These Are the Best Small Cities in America

Newton, Massachusetts


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Newton, Massachusetts

Slicker Cities

The United States is full of charming small towns. But if small towns aren’t your jam and giant cities overwhelm you, you’re in luck. WalletHub recently completed a study of 1,300 locales to determine the best small cities in America.

These cities have 25,000 to 100,000 residents and were rated according to 43 metrics in five broad categories: affordability, economic health, education and health, quality of life, and safety. Each of the metrics was scored from 0 to 100. The average across all domains was then used to determine which cities are best. If you’re looking for a place to vacation or even move, here are the small cities worth considering.

Related: Retirees Are Trading the City for These Small Towns

Saratoga Springs, New York, Exterior of brick building.
Photo Italia LLC/istockphoto

25. Saratoga Springs, New York

Overall Score: 68.46

There is no shortage of activities in Saratoga Springs. Its proximity to Albany means the city is just minutes away. In Saratoga Springs you can visit the winery, hit up the casino, or take a cruise. Museums, parks, and restaurants also abound, making this small city a fantastic place to visit or live. Saratoga Springs is also a popular destination for horse racing at the Saratoga Racetrack. The iconic track has hosted many of the world’s most famous thoroughbreds. The city is also home to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Related: The Most Overlooked Travel Cities in America

Leesburg, Virginia

24. Leesburg, Virginia

Overall Score: 68.53

With a population of just under 53,000, Leesburg falls right in the middle of small cities as defined by WalletHub, but it offers no shortage of entertainment. There are dozens of restaurants, 16 city-maintained parks, a happening arts district, and many festivals held annually. 

Related: The Most Beautiful Main Streets in Every State

Ridgewood, New Jersey
Ridgewood, New Jersey by Patrick Allin (CC BY)

23. Ridgewood, New Jersey

Overall Score: 68.56

This small town of about 25,000 people is in the top 20 safest towns.  It's only 15 miles from New York City, making it ideal for commuters. Within the town's approximately six mile size, there is a thriving downtown area, hospital, and nationally-recognized schools.

Randolph, MA
Randolph, MA by John Phelan (CC BY)

22. Randolph, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 68.58

Randolph is located 15 miles south of Boston, and is convenient for commuters. The town has a number of parks for residents, as well as restaurants and shopping centers. The town was once a center for the shoe manufacturing industry, and became one of the country's leading boot producers.

Microsoft Corporation Head Office

21. Redmond, Washington

Overall Score: 68.71

If a robust economy is important to you, Redmond is one of the best places to find one that is thriving in a small city. WalletHub ranks it in the top ten for economic health compared to other cities of its size. One other unique feature is Redmond’s commitment to volunteerism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Seems like a friendly place to live.

Princeton University landscape
Newton, Massachusetts

19. Newton, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 68.83

Newton is an ideal suburb, with plenty of outdoor recreation and a short drive to Boston. The city also prides itself on offering high-quality education and top-notch safety. It should come as no surprise, then, that it's in the top 10 for education and health, according to WalletHub’s study. 

Burlington, Massachusetts town hall
Burlington, Massachusetts town hall by John Phelan (CC BY)

18. Burlington, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 68.85

Ranked highly for education and health, Burlington is a desirable place to raise kids or grow old. The city is also home to over 250 acres of conservation area where people can relax and unwind. If you prefer the bustle of the big city, Boston is only 13 miles away.

Mystic Lakes, Arlington, Massachusetts -05

17. Arlington, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 68.92

Across the five primary domains used by WalletHub’s study, Arlington claims top-10 spots for two of them. It ranks eighth in education and health and eighth in safety. The city also provides access to art, history, and outdoor activities within its borders and in Boston, which is only 8 miles away. 

Leawood Kansas City

16. Leawood, Kansas

Overall Score: 69.06

This small city is close to the Kansas City metro area, which is bustling with activity, arts, and culture. However, Leawood itself also has a lot to offer. It's one of the fastest-growing cities in Kansas, with multiple parks, shopping, and dining. The city also holds community events throughout the year.

Brookfield, Wisconsin
Brookfield, Wisconsin by Chris Favero (CC BY-SA)

15. Brookfield, Wisconsin

Overall Score: 69.23

A common theme among many of the best small cities is they are close to the big city but offer an escape to their residents. Brookfield is no different, with its location only 14 miles from Milwaukee on Lake Michigan’s shore. Still, Brookfield boasts a surprising number of amenities for a small city. It has escape rooms, a spa, and various ways to stay fit like attending yoga classes or playing at the indoor soccer complex.

Dublin parks concrete corn tribute to agriculture.

14. Dublin, Ohio

Overall Score: 69.31

Dublin, although a far cry from Ireland’s capital, has plenty to offer, including its own Irish festival. One major draw for residents is that it claims the sixth place spot for affordability among small cities. In 2018, rated it the best place to live in Ohio.

