Best small towns to live in across America
The best small towns can offer friendly neighbors, safe streets, and excellent schools along with cultural and recreational activities—and, of course, quieter alternatives to nearby bustling cities.
To find the best small towns to live in across America, Stacker referenced Niche's Best Places to Live Study for 2020 which ranks American towns by overall quality of life. The variables used by Niche include cost of living, health and fitness, and weather. Any town with more than 40,000 people or was categorized as "urban" or "dense urban" was excluded.
The top cities on this list run the gamut from long-established villages in the suburbs of New York City to planned communities in Virginia and Texas. Communities on Long Island feature an old Quaker meeting house, a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the neighborhoods that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” In Texas, meanwhile, what was once a working ranch has become a planned community for thousands of residents.
Many such towns grew up along railroad lines as pioneers pushed westward. A group of nuns traveling through Elm Grove, Milwaukee, decided to stop when their horses did and established a convent there. Some were developed as the country’s first suburbs, especially for servicemen returning from war and in need of housing.
Many communities are near universities, with all of the intellectual offerings they bring, from lectures and concerts to museums and classes. Los Alamos, New Mexico, is known for the Los Alamos National Lab, while Princeton, New Jersey, is famed not only for the university of the same name but also the Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein worked. Other towns work to maintain their community traditions—apple festivals, communal gardens, ice cream socials, and harvest markets—reflecting their roots as farming towns.
Still others have unusual origins. Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, and Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, began as resorts. Some town names reflect America’s diversity, from Creve Coeur, Missouri, which means “heartbreak” in French, to Okemos, Michigan, honoring a Native American chief. And they point to the future American housing—especially examples of the “new urbanism,” where homes, offices, and shops are linked together in walkable neighborhoods and public spaces.
Looking for that perfect place to settle down, or just leave the city? Click through to find a small town that may be an ideal destination.
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#50. Syosset, New York
- Population: 19,559
- Median home value: $642,500 (91% own)
- Median rent: $2,256 (9% rent)
- Median household income: $159,375
A suburb of New York City on Long Island, 5-square-mile Syosset is prized for its schools. The community is diverse, with 22% of the population being East Asian and South Asian, and close-knit, with a Facebook moms group and a local newspaper. Formerly farmland known for buckwheat, Syosset features mostly single-family residences but does have a gated condominium complex and some apartments.
#49. Greatwood, Texas
- Population: 12,437
- Median home value: $322,000 (93% own)
- Median rent: $2,000 (7% rent)
- Median household income: $148,047
Greatwood is a planned community within the city of Sugar Land built around the 18-hole public Greatwood Golf Club, and it offers many other opportunities for outdoor activities. It includes three swimming pools, 13 playgrounds, walking trails, and tennis courts. Nearby is Brazos Bend State Park, along with the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s George Observatory, and the George Ranch Historical Park.
#48. Manhattan Beach, California
- Population: 35,573
- Median home value: $1,947,900 (70% own)
- Median rent: $2,499 (30% rent)
- Median household income: $150,083
Manhattan Beach is a community south of Los Angeles with year-round moderate temperatures. Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach constitute the South Bay. Its high school, Mira Costa High School, is a top-ranked one. Downtown Manhattan Beach offers casual restaurants and more formal ones featuring small plates and hand-crafted cocktails. The Roundhouse Aquarium, which is free, offers education on the environment and marine life.
#47. New Territory, Texas
- Population: 15,699
- Median home value: $276,800 (85% own)
- Median rent: $1,554 (15% rent)
- Median household income: $135,444
New Territory is another planned community in Sugar Land with 4,606 homes on 3,200 acres. Once pecan groves and sugar cane fields, it is now 450 acres of parks, lakes, and trees. There’s a full-sized gymnasium, swimming pools, playgrounds, tennis courts, and a tennis pro shop, plus regulation-sized sports fields. The community falls within the Fort Bend Independent School District, and additional patrols are provided by deputies from the Fort Bend County Constable's Office.
#46. Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan
- Population: 11,207
- Median home value: $347,900 (76% own)
- Median rent: $1,016 (24% rent)
- Median household income: $112,384
Grosse Pointe Park is a Metro Detroit suburb on the southwestern shore of Lake St. Claire, one of five “Grosse Pointes” that share a top-rated school system. East of downtown Detroit, it has two waterfront parks, with a pool and skating rink. Its housing ranges from single-family homes to mansions on the waterfront. Originally woods and marsh, then farms and orchards, Grosse Pointe developed as Detroit’s summer resort until electric trains and automobiles made it practical as a year-round community. Fun fact: Windsor, Canada, is actually south of Grosse Pointe Park.
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#45. Wyoming, Ohio
- Population: 8,535
- Median home value: $314,800 (85% own)
- Median rent: $1,048 (15% rent)
- Median household income: $121,071
A suburb of Cincinnati in the Mill Creek Valley, Wyoming began to grow after the completion of the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad in 1851. It is named after another Wyoming, but not the one you might think: The original village was reminiscent of a spot in Pennsylvania with the same name. Its Facebook page urges, “Come for the charm, stay for the friendships,” and its schools are highly rated. Wyoming has just added a story to its hiking and bicycle path that you can follow along with as you walk or bike.
#44. Oakwood, Ohio
- Population: 9,030
- Median home value: $239,600 (80% own)
- Median rent: $1,172 (20% rent)
- Median household income: $102,159
Oakwood prides itself on being a safe and walkable city. Crimes rates are low, and children can walk or ride their bikes to one of the top-notch schools, while adults can go to shops, parks, and other destinations. There’s a welcoming, small-town spirit attached to the community’s events, from the MOMS of Oakwood, which sponsors playgroups and other activities, to the new-resident breakfast and the ice cream social that starts the school year.
#43. Rock Hill, Missouri
- Population: 4,637
- Median home value: $180,500 (88% own)
- Median rent: $999 (12% rent)
- Median household income: $80,042
A suburb of St. Louis, Rock Hill owes its name to a Presbyterian minister who traveled there to celebrate a new congregation. According to a 1934 history of the city, it was first settled by French explorers coming from St. Louis. The city, which has highly rated schools, hosts drive-in movies, parking lot bingo, a front-yard tombstone hunt (with candy and toys hidden behind the “tombstones”), and a city-wide garage sale. A nearby attraction is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, where the future president lived with his wife in the 1850s.
#42. Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
- Population: 14,039
- Median home value: $373,200 (82% own)
- Median rent: $1,253 (18% rent)
- Median household income: $117,300
Whitefish Bay residents value their village for its proximity to Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee, its good schools, diverse housing, and strong community. It’s a village mostly of single-family houses and safe streets, and it was once the site of a resort, built in 1889 by one of Milwaukee’s so-called “beer barons.” The visitors came to ride the Ferris wheel, listen to concerts, and eat whitefish from the bay.
#41. Broadlands, Virginia
- Population: 13,704
- Median home value: $591,200 (84% own)
- Median rent: $2,161 (16% rent)
- Median household income: $179,574
Broadlands is a planned community with highly rated schools in Ashburn, Loudoun County, midway between Dulles International Airport and the town of Leesburg. It was named a certified wildlife habitat community by the National Wildlife Federation, part of an effort to make communities greener and friendlier to wildlife. Managed by a homeowners association, it is designed around the 150-acre Stream Valley Park and includes single-family houses, townhouses, condominiums, and apartments.
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