August 2016

In a world that seems to be shrinking with every new day, it can be easy to think of the small town as an unattainable part of an idealized yesteryear. Picturesque main streets, block parties, civic pride, a place where everyone knows your name — do such things even exist anymore?

They do in these small towns! The 20 small towns on this list are some of the friendliest in America. As we looked at dozens of small towns, those considered friendliest seem to share some common elements, most notably: festivals and community events, happiness, low crime rates, and good schools and/or universities.

1. Alpharetta, Georgia

Friendly Alpharetta, Georgia works hard to earn its nickname: “The City of Celebration.” The Atlanta suburb loves to throw annual city- and region-wide events, some of the most popular being the Alpharetta Arts StreetFest, a food festival called the Taste of Alpharetta, an annual parade in celebration of war veterans, a Scarecrow Harvest in which community members craft and display scarecrows, and a holiday tree-lighting ceremony. And the fun doesn’t even stop there! Alpharetta prides itself on being a tight-knit community, and holiday parties, yoga groups, play dates, book clubs, and movie nights are commonly organized around town.

2. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina has become a hotspot for young artists and music lovers in recent years. Called an “all-around wonderful small city,” Asheville residents are proud of their inviting nature, and it is said that strangers will always receive a smile from passing locals. The lively River Arts District is a great place to meet friendly locals who won’t be shy about sharing their pride and love for their city. In addition to street musicians and art galleries, the River Arts District is also home to lots of popular restaurants and breweries.

3. Bar Harbor, Maine

Thanks to nearby Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine is a destination for thousands of visitors every summer. Despite its popularity, Bar Harbor is a gem of a small town with a close-knit community well-known for its friendliness. It is said that everyone in Bar Harbor knows the name of everyone else, perhaps because the community often gathers together for town-wide events like outdoor movie nights, art shows, camping in Acadia, and the annual Acadia Night Sky festival, during which families come together to go night-hiking and watch movies under the stars.

4. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi may have been destroyed by hurricanes twice in the last half century (most recently by Katrina in 2005), but this friendly small town is nothing if not resilient. As would be expected from a town that knows how to make a comeback, Bay St. Louis is a close community. Many of the shops and restaurants in the walkable Old Town district are locally owned, including Mockingbird Cafe, which serves both Mockingburgers and live music by local musicians. Bridgefest, an annual celebration celebrating the opening of the new bridge that was destroyed during Katrina, is one of the many festivals that brings the community together each year. Almost the whole town shows up to mark the occasion with local music, cuisine, and locally produced beer and food.

5. Beaufort, South Carolina

The South is synonymous with things like “Southern hospitality” and “Southern charm,” and tiny Beaufort, South Carolina epitomizes both. Located a mere 90 miles from Charleston, Beaufort is a 300-year old town chock-full of charm and good neighbors. While community morale here is high, visitors are more likely to notice just how big a part of the local culture is front-porch sittin’. On any warm weather afternoon, one is likely to find many of the town’s 12,000 residents gathered on a wraparound porch drinking sweet tea, or joining together for a laid-back block-wide crab boil.

6. Burlington, Vermont

With a population of only 43,000 people, Burlington is unlike any other place in the United States in that it feels like a small town while also being the largest city in the state. Burlington has gained quite a bit of attention in recent years for its laid-back, artsy vibe — a vibe that has gone a long way in attracting the young, fun, and friendly. There’s almost always something going on in town, and farm-to-table dining and craft breweries are both big deals here. Therefore, head to Burlington’s picturesque downtown on a weekend evening and you’ll likely see large groups of families and friends out to have an enjoyable time.

7. Burton, Ohio

With a nickname like Pancake Town U.S.A., it is no wonder that little Burton, Ohio is one of the friendliest places in the nation. Surrounded by Ohio Amish country, the village prides itself on its local history, the Great Geauga County Fair (Ohio’s oldest county fair), and a variety of annual events held throughout the year. It is the most famous of these events that led to the town’s tasty nickname. Each March, Burton hosts more than 20,000 people for an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. This delicious event has been a tradition for nearly seventy years, and comes complete with locally-made syrup tapped from trees in the town square.

