Port Angeles, WA
5. Port Angeles, WA
A stroll along City Pier in downtown Port Angeles, Wash., provides fantastic views of this best small town's major attractions. To the north is the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where massive ships float by carrying lumber and cargo while smaller vessels bring fresh-caught crabs to the docks and kayakers paddle around a sandy beach. Looking south offers a glimpse of the snowcapped mountains in Olympic National Park, a pristine playground for hikers, bikers and skiers. It's easy to see that residents of this small town have plenty of choices when it comes to having fun and getting exercise.
Highly ranked natural amenities are just part of the equation that landed Port Angeles on this list. Low food costs, low crime and high community involvement help make the city one of the nation's best places to live. That's especially the case for crab lovers. The Dungeness crab, which is harvested by local fishermen, is the main attraction during the city's annual Crabfest, where steam from large kettles of boiling crab carries the smell of buttery seafood through the streets of downtown. Crab makes its way onto many local menus, including fried rice at Sabai Thai Cuisine, on panini melts at Toga's Soup House and as an add-on to just about any burger or sandwich at Next Door Gastropub.
Sculptures, murals and other artwork found downtown help tie modern-day Port Angeles to its past as an outpost in the Pacific Northwest, a logging town and home for Native Americans. The downtown area overlooks the bay and is filled with cafes, galleries, gift shops, bookstores and restaurants. The Olympic Discovery Trail, a 28-mile pathway winding along the waterfront and through rural farmland, connects Port Angeles with the neighboring town of Sequim. Community and business leaders support initiatives to protect the environment, including energy conservation. Nippon Paper Industries, one of the largest employers in Port Angeles, recently completed a facility that provides 20 megawatts of renewable energy. Olympic Medical Center is the region's largest employer, with more than 1,100 staff members. Located on a 75-acre campus in Port Angeles is Peninsula College, which has a total student population of more than 5,600. Tourism plays a major role in the economy as well.