MONEY’S Best Places to Live in America

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MONEY’S BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN AMERICA

This year we rank the 50 best small cities in the country—places with great jobs, strong economies, affordable homes, excellent schools, and that special something that makes it a great place to live. Just ask the Wilson family of No. 1 Apex, N.C.

 

 

The Apex Farmers Market in downtown Apex, NC. Ackerman + Gruber

1. APEX, N.C.

Population 42,150

Median Income $88,558

Job Growth 15.5%

Median Home Price $243,125

Property Tax $2,448

Apex has all the things you’d expect in the No. 1 place to live: a charming downtown, top-notch schools, and the kind of community spirit that draws 15,000 people, or more than a third of the population, to the annual PeakFest street fair. It also has something else: high-paying tech-industry jobs that help make the quality of life here second to none. And unlike that other technology hub on the West Coast, Apex is still affordable. A three-bedroom home costs an average of $265,000, vs. more than $1 million for a comparable house in Silicon Valley.

The engine powering the local job market is Raleigh’s 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park, 18 miles away. More than 200 companies, including IBM, Cisco, and pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, have offices there and employ upwards of 50,000 workers.

So strong is the pull of area jobs that Stan and Portia Wilson, 52 and 48, relocated their family of five here from Tyler, Texas, in 2010 without work lined up. “We moved on a leap of faith,” says Stan, who is now a salesman at Johnson & Johnson; Portia is an elementary school teacher.

Proximity to the tech hub also gives a boost to the local schools, already among the state’s best. Apex High School offers the Academy of Information Technology, a four-year program that exposes students to the IT field through coursework and internships. When she took part, the Wilsons’ oldest daughter, Paris, now 18, learned coding and software management.

With so many attractive qualities, Apex has seen its population double since 2000. The town has taken steps to address the rapid growth, including a new toll road that cut the commute time to Research Triangle in half, to 20 minutes. And the just-opened Apex Friendship High School, with cutting-edge technology like 70-inch monitors in every classroom and 3-D printers, relieves overcrowding at Apex High.

The community has also managed to retain its close-knit vibe, even as the population has grown, with events like a weekly farmers’ market and an annual jazz festival. “We do a lot with our neighbors,” says Jeisa Pelet, 31, who moved from Boston in 2013 with husband Alex Torres, 34. “It makes for a nice environment to raise a family.” — Daniel Bortz

 

<p>People at Sumtur Amphitheater in Papillion, Neb.</p>Ryan Donnell

2. PAPILLION, NEB.

Population 20,166

Median Income $75,440

Job Growth 10.2%

Median Home Price $159,788

Property Tax $3,443

Two years ago, Papillion’s sleepy downtown was just about the only thing that kept it from taking one of the top spots on our list. This year is a different story. Along with the virtues that have led Papillion to five previous appearances in the top 10—great schools, good jobs, wallet-friendly housing—it now has a downtown teeming with fresh energy.

Newcomers to the area include specialty market Northwoods Cheese Haus and Twisted Vine, a wine and painting studio that Bill and Cara Ehegartner opened in 2014 in a former hardware store. Nearby, the century-old Bell Building houses local artisans and boutiques. Bill Ehegartner partners with the two-year-old Historic Downtown Papillion Business Association to organize events, such as a regular wine-tasting walk involving a dozen local merchants. The biggest local happening, though, is still the annual Papillion Days festival, now in its 68th year, which draws a crowd more than double the town’s population.

Papillion has amped up beyond downtown as well. A new promoter is luring bigger acts like Third Eye Blind to Sumtur Amphitheater, the city’s outdoor performance venue, and the recently opened Midlands Place shopping center ushered in more dining options, including a stone-fired pizza joint and a French bakery.

Nine traffic-free miles away are all the amenities of Omaha. Commuters have an easy time getting to the city, which is home to five Fortune 500 companies. But residents don’t need to leave Papillion for jobs. SAC Federal Credit Union and Black Hills Energy are large employers, and Fidelity Investments ­recently opened a $200 million data center.

