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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.

Comments
  1. Bruce Webber

    I see almost zero mention of the New England states? Coincidence? If towns like Brunswick, ME; Newport, RI; Mystic, CT;Saranac Lake, NY; and Burlington, VT get no mention this survey it is very disappointing.

    • Laura Kidder

      Thanks for your feedback. You aren’t the first reader to point this out. My response to one of them back in September was as follows: As a former native of New Hampshire, I, too, was disappointed that more towns in New England didn’t receive more votes in the 2013 Best of the Road contest. Maybe folks will see your comment and urge their fellow New Englanders to vote in next year’s contest.

      It would also help if the New England tourism folks got involved and maybe urged folks to vote. Again, as a former New Englander, I’m so with you on this and hope there’s more interest up that way next year.

  2. Nina

    This is great! I’d love to go visit these places. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bill Corbett

    Nice to see Walla Walla in your food list. Next time, you need to add Salida, CO for either food or beauty. It’s got it all.

  4. James A. Miyagishima

    I am very happy to hear that Gallup, NM is in the top 5, for most Patriotic Town. I wish them the best of luck!! Bueno Suarte
    Para siempre,
    Miyagi 8-)

  5. Tina

    Since, I’ve moved to peachtree city, Georgia 5 yrs ago, there’s no place I would rather lived than here, the outdoors, schools, people, environment, peace, quiet, shopping areas, restaurants, library, EVERYTHING I LOVE ABOUT PEACHTREE CITY

  6. Rodney Davis

    What can I say…..”deliberations”……We’ve been on pins & needles all day…But, we have Geo-Carting….A unique experience in Geocaching that, as far as I know, doesn’t exist any where else in the “Land of the Free & the Home of the Brave”…Come visit us…Peachtree City, GA.

  7. Ken Riege

    What an honor it is for Gallup, NM to be among the Top 5 Finalist for Most Patriotic. We have such a deep love of country and our military and veterans here and we show that every day. Thank you Best of the Road for having this contest to allow us to show everyone how wonderful Gallup, NM is.

    • James A. Miyagishima

      I am very happy to read that Gallup, NM., are in the top 5 positions. I feel they are the most Patriotic town in the USA. Good Luck to the city of Gallup, NM!!
      Para Siempre > Miyagi

  8. Meg Garland

    I am so thrilled Nocona, Texas has made the finals for most fun town! Thrilled and surprised – it’s been discovered! They have an incredible museum – the design is great, graphics compare with huge metro museums, plenty to engage the kids. There are so many vintage cars in that town it would take a week just to see the cars! Good barbeque, thick hamburgers, plenty of good food. Friendly people and peaceful rolling hills. Congratulations, Nocona!

  9. Dan Krebill

    I grew up in Keokuk, Iowa but left during the Viet Nam war. My parents remained and I would regularly go back to see them or to attend my High School class reunions. Every time I return I am so impressed with both the friendliness and the picturesque nature of the town. So many of my class mates, even those who went elsewhere for college either never left permanently or decided it was to be their home for life. I have also been amazed by all sorts of different community aspects of Keokuk, and the strong sense of volunteering for the good of the town. It’s a great place to raise children and feel grounded. I truly look forward to my next visit “home!”

  10. Ashley Vaughn

    I am so happy and excited for my hometown of Nocona Tx. They have came a long way and have worked extremely hard to make Nocona what it is today. I want to wish you all the best of luck in Nocona and say I am so proud to call Nocona Texas my hometown and birthplace.

  11. Janice Anderson

    My husband and I moved to Nocona when we retired in 1999, and we have loved living here. The people are so friendly and so much fun to be around! We feel like we have lived here all our life!

  12. Taylor Pippenger

    My work takes me to Nocona, TX a few times a month and it is by far the HIGHLIGHT of my week whenever I have to go there. For being a small Texas town there is so many fun things to do! The history museum, restaurants, downtown area, car museums, boot company and fun festivals makes it a GREAT American town. The people are by far my favorite thing about Nocona and their life loving attitude make visiting there an absolute treat.

  13. mark davis

    Keokuk, Iowa We love the friendlieness of this town.. Farmers would take off their hats and open. doors for you.. When were at the park specially Rand park people would say hello and we loved the events every year like Christmas decorating and Puck a she tuck days carnivals.. The family Resturaunts Chuck Wagon, Hawkey Resturaunt and just family orientated events calendared. The fourth of July celebrations in the park.. This town is very patriotic and they should receive the award of Friendliest town!! Our heart is for Keokuk!!

