Desert gems, mountain escapes top list of 11 best small cities to live in

Experts at shared their 11 favorite small cities to live in. With a population of 100,000 or fewer, these cities offer a high standard of living without the cost.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back pace of life or an alternative to the high cost of living of big cities, then look no further.

The experts at compiled a list of the top 11 small cities in the U.S. where residents can find great value while experiencing a higher quality of life.

Scattered across the country, these towns each have a population of 100,000 or fewer and offer renters much at a fraction of the big city cost.

According to, these towns have vibrant art scenes, exciting dining and shopping options, near-instant access to nature for outdoor recreation and other activities to rival the metropolitan scene.

Here are the small cities that made the list.

11. San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Located along the Central California coast, San Luis Obispo is well-known for its slow-living and relaxed quality of life at a small cost. The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in San Luis Obispo is $1,700.

Residents can enjoy farmers' markets, local wineries and a variety of dining options supported by the local agriculture industry. Just outside of town, residents have easy access to both the beach and the mountains, which are only a half-hour drive away.

The area boasts mild weather, with average high temperatures staying between the 50s and 60s throughout the year. While winter and spring see the most precipitation, residents can enjoy relatively dry summers for all their outdoor escapades.

10. Fort Myers, Fla.

The southwest Florida town of Fort Myers is a budget-friendly alternative to its more costly neighbors, Tampa and Miami. For example, some units at complexes with outdoor swimming pools and other amenities start at about $1,332.

This affordability offers access to major and minor league sports events, fresh seafood and barbecue options, along with art festivals and galleries. Residents also enjoy easy access to beautiful beaches, wilderness preserves and parks.

Weather is lovely year-round, with average highs rising to the mid-80s in the summer and dropping to the mid- to high 50s in the winter. Residents, however, will need to be aware of hurricane season, which runs between June 1 and November 30.

The region was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Ian in 2022, but is currently recovering.

9. Marfa, Texas

Marfa is one of the smaller cities on this list, with a population of fewer than 2,000 residents, which may be perfect for anyone seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle.

According to the experts at, Marfa is a renowned destination for arts and culture. The city boasts art installations, funky community spaces, along with world-class entertainment and culture. Outdoorsy folks can also enjoy nearby national parks with little light pollution to impede views of the stars.

Dry conditions can be enjoyed year-round in this Texas town. Temperatures can be a little chilly in the winter when average highs can drop to the low 40s, but they are pleasant in the summer when they rise to the mid-70s.

8. Lancaster, Pa.

The city of Lancaster not only made the list for, but it was also deemed the best small city to live in by WalletHub. The Pennsylvania city of about 57,503 people offers one-bedroom apartments at an average of $1,481.

Lancaster is surrounded by rich agriculture that yields a delicious local dining experience, while the scenic countryside also makes for lovely outdoor activities, such as golfing. The city also offers a long history that dates back to the early 1700s, decades before the founding of the U.S.


Average temperatures in Lancaster range from the low 30s in January and then rise to the mid-70s in July. Precipitation throughout the year is persistent, with average amounts ranging between 2.2 inches in February and 4.8 inches in June, which nourishes the green landscape.

7. Bloomington, Ind.

Bloomington is a college town with a classic university-town energy, according to That energy comes with a budget-friendly price – one-bedroom apartments go for about $1,127 a month.

The walkable downtown area has local craft breweries, live music, shops and exciting nightlife. Nature lovers will enjoy bike paths and parks, along with outdoor sports at nearby forests.

Located in central Indiana, Bloomington has cold winters with average temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s and warm summers with temperatures in the mid-70s.

6. Portland, Maine

Located in Maine, Portland is a bit pricier than a few of the other small towns on this list, with one-bedroom apartments running at about $2,100 a month.

For that price, Portland residents can enjoy trendy restaurants, local boutiques, craft breweries and a dynamic art scene. Being on the coastline also provides residents with access to a quaint waterfront, fresh seafood and the signature New England charm.

The weather in Portland is a bit chillier than some of the other towns on the list, with average temperatures dropping to the mid-20s in the winter and then rising to the high 60s and low 70s in the summer.

5. Eau Claire, Wis.

The town of Eau Claire is found in western Wisconsin, where residents can find one-bedroom apartments at about $895 a month.

According to, Eau Claire is a creative hub with a vibrant arts and cultural scene, particularly with many music festivals. Residents can also enjoy the outdoors by way of urban nature preserves and nearby lakes and rivers.

Eau Claire may be one of the colder towns on the list, with average temperatures dropping to the mid-and high teens in winter and rising to the high 60s and low 70s in the summer.

4. Missoula, Mont.

Located in Big Sky Country, Missoula offers a variety of activities for families and young professionals alike, particularly with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment running at $1,095.

Home to the University of Montana, Missoula residents can enjoy a creative scene filled with festivals, galleries and performing arts, along with craft breweries and restaurants.

The weather in Missoula is on the cooler side, with average temperatures dropping to the mid-20s in January and then rising to the high 60s in July.

3. Asheville, N.C.

Residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to historic and modern value in Asheville, North Carolina.

The small town is home to living history, such as the Biltmore Estate. Built by the Vanderbilt family in the late 19th century, the estate and its museum are open to the public. For more modern tastes, Asheville boasts a number of craft breweries and art galleries.

The temperate Asheville weather allows for brewery hopping and many other activities. While average temperatures may drop into the high 30s in winter, they rise to the mid-70s in the summer.

2. Santa Fe, N.M.

On the other side of the country, Santa Fe comes in at No. 2 on the list. According to, renters in this New Mexico town can enjoy an affordable cost of living, with rent averaging about $1,700-$1,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Santa Fe is known for its eclectic vibe and thriving arts scene. Nestled in the desert, the city offers beautiful nature that inspires both art and outdoor activities, such as hiking and skiing.

Of the small cities on the list, Santa Fe may have one of the wider temperature ranges. Winter has an average temperature in the low 30s, while summer has temperatures that run in the low 70s.

1. Bend, Ore.

Taking the crown for the best small city in the county is Bend, Oregon. One of the larger small cities on the list with a population of around 102,059, Bend is booming.

The city is located east of the Cascade Mountains, which allows residents to take advantage of the hiking, skiing, climbing and other opportunities of the beautiful landscape. In town, residents can enjoy craft breweries, live music and shopping.

Whether residents prefer to take in the city or venture into nature, they can enjoy mild weather. Average temperatures drop to the mid-30s in winter and rise to the mid-60s in the summer.