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These Are America’s 10 Friendliest Small Cities

You'll always know your neighbor in these Friendliest Small Cities across America.

Randy Nelson

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117 articles, 53 comments

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When was the last time a stranger wished you a nice day, or a shop owner greeted you with a smile? Have you only seen a whole town come together to celebrate or help those less fortunate on TV or in movies? Depending on where you live, these sorts of things might seem like fantasy—we’re looking at you, Manhattan and Los Angeles—but what if we told you there are real places where this stuff still happens? The Movoto Real Estate blog has found them: America’s friendliest small cities.

There are places where people will still get the door for you; where they’re more likely to return your wallet than mug you for it. Places like San Luis Obispo, CA, the friendliest small city around. When you’re friendly, you attract others, and San Luis Obispo brought nine of them to the party: our top 10 friendliest small cities in America. Say hello to:

1. San Luis Obispo, CA
2. Charlottesville, VA
3. Olympia, WA
4. Palm Springs, CA
5. Harrisburg, PA
6. Littleton, CO
7. Joplin, MO
8. Grapevine, TX
9. Galveston, TX
10. Coral Gables, FL

There’s a reason SLO could be your next BFF, and why Palm Springs will make your heart sing. You see, we actually came up with a unique way to measure a place’s friendliness, and if you’ll be our friends and continue reading, we’ll explain just how we did it—and why the 10 spots above ended up being so gosh darn delightful. Put on this virtual friendship bracelet and let’s get started.

What Makes A Friendly City?

When we decided to tackle this question, we realized that we’d need to look at it in some unique ways. Thankfully, we’re used to coming up with creative ways to analyze places using data, like when we figured out the worst dressed cities in America last year. It’s just a matter of looking for the right data. In this case, we picked seven measurable criteria to look at:

  • Violent crime rate (friendlier residents = less stabbing)
  • Percent of income given to charity (friendly folks spread the wealth around)
  • Flower & gift stores per capita (more stores = more demand for gifts)
  • Card & stationery stores per capita (ditto)
  • Bars per capita (the classic socializing spot)
  • Farmers’ markets per capita (a great place for residents to interact)
  • Religious organizations per capita (being nice to your neighbors is kind of a big deal in all religions)
  • Facebook Likes (friendly places make more digital friends)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t include some other criteria we initially wanted, like the number of high-fives per capita or cups of sugar given to neighbors. Still, we feel like these are a good mix of serious and fun data points that fit perfectly with our special blend of Saturday Night Science and the lighter side of real estate.

With our criteria determined, we assembled a list of small cities to look at. Just like you can pick your friends, we picked the 100 largest cities with populations under 50,000 people. Nine cities (Huntington, WV, Euclid, OH, Hattiesburg, MS, Lawrence, IN, Bonita Springs, FL, Coeur d’Alene, ID, Summerville, SC, DeKalb, IL, and Kannapolis, NC) were passed up due to incomplete crime and other data.

We collected data on all of the cities—from the FBI, philanthropy.com, and business listings—and gave them a rank from 1 to 100 (with one being best) in each criteria. We then averaged those rankings into one overall Big Deal Score, with the lowest score being our friendliest city, San Luis Obispo. It should be noted that crimes were looked at on a per 100,000 residents per year basis to create a level playing field between cities of varying populations.

Now that we’ve told you the how, we’ll go into what made our top 10 cities the kind of places you’d want to be best buds with. Oh, and if you didn’t see your favorite place up there, there’s still a chance that it made it into our top 50, which you can check out at the end of this post. Now, let’s make some new friends.

1. San Luis Obispo, CA

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia User Basar

San Luis Obispo is famous for a lot of reasons, from the prestigious Cal Poly to the wacky Madonna Inn and even an alley covered in used chewing gum. To those who call it home, though, it’s known as one of the sunniest, friendliest places in the Golden State. Based on its top-five placing in five of our seven criteria, we’re happy to say that when it comes to small cities, it really is the friendliest.

