The 50 Nicest Places in America in 2019
This list of our 50 Nicest Places in 2019 came from over 1,000 stories sent to us by readers.
Edmond Terakopian/AP/ShutterstockDo you live in a place where people are kind? Where neighbors are friends and strangers are welcomed? Then you might live in one of the Nicest Places in America! Keep reading to see which place in your state we named the “nicest,” and click through to read each of their stories and vote on which one is your favorite. These stories will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity, and the winning place will end up on the cover of Reader’s Digest!
Editor’s note: Buchanan, Michigan, is the 2020 Nicest Place in America! Read the heartwarming story of the town that would not be defeated by the challenges of this year.
The Nicest Place in Alabama: Drexell & Honeybees Donations Only Restaurant
Courtesy Melissa Halloway/Stetson-Elliot Photography What do you do if you’re hungry but don’t have the money for much food, let alone a hot meal? If you’re in Brewton, Alabama, just head over to Drexell & Honeybee’s Donations Only Restaurant. It’s open four days a week for lunch, plus breakfast on Tuesdays and dinner on Fridays, and lives up to its name.
Depending on the day and what’s in season, you’ll find a good variety of country foods: barbecued ribs, chicken and dumplings, mac and cheese, and blueberry cobbler. But what you won’t find anywhere is a price. A small box near the exit is the only source of income for the restaurant.
“People are poor. It’s a problem,” says Lisa Thomas-McMillan, who opened the restaurant with her husband, Freddie, in March 2018. “But over the years I’ve noticed more people are taking on the problem.”
The Nicest Place in Alaska: North Pole
adrianomaffei/ShutterstockEvery year, the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail addressed to “Santa, North Pole” to the post office in North Pole, and the town gets to work. Volunteers for the nonprofit Santa’s Letters open and read every letter and answer as many as they can, signing an elf name like “Jingles” or “Tinsel” at the bottom.
Last year, the town mailed out more than 10,000 letters, sending them to every one of these United States and to countries all over the world.
“It is a labor of love,” says local businesswoman Sandra Forbes, who helped launch the nonprofit. “We absolutely love what we do.”
The Nicest Place in Arizona: Kingman
Nick Fox/ShutterstockAsk people what they like about Kingman and they’ll bring up the man known as Santa James. Santa James, aka James Zyla, is a former real-estate salesman turned wandering poet who has become the town’s “adopted grandfather,” according to the local police chief. He’s also homeless.
When residents discovered his thoughtful nature and musical gifts, they teamed up to make sure he has a place to stay, gigs to play, and a helping hand when he needs it. In return, he shares hugs, songs, and his one-of-a-kind free spirit.
“There exists in Kingman a spirit of generosity,” Santa James told the Los Angeles Times last year. “It’s not just the young or the old. It permeates the generations.”
The Nicest Place in Arkansas and Texas: Texarkana
Courtesy David Orr Texarkana is one city that happens to straddle two states, so it has plenty of built-in divisions.
As its name suggests, the Texas-Arkansas border runs right through the town of nearly 70,000. And as you might expect in this part of the country, a high-school football rivalry between the Texas High Tigers and Arkansas High Razorbacks goes back more than 100 years. The annual game draws 10,000 fans.
Of course, few disputes can’t be solved by breaking bread, and another annual tradition in Texarkana, USA—as locals refer to it—is the Dine on the Line dinner.
Tables are set up down the middle of State Line Avenue (the state border runs right down the double-yellow traffic lines) and more than 1,000 people come to eat, talk, and have the unique experience of passing the salt across state lines. Diners are invited to sit on either side of the table, and mayors from both towns make a speech.
The Nicest Place in California: Anaheim
Courtesy Tom Tait After the tragic death of six-year-old Natasha Jaievsky in a car accident, her father discovered her drawings and writings about a wish for a world filled with kindness. At a loss as to what to do amid this tragedy, he decided to honor her memory by hanging up signs reading “Make Kindness Contagious” all over Anaheim.
Tom Tait, a former city councilman who nominated Anaheim, tells Reader’s Digest that he saw the signs and wanted to figure out where they came from. After learning Natasha’s tragic story, he was inspired to run for mayor with “Make Kindness Contagious” as his campaign slogan. And here’s the crazy thing: It worked.
Tait served as mayor from 2010 to 2018, and nearly ten years later, the “City of Kindness” has become famous for its ethos of smiles and caring—so famous that the Dalai Lama chose to spend his 80th birthday in the town.
The Nicest Place in Colorado: Pueblo West Women’s League in Pueblo West
Courtesy Connie Minty When you live in a place without a lot of local government or institutions, things can slip through the cracks. In Pueblo West, an unincorporated community of about 30,000 folks two hours south of Denver, there’s a small but potent group of women that has something to say about that.
If the school band can’t afford instruments, or the parks department needs a sponsor for its fishing derby, or the public library needs new puppets for story time, they can appeal to the Pueblo West Women’s League. The group raises money and awards grants, a couple hundred bucks here, a couple hundred there—not much for a big metropolitan area, but meaningful and appreciated in Pueblo West.
The Women’s League creates a sense of common purpose,” says resident Heather Wilder, who manages the public library. “The whole community comes out to support them, and everybody knows where the money is going to go—back into the community.”
