Smithsonian magazine May cover

Smithsonian Magazine Selects the Top 20 Small Towns in America

Smithsonian May 2012 coverThink you can’t find a big city social scene in a small town? Think again, says Smithsonian magazine. Its 20 best small towns earned high marks for having a lot to offer.

To enjoy the perks of small-town living, it’s commonly assumed, you’ve got to sacrifice the cultural entertainment, fine dining and upscale shopping that comes with bright lights and big cities.

But if you’re really anxious to ditch the hustle and bustle, you won’t have to give up as much as you might think, according to a Smithsonian magazine ranking of the top 20 best small towns in America.

Its May issue set out to uncover the best towns of population 25,000 or less that featured plenty of cultural identity—a flair for the arts, local charm, a picturesque natural setting.

To begin, the magazine partnered with database company Esri to determine those cities in the contiguous United States that had high concentrations of museums, gardens, symphonies, historic sites and the like.

Using this information helped Smithsonian rank the 20 small towns that had a big city feel in terms of their cultural amenities. And that, concluded the editors, “reinforces the truth that big cities and grand institutions per se don’t produce creative works; individuals do.”

Many cities on the list boast attractions like zoos, museums, orchestras and long-standing events like film festivals. Others experienced something of a revival at some point in their history due to supporting the arts in their communities.

Familiar names on the list include Naples, Fla., a popular destination among snowbirds, retirees and tourists, and Key West, Fla., home at one time to both Earnest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams—not to mention it’s the southernmost point in the United States.

College towns Princeton, N.J. and Oxford, Miss., made the grade. The Ivy League university features a world-class collection of Chinese art and a renowned theatre center on campus that’s also open to local residents.

As for Oxford, there’s more to the Southern college town than SEC football and tailgating on The Grove. The imprint of native William Faulkner is indelible on the quaint city, between Rowan Oak, his former home-turned-museum, book festivals and multiple independent bookstores.

The complete list is below:

1. Great Barrington, Mass.
2. Taos, N.M.
3. Red Bank, N.J.
4. Mill Valley, Calif.
5. Gig Harbor, Wash.
6. Durango, Colo.
7. Butler, Penn.
8. Marfa, Texas
9. Naples, Fla.
10. Staunton, Va.
11. Brattleboro, Vt.
12. Princeton, N.J.
13. Brunswick, Maine
14. Siloam Springs, Ark.
15. Menomonie, Wisc.
16. Key West, Fla.
17. Laguna Beach, Calif.
18. Ashland, Ore.
19. Tamarack, W.Va.
20. Oxford, Miss.