population 19,543
5. Los Alamos, NM Population 11,815
4. Lebanon, NH Population 13,535
3. Sebastopol, CA Population 7,583
2. Dobbs Ferry, NY Population 11,055
1. Traverse City, MI Population 15,168
SMALL TOWNS

10 Best Small Towns

The best small towns provide beautiful locales that inspire creativity and activity

You'll find them in the bends of rivers and at the bases of mountains, blending into the landscape rather than disrupting the scenery. They offer a respite from the frantic pace that often comes with living in a major metropolitan area. They are filled with unpretentious people who want to preserve what makes their places unique. These are the best small towns in America.

For our third iteration of the Top 10 Best Small Towns list, we analyzed more data than ever before. This brought even more great small cities to our attention than we had discovered in our Top 10 Best Small Towns 2013 and Top 10 Best Small Towns 2012 lists. Using the same metrics we measure for our overall Top 100 Best Places to Live, we looked at micropolitan areas with populations under 20,000, then dug into statistics like cost of living, health-care spending, racial and socioeconomic diversity, adult obesity, crime, civic engagement, air quality and natural amenities, just to name a few of the 41 data points. Data alone can't tell the full story, so after narrowing down the list, we conducted further research into the cities and found what visitors had to say about them and what residents liked about living there.

The best small towns provide beautiful locales that inspire both creativity and activity. Their downtowns remain homages to the past, offering unhurried atmospheres where residents savor conversations as much as they savor morsels. Most of our picks draw hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists who come to experience what residents enjoy every day – authentic character and characters, cultural gems and fantastic outdoor settings. What these places have in common is the uncommon ability to change lifestyles, shift points of view and nourish souls with simple pleasures.

Take a look at our picks for the best small towns in America.

Ranking Criteria

Income growth • Income distribution • Employment • Population growth forecast • Community involvement • Health care • Natural amenities • Crime rate • Pollution • Educational attainment • Cultural assets

10. Hailey, ID Population 8,002
9. Traverse City, MI Population 15,168
8. Heber City, UT Population 13,001
7. Spearfish, SD Population 10,980
6. Glenwood Springs, CO Population 9,756
5. Port Angeles, WA Population 19,200
4. Hood River, OR Population 7,412
3. Lebanon, NH Population 13,535
2. Northfield, MN Population 20,309
1. Los Alamos, NM Population 11,815
SMALL TOWNS

10 Best Small Towns

The best small towns stand out as bastions of the American Dream, with unique cultural assets, beautiful natural attractions and residents passionate about preserving the character of their communities.

People across the country are in search of authentic communities with unique atmospheres, colorful characters and a true sense that there is no other place like it. Sprinkled between major highways and busy airports are drive-by or fly-over cities offering a slower, and some say richer, slice of life.

To find the Top 10 Best Small Towns in America for 2013 we narrowed down our search to micropolitan areas. We steered clear of big-city suburbs and places considered part of a larger metropolitan region, which we included in the Top 10 Small Towns 2012 list. Next, we examined populations and economic growth rates to see which of these towns were attracting new residents and businesses. Then we looked at how they scored on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Amenities Scale. Finally, we talked to people who live in these towns, assessed the amenities they offer, and compared employment rates, cost of living and other economic factors. Other sources included the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor and town representatives.

"The best small towns all have one thing in common: something unique that sets them apart from other towns," says Mitch Moody, president of Growing Your Town, an economic development consulting company that works with small to mid-size cities. "A distinctive identity is absolutely vital if a town is to stand out among all the other small towns vying for attention from businesses and the general public," he says.

We also considered an area's intangible factors: a less hurried atmosphere, tight community bonds, good schools, environmentally friendly planning, an emphasis on family values and historic preservation.

Whether you're looking for a place to settle down, or an authentic spot to visit, check out our picks for the best small towns in the country.

Ranking Criteria

Population • Distance from major city • Natural Amenities Scale • Employment rate • Cost of Living • Quality Schools

10. Cambridge, MD Population 12,534
9. West Plains, MO Population 12,230
8. Traverse City, MI Population 15,168
7. Alexandria, MN Population 11,614
6. Los Alamos, NM Population 11,815
5. Brookings, SD Population 22,974
4. Oak Harbor, WA Population 22,331
3. Rock Springs, WY Population 23,869
2. Oxford, MS Population 20,769
1. Dickinson, ND Population 21,097
SMALL TOWNS

10 Best Small Towns

To find the best small towns in the country we examined cities with less than 25,000 residents, beautiful scenery, cultural amenities, great restaurants and lots of outdoor activities.

The fictional TV town of Mayberry still represents the ideal small town, a tight-knit community with low crime, a slower pace and wholesome fun. For our Top 10 Small Towns list, we set out to uncover the Mayberrys of 2012 – places where life can still be simple, quiet and complete, but with more places for folks to gather than just a barber shop.

We look at towns with 25,000 or fewer residents, then considered median household incomes and home prices, crime rates, unemployment rates, average commutes and distances to large cities. We concluded by examining the cities' amount of lifestyle amenities, such as outdoor activities, restaurants, community events, museums, art galleries and performance venues.

What we found are cities small in population yet big for their quality of life.

 

"We overlook [small towns] in this country a lot," says Laura Kidder, editorial director at Rand McNally. "If you really want to know America, you have to get off the highway. Get away from the big shopping malls and wander around town. That's really what America is, not the big cities connected by interstates."

Rand McNally recently sponsored the Best of the Road contest where five teams crossed the country and explored small towns. The contestants discovered that small towns let their residents live large.

"Another thing that really separates small towns from big cities is the sense of community and civic pride," Kidder says. "People in small towns have a chance to have a say that you may not have in a larger metro city."

So whether you're looking for a place to stop during your own cross-country voyage or a place to call home, you're bound to whistle a happy tune when you check these places out. Take a look at our picks for the best small towns in America.

Ranking Criteria

Population 25,000 or less • Median household income • Average home price • Unemployment rate • Average commute time • Number of restaurants

10. Sheridan, WY Population 17,775
9. Danville, KY Population 16,542
8. Clive, IA Population 16,634
7. Yankton, SD Population 14,531
6. Bedford, VA Population 6,522
5. Chardon, OH Population 5,170
4. Boerne, TX Population 12,272
3. Brattleboro, VT Population 7,259
2. Golden, CO Population 19,780
1. Papillion, NE Population 19,463