The Nicest Place in Connecticut: Clintonville Elementary School in North Haven
Courtesy Gina Porto On Special Person Day, fifth-graders at Clintonville Elementary School in North Haven write an essay about someone they look up to. Most choose a parent or a public figure, but last year, Sammi Santacroce detailed the strength of classmate Dante Chiappetta, a special-needs student who has multiple cognitive conditions and has to use a cane.
“I’ve known him since preschool and he’s one of my best friends,” Sammi said. “When I see him trying to do his work, I’m proud of him because he never gives up.”
Dante says it made him happy to hear his classmate’s testimony. And his special needs aide, Ginny Caroleo, confirmed that Clintonville’s students have a generosity of spirit that extends to all.
The Nicest Place in Delaware: Estates at Saint Anne’s in Middletown
Courtesy Courtesy Michael McCarthyMiddletown, a small, flat, green city about 25 miles south of Wilmington, halfway between the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay, has long been a diverse place, with a deep-rooted African American population. It was a key stop on the Underground Railroad, with Harriet Tubman a regular visitor. Tolerance and inclusion are deep-seated principles. Welcoming folks—not pushing them away—is the norm.
So after a recent New Year’s parade featured a float with a vulgar, immigrant-bashing theme, hundreds of citizens of the town that USA Today recently tagged as having Delaware’s “best quality of life” showed up to a town council meeting to say what’s on their welcome mat.
“Over 200 people showed up demanding some standards,” recalls native Brent O’Neill, a divinity student currently working at Middletown’s Church on Main. “We really care about what’s right. We care about diversity . . . I was really proud of our town. It was so full, I couldn’t even make it through the door.”
The Nicest Place in Florida: The Villages
Courtesy Linda Dallal McElmurryA lot of people think of Florida as a place for retirees, although the truth is that this state of some 21.6 million people has all kinds of folks living there. But there is a place in Florida that is, indeed, for retirees. It’s a land of golf carts decked out like Rolls-Royces, dances with classic tunes, and, of course, shuffleboard: The Villages, a 55+ community about 90 minutes from Orlando that some 125,000 retirees call home.
It’s also home to one of the biggest volunteer operations in the country, focused solely on bringing joy to people who put their lives at risk for America’s freedom every day.
Every week, up to 400 residents volunteer at the local American Legion, the largest chapter in the country. They run a factory of sorts for Operation Shoebox, a nonprofit that sends care packages to soldiers deployed overseas. Villagers make and stuff hand-sewn “ditty bags” filled with treats, magazines, and toiletries.
The Nicest Place in Georgia: The Fugees Family in Clarkston
Courtesy Fugees Family In 2019, 100 percent of the graduating class of the Fugees Academy in Clarkston, Georgia, was accepted into college, and every single one of them was the first in their family to make it past middle school. Established in 2004, the school is uniquely designed to help refugee children thrive. Founder Luma Mufleh, who fled her native Jordan and was given political asylum in the United States in 1999, got the idea when she stumbled upon some boys playing street soccer.
She joined their game, and soon the boys—refugees from Liberia, Sudan, and Afghanistan—opened up with their stories. They had fled the horrors of war and famine and were struggling in America, where they weren’t getting the attention they needed to succeed in school.
So Mufleh sought out the students with the greatest academic need and used soccer as a way in. At Fugees, all 90 kids play soccer every day; they read about soccer; they write papers comparing and contrasting the styles of Messi and Ronaldo.
“We want them to see that there’s no shame in struggling,” Mufleh says. “We’re going to help you no matter what.”
The Nicest Place in Hawaii: Ahuimanu
Courtesy Angela PondState Senator Jarrett Keohokalole’s family has been in Hawaii for 500 years. For him and Hawaiians like him, the word “aloha” isn’t just a greeting, but a philosophy and a way of life: Help your neighbors and never forget your own good fortune. “At the end of the day, we’re lucky to live where we do,” he says.
“I knocked on 1,000 doors in Ahuimanu,” says Keohokalole. “And I’ll never forget it—I asked people what they needed, what their issues were, and they would always say, ‘We’re lucky. We’re fine.'”
Our nominator, Angela Pond, loves the lush tranquility of a place where you can stroll down the street, chat with the neighbors, and pick fruit off the trees: “It’s very peaceful, very serene,” she says.
But what matters most is the spirit of aloha, which Pond recently felt firsthand when her elderly cat got lost. For weeks Pond and her ten-year-old daughter scoured the local streets, but they were not alone. Neighbors helped spread the word and search. When, after a month, somebody finally spotted the creature hiding under a car, everyone knew whom to call.
The Nicest Place in Idaho: Hidden Springs
Courtesy Elizabeth Shook For ten years, Joan Peterson had tried to make life better for the people of Hidden Springs, Idaho. When the community had the chance to return the favor, it did.
In 2008, Peterson and her husband bought the Dry Creek Mercantile, a cluster of stores and services that sits at the heart of Hidden Springs. It’s the place where kids meet after school, where adults gather for a drink or a meal, where families come to host a wedding or graduation. It was hard work for just the two of them, running such a big operation. Things got a lot harder when her husband fell ill. And that’s when her neighbors showed her what they were made of.
“I was driving to the hospital, maybe three days before my husband passed away, and I went past the business and there were all these cars in the parking lot,” she says. “Later I found out that about 125 people came in and gave it a cleaning. Top to bottom, like it was new. I didn’t ask for it. They just did it.”