Kathy Crews, 45, and her husband, Dennis, 48, a U.S. Navy captain, landed in Papillion last year after a search for a family-friendly town in which to raise their kids, Kaylie, 12, and Bo, 10. A $365,000 budget bought them far more space than they could fathom after four years of apartment dwelling in Germany. “We have our own home gym, a theater room, and a huge fenced-in backyard,” says Kathy. “We will not outgrow this house.”

The way Papillion is changing, they’re not likely to outgrow their new hometown either. — Veronica Crews

 

<p>Sailboats on Lake Massapoag. Pat Molnar</p>

3. SHARON, MASS.

Population 18,178

Median Income $125,805

Job Growth 5.4%

Median Home Price $450,856

Property Tax $8,664

The number of people who live in Sharon hasn’t varied much in the past decade. But the town’s growing ethnic and religious diversity has changed the face of this onetime summer resort. Home to nine churches, seven synagogues, and one of New England’s largest mosques, the small-town melting pot has a burgeoning Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani population, as well as the state’s highest proportion of residents of Russian descent.

So many newcomers could make for a fractious mix, but the people of Sharon have embraced the work of community building. “It’s important not only to recognize and appreciate the diversity, but to learn how we can come together and engage when we don’t know each other,” says Beth Hoke, board president of the Sharon Pluralism Network. The coalition of community groups conducts workshops for residents and town workers and has developed an “awareness protocol” to educate people about the different customs and practices of neighbors.

What’s bringing all these far-flung folks to Sharon? Terrific schools, for one. The high school is among the top 10 in the state; two-thirds of students take AP exams. That was the main draw for Gang Xu, 40, who works for an insurance company, and Feixue Tang, 39, an actuary. They moved here this year from Rhode Island with their two young sons. “We knew there was a great public school system. That was the No. 1 factor for us,” says Xu.

They also liked that compared with closer-in Boston burbs, Sharon offered larger, newer homes for the same money. With an average three-bedroom listing price of $540,000 and relatively high property taxes, housing here is by no means cheap. But as residents see it, you get what you pay for, including a strategic location between large job hubs in Boston and Providence, about 30 minutes away by train, and access to the Route 128 tech corridor.

You don’t have to travel far for outdoor recreation either, such as hiking at the 2,000-acre Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary or swimming and boating in 353-acre Lake Massapoag. Farmland rings the edges of town, making it convenient to stock up on fresh produce at Ward’s Berry Farm or enjoy a cone at Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar, hailed by Food & Wine as one of the best ice cream spots in America. —Adam Bluestein

RELATED-->>Get a copy of Living Rich by Mark Ford HERE!

 

People enjoying dinner in downtown Louisville, Colo. MaryLynn Gillaspie/Louisville Do

4. LOUISVILLE, COLO.

Population 20,075

Median Income $88,877

Job Growth 10.1%

Median Home Price $427,925

Property Tax $2,484

Smack in the middle of the job-rich corridor between Denver and Boulder, Louisville has great weather, good schools, and the Rockies right out the back door. But its popularity comes at a price: A nice three-bedroom home sells for $500,000—if you can find one.

Louisville is tackling its growth challenges head-on, with improvements designed to accommodate an increasing population while preserving the open spaces that people love. Those include steps to ease traffic carrying workers to the tech companies along Highway 36, the main ­Boulder–Denver route, and adding more commuter buses to the two big cities. (There are employers in town too, including Sierra Nevada’s Space Systems unit and bike accessory maker Pearl ­Izumi’s U.S. headquarters.)

Louisville is also expanding its downtown district, building a mix of affordable housing and ­empty-nester condos while repurposing existing buildings. One highlight: the 110-year-old grain elevator at the heart of a new restaurant/retail center. – Vanessa Richardson

 

People playing soccer in a neighborhood park in Snoqualmie, Wash. Joan Pliego/Courtesy of the City of Snoqualmie

5. SNOQUALMIE, WASH.

Population 11,268

Median Income $122,004

Job Growth 10.7%

Median Home Price $467,475

Property Tax $4,639

This stunning spot near the Cascades has long been known for Snoqualmie Falls, a symbol of the natural beauty that surrounds the onetime timber and railroad town. These days Snoqualmie is getting traction for other reasons: top-ranked schools, a superb network of bike paths, and residential cul-de-sacs teeming with kids (more than a third of locals are under 18).

