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.
Truth or Consequences, N.M.
Nearest City: El Paso, Tex., 123 miles
In 1950, Hot Springs renamed itself Truth or Consequences in a publicity stunt to boost tourism. Fame has faded over the years, but the odd name still pays dividends. "When I saw it on the map, I knew I had to check it out," says Susan Morrongiello Koenick, who ended up quitting her job as an art therapist in Washington, D.C., in 2004 to relocate to T or C, as residents like to call it. Koenick's vintage-clothing store, Dust & Glitter, was one of the first businesses to move in downtown (404 Main St., 575/894-3613, dustandglitter.com).
Other places have opened up in recent years, including MoonGoddess, a recycled-textile art shop (415 Broadway, 575/744-0011); Cafe BellaLuca, an Italian restaurant with art exhibits (303 Jones St., 575/894-9866, cafebellaluca.com, pastas from $8); and Blackstone Hotsprings, a retro motel with mineral baths flowing straight from the 110-degree aquifer (410 Austin St., 575/894-0894, blackstonehotsprings.com, $75).
With its wide-open skies, T or C also appeals to space enthusiasts. A spaceport that's being built just outside town will be the future home of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flight program (virgingalactic.com). "At night, you feel like you can touch the stars with your hands," says Tobias Katz, organizer of the annual Truth or Fiction Film Festival (torcfilm.8m.com, Feb. 6–8).