Nearest City: Boston, 73 miles
Not too many small towns are home to two theater groups, or, for that matter, The MacDowell Colony, the country's oldest artists retreat. "There's a cool blend of artists and regular folks here, but there's no attitude," says Dave Chicane, a chef late of Cambridge, Mass., and now at Peterborough's Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar (1 Jaffrey Rd., 603/924-5225, scallops $18). In 2003, Dave Szehi saw the community spirit firsthand when neighbors helped him renovate and expand Harlow's Pub (3 School St., 603/924-6365, harlowspub.com). Nearby, gourmet market Twelve Pine, inside a refurbished railroad warehouse, makes its own gelato (11 School St., 603/924-6140, twelvepine.com). In the summer, there are music jams in the park, pickup dodgeball games, and movies that kids can watch while floating in the community pool. Outdoors lovers know Peterborough because Eastern Mountain Sports is headquartered here, and accordingly, every other car has a kayak on top. EMS's flagship store is at 1 Vose Farm Road. (603/924-7231, ems.com).