Best Places to Live

Los Alamos , NM

Population: 11,815
Leslie E. Buckline

The seclusion that Los Alamos, N.M., provided in 1943 made it the perfect location to secretly build the world's first atomic bomb. High altitude and rugged terrain continue to create a sense of isolation for the residents of this small town, but their secret is out. Los Alamos ranked high in nearly all of the metrics we researched for this list, including diversity, education, population growth, health and civic engagement, making it our pick for the best small town in America. It also had the lowest crime rate and the highest ranking of community involvement. Los Alamos was ranked sixth on our list of the Top 10 Best Small Towns 2013, but after scoring so well in our updated methodology, it moved to the top.
Perched on the Pajarito Plateau and located 7,300 feet above sea level, Los Alamos is surrounded by stunning landscapes that range from the Rio Grande River Valley to the peaks of the Jemez Mountains. Mostly sunny days and moderate temperatures provide residents with great conditions to take advantage of the abundant natural attractions found here. Deep canyons branch across town, offering escapes from the urban environment. A network of pathways connects neighborhoods to shopping areas, parks and even national forest trails. While housing costs tend to be higher than the national average, they correlate with strong salaries found in the area's thriving science and technology sector.
Since World War II and the creation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, research, engineering and scientific development have anchored the local economy and attracted well-educated residents. Schools in Los Alamos rank among the highest performing in the nation and receive support from many local businesses. Easy access to doctors and nutritious foods keep families healthy and active. The town's Aquatic Center draws swim teams from across the country who come for high-altitude training in an Olympic-size pool. The nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve offers 54 miles of hiking trails, 30 miles of trout streams and activities such as mountain biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, hunting and sleigh rides.
Throughout the year, residents stay entertained with art shows, concerts, parades and a variety of festivals and sporting events that range from an annual mud volleyball tournament to bicycle races and marathons. While there are enough restaurants to please a variety of discerning palates, Mexican food is a staple of the local food scene. The breakfast burrito is a favorite way to start the day in Los Alamos, while drinking a glass of wine from Don Quixote Distillery & Winery or tossing back a locally made beer at Pajarito Brewpub is popular way to end the day.