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Why Los Alamos, NM is One of the Best Small Towns in America

Los Alamos is the site of a historical scientific landmark that continues to provide an exceptional quality of life for its residents

By Marc Acton on July 5, 2016

The Los Alamos Derby Dames perform a colorful set.
Los Alamos

You don’t make our list of Top 100 Best Small Towns without a little bit of everything, and Los Alamos is no exception. In fact, Los Alamos has been ranked as a best small town three times now (Best Small Towns 2016Best Small Towns 2014 and Best Small Towns 2013). It has high scores across the board, especially in the social and civic engagement and amenities categories. In the realm of education, the area is off the charts with a near-perfect score.

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Schools in Los Alamos

One reason for this high score is that exceptional education starts at the earliest ages in Los Alamos, and isn’t limited to private school offerings. Jim Hall is the president of the Los Alamos school board, which oversees their highly successful public school system. He says that their excellence comes from a variety of sources, but two qualities stand out: parental involvement and a general culture.

“I think one thing that has driven our success is the emphasis most parents here have on outstanding education,” he says. “There’s an overall culture of excellence in the area,” he continues, “And I think that culture affects almost everything that’s done in town, including education. The community benefits from people who want opportunities for their children, and education opens those opportunities to them. We have strong music programs, we have an excellent orchestra we even have ice hockey programs in schools. One of the things that come out of that variety is that children are offered multiple ways to succeed.”

The education offerings extend to the secondary level, too, with the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) giving associate degree and technical education opportunities to area students looking for certifications or to gain a solid start to a four-year degree. The degree programs even include the only two-year degree in computer gaming in New Mexico.

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The tech focus of UNM-LA is fitting given the area’s long relationship with science. Since 1943, it’s been the location for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), one of the largest scientific institutions in the world. The LANL was the primary location for research that took place as part of the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the successful development of the first nuclear weapons.

Smart Citizens

Many of the large number of scientists who moved to the area when the LANL was founded put down roots and continue to drive the culture of the area today. With its around 9,000 employees now focused on developing new technologies, the LANL is still the largest employer in northern New Mexico. It also hosts one of the area’s most popular visitor attractions, the Bradbury Science Museum, which gives visitors a peek into the history of the lab.

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There are more than just education offerings for residents and visitors, as the area reflects New Mexico’s rich, diverse history and culture. There’s a surprisingly large music and arts scene, a strong Native American cultural presence (including several American Indian pueblos within driving distance), and a typically New Mexican variety of food and drink options. All of these factors, combined with its tremendous education system, means Los Alamos more than deserves its place on our list of the nation’s top places to live.

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