8. Downers Grove, Illinois

Nearly every friendly town on this list includes some festivals on its annual calendar, but Downers Grove, Illinois hosts more than 140 community events and festivals each year! Downers Grove is located about 25 miles outside of Chicago, but fully embraces Midwestern small-town charm. On Friday evenings during the summer, car enthusiasts meet up in a local park for an informal car show, while Saturdays mean heading downtown for the farmers’ market. As its name might suggest, Downers Grove is home to nearly 600 acres of parks and green space, offering residents plenty of space to hang out and enjoy the town.

9. Fishers, Indiana

Fishers, Indiana is a small town located in the suburbs of Indianapolis. Full of Midwestern charm, Fishers hosts a number of annual events throughout the year, including the two-day Freedom Festival, a summer concert series, a renaissance fair, and the Flavor of Fishers Festival during which local eateries showcase their best dishes for the community. Block parties and neighborhood-wide BBQs are also common here, as Fishers is said to be a very tight-knit community. Fishers’ friendliness and inviting nature seem to be paying off; the town has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

10. Fredericksburg, Texas

Nestled amongst Texas’ picturesque Hill Country, Fredericksburg is best known as the “Little Germany of Texas.” Indeed, the small town has a large Prussian population, and in many ways has remained more traditionally German than Germany itself. A weekend getaway to Fredericksburg usually involves a visit to the biergartens, all of which are open year-round and consistently frequented by the locals. While Fredericksburg is an inviting place to visit at any time of year, a visit during the town’s annual Oktoberfest is especially special, as local artisans, food vendors, and musicians are all on hand to share their pride in their city.

11. Gig Harbor, Washington

Little more than a decade ago, Gig Harbor, Washington was a sleepy little fishing village located along Puget Sound. Today, Gig Harbor is home to trendy chain stores, upscale restaurants, and a booming tourism industry. Despite this rapid increase in popularity, Gig Harbor has retained its unpretentious, small-town atmosphere. The town comes alive during the summer, when it hosts open-air movie nights, chowder competitions, and farmers’ markets. But best of all is Gig Harbor’s unwavering town pride, which is apparent to anyone who spends a bit of time there.

12. Hamilton, New York

Hamilton, a tiny historic village in central New York, is home to prestigious Colgate University and some of the friendliest people in all of the fifty states. Some of that friendliness could be attributed to Hamilton’s glowing statistics, which includes a home ownership rate of more than 60% and a crime rate a mere fraction than that of the national average. The main hangout in town is The Village Green, where students and locals alike gather for shopping, strolling past the area’s most historic homes, and enjoying the locally owned restaurants. The community is a tight-knit one, and neighbors frequently gather for fundraisers, holiday parties, safety awareness events, holiday charities, and fitness groups, among other things.

13. Jackson, Wyoming

There’s no Wild, Wild West in Jackson, Wyoming — just a friendly small town. And if happy populations are friendlier, Jackson residents have plenty to be happy about. The town is surrounded by breathtaking views of the Tetons mountains, while an entrance to Yellowstone National Park is only a few miles outside city limits. While Jackson offers residents and visitors plenty of opportunity to play cowboy with western-wear shops, an impressive National Museum of Wildlife Art, and myriad popular outdoor sports, a fantastic nightclub scene and trendy shops and restaurants cater to Jackson’s younger residents.

14. Kewanee, Illinois

Kewanee, Illinois has received plenty of attention for its friendliness — most recently, it made Rand McNally’s Best of the Road list. Home to around 13,000 people, Kewanee’s picturesque downtown is dotted with colorful murals that celebrate both civic and national pride. And the pride doesn’t stop there. Annual events like a car show and an Independence Day celebration are popular amongst families from all around the region. The town is well-known for its good cheer and genuine courtesy, while community service projects are widespread and a common pastime for many of Kewanee’s residents.

