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America’s Best Small Towns: Announcing the Finalists!

houseClearly, America is passionate about its small towns! On average each week, more than twice as many people voted for their favorites in this year’s Best of the Road small town competition as last year. Not only did more folks vote more often, but they also nominated a total of 1,158 towns, up from 682 towns in 2012. And they took the time to post thousands of reviews and photos, making this year’s online contest as vivid and as colorful as ever.

Here, along with a few more contest highlights, are the 30 finalists—5 each in the categories of Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic, Best for Food, and Best for Geocaching.

For more information about each town, check out BestoftheRoad.com. In the coming weeks, these communities will demonstrate—in words, pictures, and/or video—to our panel of judges why they deserve to win the title in their respective categories. The six winners will be announced in mid-October. We wish all of these great small towns the best of luck!

Most Beautiful

Finalists: Punta Gorda, FL; Jefferson City, MO; Quincy, IL; Arvada, CO; Cloudcroft, NM

JourneyThese finalists showcase not only the landscapes but also the historical narratives that make America so varied and so beautiful. They stretch from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest to the Rockies and the mountainous Southwest. They started out as fishing villages, Missouri and Mississippi river towns, and Gold Rush and timber communities.

What’s more, there’s lots of spirit in each town: Cloudcroft was a 2012 Friendliest finalist, and Punta Gorda, Arvada, and Jefferson City took the first, second, and third slots—respectively—for the most 2013 contest votes overall. Quincy placed well, too, with the sixth-most overall 2013 votes.

Most Fun

Finalists: Jim Thorpe, PA; Lombard, IL; Corning, NY; Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH; Nocona, TX

OPENER_FunWhat makes a town fun? Looking at these finalists, it seems to be a good variety of outdoor activities and arts-and culture offerings in equal measure.

Throw in a few festivals and seasonal events (including a rodeo), some wineries, and a bit of nostalgia, and you’ve got a well-rounded list of contenders. Three of the five towns were also successful in our 2012 contest: Jim Thorpe was a Most Beautiful finalist, and Corning and Geneva-on-the-Lake were both finalists in this category.

Friendliest

Finalists: Kewanee, IL; Macon, GA; Bradenton, FL; Murray, KY; Keokuk, IA

OPENER_FriendliestThis category is all about people, and, according to contest voters, the folks in these towns go the distance to take care of one another and make visitors feel immediately at home.

They’re also dedicated to community service projects that ensure a great quality of life and celebrate civic pride and history. The folks in Murray are particularly spirited—it’s not only a finalist this year, but it also won the category in 2012.

Most Patriotic

Finalists: Mandan, ND; Gallup, NM; Enterprise AL; Fairborn, OH; Jonesborough; TN

SONY DSCThese finalists support our active military and honor our veterans—not only with memorials, monuments, and patriotic celebrations, but also with everyday actions that make those who’ve served our country feel cared for and at home.

Gallup and Mandan—which received the fourth- and fifth-most 2013 votes overall—also celebrate the contributions made by Native Americans. In addition, both Mandan and Enterprise were  2012 category finalists.

Best for Food

Finalists: San Mateo, CA; Walla Walla, WA; Roseville, MN; Galesburg, IL; Charlottesville, VA

OPENER_FoodIn towns like San Mateo, Walla Walla (the 2011 Friendliest winner and a 2012 Best for Food finalist), and Charlottesville (also a 2012 finalist in this category), fans cited the variety of restaurants and types of cuisine as well as the culinary artistry.

For supporters of Galesburg and Roseville, it was all about the number of locally owned establishments serving satisfying, down-home meals. A common thread throughout, though, was an emphasis on dishes made with fresh, local produce.

Best for Geocaching

Finalists: West Bend, WI; Peachtree City, GA; Helena, MT; Manhattan, KS; Merritt Island, FL

OPENER-GeocachingThe posts from voters in our new-for-2013 category were among the longest and most enthusiastic. Participants in this sport use GPS devices to search for “caches” (containers with an “artifact,” a bit of interesting local trivia, or both) in one great, big, cross-country treasure hunt.

If you aren’t yet one of the players—who find and leave caches—you’ll want join in on the fun after reading about these towns, where both the caches and the search for them are especially exciting! And here’s a shout out to Peachtree City, which was also a 2011 Most Patriotic finalist.