10 Coolest Small Towns, N.H.
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).
Silver City: Coolest Small Towns, N.M.
Silver City, N.M. Population: 10,545 Nearest City: El Paso, Tex., 154 miles In New Mexico's southwest corner, Silver City isn't the kind of place people just stumble onto. Silver miners sought it out in the late 1800s, and more recently the town's Old-West charm and high-desert location made it a magnet for outdoorsy and creative types. The historic district is home to casual restaurants, like Nancy's Silver Café, that put the area's green chiles to good use (514 N. Bullard St., 505/388-3480, huevos rancheros $7). Outside town, The Nature Conservancy runs Bear Mountain Lodge, a hacienda adjacent to birding, biking, and hiking opportunities in the Gila National Forest (505/538-2538, bearmountainlodge.com, from $125). "You can choose the pace at which you want to live," says Jess Gorell, an artist and filmmaker who relocated from L.A. four years ago and teaches at The Bakshi School of Animation and Cartooning (109 N. Bullard St., 505/534-9291, thebakshischool.com), around the corner from the adobe galleries on Yankie and Texas Streets.
10 Coolest Small Towns, Mo.
Parkville, Mo. Population: 4,059 Nearest City: Kansas City, Mo., 10 miles As Jennifer Stanton is telling how she ditched her corporate job in 2003 to open Wines by Jennifer in a circa-1903 house, the Park University clock tower chimes: "That's my mantra to remind me to slow down and enjoy life," she says (405 Main St., 816/505-9463, winesbyjennifer.com). On Wednesday's Diva Night at Jeff and Lynn Anderson's River Rock Reserve, ladies enjoy fun stuff like free neck massages with their River Bottom cocktails; by day, the space reverts to a café (6325 Lewis St., 816/505-3663, riverrockcoffee.com). "We're just 10 minutes from downtown Kansas City," says Jeff, "but I feel like any minute someone's going to ask me to help with a barn raising." Didier Combe, the proprietor of Café des Amis, thinks Parkville is like a village in his native France: "After the last dinner is served, we often sit on the deck with friends and guests" (112½ Main St., 816/587-6767, cafedesamiskc.com, rack of lamb $26). Over at The Power Plant Restaurant and Brewery, Angelo Gangai gives his beers historical monikers like Southbound Nut Brown, named after the trains that roll past (2 Main St., 816/746-5051, powerplantbrews.com). One caramely ale, Steamboat Stout, makes a dandy float when poured over vanilla gelato from The Sweet Guy (10 Main St., 816/505-2788, thesweetguy.com). At Bentley Guitar Studios, Mark Bentley has been teaching folks--and now their kids--guitar for nearly a decade (122 S. Main St., 816/746-9772, bentleyguitars.com). The Saturday jam sessions here have become so popular, they've taken over the sidewalk.
10 Coolest Small Towns, Hawaii
Paia, Hawaii Population: 2,499 Nearest City: Kahului, 8 miles Paia is where Mauians go to relax. On the east side of the island, 15 minutes from Kahului, the town has maintained not just a mellow vibe but also many of its plantation-style wooden buildings. Lucinda Eddins likes Paia so much that she opened her latest beachwear store here. At Love the Beach, the most popular custom swimsuit is the "itty-bitty string with the little Brazilian bottom" for about $100 (2 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8044). Another chic shop is Bahama Mama (62 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8188). A mile from town, the six-bedroom Kuau Inn is a 10-minute walk to Hookipa, a world-class windsurfing beach (676 Hana Hwy., 808/579-6046, kuauinn.com, from $100). On the other hand, the surf and currents are gentle at Baby Beach, on the west end of Baldwin Beach. The Flatbread Company, which opened last November, makes pizza with organic produce and nitrate-free meats (89 Hana Hwy., 808/579-8989). One of the newest attractions in town is the Great Paia Lha Bab Peace Stupa shrine at the Maui Dharma Center, which hosts meditation sessions and similar events (81 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8076, mauidharmacenter.org). The Dalai Lama blessed the shrine when he visited Maui this year. Correction: The above article has been amended from the original print edition to give an accurate location for Baby Beach.
10 Coolest Small Towns, Wash.
Waitsburg, Wash. Population: 1,212 Nearest City: Walla Walla, 21 miles Ross Stevenson and Leroy Cunningham settled in Waits­burg six years ago, in search of a quieter lifestyle. With two partners, they opened the Whoopemup Hollow Café in 2005. The Whoop, as it's known, dishes up jambalaya and Coca-Cola cake to wheat farmers and wine snobs alike (120 Main St., 509/337-9000, jambalaya $19). Just across the street, Jim German recently opened Jimgermanbar, which specializes in classic cocktails and small plates (119 Main St., 509/337-6001). His wife, Claire Johnston-German, owns the AMO Art gallery next door (117 Main St., 509/876-1264, amo-art.com). Summers in Waitsburg can get hot, and the Laht Neppur Brewing Co. is the place to cool down (444 Preston Ave., 509/337-6261). After savoring a flight of eight mini pours, head over to the Monteillet Fromagerie, where the cheeses are made with milk from free-range goats and sheep (109 Ward Rd., 509/382-1917). Monteillet's sheep's-milk gelato is a revelation.