2. Oxford, MS
Oxford, MS, has been called the "Hollywood version" of a Southern town, but the city's architecture and genteel atmosphere are as genuine as the magnolia trees that shade tailgaters before football games at the University of Mississippi. Celebrated authors like William Faulkner, John Grisham and Larry Brown drew inspiration from the city, where intellectual and leisure pursuits often intertwine. Oxford is one of our picks for Top 10 College Towns.
Longtime residents have seen a steady stream of newcomers - the city's population grew by more than 6 percent between 2010 and 2012 - but Oxford's treasured character remains intact. Independent stores in Oxford like Square Books and Neilson's Department Store, the oldest store in the South, remain fixtures of the community's shopping scene. Growth continues to bring improvements to the city. A new $30 million high school is set to open in 2014. Baptist Memorial Hospital is constructing a new regional health-care facility, and developers are building new hotels. In addition to well-groomed parks, athletic fields and recreation centers, Oxford residents have easy access to lakes and natural areas like Holly Springs National Forest and George Payne Cossar State Park.
At the heart of the city's thriving historic district is Oxford Square, which is lined with restaurants, museums, art galleries and shops. Restaurants in Oxford specialize in Southern, sophisticated cuisine. Throughout the year, festivals and special events like the Double Decker Arts Festival, Oxford Blues Festival and Ole Miss sporting events give residents plenty to cheer for. More than 100 places of worship and 20 local nonprofit groups help foster civility and camaraderie throughout the community. 20,088
Growth rate (2010-12): 6.2%
Size: 16 square miles
Median home value: $212,600
Average commute: 14 minutes