Best Places to Live

2015 Top 100 Best Small Towns

Big stories can happen in small places. Our annual 10 Best Small Towns in America list has been a popular index, but we always wished we could highlight more than 10 communities each year. After all, the reason we produce this list is to shine a light on cities and towns that are often in the shadows of the big metropolises. So, we’re pleased to present our inaugural super-sized 100 Best Places to Live: Small Towns edition.

To create this list, we used a modified version of the robust methodology we developed with the Martin Prosperity Institute for our annual Livability 100. We examined more than 40 data points each for more than 12,000 towns with populations between 1,000 and 20,000. These scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability by the leading global market research firm, Ipsos Public Affairs. These cities and towns allow for the tight-knit communities key to small-town living coupled with the amenities you’d expect in larger cities.

We hope you enjoy (in more ways than one) the 100 Best Small Towns in America.

  • 11

    Traverse City , MI

    Population: 15,168
    Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

    Life is sweet in Traverse City, the largest producer of tart cherries in the nation. Thousands of tourists visit the town each year to enjoy for what residents experience year round: stunning views, freshwater beaches, vineyards and quaint shopping areas. Unique restaurants and fresh food options helped Traverse City earn a spot on our Top 10 Foodie Cities list. Events like the annual National Cherry Festival in July celebrate the city’s history. Parents applaud schools in Traverse City, and the educational system in general which includes higher education choices such as Northwestern Michigan College and Western Michigan University-Traverse City. See where Traverse City ranked on the Best Small Towns 2014 list. 


    Find out more about why Traverse City is a Top 100 Best Small Town

  • 12

    Los Alamitos , CA

    Population: 11,658
    Courtesy of Wilson Kyncl & Khashan Lawyers

    Spanish for “the Little Cottonwoods,” Los Alamitos hosts the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center, the U.S. Military Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and Los Alamitos Race Course that stages several kinds of horse racing. The community’s strong health system includes Los Alamitos Medical Center and Alamitos West Health Care Center. The Los Alamitos Unified School District earns high praise from parents and students.

  • 13

    Jackson, WY

    Population: 10,152
    Courtesy of Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

    As a major gateway for travelers visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Jackson, WY's economy is anchored by tourism. Residents enjoy year-round access to world-renowned attractions including Snow King Resort and the National Elk Refuge. Jackson officials have developed a large shopping and restaurant district, giving residents a large range of things to do. St. John’s Medical Center provides excellent health care in Jackson, while Central Wyoming College-Jackson offers advanced educational opportunities. Parents rave about the schools in Jackson

    Learn why Jackson is one of the Top 100 Best Small Towns

  • 14

    Arcata , CA

    Population: 17,752
    Courtesy of Humboldt State University and City of Arcata

    Located near Humboldt Bay, Arcata is largely a college town with Humboldt State University’s student base making up about half of the city’s total population. The Plaza, considered the heart of the community, features a green lawn area surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants, stores, bars and live music clubs. Arcata residents have access to great health care at a 78-bed Mad River Community Hospital.

  • 15

    Montpelier , VT

    Population: 7,712
    Courtesy of Jim Sheridan

    The smallest of the 50 U.S. state capitals, Montpelier is known as an artistic community providing cultural education options such as the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the renowned New England Culinary Institute. The city hosts the Green Mountain Film Festival each year and is home to a Union Institute & University campus. Restaurants, museums, bars and galleries provide many things to do in Montpelier. An abundance of local recreation options - from mountain biking and snowskiing to canoeing along the Winooski River - keep residents active.  

    See why Montpelier is a Top 100 Best Small Town.

  • 16

    Carlisle, PA

    Population: 18,945
    Courtesy of Robyn Davis Sekula, available under Creative Commons license.

    Nestled in the highly productive Cumberland Valley agricultural region, Carlisle provides a quaint setting for families. While school age children attend the Carlisle Area School District, higher education classes can be taken at Dickinson College, U.S. Army War College and the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. The Carlisle Regional Medical Center offers excellent care, and many residents enjoy the borough’s 18 public parks. Green spaces, restaurants and cultural attractions provide many things to do in Carlisle

    Find out more about why Carlisle is one of the Top 100 Best Small Towns

  • 17

    Falls Church , VA

    Population: 13,308
    Photo courtesy of Sabreguy29, available under Creative Commons license.

    Living in Falls Church comes with a premium, but residents here are treated to well-maintained parks, excellent schools and top health care. Known as one of the richest cities in the country, with a median annual household income of around $115,000, Falls Church has an extremely low poverty level. Parents applaud schools in Falls Church, especially those withing the Falls Church City Public Schools, the city’s largest employer.

  • 18

    Onalaska , WI

    Population: 18,255
    Courtesy of Sbug, available under Creative Commons license.

    Known as “The Sunfish Capital of the World,” Onalaska overlooks the Black River and features a man-made reservoir known as Lake Onalaska. More than 300 acres of parks are available to residents, and the community is served by two quality school districts. Cost-of-living expenses are generally lower than you’ll find in most cities. The majority of homes in Onalaska come in under the average national price. Health-care options in Onalaska include Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center and Mayo Clinic Health Systems Onalaska.

  • 19

    Pella , IA

    Population: 10,316
    Courtesy of Wikimedia, available under Creative Commons license

    Pella’s Dutch heritage is celebrated at the annual Tulip Time Festival and the Vermeer Mill, which features the largest working grain windmill in the country. Situated near Iowa’s largest lake, Lake Red Rock, Pella offers scenic views of both natural attractions and historic treasures like the Pella Opera House, which opened in 1900. Molengracht Plaza features a group of shops and restaurants with a canal winding through the complex. Pella Community Schools earn high grades from residents.  

  • 20

    Mount Kisco , NY

    Population: 11,060
    Courtesy of Joe Mabel, available under Wikimedia Commons

    Located 36 miles from New York City, Mount Kisco offers a haven for middle- to upper-class professionals. Housing choices range from co-ops and condominiums to historic Victorian houses and multimillion-dollar estates. Schools in Mount Kisco provide excellent opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. Bedford Central School District is recognized for its quality education programs, and Mount Kisco residents preserve history with several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.