  14. Jean Montgomery

    I grew up in Keokuk Iowa. There are so many wonderful people there. There truly is a community spirit of everyone knowing everyone, and of helping someone who is in need. If you are traveling through and stop at a gas station, someone will greet you with a smile and a hello and ask you what your final destination is. This is why I believe that Keokuk, Iowa is definitely the friendliest town in America!

  15. Amish

    Some times i ask my self is this still exsist,peacefull town quiet people instead of new york rush.)

  16. Tyler Mills

    Keokuk is very friendly town. People throughout the community have always been willing to help me with different tasks. If someone needs a ride to the post office, all you have to do is call your neighbor or one of the friendliest taxi drivers in America.

  17. Jeanene Breitenstein

    People in Keokuk are very willing to help anyone. The community welcomes young and old. Most business will go out of their way to help a new comer, or someone passing through the community. We are more than happy to show them or help them get whatever they are needing. It is a good community, and typical Midwestern town.

  18. Melissa Torres

    I lived in and around Keokuk,IA up until I graduated High School. I loved it there. It is not surprising that they are on the list for the most friendliest. Everyone always had a smile and wave for you. Most everyone knew who you were over a several block radius not just the houses next door! I loved the parades and all the activities there were for the towns people don’t have much of that where I live now. I miss going to Rand Park there was so much to do! Loved me some frisbee golf with my brother.

  19. Craig Farrell

    We are so excited that West Bend is a finalist in the geocaching category, even though voting for our community started late, our many geocaching fans helped us make the cut. We are the only small town in America that is recognized by geocaching.com as having a Mega Event… and we have had the distinction for the past five years.

    Simply put, we love geocacher’s and go out of our way to make them feel at home year around. With over 1,260 caches within a ten mile radius of West Bend, we have caches for the beginner and for the seasoned long time geocacher.

    This past August, our Mega Event brought in over 900 teams from 33 states and 3 countries. Folks come back again and again because of the quality of our hides, the beauty of the Kettle Moraine area and the warm reception they receive in our community.

  20. Kelly

    I was born and raised in Keokuk, Ia. It has one of the most beautiful views of the Mississippi River that I have ever seen. The people in keokuk, are great people with great hearts. People in Keokuk wave without even knowing you, but that is their friendly way if saying hello even to a stranger. They are willing to pull together and lend a helping hand to each other when times are tough. Also a friendly smile when you pass by. I am very proud to say Keokuk is a very friendly town.

  21. Lisa Vaccaro

    Just wanted to say Thank you for the people that voted our small little town Nocona, Tx as a finalist. What an honor to be in this. We are a small loving town with so much to give. The special events we have in our town makes it so FUN and brings lots of joy to the town and our out of town visitors. I hope we receive this honor !
    Thanks for the support,
    Lisa V
    #bestoftheroad

  22. Lorah Steiner

    It has been great fun being involved with our community’s effort to become Rand McNally’s Best of the Road, “Most Beautiful” small town in America. The sense of pride and camaraderie already shared by Punta Gorda residents has been amplified by their participation in the Best of the Road effort. It has also been fun to find such a great resource for vacation and travel ideas on Rand McNally’s site. It’s one we will be recommending to friends, family and visitors. Huge thanks to the staff at Rand McNally for creating this competition. We have enjoyed every minute of the ride!

  23. Leah Smith

    I am not surprised in the least that my hometown Keokuk IA is a finalist for Americas Friendliest town. Growing up there made me the person that I am, taught me how to treat people, and and how to teach my children the same. It wasn’t until I moved away in my 20s that I truly appreciated it though. Suddenly I was in a world where others were not so accommodating, polite, and as you say, just plain friendly. My friends I’ve made and brought home with me to see this great place I’m from are always amazed. One of my very best friends is from Buffalo NY and never could have seen herself anywhere else. Until she came to Keokuk. Now she comes there as often as she can to see my family with me and says “I wish I had grown up somewhere like this”. Keokuk is Americas friendliest town because it doesn’t even realize it. It isn’t a conscious decision someone there makes to be nice, or to help someone out, it is ingrained in them. It’s just who they are, without a thought. That’s what it means to be from Keokuk.

