Big Ole, a giant viking statue, keeps watch over the town of Alexandria, MN, where preservation efforts and planning helped protect the city's character during a period of rapid growth.
The city's population grew by more than 4 percent between 2010 and 2012, making Alexandria one of the fastest-growing micropolitan areas in the country. The community's active lifestyle, cultural offerings and beautiful scenery continue to attract new residents. A collection of lakes surround the town, creating an island-like atmosphere. It's never a shock to see a "closed" sign in some businesses' windows when the fishing is good. Lush woodlands and parks present opportunities for year-round recreation including fishing, hunting, bicycling and ice skating. Cyclists, runners and inline skaters use the 55-mile Central Lakes Trail, which connects Alexandria to three nearby cities and winds past parks, farms wetlands and lakes.
Well-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s line streets in the five-block historic downtown area, which is in the midst of a major improvement project that will reconfigure lanes and provide safer paths for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Enchanting shops, boutiques, a winery, museums, art galleries, theater, and restaurants lure residents and visitors to downtown. Entertainment choices include live shows, car racing, a petting zoo, waterpark, ski areas, bars and more.
Alexandria has 69 commercial and residential structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Carnegie Library, Douglas County Courthouse and historic post office. Housing options range from small single-family homes to expansive lakefront properties and new condos and apartments.
Growth rate (2010-12): 4.3%
Size: 16 square miles
Median home value: $157,100
Average commute: 15 minutes
See our picks for the Top 10 Foodie Cities in 2013.