The Best Small Cities in the United States in 2020

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Resonance’s annual ranking considers factors such as a city’s diversity, variety of cultural attractions, outdoor activities, and nightlife to give a comprehensive view of what it’s like to visit and live in these places.

To determine which cities would be considered for this list, Resonance looked at U.S. cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000. Resonance separately ranked large U.S. cities with populations of more than 1 million and midsize U.S. cities with populations between 500,000 and 1 million.

As coronavirus lockdowns gradually lift and we begin to venture beyond where we remained during quarantine, it’s an ideal moment to consider taking your first—cautious—adventure to a nearby destination you might’ve previously overlooked. The need for social distancing has made it abundantly clear that cities—big and small—will look quite different in a post-coronavirus world. However, it’s also illuminated the fact that what makes cities desirable are the shared spaces they offer, such as restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, and galleries. With their exciting cultural scenes and distinct local businesses, but slightly smaller populations (hence, more room), small U.S. cities are beckoning. But which are most worthwhile?

Resonance, a consultancy group in real estate, tourism, and economic development, recently released its annual report of the best small cities in the United States based on a combination of statistical performance and qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors collected over the past five years. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Resonance evaluated small cities across the country based on six core categories: Place, People, Programming, Product, Prosperity, and Promotion. With all of these factors considered, here are Resonance’s 2020 rankings for the top 10 small cities in the United States.

2. Naples, Florida

Highlighted rankings: Parks and Outdoors (1), Restaurants (2)

Why we love it: Naples sits on a stretch of southwest Florida’s Paradise Coast engulfed by white sand beaches, preserves, state parks, and refuges. The small city (metro population 378,488), which scored the top spot in the Parks and Outdoors category, offers dozens of public spaces and beaches for sunbathers and stand-up paddleboarders. Just 40 minutes out of town is Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, an undeveloped barrier island home to birdlife and the rare gopher tortoise, and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, with an observation tower that overlooks undulating sand dunes and the Cocohatchee River. Another nearby site that warrants a visit is Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, a 35,000-acre mangrove habitat 40 minutes southeast of downtown Naples.

If you prefer to stay local, however, the downtown area surrounding the Naples Pier offers plenty to do. Along the city’s walkable palm-lined promenades, such as Fifth Avenue South, you’ll find top-notch shopping and seafood dining. (In fact, Naples’s restaurants ranked second among America’s small cities this year.

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