Photo: Defeat of Jesse James Days, Bridgette Hallcock Photography
2. Northfield, MN
When it comes to charming – perhaps even quirky – events, the town of Northfield, Minn., has its fair share. There's the annual Defeat Jesse James Days festival, which culminates with the re-enactment of the 1876 raid on First National Bank. Then there's the noontime organ recitals held at various churches each Wednesday during the peak of summer. Or how about the Winter Walk, where visitors can experience downtown Northfield by candlelight as they enjoy caroling, horse-drawn wagon rides and storytelling. These are just a few of the annual events that unite residents of Northfield and create lasting memories of life in a best small town.
Northfield residents have enjoyed higher income growth than most of the nation as this small town's population increased and new businesses settled in. Proximity to several hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, great schools, an abundance of parks, farmers markets, high community involvement and excellent cultural amenities make Northfield an attractive area to live. The town's natural beauty extends to the Cannon River, which bisects the city as it flows through historic downtown. Landmark structures such as the Archer House, Scriver Building and the Grand Event Center exemplify the historical architecture found in Northfield.
Vendors selling baked goods, vegetables, artwork and crafts set up along the Riverwalk each Saturday between June and October. It's common to see anglers of all ages kayaking, canoeing or fishing for bluegill, walleye and northern pike in the Cannon River. The surrounding countryside is dotted with farms, apple orchards and small lakes.
Both St. Olaf College and Carleton College provide programs that Northfield residents enjoy such as Christmas festivals, lectures, theaters, art galleries and continuing education opportunities. Cowling Arboretum on the grounds of Carleton College provides the townsfolk with an excellent place to hike, run, ski and fish. A 15-mile trail system in the arboretum was ranked by Runner's World magazine as one of the best places to run in the country. The Mill Towns Trail winds through downtown and around Sechler Park, offering views of the river and railroad. Winter snowfall brings the opportunity to cross-country ski on trails at Carleton College or the nearby River Bend Nature Center.