Cost of Living Index (100 is U.S. Avg., lower is better): 122
Civic Engagement Index (100 is U.S. Avg., higher is better): 111
Crime Rate (100 is U.S. Avg., lower is better): 25
Quality of Schools: 7/10
6. Amherst Center, MA
Disclaimer: This Best Small Town is not a town at all. Amherst Center is actually a Census Designated Place (CDP) within the city of Amherst. A Census Designated Place lacks its own municipal government but provides all the other amenities that an incorporated area, such as a city or town, offers. For its part, Amherst Center provides its 20,000 residents with an enviable quality of life, anchored by good schools, family-friendly activities, open spaces and access to higher education.
Relocating to Amherst Center is a smart choice for one reason because the community is home to three colleges within the Five College Consortium comprised of Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (pictured above). Amherst is the quintessential New England town, and residents benefit from the academic, cultural, artistic and political events, activities and programs the colleges offer the community. Amherst College is one of the most diverse liberal arts schools in the country, and this diversity spills over to the Amherst Center community. More than 40 percent of Amherst Center's population holds a graduate degree – also a result of the community's proximity to the Five Colleges.
The winters can be brutal, with an average of 10 inches of snow and lows that dip well below freezing. But that doesn't mean Amherst residents hibernate. The community provides plenty of opportunities to stay active, both indoors and out. For example, the Amherst Winter Farmers' Market is held every Saturday, December through March. Families enjoy ice skating at the UMass-Amherst Mullins Center or Holyoke's Community Field. Snow-shoeing, sledding and pond hockey are a few other cold-weather favorites. The Jones Library is a great place to warm up.
In the summers, you don't have to go far to find rolling green hills, crystal clear lakes and meandering rivers and streams. On the weekends, residents can spend the day floating down the Deerfield River or cooling off at Puffer's Pond. Amherst Center also boasts fishing streams and boating along the Connecticut River as well as a series of hiking and biking trails that includes a rail-to-trail that connects Amherst and Northampton.
Like most college towns, the vibe in Amherst Center is vibrant and lively. The community bustles with small businesses, a diverse range of restaurants, bars and brew pubs, museums, art galleries and music venues. But surprisingly, even with all these amenities, the area still manages to be affordable for many families. The average cost of a single family home is around $485,000, compared to an average of $542,000 in Boston.