Its best showings were in flower and gift shops and farmers’ markets, where it has one for every 1,699 and 6,554 residents, respectively. The city has also managed nearly 30,000 Facebook Likes, a number that can be attributed at least in part to Cal Poly alumni, we’re sure. SLO sits about halfway down the list in terms of violent crime in 56th place with 293 crimes per 100,000 residents annually. When it comes to charity, the city’s residents donate an average of 5 percent of their salary each year. The amount of Bazooka Joe donated to Bubblegum Alley annually, however, is immeasurable.

2. Charlottesville, VA

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia User Bobak Ha’Eri

Once home to America’s third, fourth, and fifth Presidents—that’d be Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, for those who spent more time chatting with pals than paying attention in history—Charlottesville has gone from housing Founding Friends to being a generally friendly city. It’s a place where you might spend the day with friends at the Downtown Mall or meet up with your buddies on the quad between classes at UVA.

Standouts in our data included second-place finishes for flowers and gift shops, purveyors of greeting cards, and farmers’ markets, plus one of the highest ranks (second-place) for religious organizations. While some of Charlottesville’s former residents gave us democracy and the Declaration of Independence, its current residents give 4.6 percent of what they make to charity each year, on average.

3. Olympia, WA

Friendliest Small Cities In America

While the Pacific Northwest may be known for its rainy weather, the frequent drizzle clearly hasn’t put a damper on Olympia’s friendly spirit. In fact, we can only imagine that all that wetness would actually help friendships blossom. It certainly doesn’t affect farmers’ markets, it seems, as the city placed first overall for those with one for every 3,669 of its 47,698 residents.

Olympia residents are probably spending more time with friends at bars than in our top two cities, as it placed fourth for that criterion with one watering hole for every 1,163 people. It’s also one of the best cities in our top 10 in terms of violent crime, with 267 for per 100,000 residents annually.

4. Palm Springs, CA

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user bossco

Having been born and raised in Palm Springs, I can personally attest to its friendliness. In fact, this city has managed to retain its small town atmosphere even as the world outside the Coachella Valley has become more and more cynical. Every trip back home is like a journey through time to a place where the locals all know each other and the dispositions are as sunny as the sky is year-round. Palm Springs is also renowned for its LGBT-friendliness, something that has no doubt helped residents (including yours truly) of this small town have a distinctly 21st century world view when it comes to equality.

Looking at the actual data, this famous party and resort town deservedly took first place for the number of bars per capita (there’s one for every 792 residents) and actually placed second overall for Facebook Likes with a whopping 43,741. While not everyone can enjoy Palm Springs’ picturesque climate, residents of the city do try to bring a little sunshine into the lives of others through charitable donations. They give 5.6 percent of what they make to charity on average each year.

5. Harrisburg, PA

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user  L Hollis Photography

The third state capital to make our top 10 friendliest small cities, Harrisburg is a city in transition. Despite its financial woes, it has maintained a reputation for friendliness and quality of life, which has led to it being singled out as a top spot for raising a family and weathering the recession.

While its violent crime ranking placed it near the bottom of our list for that criterion, Harrisburg made up for it in nearly every other respect, including a second-place rank in religious organizations (one for every 503 residents) and a third-place finish in bars. It also ranked in the top 25 percent of cities for charitable giving, with residents donating an average of 5.3 percent of their yearly earnings.

6. Littleton, CO

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user Ryan Polei | www.ryanpolei.com

At 43,775 people, Littleton is the smallest small city in our top 10, but it was a big deal during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of the 1800s. Today, the community still has plenty of gold… in the form of friendliness. A big part of Littleton’s placing in our top 10 has to do with its violent crime rate of 130 per 100,000 residents per year, which placed it 24th overall for that criterion and makes it the least violent place in our top 10.