The shift began nearly two decades ago with the development of Snoqualmie Ridge, a planned community a few miles from downtown. Today the Ridge is home to 85% of the city’s population and a host of amenities, including a shopping district, office park, library, and community center. Improvements throughout town have followed: a beautification project in the historic district, a new hospital, and an extensive renovation of the only high school.

The changes helped land Snoqualmie in our top 10 for the first time. It’s the perfect home base for Cisco Systems engineer and avid mountaineer Brian Dickinson, 41, and his family. “When we moved here,” wife JoAnna, 40, says, “I don’t think we even realized what a gem this place is.” — Sarah Max

 

Vineyard in Sherwood, Ore. Dave Lauridsen

6. SHERWOOD, ORE.

Population 17,813

Median Income $79,374

Job Growth 12.5%

Median Home Price $304,113

Property Tax $4,060

Tucked between suburban Portland and Oregon’s acclaimed wine country, Sherwood has fantastic schools, affordable homes, and strong job opportunities. With major employers like Nike and Intel in the area, the job market is projected to grow 13% in the next five years.

But what makes tiny Sherwood a standout among towns its size is its robust arts scene. In May the city unveiled the 15,000-square-foot Sherwood Center for the Arts, which houses a gallery, classes, and performances. The school district, meanwhile, has bucked the national trend of slashing funding for visual- and performing-arts programs.

“There are so many opportunities for people of any age group to get involved,” says Kristine Mul­key, who along with her ­husband, Greg, and daughters Jessica, 15, and Sophia, 12, participates in the annual Robin Hood Festival. The 62-year-old summer event draws thousands for a weekend of music and medieval-themed acts. — Sarah Max

RELATED-->>Get a copy of Living Rich by Mark Ford HERE!

 

Parade in Chanhassen, Minn. Ackerman + Gruber

7. CHANHASSEN, MINN.

Population 24,671

Median Income $103,524

Job Growth 9.5%

Median Home Price $283,438

Property Tax $4,666

Though it’s less than 30 minutes from Minneapolis, small-town vibes define this Minnesota burb. Win or lose, locals fill the stands at Chanhassen High School games, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan than the mayor, who also moonlights as the game-time announcer.

Drive into “Chan” and you’ll immediately notice the wide swaths of open space that distinguish it from denser nearby towns. Twelve lakes, five beaches, and 90 miles of trails are highlights, as is the 1,200-acre Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

A host of smaller green spaces helps the town reach its goal of having a park within a half-mile of every front door.

Homes are affordable for the area, and there are plenty of good jobs nearby. Engineering technology company Emerson is adding to its Chanhassen workforce, and several Fortune 500 members, including General Mills and UnitedHealth Group, have headquarters in other western suburbs.

While there’s plenty to do in town—Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is a local institution—proximity to the big city is key for many. Among them: J.J. Slygh, 40, and his wife, Lana, 34, who moved in three years ago. They can spend the day with the kids at T-ball and the playground, J.J. says, “but we’re still close enough to go downtown for dinner.” — Veronica Crews

 

Families enjoy an outdoor dinner at a food truck in Old Town Coppell. Courtesy of the City of Coppell

8. COPPELL, TEXAS

Population 40,861

Median Income $109,127

Job Growth 12.2%

Median Home Price $327,943

Property Tax $7,605

Coppell has made a virtue of concrete. The ring of freeways that surrounds the town also shields it from Dallas’s sprawl, which means Coppell has been able to carve out a unique identity—no mean feat here—and close-knit community. Ice cream socials, outdoor concerts, and block parties fuel the small-town pride, as does Coppell High School, an academic standout whose sports teams and marching band routinely make the finals of state championships.