  24. Carole Betts

    Keokuk Iowa hosts some great events throughout the year for it’s residents and tourists. There is our Bald Eagle Days, Civil War Re-enactment, Wine Over Water, and Rollin’ on the River Blues Fest but one of my favorites and a best kept secret is The Back Alley Bandfest. This event is held in yards, garages, and alleys in our historic residential district annually. Folks stroll from block to block listening to music ranging from jazz to rock to big band and everything in between. The event is free with tips for the bands and is always a fun social happening!

  25. josh kanter

    so proud of gallup and her wonderful people. i believe!

  26. Dotti Vaivoda

    Punta Gorda is the MOST BEAUTIFUL small town I have ever lived in. The charm, beautiful sunsets, amazing boating and healthy lifestyle sets us apart from the rest of the country.

  27. Maurie Harding Vogelsong

    I am so proud that Quincy Illinois is one of the finalists for Most Beautiful City. Quincy sits atop a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi. It’s small town charm holds some of the most beautiful homes and tree lined streets. Quincy has a long rich history and a wonderful place to visit, raise a family, and to call home.

  28. Vicki Ebbing

    Those of us in Quincy, Illinois are delighted to be one of the 5 finalists for Most Beautiful. Now to get a video done of our town’s beauty and an essay that puts it all into words!

  29. Darleen Gill

    I am still trying to understand your “winners” We have a condo in Punta Gorda so I am very interested. You have 5 cities listed and I read it 5 times and the words run together so I have know idea “finalists” means they are still in the running , or there would be a winner. Was Cloudcroft the 2012 winner for , and Punta Gorda first for 2013 , Arvada second for 2013, and Jefferson City third for 2013. I expect other people reading this will have the same trouble trying to understand what you are saying.

    • Laura Kidder

      Thanks for the inquiry. Here’s some contest clarification

      The 30 towns (that is five in each of six categories) listed in the blog post (in italics below the category headings) and, with still more detail, on BestoftheRoad.com, were selected as finalists because they received the most reader votes this year in their respective categories.

      In the next few weeks, each finalist town will submit a presentation—with photos, articles, and/or videos—designed to show Rand McNally’s panel of judges why it should be the category winner. These presentations are generally coordinated by town officials, usually tourist boards/convention and visitors bureaus. Winners in this final round will be selected based on these submissions and announced in October.

      In addition to providing contest insight on this year’s finalists (i.e., how many votes they received in the category and, in some instances, overall, etc.), the blog article also gives a shout out to the towns that competed and did well in the 2011 and 2012 contests. We felt it noteworthy that some of this year’s finalists were also finalists or winners in previous contests, whether in the same or different categories.

      Hope this helps. If not, be sure to check out About Best of the Road, which covers the contest in great detail.

  30. James & Joan Rooney

    So nice to hear that our town of Punta Gorda has been picked as one of the most beautiful in the country. We have some of the best art galleries and shows, wonderful restaurants, a beautiful marina, and the friendliest people in all of Florida.

  31. Patty Fenoglio

    Nocona is the Most Fun small town in the whole USA. One can see one of the largest classic car collections in the world. Our Tales and Trails Museum displays some of the finest and most rare American Indian artifacts. Nocona Nights (monthly Texas/Singer song writer dinner & concert) is sold a year in advance. We celebrate our western heritage with a Rodeo every year for more than 60 years. Our lake provides some of the best fishing and boating around. We enjoy all of the fun things that we are blessed with and want others to come share with us.

  32. Jen Bowman

    We are excited to see Bradenton, Florida as one of the friendliest cities!