Littleton also fared well for flowers and gift shops (sixth) and greeting card shops (11th), and had an impressive 14,343 Facebook Likes (for such a small city).

7. Joplin, MO

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user State Farm

On May 22, 2011, a massive tornado caused nearly $3 billion in damage to Joplin, killing more than 150 people and destroying 2,000 buildings in the process. Needless to say, Joplin was devastated, but the city held together and is on the road to recovery thanks to the strength of its community, and the friendliness it brought out in the rest of the country.

It seems trivial to talk about things like greeting card stores and Facebook Likes in the wake of such an event, so we’ll just say that Joplin did really well in general, but particularly in matters of faith—no matter what the type. It ranked fourth overall for religious organizations, the highest of any city in our top 10.

8. Grapevine, TX

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user davitydave

The folks in Texas are a notoriously big-hearted bunch, so perhaps that’s why the state brought two small cities to our top 10. Our first, Grapevine, represents the Dallas-Fort Worth area and owes its inclusion to top 50 (or higher) finishes for every criterion we looked at.

Its highest ranking was ninth overall for bars (it has one for every 1,730 residents), followed by 14th for greeting card shops and 18th for Facebook Likes (13,029 of ‘em). We also like to think that Grapevine being the birthplace of Joe Bob Briggs—famous drive-in movie critic, “MonsterVision” host, and one of the friendliest guys around—also had something to do with it.

9. Galveston, TX

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr user eschipul

This Texas tourist hotspot clearly leaves quite a positive impression on visitors. How else would you explain it taking first place in terms of Facebook Likes, with a staggering 95,285 (for a city with just shy of 50,000 residents)?

Of course, Galveston had to do well in other areas in order to make our friendliness top 10. It placed second for bars, eighth for flowers & gift shops, and 10th for religious organizations. While residents give around 4 percent of their yearly earnings to charity on average, Galveston has attracted the attention of several charities including the Shriners, who operate a highly specialized children’s hospital in the city.

10. Coral Gables, FL

Friendliest Small Cities In America

Source: Flickr User  vishpool

We started this post talking about a sunny, seaside small city and we’ll end it with one, too. Coral Gables is many things when it comes to friendliness. It’s fourth overall for flower and gift shops; 15th in terms of greeting card stores; 11th for bars; and first where customizable teddy bears are concerned. Yes, Coral Gables is an important place in the history of stuffed animals—the kind made at Build-A-Bear Workshop, whose founder, Maxine Clark, was born there.

It’s probably the city’s remarkable beauty, though, and not this obscure fact, that spurred more than 11,000 Facebook Likes (a paltry sum compared to Build-A-Bear’s 2.5 million).

Become BFFs With SLO, CA

The next time you’re just not feeling the love from your town, you’ve now got 10 new friends you can visit. Based on what we’ve seen, they’d all like to meet you, especially San Luis Obispo.

We’d recommend keeping an eye on this Barnstable, MA place, though. According to our data, it’s especially unfriendly. It might want to work on ways to be a better friend—in fact, we can think of a few places that need to, like Ceres, CA—in case we return with a look at the least friendly cities soon.

(click to enlarge table)

Friendliest Small Cities In America

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posted on: February 19, 2014
162,480 views, 13 comments

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13 Comments

  1. Sean T

    rubbish. I used to live in Charlottesville. It is an elitist and pompous place filled with transplanted new yorkers (read by and large officious jerks), spoiled UVA students and people a wee bit to into horse riding and other such elitist pursuits.

  2. Marliss

    Not sure really how you could come up with Olympia as the 3rd most friendly – it is probably the most UNFRIENDLY place I have ever lived! It is rainy all the time so you don’t enjoy the outdoors and meet neighbors etc. People walk into stores with their heads down and rain hoods on – never establishing eye contact or a friendly smile. If you are a conservative – forget it! The constant dreariness of the weather is unbearable. Very few pleasurable features of this town and it’s citizens. Having bars and a farmers market does not a friendly town make!!!