Last year a downtown revitalization project brought much-needed walkability—and a boost up our list, from No. 32 in 2013. Construction is still underway, but a town square, complete with a pavilion, playground, and splash pad, buzzes with activity, especially during the Saturday farmers’ market. Houses and eateries line the perimeter, with two more restaurants on the way. New buildings in Prairie style match the original 1900-era architecture.

Those freeways also give residents easy access to the airport (a 10-minute drive) and the big cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Still, Coppell has its own job base: The headquarters of the Container Store and AAA Texas are here, as well as an Amazon fulfillment center.

Vieven Moore, 48, a New York transplant who’s been a resident for 14 years, sums up what makes the place special: “Coppell has the benefits of Southern hospitality with a cosmopolitan flair.” — Veronica Crews

 

People boating on the Farmington River in Simsbury, Conn. Rich Wagner/Courtesy of Simsbury/©Imagine it Framed

9. SIMSBURY, CONN.

Population 23,767

Median Income $115,784

Job Growth 5.4%

Median Home Price $289,813

Property Tax $7,592

Simsbury locals will tell you that premier public schools are the main draw to this quiet colonial village nestled in Connecticut’s Farmington Valley. A recent report on international education showed that students scored above average in every test category. Almost 75% of high school seniors complete at least one ­college-level course, and 93% of graduates pursue higher education.

Simsbury’s kids aren’t just book smart. They’re active in sports, the arts, and often both, says Manuela Hanshaw, co-president of Simsbury Friends for Music.

The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation named Simsbury one of the nation’s best communities for ­music education.

Many residents make the 25-minute commute to Hartford, where jobs in finance and insurance keep the town’s unemployment rate well below the national average. To unwind, they can take in a show at the impressive outdoor performing-arts center, host to artists like Willie Nelson and The Temptations, or bike on the 84-mile Farmington Canal Heritage Trail as it weaves through town along the Farmington River.

One downside: With all these perks, residents pay a premium in property taxes. — Michaela Ross

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Solon, Ohio. Courtesy of the City of Solon/2014 Roger Mastroianni

10. SOLON, OHIO

Population 24,472

Median Income $98,026

Job Growth 4.9%

Median Home Price $245,056

Property Tax $6,313

On a typical weekday morning, it seems that as many cars make the rush-hour drive into Solon as those doing the 30-minute commute to downtown Cleveland. Among the 800-plus local businesses are divisions of the Cleveland Clinic and Nestlé and the world headquarters of Swagelok, maker of components for gas and fluid systems. The chamber of commerce aims to lure more businesses with tax breaks and job-creation grants.

Both the city and schools are working to teach students skills that could land them a job at one of those local businesses. A Young Innovators Society inspires kids from kindergarten on up to get into STEM fields, and a “Minnow Tank” contest for junior entrepreneurs will make its debut in January.

That doesn’t mean Solon is all work, no play. The town, which already has a popular community ­orchestra, just launched a band, and there are plenty of parks, trails, and riverside green spaces where locals can go to kick back. – Vanessa Richardson

 

Parade in Acton, Mass. Courtesy of Acton

11. ACTON, MASS.

Population 23,197

Median Income $116,662

Job Growth 7.5%

Median Home Price $462,000

Property Tax $8,284

This diverse community offers natural beauty, open space, and great schools. The Acton-Boxborough Regional High School is ranked #20 in the state and #12 in STEM education, with 30% minority enrollment. Acton has become a big draw for Indian and Chinese families, who help account for the town’s nearly 20% Asian population. The Acton Chinese Language School offers classes in language and culture (including tutoring for the AP Chinese exam) that are open to the whole community.

Compared to closer-in Boston suburbs, Acton offers room to breathe and space to roam — in and around Nagog Lake, the Acton Arboretum, Nashoba Ski Area, the Acton Discovery Museum, and more than 1,600 acres of conserved land. The commuter train into Boston takes about 50 minutes; it’s a half hour drive to the tech and life sciences companies along the Route 128 corridor. Cisco Systems is the largest nearby employer, in next-door Boxborough.

