America's 10 Coolest Small Towns

Budget Travel
Downtown Livingston, Mont.

Walter Bibikow/Age Fotostock

Port Jervis, N.Y.

Population: 9,161
Nearest City: New York, 93 miles


Priced out of New York City by rising rents, many artists and shopkeepers are moving to this old railroad and canal hub on the Delaware River. "You can own a house with real character at a price that's unheard of downstate," says Mark Washburn, who opened an arts and crafts furniture store, Bungalow Antiques & Unusuals, with his partner, Billy Stephens, last year. Cheap commercial real estate also attracted Gordon Graff and Debbie Raia. They started a gallery, UpFront Exhibition Space, four months ago to showcase the works of emerging artists and to host poetry and short-story readings. The couple also owns Twenty Seven Gallery, an antiques store up the street. Visitors can stay at the 1880s Erie Hotel, which has nine single rooms. The best dining option is Restaurant at 20 Front, housed in a neoclassical former bank. Chef Daniel Weber cooks American dishes like chorizo-stuffed pork chops and butternut squash risotto. — Karen Tina Harrison


Manitou Springs, Colo.

Population: 5,038
Nearest City: Colorado Springs 6 miles

One of the things Fred Mutter loves most about Manitou Springs, where he relocated three years ago, is that its residents come from all walks of life. "There's a huge range of people who live here, from scientists and businessmen to new-age hippies," he says. "It's really an eclectic group." His store fits right in: Kinfolks Mountain Shop sells outdoor gear, but it's also a bar and live-music venue. In fact, you won't find any chain stores in the Victorian-era buildings crammed into the narrow valley at the foot of Pikes Peak. WeUsOur Artists Market has unusual art on display, such as giant pottery teapots and portraits painted with coffee, while Cripple Creek Dulcimers & Guitars is run by a tie-dye-wearing former mayor, Bud Ford, who bears a striking resemblance to the late Jerry Garcia. At The Maté Factor café, wraps of hormone-free turkey share the menu with maté, a beverage popular in South America. Last year, the town's 19th-century former bathhouse was renovated into lofts and a restaurant, Adam's Mountain Café, which offers a hodgepodge of cuisines, including African, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian. — Sharlene Johnson


Yellow Springs, Ohio

Population: 3,675
Nearest City: Dayton, 21 miles

Yellow Springs has been a beacon for artists, activists, and creative thinkers since progressive Antioch College opened in 1852. "You can breathe here and feel very comfortable expressing yourself," says Kim Korkan, co-owner of The Winds Cafe & Bakery, which serves dishes using ingredients mostly from local farms. Although the college was forced to close this summer because of financial problems, Yellow Springs is thriving: The main drag, Xenia Avenue, is lined with shops, cafés, restaurants, and galleries. No Common Scents sells more than 250 varieties of herbs and spices from across the globe, and Clemente Ullmer's shop, La Llama Place, is stocked with crafts from South America. Across town, the Yellow Springs Dharma Center, a Buddhist retreat draped in Tibetan prayer flags, holds meditation and chanting sessions. Public art has taken on a new meaning in the town, as well. One day, knitting appeared wrapped around a tree downtown, and soon passersby were bringing yarn to add to it. Now, the signposts up and down Xenia Avenue are covered with knitted "graffiti." — Peter Mandel


Mazomanie, Wis.

Population: 1,522
Nearest City: Madison, Wis., 24 miles

"I got tired of driving through a ghost town," says Bob Brumley when asked why he founded his artists' co-op, the Iron Horse Gallery. The co-op began in 2006 with five artists and now has 18 — as well as a café, A Better Buzz. Mazo (may-zoh) is chockablock with artists, many of whom were drawn here by the historic down­town and cheap real estate. "You can't swing a stick in these hills without hitting an artist," says Brumley. Along with galleries, Mazo boasts the Mazomanie Historic Arts Center and Mazomanie Movement Arts Center, a dance studio with a circus camp. Even the Wall Street Gallery & Bistro exhibits artwork. But there's more to life than art. You can buy Wisconsin-made souvenirs at Walter's General Store; stay at the Walking Iron B&B, an 1865 Italianate house; and rent bicycles at ProCycle. — Erik Torkells


Point Reyes Station, Calif.

Population: 818
Nearest City: San Francisco, 39 miles

The dilemma in Point Reyes Station is what to do first: explore Point Reyes National Seashore or just wander around and eat. At Toby's Feed Barn, second-generation owner Christian Giacomini runs a farmers market, gallery, and yoga studio, while still selling hay and salt licks. Also inside, the baristas at Toby's CoffeeBar pour cappuccinos with rippled hearts in the foam. Nearby, Cowgirl Creamery produces excellent soft-ripened cheeses, such as the Pierce Point, which is made from organic whole milk, washed in organic Riesling, and rolled in herbs. When you're ready to experience some nature, Chicago native Laurie Manarik leads hiking trips to see seal pups and conducts nighttime kayaking excursions to check out bioluminescence in nearby Tomales Bay. The bay's oysters, it must be said, are the best around. Eat them where locals do—up the road at The Marshall Store. The beautiful scenery may make you want to put down roots. "After my first visit after college, I spent the rest of my life figuring out how to live here," Manarik says. — Scott Hutchins


