5. Lexington, KY
Strengthening the already tight bond between Lexington, KY, and the University of Kentucky, state and city officials recently announced the decision to use Rupp Arena (home court of UK's basketball teams) as the focal point of plans to reinvent downtown by creating a new arts and entertainment district. The university continues to be the driving economic force in Lexington, where residents enjoy an eclectic mix of shops, Southern-style cooking and rolling hills graced with thoroughbreds.
Lexington's moderate climate and rich grasses make it the ideal setting to raise horses, while its school system and family-friendly culture make it a great place for kids. The city's central location within the United States, a highly educated population and affordable housing costs provide an attractive setting for businesses. Well-maintained sidewalks, a growing network of bike paths and excellent bus service allows residents to get around without having to drive. Streets are laid out like a wheel with spokes, with main arterial roads running from downtown out into horse country. Downtown Lexington offers a casually cosmopolitan ambience with fine restaurants and specialty shops, art galleries, and historic buildings.
In addition to providing top-ranked sports teams and performing arts to watch, educational opportunities and a population with disposable income, UK plays a large role in helping the community. College students spent a combined 96,000 hours helping off-campus agencies in 2012. Service projects range from UK students mentoring elementary school children to raising more than $1 million for a pediatric oncology unit through a dance program. Students also built two Habitat for Humanity homes in Lexington.
Student population: 28,094
Don't Miss: Natasha's Bistro & Bar, which serves dishes made with local ingredients and has music and theater throughout the week