There’s a price for all that Acton offers: Though home prices are still slightly below their 2005 peak, multiple offers are common and a starter three-bedroom home goes for a half a million dollars. Buyers with $700,000 or more to spend have a choice of spacious Colonials or newer construction homes on roomy, often wooded, lots. —Adam Bluestein

 

Robert Trail Library in Rosemount, Minn. Courtesy of Rosemount

12. ROSEMOUNT, MINN.

Population 22,787

Median Income $83,964

Job Growth 6%

Median Home Price $222,315

Property Tax $2,930

About 30 minutes outside of the Twin Cities, Rosemount boasts affordable homes and a small-town vibe. The volunteer-driven Leprechaun Days is an annual 10-day summertime festival with events ranging from outdoor concerts to the more eclectic bathtub races. Community gardens in five of the town’s 27 parks are highlights, as is the year-old sports field complex that draws crowds for kids’ matches.

Rosemount’s downtown sprang up around a 19th-century grain elevator, still operational today. A handful of local shops and restaurants call downtown home, including Morning Glory’s Bakery Café, and the town’s library, recreation center, and popular splash pad, which opened just last year, are right nearby.

While there aren’t lots of jobs within the town’s limits, Sweet Harvest Foods moved its headquarters to town this year, and Thompson Reuters has a 7,000-employee campus in neighboring Eagan. The commuter bus line also expanded its express service to Minneapolis last year.— Veronica Crews

 

Softball game in Erie, Colo. Courtesy of Erie

13. ERIE, COLO.

Population 20,970

Median Income $102,490

Job Growth 14.4%

Median Home Price $361,700

Property Tax $2,850

Erie is sitting pretty—30 minutes from Denver and the international airport and just 15 minutes east of Boulder, it’s in a perfect spot for workers wanting an easy commute to major employers like the University of Colorado and IBM. With the Rocky Mountains within view, it’s a short drive to world-class hiking and skiing. While the former coal mining town is still small, it has some big numbers: 56% of residents have college degrees, and the median household income is upwards of $100,000.

The steady stream of out-of-towners moving in find plenty to enjoy in Erie. The town has built a 20,000-square-foot library and a state-of-the-art community center, complete with a 32-foot climbing wall, and a two-story pool slide that lands in a splash tank. Housing developments are springing up like crazy, but the lack of big retailers means one still must drive outside of town for shopping. Still, Erie aims to keep its small-town feel with numerous events year-round, from the Air Fair at the airport to the Brewfest downtown.— Vanessa Richardson

 

Golf course in Westborough, Mass. Courtesy of Westborough

14. WESTBOROUGH, MASS.

Population 18,898

Median Income $99,394

Job Growth 5.2%

Median Home Price $369,775

Property Tax $7,603

Go West, young family! With a median single-family home price under $400,000, Westborough offers an outpost of affordability in the greater Boston area. Although it’s 30 miles outside the city, Westborough’s proximity to the Massachusetts Turnpike puts commuters on the path of least resistance into Cambridge and Boston — 45 minutes to an hour or so in heavy traffic. The journey by train takes over an hour.

There are good jobs closer to home too. Large employers in town include BJ’s Wholesale Club, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, and Integrated Genetics — and next-door Worcester has numerous large employers in technology, life sciences, financial services, and health care, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Medical Center.

There’s not a ton going on after dark in this sleepy town of about 18,000, but during daylight hours, residents get outside on extensive conservation lands protected by the Westborough Community Land Trust and in the 427-acre Westboro Wildlife Management Area (where hikers and bikers share the land with hunters). The public school ranks high in statewide comparisons, with 20% minority enrollment (majority Asian), and nearly a 99% graduation rate. Parents here are smart, too — 57% of adult residents have a higher-education degree, among the highest rates in a smart state.— Adam Bluestein

 

People playing miniature golf in Edina, Minn. Courtesy City of Edina

15. EDINA, MINN.

Population 49,789

Median Income $87,162

Job Growth 7.6%

Median Home Price $396,310

Property Tax $4,880

Top-notch schools, a thriving job market, and easy access to Minneapolis make this inner-ring suburb a desirable place to live. The bustling downtown at 50th and France is home to nearly 200 businesses and restaurants. Plus, it hosts the state’s second-largest art fair each summer, as well as community events like the Pumpkin Fest.

