10 Best Small Towns

The best small towns stand out as bastions of the American Dream, with unique cultural assets, beautiful natural attractions and residents passionate about preserving the character of their communities.

People across the country are in search of authentic communities with unique atmospheres, colorful characters and a true sense that there is no other place like it. Sprinkled between major highways and busy airports are drive-by or fly-over cities offering a slower, and some say richer, slice of life.

To find the Top 10 Best Small Towns in America for 2013 we narrowed down our search to micropolitan areas. We steered clear of big-city suburbs and places considered part of a larger metropolitan region, which we included in the Top 10 Small Towns 2012 list. Next, we examined populations and economic growth rates to see which of these towns were attracting new residents and businesses. Then we looked at how they scored on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Amenities Scale. Finally, we talked to people who live in these towns, assessed the amenities they offer, and compared employment rates, cost of living and other economic factors. Other sources included the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor and town representatives.

"The best small towns all have one thing in common: something unique that sets them apart from other towns," says Mitch Moody, president of Growing Your Town, an economic development consulting company that works with small to mid-size cities. "A distinctive identity is absolutely vital if a town is to stand out among all the other small towns vying for attention from businesses and the general public," he says.

We also considered an area's intangible factors: a less hurried atmosphere, tight community bonds, good schools, environmentally friendly planning, an emphasis on family values and historic preservation.

Whether you're looking for a place to settle down, or an authentic spot to visit, check out our picks for the best small towns in the country.

Ranking Criteria

Population • Distance from major city • Natural Amenities Scale • Employment rate • Cost of Living • Quality Schools

10. Cambridge, MD Population 12,534
9. West Plains, MO Population 12,230
8. Traverse City, MI Population 15,168
7. Alexandria, MN Population 11,614
6. Los Alamos, NM Population 11,815
5. Brookings, SD Population 22,974
4. Oak Harbor, WA Population 22,331
3. Rock Springs, WY Population 23,869
2. Oxford, MS Population 20,769
1. Dickinson, ND Population 21,097