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Top 10 Places to Live in 2011

CNN Money recently released its list of the Top 100 Places to Live. It's comprised of family-friendly small towns that offer great job opportunities, good schools, low crime rates, nice weather and plenty to do. And, despite the stagnant housing market and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, these locations have surprisingly steady economies.

While small-town living might not be for everyone, those looking to escape the big city will certainly appreciate the quiet charm of these "country" getaways.

What are the top 10 places to live in the U.S.? Click through the slideshow to find out!

All photos courtesy Realtor.com

1. Louisville, Colorado

Population: 18,400
Unemployment: 6.3%

Don't call it "Louie-ville" - it's pronounced Lewis-ville and sits at number one on CNN Money's Top 100. The city is described by the Chamber of Commerce as a blend of hometown atmosphere, high tech jobs and modern values. Lots of positions are available in the tech, telecom, aerospace, clean energy and health care fields, and more companies are moving into the area every year.

There's no shortage of entertainment either. Go hiking on over 25 miles of trails, camping in one of the 27 parks or skiing down one of the many runs surrounding Louisville. If you're feeling really adventurous, check out the world-class mountain biking trails in the nearby Rockies. Looking for something more relaxing? Catch a movie at the 12-screen movie theater, visit the Louisville Public Library or watch a game at one of the four fields in the Louisville Recreation Center.

All the charm and action of Louisville come at a surprisingly affordable rate »€" the median home price sits at $343,750 according to Trulia.com. With all the job opportunities, good schools and one of the lowest crime rates in Colorado, it's no wonder Louisville is number one.

What historic settlement is #2?

2. Milton, Massachusetts

Population: 27,000
Unemployment: 6.6%

Milton boasts the most privately and publicly conserved land within 20 miles of Boston, giving the town a country feel that belies its proximity to the greater metropolitan area. It was settled by Puritans in 1640 and retains its history in the architecture.

Though the cabins from the 1600s are long gone, several 18th and 19th century homes still remain to remind residents and visitors of the past. Milton history is also evident in the over 27 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These include the Milton Cemetery »€" which dates to 1672 »€" and the Captain Robert Bennett Forbes House from 1833.

(A good friend of mine used to live in a converted barn where George Washington once stabled his horse, and supposedly spent the weekend - hopefully at the main house up the road.)

In addition to the tree lined streets, historic architecture and country charm, Milton also offers an outstanding school system and fairly stable housing market. Median sales prices hovered at $475,000 from May to July 2011, over $45,000 less than nearby Boston. Residents of Milton get access to all of Boston's culture and jobs »€" it's only a 25 minute drive »€" without the big city hassles.

Which Cleveland suburb is #3?


3. Solon, Ohio

Population: 23,300
Unemployment: 8.2%

Solon is a small town with good job opportunities. Major employers include Nestle, L'Oreal and industrial equipment maker Swagelok. The affluent suburb is located roughly 20 miles from Cleveland and boasts a wide variety of restaurants, its own philharmonic orchestra and the highest-achieving school district in all of Ohio. Solon is also dedicated to "Going Green" and encourages residents to do the same by offering a single-stream recycling program that requires no sorting by the individuals getting rid of the waste.

The median home price in this quaint little town is $269,950. Residents have access to the booming park district, easily accessible downtown and three golf courses. In addition, Solon boasts the highest-achieving school district in Ohio for the 2010-2011 school year.

Which Civil-War era town is #4 on the list?


4. Leesburg, Virginia

Population: 42,600
Unemployment: 4.1%

The town of Leesburg is located just 45 miles from the nation's capital of Washington, D.C. and offers plenty of job opportunities in government, defense contracting, consulting and technology. While the commute from Leesburg to D.C. can be atrocious, residents get the perks of enjoying weekends in the town that calls itself "the gateway to D.C. wine country." Citizens cite the city's small town feel and access to a wide variety of recreational activities as key reasons for living in Leesburg. Combined with a startlingly low unemployment rate, it's no wonder this historic settlement makes the Top 100 list.

Visitors and residents alike can enjoy Colonial architecture, fantastic restaurants and a charming downtown that is perfect for window (or real) shopping. Leesburg is home to plenty of Civil War history, and residents can walk along the same trails that Civil War soldiers used hundreds of years ago. All this gravitas comes at a reasonable price: the median home value is $363,500.

Which Parisian-inspired city is #5?

5. Papillion, Nebraska

Population: 18,900
Unemployment: 4.2%

Papillion is located just south of Omaha and offers the lowest crime rate in the state, a stable economy and loads of recreational opportunities. It's one of the few remaining Parisian-inspired 18th century towns left in the Midwest and that European influence is reflected in its architecture. The town boasts two 18-hole golf courses, a 500-acre lake that's perfect for fishing and tons of biking, hiking and horse trails. The quaint downtown is the perfect platform for many businesses, including restaurants and retail shops, to open their doors.