Edina hasn’t skimped on green space either. This town has 40 parks, and Centennial Lakes Park is a highlight with paddle boats and lawn bowling. Open in the summertime, the Edina Aquatic Center boasts pirate-themed rides and a surf simulator, and once the cold rolls in, 12 outdoor ice rinks are unveiled for the season.

All of these perks don’t come cheap though; the median home price here is well above average for Minneapolis. Luckily, there are plenty of good jobs in the area, ranging from retailers like Target and Best Buy to U.S. Bancorp (all headquartered nearby), and healthcare keeps many employed within the town’s limits.— Veronica Crews

 

Silhouette of people and windmill in Johnston, Iowa. Courtesy of Johnston, Iowa

16. JOHNSTON, IOWA

Population 20,126

Median Income $89,956

Job Growth 5.7%

Median Home Price $218,563

Property Tax $4,865

This Des Moines suburb got its name from John F. Johnston, a station agent for an early 1900s railroad that crossed Des Moines from southeast to northwest, stopping in Johnston along the way. But today Johnston is more than just a stopping point: it’s a place to settle.

Johnston made MONEY’s Best Places list for the second time notably because of its award-winning schools, which consistently tout some of the highest levels of student proficiency and high school graduation in the state; in 2010, President Obama’s National Teacher of the Year was a Johnston Senior High School English teacher. Along with a low cost of living in the town’s tree-lined neighborhoods, a high median household income, a seventeen-minute commute to Des Moines, and Camp Dodge—the home of Iowa’s national guard—Johnston’s schools have helped the town to double its population since 2000.

Adjacent to Saylorville Lake and bisected by Beaver Creek, Johnston also boasts major green space and over 35 miles of trails. Residents can camp, picnic, and ride bikes along the Saylorville Dam. The city has also recently begun the $5.4 million development of a new local park—to include an 8-acre fishing lake and pier, playgrounds, and a concert lawn.

And while Iowa winters are known to be chilly, Johnston’s warmer months are big for town togetherness. May marks an annual kite festival and farmers’ market; June brings Green Days, a three day summer festival outside the local library; July bring Jazz in July to town; and come fall, it’s Friday night football season for the Dragons.— Katy Osborn

 

Main Street Sweets in Mason, Ohio. Allie Ellis

17. MASON, OHIO

Population 32,273

Median Income $83,892

Job Growth 11.2%

Median Home Price $175,550

Property Tax $4,006

Mayor David Nichols, former CEO of a publicly-traded manufacturing company, continues his great track record of luring big employers and quality jobs to this suburb north of Cincinnati. Procter & Gamble, which has its beauty and healthcare division here, announced it’s adding 1,400 R&D jobs, and Festo, the German maker of high-tech automation products, is moving most of its U.S. manufacturing to Mason from New York.

The job mix attracts a workforce from all over, and that diversity shows up in Mason’s schools — 27% of students are nonwhite. With more than 3,300 students, Mason High School is the largest in Ohio, but its “bigger is better” approach (67 athletic teams and 80 extracurricular clubs) has consistently landed it in the state’s Top 10 of academic ratings. The schools’ latest boast: The high school’s jazz band will be playing in the Rose Bowl parade in January.

Strip malls and big-box retailers are the norm, but residents regularly flock to what seems to be Mason’s true hub, the 199,000-square-foot community center, one of the state’s largest public facilities.—Vanessa Richardson

 

Draper, Utah. Courtesy of Draper, Utah

18. DRAPER, UTAH

Population 45,356

Median Income $90,950

Job Growth 11%

Median Home Price $347,753

Property Tax $2,894

Once a sleepy farming community, Draper is now a densely populated suburban boomtown at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. Its setting is a major part of the appeal. The mountains provide outstanding backyard decor and, at night, an LDS temple is illuminated in the foothills.