The Nicest Place in Illinois: Fox Point in Barrington
Courtesy Margaret GraffLast year, Casey Handel, Zadette Rosado, and their two daughters moved to the Fox Point neighborhood of Barrington, a prosperous Chicago suburb. They flew a rainbow flag behind their home in a display of LGBT pride.
Months passed as the young family settled in. Then, just a few weeks before Christmas, someone snuck into their yard and stole the flag.
Then Fox Point showed the Handels what it was made of: good neighbors who wanted them to know they were welcome. One planted a pride flag in her lawn in solidarity. She ordered some more and gave them to her neighbors, who planted them in their lawns and stuck them on their mailboxes. From there, it spread. Now, there are rainbow flags everywhere in Fox Point.
The Nicest Place in Indiana: Lafayette Transitional Housing Center in Lafayette
Courtesy Julie ConlonWhen retired educator Julie Conlon crocheted her first sleeping mat out of “plarn”—yarn made from plastic bags, keeping them out of landfills—she thought of the people who were sleeping on the streets of her town. Lafayette, Indiana, is home to Purdue University and to some 72,000 souls. Wouldn’t the light, portable, and water-resistant design be perfect for the homeless? She called around to local agencies, but no one was interested, except for the Lafayette Transitional Housing Center (LTHC)—which asked her for 40 of them, ASAP.
Conlon chose to do the work right at LTHC, where people experiencing homelessness for the first time can go for help while preserving their dignity—at LTHC, they call everyone “guests.”
Some 200 students, retirees, and LTHC guests make belts, tote bags, bedspreads, and hats for preemies—850 so far. Some are given away to people in need; others are sold, with every dollar going back to LTHC.
The Nicest Place in Iowa: Lansing Iowa Food Trust in Iowa
Courtesy Rhianna Galema People go hungry everywhere, every day. In this tiny town, help is here, and everyone pitches in, even guests.
Food insecurity is when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, and it can happen anywhere, even in America’s breadbasket.
When folks in Lansing, Iowa, a town of 1,000 people nestled on the banks of the Mississippi in the northeast corner of the state, realized that some of their neighbors couldn’t afford to feed their families, they came together with a solution: the Lansing Iowa Food Trust, or LIFT. Like many food banks across the country, it gives residents in need a place to get groceries for free.
Barbara Weipert, a client of the pantry, learned about the program through her church. “Everyone there is so nice,” she says. “Every little bit helps.”
The Nicest Place in Kansas: Cedar House in Abilene
Courtesy Patti O'Malley When this town helped women struggling with addiction get back on their feet, they repaid the favor.
In 2012, Patti O’Malley and her son were going through recovery for opioid addiction together when her son relapsed and drove his car off a bridge just five miles from their home in Abilene, Kansas. When she lost him, she knew she had to do something.
“I began reaching out to other women, saying, ‘Let’s talk about addiction,’” O’Malley says. She opened her home to groups of women suffering with substance abuse themselves. Then she did the unimaginable: She gave her home to the women in her group. They needed a place to stay after completing 30-day rehab programs.
“The whole organization is amazing,” says Danni Moore, a Cedar House resident. “When I started here a year and a half ago I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t know what my purpose was on earth. Patti listens to everything and she’s such a strong woman. Love heals.”
The Nicest Place in Kentucky: Winchester
Courtesy Lori Moore The trash heap was just down the road—a year’s worth of yard waste from a local landscaper, soaked in oil to keep it smoldering, “a pile as big as our house,” local Lori Moore recalls. The soot and fumes were a problem for the neighbors and their children, so the community of banded together and took action.
It was a long, tough fight, eventually involving the fire department and local government officials, but the folks who live in the neighborhood persevered.
Business owner Karl Crase knows Winchester’s spirit well. His restaurant, a local landmark called Halls on the River, sits a few miles from Moore’s house. When the occasional flood swamps the place (“It turns into ‘Halls IN the River,’” he says with a laugh), Crase knows he can count on his neighbors for help.
“We don’t have to lean on them, but they show up,” he says. “We had one guy carrying a canoe on his lawnmower.”
The Nicest Place in Louisiana: Houma
Courtesy Joni Duet Deep in the heart of Cajun country is the small city of Houma (pronounced “home-a”), home to historic, stately homes, swamplands, and 32,000 people who just might ask you to dance.
If you find yourself in town and need your faith in humanity restored, head to the Jolly Inn Cajun Dance Hall. That’s where Camie Crochet, a former resident, took friends visiting from Iowa one Friday night.
“The regulars couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming,” says Crochet. “An announcement was made from the stage welcoming the Iowans and encouraging them to ‘pass a good time.’ We sat there for a few minutes, watching the dancers. They didn’t let us sit there for long though. People kept approaching our table, asking us to dance.”
“We meet no strangers in Bayou Country,” says local Joni Duet, who nominated Houma. “Once you’re here, you’re family.”
The Nicest Place in Maine: Bristol
Courtesy Gill IIn the sleepy coastal village of Bristol, Maine, boats nod gently in a harbor buffeted by wood-shingled businesses covered in aging buoys. A stately lighthouse sits atop a rocky bluff, just above crashing waves. It’s an idyllic location in which to live or to vacation, which is why the tiny hamlet’s population of 2,500 swells to 9,000 during the summer months.
For places like this, the annual tourist bloom can mean conflict between the locals and visitors, previously quiet lanes jammed with cars and once-peaceful waters choppy from added boat traffic. But not in Bristol.