The economy benefits from the health care and transportation industries in nearby Omaha, as well as the agricultural boom happening in the U.S. right now. Papillion offers a quality educational system, tons of green space and plenty of economic opportunities in a variety of fields. Best of all, the median home price is $211,000 »€" an increase of 2.9 percent from last year. With the perks Papillion offers and the economic growth the town is experiencing, it's possible home prices will rise even more next year.

Which Ivy League school is located in town #6?

6. Hanover, New Hampshire

Population: 8,600
Unemployment: 4.4%

This jewel of the Connecticut River Valley is home to Dartmouth College, a factor that contributes to its low unemployment rate: the college and its top-rated medical center provide over 12,000 jobs to the small town economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory is also headquartered here, offering even more job opportunities to local residents. These employers, combined with the culture afforded by Dartmouth, make Hanover an anomaly in the world of small towns. While those that thrive are usually located within close proximity to a large city, Hanover is quite far from any large urban center.

Every season offers something to do in Hanover. Residents can enjoy colorful foliage and apple picking in the fall, cross-country and alpine skiing in the winter, festivals in the spring and hikes along the Appalachian Trail in the summer. Visit one of the many museums or galleries, dine at a delicious restaurant or see a play at one of the surrounding theaters. Housing ranges from century-old Victorians to new construction in close proximity to downtown, and the average purchase price is $421,000.

Which town inspired Jesse James to stage his first daytime bank robbery?

7. Liberty, Missouri

Population: 29,100
Unemployment: 7.6%

First settled in 1822, Liberty is one of the largest suburbs of Kansas City and is the site of Jesse James' first daytime bank heist. No need for residents to go into that line of work, though »€" Liberty offers plenty of job opportunities in the telecom, engineering and life science fields. The city is also home to the Hallmark distribution warehouse and serves as the operations headquarters for Ferrellgas, the largest retail provider of propane in the United States.

Liberty offers more than employment opportunities: the school district is consistently ranked one of the top in Missouri, and the town itself plays host to loads of festivals, golf courses, parks and cultural events. Would-be residents of Liberty can get access to all this town has to offer for a median price of $122,912.

Which city on the list is home to the National Mustard Museum?

8. Middleton, Wisconsin

Population: 17,400
Unemployment: 5.1%

Middleton is a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin and boasts 17,000 jobs right in town. Employers include pharmaceutical company PPD, American Girl and Electronic Theater Controls, the world's biggest theater lighting company. In addition to those jobs, many residents commute to Madison for work, allowing potential residents flexibility in the location of their career.

The town offers plenty to do: tour the one-of-a-kind National Mustard Museum or Capital Brewery, check out non-native plants at the Orchids Garden Center and shop the walkable Middleton downtown. If you visit and want to stay, homes are selling at a median price of $283,500 - that's up 5.6 percent from last year.

The name of town #9 means 'good camping place.' Where is it?

9. Mukilteo, Washington

Population: 20,300
Unemployment: 8.2%

Mukilteo is derived from a Native American word meaning "good camping place," and it's no wonder the name stuck »€" located 25 miles north of Seattle, the town is set on the sparkling waters of Puget Sound and offers gorgeous views of the Olympic Mountains. Outdoor lovers will find plenty to do in Mukilteo: walk through the Evergreen Arboretum Gardens, check out the lighthouses at historic Lighthouse Park or take a guided whale watching tour in Puget Sound.

The economy in Mukilteo is in good shape compared to much of the West Coast. Foreclosures represent a small fraction of houses for sale, the school system remains strong and area employers are hiring. Those employers include Boeing, one of the largest aerospace and defense contractors in the world. The good schools, variety of activities and strong job market come at a relatively low price when compared to much of the West Coast - the median home sale price is $362,000.

Town #10 boasts the oldest dinner theater in the nation. Any guesses?

10. Chanhassen, Minnesota

Population: 23,000
Unemployment: 5.5%

Chanhassen is a small town located just southwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It boasts 12 lakes, a thriving downtown and a 500-acre park system. The economy is doing well despite some 2011 budgetary issues in the state, owing in part to companies like Target, General Mills and RR Donnelley that employee many residents of Chanhassen.

Residents here can enjoy the nation's oldest and largest dinner theater, 34 parks and the enormous Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The new state-of-the-art high school gives students a great venue to learn and has already garnered some national awards. Homebuyers can expect to pay around $368,250 for a home in Chanhassen.

What is most important to you when considering a place to live: housing stock, jobs or recreation?
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Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.comand The Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and is Chief Content Strategist at RealtyJoin.com, a community for real estate investors.
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