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.
Point Reyes Station, Calif.
Nearest City: San Francisco, 39 miles
The dilemma in Point Reyes Station is what to do first: explore Point Reyes National Seashore (415/464-5100, nps.gov/pore) or just wander around and eat. At Toby's Feed Barn, second-generation owner Christian Giacomini runs a farmers market, gallery, and yoga studio, while still selling hay and salt licks. Also inside, the baristas at Toby's CoffeeBar pour cappuccinos with rippled hearts in the foam (11250 Hwy. 1, 415/663-1223, tobysfeedbarn.com). Nearby, Cowgirl Creamery produces excellent soft-ripened cheeses, such as the Pierce Point, which is made from organic whole milk, washed in organic Riesling, and rolled in herbs (80 Fourth St., 415/663-9335, cowgirlcreamery.com).
When you're ready to experience some nature, Chicago native Laurie Manarik leads hiking trips to see seal pups and conducts nighttime kayaking excursions to check out bioluminescence in nearby Tomales Bay (Point Reyes Outdoors, 11401 Hwy. 1, 415/663-8192, pointreyesoutdoors.com). The bay's oysters, it must be said, are the best around. Eat them where locals do—up the road at The Marshall Store (19225 Hwy. 1, 415/663-1339, themarshallstore.com).
The beautiful scenery may make you want to put down roots. "After my first visit after college, I spent the rest of my life figuring out how to live here," Manarik says.