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.
White River Junction, Vt.
Nearest City: Manchester, N.H., 76 miles
The long-depressed former railroad hub reinvented itself as an artists' colony several years ago, so the 19th-century storefronts traffic more in quirky than in quaint. The Main Street Museum showcases a collection of oddities that includes gallstones said to be Elvis Presley's (58 Bridge St., 802/356-2776, mainstreetmuseum.org), and The Center for Cartoon Studies offers lectures by cartoonists such as Garry Trudeau (94 S. Main St., 802/295-3319, cartoonstudies.org). The Tip Top building, a former bakery, is home to about 40 artists' studios, the Tip Top Café (85 N. Main St., 802/295-3312, tiptopcafevt.com), and the Cooler Gallery, which exhibits the works of international artists (802/295-8008, coolergallery.biz).
Over at Revolution, Kim Souza sells espresso and indie-designed and vintage clothes (26 N. Main St., 802/295-6487, revolutionvintage.com). She's happy the town has maintained a sense of community as it's grown. "The owner of the building across the street asked me what color to paint it, since I'm going to be looking at it," she says.
White River Junction also has decent nightlife. You can catch a play by the Northern Stage theater company (12 N. Main St., 802/296-7000, northernstage.org) and then eat dinner to live jazz at Elixir, a lounge in an old freight warehouse (188 S. Main St., 802/281-7009, elixirrestaurant.com, tapas from $7).