  33. Loyd Bunch

    My chest puffed out as I swelled with pride as I read the finalists on Americas most beautiful cities. There, where It should be , was my home town for the world to see. What I’ve been saying for years, has been confirmed right here at Rand McNally.
    As a life long adventurer and traveler, Ive been fortunate to visit all the small towns listed and very glad that the final judgement will be left to someone else but would love to share my opinion .
    While on an adventure a few years back an unexpected break down sidelined us in a quaint little community in the foothills of Colorado. As we waited for repairs we realized that the journey is not always about the miles put behind you but the experiences along the way. We enjoyed the breath taking views of snow covered mountain peaks, ice cold trout filled streams flowing past and small town festival with all the food vendors ,car shows ,music and got to visit with friendly people bursting with pride while sharing their beautiful town. Arvada, CO deserves to be in the top 5 most beautiful towns.
    Many years ago while on a trip back from the west coast, through the blowing dust and burning sun of the desert South West we decided to take a less traveled route in search of some different scenery and possibly some cooler temperatures. What we experienced that afternoon has left an impression on me like very few others. As we left the desert floor and began our climb to the top, the winds cooled ,the earth celebrated the moisture of the melting snow, with green grass and giant pines,the air so crisp and clean it seemed almost sinful as we breathed it in. A mountain top Oasis surrounded by a harsh desert . Nestled among the giant pines we found Cloudcroft NM. Quaint, Quiet, Peaceful. Definitely an old west town everyone should visit and another excellent choice for the top five.
    Fortune comes in many forms and with my love of history and travel I have been fortunate to have an occupation that includes both. When told that Quincy, IL was my next stop, I suppose I was neither excited nor disappointed. I’d never been there so I never knew what to expect. As we leave the interstate and pull into town we noticed the majestic old homes and the Oaks and Walnuts gracing the streets, like a welcoming committee that has welcomed visitors for ages. Our destination was the city square and as we made the final turn, the feeling was different in this small town. something was special here. Our whole country is built on the history our ancestors have made but when you walk the square of Quincy IL in the same footprints Abraham Lincoln walked in and learn of the historic debates he made here with Douglas. And learn of the thousands of people that traveled here by train, by river boats by land.. You know this is a special place. You can’t visit Quincy without mentioning the people. We came to this town complete strangers, we left this town feeling we were betraying old friends. The nicest people you’ll ever meet and a fitting choice for one of Americas most beautiful towns.
    One of the draw backs of having rambling fever is, not many roots are put down . This was our case. Oh we had house. (There’s a difference between a house and a home .)I had a beautiful wife , little ones on the way but no home. Being fairly well traveled and wise to the world we began our search for a home to raise our family. We had to have that Mayberry feel with friendly neighbors ,good schools with Friday night football games. You know what I’m getting at here. Baseball Apple Pie, Hotdogs, Grandmas House and Christmas lights all rolled into one. Where would you find this perfect little piece of heaven? We found ours in Mo. Jeff City as we affectionally know her will always be near to our hearts and can’t think of another place on earth more deserving to be on the top 5 list for most beautiful city
    BUT!!!! With all this said. The hardest question I’m ever ask . After 40 years traveling the United States, is, Where is your favorite place you’ve been? I must confess, I now call the most beautiful place in America my home . I wake to the sounds of Sea Gulls, and soft waves slapping the hull of our sail boat. As I look out through the open hatch I see the sun peeking through the Palm trees on the shores of Charlotte Harbor. A little trip to shore and a walk along the Seawall you’ll meet friendly people from every walk of life sharing their stories and enjoying the company of others that have came to enjoy this laid back way of life. With novelty shops and street vendors to World class Golf courses and the best fishing in the world, Tiki Huts and music in the parks we close the streets for the Farmers Market but that’s Okay, we walk anyway. Every evening is celebrated with a breath taking sunset and a promise that we’ll get to enjoy it all again tomorrow. Take it from me, someone who has been everywhere, Punta Gorda is the most beautiful small town in America.

  34. Robert Korschgen

    Attached is a link to a video about Keokuk,IA. Best town by a dam site.

  35. Candice McKim

    This picture is from MY town of Baker city OR. You used the picture and made NO mention of our wonderful little home. Tacky.

    • Laura Kidder

      You’re absolutely right. The Victorian house in the photo that opens this article is in Baker City, OR. It was submitted by supporters of your town, and it and the other photos in the article were selected not to necessarily to convey a specific place, but rather to convey the overall sentiment of the contest as well as the categories in it.

      It’s worth noting that Baker City was, indeed, a Most Beautiful finalist town in both the 2011 and 2012 competitions (see 2011 & 2012 Rally Recap). With scenes like the one shown in the opening photo, it’s easy to see why. Maybe other Baker City fans will see your comment and rally to get the vote count back up enough to put your town back into a finalist slot in next year’s contest.

  36. Bill Morris

    Galesburg, Illinois is excited to be a finalist in the Rand McNally Best of the Road contest. We will do our best to demonstrate or culinary prowess.
    I just want to point out that Galesburg is a town in Illinois, not Indiana.
    We are a proud City in the Land of Lincoln.

    • Laura Kidder

      So glad you’re excited about Galesburg’s finalist slot! We wish your town the best of luck and apologize for citing it as being in Indiana, not Illinois, in the blog post. Thanks for pointing out the error, which has now been corrected.

  37. Julie Wearn

    Thank you! The city of Roseville, MN is very excited that we made it to the finals. Now we are going for the win with a deliciously appealing video and enticing essay!

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