  3. Jeff Carnes

    I live in Joplin, MO (Carl Junction) and I would definitely agree that it is a VERY friendly place!! Nothing to do with ANY of the criteria used in this poll though.

  4. Mark LIston, PhD, LPC

    Great article. Joplin actually lost 8000 buildings destroyed: 1000 commercial and churches and 7000 homes = about a third of the city. I’ve lived in Joplin for 26 years and am a professional counselor who helped with Katrina in NOLA and of course with our tornado: The folks here were unbelievable!! Those who lost their homes were helping those who lost loved ones!

  5. Ms. Billie F. French

    I grew up in Joplin in the mid 1930,s-started going to school in 1936, finished in 1946,during those years our doors did not need to be locked, very friendly & helpful neighbors,got married,the church I had attended gave me a shower & the 1 i attended with my husband,s family did the same. 1st son born in 1948, baby showers were given , we moved to California, other children born there, moved back to Joplin in 1971, I lived in Oklahoma in mid 70,s.,people were friendly there too, moved back to Joplin in 89.

  6. diane

    Yeah Grapevine tx!! Love this town!! the best place to be!!

  7. Patti

    Grapevine,Texas should have been number one on this list. A wonderful place to live,shop,party and to get your hair done. I have been a hairstylist in Grapevine for the past 25 years and have met the nicest people ever.(BackStreet Salon)

  8. Marc

    SLO friendly?

    We moved from SLO 3 years ago after living there for 13 years. Despite being white, upper mid class married with kids, we found this place to be as Karen Panasewicz described above. Sure there are some really nice people there and we were lucky enough after 13 years to meet a few. But overall, people are distant, shallow, and very judgmental. One of the data points in judging a city in this article are places of worship. In SLO there seems to be a church avery other block which gives this place a bible belt like atmosphere. You judge what that might be like if you’re not a bible thumper.

    What this article also doesn’t take into account is child abuse and divorce, which are raging in San Luis Obispo. With a medium home price of almost $700,000 the people there are financially strapped and stressed. Sure it’s sunny everyday. But when you can’t afford the almost $5.00 a gallon to drive 10 miles to the beach, happiness is fleeting at best.

    We moved to Portland OR and couldn’t be happier.

  9. Ravy

    San Luis Obispo, number 1? Are F&@’N kidding me? I lived here for a year and it’s and average city. This article is so bias. Lame!

  10. Ginny Bain Allen

    Yep, I can say that growing up and living for many years in Charlottesville/Crozet was an exceeding blessing in my life. Having lived away from my hometown for sixteen years now has been R-O-U-G-H for moving away from one’s support system of love, care, and concern is excruciatingly difficult. Naomi Shihab Nye said this on the topic, “Tears for the men and women who leave the places that know them.” Digging up one’s roots from where they have been nurtured, where one is somebody, and attempting to bury them where one is a zero, is difficult beyond measure to describe. This quote, in the book, from Wendell Berry aptly expresses my experience in moving from Crozet, VA, a small town much like St. Francisville, to Raleigh, NC, “When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.” It IS our collective predicament now all across this mobile nation.

  11. Chris

    The metrics used might have been “creative” but far from relative. Just my personal opinion… Statistics are best derived from multiple sources, not just one, and one must actually visit places to confirm. I guess it was a quick way to meet an article deadline but not reliable.

    • Chris in response to Chris

      Additionally… Florists and stationary card stores could simply indicate a higher population of elderly people. High number of bars could elude to more depression amongst the city’s population. Less violence? Really? This may be a potential variable if reviewing small towns.

  12. jo jo beans

    Wow. Real scientific. Don’t know that I’d consider a high number of bars as positive criteria or even places of worship for that matter. Lots of lonely, miserable people hang out in bars. Family owned restaurants, as opposed to chain restaurants might have been a better choice. Sorry, but this article is really dumb.

 

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