Pine Lake Sammamish Washington USA Aerial View

13. Sammamish, Washington

Overall Score: 69.7

Sammamish, a Seattle suburb that has received many “best of” awards for both Washington and the United States, dropped in status— it was #1 last year. Still, the town deserves its place as one of the best. Sammamish has multiple parks where you can walk, bike, or boat. It also hosts plenty of special events throughout the year.

Milton, MA - Three Churches

12. Milton, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 69.72

If you want open space near the big city, Milton is the place to be. Although it is only 7 miles from downtown Boston, Milton has the most conserved land within 20 miles. A whopping 22% of the city’s land is protected on the Blue Hills Reservation

Westfield, Indiana
Westfield, Indiana by Derek Jensen (CC BY)

11. Westfield, Indiana

Overall Score: 69.8

One of the most notable features in Westfield is a 400-acre multi-sport complex, which draws many people to the area. It is home to the Colts National Football League training camp, the Pacer’s National Basketball Association athletic center, and the Indy Eleven Major League Soccer training center. There are also 10 miles of hiking trails and many athletic fields for the community to use. 

Related: Idyllic Parks That Bring Nature to the City

Portland, ME

10. Portland, Maine

Overall Score: 69.82

Portland, Maine, often flies under the radar compared with its much larger West Coast counterpart in Oregon. Although the former is small, the Chamber of Commerce puts on over 100 events every year. You also can’t beat being right on the coast. Lighthouses and lobsters abound here.

Children Playing
Children Playing by Michael Femia (CC BY-NC-ND)

9. Needham, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 69.88

Turns out Massachusetts is an ideal place to live if you’re seeking the best small city life. Needham, with its population of just over 30,000, is just one of several Massachusetts cities to make the top 25 list. So, what makes this place so special? Well, the Charles River wraps around it on three sides, meaning outdoor recreation is plentiful. There are also many local shops and restaurants, and the community works hard to support small businesses. 

Related: Underrated Places to Retire Across America

Downtown Zionsville
Downtown Zionsville by Paula Henry (CC BY)

8. Zionsville, Indiana

Overall Score: 69.9

Many Midwest cities enjoy a lower cost of living, and Zionsville is no different. It ranks third for affordability compared with the other best small cities. It also has many desirable features, like a nature center, a cultural center, and many opportunities for recreation.

The Gazebo at Ell Pond Park
The Gazebo at Ell Pond Park by Elizabeth B. Thomsen (CC BY-SA)

7. Melrose, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 70.42

Melrose is yet another place where people can get close to Boston while enjoying small city living. Melrose is filled with Victorian-era homes and open spaces. It is also well known for the quality of its education and health, claiming the tenth spot in this domain, according to WalletHub. 

Related: 20 Things You Never Knew About New England

Large brick single family home in Brentwood Tennessee

6. Brentwood, Tennessee

Overall Score: 70.57

Brentwood is a well-rounded, small city with a bit of everything. With Nashville only 10 miles away, it's just a short drive to the heart of country music. Historic places are also easy to find throughout the city.

Buckman Tavern in Lexington, Massachusetts

5. Lexington, Massachusetts

Overall Score: 70.58

If the education and health category is important for you, Lexington is ranked No. 4. WalletHub also ranked it seventh for safety. Lexington prides itself as being “The Birthplace of American Liberty.” Unsurprisingly, there are many historic places nearby, like the Lexington Battle Green and the Old Belfry, to name a couple.

Apex, North Carolina
Apex, North Carolina by Emailgb (CC BY-SA)

4. Apex, North Carolina

Overall Score: 68.93

New to the top 25 is this town that's steeped in railroad history. It's home to over 60 buildings dating from 1870 to 1940, giving it an old-time feel. The Apex Union Depot is a registered historic landmark. Beyond history, the town has plenty to do, such as a cultural center, walkable downtown, and many shops, restaurants, and events. 

Radburn Plaza
Radburn Plaza by Rickyrab (CC BY-SA)

3. Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Overall Score: 70.59

Fair Lawn provides many services to its community members. Folks who live there can make use of the Community Center and free transportation on the popular minibus, or enjoy a visit to the local theater. This small city also ranks among the top 50 for health and education. 

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Carmel City Hall, wide angle

2. Carmel, Indiana

Overall Score: 70.91

Carmel is a leader in business and community. Over 125 corporate headquarters are in Carmel, which is just a short drive from Indianapolis. There is also a rich arts district and a large central park in town. More than 100 free events are hosted every year.

Northwest Lancaster, PA cityscape

1. Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Overall Score: 71.04

Lancaster ranks in the top 10 for quality of life, making it a fabulous place to live or simply visit. Historical buildings and landmarks make this city unique. There are also numerous parks and museums worth a stop.

Related: The Most Underrated Town in Every State