15 Affordable Small Towns We Love

Shops in Mason Avenue in Cape Charles, VA
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

El Dorado, Arkansas, or Florence, Alabama, might not be on your radar, but affordable small towns like these are gaining attention with good reason. These towns offer budget-friendly real estate, plenty of cultural activities, and superb nature and outdoor recreation access. All of which is kind to your wallet.

Whether you are looking to retire in a budget-conscious community or want to relocate to a place where your dollar holds more mileage, there is a small Southern town that will meet your needs. Small towns host some of the best festivals and holiday celebrations. These 15 locations are a great place to spend time during those events or any other day of the year.

01 of 15

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville, AR
Robbie Caponetto

Once you recover from the fun of First Thursdays, free music, and a 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 on its 100 Best Places to Live list.

02 of 15

Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers, Florida
Courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel

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 palpable Spanish-Floridian influence, and the lively River District regularly hosts free musical acts. 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.

03 of 15

El Dorado, Arkansas

El Dorado, Arkansas
Courtesy of AY Magazine, 2017

Once an oil boomtown, El Dorado is poised to strike it rich again with the arrival of the Murphy Arts District. Part of a $100 million quality-of-life initiative. The music, arts, and culinary complex will feature performances from musicians in all genres. The El Dorado Promise is an enticement for families: The college scholarship program gives every local high school graduate tuition at an accredited two- or four-year educational institution. Free cultural events and walkable restaurants and bars in Union Square add to El Dorado's appeal.

04 of 15

Georgetown, Texas

Georgetown, Texas
Rudy Ximenez / Visit Georgetown

Georgetown's focus on affordable and eco-friendly initiatives is a huge draw. Don't miss the annual Red Poppy Festival, a free celebration with live music, a parade, a kid zone, arts and crafts, and a car show. Hailed as "The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas," downtown Georgetown allows free parking after 5 p.m. year-round to 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 Blue Hole Park, a lagoon along the San Gabriel River, and a tour of the Georgetown Art Center, where admission is free.

05 of 15

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Robbie Caponetto

You'll wonder how you lived a 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 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.

06 of 15

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Sycamore House Bay St. Louis Mississippi
Ellis Anderson

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. Stroll the Historic L&N Train Depot houses, including 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 many 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 The Sycamore House for a few hours and savor their shrimp and grits platter; it's one of the best in the state.

07 of 15

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Elizabeth City
Visit Elizabeth City

Elizabeth City, which is located in North Carolina where the Pasquotank River meets the Albemarle Sound, is an ideal spot for a small-town getaway. It has outdoor adventure aplenty, and you'll have the opportunity to explore at Mariners' Wharf Park, which has lots of free activities and seasonal events. According to Visit Elizabeth City, "Visitors can take advantage of the nature-rich region's free parks, athletic fields and tennis courts, or by getting out and about to kayak or enjoy scenic walks along the Fenwick-Hollowell Wetlands Trail, a raised boardwalk that takes walkers through a wetland area with uprooted trees, thick vegetation and local flora and fauna." For dinner, stop by Montero's, a family-owned and family-friendly spot serving up dishes and drinks to please a crowd. Don't miss live music on the waterfront or the views and brews from the waterside Seven Sounds Brewing Co.

08 of 15

Fulton, Missouri

Fulton Missouri
Ivy Photography / Callaway County Tourism

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.

09 of 15

Cape Charles, Virginia

Shops in Mason Avenue in Cape Charles, VA
Robbie Caponetto

Extremely walkable and bikeable, this laid-back coastal village, this town, actually planned around a Pennsylvania Railroad ferry terminal in the late 1800s, is an easy-to-navigate grid. Cape Charles will quickly win you over with its Shuck-N-Suck oyster festival. But beyond seafood, locals and visitors enjoy year-round access to a free public beach with one of the most scenic piers in America. The town attracts so many creative residents that it feels 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.

10 of 15

Florence, Alabama

Florence, AL from the Sheffield Bluffs
Cliff Billingsley/Getty Images

The cost of living in Florence is superb, including 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 food vendors. 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. All the historic storefronts and pretty old streets make for a pleasant stroll.

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Greenwood, South Carolina

Greenwood, South Carolina
Courtesy of Visit Greenwood

On the west side of South Carolina, Greenwood has been attracting plenty of buzz since its position 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 a sizeable investment, Uptown Greenwood bursts with new businesses, fine art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Proximity to 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.

12 of 15

Moore, Oklahoma

Moore, Oklahoma
Courtesy of City of Moore

Founded during the land rush of 1889, Moore has proven its staying power. You have to admire a city's resilience 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. Only 10 miles south of Oklahoma City's business district, Moore provides the pros of living in a tight-knit community with job opportunities. To beat the heat and 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, visit Showplace Market, which has more than 100 vendors that sell tableware, art, seasonal decor, and home accessories.

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Travelers Rest, South Carolina

Travelers Rest, South Carolina
Courtesy of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com

Previously part of a more extensive railroad system, The Swamp Rabbit Trail attracts over a half-million outdoor enthusiasts annually. The 22-mile walking, jogging, and biking greenway weave 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, several breweries, and Trailblazer Park's summer series with family-friendly movies and Music in the Park.

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Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs, MS
Cedric Angeles

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. 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 are many cultural opportunities 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. You can even swap your car for a bike downtown with a pedestrian-friendly layout. Don't miss the Gulf Islands National Seashore – Davis Bayou Area, where the Davis Bayou Trail weaves through a coastal forest and two local bayous in a two-mile stretch.

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Harrisonburg, Virginia

Harrisonburg, Virginia
Jessica Newman

This historic town in the Shenandoah Valley delivers a lot of bang for your buck, including a low cost of living paired with terrific outdoor recreation and a thriving arts community. Residents and visitors enjoy a wide range of attractions. Hike, fish, 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.

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