15. Orinda, California

Orinda, California is a small town nestled between the much bigger cities of Oakland and Walnut Creek. Despite this, and despite sitting just across the Bay from San Francisco, little Orinda has solidified itself as a go-to for a variety of family-friendly events. Holidays and festivals are a big deal in this picturesque town, and include the Orinda Film Festival, the California Shakespeare Theater, and an annual 4th of July celebration that begins with a pancake breakfast in the morning and ends with one of the Bay Area’s best fireworks shows. Neighbors in Orinda have also been known to organize town-wide pumpkin carving contests and wine-and-cheese parties as well.

16. Sammamish, Washington

Thanks to a healthy economy, the small town of Sammamish, Washington is a friendly small town known for its family-oriented community. Indeed, the town’s official motto is “Building Community Together.” Here, children play in the cul-de-sacs and walk to school, and neighbors swap recipes and organize clubs and play dates. The town hosts a number of regularly scheduled events, including the Sammamish Days and Nights Jazz Music Festival, Shakespeare in the Park, and an annual Arts Fair. Starbucks, Costco, and Microsoft are all headquartered here, and Sammamish credits the existence of these corporations for its friendly reputation, minuscule unemployment rate, and a crime rate that is nearly 90% lower than the national average.

17. Santa Claus, Indiana

Tiny Santa Claus, Indiana practically has friendliness built right into its name — what’s friendlier than Santa Claus? Just as one might expect from its name, Santa Claus really embraces the whole Christmas theme. People come from all over the Midwest to take part in the many Christmas traditions, visit the Christmas shops, and ride the roller coasters at Holiday World (consistently ranked the cleanest amusement park in the world, by the way). But that’s not even the best part. Beginning just after Thanksgiving, thousands of children from around the country send letters to Santa Claus addressed to the local post office. Santa Claus residents then respond as elves to each and every letter.

18. Seal Beach, California

Located only a few miles, but seemingly a world away, from the glitz of Los Angeles, Seal Beach is a small seaside paradise known for its laid-back atmosphere and inviting community spirit. Seal Beach’s Main Street attracts locals and tourists alike, and is lined with pubs, restaurants, and seashell shops. The classic wooden pier and the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge are two more popular places to spend an idyllic evening or weekend. Nearly 75% of Seal Beach residents own their homes, and if you want in, you’ll have to be patient as homes aren’t listed for sale very often. During the winter, the whole town gathers for the annual Seal Beach Christmas Tree lighting, during which residents participate in a parade and real snow is generated.

19. Walla Walla, Washington

Located in the southeastern corner of Washington, Walla Walla is surrounded by golden wheat fields, plentiful vineyards, a backdrop of the Blue Mountains, and the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Though the surrounding wine region has spurred a big boost in popularity in recent years, Walla Walla has retained its small-town charm and atmosphere. Every Saturday morning, neighbors head to Main Street for a stroll down through the Saturday Farmer’s Market. The downtown has been revitalized over the course of the last decade, and the community does much to embrace its wide range of shopping, art galleries, wineries, and restaurants. And thanks to southern Washington’s gorgeous natural settings, recreational activities are a popular way for Walla Walla neighbors to enjoy each others‘ company while spending time outdoors.

20. Westerville, Ohio

Located in the suburbs of Columbus, Westerville, Ohio has been equated to the television show Cheers because it’s a place where “everybody knows your name.” The Westerville town planners seem to have known what they were doing; roughly 40 parks and the impressive Westerville Community Center (complete with a track, gymnasium, pool, and climbing wall) offer families and friends plenty of opportunity to enjoy each others’ company. On the evening of every month’s fourth Friday, local businesses and residents head to the main streets to enjoy sidewalk sales. A number of other community-wide events are sponsored by Otterbein University, the local liberal arts college. Finally, some credit for Westerville’s friendly and inviting nature must be given to the town’s solid infrastructure. A local resource ministry actively collects food to help families in need, while crime is nearly nonexistent due to community engagement, neighborhood block watches, and participation in National Night Out.