Light rail arrived in 2013, linking Draper to the Salt Lake Valley. The state capitol, Salt Lake City, is only 19 miles away. But many residents don’t have to go far for work: the area is a growing tech hub. Draper is home to a new eBay facility that opened in 2013 with 1,800 employees. Adobe’s architecturally stunning Utah office, with more than 900 employees, opened in nearby Lehi in 2012.

Though longtime residents say the city has lost its small town feel, annual community events like the Easter egg hunt bring people together.

Utah’s Prison Relocation Commission recently voted to move the state prison from Draper to a location near Salt Lake City International Airport. The state legislature and governor must still approve the decision but the prison site is being eyed for business development.— Julia Lyon

 

Roy Lichtenstein America's Cup Boat at Storm King Art Center, NY. Jenny Acheson/Design Pics/Corbis

19. WOODBURY, N.Y.

Population 10,765

Median Income $111,342

Job Growth 5.5%

Median Home Price $252,500

Property Tax $11,793

Woodbury, New York may be best known for the 200+ store luxury outlet mall Woodbury Common– one of the largest in the world – on its outskirts. But keep driving deeper into its series of wooded hamlets 1 ½ hours from New York City and you’ll discover a family-friendly town with a rustic feel.

Woodbury stands out for its educational strength, with students consistently scoring above both state and national averages on standardized testing. The town is also recognized by the National Association of Music Merchants as a “Best Community for Music Education” – a designation given to less than 400 districts nationwide.

Outdoor lovers will feel at home here too: Woodbury’s expansive parks, pool and reservoir offer residents a variety of water sports and boating activities surrounded by forested areas and mountain views. Green hillsides around the town are also dotted with wineries – including the oldest operating winery in the country.

Just a few miles away on the Hudson River, visitors can tour the United States Military Academy at West Point. Another notable stop nearby is the Storm King Art Center. This world-famous outdoor modern sculpture garden, which features works from Richard Serra and Roy Lichtenstein, is surrounded by rolling hills and adjacent to Schunnemunck Mountain State Park.

One notable Woodbury resident: Charles Rushmore, who lent his name to the famous presidential monument, Mount Rushmore. Charles was a frequent South Dakota visitor and a prominent New York City attorney, who the city proudly touts as one of its first commuters.

Unfortunately long commute times – clocking in at an average of 40 minutes compared to the national average of 25 – are a downside to living in this area. And property taxes soar to almost triple the average of other small towns on our list. Still, the combination of world-class amenities and small-town living helped rank Woodbury on MONEY’s list for the first time in 2015. One downside: With all these perks, residents pay a premium in property taxes. — Michaela Ross

 

Sports complex in Hewitt, Texas. Bradley Turner

20. HEWITT, TEXAS

Population 13,926

Median Income $69,937

Job Growth 7.1%

Median Home Price $144,168

Property Tax $3,568

Not only is Hewitt, Texas one of the safest towns on this year’s list, but it stands out for being one of the truly most affordable places to live as well. Hewitt ranks first on MONEY’s list of 5 Great Places to Stretch a Dollar and second on the list of Five Best Places For Affordable Homes (the median home price is an impressive $144,168, well below the national average of $207,995). While the $69,937 median household income is lower than the national average of $74,364, average property taxes here are $3,568.

The town is no stranger to MONEY’s list, though it’s climbed significantly higher in the rankings since its last appearance at #46 in 2009 (it was also ranked #44 in 2007). Located just outside of Waco, residents of Hewitt benefit from the larger city’s museums, parks, wineries, and other attractions without losing the small town charm.

Hewitt is investing heavily in its parks system and public buildings. Construction is underway for a new amphitheater, which community leaders plan to use for outdoor concerts and a venue for weddings. The town also broke ground on a new joint city hall and library earlier this year, with construction expected to be completed by 2016. — Alicia Adamczyk

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