With the current state of the economy -- and the dispiriting sight of the nation's leaders endlessly battling about how to fix it -- the phrase "small town" conjures up images of a happier time. When unemployment wasn't above 9%. When people didn't stress out about home values. When school budgets weren't under siege. Those were the days, right?
"Those days" are right now -- if you know where to go. A team of seven MONEY reporters spent months combing through reams of data provided by OnBoard Informatics and other sources and fanning out across the country to identify small towns (those with populations of less than 50,000) that stand out in the qualities American families care about most.
The goal: Find the best combination of job opportunities, fiscal strength, top-notch schools, safe streets, good healthcare, cultural and outdoor activities, even nice weather. The result: MONEY's 100 Best Places to Live. The top 20 follow.
Gallery: CNNMoney Top 100 Places To Live 2011
Top-Earning Towns | Hot Spots for the Rich and Single | Best Places for Affordable Homes