15 Affordable Small Towns We Love
El Dorado, Arkansas or Florence, Alabama, might not be on your radar—yet—but affordable small towns like these are gaining attention nationwide and with good reason: They offer budget-friendly real estate, plenty of cultural activities that are kind to your wallet, and superb access to nature and outdoor recreation. Read on to find your ideal spot for affordable living in the South.
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Once you recover from the fun of First Thursdays, a free music and food-filled bash held monthly from May to October, you may want to scope out the Razorback Greenway, which includes 36 miles of gorgeous trails for walking, running, and cycling. The first city in Arkansas to achieve the designation, Fayetteville has also been named a Bronze Level Walk Friendly Community for its walkability initiatives and programs by The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Beyond the outdoor recreation, Fayetteville has a burgeoning start-up scene with public art projects, community initiatives, dog-friendly breweries, and more cropping up. Nonprofits also have a strong presence here. (Check out My Spark Foundation, which works to bring health and fitness to school children in need). In 2016, U.S. News & World Report named the city the most affordable place to live on its 100 Best Places to Live list.
For more information, visit experiencefayetteville.com.
Fort Myers, Florida
Besides beautiful beaches, Fort Myers attracts tourists and transplants with an exploding restaurant and culture scene (10 art galleries and growing) and the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, a 3,400-acre ecosystem with a 1.2-mile elevated, accessible boardwalk that allows visitors to comfortably and quietly observe wildlife. Reminiscent of San Antonio, downtown has a Spanish-Floridian influence that’s palpable, and the lively River District regularly hosts free musical acts. Cap off an evening with a stunning sunset and a drink at Firestone Sky Bar. While you relax, rehash that Boston Red Sox or Minnesota Twins game you got to see for next to nothing—both teams make their spring training homes here.
For more information, visit fortmyers-sanibel.com.
El Dorado, Arkansas
Once an oil boomtown, El Dorado is poised to strike it rich again with the arrival of the Murphy Arts District (MAD) in September 2017. Part of a $100 million quality-of-life initiative, the music, arts, and culinary complex will feature inaugural performances from Brad Paisley, Train, Smokey Robinson, and others. Beyond MAD, the El Dorado Promise is an enticement for families: The college scholarship program gives every local high school graduate his or her tuition at an accredited two- or four-year educational institution. Cheap gas (prices were as low as $1.99 in July 2017), free cultural events (Showdown at Sunsetis a family favorite), and walkable restaurants and bars in Union Square add to El Dorado's appeal.
For more information, visit goeldorado.com.
Georgetown is gearing up to be running on 100% wind and solar power by 2018 —a huge draw for affordable and eco-friendly living. Don’t miss the annual Red Poppy Festival, a free celebration with live music, a parade, a kid zone, a car show, arts and crafts, and more. Hailed as "The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas," downtown Georgetown allows free parking after 5 p.m. year-round so you can dine, try a wine-tasting or two, and take in a theatrical performance without feeding any meters. No trip to Georgetown is complete without a visit to the Blue Hole, a lagoon along the San Gabriel River, and a tour of the Georgetown Art Center, where admission is free.
For more information, visit visit.georgetown.org.
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
You'll wonder how you lived life before weekly dance-filled Zydeco brunches. Breaux Bridge is one cool little Louisiana town, where locally owned shops, Cajun eateries, French music, bayou country, and, of course, crawfish all come together. The walkable downtown hub, studded with antique shops, restaurants, and homey cafes, keeps gas money in your wallet. And if you love fishing and boating, you’ll be right at home, thanks to the town’s quick access to Lake Martin. For art lovers on a budget, the Teche Center for the Arts has regularly scheduled workshops and musical programming that typically clock in under $10.
For more information, visit breauxbridgela.net.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
If you dream of living in an artsy coastal town, consider Bay St. Louis. In Old Town, wander the shops, galleries, and restaurants along Main Street, Second Street, and Beach Boulevard, and check out the municipal pier and harbor, which opened a few years ago. Or ramble the L&N Train Depot (which houses the Bay St. Louis Mardi Gras Museum and Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum). Because of its proximity to New Orleans and affordable real estate, you'll find lots of commuters mingling with NOLA ex-pats and artists who wouldn't dream of settling elsewhere. A pedestrian-friendly downtown makes it easy to meander the galleries and restaurants without a car. Or stay put at Sycamore House for a few hours and savor their shrimp and grits platter; it's one of the best in the state.
For more information, visit baystlouisoldtown.com.
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Any city that has wine and cheese parties on the regular is a place after our hearts. Elizabeth City’s daily Rose Buddies receptions on the Mariners' Wharf have been a tradition here since 1983. (Even better: the wharf offers free dockage for 48 hours.) For entertainment, Mariners' Wharf Park has a variety of free activities, including movies and seasonal concerts. At Elizabeth City State University's Khan Planetarium, you can catch a free show. Also, ECSU's Debt Free Degree helps incoming freshmen get scholarships, grants, and federal financial aid to help cover the cost of college. Starting in the fall of 2018, the North Carolina Promise Tuition Plan will set tuition at $500 per semester for in-state undergraduates at ECSU. Another perk of living in Elizabeth City? Free use of its parks, athletic fields, and well-maintained playgrounds, which includes complimentary tennis court access.
