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.
Manitou Springs, Colo.
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 (950 Manitou Ave., 719/685-4433, kinfolksmanitou.com).
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 (10 Ruxton Ave., 719/685-9702), 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 (740 Manitou Ave., 719/685-9655, dulcimer.net). At The Maté Factor café, wraps of hormone-free turkey share the menu with maté, a beverage popular in South America (966 Manitou Ave., 719/685-3235, matefactor.com, wrap $5).
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 (934 Manitou Ave., 719/685-1430, adamsmountain.com, jerked chicken $19).