Best Places to Live

2014 10 Best Small Towns

The best small towns provide beautiful locales that inspire creativity and activity

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.

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Ranking Criteria

Income growth
Income distribution
Employment
Population growth forecast
Community involvement
Health care
Natural amenities
Crime rate
Pollution
Educational attainment
Cultural assets