What separates Bristol is that it’s a community that believes in community, where neighbors truly love and take care of one another. When storms hit, local officials go door-to-door, making sure folks are OK. Power out? Expect an invitation for dinner and company from a neighbor. When a family is in need, grocery stores put out collection jars.
The Nicest Place in Maryland: Whitehurst Community in Severna Park
Courtesy Kati ElliottBetz Wild moved to the Whitehurst community in Severna Park, Maryland, from Ohio in 1979. Years later, when she was starting a family of her own and her parents were contemplating selling their house, she decided to buy it.
“I wanted my son to grow up in this kind of neighborhood,” she says, adding that about 16 other nearby houses are also owned by people who grew up in them.
Her son became a Marine and was deployed to Afghanistan. While there, he told his mother that the Afghan kids were amazed by his sunglasses, how they changed the way the world looked. She shared this tidbit with her neighbors, who banded together to buy a box of children’s sunglasses and ship them halfway around the world.
The neighbors were there for Wild when tragedy struck and her son was killed in 2013 in a mortar explosion accident. They lined the streets with hundreds of American flags.
“Whether I was going to a service or running an errand, these flags lined the path. It felt like a hug from my neighborhood every time,” she says.
The Nicest Place in Massachusetts: Plymouth
Courtesy Lea FilsonWhen folks in Plymouth, Massachusetts, look out their windows, many of them can see Plymouth Rock, the famed placed where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. The neighborhood today is as welcoming as it was then when the hapless English settlers wouldn’t have lasted the winter if not for help from the natives.
When Michelle Kelly moved into a new neighborhood following the tragedy of her sons’ father’s death as well as her own recovery from cancer, her large family—seven kids and her husband—were invited to a monthly neighbor dinner.
“This was above and beyond welcoming,” she says of the Thanksgiving-like gesture.
In 2020, the town will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, and folks who come to visit will learn that kindness is still the prevailing instinct.
The Nicest Place in Michigan: Armada
Courtesy Debra RandallA beautiful public park full of butterflies and doves is a living, loving monument to a young girl taken too soon.
Stroll up the McComb Orchard Trail to Fulton Road, and you’ll find what one resident of Armada, Michigan, calls a “place of peace,” the April Millsap Memorial Garden. Butterflies flit around as children play, walkers stop to rest, and volunteers pull weeds.
Ask people what captures the town’s spirit, and they’ll usually point to the garden. April Millsap was just 14 in 2015 when a stranger attacked and killed her as she walked her dog on a local jogging trail. The town sprang into action, tracking down witnesses and pulling in every available resource to solve the crime.
The killer was eventually caught and is serving a life sentence, but the people of Armada knew that Millsap’s family and friends needed more than a guilty verdict. They started the memorial garden; they launched a scholarship fund; last year, on graduation day, her fellow students decorated what would have been her seat at the ceremony in her favorite colors, pink and white.
The Nicest Place in Minnesota: Fertile
Courtesy Margie HaasThe residents of Fertile, Minnesota, host one parade every year, to celebrate the Fourth of July. Last year, they held two. The second one celebrated a dying man. His neighbors wanted him to know how much he was loved.
The man’s name was Jon Hovde, and he was a fixture in the rural farm town of about 800 people located some 300 miles north of Minneapolis. The world knew him as an author of a searing Vietnam memoir called Left for Dead, recounting the mine explosion that cost him two limbs, and his struggles to recover and rebuild a life in his beloved Minnesota.
Late last year, when the town heard he’d been given a terminal cancer diagnosis and had chosen to come home to spend his final days, it filled the sidewalks to welcome him.
“People lined the streets, a couple hundred people, and that’s pretty good for a town this size,” says Bob Norland, a fellow veteran and longtime Fertile resident. “He was truly moved. It spoke volumes about the town.”
The Nicest Place in Mississippi: Jourdan River Estates
Ray Lewis/ShutterstockFolks in the small, rural “weekender” neighborhood of vacation homes on stilts and little docks on canals are patriotic, sure, but that’s not the reason they put everything they have into celebrating our nation’s founding. They have something of their own to celebrate too.
When residents were told to evacuate their homes as Hurricane Katrina approached in 2005, they took what they could carry, assuming they’d be back to life as normal soon. When they returned, where about 60 houses stood, only two remained.
But the catastrophic event pulled the residents closer than ever before. The recovery is still ongoing, but together they’ve bounced back stronger.
For 11 years on the Fourth of July, they have done a huge blowout to celebrate the return of the neighborhood post-Katrina. In addition to the fireworks, there’s a boat parade, a waterslide, volleyball courts, and a band.
The Nicest Place in Missouri: Columbia
Courtesy Kim Dude-LammyAfter the tragic killing of 26 elementary school students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, folks in Columbia, Missouri, wanted to do something to put kindness into the world. So they planted a grove of “kindness trees,” calling it the Children’s Grove, where each magnolia tree planted would represent a child harmed in any way, anywhere.
The root idea of the Children’s Grove in Columbia, a city of about 125,000 almost halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis, is that kindness and compassion overcome all. The organization supports youth mental health, first-aid training, kindness libraries for schools (bunches of books with kindness themes, usually read to the kids by the reps delivering them), as well as social service organizations, speakers on mental health, and kindness ambassadors in schools.
Youth ambassador Madison Hopper says she sees her mission as fostering “respect, inclusivity, and compassion wherever I go. You will never meet another group of powerful influencers as devoted, kind, and caring as the members of this organization.”
