Do you feel like you’re stuck in a small, uninteresting town, or an impersonal large city? Many people need more of a balance where they live, a place with beautiful sites and unique places to go, but without the impersonal feeling or urban sprawl of a big city. Here are some small cities, each with a population under 8,000, that you might find strike the right balance between interesting and personable.
This remote, ski resort town is a gorgeous place to live with clean, crisp air and gorgeous views of the San Juan Mountains. If you enjoy hiking and skiing, you could always visit, but if you can afford it, you might want to live here. Yes, you’ll need to be well off to live in this resort town. Its population is just 2,500, creating a sense of knowing everyone and having a real community. You can enjoy a beer at Telluride Brewing Company, or dine at some of the elegant restaurants like La Marmotte or Rustico Ristorante. This is a great place to live if you want to live away from big cities. Naturally, with the Internet, you’re never truly far from anyone, anyway.
Another beautiful small city, where most residents are in the higher income brackets, Carmel (emphasis on the second syllable) is on the coast in the Monterey Bay, and has a population of 3,800. Clint Eastwood served as mayor of Carmel for one term in the 1980s, and founded the popular Hog’s Breath Inn restaurant. In fact, you’ll find lots of craft stores, gift shops, and restaurants. Walking through Carmel is a delight. In addition, the weather is generally mild, thanks to the area’s temperate climate.
Park City, Utah
You’re probably noticing a common theme among these cities, which is that they are all in scenic areas. Park City, Utah is no different. A ski town like Telluride, Park City is in the Wasatch Mountain Range, known for its many ski resorts. As such, the area sees a lot of tourism in the winter, but residents have plenty to do the rest of the year as well. There are hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails. On top of that, Park City is the home of the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place every January.
Heading into a warmer climate, we come to Bisbee, Arizona, a small city of 5,200 residents just southeast of Tucson. Brisbee was once a copper mining town. While many of the cities on this list are expensive to live in, Brisbee is more affordable, with the average house cost being about $130,000. You can spend some of the money you’ll save in the local shops and galleries.
While warmer than our ski resort towns, Brisbee doesn’t have the intense heat much of Arizona suffers from, with winters seeing highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s, and summers seeing highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s. For such a small community, it’s a relatively liberal place, full of artists and academics.
It seems that ski resort towns are the places to live, if you can! While Aspen has about 6,900 residents, it gets especially busy with tourists during the winter, but that’s just an opportunity to meet new, interesting people. The rest of the year, you may enjoy hiking on the Hunter Creek Trail or visit Wagner Park downtown. On weekends, treat yourself to dinner at The Wild Fig or La Creperie Du Village. Yes, housing prices are high, but surprisingly, not much more so than many places in Southern California, with the average apartment rent being around $1,500 and the average mortgage around $1,700.
Joshua Tree, California
Joshua Tree is a warm desert town in Southern California, right next to the scenic Joshua Tree National Park. For a desert, though, it’s not especially hot, with temperatures getting up to about 100 in the summer, and down to about 65 in the winter. In addition, housing prices are surprisingly cheap for Southern California, about half of what you might pay in Los Angeles or Orange County. The average one bedroom apartment rents for about $650 a month, a two bedroom, for about $810.
In addition, Joshua Tree doesn’t feel as corporate as much of So Cal. For example, you’ll find lots of locally owned cafes, like the Natural Sisters Cafe and the Joshua Tree Coffee Company. Plus, you’ll find lots of interesting shops and still be close enough to Los Angeles and the OC to spend a day in Hollywood or Disneyland.
Hood River, Oregon
When it comes to finding a population of creative, liberal people, few cities match Portland. However, like many large cities, Portland is expensive to live in. Hood River, on the other hand, is just about an hour away from Portland, and is much more affordable. There, you can expect to rent a one bedroom apartment for about $735 a month, and a two bedroom for about $880. Instead of paying outrageous Portland rents, you can commute into the city along a scenic drive, listening to music or audio books. On the weekends, enjoy a local brewpub like Big Horse Brew Pub and Restaurant or Double Mountain Brewery. It’s even better if you can telecommute and enjoy the clean air and scenery from town without having to leave unless you want to.
This town-sized city, located along the Columbia River Gorge, has a population of 7,700. It sits right on the river and near Mount Hood. If you’re up for physical activity, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails on the mountain, and you’ll be able to go skiing, snowboarding, and biking.
As you can see, it is possible to find scenic, peaceful, and interesting places to live in the U.S., whatever your income bracket or preferred climate. If you need tips for your next move, we have many in The Renter’s Bent.