Cost of Living Index (100 is U.S. Avg., lower is better): 115
Civic Engagement Index (100 is U.S. Avg., higher is better): 129
Crime Rate (100 is U.S. Avg., lower is better): 48
Quality of Schools: 10/10
5. Los Alamos, NM
Dubbed "The Atomic City," Los Alamos is nestled on the side of the Jemez Mountain Range, just a half hour from Santa Fe. In the 1940s, the mountains provided the cover needed to secretly build and test the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. The city's landscape is comprised of long mesas that stretch out to the east, offering breathtaking views up to 100 miles. Outdoor recreation is abundant and year-round, with skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice hockey, and golf, plus mountain biking, hiking and running along one of the town's numerous trails. These are just a few of the reasons Los Alamos is one of the 10 Best Small Towns 2016, and why this is its fourth year in a row on the list, including its #1 ranking on our 2014 list of the 10 Best Small Towns.
Los Alamos offers several cultural and recreational opportunities for both residents and visitors. Los Alamos County is the gateway to three national parks, including Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the newly established Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
"The lowest spot in the county is along the Rio Grande and still exceeds 6000’ in elevation, with the highest point topping out at 10,400 feet atop Pajarito Mountain. Cyclists love the opportunities for both road biking through the surrounding area as well as mountain biking on our numerous multi-use trails," said Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess. "The largest landholder in the county is the U.S. Forest Service, and their property is appreciated for its numerous trails, including cross-county skiing, but are also the focus of the annual 50-mile Jemez Mountain running competition."
The Los Alamos Public Schools system is the highest ranked system in the state, and is in the top tier of school systems nationwide -- an attractive feature for relocating young families. The town is also home to the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
Another reason families are drawn to Los Alamos is the job market. Due in large part to the presence of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which employs more than 10,000 people, Los Alamos County enjoys negative unemployment. The town is ranked as one of the most affluent communities in the nation with a median household income of $117,400 and has one of the highest numbers of residents holding post graduate degrees.
"Business opportunities are many, as the presence of the national laboratory affords companies the ability to tap into the wide range of expertise available in the community, as many major corporations engage the lab for research on areas of interest," Burgess says. "High-tech spinoff opportunities are available, and the county operates an economic development office that assists those who wish to pursue such opportunities."