Belfast, Maine

Population: 6,840
Nearest City: Portland, 102 miles

Shoe factories and a sardine cannery used to be Belfast's lifeblood, and visitors were few. Now, the cheap real estate and relative lack of summer tourists are luring new residents, especially artists. Bob Hansen, a former accountant, was one of the early pioneers when he moved from Dallas 11 years ago to open the White House Bed & Breakfast in an 1840 Greek Revival home. He says the changes in the past several years have been amazing: "Belfast is becoming an artisan enclave, and not just people with paintbrushes — there are jewelry makers, glassblowers, and weavers." At Chase's Daily, Addison and Penny Chase serve vegetarian dishes (like curry fried rice with tofu, squash, corn, and Thai basil) in a space that doubles as a farmers market and an art gallery. Much of the produce comes from the couple's farm. The two-year-old gallery at the Waterfall Arts center specializes in nature-themed pieces such as landscape paintings and sculptures made from hay bales. This being the Maine coast, you'll still see a few lobstermen hauling their traps onto the docks. The best place to sample their catch is at Young's Lobster Pound, where the lines sometimes stretch into the parking lot. — Darrell Hartman


Catskill, N.Y.

Population: 4,340
Nearest City: Albany, 35 miles

Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, was so enamored with the area that he moved to Catskill in the 1830s — his former home and studio is now the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. After a period of neglect in the 1980s and '90s, Catskill is attracting artists again, as much for its affordable Victorian homes as for the surroundings. In 2005, musician Frank Cuthbert turned a crumbling 19th-century building into the Brik Gallery, which hosts exhibits as well as classical-music concerts and readings. Down the street, Argentine artist Dina Bursztyn and her partner, Julie Chase, display their works —some made from river driftwood — at their three-year-old gallery, Open Studio. Another foreign transplant, Israel-born Yael Manor-McMorrow, and her husband, Keith McMorrow, cook an excellent brunch at Bell's Café-Bistro. Catskill's diversity is part of what inspired David Miles to move here to set up his furnishings store, Hood & Company. Well, the town's architecture certainly played a role, too. "When I first turned on Main Street, I fell in love," he says. — Laura MacNeil


Truth or Consequences, N.M.

Population: 7,163
Nearest City: El Paso, Texas, 123 miles

In 1950, Hot Springs renamed itself Truth or Consequences in a publicity stunt to boost tourism. Fame has faded over the years, but the odd name still pays dividends. "When I saw it on the map, I knew I had to check it out," says Susan Morrongiello Koenick, who ended up quitting her job as an art therapist in Washington, D.C., in 2004 to relocate to T or C, as residents like to call it. Koenick's vintage-clothing store, Dust & Glitter, was one of the first businesses to move in downtown. Other places have opened up in recent years, including MoonGoddess, a recycled-textile art shop; Cafe BellaLuca, an Italian restaurant with art exhibits; and Blackstone Hotsprings, a retro motel with mineral baths flowing straight from the 110-degree aquifer. With its wide-open skies, T or C also appeals to space enthusiasts. A spaceport that's being built just outside town will be the future home of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flight program. "At night, you feel like you can touch the stars with your hands," says Tobias Katz, organizer of the annual Truth or Fiction Film Festival. — Zora O'Neill


Livingston, Mont.

Population: 7,062
Nearest City: Bozeman, Mont., 25 miles

"There are a lot of young people here living the good life," says Chad Johnson, co-owner of the club Highsides Brews & Tunes. Like many of the twentysomethings who've moved to Livingston, Johnson was drawn by the low rents (especially compared with nearby Bozeman), the access to incredible nature (Yellowstone is an hour's drive away), and the number of artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers who call the place home. Livingston's writing community is really tight-knit, and authors frequently attend each other's readings at Conley's Books & Music. "With so many writers around, there's always someone you can talk to who knows the business," says author Tim Cahill, who has lived in Livingston since the 1970s. Bands play several nights a week at The Owl Lounge, and western artists show their works at Visions West Gallery. Of course, the good life wouldn't be complete without excellent food. At his 2nd Street Bistro, owner Brian Menges prepares French dishes using Montana ingredients, such as the pork chop stuffed with elk and buffalo. — Nate Schweber


White River Junction, Vt.

Population: 2,569
Nearest City: Manchester, N.H., 76 miles

The long-depressed former railroad hub reinvented itself as an artists' colony several years ago, so the 19th-century storefronts traffic more in quirky than in quaint. The Main Street Museum showcases a collection of oddities that includes gallstones said to be Elvis Presley's, and The Center for Cartoon Studies offers lectures by cartoonists such as Garry Trudeau. The Tip Top building, a former bakery, is home to about 40 artists' studios, the Tip Top Café, and the Cooler Gallery, which exhibits the works of international artists. Over at Revolution, Kim Souza sells espresso and indie-designed and vintage clothes. She's happy the town has maintained a sense of community as it's grown. "The owner of the building across the street asked me what color to paint it, since I'm going to be looking at it," she says. White River Junction also has decent nightlife. You can catch a play by the Northern Stage theater company and then eat dinner to live jazz at Elixir, a lounge in an old freight warehouse. — Meg Lukens Noonan


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