These towns all have fewer than 10,000 people—but they can rival larger cities when it comes to good food, culture, and quality of life.
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 (1 Church St., 207/338-1901, mainebb.com, from $125). 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 (96 Main St., 207/338-0555, fried rice $10). 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 (256 High St., 207/338-2222, waterfallarts.org).
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. (Mitchell Ave., 207/338-1160, lobster from $12).