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.

  • 31

    Lindsborg , KS

    Population: 3,441
    Courtesy of Chris Brooks, available under Creative Commons license.

    Lindsborg, Kan., which is nicknamed “Little Sweden,” hosts an annual Svensk Hyllningsfest ethnic celebration on odd-numbered years, with the next festival set for October 2015. Education choices include Bethany College and an exemplary Smoky Valley School District. Lindsborg is also home to the Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess. Residents rely on Lindsborg Community Hospital for health care and find a range of housing options.

  • 32

    Takoma Park , MD

    Population: 17,478
    Courtesy of DJ We Blog WordPress

    Spring in Takoma Park is marked by the blooming of thousands of azalea bushes which gave the city its nickname, “Azalea City.” Located near Washington, D.C. Takoma Park features a range of houses from historic bungalows to Victorian mansions. Sligo Creek and Long Branch Creek traverse through this largely residential area. The largest commercial district is Takoma-Langley Crossroads, and also part of the community are two college campuses along with Washington Adventist Hospital.

  • 33

    Northfield, MN

    Population: 20,309
    Photo: Defeat of Jesse James Days, Bridgette Hallcock Photography

    Students at Carleton and St. Olaf colleges help lower the median age in Northfield to 27, but this city attracts many families and young professionals. The Northfield Public Schools district is well respected, and residents have access to 35 parks along with a long-standing Northfield Hospital. Many downtown buildings have been preserved and are prime examples of late 19th and early 20th century architecture.

    See where Northfield ranked on the Best Small Towns 2014 list. 

  • 34

    Emeryville , CA

    Population: 10,830
    Courtesy of City of Emeryville

    Situated between the cities of Berkeley and Oakland and extending to the San Francisco Bay, Emeryville has experienced recent economic growth thanks in large part to biotech and software companies settling in. Schools in Emeryville rank well among the nation's top educational systems. Local students attend the well-regarded Emery Unified School District along with Ex'pression College for Digital Arts, a private university whose graduates are often hired by Pixar, the city’s largest employer. Emeryville has several shopping destinations and six beautiful parks.

  • 35

    Newport , OR

    Population: 10,101
    Courtesy of D. Reinhart

    Considered the Dungeness Crab Capital of the World, Newport, Ore., offers residents a peaceful seaside village that’s full of great restaurants, shops and spectacular views. The city is home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Nye Beach, Hatfield Marine Science Center and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Lincoln County School District and Oregon Coast Community College educate students, and activities like surfing, bicycling and hiking keep residents active. Among the distinct neighborhoods in Newport is the Deco District with art deco buildings in the downtown area.

  • 36

    Decatur, GA

    Population: 20,605
    Courtesy of City of Decatur

    Retaining a small-town feel despite its proximity to Atlanta, Decatur features four historic districts along with a vibrant entertainment and nightlife scene thanks to popular venues like Eddie's Attic, Wahoo Grill, Brick Store Pub, Carpe Diem and The Square Pub. This progressive community includes Agnes Scott College, Columbia Theological Seminary and Georgia Perimeter College, while Decatur City School District has earned several academic accolades.

  • 37

    Orange City , IA

    Population: 6,147
    Courtesy of Iowa Backroads

    Dutch architecture and a plethora of tulips help give Orange City, Iowa, a Netherlands vibe. Citizens have a variety of affordable housing options and good health-care facilities, including Orange City Hospital. Students are privy to strong learning environments found in Orange City schools and programs within the MOC-Floyd Valley Community School District, and the city also houses Northwestern College.

  • 38

    Williamsburg, VA

    Population: 14,754
    Courtesy of Visit Williamsburg

    Serving as Virginia's capital from 1699-1780, Williamsburg today is perhaps best known for the College of William & Mary, founded in 1693. The city enjoys a tourism-based economy due in large part to Colonial Williamsburg, a restored historic area that attracts 3 million visitors a year. Also in the city are two major theme parks – Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA.

  • 39

    Pacific Grove , CA

    Population: 15,505
    Courtesy of Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce

    Known simply as “PG” to locals, Pacific Grove, Calif., is a coastal city nicknamed “Butterfly Town USA” because of an annual migration of Monarch butterflies that color the city from November to February. Beaches, Victorian homes and a nationally recognized 18-hole Pacific Grove Golf Links make the community a favorite vacation getaway. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula provides health care to residents, while local students attend a top-notch Pacific Grove Unified School District.

  • 40

    Dillon , MT

    Population: 4,193
    Courtesy of Mining History Association

    Residents of Dillon, Mont., live in a prime area for snowmobiling, skiing, four-wheeling, hiking and fishing on Beaverhead River. The city’s 31 independent restaurants provide plenty of dining options, while events like Montana’s Biggest Weekend, a rodeo and parade keep folks entertained. Stores from Murdoch’s Ranch Supply to a Patogonia Outlet keep residents well stocked. Dillon is home to good schools, the University of Montana Western as well as Barrett Hospital and HealthCare.