Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Small Towns

To find the best small towns in the country we examined cities with less than 25,000 residents, beautiful scenery, cultural amenities, great restaurants and lots of outdoor activities.

Brian McCord

The fictional TV town of Mayberry still represents the ideal small town, a tight-knit community with low crime, a slower pace and wholesome fun. For our Top 10 Small Towns list, we set out to uncover the Mayberrys of 2012 – places where life can still be simple, quiet and complete, but with more places for folks to gather than just a barber shop.

We look at towns with 25,000 or fewer residents, then considered median household incomes and home prices, crime rates, unemployment rates, average commutes and distances to large cities. We concluded by examining the cities' amount of lifestyle amenities, such as outdoor activities, restaurants, community events, museums, art galleries and performance venues.

What we found are cities small in population yet big for their quality of life.


"We overlook [small towns] in this country a lot," says Laura Kidder, editorial director at Rand McNally. "If you really want to know America, you have to get off the highway. Get away from the big shopping malls and wander around town. That's really what America is, not the big cities connected by interstates."

Rand McNally recently sponsored the Best of the Road contest where five teams crossed the country and explored small towns. The contestants discovered that small towns let their residents live large.

"Another thing that really separates small towns from big cities is the sense of community and civic pride," Kidder says. "People in small towns have a chance to have a say that you may not have in a larger metro city."

So whether you're looking for a place to stop during your own cross-country voyage or a place to call home, you're bound to whistle a happy tune when you check these places out. Take a look at our picks for the best small towns in America.

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Ranking Criteria

Population 25,000 or less
Median household income
Average home price
Unemployment rate
Average commute time
Number of restaurants