Best Places to Live

2014 10 Best Small Towns

You'll find them in the bends of rivers and at the bases of mountains, blending into the landscape rather than disrupting the scenery. They offer a respite from the frantic pace that often comes with living in a major metropolitan area. They are filled with unpretentious people who want to preserve what makes their places unique. These are the best small towns in America.

For our third iteration of the Top 10 Best Small Towns list, we analyzed more data than ever before. This brought even more great small cities to our attention than we had discovered in our Top 10 Best Small Towns 2013 and Top 10 Best Small Towns 2012 lists. Using the same metrics we measure for our overall Top 100 Best Places to Live, we looked at micropolitan areas with populations under 20,000, then dug into statistics like cost of living, health-care spending, racial and socioeconomic diversity, adult obesity, crime, civic engagement, air quality and natural amenities, just to name a few of the 41 data points. Data alone can't tell the full story, so after narrowing down the list, we conducted further research into the cities and found what visitors had to say about them and what residents liked about living there.

The best small towns provide beautiful locales that inspire both creativity and activity. Their downtowns remain homages to the past, offering unhurried atmospheres where residents savor conversations as much as they savor morsels. Most of our picks draw hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists who come to experience what residents enjoy every day – authentic character and characters, cultural gems and fantastic outdoor settings. What these places have in common is the uncommon ability to change lifestyles, shift points of view and nourish souls with simple pleasures.

Take a look at our picks for the best small towns in America.

Ranking Criteria
Income growth
Income distribution
Population growth forecast
Community involvement
Health care
Natural amenities
Crime rate
Educational attainment
Cultural assets
  • 10

    Hailey, ID

    Population: 8,002
    Christine Olsen

    Located on Main Street in Hailey, Idaho, is a place called Power House. This hybrid of a bike shop and restaurant represents the type of atmosphere you'll find in Hailey. Cyclists come to power up on organic eggs, oat burgers and ahi tuna sandwiches or sip on craft beers while their bikes get tuned up and ready to hit the trails. Just like the town, Power House is a gateway to outdoor adventures and a place to recharge and relax.
    In addition to good schools, low crime, low pollution and high community involvement, Hailey has the highest level of employment and the greatest income distribution of any city on this list. What that means is the gap between the haves and have-nots isn't as big as it is in most places. Nestled in the Wood River Valley, the city itself is located on relatively flat terrain, but outside the city limits, the elevation quickly rises. The area was first inhabited by Native Americans and fur traders, then became a mining town and later a home to sheep ranchers. Tourism plays a large role in Hailey's business scene today. The city is now home to several technology companies such as Marketron and the recruiting firm Redfish Technology.
    The people who live in Hailey enjoy a laid-back lifestyle filled with outdoor excursions to nearby ski resorts, hiking trails and fishing holes. The city of Hailey maintains several parks and trails, including Hop Porter Park, which hosts the Northern Rockies Music Festival. The city is currently in the midst of improving its Rodeo Grounds by adding an ice skating rink, expanding the adjacent skate park and adding more parking spaces to the area. Also in the works is a plan to create a system of trails that would encircle and connect the entire community.
    Restaurants in Hailey provide diners with an assortment of menus to choose from. Meals here range from grilled Idaho trout and seared lamb to barbecue, Thai and pizza. The Center combines artists' work space with a gallery that is routinely open for public viewings. The Liberty Theatre, built in the 1930s, was remodeled in 1996 and serves as the home of Idaho's Company of Fools, a group of actors and performers.