For more information, visit discoverelizabethcity.com.
With two universities in town (William Woods and Westminster), there's no shortage of theater, concerts, and nationally renowned speakers here. Take advantage of cheap or free admission to the National Churchill Museum, Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society and Museum, and Art House, where you can sign up for classes ranging from glass fusing to knitting. The historic Brick District has a thriving restaurant scene and nightlife, and it hosts community festivals, such as the annual Autumn on the Bricks fête.
For more information, visit visitfulton.com.
Cape Charles, Virginia
Extremely walkable and bikeable, this laid-back coastal village was actually planned around a Pennsylvania Railroad ferry terminal in the late 1800s, so the town's hub is an easy-to-navigate grid. Cape Charles will easily win you over with its Shuck-N-Suck oyster festival. But beyond bivalves, locals and visitors enjoy year-round access to a free public beach—with one of the most gorgeous piers in America. The town attracts so many creative residents that it feels a little like an artists’ colony. One of our favorite events is Art Rocks The Inns, when local artists transform the porches of historic B&Bs into display spaces for their work.
For more information, visit esvatourism.org.
The cost of living in Florence is superb, with especially affordable real estate: “What I paid in rent in Birmingham is double what I pay for my mortgage here!” as one local tells us. Besides abundant outdoor activities (the hiking is first-rate), Florence hosts monthly First Fridays, a popular gathering with live music and lots of food vendors. Known for its music scene, the town also has free live music every night. Helping to keep the cost of living down is the highly walkable downtown area—most folks who work downtown walk to work—and all the historic storefronts and pretty old streets make for a pleasant stroll.
For more information, visit visitflorenceal.com.
Greenwood, South Carolina
On the Western reaches of South Carolina, Greenwood has been attracting plenty of buzz as one of the prime viewing spots for the Great Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017. But there's a lot more to this charming town on the outskirts of the Sumter National Forest. After nearly five years of investment totaling over $20 million, Uptown Greenwood is bursting with new businesses, fine art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Proximity to major interstates makes travel a breeze, but there’s plenty to do without leaving town: the annual South Carolina Festival of Flowers , an epic farmers market, and a blues and 'cue filled Festival of Discovery. Greenwood's 100-year-old Federal Building, which reopened as a community arts center in 2006, houses artist studios, conference rooms, a gallery, and a courtyard garden.
For more information, visit visitgreenwoodsc.com.
Founded during the land rush of 1889, Moore has proven its staying power. You have to admire the resilience of a city that has overcome many devastating tornadoes. “Our access to quality jobs, homes available in all price ranges, and an award-winning public school district all contribute to Moore’s high quality of life," says Deidre Ebrey, director of economic development for the City of Moore. And that's not an overstatement: Only 10 miles south of Oklahoma City's business district, Moore provides the pros of living in a tight-knit community, with the job opportunities of neighboring OKC. To beat the heat, cool off at the sprawling 45,000-square-foot outdoor aquatic center—residents can snag a family season pass for $150. For a distinctly Oklahoma shopping experience that won't break the bank, head to Showplace Market,which has tableware and home accessories, art, clothing, seasonal decor, and more from 100+ vendors.
For more information, visit travelok.com/moore.
Travelers Rest, South Carolina
Previously part of a larger railroad system, The Swamp Rabbit Trail attracts over a half-million outdoor enthusiasts annually. The 22-mile walking, jogging, and biking greenway weaves through downtown Greenville, along the Reedy River, and into Traveler’s Rest, making free fitness a no-brainer for locals. For roughly 4,500 residents, “TR” has plenty of entertainment beyond the trail: There's a buzzing farmer's market, as well as several breweries and Trailblazer Park's family-friendly movies and Music in the Park summer series (both free).
For more information, visit travelersrestsc.com.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Picture downtown streets shaded with giant live oaks and lined with locally owned shops, galleries, and restaurants, all with cottagey storefronts. A municipal park overlooks the waterfront, where you can hop onto a pedestrian walkway that’s part of a bridge soaring over Biloxi Bay to the casinos and resorts of Ocean Springs’ larger neighbor. The cost of living is excellent; the scenic boat rides to barrier islands are a treat; and the arts scene is on par with what you would expect for a city ten times its size (the population hovers at around 17,652). There's a plethora of cultural opps like visiting the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and Shearwater Pottery, or taking a cooking class at Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts & Education. With a pedestrian-friendly layout, you can even swap your car for a bike downtown. Don't miss the Gulf Islands National Seashore – Davis Bayou Area, where the Davis Bayou Trail weavees through a coastal forest and two local bayous in one two-mile stretch.
For more information, visit gulfcoast.org.
This historic town in the Shenandoah Valley delivers a lot of bang for your buck—namely, a low cost of living paired with terrific outdoor recreation and a thriving arts community. Harrisonburg’s unemployment rate is below the national average; job growth is climbing; and the cost of living is 4.2% below the national average. Residents and visitors enjoy a wide range of attractions. Hike, fish, or paddle in Shenandoah Valley's vast playground, or explore the downtown historic district—no car required. Other treasures for low-cost fun include the Virginia Quilt Museum and Downtown Books, an indie bookstore with a staggering assortment of books and movies.
For more information, visit visitharrisonburgva.com.