The Nicest Place in Montana: Ovando
Shane Rauch/ShutterstockOvando, Montana, is easy to miss.
“Drive past on the highway, and all you’ll see is Trixie’s Bar and a road sign that says, ‘Ovando, Population 71,’” says Bill Brockett, a Web developer from Kalispell, Montana, about 100 miles north, who nominated the place.
Tracy Burge is sure glad she didn’t miss it. In June 2015, during the annual Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race, word came in that a rider was in trouble.
Burge showed up half-frozen, exhausted, and famished, and the town responded with warm blankets, a sandwich, and a place to sleep.
“She burst into tears,” says Schoenfelter. It was a tiny act of kindness that made all the difference—for both Burge and Schoenfelter. “We thought, Hey, that felt good! What else can we do?”
The Nicest Place in Nebraska: Sehnert’s Bakery in McCook
Courtesy Ronda Graff Although it’s just four blocks long and lined with tidy businesses, Norris Avenue, the main street in McCook, Nebraska, can sometimes take an hour or more to walk down.
“You meet so many people to talk to along the way,” says Ronda Graff, a longtime resident of the small town of about 8,000 people nestled in the rural southwestern corner of the state.
At its heart sits Sehnert’s Bakery, a local business where you can get a good meal and a cup of coffee, to be sure, but also a de facto community center and engine of charity for McCook. It’s a source of inspiration for goodness in McCook and the home of the Sehnert Challenge.
The challenge was simple: If McCook could raise $200,000 for the McCook Community Foundation—which grants money for scholarships, the arts, and areas of the community where folks are struggling—then the Sehnert family, who run the bakery, would match it. That’s a lot of “bread” for a place where you can get a meal for $3.25, but McCook rose to the challenge. So the Sehnerts increased it, and in the end, they raised $600,000.
The Nicest Place in Nevada: Dayton
Courtesy Shelly Rosario After her divorce, Shelly Rosario and her 12-year-old son needed a change of scenery. Her father lived in Dayton, Nevada, a small desert city of 9,000, an hour from Lake Tahoe. One weekend they decided to check it out.
The trip didn’t start well.
“My keys got stuck in the conveyor belt at the grocery store, and I was so embarrassed,” Rosario says. But then something happened that surprised her and her son: The cashier and the people in line helped. “No one rolled their eyes or got upset because of the wait,” she says. “My son said, ‘Mom, back home people would have been so mad!’”
That clinched it. They moved 14 years ago. “I will grow old with my wonderful friends and neighbors in Dayton,” Rosario says.
Unlike Simi Valley, the city of 126,000 just 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles that they had called home, Dayton is classic, small-town America. Folks are more laid-back, except when it comes to Friday night lights—and making sure people who need support get it.
After a local woman was left incapacitated from childbirth, the town came together for a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser.
“I’ve never seen so many people line up—we were running out of spaghetti,” Rosario says. “That’s why this is my town. I just know they’ve got my back.”
The Nicest Place in New Hampshire: Pembroke
Courtesy Kellie Cholette We have a collective image of the perfect 1950s era town—pretty, tight-knit, caring. Some people call it Paradise. Others, Pembroke.
When Kellie Cholette moved to this former mill town on New Hampshire’s Suncook River, she was taken aback by how warm and welcoming its 7,000 residents were. Everywhere she went, she was greeted cheerfully. During the Old Home Day fireworks show, her new neighbors set out lawn chairs for her and her fiancé because the view from their lawn was better.
There’s an 80-year-old man who, on mornings after trash pickup, rolls his neighbors’ garbage cans back up their driveways for them. There’s a couple who adopted two neglected boys from a Ukrainian orphanage, helped them overcome severe developmental challenges, and then went back and adopted two more. There’s a lawn-care professional who learned of a single mother battling cancer and adopted her as a client (mowing in the summer, plowing in the winter) while refusing to ever accept a dime from her. That’s a whole lot of kindness for such a small town.
The Nicest Place in New Jersey: Hunterdon County YMCA in Flemington
Courtesy Teri SnyderThirty-five years ago, Teri Snyder was going through a hard time looking for a job to support herself and her two children. What she found, in the middle of gorgeous New Jersey farmland, is an extended family that will never leave her side.
She got a job at the Hunterdon County YMCA, ideal for a single mom because she could bring her children to work and avoid daycare costs. She got training to teach swimming and gymnastics. Then she was awarded a grant to return to school and earn her teaching certification. Her children thrived in the classes the Y offered (and eventually got jobs at the Y, too!).
To top it all off, Snyder met her husband there, and their wedding was attended by her “Big Y” family. And the generosity of those at the YMCA didn’t stop there. When Snyder’s new husband donated a kidney to a cousin, their Y family brought food, sat at the hospital, and cared for their children.
When Hunterdon County Y board member Sarah Gibbons’s husband deployed to Iraq in 2007, the Y family called to see how they could help take care of her two kids and other daily challenges.
“I just started crying when they called,” she says. “They were our family.”
The Nicest Place in New Mexico: Las Cruces
Courtesy Visit Las CrucesHow would your city respond if 1,600 asylum seekers were sent there? In Las Cruces, they were greeted with food, shelter, and open arms.
In April 2019, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection began dropping off asylum seekers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city of about 100,000 just an hour from the U.S.–Mexico border.
Welcoming more than 1,600 people who show up on your doorstep is not easy, but that’s exactly what Las Cruces did, and continues to do today. Thanks to the nearly $600,000 in city council funding, as well as generous donations, Las Cruces has been able to provide temporary housing, and the majority of the community has decided to accept these folks who have little and nowhere else to go.
The Nicest Place in New York: Harding Park in the Bronx
Courtesy Lydia Clark-SumpterCrimes of compassion are nothing new in this melting pot, where everyone gets along, no matter what part of the world they came from.
Three years ago, when Lydia Clark-Sumpter moved to Harding Park, a blue-collar neighborhood of 236 tidy homes on the East River in New York City’s Bronx borough, there was a big smiley-face balloon tied to her front gate, and no clue as to who left it.
She didn’t know it at the time, but Clark-Sumpter, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital, was the victim of a crime of compassion. She would soon find out that there were kindness vigilantes on the loose in her new neighborhood, a diverse enclave, where 22 flags representing the nationalities of the people who live there fly outside the homeowners association.
The Nicest Place in North Carolina: Sunset Hills in Greensboro
Courtesy Gwen Frisbie-FultonJonathan and Anne Smith had lived in Greensboro’s Sunset Hills neighborhood for 16 years when, in 1996, their daughter came home from NC State’s College of Art and Design excited about an outdoor Christmas ornament she’d seen: a soccer-ball-sized sphere laced with lights.
“We can make that,” Jonathan said.
They fashioned a globe from chicken wire and wrapped it in lights. People commented on how pretty it was, so they made more. Soon, other residents began making their own, and within a few years, the neighborhood was attracting carloads of visitors.
The Smiths began hosting lighted Christmas ball-making workshops each year around Thanksgiving, attracting neighbors from all around the central North Carolina city of 270,000. One year, someone suggested they collect canned goods for the local food bank. The Smiths parked a utility trailer on their front lawn with a sign asking for donations. On the first day, they collected nearly 600 pounds of food and $700 worth of donations.
The Nicest Place in North Dakota: Watford City
Courtesy Shauna LarrabeeWhen Nick Ybarra moved to Watford City 11 years ago, it was a small town of 2,000 people with good schools, four restaurants, and no traffic lights.
Little did he know he’d planted his family in what was about to become one of America’s hottest boom towns. The population soared to 8,000. Among the newcomers was Shauna Larrabee, who arrived from Maine with her husband.
“People are so nice here,” she recalls. “Within a couple of weeks, I found out I was pregnant, and some complete strangers threw a baby shower for me.”
When a tornado recently devastated an RV park and took a child’s life, residents quickly raised thousands of dollars for the stricken family.
“I knew it was bad,” says Karen George, a real estate agent who arrived with her family five years ago. “I was like, ‘What are these people going to do? There are no hotels. There’s no place for them to go!’”
George posted her address online, telling anybody who needed a place to stay to come by. Families showed up, filling every room in the house and the Georges’ camper.
“People say to me, ‘What can I pay you?’” says George. “And I say, ‘Just pay it forward.’”
The Nicest Place in Ohio: Columbiana
Courtesy Crown Theater ProductionsWhen Mary Lou Wilson dropped her grandson, Clayton Kerrigan, off at the Main Street Theater in Columbiana, Ohio, for the first time, she had no idea what to expect.
“He’s 36 years old, and he’s had some problems,” Wilson says. “He’s a great guy and a great grandson, but he has some disabilities. And, like a lot of us, wants to make friends. But sometimes doesn’t know how.”
When she returned hours later to pick him up, “he had the biggest smile on his face!”
Wilson said her grandson had been through countless support programs, but nothing ever touched him like this. His confidence soared, and his family’s hearts sang.
Crown Theater Productions at the Main Street Theater is a nonprofit theater company that puts on a handful of shows every year, including two using only actors who have special needs.
“After the play—it was pure, unadulterated joy,” Wilson says. “These kids change. And I saw the change in my grandson.”
The Nicest Place in Oklahoma: Country Aire Estates in Broken Arrow
DiegoMariottini/ShutterstockRoger Bymun is used to helping. When he sees that a local widow needs her grass cut, he cuts the grass. When he sees a neighbor whose old car needs a push into the garage, he helps push the car.
And when he saw that someone’s dog had been struck and killed by a passing car, he knew someone, somewhere was worried sick and deserved to know what happened.
Bymun wrapped the body in a blanket and drove back to his house in the neighborhood known as Country Aire Estates, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He worked the phones and found the owners; he knew he couldn’t stop the pain, but at least he could give the family some closure. It was a small gesture, but one that’s typical of Country Aire. “People see a need,” he says, “and they want to help.”
The Nicest Place in Oregon: Molalla High School in Molalla
Courtesy Molalla High School Student LeadershipShare the Love started as just an empty mason jar. A teacher at Molalla High School in Molalla, Oregon, a tight-knit town of 8,000 south of Portland, with a rodeo and views of snowcapped Mount Hood, put it out to raise money for a family member in need. Within just a few months the jar had collected $400.
Some 19 years later the students have grown that kitty into a headline-worthy charity. Share the Love’s student leaders sort through heart-wrenching application letters describing folks in need, then set to work raising funds for the chosen recipients. Over 19 years, they’ve raised an astounding total of $430,366 to help individuals and families.
Helping the community extends far beyond the walls of the high school. “Unconditional love runs through the veins of this small and remarkable town,” says resident Maddy Brinkman.
The Nicest Place in Pennsylvania: Delta Pizza in Delta
Christian Hinkle/ShutterstockIn 2013, right before Christmas, Delta Pizza burned to the ground. It was a big deal in the tiny hamlet of Delta, Pennsylvania. The remote town of some 700 people on the Maryland border doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to where to eat.
Then, something magical happened.
“We’re cleaning up and I heard this noise outside like a train was coming through,” says Sal Ferranti, the owner since his father, Guiseppe, died in 1999. “It was 30 Amish men in buggies. They helped for one day with the demolition of the building.”
As it turns out, they were just returning the favor. For years, Sal had been making sure that extra food from catering jobs would make it to Amish folks who needed it.
The Nicest Place in Rhode Island: Mary Loontjens Memorial Library in Narragansett
Courtesy Suzan AmorusoAs the people of this seaside town fight to save their library, the librarians go about their business, serving the community.
Recently the Narragansett town council voted to slash the facility’s budget in half and put on hold plans for a much-needed new building for the 10,000 people who visit a month. The library may lose its eligibility for additional state funding, putting five full-time and 14 part-time staffers’ jobs in jeopardy. The fight has gotten ugly at times, with heated arguments at town council meetings. Through it all, the librarians have stayed above the fray, continuing to smile, making the library an oasis of civility even as a battle rages around it.
“As soon as you come through that door, they make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world,” says local resident Suzan Amoruso, who nominated the place.
At a recent council meeting, one woman stood and gave the crowd a history lesson about the town that has been her home for more than 90 years. The library, she argued, is a reflection of Narragansett’s core values kindness and civility, no matter what you’re facing. Before she sat back down, she said simply, “This is who we are. We are this library.”
The Nicest Place in South Carolina: Lake Trollingwood
Courtesy Wendy TrommerIn 2018, Wendy Trommer lost her son and husband in the space of six months. It was a terrible year for her, but her second family—her neighbors—were there for her in a way that she never expected.
Five years prior, she and her family had moved from New England to Lake Trollingwood, South Carolina, a cluster of about 60 homes around a private lake at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains.
“I always thought New England was friendly, but I’ve been here six years and I can count on one hand when someone has been rude,” says Trommer. “Everyone is so helpful—it’s made me a nicer person!”
Of course, like all decent folks, they supported her in her time of direst need. But, after a time, some widows can end up feeling isolated and left out. Her neighbors aren’t letting that happen.
“Eight months later, and my neighbors are still there for me,” she says. “Every day, if I’m out and about, people will stop and say, ‘How are you doing? Do you need anything?’ In New England, I had friends, but they have lives, and I would have been alone. Here, people have lives, but I’m not alone. I’ve never gone out so much in my life.”
The Nicest Place in South Dakota: Rapid City
robert cicchetti/ShutterstockThey call Rapid City, South Dakota, the “City of Presidents” for good reason: It’s the gateway to Mount Rushmore. The streets in this town of 68,000 nestled in the shadow of Black Hills National Forest are lined with statues of our nation’s elected leaders. And in winter, something really nice happens that dwarfs the towering stone faces of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt: Walk down any street and you’ll notice those statues are adorned in warm coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. This isn’t some juvenile prank—it’s a clothing drive.
Every winter, Rapid City civilians clothe the statues with garments the homeless can grab to stay warm. As items disappear, volunteers place more on the statues until the cold weather dissipates.
The project began in the winter of 2015 when a local knitting group teamed up with a church.
“Almost, depending on the day, the items are taken as soon as they’re placed there. It is meeting a need every winter,” says Darrell Shoemaker, a spokesperson for Rapid City.
The Nicest Place in Tennessee: Franklin
Courtesy Alan Simms Franklin, Tennessee, is a place where the past is still alive—but so is the future.
“There’s a lot of change here, a lot of growth,” says local pastor Kevin Riggs. “People from California, Seattle, all over the country.”
The town wasn’t always so welcoming. In the years following the Civil War, it was home to some of the South’s most violent white supremacists. Many of its African American residents fled for the North, and for much of the 20th-century Franklin remained sleepy and segregated.
And now the town is trying to reckon with its past by telling what it calls the “Fuller Story” of the injustice of the Civil War and Jim Crow eras.
“The past is not pretty … but we cannot ignore it. We have to … appreciate the work our ancestors did,” said Alma McLemore, president of the city’s African American Heritage Society, at a recent panel discussion. “We want to come together in peace and love to share our history.”
The Nicest Place in Utah: Springville
Courtesy Patrice BolenIf you’re one of 300 performers heading to Springville to perform in World Folkfest, the city’s annual weeklong dance festival that features dancers and musicians from all over the world, don’t worry about trying to find a place to stay—it will find you.
For 30 years, the residents of this thriving arts-focused community of 31,000—nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Range of the Rockies, just 45 miles south of Salt Lake City—have opened their homes and hearts to these performers, determined to provide the authentic experience of living in a typical American home.
“The love that I felt there is still unforgettable!” says Anastasia Kochiashvili, a member of the Shiraqi dance group from the Republic of Georgia. She performed in the folkfest four years ago and says she will never forget her experience in Springville.
Some people have asked, “How can you bring strangers into your home?” The answer: They start out as strangers but end up friends—with blessings for both sides.
The Nicest Place in Vermont: Barre City
Courtesy Rachel NelsonMost people don’t want a drug treatment addict as a neighbor. In this town, they’re met with open arms.
They used to call it “Scary Barre,” a nickname that caused locals embarrassment and kept other Vermonters away. But over the last five years, things have started to change, and what used to be considered “scary”—the presence of folks struggling to overcome addiction—is being viewed with compassion.
Opioid abuse is a Vermont problem. Barre, a blue-collar town of 10,000 built on the long-offshored granite industry, is part of the solution. Three years ago, staff at the local hospital were receiving training on how to identify addicts and get them into treatment, and they realized that they didn’t know what programs were available locally. So they organized a monthly meeting so groups could coordinate and share resources, much like the local churches band together to provide warming centers and hot meals for the homeless in winter.
The Nicest Place in Virginia: Colonial Beach
Courtesy Caryn Self-SullivanIn small towns, the way things get done, is people come together to identify and address needs. In Colonial Beach, Virginia, a lovely resort town of 3,500 on the banks of the Potomac, that’s exactly what happened.
The Beach Arts Music Mentoring organization regularly raises thousands of dollars to help plug school budget holes. Colonial Beach Rivah Dogs, dedicated to making Colonial Beach more dog-friendly, recently put pet-waste stations all over town. And the far-from-rich town is now building its first rec center and park on land donated by the town and with the sweat of its residents—and the sweat of a famous local.
The rec center has a celebrity twist, as NFL star Torrey Smith holds a special place in his heart for this small town. The Carolina Panthers receiver credits the community and its coaches for helping him through his childhood adversities and guiding him on his road to two Super Bowl championships. So when he heard the town lacked outdoor recreational areas for teens to play sports or hang after school, he challenged the community to match his grant of $185,000.
The Nicest Place in Washington: Kitsap Peninsula
Norbert Eisele-Hein/imageBROKER/ShutterstockWhat if you could take all of the giving energy in a place and cram it into one insane day? That’s what the people of Kitsap Peninsula have done, and it has been a boon to hundreds of local nonprofits in this place known for giving back. For a period of 24-hours, no place in America has greater community spirit.
An easy ferry ride from Seattle, this semi-rural corner of Washington State boasts one nonprofit for every 250 residents—charitable giving per capita that far exceeds the national average.
“Volunteerism around here is a huge thing,” says Jan Gardner, who works for a local Christian school. “One day a year the whole county goes out and does outdoor cleanup, and employers are encouraged to give their employees the day off.”
Enter the Kitsap Great Give: For a 24-hour period in April, contributions come pouring in, and in a spirit of friendly competition, groups gather in restaurants and bars to watch the leaderboards in real time. Last year, receipts totaled nearly $1.5 million—about five dollars for every man, woman, and child on the peninsula.
The Nicest Place in West Virginia: B.A.R.K Club at Doddridge County High School
Courtesy Jessica BerkeyHigh school can be a pretty mean place, but when the kids of Doddridge County High’s B.A.R.K. club are on the prowl, it’s a lot nicer. The club, whose acronym stands for Bulldogs Acts of Random Kindness, is like others across the country, but the creativity and impact this club has are something special.
Perhaps the most special of all of the club’s good deeds was when it heard a student at a rival school had been diagnosed with cancer.
“The club created a poster that every student in our school signed because we played them in basketball that week. At the game, we collected donations for the family,” Berkey says.
“We were in a very desperate situation and I hadn’t even had time to worry about it yet before the B.A.R.K. club jumped to the rescue,” says Missy Jones, the boy’s mother. “My son just kept saying with a grin and disbelief, ‘I just can’t believe that they did this!’ and ‘I don’t even know them and they care about what happens to me!’”
The Nicest Place in Wisconsin: The Lingonberry Llama Coffee Shop in Belleville
Courtesy Lingonberry LlamaThe people of Belleville, Wisconsin, a village of 2,400 people outside of bustling Madison, had no place to gather before the Lingonberry Llama café opened in 2018.
“There just weren’t places to meet anyone, unless you went to one of the bars or the bowling alley,” says resident Samantha Olson.
Everything changed when Jon Cleveland, a transplant from England, opened the Llama. Olson said the shop gave her a place to host her new-moms group every Saturday.
“They’ve given us discounts, offered to make special food for the kids, reserved tables for us, and are even building a family room,” she says. “One week they hosted a Mama and Me yoga class just for us.”
“When I would go for walks through downtown, it used to be a ghost town,” says village resident Lindsey Koch. “Not anymore! Kids ride their bikes there for ice cream and breakfast treats, families walk together to grab a sweet treat or lunch, and the inside is just buzzing with warmth and hospitality.”
The Nicest Place in Wyoming: S. Chestnut St. in Casper
Courtesy Danica SvedaWhen the first snow falls in winter on South Chestnut Street in Casper, Wyoming, for some, the silent precipitation is a starting gun. Whoever gets up and out first will snow-blow everyone’s sidewalk, winning the “race.” They also have the same race to mow one another’s lawns in the summer, or so our nominator, Danica Sveda tells us. To anyone who has had to shovel snow or cut grass, it seemed too good to be true.
So we called up one of her neighbors, Marlene Ashbaugh, who lives just a block over on Walnut Street. She couldn’t vouch for what happens on Chestnut, but says, “My next-door neighbor, he always goes up and snow-blows all of ours. There’s probably one on Chestnut Street who does that,” adding, “It happens all over.”
This summer, Sveda’s mother is getting married, and instead of having a big wedding, they’re going to have a neighborhood party.
“The people that mean the most live right next door,” she says. “This area is a diamond in a world of disconnectedness.”